No sweeping exits or offstage lines,
Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind.
Wild horses couldn't drag me away.
Wild, wild horses, couldn't drag me away.
She watched him on the small gray screen. He’d been in there for almost an hour, and didn’t look even slightly anxious. Instead, he’d slumped in his seat, and let his head tilt back, and was staring at the ceiling with a blank, bored face. “He is definitely one of them,” Raven said, crossing her arms. She was right. If he were a regular, law-abiding contractor, he’d have shit his pants by this point.
“He was one of them,” Wells said. “He’s out, remember? He walked away from it.”
“Doesn’t mean we can trust him,” Raven said.
“Come on.” Clarke sighed. “Let’s see what he’s made of.” She’d memorized his file, but she was ready to get a read on him face to face.
He sat up when she entered the room.
“Mr. Blake,” she said. “Sorry to make you wait. We needed to sort a couple of things out.”
In reply, his lips twitched in a smile that wasn’t a smile. It was emotionless, was an acknowledgement that she’d spoken, and that she was full of shit, and he knew it, and he couldn’t be bothered to care. He was going to make this difficult.
“I guess I’ll get right to it,” she said, taking a seat.
He was silent.
“We’d like to talk to you about your family.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“Mr. Blake, have you forgotten where you are, and whom you’re talking to?”
He nodded, and glanced off with a thin, sour smile. “Here’s the thing.” He leaned in, resting his elbows on the table, and meeting her gaze with a dark, confident stare. “You don’t have anything on me. I know that you don’t, because I do everything by the books. My business is legit, I’ve got the certifications I need, I don’t fuck with people who aren’t right with the law. I’m clean. And if you’ve done your research, you’ll know I’m estranged from most of my family. It means that I don’t talk to them, and they don’t talk to me. It means I’m not a part of the family anymore. It means that I don’t know what you want, but I’m pretty fucking sure I can’t help you.”
“I see,” she said, clipped.
If he was satisfied with his snarky little speech, he hid it.
“Here’s the thing.” She tapped her fingers on the file she’d brought in with her. “You’re right. I’ve read your file. You run a nice, clean business. Pay your bills on time. Pay your taxes. Recycle. You gave the guy who collects your garbage a fifty dollar check for Christmas. It’s true. You’ve made nice with the law. You’ve got a couple of old, harmless possession charges from when you were a kid. But, hell. Who doesn’t have indiscretions in his past? You’re right, Mr. Blake. We’ve got nothing on you.” She paused. “It’s your sister we can put away for, say, the next fifteen years?” She glanced at her partner.
“Twenty,” Wells said.
“I mean, Octavia is a troublemaker.” She opened the file. “Distribution. Gambling. Racketeering.” She whistled.
He was silent. He’d tensed, though. He cared.
“I know everything about your circumstances, Mr. Blake. Your mother was seventeen when you were born. You grandfather had your father deported from the country, and he wanted your mother to have an abortion.” She shook her head. “It must have been tough to grow up with a history like that.”
“What’s your point?”
“You love your sister,” Wells said. “You haven’t bothered keeping up with most of your family. Her, though? You visit her at school. You talk to her on the phone. You send her cards. I think you’ve sent her a card for every single holiday this year.”
Clarke pulled a small, homemade card from the file.
She didn’t miss the clench of his jaw.
“Can you be-LEAF it’s already Arbor Day again?” she read. “Cute.” She held up the card for him to see.
“What do you want?” he asked. “I’m not in the family. You said it yourself. I walked away when I was nineteen, and I haven’t looked back. I haven’t talked to Dante in eleven years. I’m out. I can’t give you information I don’t have.”
“You could get back in, though.”
“We had an agent deep undercover in your family for years,” Wells said. “Our agent probed for the circumstances that surrounded your departure, and, honestly, he didn’t get much. He learned, though, that your grandfather was dismissive of the idea that you’d rat, because he believed you’d never, ever put your sister at risk.”
“Your sister is at risk,” Clarke said. “The FBI has been investigating your family for years, Mr. Blake. We’ve got intel on everyone.”
“I get it,” he growled.
“Do you?” she said. “Do you understand that we have the power to ruin your sister’s life?”
“If you’ve got an agent on the inside, what the fuck do you need me for?” He had lost his cool completely at this point. “Why are you telling me all of this shit?”
She had him right where she wanted him. “We’re telling you all of this shit because we had a man on the inside, and he’s disappeared.” She was careful to keep her emotions in check. “We believe that he was killed.” She pressed her fingers into the table.
“We can prosecute on what we’ve gathered at this point,” Wells said, “and we’ll take down most of your family with RICO.” He paused. “We don’t have enough to take down your grandfather along with them, however.”
“You’ll never be able to take him down,” Blake said.
“Nobody is untouchable,” Clarke said. “Dante Wallace might have been in power for long enough that he’s convinced even himself he can’t be touched, but he’s wrong. We are going to take him down.”
Bellamy was silent.
“We need to get someone close again,” she continued. “The problem is that Dante isn’t going to be too accepting of strangers for a while. He’ll always be accepting of family, though. You are family. You could stroll right up, and he’d welcome you back in the fold with open arms.”
“I think you’re overestimating his affection for his colored bastard grandson.”
“I think you’re underestimating it.”
He shook his head.
She let him stew for a moment.
It gave her a chance to look him over. She’d seen his picture, had watched him on camera. It was different to see him in person. She’d always found it easier to learn a person in person. He was attractive, and knew it. There was a confidence in the line of his shoulders. It was almost a defensiveness, was a challenge to judge him if you dared. He didn’t exactly look like he fit in with the stately Wallace dynasty, though. His dark, wavy hair was too long, and too unruly. His cheeks were dotted with stubble. There was dirt under his nails, and the flannel of his shirt was faded at the collar, and, well, it was safe to say that he’d stick out sorely in a family of pale, proper society mobsters. There was a flicker of doubt in her stomach.
Were they making a mistake by pinning so much on him?
“You’re saying you want me to spy for you,” he said.
“I’m a contractor.”
“We aren’t asking you to go in on your own,” Wells said. “We don’t trust you to go in on your own. It might seem like we’re putting our faith in you, but I want to make it very clear the position that you’re in.”
“The moment we think you’re about to tip anyone off,” Clarke said, “we’ll arrest everyone, and your sister will spend the next twenty years of her life in prison.”
He was silent.
“You can protect her,” Wells said.
“We can sign a deal this afternoon that gives her immunity,” Clarke said.
“What do I have to do?”
“You have to go back in,” she said, “and take an agent with you. Someone they’ll accept without thinking about it, because who pays attention to the women? We aren’t asking you to spy, Mr. Blake. We’re asking you to open the door, and get us back in. And if you want to keep your sister out of prison, you don’t have a choice.”
He looked away from her.
She turned the file, and slid it to him. “Take a look.” He needed to see for himself what exactly they had on his sister.
His eyes swept over the first page of the open file.
“Listen, man,” Wells said.
Blake’s face had gone tight with anger.
“We don’t want your sister. Trust me. We know it’s not her fault that she was born into the family that she was born into. We know it’s not your fault that you were born into the family you were born into. But she was, and you were, and this is where we’re at. We want to dethrone a kingpin with politicians in his pocket, and blood on his hands. Problem is, he knows better than to give the orders directly himself. He gives the orders to your uncle, and your uncle gives the orders to a cousin, or a friend, or an advisor, and that person gives the orders to the hitman, to the distributors, to the pimps. The only way that we’ll bring him down is with help from someone he’ll talk in front of.”
“Family,” Clarke said.
“You don’t like him any more than we do,” Wells said. “If you did, you never would have walked away from a life with all of the advantages he could have given you. Tell me I’m wrong.”
“My sister gets immunity for everything,” Blake said, looking up from the file.
“I mean, she doesn’t even fucking have probation. She gets off. Completely. You don’t touch her.”
“That’s the deal, Mr. Blake.”
“My cousins, too. I want them protected from prosecution. Or there’s no deal.”
“Harper McIntyre, Zoe Monroe, and Jane Monroe. I don’t care if you’ve got shit on them. You can lock up my uncle, his cousins, everyone. Fine. But my sister walks, and Harper, Monroe, and Fox walk, too.”
“I think we can make that happen,” Wells said.
Blake closed his sister’s file.
Clarke had to keep herself from smiling.
“If I do this,” Blake said, “how are you imagining it’s going to work? I can’t just knock on his door, and say I want in again. It’s been eleven years. And even before I left, I never cared about the business. Do you have a plan?” He looked from Clarke to Wells, and back. “You say you want me to open the door for an agent. How? What’s that mean?”
“You’re going to get in touch with your grandfather again at your wedding,” Clarke said.
“I hope you don’t have a girlfriend, Mr. Blake.”
He opened his mouth, and closed it. “You want to stage a wedding?” He was incredulous. “You want me to . . . marry an FBI agent? Undercover?”
He put it together; she saw it dawn on him. “You?” His gaze raked over her.
She crossed her arms. “You don’t have to like it,” she said. “But if you want to protect your sister, you’ll do it.” She smiled. “And, yes, Mr. Blake, I’m the agent you’ll be working with.”
They had to write up a new, expanded deal that included his cousins. He read it slowly. Carefully. But when she asked if he wanted a lawyer, he refused. He signed his name with a quick, jerky hand, and glared at her across the table.
Clarke was impatient for everything to settle into place after that.
She’d been waiting years for this. She’d suffered sleepless nights when she was sixteen, and couldn’t stop imagining it. She was going to see Wallace put behind bars.
These sort of things took time, though.
She had to have a thorough alias created for her with accounts and records and false, photoshopped memories.
Blake needed time to learn Clarke’s alias. She needed to learn about him, too. And, of course, they needed to set the stage for a wedding. He might not have been close with most of his family, but he couldn’t just suddenly send everyone wedding invitations. They had to sell it.
The FBI was sitting in the room with Blake when he called his sister, and mentioned that he was seeing a woman.
He veered from the script they’d written for him.
Unsurprisingly, he was chaffing under the FBI’s ever-present, ever-careful control. Still. He mostly did what they asked him, and he hadn’t shown signs of trying to betray the bureau.
His apartment was watched, and his phone was tapped, and his computer was hacked.
If he did try to betray them, they’d know.
Kane was confident he wouldn’t. They hadn’t chosen Blake just because he was Wallace’s estranged grandson. There were a handful of relatives they could’ve used, although he was certainly the closest direct relation, and Clarke’s first choice. He was chosen because agents had looked at his profile, and recognized the potential. The bureau wasn’t going to give him too much room to breathe, but they had to agree to a measure of trust.
“I memorized the novel of an alias you gave me,” Blake said, eyeing her. “You like the Beatles, pizza with sausage, and the movie It Happened One Night. That about covers it, right?”
“This isn’t about my alias.”
He crossed his arms.
“We need to talk about you,” she said. “You know the details of my alias. Now I need to learn about you. The details. I need to know your hobbies, your habits, your likes, and dislikes.”
“I thought you had a file on me,” he said.
“It didn’t mention what TV shows you like to watch.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“There was a show on HBO. Rome. I’ve got the boxset. I like Vikings, too. Um. The Americans is good. I like History’s Mysteries.”
“I’m sensing a theme,” she said, typing up the names of the TV shows.
“Futurama,” he said.
“Do you like to read?” she asked.
She eyed him over his laptop. Honestly. It was like pulling teeth to get anything out of him. “What about sports?” she said. If he wanted to make things difficult, fine. She could handle difficult. He wasn’t going to get out of this.
“Do you have a team you like?”
She frowned. “Why? You aren’t from Cleveland.”
“What about food?”
“I like it.”
She glared. He was trying to irritate her. She slammed her laptop shut again. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll write up a list of questions, and you can write your answers. Better?” She leveled him with a look that brokered no argument.
“You’re the boss, Peaches,” he said, unaffected.
He smiled without smiling in that smug, insufferable way of his.
“You realize that our lives depend on our ability to convince your family that we’re a happy, loving couple, right?” She stared. “This is what you agreed to, Mr. Blake.”
“You know, it might raise some questions with my family if you don’t know my name.”
He smiled. “Relax,” he said. He was mocking her.
“Relax?” She was going to find an excuse to punch him in the face. “Seriously?”
“It’s not going to be that hard. I’ve never really done the whole serious, long-term relationship thing, okay? I date. Hook up. That’s what my family, and my friends, and everyone is used to. I say you’re my girlfriend, and it’s serious? They’ll have nothing to compare it to. They won’t be judging the way we behave, because they’ll assume that’s just the way I am with a girlfriend.”
“They won’t be suspicious if your girlfriend doesn’t know anything about you? Right. Somehow, I find that hard to believe.”
He sighed, and stuck out his pinky. “I was obsessed with Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was a kid.” He began to tick off his fingers. “I eat a lot of frozen food, because it’s cheap, and it’s easy. I hate Toy Story. I don’t like it when people’s dogs jump on you, and they apologize, but they don’t really mean the apology. I don’t like wine. I don’t give a shit about music. I’m good at crosswords. I’m good at my job. And I’m good at cards. Pick a card game; I’m good at it.” He had one finger left. “And . . .” He tilted his head, and ticked off the finger. “I don’t like when people text in code,” he said.
“That was a lot of things you don’t like,” she said.
“If in doubt, assume I don’t like it.”
She nodded. “Noted.” She opened her laptop, and typed up everything he’d reeled off. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. It was a start.
“Can I go now?” he asked.
“I have to print off a list of questions for you to answer,” she said.
He slumped in his seat. Somehow, it made him larger. It was like he was in charge. He had a way of doing that, of owning a place. It was another thing Clarke did not like about him.
“Is there anything I should know about the people we’re meeting on Friday?” she asked.
“I’m sure you’ve got files on all of them,” he said.
She pursed her lips.
“Do you own any cardigans?” he asked, startling her. “Ugly, chunky jewelry? Dresses that look like curtains, and button up to your throat?”
“I don’t know what, ah, style the bureau’s chosen for Jennifer Brown, but that should be it. Trust me. If you’ve got any of that shit, wear it on Friday.”
“I don’t trust you,” she said.
She breathed in through her nose. “Is that your type, or something? Librarian?”
“Sure,” he said. “Just wear it. Okay?”
She didn’t bother replying. She needed to write up questions for him, and she was going to do it now, was going to do it while he was sitting in front of her, and was going to make him wait. She hoped it annoyed him.
He picked her up from her apartment on Friday, or, well, from Jennifer’s apartment. He’d cleaned up, and cut his hair. His gaze swept over her. The start of a smug little smile pulled on the corners of his lips. She was wearing jeans, but she’d found a fuzzy pink cardigan to wear, matching pink earrings, and sparkly pink flats to really tie it all together.
“You look nice,” he said, smug.
She rolled her eyes.
The plan was to meet his friends at a bar that he frequented, and plant the seeds for a wedding. They’d announce their engagement in about a month. The wedding would take place quickly after that, and the assignment would finally, truly begin.
At the bar, he held the door open for her.
His hand brushed lightly against her back when he followed her in, and he nodded his head to a table at the back.
She knew the man at the table. Nathan Matthew Miller. He was thirty, gay, and single. He worked with Bellamy, but they’d known each other for years. They’d grown up together. Miller’s father was a cop, and, according to Finn, David Miller was dirty, and took ten thousand a month from Wallace.
“Hey, man,” Bellamy said. “This is Jennifer. Jenny, this is Miller.”
“Nice to meet you,” Miller said.
“You, too!” Clarke said, enthusiastic. “Bellamy talks about you a lot. You’re in all of his stories.”
“You want a drink?” Bellamy asked, glancing at her.
“Vodka with pineapple.”
Miller paused with his beer at his lips, and raised his eyebrows.
“It’s actually really good!” she said, sitting on a stool. “I ordered it by accident once. I was trying to order a pineapple upside down cake shot, but I wasn’t really able to articulate it properly, you know, for . . . reasons, so the bartender gave me vodka with pineapple, and it’s surprisingly good!”
Miller was amused.
Bellamy was shaking his head in solidarity with Miller when a girl sidled up to him with a drink in hand, and elbowed his side.
Clarke recognized her picture, too.
“Harper,” Bellamy said. “This is Jennifer. Jenny, Harper.”
“Jenny, or Jennifer?”
“Either,” Clarke said, smiling. “It’s nice to meet you. I love your nails.”
“Thanks,” Harper said. Her smile was small, and obligatory. She didn’t bother trying to disguise the assessment in her gaze when she looked at Clarke. Fine. Clarke was prepared for assessment.
She knew her alias, and she’d done her research, too.
Harper McIntyre was Clarke’s age, and had just gotten her J.D. from the University of Virginia last spring. She’d passed the bar, and was clerking for a federal district judge for a year. It wasn’t clear if she’d gotten the job by herself, or through her family.
“I’ll be right back,” Bellamy said, brushing his hand to her shoulder.
“So.” Harper slipped onto the stool beside her. “My grumpy old cousin’s got a girlfriend.”
“He’s growing up,” Clarke joked.
Harper smiled, and took a sip of her drink.
There was a long, awkward pause.
It was broken when another girl arrived at the table. “Sorry I’m late,” she said, setting her purse on the table. She saw Clarke, and blinked. “You’re the girlfriend,” she said. Her gaze raked over Clarke.
“I am!” Clarke said, beaming.
“It’s nice to meet you, Monroe!”
Monroe just nodded in reply, and stole a sip of Harper’s beer.
Monroe was an intern for a Congresswoman. She’d majored in IR in college, and had been in the Peace Corps after she graduated. She was smart, and accomplished, and was probably on her way to a bright, influential future. Also, she’d dated a boy in high school, and it had made the news when he’d disappeared suddenly without a trace, and was never, ever found. Clarke had questions.
“You’re a teacher?” Monroe asked.
“Yes!” Clarke said. “Kindergarten. I taught fifth grade for a year, but I like teaching the babies much more.”
Bellamy was back, and he pressed her drink into her hand.
She gave him a smile in thanks.
His other hand slipped easily around her, and rested half on her hip, half on her ass. She sipped her drink. It took everything in her to pretend that his hand on her ass was a totally normal thing.
He jutted his chin at Monroe in a kind of greeting. “Hey. I didn’t know if you were going to make it.”
“I couldn’t miss meeting the girl,” Monroe said, glancing at Clarke.
“How’s your job going?”
Monroe was more than eager to launch into a long laundry list of complaints.
It signed the breaking of the ice, in a way. Finally. Conversation was easier after that, flowing pretty naturally. The three of them were clearly just quieter by nature. Reserved. If they were suspicious of Clarke, they didn’t show it. They asked her questions about her job, about her family, about her life. But it was all the kind of questions she’d expected them to ask. It was clear that they loved Bellamy, and that they loved to tease Bellamy, too.
He took it, and was happy with them, was open, and relaxed, and more like a person than he’d ever been with Clarke.
That made plenty of sense, of course.
She wondered how much of this was an act, and how much of the way he behaved with the FBI was an act.
She played the part of bright, bubbly woman who was enamored with her boyfriend, and who got tipsy on a shot of vodka, giggling, and reaching for Bellamy’s hand, holding it on the table just because.
In the middle of a debate with Miller over an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians, she declared that was she was going to look up the answer on her phone. She fumbled in her purse, found her phone, and continued to search. She made a noise of annoyance, and snapped her purse closed again, reaching to snatch Bellamy’s phone out of his pocket. He lifted his arm in surprise, glancing at her. She ignored him, and tapped in the passcode.
She’d made a note of it the last time he’d been at the office.
“Ha!” She thrust the phone at Miller. “I was right.” She grinned, and leaned into Bellamy’s side.
Miller just heaved a sigh in reply.
“I think I like you, Jenny,” Monroe said, amused.
“I like you, too!”
She knew for certain that the night was a success when she returned from the bathroom, and caught them talking about her.
She had to pause to listen.
“She’s sweet,” Harper said. “You usually go for salty. I like it. You always pick the girls who don’t give a shit about anyone, or anything. Jenny, though. You should keep her.”
“I’m planning to,” he said.
He peeled at the label on his bottle. “I haven’t known her that long, but I’ve been thinking maybe . . .” He shrugged.
“Bell,” Harper said, grinning. “You are smitten. You need help picking out a ring?”
Clarke was kind of floored.
He was good at this.
She knew more than anyone that every single world out of his mouth was bullshit, but, impossibly, she was tempted for half a second to believe the soft lilt of his face, and the sheepish look on his face.
On a whim, she wrapped her arms around him from behind, and bopped her nose to the back of his head.
They could do this.
It was late when they called it a night at last.
They left the bar in a group. It had gotten slightly chilly out, so it made perfect sense for Bellamy to hook an arm around Clarke’s shoulders. She turned into him just slightly to sell it. He smelled like beer, and soap, and that sharp, fresh boy deodorant smell. And he was warm.
“You want to share a cab?” Monroe asked, pulling her phone from her purse.
“Jenny’s place is across town,” Bellamy said, and he pulled Clarke closer when a loud, rowdy group passed them on the sidewalk.
“Okay, well.” She smiled. “It was nice to meet you, Jenny.”
“It was nice to meet you, too,” Clarke said.
“I’m sure we’ll see you again soon,” Harper said, and there was a warm, teasing gleam in her eyes.
Miller had flagged a cab.
The girls were climbing in when Bellamy’s nose brushed her cheek. She turned her face slightly, and knew what he was doing. She tilted her head up. He kissed her. It wasn’t really much of a kiss. His lips grazed her lips, and he drew away just an inch, just to smile.
“Give it a second,” he murmured.
She smiled, too.
His arm dropped from around her shoulders, and he took a step away from her.
“I have to admit,” she said. “You’re good at this. I think we sold it.”
“I told you it wouldn’t be hard.”
He wasn’t smug in that moment. He just seemed tired. She supposed it wasn’t so easy on your conscious to lie to your friends, to people you’d grown up with, and cared about.
He’d made his cousins a part of the deal.
But would they want anything to do with him after the rest of their family was arrested?
He flagged a taxi. “Come on,” he said, sighing, and opening the door for her. “This might be your job, but I have to be up at six a.m. tomorrow.”
She mostly avoided spending any time alone with her mother, but she agreed to dinner at her house on Wednesday. It was just the two of them. Her mother was tense while she poured Clarke a drink, and gossiped about people at the hospital that Clarke knew, and Clarke knew that her mother was working up carefully to something. She waited. It came when they were clearing the dishes off the table.
“I don’t think you should do this assignment,” Abby said, turning to Clarke with resolve on her face.
“It’s a little late for me to back out now,” Clarke said.
“Mom, the invitations are going out tomorrow.”
“You’ve never been under deep cover before. This is hardly an assignment for a rookie. I mean, what if this criminal who’s turned isn’t reliable?”
“You’re putting your life in his hands,” she continued.
“Can you trust him?” She didn’t give Clarke a chance to answer. “I don’t think you can. Honey, I know this is personal for you. But that isn’t necessarily a good thing. It blinds you.”
“I’m capable of doing my job,” Clarke said.
“I’m not saying you aren’t.”
She sighed. “I know. I know you’re just worried about me. I get it. But I can’t just not do it.” She tried to hold her mother’s gaze, but her mother just looked away. “I’m sorry, Mom. This is happening. You can’t do anything to stop it now.”
The moment the invitations were sent out, Clarke was officially under deep cover. If anyone from Bellamy’s family decided to investigate his bride-to-be, Clarke was ready. She lived at Jennifer’s apartment, and made friends with Jennifer’s neighbors. She drove Jennifer’s car. She used Jennifer’s bank account, and Jennifer’s library card, and Jennifer’s gym membership.
If anyone actually probed into her job, the records they’d find would show that she’d finished a third school year at Baker Elementary School, and was on break for the summer.
The wedding was happening so quickly in order for Jennifer to plan it over the course of her break.
She went wedding dress shopping with Jennifer’s friends.
They were all agents, of course.
“Has anyone thrown you a shower yet?” Harper asked, standing at the bar with Clarke.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a shower,” Clarke said. “I mean, we got engaged in June, and we’re tying the knot in August! I already feel guilty about sending out invitations for a wedding that’s in only a month!”
“You should have a shower,” Harper said.
She had a shower.
Harper threw it for her.
Most of the women at the shower were FBI agents. Some were supposed to be her co-workers. Others were friends from childhood. One was her mother, and another was her aunt. It made the whole elaborate ruse seem more real than ever.
Clarke was surprised at the number of Bellamy’s female relatives who came, too.
Octavia was there.
She was a slim, long-haired girl with an edge in her eyes.
“It’s about time I met you, Jenny,” she said.
“I’ve been dying to meet you, too!” Clarke said, bright. In a way, it was true. She couldn’t help being curious about Octavia. “Bellamy’s told me so much about you.” Bellamy was working with the FBI, was risking his life, was staging a wedding, and pretending to marry a woman, and it was all for her. Octavia. She had to be some kind of special.
“I’m sure.” Clarke’s bright, bubbly enthusiasm was met with something like suspicion from Octavia. “Can I ask you a question?”
“This is happening so fast. I mean, I only heard about you for the first time a few months ago. Now you’re getting married.”
“I know what your question is,” Clarke said, sighing.
“You mean you know that this is fast?”
“My father died of cancer when I was seven.”
That clearly wasn’t what Octavia had expected. Good. Clarke had prepared for this, and she’d be damned if it didn’t play out exactly as she’d planned.
“I grew up the only child of a single mother who worked a lot, who was—I love her, but she was never really around. I’ve never had much of a family. But I want one. And when I met Bellamy, I knew that he was the one I wanted a family with. It was actually the way he talked about you on our very first date that made me think he was going to be a really good father.” She paused. “He’s the one for me. I know that. It might seem fast to you, but it doesn’t to me.”
“I see,” Octavia said. “So. You aren’t pregnant?”
“May I interrupt?” asked a woman.
Clarke recognized her immediately. Dante Wallace’s wife was a short, plump woman with a head of dyed yellow curls, and a cloud of flowery perfume around her. She waited for Octavia to introduce her, though.
“This is my grandmother,” Octavia said. “Gran, this is Jenny.”
“I know exactly who this is,” Mrs. Wallace said, smiling. “It’s wonderful to meet you, my dear. You can’t know how happy I was to receive your beautiful wedding invitation."
“I’m glad you can come!” Clarke said, bright. “Bellamy had thought—” She bit her lip. “Well, we weren’t sure that you’d be able to make it.” She carried on hastily. “I was so excited when I got your RSVP. I called Bellamy up on the spot to tell him.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Harper began herding everyone into another room to play some sort of game.
It figured that it was going to be a game in which they asked Clarke questions they’d asked Bellamy, and she had to try to match his answer. He couldn’t have warned her about this? She was startled when Harper added that if her answer didn’t match his, she had to take a shot.
This was supposed to be a classy, family-friendly bridal shower.
“If Bellamy could have any pet in the world, what would it be?” Harper asked, reading off a card.
“Um, it would be a dog.”
She was lucky that she’d pried that out of Bellamy.
“If you could have any pet in the world, what would it be?”
“Bellamy had it right, too!”
“What’s your favorite bedroom position?”
She gaped. What? Really? They’d gone from pets to favorite sexual position? “I—I’m not going to answer that!” Her gaze swept over the circle of tittering, amused woman.
“Close,” Harper said.
“Bellamy’s exact answer was you think I’m going to answer that?” Monroe said.
“I think we’ll give her credit.”
“That means all of us have to take a shot!”
Mrs. Wallace was giggling when she sipped at her shot of cordial.
The questions went on, and on. Nobody seemed to notice, or to care, when Clarke didn’t guess the answer. Everyone was relaxed, and tipsy, and they ended up cutting the cake early, and eating while Clarke waded through the mountain of presents that she’d gotten.
All in all, it might have been fun if it were actually real.
It was real, wasn’t it?
Most of the people at the shower really believed that her name was Jennifer, and that she was a sweet, innocent kindergarten teacher.
She was fooling all of them. Clarke stood at the door, hugging all of the women who came, and thanking them for coming, and she couldn’t help marveling at the fact that it was working. They believed that she was madly in love with Bellamy. In a couple of weeks, they were going to watch her marry him. She was really, actually doing this, and it was going to work.
The ceremony took place in a church. It was bursting with peonies, was bright with the sun that streamed in the windows, and was the kind of wedding that Clarke had dreamed of before she’d grown up. She had met the man who was walking her down the aisle a handful of times, but he was playing the part of her uncle. She had to show that family was important to her. Bellamy smiled at her when she walked slowly towards him. If any part of him was having second thoughts, it didn’t show. His hand was dry when he took her hand, and they turned to the priest.
In a matter of minutes, it was over.
“You may kiss the bride,” said the priest.
He kissed her.
They turned to the pews of people, and everyone was standing, clapping and whistling and shouting, and Clarke didn’t allow her gaze to linger on the pale, lined face of Dante Wallace.
They had to take a lot of pictures, and Clarke was starving by the time they got to the giant reception hall, but they didn’t actually have any time to eat. Table by table, they had to greet their guests. Clarke’s stomach was swirling with a cocktail of nerves, excitement, and something she couldn’t quite identify when, finally, they approached the table where all of Bellamy’s older relatives were seated.
“Here’s the beautiful, blushing bride at last,” said his uncle. Cage. His smile was slick, and she knew the secrets that made it that way, knew of the blood on his hands.
“Jenny, this is my uncle Cage.”
“It’s so nice to meet you!”
“The ceremony was beautiful, my dear,” said Mrs. Wallace.
Her hand was clasped with her husband’s on the table. Dante Wallace looked at Clarke with a measured, unreadable expression. After a moment, he smiled. “I could use another drink,” he said, rising to his feet. “Son.” He gestured to Bellamy. “Come.” Apparently, Bellamy was going to get a drink with him.
“How’s the food?” Clarke asked, forcing a smile, and focusing on Mrs. Wallace.
She made small talk with everyone for a couple of minutes, was introduced to Lorelei Tsing, Cage’s girlfriend, and to Carl Emerson, Bellamy’s stepfather, and to Lovejoy, and Langston, and Whitman, and each of their pretty, smiling wives.
In the middle of a story about Lovejoy’s son, she glanced over her shoulders, and spotted Bellamy with Wallace.
She watched Dante take Bellamy’s face in his hands.
She was startled when someone took her hand. Her gaze snapped back to the table to see that Mrs. Wallace had reached for her hand, and was clasping it tightly in both of her hands. “We’re thrilled to have you join our family, Jenny,” she said, smiling. “I can’t say it enough. I hope my grandson makes you half as happy as you seem to make him.” She squeezed Clarke’s hand.
“More,” Clarke said.
It wasn’t until they were alone in the limo at the end of the night that she had the chance to ask Bellamy about his conversation with Wallace.
“This is the first time that you’ve talked to him in years.”
“Well?” She paused. “What did he say?”
“Relax, Princess.” He sighed. “It’s working just the way you planned.” He let his head loll back against his seat, and closed his eyes. “Welcome to the family.”
They had to honeymoon in Hawaii for a week. Bellamy was surprised to learn that they were really, actually going to Hawaii. “I figured we’d just hide in an FBI building, or something,” he said. But now that they had Dante’s attention, they weren’t going to give him any reason to question their ruse.
They were going on a honeymoon like any normal couple would.
On the plane, Clarke was kind of wreck.
“You don’t like flying?” Bellamy asked, raising an eyebrow at her grip on both of the armrests.
Planes were cramped, and the air was stale, and she got restless. She was trapped on a plane. She hated the takeoff, and hated the landing, and, hated everything between.
“Obviously,” she said.
“You’re an asshole,” she told him.
Hawaii was beautiful.
They took a lot of pictures on their very first day there, changing their outfits several times to make it seem like they were taking the photos over the course of a week.
They spent the rest of the trip holed up in the fancy hotel room. They reviewed the details of Clarke’s alias, and what she needed to know about Bellamy’s life, and they reviewed again, and again, and again the information that they needed in order to bring the whole, heinous family operation down at last. She was going to make certain that he knew it cold.
It wasn’t too difficult to share a space with him.
To start, they had gotten a room with two double beds. And they were adults. They could handle sharing a bathroom, and knew the meaning of privacy, and how to respect it.
The problem was more that she was forced to spend every second with him.
“We need him to give orders directly to you,” she said, sitting on her bed in a circle of papers.
“We need him to slip up in front of you. We need him to give you what we need to tie him to all of this, to the gambling, the drugs, the racketeering, the collections. To everything.”
She glanced up from her papers. “You know?” He was sprawled on the bed in his sweats, eating cold, leftover room service, and watching the TV on mute. “You know that years of work by hundreds of agents is going to be wasted if you fuck up?” She glared. “Look at me, dammit.”
He sighed, and made a show of turning his head to look at her.
“This is serious.”
“Really?” he drawled. “You haven’t made that clear.”
“This is my job.”
“This is my life. Trust me, sweetheart. I’m not going to be the one who fucks up.”
She pursed her lips.
She was more than ready to leave by the end of the week.
Miraculously, she was able to sleep on the plane. She got a solid five minutes of sleep, in fact, before he woke her up. She blinked, and glanced at him in confusion.
“You were drooling on me,” he said.
She huffed, and shifted in her seat, turning to face the aisle, and trying to cross her legs in the small, cramped space.
But even when they landed, she wouldn’t be able to escape him.
She was stuck with him.
She was in this with him. He was her partner. She’d have contact with the FBI only through her handler, which meant she’d be relying on Bellamy for a lot. It could be months. Years. She was stuck with him, and he was stuck with her, and they’d have to learn to live with it.
They moved into a townhouse that Clarke had bought with the FBI’s money a couple of weeks before the wedding. It was in a brand new complex, and the house was small, and stylish. Also, it was rigged with microphones, and a couple of cameras, too.
There was a part of Clarke that was uncomfortable with that fact.
She didn’t like being under constant, invisible watch. It didn’t help that Bellamy had no idea they were under watch, that she’d been instructed to keep it from him. Supposedly, it was a safeguard for her sake. She understood. If he didn’t know about the cameras, he was more likely to reveal any plans of betrayal in front of them. It was a perfectly reasonable precaution for the bureau to take. She couldn’t help feeling just a little guilty about keeping it from him, though.
Miller helped them with moving in.
They paid him with pizza that night, eating on the floor in a maze of boxes, and drinking, and trying to set up the television.
They hadn’t been back in the city for a week before Octavia called on behalf of Mrs. Wallace with an invitation to dinner. “O said Gran wants to hear about Hawaii,” Bellamy said. Clarke was more than happy to spend a night gushing about everything they hadn’t done in Hawaii.
The sooner they got close to his family, the better.
“Here we go,” Bellamy said, rolling to a stop in front of the gate.
“Name?” asked the attendant.
“Blake,” he said. “I’m here for dinner with my grandparents.” His mouth was a thin, pinched line, and he was staring straight ahead.
There was the sound of a buzzer before the gate slid open, allowing them access to a long gravel drive, and to the mansion at the end of the drive. She’d seen pictures of the place. Still. She was gaping when she stepped out of the truck. It was made of limestone, and was huge, with stairs at the front that led to a porch, and pillars, and a set of doors that were easily twice her height.
“Ready?” Bellamy said.
He took her hand.
The door was opened by a maid who took their coats, and led them into a grand sitting room. “Welcome!” said Mrs. Wallace, and she rose her feet to kiss Bellamy’s cheek, and to clasp Clarke’s hands, and kiss her cheek, too. Her husband was pouring a drink, and Clarke saw that Octavia was there, and Cage, too, and Dr. Tsing. He was sprawled on a sofa beside her with a hand on her knee. He smiled, and raised his glass to Bellamy in a kind of a salute.
“Your home is beautiful, Mrs. Wallace,” Clarke said.
“Please, you’re family. You’re married to my grandson. You must call me Gran now.”
“Gran,” Clarke said, warm.
“Have a seat!” She ushered them to sit.
“What’ll you have to drink, Jenny?” asked Mr. Wallace.
He brought the drink to her, and a drink for Bellamy, too. She didn’t know if he knew what Bellamy liked, or if he simply had made the decision for him. Bellamy gave a nod in thanks.
It was quiet.
“Tell me about Hawaii!” said Mrs. Wallace. “I’ve never been, you know. Is it as beautiful as I’ve imagined?”
It was all the invitation Clarke needed to start gushing about the trip.
Dinner was painless.
There were a handful of long, awkward pauses, and sentences that trailed off without any explanation, and it was clear that Bellamy was uncomfortable. Clarke didn’t know if that was part of his plan to make his return seem realistic, but she’d have to have a conversation with him about it after. Regardless, Mrs. Wallace was chatty, and more than happy to carry the conversation, and it could have been much, much worse.
They talked about Hawaii, and the townhouse, and how Clarke was waffling over returning to work in September.
At the end of dinner, Dante announced that he wanted a cigar.
Bellamy was invited to join him, and Cage.
Clarke was left to sit in the parlor with the rest of the women, drinking tiny glasses of cordial, and sharing a box of chocolates.
There was an actual oil portrait of the family over the mantel. Mrs. Wallace was sitting in a chair, and Mr. Wallace was standing by her. Cage was opposite him, and a young woman who Clarke knew was Bellamy’s mother was beside him. Octavia was standing just slightly in front of her grandfather, and Bellamy was beside her. He was a teenager in the portrait. He was dressed in a suit, and his hair was slicked back. That wasn’t what made it strange, though. There was something off about his expression. She couldn’t quite figure out what.
“You’re really going to quit your job just because you’re married now?” Octavia asked.
“Hush, Tavia,” said Mrs. Wallace.
“Come on, Gran,” she said. She toed off her heels, and curled her legs up under her on the sofa, leveling a look at Clarke. “If she’s not working, what’s she going to do all day? Cook? Clean?”
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” Clarke said. “I mean, we’ve talked about it. But there are a lot of things to consider.”
“If it’s money that worries you, you needn’t worry,” said Mrs. Wallace. “We’ll take care of you.” She leaned in, and a small, secret smile played on her lips. “Dante is already.” She patted Clarke’s hand, and straightened. “We take care of our own in this family, my dear. I promise.”
It was a little past nine when they left the house at last.
Bellamy smelled strongly of cigars. He helped her into her light summer jacket, and took her hand, walking too closely to her on the way to the car. They had to keep up the act until they were certain there weren’t any prying eyes.
In his truck, she told him about her conversation with Mrs. Wallace.
“Does this mean Dante’s invited you back into the business?” she asked, pulling at her seatbelt in order to turn to him fully in the seat.
“It isn’t going to be as easy as that,” he said. He paused, and glanced at her.
She raised her eyebrows.
“Dante got my company the contract on that new, downtown skyscraper bank. That’s a huge project. Like a huge project. I’ve never done anything even close to this size. I’ll make more money on this than I’ve made in the last five years combined. And I’ll have to hire a whole slew of people. This is going to grow my company by double. At least.” His smile was humorless. “It was bid on six months ago, but the contractor that won the bid has bowed out.” He paused.
“He was forced to?”
“You don’t say no to Dante Wallace.”
She nodded. “This is good.” She looked forward again. “This is progress. Your family is happy to have you back. They’ll start trusting you with more soon, and me, too. This is good.”
They met Miller, Harper, and Monroe at the bar on Tuesday. It was regular Tuesday thing, apparently. Clarke had to admit that she liked them, like their easy, shared sense of humor, and how they were all laidback, and easy to talk to.
It almost made it harder for her to be someone else around them.
She was curious, too.
She’d assumed that Bellamy was close with his sister. She knew he was devoted to her. He’d struck a deal with the FBI to protect her, and Clarke had known he would. He kept up with her, wrote to her, and called her, and Finn had reported that Dante trusted Bellamy would never, ever betray the family simply because of her. But, oddly, it seemed like he was closer to Harper, and to Monroe. They were who he hung out with. They were who Clarke had to meet before they could get engaged. They were Bellamy’s friends.
It made her wonder about things.
She was tempted to ask him, but she didn’t know how to word it. You love your sister so much that even the FBI knew we could use her to strike a deal with you, but do you actually like her? Somehow, that didn’t seem like the right way to phrase it.
It wasn’t that important.
She sipped at her cider, and laughed at Monroe’s comment, and focused on being Bellamy’s chatty, cheerful wife.
She burrowed into her pillow at the shaking of her shoulder. There was no way that it was time to wake up yet. The sheets were yanked away from her, and she curled up instinctively at the rush of cold. “What the hell?” She blinked, and began to sit up.
“Carol is here,” Bellamy said.
He was climbing into bed with her.
“Pretend you’re asleep,” he said, pulling up the covers.
“What?” She heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs. Carol was here. She was coming up the stairs. Wait, what? Seriously? “She isn’t going to come up here, is she?” She wouldn’t.
She tore her gaze from the door to look at him.
It happened in a blink.
The door began opening, and he sprang at her, pinning her to the mattress, and covering her mouth with his.
“Gran!” Bellamy yelled, and he yanked at the sheets like there was something to cover up.
“I’m sorry! Oh, goodness! I’m sorry!” She clapped her hands to her eyes. “I’ll just—” She gestured, and began backing hastily from the room, pulling the door closed while she went. “I wasn’t even thinking! I called your names, but you mustn’t have heard. But, of course, you didn’t, because you were . . . ” She flapped a hand, and was gone with a slam of the door.
There was a pause.
“I’ll just wait downstairs for you, shall I?” she asked, muffled.
“Okay!” Bellamy said, gritting his teeth.
There was the sound of her footsteps on the stairs.
Bellamy blew out a breath, and rolled off Clarke, collapsing on his back.
“Oh, my God,” Clarke said.
He shook his head.
She touched a hand to her mouth. Stupidly, it occurred to her that her breath was terrible in the morning. She glanced at Bellamy.
He scrubbed at his face, and sat up.
“Did that seriously just happen?” she asked.
“My gran is nosey, okay?” he said. “Like read-your-diary, press-a-glass-to-the-wall-to-eavesdrop, search-your-purse-while-you’re-in-the-bathroom nosey. The woman doesn’t believe in boundaries.”
“How’d she even get into the house?”
“I gave Octavia a key.”
“How did your gran get it?”
He pushed a hand through his hair, and shrugged. “She must have borrowed it, and made a copy.”
“I told you.” He rose to his feet. “She is nosey. I’m going to sneak back to my room to get dressed. You good?”
“Um.” She sat up. “Yeah. Yes. I’m good. I’ll meet you downstairs in a minute.”
He nodded. He was shirtless. Somehow, she hadn’t really processed that before. He was dressed in a pair of boxers, and, absurdly, thick white socks. She had a t-shirt on, and, well, her underwear. Inadvertently, she pulled up the sheets that had pooled at her waist. He wasn’t paying attention to her, though. He was already slowly, silently opening the door of the bedroom. He left.
In the quiet, she shook her head again.
He’d have to keep his clothes in her room from now on, and make sure his room just looked like another guest bedroom.
She brushed her teeth, and washed her face, dressed, and put her hair in a quick, messy ponytailed.
Bellamy was making a pot of coffee when Clarke made it downstairs.
“Morning,” she said.
“Morning, dear,” said Mrs. Wallace. She was seated at the table. “I’m sorry about earlier. Really. I should have known better than to barge in like that! But when you didn’t hear my shouting, I just wasn’t sure you were even home, and I . . .” She shook her head.
“It’s fine,” Clarke said, taking a seat.
It turned out the reason that Mrs. Wallace had stopped by was to talk to Clarke about Clarke’s plans for remodeling the townhouse.
In the span of an hour, Clarke had to look at a thousand wallpaper swatches.
That was just to start.
It wasn’t exactly how she’d pictured undercover work.
She collapsed on the couch with a huff when Mrs. Wallace left at last. It was only ten in the morning, and Clarke was exhausted. Bellamy had put some weird history channel show on the TV.
He had been excused from redecorating plans.
It was Clarke’s fault. She’d been the one to bring up remodeling to Mrs. Wallace at dinner. She was trying to make herself into a good mob wife.
So far, she thought it was working.
“Your gran seems to like me kind of a lot,” she said.
“Did you know that she would?”
“Did you know that she’d like me?”
He shrugged. “I knew that Carol has always desperately wanted a pretty blonde daughter who loves tea and gardening and décor, and, instead, she was saddled with my mother, and now is stuck with my sister. So.” He glanced at her. “Does that count as knowing she’d like you?”
She bit her lip. “Is that why you suggested this wardrobe?” She gestured at her floral print top.
It hadn’t passed her notice that Mrs. Wallace dressed this way, too.
“Smart,” Clarke said.
His gaze was already back on the TV.
But she found she wasn’t annoyed with him. He was doing his part. She’d been harassing him to take this seriously for months, and he was. She stared at his profile for a moment. He needed to shave. She remembered the scratch of his stubble on her cheek that morning, and scoffed at herself. She needed a nap.
She went to the gym at seven a.m. It was a habit she’d established in the weeks that lead up the wedding. She didn’t do much. She was on the treadmill in time for Raven’s arrival. She gave Raven a brief, cursory smile in greeting like she would to a woman she saw regularly at the gym but didn’t really know.
“How’s it going?” Raven asked, setting the treadmill to a fast walking pace.
“Slow,” Clarke said.
“Is he back in the business?”
“Nope.” She took a drink of her water. “His company is doing a job that Dante got for him, but he isn’t doing anything with the family. He claims that we have to wait for Dante to come to him, because he’s never cared about the family business before, and it’ll be suspicious if he cares suddenly now. It’s a pretty fair point.”
“How are you getting on with his family?”
“You think they trust you?”
“I think they like me. It doesn’t seem like anyone is suspicious of me, or making an effort to keep anything from me. I spend a lot of time with Carol.”
She sighed. “What gave it away?” Restless was an understatement.
“This is the way it’s played,” Raven said, sympathetic.
It was something that Finn used to say. She nodded. This was it how it had to work. Her days were filled with endless inane activities, but she was doing the most important work of her life. She had to remember that.
The plan was always for her to “quit” her imaginary job teaching. She was beginning to wish she’d been forced to keep it, though. Even if she would’ve been an absolute disaster of a teacher, at least it would have given her something to do.
Instead, she was stuck puttering around the house.
She redecorated with Mrs. Wallace, and that kept her busy for a couple of weeks, and she saw Mrs. Wallace at least every week for shopping, or tea, or a fancy art auction. But as much as she wanted to believe that spending time with Mrs. Wallace was part of her assignment, it wasn’t as though she got any information from the woman. If Mrs. Wallace knew anything about her husband’s dirty business, she kept it close, and never even hinted at knowing.
Bellamy claimed that his grandmother was privy to everything.
If she was, she wasn’t telling Clarke.
“You need to talk to your grandfather,” Clarke said, cornering him as soon as he got home from work.
“I can’t live like this. I’m serious. If I have to go one more day where the only time I leave this house is to buy your groceries, it’s going to get violent.”
“It’s been a month, Princess,” he said, passing her on his way to the kitchen.
She followed him. “Is there any way that you can get me a job with your grandfather? Let me start working for him? Let me start doing what we’re supposed to be doing?” She glared at his back while he took a beer from the fridge.
He closed the door of the fridge, and straightened, looking at her. “Do you have five or six years to spare?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“You aren’t family. For him to trust you with a job where you’d actually be able to get dirt on him? It would take years.”
“I’m your wife!”
He shook his head. “It’s different. There’s marriage, and there’s blood.”
“Finn was able to do it,” she said, crossing her arms.
She hesitated. “The agent who was undercover with your family.” In the heat of the moment, she’d forgotten. Bellamy hadn’t been told everything. “He wasn’t family. Marriage, or blood. But he got in.”
“I bet it took him a few years.” He raised his eyebrows. “And he didn’t actually get close enough, did he? He couldn’t get evidence on Dante. If he had, we wouldn’t be here.”
“He did the best he could,” she snapped.
“I’m not saying that he didn’t,” Bellamy said. “I’m just saying this shit takes time. I’m doing what I said I would.”
He pushed a hand through his hair. “Okay. This agent. Finn. What was his name when he was undercover?”
“Why?” She frowned.
“Just . . . if you want me to try to get back in faster, it might help. What was his name? What did he look like? What did he . . . ? What was he like?”
“His alias was Carter Howl,” she said. “He was, um, pretty medium height, had brown-hair, brown eyes. White. He was—charming. Had an easy smile, and was good at making other people smile, too.”
“Okay.” He nodded. “I think I can use that.”
She crossed her arms. “We might have had our disagreements, but Finn was a really good person.”
“I’m sure,” he said.
She wanted to be angry at him, to snap at him, and have something to do with the frustration that lived in her, that fed off her uselessness. But there wasn’t anything mean or mocking in his gaze at that moment. He wasn’t insulting Finn, or insulting her.
“Now that you’re all calm and quiet? Miller’s coming over later. Indians are playing at seven.” He paused. “Is that . . . cool?”
She blinked. “Yeah.” She nodded. “Sure. What kind of wife would I be if I said no?”
“The kind that doesn’t actually like me, and isn’t actually my wife?”
There was something like a smile in his gaze, and he passed her again on his way out of the kitchen. She heard the TV turn on from the other room. Well, at least she had something to do tonight.
She found herself cataloging the things she learned about Bellamy like she was required to write a report on him. He was a big part of her job. At the moment, he was all of her job. In a way, she was his handler, and she was supposed to keep an eye on him, and protect him, and be sure he didn’t try turning on them. The more she knew about him, the better.
Here was what she knew.
If he was smiling a lot, laughing, and joking, and drawing any attention to himself, he was trying to get something out of someone.
Regularly, he was quiet. Laidback. He didn’t like being the center of attention.
He had a lot of patience with people he liked. Otherwise, his fuse was short. He never really blew up, though. He seethed, and pursed his lips. And he plotted. She knew he plotted. He was smart, and, though she hadn’t really seen it firsthand, she had a feeling he was calculating.
He was early to bed, and early to rise.
He was good at cooking, and liked to cook.
If he was bored, he jiggled his leg, or tapped his hands on his thigh, or shifted in his seat again and again and again. She thought he might be ADHD. It was hard for him to sit. He could do it with a beer in his hand, though, and a game of baseball in front of him. It figured that was what could keep his attention.
She did write a report on him.
“How is it relevant that he likes to cook?” Raven asked, prodding at the display on her treadmill.
“You never know what you might someday need to know,” Clarke said.
Here was something she didn’t put in her report.
He was better than she’d expected. He was competent, and hardworking, and good at his job. He was loyal. Dependable. He was the kind of friend who showed up when he said he would, and helped without expecting a favor in return. He was clever. And he was fun. It surprised her. But the truth was that if he weren’t who he was, she would probably like him.
She slammed the door of the dresser, and turned on her heel. “Bellamy!” She knew this was his handiwork. He was downstairs, working on his computer, and waiting for her to be ready to go, and he didn’t bother looking up at her approach. “Have you seen my purple sweater set?” she asked. He was frowning at his screen. “Bellamy.” She glared.
“I’m trying to . . .” He sighed, and looked at her. “What?”
“My purple sweater set.”
He blinked. “It’s in the hamper, I think.”
“How? I didn’t put it in the hamper, because it didn’t need to be washed.”
He sat back in his seat. “I put it in the hamper, because it was lying on the floor. I assumed.”
“It wasn’t on the floor.” She scoffed.
“What does it matter where it was? It’s mine. I don’t go around picking up your shit, and doing whatever the hell I want with it.”
“That’s because I pick up my shit."
“Seriously?” She glared. “We’re back at this?”
“Back at what? The fact that you’re a slob, and I don’t like to live in squalor?”
He crossed his arms.
“You don’t think that’s a bit of an exaggeration?”
“You don’t wash your dishes for days.”
“I get to them!”
“It took you a week to do them, and when you did, you just shoved them into the dishwasher—”
She shook her head.
“—and you didn’t even clean them off properly first, which meant there was still shit crusted on them when I took them out of the dishwasher—”
“You don’t need to wash dishes before you put them in the dishwasher!”
“There was literally food crusted on them!”
“It was clean!”
He threw up his hands.
“You’re impossible,” she told him.
“I’m considerate,” he said. “I don’t leave my shoes piled up in front of the door for people to trip on when they walk in. I don’t leave takeout to rot in the fridge until the whole kitchen smells like rot. I don’t leave the cap off the toothpaste that I share, and make the end get all crusty, and dried up, and I don’t squeeze from the middle, and turn the toothpaste into a twisted, useless mess. I don’t—”
“I’m done.” She turned away from him. “I can’t deal with you.”
“Would you rather we talk about your texts?”
“Is it really that time consuming for you spell out words in a text?”
“Oh, my God!”
“You can’t throw in a fucking period once in a while?”
“Do you want me to shout at kids to get off my lawn, too?” She shook her head. “Seriously, I can’t. I cannot deal with you.” She started out of the kitchen.
“If that means you aren’t coming tonight, great. I can leave. Now I’ll only be twenty minutes late.”
“I’m coming!” she said, yelling at him on her way up the stairs. “If you think I’m going to pass on escaping this house just because you’re an ass, think again! I just need something to wear that you haven’t already tossed in the hamper!”
The dinner was in honor of the job that one of Bellamy’s second cousins had gotten with a bank in the city. Clarke knew, realistically, that she wouldn’t be gathering much intelligence at a big, sappy family dinner. Regardless, she was eager for the evening. She hadn’t seen most of Bellamy’s family members since meeting them briefly at the wedding.
Even if the evening was completely fruitless otherwise, this was a chance for her to assimilate a little further into the family.
It seemed like everyone was there.
Dante had four younger sisters. One of them had died years ago. The other three were in attendance with their husbands, and their dozens of grown, criminal children, and their flocks of grandchildren.
Sitting by Clarke on the sofa, Monroe gave Clarke a stream of information on everyone.
Clarke already knew a lot of her tidbits.
“The guy with the sneer is Murphy,” Monroe said, leaning in. “John. He’s P.J.’s stepson. They married when he was a teenager. He’s not P.J.’s biggest fan. But his mother committed suicide a few years ago, and P.J.’s been bringing him to stuff all the time like that’ll make up for it.”
Clarke eyed Murphy.
His hair was falling into his face, and it added to the insolence of his expression, of his posture. Every last pore of the man was intent on making you feel his disinterest in you. There was something truly childish about it. Him. And he might not be a fan of his stepfather, but he was definitely in on the business.
In fact, Clarke would wager his hands were dirtier than most in the room.
Monroe was greeting a cousin when Clarke saw Bellamy in the corner of the room with his grandfather. Dante clapped Bellamy on the shoulder, and started to lead him out of the room. Clarke wanted to spring to her feet, to follow. She couldn’t, though. She had to trust that Bellamy was going to play his part, and use this opportunity to strengthen his relationship with Dante.
Or was this when Dante would finally invite Bellamy into the business with some small task?
She shifted in her seat.
The longer they were gone, the better. Right? She took a sip of her drink, only to realize that she had finished her drink.
“I need to use the bathroom,” she said, catching Monroe’s attention.
“Down the hall, and on your left.”
The hallway was quiet. Clarke knew exactly where the bathroom was with its garish fixtures, marble countertop, and pineapple themed wallpaper. It helped that all of the doors were closed. She could play stupid if caught. Silently, she passed the bathroom, and slowed at the sound of voices. The door was open.
“ . . . figured you ought to know,” Bellamy said, hesitant.
“Please,” Dante said.
“He was this sort of, like, good-looking, sweet-talking guy. Like you’d think he was a Bible thumper, or something. I figured he was selling something at first. I blew him off, only to run into him again. He dropped your name, and told him to fuck off, but . . .” He paused. “I haven’t seen him since. It was probably nothing. Just thought you should know.”
“Did he tell you his name?” Dante asked.
“Carter,” Bellamy said. “Never got a last name off him.”
“Don’t need it. I know the man. Thankfully, he isn’t a problem. I appreciate you telling me, though. You should have told me sooner.”
“I know. I just . . . wasn’t really sure it was my place to . . . you know, after everything—”
“Son,” Dante said. “You have always had a place in this family. You always will.”
Bellamy, Clarke thought. You are brilliant.
“Now! Let’s not forget why we came back here. You know I have a man who contacts me about certain, valuable first editions that enter the market? Well, have a look at what he found me. I think you’ll appreciate it more than most in this family. Yes, here . . .”
Clarke backed away silently from the door to leave the two of them to it.
She couldn’t help smiling at nothing in the empty, quiet hall.
It was a good thing she turned when she did, starting back towards the parlor, because Cage burst suddenly from another room, and they were face to face.
“You don’t know where the bathroom is, do you?” she asked, trying to make her face turn soft, and open. Innocent. “I swear, I’ve tried every door. And I know I’ve been in it before. That’s the kicker.” She played at sheepish.
He smiled, and tilted his head. “Had a bit too much to drink?” His eyes swept over her.
“I’ve had one glass!” she said, protesting with a smile.
He chuckled. “It’s right over here.” He brushed his hand up her arm, and slid his palm to her back, nudging her forward. He didn’t take his hand off her back until they were at the bathroom, and it had crept dangerously low. “You’re welcome.”
“Thanks.” She expected him to back off.
“Jenny!” Fox said. She was heading for them.
Cage stepped away from Clarke at last, and turned to greet the teenager. “Foxy,” he greeted.
“We were wondering where Jenny had gotten to,” she said, smiling.
“She was a lost little bird when I found her,” Cage said. “Now that you’re here, I’ll leave her in your care. That’s a pretty dress you’ve got on, Fox. You look very grown up. Your father is going to have to lock you up soon!”
“I’d like to see him try,” Fox said.
Cage shook his head with a chuckle, and left.
“I was looking for the bathroom,” Clarke explained.
“You don’t have to worry about him.”
“He’s a creep,” Fox said, “but Bellamy’s got an eye on him, and he knows it. He can’t touch us.”
“I . . . I guess everybody’s got that uncle, right?” Clarke said, smiling.
It was quiet.
Fox was nineteen, and mousy, easy to overlook. She had never even been mentioned in Finn’s reports. In that moment, it occurred to Clarke that Fox might be worth another look.
She could know a lot more than anyone thought.
The rest of the party was uneventful.
Clarke asked Bellamy about Fox later that night, though.
He tended to blast the heat in his truck, and she was warm, and relaxed, and plotting. “Where did Fox get her name?” It wasn’t exactly a nickname she’d ever heard before.
“She’s a sly little thing,” Bellamy said. “Like a fox. I think it was Miller’s dad who said it first?”
He nodded. “He got her out of trouble a lot. She had some sticky fingers when she was a kid.” He smiled. “I’m talking, like, five, and coming up with plots to steal a box of Snickers bars from Kroger. And she was good at it, and when you confronted her about it, she’d play innocent so well you’d almost think you got it mixed up. She was tricky like that.”
“She doesn’t seem to have much love for Cage.”
He raised his eyebrows. “He isn’t anybody’s favorite. Why the interest in Fox?”
She shrugged. “I talked to her, and I was curious. Tonight was good. I eavesdropped on your conversation with your grandfather. Smooth.”
“You eavesdropped?” He risked a glanced at her. “You didn’t think I had it handled?”
“I was impatient.”
He snorted. “Yeah, well. You’re welcome.”
She smiled, and closed her eyes, turning her head into the seatback. Tomorrow, she’d be able to report to Raven that they were making real, actual progress. It wasn’t much progress, but she’d take it.
She decided to focus on befriending the women in Bellamy’s family. She began to go to zoomba with his aunt Natalie. She helped Fox study for her finals. She joined his great aunt Selene for her regular weekly pedicure. The more people who trusted her, the better.
It was a way to pass the time that seemed remotely useful.
She practiced making mashed potatoes for weeks in order to bring a dish to Thanksgiving, and claim it was her family’s traditional recipe. In the end, her weeks of practice were wasted. The dish was awful. People artfully pushed it around their plates to avoid actually eating it. Bellamy ate serving after serving, though.
He wasn’t fooling anyone. “I know it’s awful,” she told him. She watched him gulp down his beer after every bite.
“It’s fine,” he said.
He smiled. “I love you, too, Pumpkin.” He took another bite, and washed it down with a pull of beer. “Next year, you just might want to lay off the salt a little, and the mashing, and, maybe, like, cooking in general.”
They’d gotten good at quick, easy affection. He’d press a kiss to her cheek in greeting when he got home from work to find her sitting in the kitchen with his grandmother. She’d take his hand when they were walking down the street to lunch with his aunt. He’d tuck her behind her ear when she was talking to him at the bar. She’d never been much for displays of affection, but it was part of the job.
She’d gotten in the habit of touching him, and invading his space.
At the bar with his friends, she’d get tipsy, and she’d play with his hands, and he’d let her. She’d trace his veins, and smooth her hand over his, curling her fingers in the gaps between his fingers. She liked his hands, and liked to lean into him, because she the smell of his soap, and it was easy, really, to play his wife.
It helped that they actually lived together, and had a pair of rings.
Bellamy had gone to get a drink for her, and when she checked to see what was holding him up, she saw he was talking with a woman at the bar. “Who is that?” she asked. She knew everyone there was to know in his family at this point, and all of his friends.
“Beats me,” Monroe said.
The woman at the bar threw her head back with laughter, and touched his arm.
“He’s wearing his ring,” Clarke said, incredulous.
“I bet she thinks she can get a drink off him,” Harper said.
“Whatever.” She tore her gaze from the pair of them. “If that’s the case, she’s wasting her time.”
Harper was fighting a smirk.
Clarke realized that she must look annoyed. She was. Who flirted with a guy who was clearly permanently taken? It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Bellamy to blow off the woman. It was the principle of the matter.
Monroe took a sip of her drink.
“I’ll be right back,” Clarke said, slipping off her stool.
There was laughter at her back when she made a beeline for Bellamy, and her.
She ignored it.
She sidled up to Bellamy, and slipped her arm around his waist, getting his attention. He turned to her in surprise, but he lifted his arm to pull her into his side properly. She smiled at him, and, finally, she turned to the woman.
“Jenny, this is Tricia.”
“Nice to meet you, Tricia,” Clarke said. “Is there something you needed, or . . .?” She blinked.
“We were talking about Cleveland,” Bellamy said, amused.
“I should get back to my table,” Tricia said.
The moment she was gone, Bellamy began cracking up. “Subtle,” he said. “I’ve never actually seen someone smile with their mouth, and murder with their eyes.”
She turned on him. “You realize you’re taken, right?”
“That’s what I told her.”
She rolled her eyes, and grasped the collar of his shirt. “Kiss me,” she said. “Make it look like I’m asserting my claim on you.”
“If that’s what we’re going for, you should probably kiss me.”
She grasped at the collar of his shirt. “Fine.” She pushed up on her toes, and pressed her lips to his smug little smirk.
Usually, this was the part where she’d fall back on her heels, and call it a kiss.
He’d been flirting with some girl, and she had a point to make. To the girl. To him. To his friends.
She curled her fingers in his collar, and kissed him.
His lips parted easily under her lips when she opened her mouth, when she closed her eyes, and tilted her head, deepening the kiss. He cupped her cheek, and his fingers slid easily into her hair, pushing it back from her face. It was a messy, unpracticed kind of kiss, and there was spit, and teeth, and her nose bumped his nose, and she felt the edge of a smile in his lips.
She was breathless when she pulled away at last.
They’d kissed more than a few times, but they hadn’t done any kissing like that.
“Do you think I staked my claim?”
He smiled, and leaned in like he was going to kiss her again, only to turn, and press a soft, sweet kiss to her cheek.
“Now.” She smoothed a hand over her hair. “Where’s my drink?”
He was touchier than usual with her for the rest of the night. It was good. They needed to sell it. After a kiss like that in front of everyone at the bar, it made sense that Bellamy would keep his arm around her, that he’d toy with the ends of her hair, and drop a kiss to her shoulder just because.
Jenny wasn’t the sort to be overly affectionate with her husband in front of his family, but they were newlyweds.
She woke on Sunday to the sound of someone on the roof. She braved the cold to investigate. It was Bellamy. He was hanging up lights, and he must’ve been awake for a while, because lights were already strung in the trees, and he’d put a wreath on the door, and the walkway to the door was lined with giant plastic, light up candy canes. She was startled.
She wouldn’t have assumed he was big on Christmas.
He was, though.
He got a tree for them, and they decorated it with a bunch of cheap, tacky ornaments that Clarke had bought at Target.
She hadn’t really celebrated Christmas in years. She exchanged gifts with her friends, obviously, and spent the day at her mother’s. But since her father had died, Christmas had become something of a glorified day off work.
She baked Christmas cookies with Harper, Monroe, and their stepmother. She sent Christmas cards to all of Bellamy’s relatives. She went to see an orchestra perform classic Christmas carols with Mrs. Wallace.
It was kind of nice to celebrate Christmas again.
They had dinner with Bellamy’s grandparents on the 24th, but there weren’t any scheduled family activities for the day of Christmas.
She slept in late.
Downstairs, Bellamy was in the kitchen.
He had Christmas music playing on the radio, and her mouth began watering at the smell of cinnamon buns wafting from the oven. “There’s hot chocolate, too,” he said, nodding at the kettle that sat on the stove. He took a sip from a mug that looked like Santa’s face, and returned his gaze to his computer.
She poured a mug of cocoa for herself. “So.” She sat by him at the table.
He smiled. “Right.” He pushed a small, neatly wrapped present across the table.
“Is this for me?” she asked, startled.
Well, shit. He got her a present. Why didn’t she think to get a present for him? “You didn’t have to get me a present,” she said. “I didn’t . . .” She was bad at Christmas. He had to have figured that out by now.
“It’s fine,” he said. “This cost about ten bucks. Don’t sweat it.”
She bit her lip. Well, there was nothing she could do about it that second. She tore off the paper to reveal a box of plain black gloves. “Oh! They’ve got those things on the fingers! The touchscreen things! Bellamy!” She tore her gaze up look at him in delight.
“You’ve said you needed them at least fifteen times.”
She grinned. “I guess that means you are listening when I complain about things.”
“I’ve got another one for you, too,” he said.
“Something I know you really want.” He set his mug down with a sigh, and learned forward slightly, putting his elbows on the table. “Dante brought up Lexa with me the other day.”
“Forester,” he said. “You don’t know who Lexa Forester is? The arms dealer?”
“I . . .” She shook her head.
“Well, I guess the FBI doesn’t know everything. She’s in the business. Her dad was ex-military, and sold weapons under the table for cash. She took over when she was pretty young. Like high school. He had a stroke, I think.”
“The Commander,” Clarke said. “You’re talking about the Commander. That’s what Finn called her in his reports.”
“That’s what she calls herself. She took over, and, ah. Expanded. Turned into competition for Dante. He hates her. Calls her a warmonger. Thinks she lacks class, and an understanding of the rules.”
“What did he tell you?” she asked.
“It wasn’t anything much. He just brought her up, asked if I remembered her. Told me she was a problem. But the fact that he brought her up with me at all? It’s good. Clarke, it means he’s starting to trust me.”
He smiled. “Yeah.”
She held up her mug, and he clinked it with his.
They spent the day watching bad Christmas movies, and playing Trivial Pursuit, and trying to make a Baked Alaska because she told Bellamy that she’d always kind of wanted to make that cake you set on fire.
“We’ve had eyes on the Commander for a while,” Raven said. “Honestly, though? She’s pretty small potatoes. I mean, she isn’t quiet. I would wager that’s why Dante isn’t fond of her. She’s a hothead, and she draws a lot of attention to herself. Her operation is nothing in comparison to Dante’s, though.”
“Dante told Bellamy that she was a problem,” Clarke said.
“He isn’t ruffled that easily. If this woman is annoying him, it’s because she’s doing something more significant than being a loud, angry upstart. I think we should have someone on her.”
“Do you think he’s doing business with her?”
“Possibly. If he is doing some kind of business with her, it would explain why he was annoyed with her antics.”
“Okay,” Raven said.
They paused when a woman passed behind the row of treadmills.
“I’ll ask them to put someone on her, and let you know what they find out.” Raven turned off her treadmill. “Is there anything else? Something you need? Something I can do for you?”
“Okay.” She stepped off the treadmill. “If that changes, let me know.” She smiled. “Otherwise, I’ll see you next week.”
She met Monty through Carol. Her computer was giving her grief, and Carol said Monty was a “wizard” with computers. She gave Clarke his number.
Clarke knew Green from Finn’s reports.
He was young, came from a middle class family, and could have enjoyed a bright, successful future. Instead, he’d gotten into trouble. Mostly, his crimes were harmless. They revealed the kind of immaturity you’d expect from a teenager, and, of course, an affinity for hacking. He had stayed out of trouble since coming to work for Dante, though. It wasn’t clear exactly what Monty’s job actually was. Finn had learned that Monty ran a legal, online gambling operation, but the operation wasn’t linked to Dante in any tangible, traceable ways.
Regardless, Clarke was certain that Monty did plenty of other, not-so-legal things for Dante.
She called him.
He was willing to stop by her house to take a look at her laptop, and was flustered at her suggestion that she bring her laptop to his apartment.
He lived in a cramped, shitty two-bedroom at the edge of the city. There were cracks in the plaster of the walls, and the door to the bathroom wouldn’t actually shut completely, and you could hear muffled voices through the walls. It was a mess, too. He’d made an effort to pick up, but it remained painfully obvious that he was a slob, and his roommate was a slob, too.
“I’m Jasper,” he said, wiping at his beard of red Dorito dust with the back of his hand.
“Nice to meet you.”
Monty had cleared a place for her to sit while she was in the bathroom, and he took her laptop.
“Thank you again for agreeing to help me,” she said.
“It’s cool,” Jasper said. “You’re Bellamy’s wife.” He smiled. “We grew up with him. Or, I mean. We grew up with Octavia, and he was around, and stuff. So. Yeah. It’s cool.”
“I can fix this,” Monty said.
“It’ll take me five minutes tops.”
“You’re a lifesaver!”
It was quiet.
She’d done her best to take in the details of the apartment when Monty had showed her to the bathroom, but there hadn’t been anything worth trying to investigate. She tapped the toes of her heels on the ground. She had discovered from a peak in the bathroom medicine cabinet that they needed to think of a much better place to put their pot. In a way, it was comforting. These were young, dorky, run-of-the mill computer hacking criminals.
“You’re a teacher?” Jasper asked.
Again, it was quiet.
“So.” She smiled. “What was Bellamy like when he was a kid?”
“Scary,” Jasper said.
“Protective,” Monty said.
“He broke a guy’s nose once! And remember when Murphy ran his mouth off about Octavia? Murphy was, like, his step-cousin, or something, and Bellamy beat the shit out of him anyway. Like, he fractured two of Murphy’s ribs. You didn’t mess with Bellamy. He was like. The King. It helped that he was a Wallace, too.”
“Dude.” Monty shot Jasper a wide-eyed, pointed look over the top of Clarke’s laptop.
“What?” Jasper glanced at Clarke. “Oh, um.”
“It’s fine,” Clarke said. “Really. I know Bellamy is . . . passionate about standing up for himself.”
She crossed her legs.
“He never messed with anybody who didn’t deserve it.”
“Done!” Monty said, closing her laptop.
She rose to her feet to take it from him. “Can I pay you? I want to pay you.”
“It was a favor,” he said.
She smiled. She might not know him very well, but she liked Monty. Or, well. She wanted to like him. She could only hope that when they brought Dante Wallace to justice, Monty wasn’t one of the people that went down with him.
She eyed him over her coffee. She knew he could feel her gaze because he sighed, and rolled his shoulders. She took a sip of coffee, and waited.
“What?” he asked.
“There is nothing in your file about a tendency toward violence.”
He lifted his gaze from his computer.
“Jasper had a lot to say about you,” she explained. “I asked about you when you were a kid. He said you were the king, and, apparently, you had a very Machiavellian style of leadership. Or I guess that isn’t how he put it. You had a very Attila the Hun style of leadership? You get where I’m going with this.”
“I didn’t put up with shit.”
“I had some anger issues, okay?” He focused on his computer again. “I grew up, and grew out of it.”
Truthfully, she couldn’t really picture a trigger-happy, violent Bellamy. It was weird. Probably, she should be able to. He was raised by a family of criminals. He wasn’t always right with the law. He had an attitude. But she’d never once feared that he’d get violent with her.
“I partied a lot when I was a kid,” she said.
He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Do you want to hear about the time that I got drunk at a party freshmen year, and tried to ride down the ice luge like it was a slide?”
She made the offer before she really thought about it. They were at the bar, and Harper was saying that she needed a place to stay while her landlord repaired her ceiling, and when Miller said that she was welcome to sleep on his couch, Clarke didn’t think. “Or you could stay with us,” she said.
She was an idiot.
She didn’t realize what she’d done until Harper was saying it would be for a month at most.
Harper was going to stay with them.
Bellamy was going to have to sleep in Clarke’s room. They were going to have to play the part of happily married couple morning, noon, and night. Clarke was going to have to be bright, bubbly Jenny 24/7.
For a month.
“I’m an idiot,” she said, watching Harper walk off down the street with Monroe.
“Yes,” Bellamy said.
There was no way to back out of it now, though.
Because of nosy Mrs. Wallace, it was easy at least to get the house all ready for her. The majority of Bellamy’s stuff was already in Clarke’s bedroom. They just had to wash the sheets on his bed, and his bedroom became the guestroom.
Harper came with a couple of suitcases in tow that weekend, thanking them profusely for letting her stay with them.
“We’re happy to have you,” Clarke said.
Bellamy made lasagna for dinner that night.
They ate in front of the TV watching old episodes of Futurama on Netflix, and they’d long finished their food when Clarke realized that she was sitting on the couch beside her husband without touching him. There was literally a foot of space was between them. She kept her gaze on the TV. Sighing, she shifted to lie across the couch, and push her feet into Bellamy’s lap. There. It wasn’t much, but at least it was more intimate than sitting primly beside him on the sofa like he was the friend of a friend.
It was casual.
That was what they were aiming for: the easy, casual intimacy of spouses.
They were going to make this work. Harper was going to stay with them, and they were going to keep up the ruse. It wasn’t even going to be that difficult.
She feeling pretty confident up until Harper said she needed to get to sleep, they decided to call it a night, too, and Clarke was faced with her bed, and the fact that she was supposed to share her bed with Bellamy.
If they were sharing her room, they were sharing a bed.
It would be stupid to have him sleep on the floor. They were adults. They could share a queen sized bed.
He was brushing his teeth in the bathroom.
She joined him, and brought her pajamas with her. They brushed their teeth side by side. He left the bathroom as soon as he was done, closing the door, and giving her privacy to change, and finish getting ready for bed. They’d shared a bathroom before, were able to do that, at least, without a problem.
But when she emerged from the bathroom, it was to find that Bellamy was sitting on the edge of the bed, and looking at his phone.
“You want me sleep on the floor?” he asked, glancing up.
“What?” She frowned. “No.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” She circled the bed to climb onto her side. Or what was mostly her side. Usually, she gravitated to the middle. It was her bed. Tonight, though. “It’s plenty big enough for the both of us.”
“Okay,” he said, and the word was laced with skepticism.
It annoyed her.
He’d already turned away from her, though, and was plugging in his charger.
She turned off the light on her side, and pulled up the sheets, settling in. After a minute, he got into his side, and turned off the light by him. It was dark, and quiet, and they were mature adults sharing a bed.
She closed her eyes. She opened them. She could hear him breathing.
“Stop it,” she said.
“That thing you do where you forget to breathe, and all of the sudden you let out a huff.” She pulled at her pillow, and shifted. “Breathe like a normal person.”
“I can’t help the way I breathe,” he said.
She pursed her lips.
She didn’t know how long she just lay in the dark. She was tempted to roll over, but she’d be facing him if she did that, and that would be weird. Right? That would be weird. Eventually, she must’ve fallen asleep.
She rolled in her sleep, and scooted, and reached for a nice cool pillow, and ended up whacking him in the face.
She recoiled, and was suddenly fully, one hundred perfect awake.
He made a sleepy, snuffling noise, and slept on.
She rolled to face away from him again, and scooted as close as she could to the edge of the bed.
In the morning, she woke, and his side of the bed was empty. She blinked. He chose that moment to come out of the bathroom with bleary eyes, stubble on his cheeks, and his hair flattened on the right, and sticking up stupidly on the left.
It was kind of a good look on him.
It was really a good look on him.
“Morning,” he said, gruff.
“Do you know you thrash about wildly in your sleep?”
She scoffed. “I don’t thrash about—”
“You woke me up like fifteen times,” he said. “I think I have bruises. You might have cracked a rib.”
She rolled her eyes.
He got back into bed. She was surprised for a split-second, and remembered. It was Sunday. He got up early on Saturdays to run errands, or do work around the house. He always slept in on Sundays, though.
She tucked her hand under her cheek. “We can do this,” she told him.
“This,” she said. “Pretend. We’ve gotten good at it.”
She assumed it was all the response she was going to get, because he’d closed his eyes. But he hadn’t turned away from her, and she took the opportunity to look at him. Her eyes traced over the shape of his eyebrows, and the blur of his freckles. He let out a puff of breath, and she shook her head. He should probably talk to a doctor about his weird breathing habits.
She closed her eyes, and drifted off again.
The rest of the day was a rainy, lazy Sunday. Bellamy made pancakes for breakfast. They pulled out his old Ninendo-64 to play some good, classic Mario Kart. They watched TV, and Clarke sat close to Bellamy, and it was easy for her to push her hands into his hair, and comb her fingers through it.
He kissed her before he left for work on Monday.
In the evening, she came up behind him while he was cooking, and wrapped an arm around his waist, pressing a kiss to his shoulder, and asking him what he was making.
It went like that for a week.
They shared quick kisses, and she touched his shoulder when she passed him while clearing the table, stood too close, fixed his tie for him when he had to dress up for a meeting on Wednesday.
And at night, they kept firmly to their sides of the bed.
They had gotten good at this.
Or at least she thought they’d gotten good at this.
Harper cornered Clarke in the morning on Friday after Bellamy left for work.
“Can I talk to you?” she asked, leaning her hip on the counter.
“I talked to Bellamy just earlier, and . . .” She hesitated.
“Is something the matter?”
“He told me,” Harper said. “You know, why you’ve been acting like—weird. He said that you didn’t want to make me feel uncomfortable. And that you wanted me to feel like I was welcome here for as long as I needed to stay. And that’s really, really nice of you, but I promise it won’t bother me if you want to, like, canoodle with your husband on the couch, okay?”
“You know what I mean.” Harper smiled. “I’ll survive.”
“I just . . .” This was not a conversation that Clarke had expected. “I think it’s inappropriate when couples can’t keep their hands to themselves in front of people,” she said. It wasn’t a lie. “I mean, you’re like Bellamy’s sister.”
“I get it,” Harper said. “I appreciate it. But, seriously, it’s cool. I lived with Bell for a year in college, you know. I know he likes to strut around in his boxers. You’ve got him wearing shirts and sweats and, like, sweaters, for the sake of propriety. His words, but I’m guessing they came from you?” She raised her eyebrows. “Jenny, I don’t care if Bell wants to watch TV in his boxers. This is his house. I couldn’t possibly care less.” Her eyes were bright with sincerity, and with amusement.
“Um . . .” Clarke let out a short, breathless laugh. “Okay.”
She nodded. “Yes. I’ll relax. I hope I didn’t make you feel too uncomfortable in my effort to . . . make you feel comfortable.”
“You didn’t,” Harper said, smiling. “You’ve made me feel very at home, I promise. It’s fun staying with you guys, actually, and getting to know you better. I feel like I’m finally really getting to know you. The real you.”
“The real me?”
“You’re a little more you at home,” Harper explained. “Less bubbly. Just more . . . real.”
“I’m . . ."
“I get it,” Harper assured. “People think Monroe is a block of wood when they first meet her because she’s shy, and comes off pretty, well, wooden. You can’t be yourself around people you don’t really know.”
“Okay.” Harper turned, and poured the coffee into her thermos. “I’ve got to go. I’ll see you tonight.” She smiled.
In the quiet, empty kitchen after Harper was gone, Clarke let out a long, slow breath. Well, shit. Harper deserved a little more credit than Clarke had been giving her, didn’t she?
She decided to stop by Bellamy’s worksite for lunch.
He was surprised to see her; the question was written across his face.
“I was in this part of town,” she said, pecking a kiss to his lips. “I thought I’d stop by, and I could have lunch with you.” She held up a bag from Chipotle. “I got you a burrito. Side of guac. Is there a place we can sit?”
The moment they were alone, she spilled.
“I had a talk with Harper this morning,” she said.
“I know.” She tore open the wrapping on her burrito. “She told me that you said I was trying to make her feel at home, so that’s why you don’t traipse around the house in your undies, and why we haven’t made sweet love on the sofa in front of her.”
He eyed her.
“I’m sorry, her word was canoodle.”
He chuckled. “I guess she just thought since we’re newlyweds, we’d be handsier.”
“Now we have to be.”
“Also, you have to start watching TV in your boxers. I don’t know why that’s important, but it is. She said she lived with you in college?”
“She was in college.” He nodded. “It was just for a year.”
She took a sip of soda. “Right. There’s more. She told me that she’s liked really getting to know me this week. I’m more real now. I’m not as bubbly. So. Here’s my question. Does that mean that Harper doesn’t like me? Or didn’t?” It had been bugging her since the moment that Harper had said it.
“She didn’t always have the patience for Jenny,” Bellamy said, amused. “But when you slip up, and act like Clarke? She likes you.” He shrugged. “I’d say act like yourself with a dash of Jenny thrown in, and you’ll be fine.”
“I can do that,” she said. She sighed. “I’ll need to start feeling you up in the kitchen, too.”
He snorted. “Right. That, too.”
In the evening, Bellamy came downstairs from his shower in his boxers. Clarke was making a pain of brownies, and she pursed her lips, and carried on, pretending she’d seen a mostly naked, fresh from the shower Bellamy a hundred times before. She glanced at him when he came to stand by her, and smiled.
Harper was sitting at the table with her computer.
He dipped a finger into the batter, and stole a lick. She elbowed him. He turned to leave, kissing the back of her head, and pinching her butt.
Harper snorted, and clapped a hand to her mouth as though to smother the sound.
“I hate the both of you,” Clarke said.
He went to watch TV, and Harper shut her computer, and followed. Once the brownies were in the oven, Clarke came, too, sitting beside Bellamy on the sofa. He was slumped with his feet on the table in front of him, and it was easy for Clarke to settle at his side. He put an arm around her. She leaned into him, and focused her gaze on the TV like this was normal, too.
He smelled like soap.
The warmth of his skin burned her through the material of her nightgown.
She had to relax. This was stupid. It was Bellamy. He was her partner. It wasn’t a secret that he was attractive, or that she was attracted to him. It was irrelevant, that was what it was. She needed to get a hold of herself.
Harper was staying there for three more weeks.
It would be fine.
She’d been “married” to Bellamy for nearly six months. She knew how to play the part of his wife. If she had to cuddle up to him to be certain she sold the act to Harper, she could do that.
They had a Super Bowl party on Sunday. It was something that Bellamy had done for years, hosting his friends at his place for the game. He claimed it wasn’t a party. But the fridge was overflowing with beer, he’d grilled up burgers, picked up wings, and ordered a bunch of pizzas, and by four in the afternoon, there were at least a dozen people milling in the kitchen, on the porch, and in front of the TV. It was a party.
“Who are you rooting for?” Sterling asked.
“Depends,” Clarke said. She handed a beer to Pascal. “Who’s playing?”
There was a chorus of outrage.
“Blake, your wife is out of control!”
“You’re killing me, smalls!”
“I’m teasing,” Clarke said. “I don’t need to know who’s playing. I’m rooting for whoever is losing.”
There was laughter, and a shout for salsa, and Octavia chose that moment to belch so loudly it startled a completion of who could burp the loudest.
Clarke got more salsa from the fridge.
She had to admit it that it was kind of fun to have people over like this. It was a party. She didn’t know some of the people who came, and she didn’t like others, but there were several that she actually did really like. A lot. It reminded her of hanging out with her friends, eating, and joking, and watching a movie at her apartment. She missed them.
It wasn’t so wrong of her to want to enjoy this little bit of fun.
There was a part of her, of course, that thought she ought to take this opportunity to try weaseling some information out of Bellamy’s cousins.
Dax was here. He had blood on his hands. She knew it.
But how much information could she really get from him right now?
It would be better to play her part.
She’d made a batch of sangria, and was sipping that at first, acting the role of hostess, and making a point to strike up conversations with everything. Monroe was apparently a bartender in disguise, however. She could make any cocktail you asked, or that was what Fox claimed, and when Clarke tested her knowledge by asking for a fancy pink drink that tasted like fruit, Monroe was more than happy to oblige.
It figured that Clarke was going to get a little bit drunk.
“I’ve never seen you drunk,” Harper said.
“I am not drunk,” Clarke said, pointing a finger at Harper to tell her off.
“I have questions,” Monroe said. “Can’t miss an opportunity like this, can I?” She leaned in. “Okay, Jenny. I know you get pedicures with my gran every week, but do you actually like the woman?”
“Selene is . . .”
“Yes?” Harper said, tilting her head.
“. . . nice."
Monroe actually choked on her drink in laughter.
“I’m going to take your high-pitched tone of voice to mean the answer is no,” Harper said, grinning.
“I never said that,” Clarke said.
“Let’s move on to the really good stuff,” Harper said. “You are not the type of girl that Bell used to date. And unless he’s trying to hook up with a person, he does not make a good first impression.”
“Lies,” Clarke said.
“What’s the first thing you thought when you met Bellamy?” Harper asked.
“I thought . . .” She tilted her head. “I thought—I’m going to climb him like a tree.”
They broke into laughter.
“I think he’s gotten more attractive with time,” she continued. “Seriously. It’s a thing. I learned about in in AP psych. The more time you spend with a person, the more attractive that person becomes in your eyes. He’s gotten more attractive.”
It was true.
Also, she thought it might be that she’d seen him with hair mussed from sleeping.
He was really, really attractive with hair mussed from sleeping.
“Enjoying the game?” Murphy asked, coming into the kitchen, and making a beeline for the fridge.
“You weren’t actually invited here, you know,” Monroe said.
“I’m family,” he said.
“Hardly,” Harper said, sour.
He took a beer from the fridge, and left, shooting a sharp, slanted smile at them on his way out.
“He is such a dick,” Monroe said, shaking her head.
“What about you?” Clarke asked.
“Me?” Harper said, raising her eyebrows.
“You,” Clarke repeated. “I saw you earlier when Monty came in. I saw you.”
“Monty?” Monroe said.
“How did I not know about this?” Monroe asked, grinning.
They teased Harper about Monty until there was shouting from the TV room, and they rejoined the rest of the party.
She rolled over with a groan, feeling a stab of pain in the back of her head. Her mouth felt stuffed with cotton. She smacked her lips, and came to slowly, remembering the party last night. She’d ended up falling to sleep on the sofa. She was going to blame the stupid pink drink for that.
She was pretty sure Bellamy had carried her to bed.
Slowly, she sat up.
The clock by her bed read ten in the morning. There was a bottle of water by the bed, too, and a pair of pills that sat on a scrap of paper. It was a note from Bellamy.
There’s breakfast on a plate in the stove.
She smiled, popped the pills, and flopped back against the pillows, because she wasn’t meeting Carol until noon.
Harper got home earlier than usual on Thursday. Clarke was looking at bathroom wallpaper samples that Carol had left for her to consider, and she was startled at the sound of the door slamming shut. She heard the click of heels in the hallway, and Harper didn’t slow down when she came into the kitchen.
“I need a drink,” she said, stalking past Clarke.
“The beer you like was actually on sale at Kroger,” Clarke said, “so I got . . .”
Harper took a bottle of Grey Goose from the cabinet, and uncapped it. Clarke watched her locate a glass, and pour a shot. She downed it, and slammed the glass on the counter, breathing in, and out.
“Do I want to know?” Clarke asked.
She poured herself another shot. “See for yourself,” she said. She took the shot. “Seriously.” She wiped at her mouth, and turned to lean on the counter, and nod her head towards the front of the house. “In the driveway. Have a look.”
“Okay . . .” She got up hesitantly, and went to the front of the house.
There was a BMW in the driveway.
“Didn’t you leave this morning in a Civic?” Clarke asked, returning to the kitchen.
“I did,” Harper said. “It’s gone. My Civic. Sold, or impounded, or.” She shrugged. “What’s it matter? I’m now the lucky owner of a brand new BMW M6. In case you’re wondering, that’s the most expensive one.”
“How’d you become the owner of a brand new BMW M6?”
“It’s a present from Uncle Dante. Isn’t that nice? It’s to celebrate my new, six-figures job at one of the most prestigious firms in the city.”
“I thought you wanted to work for the government,” Clarke said.
“Why would this be about what I want?” She shrugged. “I don’t know what I expected. He wanted to do lunch, right? I show up, and there’s a partner from Allen & Houser’s at the table. Half an hour, and I’m offered a job.”
“Do you think you’ll take it?”
“You’re kidding, right? I’ve already taken it. You think I have a choice?”
Clarke was quiet.
“Sorry.” Harper sighed, and pressed the heels of her hands into her face for a moment. “I don’t know how much Bellamy’s told you about the way things work in our family, but you don’t say no to my uncle.”
“I’ve gotten that impression,” Clarke said.
Harper took a beer from the fridge, and when she glanced at Clarke, Clarke nodded, and Harper got a beer for her, too.
“Is there no way you can talk to him about this?”
“He wouldn’t get it. It’s like . . . I know he loves me. He loves all of us, but he loves me the most. Ask anyone in my family, and that’s what they’ll tell you. I’m the favorite. I remind him of my grandma. Thing is, my grandma? She got in a fight with him, and she wasn’t actually talking to him when she died. It was before I was born. He never had any sort of relationship with my mom. But my mom died in a car accident when I was six, and my dad just kind of crapped out, so I ended up living with Aunt Selene. And I guess for Uncle Dante, it was like he got a second chance. He screwed up with my grandma, but . . .”
“He got the chance to make it right with you,” Clarke said.
They sipped their beers in silence for a moment.
“I’m sorry to dump all of this on you,” Harper said. “But this is what you’ve married into. Congratulations.”
“I . . . had an idea what I was getting into,” Clarke said, careful.
“Has he told you about Cage?”
“I know he doesn’t like Cage very much. I know that the way that Cage treated him was a part of the reason that Bellamy never really felt like he belonged, and it’s why he was estranged from most of your family when we got married. I told him that he didn’t have to like Cage to be a part of the family.”
“He hasn’t,” Harper said, assessing her. “Told you. I guess that’s probably out of respect for me.”
“I . . .” Clarke shook her head.
There was something she didn’t know. It wasn’t just something that she wasn’t supposed to know because Jenny wouldn’t. There was something that she really didn’t know, that the FBI didn’t know, that Bellamy had kept a secret.
Her mind was whirling in an effort to catch up.
“In a sentence?” Harper took a sip of her beer. “Cage used to touch me.”
“It wasn’t for very long,” Harper said. “I mean, I told. I was twelve, and I was the—the ward of the family, you know? But it wasn’t like there was nobody I could talk to. There was Bellamy. He was seventeen, and we weren’t that close, and . . . He was like me. He’d never really fit in either. And it was like we always kind of knew that he was looking after us. Me, and Monroe, and O. So. I told him. And that’s when the shit hit the fan.”
“I’m sorry, Harper,” Clarke said.
“It’s not. It’s—” Clarke didn’t even have words.
“You want to know why Bellamy was estranged from most of the family when you got married? Now you know. It was part of the fallout. I mean, I think he was ready to go. He was fighting with his stepdad a lot, and he was basically, like, at war with Uncle Carl, and . . .” She shook her head.
“What about Cage?”
“Well, Bellamy beat the shit out of him.”
“He went to Miller’s dad, and reported it. But you know Miller’s dad couldn’t do a thing unless he got the say so from Uncle Dante, and Uncle Dante wasn’t going to give it. The family’s dirty laundry wasn’t anybody’s business.
“Come on, Jenny,” Harper said. “Would you expect any different?”
Clarke was startled for a moment. Right. She’d almost forgotten that Harper wasn’t telling her everything. She was talking to an alias. To a liar. Clarke felt a stab of guilt.
“It was a whole big thing in the family. Started a lot of fights. Aunt Carol didn’t get out of bed for, like, a month. Uncle P.J.’s wife wanted to go to the police. Now we don’t talk about it. Uncle Dante made it clear to Cage. Girls in the family were off limits. That was the end of the discussion.” Her smile was humorless. “He hasn’t gone anywhere near me since. Thankfully. But I guess if he wants to molest girls who aren’t in the family, that’s cool.”
“He should have gotten much worse than a slap on the wrist, and a—a talking to.”
“How can you—just be okay with that?” Clarke asked.
“Do I have a choice?”
Clarke wanted to say yes. She wanted to take Harper by the shoulders, and shake her, and shout yes, yes, yes! You can leave. You can do better. You are better. But it wasn’t something that Jenny would do, was it? Jenny had encouraged her husband to reconnect with his family. She wouldn’t tell Harper to walk away just like that. Clarke couldn’t either.
She wasn’t there to save Harper from her family.
Bellamy was there to save her.
He hadn’t signed up for this just to keep his sister out of prison, had he?
“It’s okay,” Harper said. “It was years ago. I went to therapy. I’ve recovered. I stay away from Cage, and he stays away from me.”
She seemed so dismissive of the whole terrible thing.
Clarke hoped it was because she really had recovered, and not because she was forced by her family to be dismissive of it.
“Thanks for trusting me enough to share this with me,” Clarke said.
Harper smiled, and raised her beer. “To the family you choose,” she said. Clarke smiled, too, and tapped her beer to Harper’s.
He beat her to bed that night, and the room was dark when she pulled up the sheets, and crawled in. She stared at the expanse of his back. “Hey.” She tugged on his shoulder. “Bell.” He heaved a sigh, and turned over, facing her. “Why didn’t you tell me about Harper?” she asked. In the dark, she could just barely see the shape of his face.
“There was something I was supposed to tell you about Harper?”
“She was ranting about the BMW, and the job. I mean, before you got home. And it turned into talking about your family, and why you left, and—she told me.”
He was quiet.
“I can’t believe your family would just cover that up.”
“You can’t believe that my family is shitty?”
She’d known his family was shitty. It was why she was here. They were bad people who’d done bad things, and who needed to be brought to justice. But. Somehow, she hadn’t thought they were the kind of terrible that didn’t even protect their own.
It made her wonder.
What other family secrets didn’t Clarke know?
She heard him release a breath in that way of his. Eventually, his breathing grew even with sleep. It was a while before she could fall asleep.
She was early to the gym. She ran on the treadmill until her legs were starting to turn to jelly. She was doing her cool down walk by the time Raven came, and started on her machine at a nice, brisk pace.
“Morning,” Raven said.
“Morning,” Clarke said. “I don’t have much to report.” She couldn’t say anything about Harper. Harper trusted Jenny. It wasn’t like the information was anything the FBI could use. “I learned that Monty does something with banks that cannot be legal. I got that from chatting with a drunk, guileless Jasper, though. I don’t know the specifics, and I don’t how it connects to Dante, although I’m sure the connection is there.”
“Bellamy went golfing with Dante, so there is that.”
“I’ve got something for you,” Raven said. “It turns out you may be right about Dante working with the Commander. We don’t have any evidence of a relationship yet, but we have reason to believe it exists.”
“Which is what?”
“Two days ago, a shipment of military grade weapons went missing from a facility in Norfolk.”
“Nothing. I’ve looked at what we’ve got on the Commander, and I don’t think she’s got the connections to pull off something like that. It’s like I told you before. She’s small potatoes. Dante, though? He’s proven to have the kind of channels you’d need to do it.”
“Dante isn’t international,” Clarke said.
“He’s got a few connections for drugs, but he—he’d have no need for that kind of weapon.”
“I know.” She sighed. “It might be he’s got nothing to do with this, and we’re barking up the wrong tree just because we want to pin this on him.”
“I can look into it. Snoop. We’ve having dinner at Dante’s house on Friday.”
“Do it,” Raven said. “Carefully. See what Bellamy can learn, too.”
“Because if he is involved, and you can get proof of it?” She paused, and when Clarke glanced at her, it was to see the start of a smile on her face. “Clarke, this could be how we bring him down.”
There was always half an hour of drinks before dinner. Everyone was relaxed, and drinking. It was perfect. Carol was in the middle of asking Octavia about her job at a local art studio when Clarke gave Bellamy’s knee a squeeze, passed her drink to him, and leaned in, murmuring, “I’m going to use the bathroom.” Nobody batted an eye at her exit.
She walked on the tips of her toes to silence her heels when she passed the bathroom.
She’d never actually been in Dante’s study before.
It was large, and lit by the warm yellow glow of the lamp on the desk. There was a fireplace, a circle of dark leather chairs, and rows of bookshelves up against the walls, overflowing with volumes. She made a beeline for the desk.
She looked over the papers on top, and saw his laptop.
She already knew it was password protected. Finn had broken into it, and reported that there was nothing of value, or at least that he could discover using the tech the FBI gave him. She wouldn’t waste her time on it.
She began searching through the drawers.
There were files on taxes going back five years, a file marked “paid” that was full of bills, and dozens of files with the names of his grandchildren on them, and those had social security numbers for each of them, various job contacts, and other random, useful information.
One of the drawers was locked.
She searched for a key on the underside of the desk, and in the little wooden boxes on top of his desk, and ended up unbending a paperclip to jimmy it open.
It took a couple of minutes, but she managed to get into the drawer just when the study door started to open.
She didn’t even have time to drop behind the desk.
It was Bellamy.
The breath left her in a rush.
“What the hell?” he hissed, closing the door as quietly as possible, and turning to her.
“He’s got to have a book,” she said, starting to search through the papers in the drawer. “Records. He’s got to have a way of tracking the numbers. Why not in his office? Nobody’s got access to this house except his family.”
“Is that what you’re looking for?” He cut across the office to her. “I thought you were hoping there’d be a Post-It note that said steal the guns on Thursday.”
She ignored him.
“Clarke, you’ve been in here for nearly ten minutes. Carol was asking if you were okay. I had to tell her that you hadn’t been feeling great.”
“Smart,” she said, rifling through what looked like a stack of letters.
She slammed the door shut again. “Nothing.” She pushed the hair out of her face, and glanced quickly around the room.
“Can we get the fuck out of here now?” he asked.
“He’s got to keep some kind of records.”
She looked at him.
“But if there is proof that he helped steal military grade weapons, it isn’t just going to be sitting in the drawer of his desk.”
“He hasn’t said anything to me about the weapons,” he went on. “Until he does, there’s not a lot we can do. I’ll find some way to bring up Lexa. Otherwise, we’ve just got to wait. But that’s what we signed up for with this job, right?”
“Unfortunately,” she said.
She checked the drawer to see that it locked again, and circled the desk, allowing him to usher her out of the study. “I’ll try to act a little off the rest of the night,” she told him. “Sell the whole not feeling well thing.”
There was the click of heels.
“Shit,” he breathed.
Someone was about to turn the corner, and they were still a solid twenty feet beyond the bathroom.
She grabbed the lapels of his jacket, and yanked, pulling him in for a kiss. He was stunned for all of second, and responded, opening his mouth, and deepening it, sliding his hands around her waist, and backing her towards the wall. She stumbled, and her back hit the wall, and she pushed her hands up into his hair, twisting her fingers in the curls, and pressing herself somehow impossibly closer to him.
He tore away from her.
It was Octavia.
“Gran thought Jenny might like a ginger ale,” she said, holding up a glass.
“O,” Bellamy said.
“No, please,” Octavia said, and she took a sip of the drink. “Carry on. I’ll just pretend that I didn’t see you getting it on in the hallway.” She took another sip. “You know, I think this makes me like you better.”
“I . . .”
“You’re mortified, I know.” Octavia began heading towards them. “If Gran asks, I wasn’t feeling well either, and I thought some fresh air would do me good.” She downed the rest of the drink, and pressed the glass into Clarke’s hand when she passed her. She took a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket before turning the corner.
“Leave it to my sister not to ask any questions,” Bellamy said, looking at Clarke.
They’d only kissed for seconds, but there was a flush of heat in her neck at the sight of him now.
He looked kissed.
She knew she must, too. She felt it. Her heart was still beating too fast.
She wanted to push her fingers into his hair. She wanted to run her thumb along his jaw, hold his face in her hands. She wanted to push up on her tiptoes, and kiss him again.
“Come on,” he said, clearing his throat.
She nodded, and smoothed a hand over her hair, offering a quick little smile in reassurance, and following after him back to the parlor
It was frustrating to return to the usual, to biding their time, and earning the trust of Bellamy’s family bit by bit. She knew it was necessary, and it was what she’d signed up for. But when Raven had told her about the guns, it had felt like she could do something.
Now it was back to the grind.
Spring began creeping up slowly on them.
Harper had to stay with them longer than she’d planned, but that wasn’t the end of the world. Clarke liked Harper. And she’d gotten used to seeing Bellamy without a shirt, and cuddling on the sofa with him, and listening to his weird, loud breathing at night.
She was a mature, capable adult, and she’d do what she needed to do.
She made friends with Jasper’s sweet, quiet girlfriend, and got closer with Jasper, and with Monty. She learned to make a cheesecake. She walked into the bathroom while Bellamy was peeing, and ran into the doorframe in her attempt to escape. She began to suspect that Monty was definitely doing something on the Internet to launder dirty money. She went shopping with Selene, and the older woman bought her a dress that cost more than Clarke’s paycheck from the FBI.
She wore her fancy new dress to dinner in the city with “the girls” of the family. Dinner was boring. But when she got home after, she caught Bellamy staring at her breasts in the dress.
He looked away quickly when she turned to him.
She’d seen it, though.
She pretended that it didn’t make her neck hot, that she wasn’t stupidly pleased. She had more important things to concern herself with. She was an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, thank you very much.
There wasn’t any news about the guns.
The pink dogwoods burst into bloom in front of the house, and the backyard smelled sweetly of honeysuckles. It grew warmer out. She reported to Raven that she learned to make a frosted sugar flowers in a cake decorating class with Carol.
It was Maya who invited her to join Jasper’s beloved trivia team. “Just know that he takes it very, very seriously,” she said, and the exasperation in her voice was tapered by the warmth in her smile. Jasper was ridiculous, and she loved him all the more for it.
“If we’re going to let you on the team,” Jasper said, “we need to know the kind of person you are.”
“Cans, or bottles?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.
She blinked. “What?”
“Zach Morris, or A.C. Slater?”
“Hmm.” He tapped his chin. “But you married an A.C. Slater. Care to explain?” He raised his eyebrows.
“I have layers.”
“Cheese, or macaroni?”
“What does this have to do with the type of person she is again?” Bellamy asked, incredulous.
“The answer is cheese,” Maya said, stealing a fry from Monty’s plate.
“Cheese,” Clarke said.
He seemed to assess her for a moment. “Poodles, or pit bulls?”
“Sabrina, or Clarissa?”
“Orange Soda, or Cheerwine?”
“The Beatles, or The Rolling Stones?”
“Now that’s easy.” She grinned. “I’m definitely a Rolling Stones kind of girl.”
Jasper pursed his lips, and clicked his tongue in assessment, and, suddenly, broke into a smile, and clapped her on the shoulder. “You can join the team!” He reached across her to steal a nacho, too, and his grin was playful when he looked at her again with cheese on his chin.
She leaned into Bellamy’s side, and beamed up at him. “I made the team.”
“Congratulations,” he said, dry.
She stole a sip of his beer, and took his hand on the table, intertwining his fingers with her own, because she could, and, well, it was always good to sell the alias to his friends, right?
She began to attend weekly meetings of the city garden club with Carol. It was the most boring thing Carol had made Clarke do yet, but at least it was only for an hour in the morning. The two of them went to tea after the meetings, and gossiped about women in the club.
It was at tea that Carol brought it up. “Dear, can I ask you a question?” Her voice was way too careful.
“Sure,” Clarke said, widening her eyes in a show of innocence.
Carol didn’t ask right away. “It’s personal,” she said. She put a cube of sugar in her tea, and stirred. She blew on her tea. She took a sip, and set down her teacup to smile at Clarke.
“You know you can ask me anything.”
“Have you started to think about having children?”
“It’s just—you’ve been married for almost a year. Or, well, eight months now, isn’t it? You’re healthy, and happy, and you have no reason to wait. You do plan to have children, don’t you?” She didn’t wait for Clarke to answer. “I thought you might be pregnant a little while back when you weren’t feeling well at dinner, because you were in the bathroom, and Octavia said you were kissing Bellamy after, and I just—I was so excited!”
“I don’t mean to pressure you. But there hasn’t been a baby in the family in such a long time. And I know you’ll be a wonderful mother.”
“I do want to have children,” Clarke said. “We do. It’s something we talked about before we got married.”
“But it isn’t something we’ve talked about doing soon.”
Carol reached for Clarke’s hand suddenly. “What are you waiting for?” she asked. She was bright-eyed, and beaming.
“I . . .”
“The sooner you start to have children, the more you can have!”
“Right,” Clarke said.
“Now I really do not mean to pressure you. Just know that if you decide to start trying soon, I’ll support you one hundred percent. You’ll have a whole big family to support you, in fact.”
“I’ll keep in that mind.” She nodded. “Thanks.”
“Good.” Carol smiled, and let go of Clarke’s hand to straighten, and take a sip of her tea. “How are you enjoying this lovely spring weather?” she asked.
The moment he came into the kitchen, she told him. “Your gran is ready for us to make some babies,” she said, looking up from her computer to see his reaction. “The sooner we start, the more we can have.”
“Is something the matter?” she asked.
He sighed, and gestured at her. She frowned. He took her by the arm, and she realized he wanted her to stand, to follow him. He led her out of the house, into the backyard, and to the fence at the back.
What the hell?
“Is this far out bugged, too?”
“I know the house is bugged,” he said. “Is the yard? The fence?”
“No.” She shook her head. “How do you . . . ?”
“It was a guess. You confirmed it. Look, there’s something I have to tell you.” He pushed a hand through his hair. “I think your people are right about the guns.”
“I overheard Cage talking to Emerson. I think it was his idea to steal them, and he went behind Dante’s back. I’m not sure, but that’s what it sounded like. I don’t know if he’s working with Lexa, or—I don’t know what he plans to do with the guns. I caught just, like, a second of the conversation.”
“Can you ask him about it?”
“It’ll just piss him off. I wasn’t supposed to hear this. And—maybe this is my fuck up, but I don’t get along with Cage. I haven’t tried to. I didn’t think I needed to. I’ve been trying to earn Dante’s. Cage wouldn’t trust me with this.”
“But you think Dante trusts you,” she said.
“And you said you think Cage might have gone behind Dante’s back with this?”
“Right,” he said, and she knew when he understood, when he realized what she was suggesting. “You want me to go to Dante, and tell him what I overheard?”
“Even if he plays if off like he knows, and you don’t learn anything from him, you’ll definitely win points with him. Or he might be pissed, and you could use a rift to wedge your way in. Or, who knows, he might know what Cage is up to, and he’ll let you in on it.”
“Okay,” Bellamy said.
“You overheard it by accident, right?” she asked. “It won’t seem suspicious that you overheard it?”
“It won’t,” he said. “It was an accident.
There was a pause.
“Is there a reason we had to do this out here?”
“I don’t think we should tell anyone yet. I mean, tell your people. They aren’t going to be happy just letting a known crime syndicate keep a hold of military grade weapons, right? But if we want to pin this to Dante, that’s what we’ve got to do. Just sit on it.”
“We aren’t just going to be sitting on it,” she said. “You’re going to talk to Dante. We’re going to find out more.
“Right, I’ll talk to Dante, and see if I can find out more. But even if I find out more about the guns, I don’t think we should do anything. Not yet. The moment we go after those guns, this operation is over. I’ll be made. And if we haven’t got what we need on Dante yet, he walks. If you tell your handler, can you be sure they won’t act on our intel immediately, and ruin the operation?”
“No,” she said. He was right. The bureau might weight the options, and decide it was worth it to forfeit the operation to get the guns. “Shit. We can’t risk it.”
“Okay.” He held her gaze. “Let’s just keep it between us then.”
It was wrong. She knew it was wrong. Except. They’d been undercover for almost a year. They couldn’t risk everything now. They could do this. Bellamy reached out, and grasped her arm, drawing her gaze up to meet his. “We’re going to get him,” he said. They were in this together, and they were going to get him.
He talked to Dante. Apparently, Cage had gone behind Dante’s back. “I could tell just by the look on his face,” Bellamy said. Dante was pissed. He believed Bellamy, though, and wasn’t suspicious about the fact that Bellamy had overheard something he wasn’t supposed to, but he didn’t keep Bellamy in the loop when he confronted Cage. They didn’t know what was happening with the guns. It was frustrating, but Clarke had expected it might play out that way.
It had still brought them one step closer to earning Dante’s trust, and as soon as they did, they’d get him, Cage, and the guns.
It turned out Octavia had a boyfriend, he was an artist, and they were invited to a local art show that featured a few of his pieces. Bellamy had questions. “How long has she been with this guy? Why didn’t I know about him? Since when did Octavia give a fuck about art?” Regardless, they were going, and Bellamy was going to behave. He wasn’t going to be happy about it, but he was going to behave.
The show was in the upstairs of a cramped used bookstore in the city.
“I think I might be overdressed,” Clarke said, eyeing the jeans and t-shirts and sweatshirts that the small, beatnik crowd was sporting.
“You?” Bellamy said. “I’m wearing a tie.”
The gallery was small, and crowded, and smelled a little of pot, but the art was interesting, and it amused Clarke endlessly that Bellamy rated every piece purely on how realistic he thought it looked.
“Is that a lemur, or a partially peeled banana?” he asked, tilting his head at a sculpture.
“Neither,” Clarke said.
“Mermaid with a claw for a hand?” he guessed.
“Weasel,” Miller said.
“It’s clearly a giant, slightly melted beer bottle on a unicycle,” Harper said.
“It’s a representation of the way that electronics steal our light from us,” Octavia said, coming up behind the group of them. Her arm was linked with a man’s. “This is Lincoln. Lincoln, meet my brother and his wife, and that’s Harper, and Miller.”
“Nice to meet you,” Harper said.
“It’s a computer with a flashlight?” Miller said, raising an eyebrow.
“I give it a D-,” Bellamy said.
“I’ll be sure to tell Echo her piece caused a lot of conversation,” Lincoln said, grinning.
Clarke had to hand it to Octavia; Lincoln was attractive. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and built, and had a face that belonged on the cover a magazine. He didn’t look like someone Octavia’s older relatives would approve of, but, then, that didn’t really surprise Clarke.
Octavia seemed to take a great deal of satisfaction in doing things she wasn’t supposed to do.
Lincoln gave them a tour of the gallery, and told them a little more about some of the pieces, including a statue made entirely of gum, a mirror with a camera, and his own set of drawings, watercolors, and paintings.
She liked him.
She knew that Bellamy was suspicious of Lincoln, of the fact that he was older, and that Octavia had been squirrely about letting anyone meet him. He didn’t seem like a creep, though. He seemed easy-going, and easy to smile, and he knew about art, and had opinions without being an asshole about them.
It was Octavia’s idea to go for a drink.
She linked arms with Clarke on their way out of the bookstore. “We should do this more often,” she said, and she was bright-eyed, and smiling. Clarke didn’t think she’d ever seen Octavia just plain happy before.
“Definitely,” Clarke said.
Miller texted Monty, and Monty met them at the bar. He smelled like cologne, and seemed to talk a little faster than usual when Harper was listening. Clarke hid her smile in Bellamy’s shoulder.
It wasn’t until later that Bellamy told Clarke about Lincoln.
She was buzzed from the bar, and in a pretty good mood. It was fun hanging out with all of them, with Miller and Harper and Monty. She was brushing her teeth in the bathroom when Bellamy finished his usual nightly routine of turning off lights, closing the blinds, and locking the doors.
“I knew I recognized the name,” he said, sitting on the edge of the tub. “Lincoln. It just took me a minute to remember how.” There was something grim on his face. “He works for Lexa.”
“He’s one of her enforcers.”
“I don’t know what’s worse,” he went on. “That Dante knows, and is okay with it because he’s partners with Lexa now, or that he doesn’t know, and my sister’s about to start some shit.”
She sighed. “I guess we’ll find out.”
He straightened. “Yeah.” He gave a small smile, and brushed the backs of his fingers to her cheek, leaving the bathroom.
She got Lincoln’s number from Octavia’s that morning, and texted him about the gallery, and how he’d said they had volunteers run it. I used to work at a gallery in college! It was true, and she figured it was an opportunity to make a friend of him, and have a line of information on Lexa.
He was quick to respond, saying that he’d love her help, and they made plans for lunch that weekend.
It took longer than a month for Harper’s useless landlord to repair the ceiling of her apartment. In fact, it took nearly three months. Harper tried to give Bellamy rent, and apologized a lot, but, honestly, Clarke liked Harper. She really didn’t mind having her there.
The landlord did finally get around to completing the repairs, though, and Harper left.
It was weird.
It was like they’d flipped a switch.
Clarke joined Bellamy on the sofa, and paused. She was used to cuddling up against him. Now, though? She couldn’t just stretch out into his space. Harper was gone. They no longer had to play the part of a couple. It would be weird to invade his space.
It wasn’t that she wanted to cuddle up to him.
She’d just gotten used to it.
It was habit.
He slept in his room that night.
She was glad for that at least, because it was nice to have her bed to herself again. She went to sleep right smack in the middle of the bed because she could. In the morning, she woke up curled on her side of the bed.
They were invited to the beach in the middle of June. It was something that happened every year, apparently, to celebrate Carol’s birthday. Dante owned a house on the shore, and each of his sisters owned a house, too.
“You’re saying they own a block of the beach,” Clarke said.
“Basically,” Bellamy said.
The drive was going to take half a day. That was fine. Clarke brought snacks, and made a couple of CD mixes. She put her feet up on the dashboard of Bellamy’s truck while he pulled onto the highway, singing along with Celine at top of her lungs, and offering to share her peanuts with Bellamy. She loved a good road trip.
“Did you go pee before we left?” Bellamy asked.
“Good,” he said. “We can drive straight there. I don’t like to stop.”
“Hold the phone. Drive straight there? There’s no way we can not stop. You’re kidding, right? Tell me you're kidding. Bellamy. My bladder is not that big.”
“You just told me you went pee before we left.”
“I pee more than once a day!”
“Now you’ve made me afraid to drink my soda,” she said, eyeing her drink.
She threw a peanut at him.
They were passing into South Carolina when he broke the easy, comfortable silence. “Can I ask you something? Why’d you decide to join the FBI? There’s a story, right?” He risked a glance at her.
“How do you know there’s a story?”
“I’m guessing you don’t decide to join the FBI because the benefits are great,” he said. “You do it for a reason. There’s a story.”
“You want to know my story?” she said.
He shrugged. “I’m curious.”
“Um, well.” She bit her lip. “I guess . . . well, my dad was a scientist. He was smart. And he was one of those people who thought that science could make the world a better place. He was—he was probably just the . . . best person I’ve ever known. He cared.” She sighed. “Turns out the company he worked for didn’t care so much, though. Everybody in the company was corrupt. They were doing some disgusting things to the environment, to people . . .”
“The Ark,” Bellamy said. “Did your dad work for the Ark? I read about that in the paper.”
“He did. He, um. He tried to turn the company in. They were bastards, though. They made him the patsy, and he wound up in prison. Had a heart attack, and couldn’t get taken to the hospital in time.” She swallowed. “He died.”
“I’m . . . I’m sorry.”
She nodded. “It was a few years ago. Anyway, you read about the Ark in the paper. You know the rest of the story. It took a couple of years, but they got busted. It was the FBI that did it. And it’s not like it brought my dad back to life, but—it gave him justice. I wanted to do that. I wanted to get justice for people. Of course, I ended up in organized crime instead of going after corporations.”
It was quiet.
She thought about telling him about her mother, about how Abby had worked for the Ark, too, and how there was a small, unforgiving part of Clarke that would always blame her mother for playing a part in everything before turning on the company after Jake’s death.
Her throat had closed up, though.
“See?” he said.
“There was a story.”
They got to Sea Pines in the middle of the afternoon. Clarke had been to a beach plenty of times before, but she’d never been to Hilton Head, and she’d never been to a place like Sea Pines. The houses were kind of magnificent.
It figured that Dante’s was going to be the most magnificent.
It was six bedrooms, and seven bathrooms, had balconies on three of the bedrooms, a deck, a Jacuzzi, and a pool to the side, and there was a path in the back that led directly to the beach.
It was nestled in trees, and circled by the rest of the houses that belonged to the family.
“This is unreal,” Clarke said, looking at the view of the beach from the balcony of the bedroom they were given.
“This is Dante’s favorite place in the world,” Bellamy said.
“I think it’s my favorite place in the world.”
He chuckled, and pressed a kiss to the back of her head. “Come on.” He turned. “I told Monroe we’d meet up with them when we got here. I hope you’re still hungry after eating every nut, chip, and cracker known to man in the car. This family takes food seriously at the beach.”
They didn’t actually go out to the beach until the morning. The sky was cloudless, and there was a cool ocean breeze on the air, and it was perfect. They had a cooler with more than enough food, and with beer, too, and plenty of water, and they ended up spending the whole day there with all of his cousins.
She had to reapply suntan lotion a couple of times.
Bellamy had to help.
She was glad he couldn’t see the flush in her cheeks when he was rubbing the lotion into her back.
They grilled for dinner that night.
The whole extended family was there, and it was crowded on the deck while plates of hamburger, and hot dogs, of kebobs, and corn, and baked potatoes were passed from person to person. They were short on chairs, too. Clarke ended up sitting on Bellamy’s lap.
They drank for dessert, and played a game of BS while the sun sank out of view.
Clarke made a point to be as terrible as possible at the game, because Jenny was guileless. Still. It was fun to play with Bellamy’s cheerful, tipsy relatives, to shout “baloney!” at the top of her lungs while Bellamy’s chest rumbled with laughter against her back, and curl into his warmth when the breeze grew chilly with night.
She thought it was a joke when she came out of the bathroom to see Bellamy was dressed in a pink polo shirt that he’d tucked into a pair of a khaki shorts.
“Shut up,” he said.
He was dressed, apparently, for sailing around Daufuskie with Dante. They left just the two of them, and Clarke was left to pass the morning with Carol. They went to the beach, and sat in the shade of umbrella with books, cocktails, and a radio that Carol put on a classical music station.
“I know Dante is thrilled that someone else in the family who actually likes to sail is here to sail with him again,” Carol said.
“I didn’t know Bellamy knew how to sail,” Clarke said.
“Dante taught him when he was a boy. It was a special thing just between the two of them. Dante used to say that Bellamy was the only one of the children with the patience.” She smiled, and lowered her voice like she was going to share a secret, leaning towards Clarke. “And he claimed Bellamy was the only one who didn’t bother him with a lot of chatter.”
She made it sound like Dante had been close with Bellamy, had even played favorites with him.
She’s rewriting history, Clarke thought.
Bellamy was in a good mood when he got back from sailing, though. “I taught your gran to make a mojito,” she told him. He grinned, and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pressing a kiss to her cheek.
It made her wonder.
She put aside the thought for an afternoon, and passed the time by shopping with Harper, Monroe, and Fox on a boardwalk of sorts.
But she couldn’t forget about it completely.
She got into bed that night, and turned to face him. They’d gone upstairs early tonight; it would probably be another hour before they turned off the lights and actually went to bed. He seemed to feel her gaze, because he drew his eyes off his phone after a moment to glance at her.
“You came here every year growing up, right?” she asked.
She tucked her hand under her cheek. “Did you like it?”
“Did I like it?”
She really didn’t know that much about Bellamy’s childhood. She knew the timeline, but she didn’t know anything truly important. She didn’t know any of the stories that made a person.
“I mean, I like the beach,” he said.
“Come on,” she said. “Tell me a story. You got a story from me.”
“You know everything about me already. Remember? You got to read a whole file on me.”
“This is different.”
He put his phone by the bed, and shifted, turning to lie facing her. “Okay.” He paused. “There was this time I got sunburned. I was . . . eight? Usually, I tan. But it was the first summer since my mom had brought us back to the family, and I guess I’d been out for too long that day, and it was sunny, and, anyway, I ended up with sunburn all over. My back, my stomach, my arms. The tops of my feet.”
“Ouch,” she said.
“It was miserable. I woke up in the morning, and it hurt so bad that it made me cry. Well, we were supposed to go out. But I couldn’t, right? I had to stay home that day, and my mom stayed home with me. She slathered me in aloe, and I got to lay with my head in her lap, and just watch a lot of TV with her. She made us grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. And I guess that’s not a big deal. It’s a normal mom thing. But my mom was never that great at normal mom stuff. So. It was a big deal to me.”
“I get it,” Clarke said, soft. “My mom has never been great at being a mom.”
It was quiet.
“It’s nice to know that she did love you, though.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I know. I was always the kid her life would’ve been easier without, but she loved me the best she could.”
His mother had died in a nasty car accident when he was a teenager. The details were fuzzy. Clarke had a feeling that Aurora might’ve been partly responsible, and the details were fuzzy because Dante wanted to protect her memory, to protect the family’s reputation.
“I used to be afraid of automatic toilets,” Bellamy said.
He grinned. “Here’s a story for you,” he went on. “I was, like, ten, and I’d never actually been anywhere that had an automatic toilet before.”
Everyone in the family was invited to dinner on Tuesday at a place called Hudson’s. It was Carol’s favorite. The food was amazing, and the view was, too; they had a table on the dock, and they watched the sky change from clear, cloudless blue to a smear of orange, pink, and yellow with the sunset.
At the end of the meal, Dante rose to his feet for a speech.
“We’re here to celebrate the birthday of the most amazing woman in the world,” he said. He smiled. “Carol, I love you. I could not imagine my life without you, or without our family.” His gaze traveled over the table. “And I’m proud of all of you, and all you’ve accomplished since we were last sitting at this table. I want to say, though, that I’m proud especially of my grandson. I’m proud of the business he’s built up, and the work he puts into it, of the brother, and cousin, and grandson that he is, of the husband that he’s become. And I can’t express how glad I am that he is with us again this year. I’ve missed you, Bellamy.”
“Hear, hear!” PJ said.
There was a round of cheers.
“To family,” Dante said, raising his glass, and smiling, looking at Bellamy. “Truly the greatest gift we’re given.”
It rained for most of the day on Wednesday. They watched a lot of TV, and played a lot of games. By noon, people were going slightly crazy. Clarke ended up escaping to the movies with Harper in the afternoon, and they met Monroe for drinks, and dinner, too. It was late by the time they got back to the house.
She found Bellamy sitting on the beach with one of his younger, quieter cousins. It wasn’t raining finally, although it was gray out, and windy. They were building a fancy sand castle.
“Is that a moat?” Clarke asked, sitting.
“Obviously,” Bellamy said.
She smiled, and used a tied a leaf to a twig to add a flag to one of the towers in the castle.
“How was the movie?”
“Good.” She shrugged. “You know I’ll see anything Kristen Bell is in.”
There was a shout from one of the houses. “That’s my mom,” Charlotte said. She pushed to her feet with a sigh. “You’re going to take a picture, right?” she asked. Bellamy had pulled his phone out already, and he made her squat by his side for a selfie with the castle before she ran off towards the house.
“She’s cute,” Clarke said.
“Yeah.” He reached for a beer that he’d planted in the sand. “She’s sweet.”
“I know she’s caused some trouble.”
He nodded. “She’s got her issues. None of it’s really her fault, though. She’s just a kid.” He offered her the beer.
She took a sip.
He’d tanned in the sun. She traced her gaze over the freckles that dusted his shoulders. Somehow, he’d found a way to be more attractive.
She bit her lip, and glanced at the water.
She’d always loved the sound of the beach. Then again, didn’t everyone? There was something so calming about the quiet, constant crash of waves
“You know,” she said, “you’re a really good person.”
He looked at her.
“I’m taking that beer away from you,” he said.
“I’m serious! You take care of your family. The ones who matter, who need to be taken care of. It’d be easy for you to be like—Cage, or Dante. But you’re not.” She held his gaze. “You care.”
“Yeah, well.” He cleared his throat.
She kissed him.
It was stupid. She just did it. She was staring at him, and he was staring at her, and she leaned in, and did it. Kissed him. It wasn’t even much of a kiss.
Her lips brushed his lips, and she pulled away quickly, looking at him.
“Who . . .?” He glanced over his shoulder.
“No, um.” She shook her head. “Sorry.” She turned away from him. She was an idiot. What the hell was she thinking? “I just—”
He kissed her.
He took her cheek in his hand, turned her face to him, and he kissed her. She grasped at his arm, and closed her eyes, leaning in. She was intoxicated by him, by the heat that radiated off him, and the smell of him, by the brush of his stubble against her cheek, and the feel of both of his hand cupping her face, slipping into her hair, and holding her to him, kissing and kissing her.
There was a shout in the distance.
It broke them apart.
She glanced over her shoulder, but there was nobody in sight.
His hands began to slip away from her, and she turned her face quickly back to him again, meeting his gaze. “I . . .” He swallowed.
“Me, too,” she said.
He smiled, and dropped her gaze at last, looking at the water.
His mouth was swollen with her kisses. Her throat closed suddenly with tenderness. She leaned in, and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
It brought his gaze back to her.
“We could, you know,” she said, ignoring the drumbeat of her heart. “Just this once. I want to.”
“Just this once?”
She nodded. “Come on.” She offered her hand, and a smile began tugging on her lips.
He took it.
They had to wash off their feet before they went into the house, and it was awkward, and not, and she hadn’t really caught her breath yet, exchanging glances and smiles and breathless, stupid laughter with him while they stuck their feet under the faucet, and cleaned off in a messy, half-assed rush.
She grabbed his hand again, and led the way into the house.
They ended up running up the stairs, and Bellamy was crowding her back when they stumbled into the room, wrapping his arms around her middle, and bending his head to nose at her cheek.
She grinned, and turned in his arms, hugging his neck, and pulling him down for a kiss.
“This is happening?” he asked.
“This is definitely, definitely happening,” she breathed, and she began to walk them back towards the bed.
His hands toyed with the bottom of her t-shirt, and she lifted her arms in permission, laughing just because when he pulled it up, and tossed it, surging in to kiss her again. She ran her hands up his bare, sun-kissed back, reveling in the heat of his skin, in the tautness of his muscles, and the feel the moving under her greedy, groping palms. His hands were fumbling with the clasp of her bra, and she helped him, undoing it herself.
“I should warn you that it’s been a while since I’ve done . . . this,” she said.
“I’ve got you,” he said, confident.
“Is there a line we aren’t crossing?” he asked, and he cupped her breasts, squeezing, and rubbing his thumbs against her nipples.
She kissed him. “If I don’t like it, I’ll tell you.”
“Can I go down on you?”
“Yes,” she said. “God, yes. The sooner, the better.”
She pushed off her shorts with her underwear, and sank onto the bed, reaching for him. He kissed her, and his hands were everywhere, were cupping her face, and combing her hair, were grasping her thighs, and sliding up her sides, palming her breasts. She was half-crazy, half-giddy with want. “I love your breasts,” he panted. He tilted his head to kiss her neck.
“I know,” she said.
“What are you going to do about it?”
He squeezed her breast, and caught her lips in a bruising, insistent kiss, and she was pulsing with want when he slid a hand between them. She gasped into his mouth when he cupped her, when his thumb rubbed her clit, and he sank a finger in to her. He curled his finger, and she rolled her hips against his palm, panting into his slack, open mouth.
His thumb flicked her clit, and she dug her fingers into his arm.
“Fuck,” he breathed. “You’re wet. You’re—”
“I’m going to—”
He pulled his hand away from her, and dropped to his knees, spreading her thighs, and pressing his mouth to her.
She grappled for purchase on the sheets, and wound up on her back, fisting a hand in his hair, and breathing his name when his lips found her clit. She couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer, couldn’t think properly, couldn’t do anything but pant his name because he was sucking on her clit, and rolling his tongue over the bud, because he was sinking his finger into her, and adding another finger, and she was coming, was arching off the bed, and crying out. He rose up, and his hand was wet when he gripped her side, and dropped a kiss to her belly, to her breast, to her mouth.
“Do you know how good you look like this?” he murmured
She opened her eyes.
He kissed her.
“I always look good,” she told him.
She cupped his jaw, and kissed him, starting to push on up her elbow, and forcing him up, too. She pressed a kiss to his chest. His erection was tenting his shorts, and she pulled his swim trunks down, taking the length of him in her hand.
“Clarke.” His voice was strangled.
“You have a condom?” she asked, swiping her thumb over the head.
She glanced up.
“No,” he said. “Shit, no. I don’t."
“How can you not have a condom?” she asked.
“Do you have a condom?”
She released a breath of disbelief, and found herself laughing, and shaking her head. “It’s fine.” She took his head face in her hands. “It’s fine.” She kissed him. “It’s—I’m on the pill, and I’m clean.” She met his gaze.
She nodded. “I want you inside me.”
He kissed her.
He slid his hands over her thighs, and lifted her, holding her to him, and she wrapped her arms around his neck when he climbed up onto the bed with her, and laid her back onto the mattress. His kiss grew desperate, and sloppy. She groped at his shoulders, at his back, and the tip of him bumped up against her slit.
She sucked in a breath.
He shifted, and pressed his face to her neck, starting to push into her. She ached up, closing her eyes at the sensation, and digging her fingers into his back. “Fuck,” he panted, and he paused. He drew out slightly, pushing in again, and filling her. He lifted his head, and kissed her.
She opened her eyes.
His breath fanned hotly against her mouth.
He smiled, too. He pulled out, and thrust in. She gasped. He began to fuck her at a measured, maddening pace, drawing out slowly, and driving in fast, stealing her breath.
She was close.
She was so, so close.
She pushed at his chest, and flipped them, forced his back to the mattress. She grinned, and felt the curve of his grin against her lips. She shifted, and grasped his shoulders, lifting her hips, and sinking onto him again.
She swore, and began to move over him roughly, arching her back.
He slid his hands up from her hips to squeeze her breasts, and pull at her nipples.
“Oh, God,” she breathed. “Bell, I—I—”
He grasped her ass, and rose up suddenly, thrusting up into her, and making her cry out. “Fuck, Clarke,” he breathed. “Fuck.” His control was gone. She grabbed his face, and kissed him, and she was coming, and he was coming, too, dropping his face to her neck, and swearing raggedly against her skin.
It was quiet while they caught their breath.
After a moment, he pressed a kiss to her shoulder, and shifted to lay her back against the mattress, pulling out, and rolling onto his back.
She pushed her hair out of her face, and turned to look at him.
He turned to look at her.
She bit her lip. I’ve wanted to do that for a while, she thought. She couldn’t say it, though. It seemed like crossing a line. She could feel him trickling out of her, and she felt shy all of a sudden.
“What?” he said.
She touched his stomach, rubbing her thumb against a scar that was probably from an appendectomy.
He took her hand in his, and lifted it to press a kiss to her palm.
“I’m hungry,” she said.
He laughed. “Okay.” He sat up. “I’ll clean up, and get us something. Requests? I think there’s still ice cream in the fridge.” He smiled.
It took her a moment to remember when she woke up. Light was trickling in around the edges of the garish window curtains, and she sat up, rubbing her eyes, and glancing at the clock, and realized with a start that she wasn’t wearing pajamas. She was naked. She pulled a sheet up, and glanced at Bellamy. He was lying on his stomach with the sheets at his waist, giving her a view of his bare, freckled back.
They’d slept together last night.
They’d slept together, and had ice cream floats in beer, and slept together again, and again.
She should probably be panicked, or something.
She’d been living with Bellamy for months. She’d been playing his wife, had been spending more time with him than anyone, had been getting to know him, and depending on him, has been keeping this huge, life-threatening secret with him, and, well, it had made them close.
They couldn’t be together, though.
She traced her gaze over the swirl of freckles on his shoulder.
She’d wanted it.
She’d wanted him.
But it couldn’t happen again. Just this once, they’d agreed. She couldn’t just lean over, and wrap an arm around his back, waking him up with a kiss to that swirl of freckles. She couldn’t. They had a job to do. They couldn’t just complicate everything because she wanted to kiss the freckles on his shoulder.
She didn’t usually do this sort of thing, hadn’t ever slept with someone just like that, and carried on after like it was nothing
It wasn’t nothing.
There was a knock on the door.
“Just a—just a minute!”
“We’re going into town for breakfast,” Harper said, muffled by the door. “Do you want to come? We can wait for you.”
“Um.” She pushed a hand through her hair. “Give me ten minutes?”
She heard Harper’s footsteps head off down the hallway. The bed shifted when Bellamy sat up, and she looked at him. He was bleary-eyed, and yawning, scratching at the back of his head.
She wanted to kiss him.
She wanted to press her breasts into his hands, and feel the ripple of muscles in his arms under her palms, wanted to sink her fingers into his hair, and feel the scratch of his stubble against her neck.
“Breakfast?” she said, swallowing.
She wondered if they were going to talk about it.
But he got out of the bed, and she turned away quickly, because she wasn’t supposed to look at his bare ass now. Right? He headed for the bathroom without looking at her, shutting the door. She breathed out. They’d just get dressed, and head out, and everything would return to normal.
It wasn’t until he was passing her on his way out of the bathroom that he said anything.
“We’re okay, right?” he asked, touching a hand to her elbow.
Her mouth was full of toothpaste. She nodded, and spat out her toothpaste. “Yeah,” she said. “We’re great.” She smiled, and he left, closing the door of the bathroom for her.
It figured that she wasn’t actually going to make it a whole week without getting burned. She didn’t even fully realize until she took a shower, and it hurt. They’d spent almost the whole day under the sun, and she’d made the mistake of falling asleep lying on her stomach. She hadn’t exactly gotten a lot of sleep Wednesday night. Now she was punished with pink, shiny skin on her shoulders, and her back, on the tops of her arms, and the backs of her legs, and the side of her face, and she was never, ever going to the beach again.
She found a bottle of aloe in one of a billion bathroom cabinets.
Bellamy was downstairs.
She rubbed the aloe everywhere she could actually reach, and slipped into light, loose clothes.
She was reading when Bellamy came upstairs.
“I thought you looked pink,” he said.
She scrunched up her nose. “Do me a favor?” she asked. She had to ask. She held up the bottle of aloe, and he circled the bed to take it from her with a soft, sympathetic smile. “This is my punishment for trying to relax,” she said.
“Is this really your punishment for the day?” he asked.
She climbed out of bed, and turned her back to him, lifting up what was actually his large, soft t-shirt.
“Or was it when you had to sit across from Cage at dinner, and watch him pick lobster out of his teeth with his fingernails for half an hour?”
“I was trying to black that out,” he said.
He chuckled. “Sorry.” His hands were soft on her back.
It was quiet.
He slipped his hands up under her shirt to rub the aloe on her shoulders, and he was careful to keep from going too close to the waistband of her underwear.
“Thanks,” she said.
“Sure.” He handed her the bottle.
It was quiet.
He was smirking.
“You look like a bubble gum version of Two-Face right now,” he said.
She huffed. “Go take a shower.” She turned away from him, climbing into bed. “You smell like jellyfish pee.” She pulled up the covers, and tried to find a position to lie in that wasn’t some medieval form of torture.
She went into the kitchen to refill the pitcher of sangria for everyone, and found Dante sitting at the table in front of his laptop.
He glanced up.
“What are you doing in here?” she asked, smiling. “You should be out in the sunshine with everyone. It’s beautiful out there! It’s making up for all of the rain on Wednesday.” She took the sangria from the fridge.
“I’m afraid I have a bit of work that I can’t be put off,” he said.
She scrunched up her nose.
“It’s unfortunate, I know.” He chuckled. “My wife will tell you that I’m a workaholic.”
“Is that where Bellamy gets it from?” she asked. She’d never really done this before, talked to him one-on-one. It couldn’t be different than talking to him in front of his wife, kids, and grandkids, though. She’d just prattle on like a cheery little housewife, and he’d chuckle, and indulge her. “If he isn’t in front of a baseball game, he’s in front of his laptop.”
“I certainly like to think that he gets his work ethic from me,” Dante said.
She poured the rest of the sangria into the pitcher.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders. Bellamy. I worried about him when he was a boy, but he’s grown into a fine young man.”
“It’s Octavia who worries me now,” he went on. “She’s got a good head on her shoulders, too, if she could just remember to use it. I’m beginning to fear that’s a lost cause, however.”
“She’s young,” Clarke said. “She just needs to grow up a little.”
“I was hoping she would give Jasper a chance,” he said. “There’s a boy with potential. And he would have adored her, and it might’ve been enough to satisfy her need for attention. Alas, she rejected him, and he’s enamored with my goddaughter. Have you met her? Maya? She’s about your age? She’s a sweet, accomplished young woman. Octavia, meanwhile.” He sighed. “She’s like her mother.” Clearly, it wasn’t a compliment.
“She’ll grow up,” Clarke said. She couldn’t believe they were having this conversation. It was like he was confiding in her. She didn’t know what to do with that fact. “She’s just still in that stage where she’s figuring things out for herself,” she added.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It remains quite clear, however, that Bellamy is going to be my legacy. I didn’t know it when he was young. Truth is, I didn’t give him the attention he deserved when he was a boy. And I gave too much attention to my children. I gave them everything, you know. Every advantage. Every opportunity. And they took these gifts, and squandered them. Grew into lazy, selfish people. It’s clear Cage cares more about himself than anyone else. I’m sure you’ve heard stories to that effect. Aurora was much the same. Bellamy, though. Bellamy cares about his family, and works for his family. He is a leader.”
He smiled. “I don’t mean to—accost you,” he said. “I say all this to say . . . well, to say thank you.”
“For bringing my grandson home.”
“I’m just glad he was welcomed home,” she said.
He smiled. “Well, now.” He cleared his throat. “I think I’ve done enough work for today.” He closed his laptop, and rose to his feet. “I can carry that outside for you if you like.” He nodded his head at the pitcher.
She followed him out of the house, and told him where to put the sangria. He might not have meant to, but he’d unsettled her. She should be excited. It was clear that Dante trusted Bellamy. He basically told Clarke that he was planning to give his business to Bellamy. Still. Bellamy was talking to Pascal, and she made her way over to him, slotting into place at his side, and forcing a smile.
She couldn’t make herself sleep that night. It wasn’t just her pink, peeling back. She stared through the dark at the half-hidden lines of Bellamy’s face, and thought about his file.
His mother had run away from home when she’d gotten pregnant with him.
Dante had wanted her to have an abortion, and she’d refused. He’d deported Bellamy’s father, but, still, she’d refused. She’d had Bellamy on her own, and she was on her own with him for a while. The FBI didn’t know too much about that time in her life. She’d racked up a lot of debts, and lived in twelve different places over the course of about seven years.
Eventually, she’d given up, and gone home again.
Octavia had been a baby at the time.
What had it been like for him to go from living place to place with a struggling single mother to living in the wealthy, upper crust household of a man who hadn’t even wanted him to exist?
And now Dante was saying that Bellamy was his legacy.
Just you wait, she thought. You won’t get a legacy. You’re going to spend the rest of your life in prison, and your grandson? He’ll have a legacy. He’ll be the hero that put you there.
The ride home was quieter. They were the first to leave in morning on Saturday, and Clarke was yawning when she got in, and buckled her seatbelt. It was still gray out. They picked up breakfast at some bagel place to eat in the car. He put a sports talk show on the radio, and she dozed.
She couldn’t really sleep in the car, though.
They stopped for gas after an hour.
She probably should’ve taken the opportunity to go to the bathroom. Bellamy would grumble about it endlessly if she made him stop again in an hour. She could live with some grumbling.
“You get any good intel this week?” he asked, climbing into the car again, and glancing at her.
“Nope.” She sighed. “I didn’t think I would, though. Nobody in this family ever talks about the business in front of me.”
She hadn’t told him about her conversation with Dante. There was nothing to tell. It wasn’t like he’d given her information, or anything.
“We’re in, though.”
“In,” he repeated. “I’m a part of the family again. For real.”
“Does this mean you can ask to be a part of the business again?” she said.
“That’s the plan.”
She bit her lip. Why did he think now was the time? She’d tried multiple times to get him just to ask to get in on the business, and he’d always said he couldn’t. Why now? What changed? Had Dante had the same conversation with him? “Good,” she said, because this was what they’d been waiting for.
There was a thunk from the pump.
He reached between the seats to grab a duffle from the back. “Here.” He left it sitting on the console, and climbed out of the car.
She unzipped the duffle with a frown. It had his dirty clothes in it, and she pawed at a pair of sweatpants. She was about to ask why he’d handed her a bag of his laundry, and she found it.
There was a gun in his duffle.
He climbed in the car, shutting the door, and pulling on his seatbelt.
“What the hell?”
“Dante gave it to me,” he said, starting up the car. “It’s scrubbed. You kept asking me what we were waiting for? This, Clarke. This is what we were waiting for.”
“You’re back in,” she said.
“Yeah.” He blew out a breath, and shook his head, glancing at the duffle, and at her, holding her gaze for a moment. “I’m back in.”
“He said I think you’ll be needing this, and gave it to him,” Clarke said. “That’s it. He didn’t explain what the gun was for.”
Raven was quiet.
“But whatever it’s for, it means he trusts Bellamy now.”
“Right,” Raven said, taking a sip of water. “How does Bellamy feel about the way his family’s been treating him?”
“You say that everyone seems to like Bellamy. That they’re genuinely happy he’s back in the fold, and they—they treat him like family. But he expected them to treat him like an interloper. He told us when this all started that we were overestimating how much his family cared about him, and he wouldn’t just be welcomed back in. Now it’s clear they do care about him. So. I’m wondering how Bellamy feels about that.
“I mean, this is what we wanted,” Clarke said. “This was our goal. We needed to earn their trust, and we have.”
“I’m not talking about whether they trust Bellamy,” Raven said.
“I . . .” Clarke shook her head. “Okay? So . . .”
“I’m talking about the fact that they like Bellamy, and how that’s impacting him.”
“Do you think he’s turned?”
“It’s something to consider,” Raven said. “Now that he’s back in with his family, he could have decided that he likes being back in with his family. And if that’s the case, we’re in trouble.”
“This is ridiculous,” Clarke said. “You’re saying we should consider the idea that Bellamy is about to betray us because his family’s been accepting of him? Raven, that’s . . .”
“Stop, and think about it for a minute. I know you’ve gotten close with him. I know. And you don’t want to think he could possibly betray you. I get it. But he walked away from his family when he was a kid because they made him feel like an outsider. He was the kid that nobody actually wanted. Now? They want him. They aren’t just being nice to him; they’re showering him with praise, and affection, and he’s suddenly the bright, shining hope of the family. Can you imagine what that must be like? It could be making him second guess what he wants.”
“No,” Clarke said.
“It isn’t like he just left because he didn’t get enough attention. Okay? He left because of a—there was a specific incident.”
“Harper,” Raven said.
Clarke was startled, and it must have shown on her face.
“The house is bugged, remember? We heard your conversation with her. Clarke, think about it. He didn’t leave just because of Harper. That might be how she sees it, and maybe there is some truth to it, but just—just for a minute, think about it. Okay? If he cared so much about Harper, wouldn’t that be a reason to stay? To protect her? Instead, he left her with a family that clearly didn’t give a shit about her.”
“No, that’s not . . .”
“That’s not who he is,” Clarke said, tightening her grip on the handles of the treadmill in frustration. “It’s just not. If it had been possible for him to stay, he would have.”
“You trust him,” Raven said.
“You shouldn’t. You’re allowed to like him. But you shouldn’t trust him just because you like him. I’m serious. He’s been lying to his family for almost a year, Clarke. He knows how to lie.”
“He isn’t lying to me.”
“You can’t know that for sure! I’m not saying he’s definitely going to betray you. I’m just saying you need to be careful.”
“You were. But the more time you spend with Bellamy, the more we’re all starting to worry about you.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, my assignment is to spend time with Bellamy.”
“You’re not acting like it.”
“I’m doing my job,” Raven said, and she sighed, watching Clarke step off of the treadmill, and start to gather her things. “I’m just trying to look out for you. Don’t forget that I’m on your side. And if you need anything, I’m here. Just let me know.”
She asked Bellamy that night. The game was on, and he was watching with a crease in his brow, because the Indians were supposed to have this game in the bag, and they were choking, and she couldn’t help asking.
“Does it bother you?”
He frowned, and, began slowly turning to look at her before finally tearing his eyes off the screen. “What?”
“The stuff that your family does,” she said. “The business. Does it bother you?”
“I just . . . it’s never something we’ve talked about. I know you don’t like a lot of your relatives. But you’ve never really said if it—if it bothers you what they do.”
He sighed. “Yeah,” he said. “It does.”
“Has it always?”
“Honestly?” He took a sip of his beer. “No. My mom’s philosophy was always kind of what’s right is what’s right for you. I guess that’s the family philosophy.” He paused, and she could see him thinking, trying to piece together what he was going to say. “There was this guy that I leaned about in high school. This philosopher, or something. Anyway, his whole thing was that what’s right or wrong is defined by what the world would look like if everybody acted that way. You think you’re a good person? If everyone acted like you act, would it make the world better? Or worse? I don’t know. It was just kind of an interesting way of looking at it. And it’s pretty fucking obvious that if everyone did the shit my grandfather does, the world . . .” He shook his head, and looked at the TV again.
It was quiet.
There was a foot of space between them. He was slumped on his end of the sofa, and she was curled up on her end. She traced her gaze over the lines of his face.
She made herself look at the television.
She wanted to bridge the gap, and touch him. She wanted to take his hand, and trace the creases in his palm. She wanted to curl into his side, and touch her hand to his chest, feel the sure, steady beat of his heart. She wanted to take his face in her hands, and rub her thumb over the stubble on his jaw. She wanted to lean up, and kiss him.
She wondered suddenly what was going to happen when all of this was over.
She’d return to her life.
Was he going to be a part of that life? Or after this was over, did she go her way, and he go his way? Is that what he wanted, what he expected?
They were in this together, and she wasn’t totally alone in liking him, in wanting him. Right? And, maybe, after all this was over, they could try fitting her old life with his new life. Maybe. She tapered a smile.
He scoffed at the TV. “This is a disgrace,” he muttered.
To hell with it, she thought.
He was reaching for his beer when she closed the distance on the sofa, and grasped his arm.
“I want to kiss you,” she said.
“Is that okay with you?”
He set his beer on the table again, wiping at the back of his mouth, and stared at her for a moment, making heat creep into her neck before, slowly, he started to nod. “Yeah,” he said, and the edges of his lips pulled up towards a smile. “Yeah, I think that’s okay with me.”
She climbed into his lap, and kissed him.
His hands slid around to her ass.
It was all the encouragement she needed. She began to pull up his shirt, because she didn’t see the point of wasting her time with buttons, and they broke apart when he lifted his hands up, and she tugged it off. She surged in again, and had to kiss the grin off his face.
“We’re doing this?” he panted.
“We’re doing this.”
They fumbled their way out of their clothes.
She meant to slink off the couch, and between his knees, and take him in her mouth, because it was about time she returned the favor, but she didn’t have the chance before he turned with her in his arms, flattening her against the sofa, and bending his head to her breasts.
She was more than ready for him when he pushed into her at last.
“I think the Indians just scored a goal,” she murmured.
He laughed. “Scored a goal?”
“Made a basket. Ran around the bases, and high-fived. Earned a point!”
He hiked her leg up higher, thrusting in harder.
“Bell,” she breathed.
After, she lay for a moment on the sofa while her heartbeat slowly calmed, and he dressed. He glanced at her, and leaned over to press a kiss to her knee. She smiled, and sat up with a sigh, reaching for her t-shirt.
Raven was already at the gym. Her face was pinched, and her grip on the handle of the treadmill was white-knuckled, and Clarke knew something was wrong. “What?” she asked, starting up a treadmill, and trying to keep herself from staring at Raven.
“They found a body in cement,” Raven said. “Off of Ninth. It was in the foundation of that hotel that’s been half built for a year because they ran out of money before they could finish.”
“Do they have an ID?”
“Well, who—who is it?” Clarke asked.
Clarke couldn’t keep herself from looking at Raven in shock.
“They made the ID yesterday,” Raven said. “Dental records. That’s all they had to go on. There isn’t much else left of him.” She shook her head. “We looked into the records on the hotel. Before the owners went bankrupt, the construction was done by the company that’s currently in the middle of building the bank on Leigh Brown Street.”
“That’s the project that your husband is the contractor for. Yeah. Wallace owns it. Not on paper, of course. But—this proves it. They did it. If there was any doubt, it’s gone. They did it, Clarke. They killed him. And there are—” She swallowed, and looked at Clarke. “The forensics indicates that he was probably tortured. I guess they needed to get information out of him, right? Find out how much he knew. Dante Wallace tortured Finn, and murdered him, and buried him in a block of cement.”
She was supposed to meet Carol for bunch. She cancelled. She went to Bellamy’s worksite, paying fifteen dollars to park as close as possible to the construction, and as soon as she saw Miller, she made a beeline for him.
“I need to talk to Bellamy,” she said. “Now.”
He came out from the building with a frown, and it grew deepener when he saw her, when he started quickly toward her. “What’s the matter?” he asked, searching her face. He touched her arm.
Her eyes burned with tears.
“Clarke,” he murmured.
She shook her head. She was not about to cry. They had shit to do.
He brushed the hair away from her face.
“I’m fine.” She held up a hand. “I’m fine. I’m—” She took a breath. “They found his body. Finn. They found his body in cement at the abandoned construction of the hotel downtown. Dental records matched.”
“Fuck,” he said, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Fuck, Clarke. I’m sorry.”
“Dante has to pay for this.”
“I don’t mean in some distant, possible future. I mean now. We need to find the mistake that links him to Finn’s body, and make him pay.”
“Clarke . . .” He shook his head.
“The chances that you’ll be able to link this to him are slim,” Bellamy said. “You have to know that. We can get him on things going forward, but there’s no way he left a trail on this.”
She crossed her arms. “People make mistakes.”
“He already did make a mistake!” she exclaimed. “Masselli Smith Construction was building the hotel. We know they’re on his payroll.” She shook her head. “This is—Bellamy, we can’t just throw our hands up. He tortured a man, and murdered him, and put him in a block of cement like he’s the fucking Godfather!”
“You need to lower your voice,” Bellamy said.
“I know you’re upset,” he went on, “and I get why you’re upset.” He bent his head to catch her gaze, and hold it, and his voice was softer. Placating. “It’s not that I don’t care. You think I like the fact that my grandfather is a murderer? I don’t. I’m not okay with this. And I want to make him pay. But we have to be realistic.”
“Realistic,” she repeated.
“It sucks. I know. But, Clarke, you knew that Finn was probably dead.”
“I did,” she said. She wanted to cry, and she wanted to shout, and rage, wanted to punch something, or throw something, or reach out, and grab Bellamy, and shake him. She couldn’t. She had to contain it. She had to be realistic. “I knew. How many people in your family do you think knew?”
He sighed. “Clarke.”
“No. Don’t you sigh at me. I’m serious. Finn got close with your family. People would have noticed when he disappeared. Did they know? I mean, I assume Murphy, and Pascal, and Sterling, and—they had to know, right? Who else do you think? Carol? Harper?”
“I doubt Harper knew for certain,” he said.
“You’re saying you think Harper did know?” she asked, incredulous. “Monroe, too? Fox?”
“They were probably able to guess. Yes. Okay? Yes. They can put two and two together. He disappeared, and they probably figured it was because he’d done something that landed him six feet under. But even if they were fucking told, there would have been nothing they could do about it.”
She stared. He couldn’t be saying all of this to her.
“Clarke,” he said.
He shook his head. “Have you really not figured out how this family works yet?”
“I’ve figured out that everyone in your family is apparently either a murderer, or a coward.”
He was silent.
“What about Octavia?”
She ignored him. “Octavia knew. Do you think she was there when they did it?”
“There’s a line, and you’re about to cross it.”
“I thought it was weird, you know, that we never really hung out with her. I thought it was weird that when this whole thing first started, you wanted me to meet your cousins, and I didn’t even meet Octavia until the shower. But it’s because you aren’t really that close with her, are you? You love her, and you’d do anything for her, but you aren’t that close to her, and it’s because she’s in it, and you’re not. She’s in the family. She does terrible shit, and you—you want her to get away with it.”
“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
“You only agreed to do this whole thing because you wanted to protect her!”
“I’m allowed to care about my family,” he said, locking his jaw.
“Not when the family is your family!”
“I think we’re done with this conversation,” he said.
She wasn’t done with this conversation. She could hear Raven’s voice, and she remembered the way that Finn used to lean back in his seat with his hands behind his head, and that charming, shit-eating grin on his face, and she stepped in front of Bellamy when he tried to sidestep her. They were having it out.
He shook his head, and looked away from her.
“Why did you leave?” she asked.
“Why did you leave when you were eighteen? Really? It wasn’t because of everything with Harper. If you really cared that much about her, you would have stayed.” She raised her eyebrows. “And it wasn’t like it bothered you that your family did a lot of terrible things. If it did, you’d have done more than walk away. You’d have walked to the FBI. It was just because you didn’t like the way your family treated you. Right? That’s it. And now that they treat you like you’re the best thing since sliced bread, you’ve starting to change your mind about turning on them. Right?”
“Go to hell.”
She scoffed. “Answer the question.”
“Fine. You want to know the truth? Fine.” He sniffed. “I left because I was a stupid, selfish kid. I was eighteen. Carl was a dick, and my mother was dead, and, fuck, even when she was alive, she didn’t give a shit about me, and—and the rest of the family?” He shook his head. “I was eighteen, and I was angry, and I was selfish. You think I don’t wish I could take it back? I left, and Harper was alone, and my sister—if I hadn’t left, maybe she wouldn’t have joined the business. But I did, and she did, and, yeah, I’m here to get her out, and I’ve been trying for a year to make her want out, and I’m not sorry for that.”
“This isn’t about her,” Clarke said.
“It is for me!”
“People are dying. Finn isn’t the only one who they’ve hurt. People are dying, and we can’t waste time trying to convince your sister to care. How can you not see that? I thought you wanted to bring them down. Dante, and Cage, and—and all of them. Are we even on the same side anymore?”
“I have news for you, Clarke,” he spat. “We were never on the same side. We can’t be on the same side when you’re so high up in your fucking ivory tower.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that this is my life!” he shouted.
It startled her into silence. He’d never yelled before. He’d been mean, and he’d been cold, but he’d never, ever yelled.
“You get to walk away when all this is over,” he said. “You’ve got family, and friends, and another fucking life. I don’t. This is it for me. This is all I’ve got. If you think any part of this has been easy for me, you’re—” He shook his head. “You’re unbelievable.”
“Look, I . . .”
“No,” he said. “No, we’re done with this conversation. You want to be a bitch some more? Save it for home, Princess. I can’t escape you there.”
She clenched her jaw, and dropped his gaze, and this time when he started to move past her, she didn’t try to get in his way. It wasn’t until he’d headed back toward his office that she looked over her shoulder, and saw Miller, and realized that even if he hadn’t heard any of that, he’d seen it. Great. She thought about raising a hand in a wave, but she didn’t. She turned, and started for her car, holding her jaw so tightly it hurt, and trying to keep from crying.
She sat in the car for a moment, breathing in, and breathing out, gripping the steering wheel.
She closed her eyes. Focus, she thought. She opened her eyes. She wanted to talk to Wells. Desperately. She’d missed him before now, but this was different. She needed to talk to him. She’d known Wells forever, and he was her confidant, and comforter, who knew all of her secrets, and knew what she needed, when she needed it. What would he tell her to do right now? He’d tell her to come up with a plan. He loved plans. He wrote them down, and color-coded them, and pulled them out to wave in your face whenever you tried to stray from the plan. Focus, she thought, and come up with a plan. She could do this.
She texted Monty that there were videos from the beach that she wanted to edit before she posted any of them on Facebook, but she didn’t know how. She’d gotten very good at coming with excuses to see this person, or do that thing. He texted back almost immediately that she was welcome to stop by his apartment that afternoon, and he’d help her.
She drove straight over there.
His apartment was the same. He’d made a hasty cleanup effort once again, and she sat in the chair he’d cleared by his desk, and pulled up the videos. He started to download a program on her computer.
“This’ll take a minute,” he said. “There’s Cheerwine in the fridge if you want.”
“I think I’ll actually use the bathroom if you don’t mind,” she said.
In the crummy little bathroom, she splashed her face with water. She needed to get it together. If Monty was involved with Dante’s money like Jasper had implied, he might have access to receipts that link Dante to Masselli Smith Construction.
There were stockings hung to dry over the tub.
Harper, she thought.
She should be angry at Harper.
Even if Harper thought she was trapped, she had a choice. She could have turned on her family, and told the police about Finn’s fate. Bellamy made it sound like Harper was helpless. Harper was the same. Do I have a choice? she’d asked. She did have a choice, and she chose to hide.
It wasn’t Harper’s fault that her family was her family, and they had cowed her into thinking she didn’t have any other options.
Monty was eating a bag of Fritos when Clarke emerged from the bathroom.
“Can I ask you a question?”
He blinked. “Sure.”
“How did you end up working for Dante?” It might be reckless of her to probe so openly, but she couldn’t help herself. Monty was guileless. She didn’t need to beat around the bush with him. “It seems like you do everything computer related for him,” she said, “and I’m just curious.”
“It just kind of happened,” he said. “I mean, it’s not really what I pictured myself doing.”
“Well, it pays the bills, and I kind of had a lot of bills. My mom got sick when I was a teenager, and she’s okay now, but it took surgery and chemo and a lot of hospital visits, and it racked up a lot of bills. Dante footed most of them for me.”
He nodded. “Yeah. I knew him through Octavia, and . . . Yeah.”
“I’m glad your mom’s okay,” she said.
“Me, too.” He smiled. “And, for the record, I don’t want to work for Dante forever. I know he’s not . . . well, you know. I want to do something that actually helps the world. It’s just once you start, how do you stop?” He shrugged.
“I’m sure Dante would understand if you want to go on to bigger and better things.”
“I hope so.” He paused. “Okay, I downloaded a video editing program on your computer. It’s like the most basic, intuitive program I know of. I’ll just give you a quick run through.”
“Great.” She smiled.
It took him about five minutes to explain the program to her, and that was that. She thanked him, and left him to get back to whatever he was working on before she texted him. All in all, she wasn’t at his apartment for more than half an hour.
She’d gotten what she wanted, though.
She could turn Monty. She was certain. He was working for Dante partly out of obligation, and partly because he didn’t know how to stop working for Dante. She could work with that. She could turn him, and if he turned, chances were he’d give the FBI some pretty valuable information.
It was dark out when the headlights from Bellamy’s truck splashed over the windows, and into the house. It was nearly nine. He had to work pretty late on occasion, but he always texted when that was the case.
She’d refused to text him to ask where he was, though.
He came into the kitchen almost immediately for a beer. He didn’t see her, or didn’t acknowledge her. He popped open his drink, and left, and she heard the TV turn on.
She closed her laptop, and followed him.
“Where were you?” she asked, because he wasn’t just going to ignore her.
“I got drinks with Miller.”
“He saw us fighting,” she said, and it was a question.
“Couples are allowed to fight.” He took a sip of his beer. “Miller isn’t the type to pry.”
He hadn’t taken his eyes off the television.
“I made up an excuse to talk to Monty,” she continued. “I found out that he started working for Dante after his mother got sick, and Dante footed the bills. It didn’t sound like he loves the work.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is that I think we could turn Monty. I think he’s more involved than you realize. And if he turns, it could change everything.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Okay. I don’t know why you’re telling me all of this, though. What happens when it turns out I’m double-crossing you, and I tell Dante? I would have thought the FBI trained you better than that.”
She sighed. “Look, I’m sorry. I should have accused you of—”
He raised his eyebrows.
“I was upset,” she said. “Can you blame me? I didn’t just work with Finn. He was my friend. He . . . And, yes, I already knew that he was dead, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t hard to know that he was dead, and how he’d died. I . . .” She sighed. “I lashed out, and I’m sorry.”
He was silent.
“It’s just that I’ve been undercover so long, and it got to the point where I was starting to forget why I was here, and them finding Finn was a wake up that I—I just wasn’t quite prepared for.”
“What do you want me to say? I get it. You’d forgotten why you were here, and I had, too. Okay. Now we remember, and we can finish the job we started.”
“Good,” she said.
He returned his gaze to the TV. It was a dismissal. There was a part of her that wanted to move in front of the television, and argue. Get a reaction, and fix it. Them. And there was a part of her that couldn’t, that was afraid. In your fucking ivory tower, he’d said. She retreated to the kitchen for her laptop, and took it upstairs to bed with her.
“Is there something the matter, dear?” Carol asked, glancing at Clarke when they were stopped at a light.
“It’s just that you seem distracted lately. You’ve hardly spoken at all this morning, and I don’t think you heard a word that was said at the club. You aren’t feeling ill, are you?” Her gaze was searching. “Or is there something that’s stressing you? If it’s money, you need only ask.”
It’s the fact that your husband is despicable, she thought, and you probably are, too.
“You know, you can always talk to me,” Carol said.
“I know.” She forced a smile. “It’s nothing. I just haven’t been sleeping very well. The light is green.”
The rest of the drive was quiet.
But when Carol pulled into the driveway of the townhouse, she touched Clarke’s arm to stop her from leaving the car, and pulled her into a hug over the console. It was awkward. Clarke was enveloped in the smell of sweet, flowery perfume, and the clutch was jammed into her side, and she had to wait for Carol to pull away first.
“You’re such a good girl,” Carol said, soft.
“If I need anything, you’ll be the first to know,” Clarke said. “I promise. That’s what family’s for, right?”
She was surprised when Bellamy texted her. They hadn’t exchanged more than five words in a week, and he texted her out of the blue on Thursday. Meet me for lunch? 12. You choose a place. It took her a minute of frowning at the text to realize that he might have something to talk to her about, and he didn’t want to call her, and have to say it over the phone. Her mind began racing with ideas.
She was an anxious, eager mess when he met her at the diner.
He touched her arm in a kind of greeting, and slid into the booth, leaning in.
“What?” she asked.
“Dante’s meeting Lexa tonight,” he said. “I don’t know when, or where. I don’t know what it’s about. But I’m going to find out, because I’ve been asked to join them.” He straightened, and gave the waitress who’d appeared a small, tight smile.
They asked for a couple of waters, and said they needed time to look at the menu.
The moment the waitress was gone, both of them leaned in again.
“You’re going to be at the meeting?” Clarke asked.
“Yeah,” Bellamy said. “Dante showed up my work this morning. Told me he had a meeting with an associate, and he’d like me to join them. I said yes, but I asked why he wanted me there, and he said the meeting was with her, and he thought it would be useful to have someone who knew her with him.”
“Do you know her any better than he does?”
They had to pause while the waitress set a glass of water in front of each of them.
“Remember those possessions on my record from when I was a teenager?” he said. “I had some dealings with Lexa back around that time. I never much liked her, and she hated me, but I learned her M.O.”
“And your grandfather didn’t give you a clue what this is about?”
“It’s got to be about the guns.” She nodded. “This is good. This is what we’ve been waiting for. We need to get a wire on you.”
“When? I can’t do anything that looks suspicious.”
“I know.” She bit her lip. “I’ll call you this afternoon as soon as I can get in touch with my handler, and set up everything. I’ll say we’ve got some plumbing issue, and I need you home ASAP. Once you’re home, we’ll put the wire on you, and send you back to work. We’ll put a GPS tracker on you, too. That way we’ll know where you are, and we’ll have agents close by.”
She reached out, and took his hand. “We can do this,” she said.
“Yeah.” He pulled his hand from her grasp, and picked up his water, talking a gulp before starting to stand, and move out of the booth. “I should get back to work,” he said. “Call me as soon as you can. The sooner, the better. The meeting probably isn’t until tonight, but it could easily be this afternoon.”
She fished a ten dollar bill from her purse, and left it on the table, heading out.
There was a lot to do, and she had no idea how long she had to do it. It was probably better that he’d rushed in, and rushed out. She needed to get in touch with Raven ASAP.
The process was quicker than she’d realized. She found out when, exactly, her meeting with Raven was every week through a “chat” on the phone with her “mother.” She called that number now, and left a voicemail that was coded, and informed the bureau that she needed to meet with Raven immediately. In less than ten minutes, she received a call. Half an hour, and she “bumped” into Raven at Kroger. She explained the situation, and Raven told her to call a number for “the plumper” as soon as she got home. She did, and she called Bellamy right after that to tell him that the toilet had flooded the bathroom, and, two hours after she’d left the diner, she was in the kitchen with Bellamy while an FBI agent put a wire on him, and explained how everything was going to work.
“We’re going to be on standby to come in the moment your cover is blown,” Glass said.
“That’s not to say your cover is definitely going to be blown,” Clarke said. “It’s just in case. In the event that something goes wrong, we’ve got your back.”
“And if we get what we need to arrest him, we may well come in to arrest him right then,” Glass continued.
“But, again, we might not,” Clarke said.
“Got it,” Bellamy said.
He was tense. The moment that Glass stepped away, Clarke stepped closer, and fixed the collar of his shirt. His gaze was heavy on the top of her head. “You’ve got this,” she told him. “It’s easy.” She looked up, and caught his eye. “It’s what you’ve been doing for a year.” She smiled.
He touched a hand to her hip.
The rest of the afternoon went by at a crawl.
He returned to work. She got a call from a “friend” who asked if Clarke was free to stop by her house, and see her newly renovated kitchen. She got to the house around four in the afternoon.
The meeting was mostly likely about the guns. What else could is possibly be about? There was a chance it had something to do with Finn. Someone had leaked to the press that the body of an FBI agent was found in cement. Raven said Kane was apoplectic at the leak. Was it unrealistic for her to hope it was a discussion about Finn, and they’d get a confession from Dante? Probably. It was definitely just about the guns.
Bellamy called Clarke around six. “I’m going to drinks with Dante,” he said. She told him that was perfect, because she’d just have dinner with her friend.
The meeting wasn’t actually until past ten that night.
Clarke was able to listen in via Raven’s set of headphones, leaning in close.
“Check him,” Lexa said.
“Put a hand on my boy,” Dante said calmly, “and it’ll be the last thing you ever do.”
Clarke had to close her eyes for a moment, breathing in, and breathing out.
The meeting was short, and though there might have been a lot of others with them, it was Dante who spoke the most, and Lexa. They spoke tersely, and they spoke in code. Clarke was positive that interests was the word for guns, though. They argued for an hour over how best to make productive use of our interests. It wasn’t enough information for the bureau to act on, but it would be added to the rest of the information they’d collected, and strengthen the investigation.
“This is progress,” Raven said.
“We’re going to need a wire on Blake as often as possible,” Glass said, frowning. “If we want to get Dante on tape, we need to catch him when he’s comfortable, and that isn’t going to be at a meeting with an enemy. It’ll be when he’s relaxed, when he’s alone with Blake, and feels like sharing.”
Clarke got back to the house only minutes before Bellamy got home.
“Hey,” she greeted.
He was grim-faced, and tired. “I guess that wasn’t enough information for your agents to storm in,” he said.
“We’ll get him,” she said.
He nodded. “Do you know how to get this shit off me?”
He was starting to unbutton his shirt, and she took over for him, knocking his hands out of the way. “They want you to wear it regularly,” she said. “Now that Dante trusts you, he could reveal information to you at any time, and we want to be ready.” He said nothing in reply, shrugging off the shirt, and tugging his undershirt up over his head, and she began carefully to remove the wire they’d taped to his chest. She glanced up when she was done, and met his gaze.
She wanted to kiss him.
“I was worried about you,” she said, because it was the truth.
“I’m fine,” Bellamy said. “He trusts me. Good to know the last year wasn’t a waste, huh?”
He turned, and grabbed his clothes, starting to pass her out of the kitchen.
“Wait,” she said.
“I’m kind of tired, Clarke.”
“I know, I—”
The words got stuck in her throat.
She wanted to talk to him. She wanted to hypothesize with him about the meeting, about Dante, and Lexa, and the guns, yes, but she wanted to talk about other things, too. She wanted to tell him about Glass, because it was a story, and she wanted to share it. She wanted to ask if he’d decided what to do about that absolutely useless foreman he’d been forced to hire because Cage liked him. She wanted to tell him about her conversation with Selene that morning when they were getting their manicures. She knew he was tired, but. She just wanted them to go back to normal, and be on the same side again. She just wanted to talk.
She couldn’t make herself just say that, though.
He sighed. “I’ll ask him about Finn, okay?” he said. “It was on the news. It won’t be weird for me to bring it up. I’m not saying it’ll work, but, who knows, we might get lucky, and he’ll confess to everything, and this whole fucking thing can be over. Okay?”
“Yeah.” She swallowed. “Okay.”
“Can I go to bed now?”
She gave a tight, closed-mouth smile in reply, and he headed out of the kitchen, and up the stairs.
She stood by herself for a moment.
She knew she’d hurt him. She’d said things that she shouldn’t have said, that she’d tried to apologize for. But he couldn’t just pretend like that was that. She pursed her lips, and curled her fists, and the well of frustration in her was ready to burst. She started up the stairs after him.
He jumped when she threw open the door of his bathroom.
“What the hell?”
He was in the middle of splashing his face with water, and she grabbed a towel, and threw it at him.
“What’s the matter with you?” he demanded.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Do you hear me? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have accused you of wanting to betray us. Raven put the idea in my head, and I was upset after Finn’s body was found, and I lashed out, okay?” She glared. “I lashed out, and I’m sorry, and I told you I’m sorry, and I need you to stop being so fucking butthurt about it,” she yelled, “because we are on the same side, and I need you to act like it!”
“Yes.” She was panting. “Butthurt.”
He sighed, and dried his face, tossing the towel onto the corner.
“I’m invested,” she said. “I don’t just mean in bringing down Dante, and getting justice for Finn. I want that, I do, but I’m invested in you, Bellamy, and in what happens to you, and to Harper and Monty and all of them. I care. And it scares me because I wasn’t supposed to, but I do.”
He was silent.
“It scares me that I want this all to be over, and I want to get justice, but I also don’t want this all to be over, because I don’t want Harper to hate me, and I don’t want Monroe and Fox and Miller and everyone to think I’ve just pretending to be their friend, and I—because I don’t want to lose you.”
“It is pretend, though.”
“No,” she said, and the fight had left her. “It isn’t for me.” She felt suddenly like crying. Didn’t he know? “I want . . .”
Some of her tears broke free. “I want it to be real.”
He crossed the distance between them to take her face in his hands, and she gasped, and grabbed at his arms, and he kissed her.
It was bruising, breath-taking kiss.
Her hands were greedy on his stomach, and his sides, on his back, pulling him closer. He grabbed her waist, and hoisted her up onto the counter. She snuck her hands under the waistband of his pants, and groped his ass, and he pulled at the tucked in tails of her pressed, button up shirt, pushing his hands up under her shirt, and his hands were hot on the skin of her back. He bent his head, and his breath was hot on her neck when his lips grazed her throat, when he nuzzled the corner of her jaw, and his teeth flashed against her pulse. She breathed his name, and he lifted his head to kiss her again.
She reached down between them to undo the buckle of his belt.
He stopped her.
“You want this?” he asked, and his thumb rubbed the tops of her fingers.
“I don’t mean sex.” He drew away enough to look at her, to search her face. “The first time it was supposed to be just this once, but I wanted more than that, and when you were freaking out in the morning, I . . .” He swallowed. “And then it happened again, but it was still just . . .”
“I want more, too,” she said.
She reached up to cup his cheek. “Yes.”
He covered her hand with his own, turning his face, and kissing her palm.
She breathed a laugh of surprise when he surged in suddenly, and lifted her off the counter. “I want so much,” she told him. “I want everything. All of it.” She wrapped herself around him, sinking her hands into his hair, and kissing him, and he carried her out of the bathroom.
He set her down on the bed, and broke away from her, starting to unbutton his pants, and she began to unbutton her shirt, glancing up midway to catch his eye, and leaning up to press a kiss to his lips. He clutched her face, and kept her close, deepening it. He pressed her back against the mattress, and kissed his way down her throat, biting at her breast through her bra, and nuzzling her stomach, and she found herself gasping a smile, and sinking her hands into his hair, arching up into his touch. He pushed his hands up her thighs, hiking up her skirt, and reaching for her underwear, and she helped him, bunching up her skirt at her waist, and falling onto her elbows, lifting her hips for him.
“I’ve got condoms this time,” he murmured.
She laughed. “You better have bought them with me in mind."
“I got them the day after last time.” He brushed a lock of hair back from her face. “At the time, I was hoping I’d get lucky again, and we’d do just this once a few more times.”
She sat up, and grasped his shoulder, kissing him. Her heart was running like a jackrabbit, and it kept skipping beats, and leaving her breathless, and giddy. She watched him stumble to the drawer by his bed, and fumble with the box of condoms, and he was back, was tearing the packaging with his teeth, and rolling on the condom.
He kissed her.
“Hey,” she breathed, and she combed her fingers in his hair for a moment. “Hey, I—” She caught his gaze. “I’m on your side. You know that, right?”
“I know,” he said.
She brushed her thumb along the line of his jaw. “Good.”
He kissed the tip of her thumb.
She rose up suddenly, and turned the both of them, forcing him back onto the bed, and climbing into his lap.
The last time they’d found themselves here, they’d started out slower, and sweeter, unfamiliar, and wanting to get it right. This time, though? They were in a rush this time, laughing, and fumbling, and it was messier, and rougher. She sank onto him, and began to move immediately, holding his gaze, and shifting, finding an angle that took him deeper. His hands were rough on her thighs, and her ass, and he bent his head, mouthing at her breasts, and she clutched at his shoulders, pushing her fingers into his hair, and hugging his face to her chest, closing her eyes, and gasping a smile at the ceiling, fucking him until she was close, and he slipped a hand between them, and his thumb found her clit, and she was coming in his arms, and he was coming, too, swearing, and panting her name into her neck.
After, she realized she hadn’t actually taken off her shirt.
She shrugged it off her shoulders, reaching to unhook her bra, too, and tossing it, and when she turned to him, he was sprawled on his back with a hand behind his head, and he was watching her.
She dropped a kiss to the center of his chest, and settled at his side, resting her head over his heart.
His fingers carded lazily through her hair.
“We are going to do this,” she said. “Together.”
She pushed up to look at him. “This—what we set out to do. We’re going to get justice for Finn, and for everyone your grandfather has hurt, and we’re going to free the rest of your family from him, and Cage, and we’re going to do it together.” She held his gaze. “And when we’ve done it, and it’s all over, whatever comes next, we’ll do that together, too.”
He smiled. “Deal,” he said, and he reached a hand up to tuck her hair behind her ear.
Harper followed Clarke to the bathroom. “Hey, um,” she said, coming out of her stall, and starting to wash her hands in the sink, finding Clarke’s gaze in the mirror. “Is everything okay with you?” she asked.
“Fine,” Clarke said. “Why?”
“It’s just . . . you’ve seemed off for a couple of weeks,” Harper said. “Last week, Bellamy was sick, and you were quiet, and now—you just seem like you’ve got a lot on your mind, and we haven’t talked in a while.” She shrugged. “I just . . . wanted to check in.”
“Yeah,” Harper said. “Yes. Of course.
“Bellamy wasn’t actually sick last week. He didn’t want to come. We were in a fight, and we aren’t now, but I have had a lot on my mind.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Do I want to tell you that I look at you, and wonder if you could have done something to save Finn before it was too late? Do I want to tell you that I look at Miller, and wonder if he’s ever killed anyone at Dante’s command? Do I want to tell you that I’m an undercover FBI agent, and I’m trying to tear your family to pieces?
“You know I love you, right?” Harper said, looking at Clarke with soft, earnest eyes.
“You can talk to me.”
“I know,” Clarke said. “And if I need to, I will. Thanks.”
Harper looked like she wanted to say more, but she didn’t. She smiled, and nodded, and she followed Clarke out of the bathroom.
Someday, she would tell Harper the truth.
They rejoined their friends at a table in the back, and Clarke slotted into her spot at Bellamy’s side, leaning into him, and letting him take some of her weight.
She was about to put a casserole in the oven when she got a text from Lincoln. He needed her to come by the gallery, because a pipe had burst, and the place was flooding, and he couldn’t get the art to safety fast enough. I’m sorry to bother you, but I can’t get in touch with anyone else. She put the casserole in the fridge, and texted that she was heading out the door. She sent a text to Bellamy, too, and told him that she was helping out Lincoln at the gallery, and had no idea when she’d be home.
The bookstore was closed, but he’d left it unlocked for here. “I’m here!” she called, taking the stairs up the gallery two at a time. She couldn’t hear the sound of water, so that was good.
The gallery was empty.
She frowned. “Lincoln?” The lights were on, but everything was still, and quiet.
What the hell?
Her phone buzzed with a text.
She began to fish in her purse for it, and there was a creak in the floorboards, and a gun was pressed to the back of her head.
“Hands,” he said.
She held up her hands. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I—”
Her heart had lodged in her throat. “I’m a volunteer,” she told him. “Please.” He kept the gun to her head while he tore her purse off her shoulder, and pulled her hands behind her back, tying her wrists with a ziptie, and tightening it until it was pinching her skin. “I got a text from one of the owners of the gallery, and he said there was flooding, and he needed my help to move the art.”
He checked her for weapons.
“Please,” she said, tearful. “If you want money, my husband—”
She stumbled a little at his shove.
He stayed at her back while she walked slowly forward. She knew his voice. She didn’t know where she’d heard it, but she was positive that she knew it. She tried to catch a peek at him, and could see that he was tall, and broad-shouldered. She rounded the corner, and froze.
“Please,” Dante said, gesturing at a metal folding chair. “Have a seat.”
She gaped. “What—?”
“You can drop the witless, terrified housewife act, my dear.” He was seated in a large, overstuffed chair that someone had dragged into the middle of the room for him, and he was sitting at ease. “Sit,” he said, and he rose to his feet in a mockery of respect. “We have a lot to discuss.” He splayed a hand at her seat.
The gun was pressed harder against the back of her head.
“Give us a moment of privacy, son,” Dante said.
The gun fell away from her, and that was when Clarke got a look at him. Dax. She should have known. He headed for the door of the gallery, and stopped to stand sentry there. She looked at Dante.
“I don’t understand,” Clarke said, allowing a curl of fear into her voice.
“Clarke,” he said. “May I call you Clarke?”
“Before I share my side of the story, I’m curious.” He sat. “You were in a relationship with Mr. Collins, I believe. Doesn’t that constitute a conflict of interest in your joining this investigation?” He raised his eyebrows.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.
She didn’t know what to do. She thought she’d been prepared for every scenario, for every emergency. She wasn’t. How did he know her name? How long had he known her name? How did she get out of this alive? Did she try to deny it? Cry, and beg for Bellamy? Or did she own up to everything? Where would that leave her? She curled her hands into fists.
She couldn’t start panicking.
He’d know, and he’d use it against her.
“I suppose I’ll have to steer the conversation,” he said. “I knew after I dealt with Collins that someone else would show up.” He crossed his legs. “Your people are like weeds. I waited, and you came alone quite quickly. I’ll admit that your cover was thorough. I wouldn’t have suspected a thing. Unfortunately, you made the mistake of imagining that my grandson’s long estrangement meant I didn’t have eyes on him. I did. Do you really think I’d leave him unprotected from my enemies? I knew within hours that he was under questioning from the FBI.”
“If you knew all along, why have you waited a year to do anything about it?”
There wasn’t any point in trying to deny it.
She could still get out of this alive. She just had to be smart. The longer she stalled him, the better her chances.
“I wanted to see the tactic you’d take,” he said. “In the end, it worked in my favor. You returned my grandson to me, and I meant what I told you at the beach.” He smiled. “I’ll always be grateful to you for that.”
“I love him,” she said.
“I should tell you now, my dear, that Mr. Collins, in your situation, attempted to save his life by claiming that the time he’d spent with my family had changed his perspective.” He paused. “I tell you this for your benefit, of course. Mr. Collins thought he could save his life by pretending to betray the bureau, and, well, clearly, it did not work. In case that was your plan, I thought I’d let you know.”
“I love him, and I know him. Do you? Do you know he despises you?”
“I know he wants to despise me,” Dante said calmly. “I don’t believe he can quite bring himself to, however. And after I help him avenge your death, I’m certain I’ll have no reason to fear a betrayal. I made a lot of mistakes with Bellamy when he was a boy, but I’ve learned. I’m going to take good care of him from now on.”
“Bellamy . . .” She shook her head.
He was delusional.
“Bellamy will know it was you,” she said.
“I didn’t text you, and ask you to come here tonight.” His eyes widened with innocence. “It won’t be in my home that the gun used to kill you is found.”
“You really think you can convince him that Lincoln killed me?”
He was really, truly delusional.
Lincoln was the guy that trapped the spider in a cup to carry it outside.
“My grandson has no love for Lexa, or any of her people. He’s made that clear. And to use the old, hackneyed phrase, this kills two birds with one stone. It rids me of you, and of Lincoln. I’ll see to it that Octavia is wiser in her future romantic choices.”
“Your grandson has no love for you. You might think you’ve got it all planned out, but it’s not going to work. Bellamy isn’t clueless.”
“I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree,” he said. “It’s a shame. I’m afraid he really does care for you. My wife, too. You’ve won the hearts of many in my family. I understand. In a way, I’m fond of you, too.”
“I think you’re abhorrent.”
“Is that so?”
“You’re fond of me, and now you’re going to kill me? You know, I believe it. Because you say you care about Harper, too, but you didn’t do shit about Cage after he hurt her.”
“You shouldn’t talk about things you do not understand,” he said, and, at last, there was an edge in his voice.
“Oh, I understand. I get it. All of it. I get you. You act like you’re this big family man, but you’re not. You’re—you’re a lizard. Cold-blooded, and covered in scales. Repulsive.” She sneered. “You can kill me like you killed Finn, but you won’t get away with it. The bureau will know, and they’ll come after you. They’ll keep coming after you. And Bellamy will help them, because he’ll figure it out. Even if it he takes him years, he’ll figure it out.”
“I’m glad you brought up the bureau,” he said, cold.
Her phone began ringing in her purse. It was the theme song of The Office. She’d made it Bellamy’s ringtone after he’d regaled them one night at the bar with his Jim Halpert impression.
“Dax, I’ll need that phone.”
Dax brought Dante her purse, and Dante took gloves from the pocket of his coat, put them on, and fished her phone from her purse. It beeped with a voicemail. He searched in the phone for a moment, and brought it up to his ear.
“What’s the password for your voicemail?” he asked.
“Go to hell.”
He glanced at Dax.
Dax shot her in the foot. She yelled, and lurched in her chair at the pain. She blinked at tears.
“Shall I ask again?”
“19,” she panted. “1934.”
He listened to the voicemail. “Ah, well. It seems that after Dax doused Lincoln’s drink at lunch, he paid a visit to Bellamy before heading to his apartment, and threw up at the worksite. Bellamy is confused that Lincoln texted you for help at the gallery when he’s sick.” He smiled. “We can work with that.” He scrolled through something on her phone.
She breathed slowly through her nose.
“What shall we say in response?” Dante said. “That we assume Lincoln must have rested up, and feels better now? Shall we tell him that Lincoln is acting quite strangely?”
“What about Octavia?” she asked.
“She’s falling in love with Lincoln. How are you going to convince her that he’s a killer? Even if you can fool Bellamy, you won’t be able to fool her.”
“Let me worry about Octavia,” Dante said, putting Clarke’s phone in her purse, and handing it back to Dax.
“You are delusional.”
He smiled. “If that’ll make your last few hours on Earth more bearable, please. Believe it.”
She dug her nails into her palms.
“Now let me explain how the rest of this evening is going to go.” He steepled his hands. “I’m going to ask you some questions about the evidence that’s been gathered against me, and against my family. You’re going to answer. Truthfully, and in full. If you do not, well. That’s why Dax is here. The harder you make this for me, the more difficult it will be for you. Once you’ve told me everything I need to know, I’ll give you a clean, painless death. That sounds fair, doesn’t it?”
There was a mirror of a piece of art behind him. Her reflection was colorless, and distorted. She met her own pale, watery gaze, and took another slow, shallow breath.
It wasn’t a matter of stalling him.
Nobody was looking for her.
But if she was going to die, she was going to do this one last thing first.
“You’re acting like you’ve got some master plan for all of this,” she said, “and you’ve worked out everything out. But there are too many moving pieces. Forget the FBI. You’re about to destroy everything yourself.”
He sighed. “You’re stalling,” he said, patronizing.
“You’re pinning my death on Lincoln?” She raised her eyebrows. “That means you’re going to turn on Lexa?”
“If you turn on Lexa, how are you going to get rid of all of the military grade weapons your molesting, murdering sack of shit for a son stole from the government?”
“I’m touched at your concern, my dear.”
“My guess is that Cage went behind your back, and got into business with Lexa, and you’re pissed, and you think you can undo it all by using me to go after her, but, thing is, you don’t have the connections to drop those guns without her. I know. You want to ask me what the FBI knows about your operations? We know that much. We know that you don’t have the kind of connections that you’d need to make a bunch of weapons disappear without a trace.”
He leaned forward slightly in his chair. “Do you really think so little of me?” he asked, and his voice was calm in a way that twisted her gut. “You’re right to think that when my idiot of a son got into bed with that lunatic, I was angry, and, I admit, I was without the resources to dispose of them.”
Her nails finally broke the skin of her palms.
“That is why I got into bed with her, too,” he said.
Say it, she thought.
“I formed an alliance with her, and have allowed it to last as long as I needed it to last, as long as it took to learn her contacts, and make them my contacts. Now that I’ve got the only thing she was good for, I am more than ready to wash my hands with her. I kill you, I kill her, and I sell the guns, and, in doing so, begin with confidence what I believe will become a very lucrative new partnership.”
She wanted to cry with relief.
She’d done it. For Finn, and for Bellamy. For herself.
“Now,” he said. “Let’s start with what you know about the kind of contacts I have.”
“It doesn’t have to be with this way,” he said, sucking his teeth.
“It does,” she said.
His face had soured a little, but he was calm when he looked at Dax. “Get her up, please, and situated.” He leaned back against his seat, and crossed his legs, starting to take something from his pocket.
Dax blocked her view of what.
He grabbed her by the arm, and yanked her out of the chair, making her cry out at the stab of pain in her foot. He ignored it, hauling her to the side, and raising her arms to use the ziptie on her wrists to hang her on a hook that dangled from the rafters. They had prepared for this, had taken the time to set up a way to torture her in advance.
He takes a step back from her to roll his shoulders.
“You don’t have to do this,” she said.
He punched her in the gut, punching the breath from her lungs.
She closed her eyes to try to will away the pain, and when she opened her eyes, she found him gazing at her without any emotion. She gathered the spit in her mouth, hocking it right at him. He wiped it calmly off his cheek, and smacked her across the face, cutting the bridge of her nose with his ring. That was just the beginning. He knew exactly where to hit her, and how, and he began to pummel her, to punch her again, and again, and again, making her vision go black for seconds at a time with each paralyzing blow to her torso.
“Let’s try this again,” Dante said, rising to his feet with a cigar in hand.
It hurt to breathe.
“Name the contacts you know.”
She could. It wouldn’t really matter. He was going to prison for the rest of his life. She’d seen to that. She could give him what he wanted in this battle, and know that she’d won the war. She could. But when she did, she’d die.
“Clarke,” he said, and it was a warning.
She grit her teeth.
Below, there was an even, electric ringing of a bell.
Dante’s face snapped to the front of the gallery. “That was the chime on the door,” he said. He looked at Dax.
Dax took his gun from his belt.
“I guess you didn’t plan for anyone to stop by the bookstore,” Clarke said.
Dax lifted his gun, and he passed her, creeping to the front of the gallery, and out of view.
It was silent.
She breathed in deeply.
Dante must’ve seen it on her face, because he started for her in a fury.
She screamed. “Help! Help me! HE—”
He grabbed her by the throat, choking the words in her throat.
There was a beat. She tried to gasp for breath, and his fingers dug into her neck. Her eyes burned with tears.
“Where’s my wife?”
Dante’s hold on Clarke’s neck slackened with shock.
It was Bellamy.
“I don’t know what you think is going on,” Dax said, “but you need to drop that gun before I have to put a bullet in you.”
“Yeah,” Bellamy said. “That’s not going to happen.”
The room was plunged into darkness. There was the sound of a sharp, silenced gunshot, and a crash. The lights came back on. Another gunshot tore loudly through the gallery, and a statue was blown to bits. Dax stalked into Clarke’s view with his gun up.
“Enough!” Dante said, sharp.
Bellamy was across the gallery with his own gun in hand, and pointed at Dax.
She couldn’t take her eyes off him. He was here. She didn’t know why, or how. But. He was here, and his glaze flicked to her for just a moment, and was back on Dax, was burning with anger.
“Bellamy,” Dante said. “Please.” He held a hand up as though to placate him.
“What the hell?”
“It’s time to put everything on the table. I know everything. Your wife isn’t your wife. She’s an FBI agent named Clarke Griffin. I know, son. I’ve known from the start.”
Bellamy was silent.
“I didn’t want it to happen like this,” Dante said. “I knew you wouldn’t be ready for this.”
“This?” Bellamy’s face contorted. “You mean for you to hang my wife from a hook, and torture her? For you to murder her, and—what? Pin it in O’s boyfriend?” He scoffed. He hadn’t yet taken his gaze off Dax, hadn’t yet lowered his gun. “You’re a psychopath,” he breathed.
“I’m your grandfather.”
Bellamy’s knuckles had turned white from gripping the gun.
“Can I assume that Emerson is dead?” Dante asked. “Lovejoy, too? There’s no way they would have allowed you to waltz in here.”
“They’re indisposed,” Bellamy said.
“It’s over,” Clarke said, dragging her gaze away from Bellamy to look at Dante. “He knows. Your plan is shot now.”
“No, my dear. No. It’s better that he knows.”
“Cut her down.”
“I can’t do that. Not yet. But you can lower your gun. Dax won’t shoot you. Emerson? Lovejoy? They’re soldiers. Replaceable. Dax, too. I know it, and he knows it. You, however, are my blood. My boy. You won’t be touched.”
Bellamy sneered, and began to shake his head.
“You’re full of shit,” Bellamy spat.
“I need you to think. I’ve known about Clarke from the beginning. But have I done anything to you? I’ve known about your betrayal from the beginning. And I forgave you. I forgive you. I understand why you did it. Before this year, I never gave you a reason to believe in family. In me. I was foolish, and I knew it even before you came home with her. I regretted so much, but I didn’t know how to undo the mistakes I made. You gave me the chance, though. It isn’t too late for us to wipe the slate clean now. Bellamy, you’re my grandson.”
“She’s my wife.”
“She doesn’t care for you. You might have grown fond of her, but you must know the truth. She’s been doing her job.”
Bellamy’s gaze jerked to Clarke again.
The words that she didn’t have to say were caught in her throat.
“There are plenty of women in the world,” Dante said. “You only get one family. You only got one place where you always belong.”
“You think I want to belong in your family?”
“Your family of murderers, and pedophiles, and—”
“Cage is finished,” Dante said.
Dante took a step towards him. “Cage is my son, and I love him. But I’ve given him chance after chance after chance, and he’s proven that he does not love me, or anyone besides himself. He’s hurt a lot of people. And if you’re asking me to choose between the two of you, the choice is easy.” He took another step.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bellamy asked, glancing at Dante for a moment.
“It means that Cage is finished.”
“I thought you didn’t put a bullet in blood. Cage is blood. I thought you always forgave blood.”
“I should’ve been more clear,” Dante said, and he was right in front of Bellamy. “He is blood, and that was why I’ve forgiven him for many, many things over the years. But he’s proven that blood doesn’t matter to him. Time, and time again. I can’t continue to forgive him knowing that. It matters to you, though. You’ve always loved your family. You’ve always done what you thought was best for them. You’re always going to deserve my forgiveness. I love you.”
Bellamy’s jaw clenched, and unclenched.
“It’s not too late.” Dante laid a hand on Bellamy’s shoulder. “You know where you belong, son.”
“Bellamy,” Clarke said.
She had lost a lot of blood. Her head was thudding with the pain of her foot, of the beating she’d taken. She was an aching, light-headed mess.
She was imagining the look in his eyes.
“Bellamy, please,” she whispered.
Dante covered Bellamy’s hand with his own. Bellamy let out a breath, and his shoulders sank slowly with defeat, and he began to lower his arm. Dante took the gun from him. “My boy,” Dante murmured, and he passed the gun to Dax. He took Bellamy’s face in his hands.
Bellamy shook his head. “I . . .” His eyes were glassy with tears.
“I know,” Dante said, pulling him into a hug. “It’ll be alright. I’m going to make everything alright.”
“Bell, this isn’t you,” Clarke said. “You—”
Dax smacked her across the face with the butt of his gun.
“Let’s get out of here, shall we?” Dante took Bellamy by the shoulders. “There’s a lot we need to talk about.” He smiled. “The future, to start.” He began to walk Bellamy out of the gallery.
Bellamy didn’t bother to look at Clarke.
But when they were passing Dax, he paused. “Wait.” He looked at Dax, and seemed to waver. “Can you—?” He cut off with a strained, strangled pause.
“Do it quick?” Dax said.
“Sure.” Dax clapped a hand to his shoulder. “I promise.”
Bellamy just nodded. He began to turn away with Dante, and Clarke was staring at the back of his head when it happened, when he swung, and punched Dax square in the face. It was chaos.
Dante grabbed at Bellamy’s shoulders, but Bellamy was quicker, and elbowed his grandfather in the chest, making him stumble, and when Dax began to lift his gun, Bellamy was quicker, too, grabbing his arm, and twisting, and it ended up firing into the ceiling. There was a rain of plaster. Dax got a punch to Bellamy’s gut, but Bellamy was able to slam Dax’s face into a state of melted soda bottles, and the gun went skittering across the room, and Dante was yelling, and Dax’s eyes were ablaze with fury when he lunged at Bellamy, and shoved him into the wall, and he pulled out Bellamy’s gun from behind his back.
He pointed the gun at Bellamy.
And he swung his arm, and Bellamy ran at him, and he shot Clarke in the stomach.
It was like a blow to the chest. She breathed in, and her vision went black for a moment with the pain that stabbed her. She blinked, and blinked again.
Bellamy had tackled Dax to the ground.
“Bell,” she panted.
He was on his feet, and he had his gun in his hand.
“Son,” Dante said, holding up a hand.
Bellamy wasn’t stopping.
He shoved Dante against the wall, and Clarke heard him smack Dante across the face with the gun, heard the breaking of bone, and the next thing she knew, Bellamy was right in front of her, was touching her face, and touching her wrists, breathing her name.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay. I’m getting you down, and calling 911. It’s okay. It’s okay—”
She held his gaze.
He touched her cheek, and stepped in closer, and she closed her eyes, breathing in the smell of him. His fingers were clawing at her wrists. A wave of dizziness washed every thought away for a moment when he seemed to lift her.
She found herself slumping into his arms.
“I’ve got you,” he breathed.
They sank to the floor, and he was tearing off his shirt to ball it up, to press it over her stomach, and she lay with her head in his lap. He was glowing from the light that shone right behind him. He began to fumble with his phone, and she reached up, trying to grasp at his arm.
“The mirror,” she mumbled. “The mirror’s a—a camera, remember?” She had to make sure he knew.
“911, what is your emergency?”
She could hear him shouting, but she couldn’t quite make out the words.
He took her hand, and his was warm, and slick with wetness, but he was gripping so tightly he was going to crush her fingers. She was glad. And, then, everything was black.
Her mouth was gunky when she woke. She swallowed. Her teeth were mossy. Did she remember to brush her teeth before going to bed last night? She reached a hand up to rub the sleep from her eyes, and winced at how sore she was. What the hell? She blinked, and came to.
She was in a clean, quiet hospital room.
Bright sunlight shone in through the window, and there was a table of flowers, and her mother was sitting by the bed frowning at her tablet.
“Mom,” she said, hoarse.
Her mother’s gaze snapped up. “Sweetheart.” Her face broke into a smile. “Oh, my baby!” She rose up, and touched Clarke’s face, brushed the hair from her forehead. “How are you feeling? Okay? Do you want me to get a doctor?” Her eyes were hungry on Clarke’s face.
“I’m fine. Um. Thirsty, though.”
Abby was quick to find what looked like a jug of water, but it came with a lid, and a straw, and she helped Clarke sit up slightly, helped her drink.
Clarke gulped down the water.
She hadn’t seen her mother in over a year.
It was strange.
Her memory was fragmented, was blurry around the edges. But. It was returning to her. They’d been in the gallery. Bellamy had someone just known to come, and. And what? He’d pretended. She remembered. He’d pretended to turn on her, and he’d done it to save her. Right? She sat back against the pillows.
It made her dizzy.
“Oh, baby,” said her mother.
“You were shot. But you are going to be okay. The bullet tore through the muscles around your abdomen, and missed anything major. And as soon as you’re feeling better, you get to come home.” Her eyes were bright. “It’s over, sweetheart. You did it.”
“It’s over.” Abby smiled softly. “Dante Wallace is going to prison for a long, long time.”
“What about Bellamy?” she asked.
“Is he okay? I don’t—I can’t remember what happened right before . . .” She frowned. “He’s okay, right? Is he here?” Her head was starting to pound.
“He’s fine,” assured her mother. “And you will be, too. You’ve just got to rest. Close your eyes, okay? I’m going to get a doctor, and see if we can get you some more ibuprofen.” She pressed a kiss to Clarke’s forehead, and paused. “I’m so glad it’s over. I’m so glad you’re okay, and you’re coming home.”
“Me, too,” Clarke said.
She felt her mother’s smile against her brow, and Abby drew away. “I’ll be right back,” said. She paused like she just couldn’t drag herself away from Clarke, but, finally, she circled the bed, and headed for the door, and Clarke closed her eyes for just a moment.
It was dark out the next time she woke up. Her head was clearer this time. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and saw him.
“Wells,” she breathed.
She was still sore, but she managed to sit up, and he helped to prop her up with pillows before he handed her the jug of water.
“I’m glad you woke up,” he said, “because this would have been way less fun without you.” And, with a flourish, he held up a bag of take out from his favorite Greek place. She made grabby hands, and he laughed, and started to dish out everything, pulling the rolling tray table over her bed, and setting up a feast. “I hope you’re hungry.” He had a tendency to buy too much when he ordered any take out.
“I’m starved,” she told him.
“You look like you’re feeling better.” He smiled. “You’ve got your color back.”
“I am,” she said, taking the fork he handed her.
“I bullied your mother into going home to get some rest. I’m sure she’ll back before long. Up until about an hour ago, she hadn’t left your side since the moment they brought you in. Raven was here earlier, too. I'm sure she'd be back in a heartbeat if I texted."
“How long have I been in here?”
“Just four days.”
“It could have been a lot worse,” he said, amused. “You’ve woken up a few times now, but you’re always pretty groggy.”
“I’m feeling okay now,” she said.
“Good.” He smiled.
“And since I’m feeling so great, you should probably fill me in on what’s going on. Please. I might explode if you don’t.”
“How did all the chips fall?” she asked. “Did we get everyone? Is Bellamy—is he okay?”
“I’m surprised you waited this long to ask.” He took a sip of water. “You remember what happened that landed you here?” He paused, and at her nod, he nodded, too. “Blake called 911, and got you onto an ambulance. The police arrested Dante, and that thug that was with him, and, pretty quickly after, we came in, and took over everything, and that’s it. It has to go to trial, but we’ve definitely got him. Judge denied bail for Dante this morning.”
“Did that mirror—?”
“Did it record you goading Dante’s confession out of him?” He smiled. “Yeah, it got it. We got it. Even if we didn’t already have a case against him, that tape would be enough to fry him.”
“Dante is going to prison for the rest of his life, and Cage, too, and, I mean, we got every guy on the list.” He took a bite of salad. “We made the arrests as soon as we had Dante in custody.”
“I can’t believe it’s really . . .”
They ate in silence for a moment.
He wasn’t finished talking, though. There was more. He told her that Harper had arrived at the station to talk to the police only hours after Bellamy was released, and Monty was beside her, and both of them were willing to testify against Dante.
“Seriously?” She felt a flush of guilt at the fact that she’d ever thought Harper could be like the rest of them. “That’s amazing.”
He nodded. “I guess Blake talked to them.”
“Is he—he’s okay, right?”
“Bellamy? Yeah. I debriefed him earlier, but he was free to leave after he was done.”
“He hasn’t been by the hospital?”
He blinked. “No, I . . .” He shook his head. “I don’t think so.” He reached for her hand suddenly, and clasped it between the both of his. “He’s been through a lot the last few days. You, too. I have a feeling he’s just trying to wrap his head around it all, and get some rest. He’ll be by soon. There’s a lot to sort out. No need to rush into it now, right?”
“He’s okay, though?”
“Yeah.” He smiled. “Yeah, he’s fine.”
Her ring was gone. Who’d taken her ring? She felt weird not wearing it.
She didn’t need to wear it.
It was over.
It didn’t seem real. Eventually, she’d recover, and she’d get to leave the hospital, and she wouldn’t go back to the townhouse that she shared with Bellamy, to shopping with Carol, and pedicures with Selene, and meeting their friends at the bar on Tuesday. She’d go back to being Clarke again.
She found herself rubbing at her naked ring finger with her thumb.
“You’re in love with him,” Wells said.
His smile was soft. “Bellamy. You’re in love with him.”
“Why would you think that?”
He took a bite of lamb. “There are a few reasons. To start, you should be ecstatic right now. And, instead, you can’t stop asking me about him. And there’s the fact that you made it very clear to Raven that you trusted him. You were pissed, she said, that she’d even dared to imply he might be betraying us. And, also.” He breathed a laugh, and dropped her gaze for a moment. “Um. There are mics in your townhouse, remember?”
It took her a moment. “Oh!”
“Yeah,” he said, and this time his smile was warm. Teasing. “I got to hear that.”
She made a face.
“It seems like he’s a good guy, though.”
She nodded. “He’s one of the best.”
“I thought he would be here,” she said, because this was Wells. She had her best friend back. She was allowed to spill the whole, messy truth to Wells.
“I bet he wants to be here.”
“Then where is he?” She raised her eyebrows. “We talked about this, actually. I guess you might have heard that on the mics. We both admitted that we wanted to—we talked about what was going to happen after everything was over. We were on the same page. I don’t know why he’s not here.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be—”
“It’s fine,” he said. “But, um. Okay. You want my opinion? It’s one thing to talk about what you’re going to do in the future. But when you’re suddenly, actually facing the future? It’s a whole other thing. His life is about to get messy. Half of his family is going to prison, and the rest of them are probably going to hate his guts for the rest of his life. Plus, he’s going to have a federal protection detail on him for who knows how long until we’re certain that Dante doesn’t have the reach to extract revenge. And his business is ruined at this point. Over the last year, it’s gotten all tied up in Dante’s dealings. He’ll have to start from scratch. His whole life is being turned upside down.”
“It’s going to be hard for you, too,” he added. “It isn’t easy to come out of being undercover. You’ve been a different person for the last year.”
She hadn’t been a different person, though. Not really. She didn’t know how to explain it to Wells, though. She could spill the whole, messy truth to him, but he wouldn’t really understand. There was only one person who would.
And he wasn’t there.
“I think that’s enough talking about me,” she said. “Tell me about you. What have I missed?”
He didn’t actually have a chance to answer, because a nurse bustled cheerfully into the room at that moment. She was glad to see that Clarke was awake, and checked her vitals, told her that everything was looking good. She said that she’d met Clarke earlier, but Clarke didn’t remember it. The nurse just smiled, and reassured her that she was going to be on her feet in the blink of an eye. She bustled out again, and Wells lifted his bottle of water up.
She raised her eyebrows.
“To having my best friend back,” he said.
She grinned. “I’ll drink to that.” She lifted her jug of water, and knocked it against his bottle.
She spent the night by herself that night. But when she woke in the morning, she had a visitor waiting again. Harper was sitting by her bed, watching the TV, and eating a burrito.
Harper tore her gaze from the screen to look at Clarke with a mouthful of burrito.
“I . . .” Clarke was at a loss.
Harper didn’t look great. Her hair was in a loose, greasy ponytail, and she was dressed in sweats, a ratty old t-shirt, and a sweater that Clarke had seen on Monty before. There were purple smudges under her eyes, too, and a cut on the corner of her lip that was red, and swollen. But she looked at Clarke in surprise, and, suddenly, she broke into a smile.
“How are you?” Clarke asked, managing to sit up.
“Me?” Harper said, wiping her mouth, and turning in her seat to face Clarke. “I’m fine. How are you?”
“I’m good. Better. I’m feeling like myself again.”
Clarke really didn’t know what to say. She couldn’t believe Harper was here. And it didn’t seem like she was here to get something out of Clarke, or to tell her off for lying, and earning her trust under the pretense of a friend.
“I don’t hate you,” Harper said.
“Not that you think I hate you, or that I should hate you,” she went on hastily. “Just . . . You’re looking at me like you’re afraid I hate you, and I don’t. So . . .” She trailed off.
“I was worried you might,” Clarke said, “and I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”
“Well, I don’t.”
She bit her lip. “I heard you’re going to testify against Dante.”
“I am.” She nodded. “Bellamy told me everything, and he said I was protected in the deal that he’d made, but, well, he’d never ask me to do it, but I wanted to help. It’s about time I stood up for myself, right?”
“I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want to testify.”
It was quiet.
Harper ate a bite of her burrito.
Clarke realized the TV was playing It Happened One Night.
“You know, I think I kind of knew,” Harper said.
“That you weren’t who you said you were. Do you remember that day my uncle forced that job on me, and I ranted to you in the kitchen, and we talked? I think I knew after that. Not consciously, or whatever. But there were things that didn’t add up. You told me that you knew what you were getting into when you married Bellamy. But why did Bellamy come back into the fold if it wasn’t because his oblivious new bride had dragged him back in by accident? And he’d been dropping a lot of hints just to me, and Monroe. Stuff that made it seem like he wasn’t happy to be back, but he didn’t want Dante to know. He never used to hide his distaste before, though.”
“It’s hard to lie to everyone in your life,” Clarke said. “You’ve got to be at least a little bit truthful with someone. I guess you were that someone for him.”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “And I guess it’s easy to look back now, and think how obvious it was.”
“I want you to know—” Clarke stopped.
Harper was patient.
“I wasn’t just pretending to be your friend. I liked you. I like you, and if it’s okay with you, I’d still like to be friends.”
“Me, too.” Harper smiled. “Hey, you want a burrito? I should have asked. I’m just sitting here eating one in front of you. Monty got a bunch, and just, got, like every different type.”
Harper fished a chicken burrito from the giant takeout bag.
Clarke still didn’t really know why Harper was here. Just to check in on her? She wanted to ask about Bellamy.
“Is your lip okay?” she asked.
“My lip?” Harper touched her lip, and the swollen red cut in the corner. “Oh. Yeah. It’s fine. Aunt Carol’s got a pretty big rock, so it leaves a mark when she backhands you.”
Harper didn’t have a chance to reply, because Monty chose that moment to stroll in with an armful of vending machine snacks, and there was Bellamy at his back.
She stared. She couldn’t help the way her lung seemed to swell suddenly with too much air, too much hope. She should have known that Harper wasn’t here by herself. Bellamy had brought her. Bellamy was here.
“You’re up!” Monty said, bright.
“I’m up.” She smiled.
“How are you feeling?” Bellamy asked, handing a drink to Harper, and opening a can of Coke for himself.
“Good.” She nodded. “Sore, though.”
He sat by her bed.
“Um, you know, I just realized that I left my phone in the car,” Harper said.
“I can get it for you,” Monty said.
“You’re the best.” She grinned. “And while you’re doing that, I’ll go the bathroom.” She glanced at Clarke. “We’ll be right back.”
Subtle, Clarke thought.
They left, and she saw Harper’s phone sitting on the windowsill.
She looked at Bellamy. “I’m really glad you came by.” She might as well start with the truth, right?
“Yeah. Of course. I came by earlier, ah, a couple of times. You were resting, and, well, the first time, your mom kind of gave me the boot. It was cool, though. There was stuff I had to sort out.”
She nodded. It figured that her mother was already causing problems.
There was a pause.
She let her gaze rake over him.
He looked like he hadn’t slept any more than Harper had. Or bathed. There was stubble on his cheeks, and his hair stuck up on the left with grease, and he just looked worn. His sleeves were rolled up, too, which meant she could see the angry scratch marks on his arm. She wondered if those were from Carol, too.
“Harper just told me that Carol hit her.”
“Yeah.” He pushed a hand through his hair. “Carol is kind of pissed.”
She couldn’t actually picture an angry, violent Carol. But of course Carol was going to be angry, and lash out. It was like Wells had said. Bellamy’s whole world was suddenly being turned upside down. Carol’s, too. And Harper’s, and Monroe’s. His family was being ripped apart.
He was watching the TV.
“This is It Happened One Night,” she told him.
“Right,” he said. “Oh, do you want me to start it over? It’s a DVD. Harper put it when we got here, but we haven’t really been watching it. . . I saw it at Target the other day, and—” He looked suddenly sheepish. “It wasn’t until after I bought it that I remembered it was a movie Jenny liked.”
“It’s actually a movie I like, too,” she admitted. “It’s one of my favorites.”
“I’ve never seen it before.”
“It’s good.” She bit her lip. “Jenny wasn’t a totally different person. I know she probably should’ve been, but I guess I’m no good at creating a fake personality. I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now.”
He nodded. “You don’t like the Beatles, though. Jenny was supposed to.”
“I like the Beatles.”
“But you’re more of a Rolling Stone kind of girl, right?”
“Um, yeah.” She smiled. “I am.”
“I know.” He was smiling, too. “I remember.” He dropped her gaze after a moment, rubbing at the back of his neck, and when he looked up again, his smile was gone. “I’m sorry about what happened. I couldn’t think of another way to get Dax to drop his guard, and lower his gun, and I thought I’d be able to take him if he wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t—I didn’t mean for you to get caught in the crossfire.”
“I know,” she said. “Bellamy, I know that.”
She wasn’t sure he believed her, though. “You saved my life.”
“Barely,” he said.
“I’m alive, aren’t I? You got there in time, and—how did you know to come?”
He blinked. “Your text. I talked to Lincoln earlier that day, and he was sick, so I was confused when you said he’d texted you about the gallery. But you didn’t pick up when I called, and when you texted me back, it wasn’t you. I knew it wasn’t you. I figured it couldn’t hurt for me to stop by the gallery, and see what was up. And once I got there, and saw Emerson sitting in a car right outside, I knew that shit was going down.” His face hardened just a little.
“How did you know it wasn’t me, though?”
“The text said he must be feeling better. it seems like I’ll be here for a while. I’ll fill you in later tonight. And, okay, that’s pretty standard, except that’s exactly what it said. Punctuation, and everything. He spelled out later, and tonight. He put an “e” in the word be.”
She bit her lip. “Bellamy, are you saying you knew it wasn’t me because the text was written in proper English?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“If you were capable of writing out the word later in a text, you wouldn’t have fought me on it this long.”
“Oh, my gosh.”
He grinned. “Yeah, well. You know the rest of the story.”
“You came, and you saved me.”
“I can’t believe you got a confession out of him,” he said, clearing his throat. “You got him. Not how I pictured, but—you got him.”
“I can’t believe he knew who I was the whole time.”
“I can,” he said, grim.
She wanted to take his hand. His elbows were on the arms of this chair, and his hands sat loosely on his thighs, and she just wanted to reach out, and grasp his hand. “Hey,” she said.
He looked at her.
“I’ve been told I’m going to be in here for at least a couple of weeks. I know everything won’t be settled in a couple of weeks. I know everything won’t be settled for a couple of years. And once I’m out of here, it’ll be hobbling on crutches for a while. But, eventually, things are going to settle down some, and I’ll be on my feet again, and, well, how would you feel about maybe getting some dinner? You can choose the place. It can be casual.”
He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Is this you asking me on a date?”
“Yes.” She was putting her cards on the table. “Yes, I am.”
“Here’s the thing,” he said.
“I feel like we don’t have to wait two weeks. I can get take out. Get a movie. We can make it romantic. I’ll bring a candle.” He paused. “Can you light candles in a hospital?”
“I have no idea.” She grinned.
He waved a hand. “I can just get one of those fake ones.”
“Bell,” she said, happy.
He smiled, and dropped the act, reaching for her hand. “We said whatever comes next, we’d do it together.” He brushed his thumb over her fingers. “If you’re still in, I’m still in.”
“I’m still in,” she breathed. “I’m definitely still in.”
She thought she might cry, and she laughed at herself for feeling like crying, and he rose up slightly to kiss her. It was a short, sweet kiss. She cupped his cheek, and he smiled, and, playfully, he nuzzled her nose with his.
It was another half an hour before Harper returned with Monty in tow.
“Did you find your phone?” Clarke asked.
“Nope,” Harper said, cheerful. “I realized I must have left it here. Oh, there it is! Great. I hope my burrito isn’t cold.”
It was over three weeks before she was released from the hospital with a warning to take it easy. Her mother was there to take her home. She hadn’t renewed the lease on her apartment when she’d gone undercover, which meant she’d be staying with her mother until she found a new place.
The moment they got to the house, Clarke said she wanted a nap, and headed up to her old, pink bedroom.
It was strange.
The room was cluttered with boxes of everything she owned.
She opened a box, and found camisoles, tank tops, and short sleeve shirts. It was like looking at a box of memories. These were her clothes. She’d loved this shirt. But when she’d gone undercover, she’d gotten a whole new wardrobe.
She was Clarke again.
There were boxes of forgotten kitchen supplies, and a box of knick-knacks, and three giant boxes of books.
She got a text from Bellamy, and another, and another.
I’m looking at places on Zillow. shit is expensive. fuck the FBI for taking our townhouse. there are some good places, though. I could afford them if I were splitting the rent.
Her mother was thrilled that Clarke was back in her life, and back at home. She had to know that Clarke wouldn’t be staying there for long, though. She was a grown ass woman with a job, and a life, and a boyfriend.
She was nervous. She tried to tell herself that everyone knew she was coming, and nobody had protested. Bellamy had told her nobody had protested. She believed him. If they had a problem with her, they would have said, and he would have warned her. He wouldn’t have invited her into a den of wolves. There was nothing to feel nervous about. But. She saw the lot of them at a table in the back, and she was.
Bellamy lead the way back to them.
“Hey, man,” Miller said.
“It’s about time you showed up,” Monroe said. “I’m already three drinks in.”
“You’re always three drinks in,” Harper said.
“Everyone,” Bellamy said, wrapping an arm around Clarke’s waist, “meet Clarke.”
Miller raised his beer at her in a salute.
“I’m glad you could make it,” Harper said, smiling.
Clarke smiled, and began to shrug off her coat, only for Monroe to whistle, and raise an eyebrow. “What?” Clarke said, glancing at her, and at Bellamy. She felt a flush of self-consciousness.
“Is this the difference between you and Jenny?” Harper was grinning, bright-eyed. “Cleavage?”
Clarke glanced down, and realized she was wearing an old, loose-fitting black tank top she’d never have worn when her wardrobe was strictly pearls, pastels, and smart, sensible sweaters.
“Does this mean you know you’re hot, and were just pretending you didn’t?” Monroe asked.
“This means tank tops are cheaper than J. Crew sweater sets,” Clarke said.
“Hear, hear,” Harper said.
It was easy to fall back into things with them. She knew the three of them, was friends with the three of them, and Bellamy was right that they didn’t hold it against her that she’d lied. They understood, he said, and, clearly, he was right.
She tried to imagine if she were in their position, would she understand, too? Then again, she would never really know what it was like to be in their position, to come from the family they’d come from, and live a trapped life of lies like they had. And, of course, everyone in Bellamy’s family wasn’t as forgiving as they were. Octavia hadn’t spoken to Bellamy since chewing him out for betraying her. She’d come around, though. She had to. Someday, she’d have to see how lucky she was to have Bellamy for a brother.
“Can I ask a question?” Monroe raised her eyebrows.
“No,” Bellamy said.
“How married are the two of you right now?”
“Do you mean like legally?” Clarke asked. “Or like how often do I harass Bellamy about adding more bran to his diet?”
“I’m not the one who eats Fruit Loops for breakfast,” Bellamy said.
“We were never actually married to begin with,” Clarke said. “Legally, I mean. We fabricated a license in case anyone got suspicious, but it was a fake just like everything else.”
“I read once that Fruit Loops make your poop funny colors,” Harper said.
“The Peep flavored Oreos do, too,” Miller said.
“Peep flavored Oreos are an abomination,” Monroe said. “Why would you do that to an Oreo? Or to a Peep?”
“I think I need a drink,” Clarke said, grinning. She ran a hand over Bellamy’s back when she passed him, and headed up the bar. She felt good. Happy. She should have known that Bellamy was right, that she had nothing to worry about when it came to his friends. Their friends.
She looked at Bellamy in surprise. “I was going to get you a Bud,” she told him.
“I figured this was a chance for me to check in on you.” He tugged on the end of her hair. She’d cut it shorter than ever just yesterday. New life, new haircut. “Now do you believe me when I say no one hates you?” he asked.
“People hate me,” she replied.
“But the people who matter don’t, you’re right.” She bit her lip.
“Nothing,” she said, shaking her head a little. “I’m just happy.” She shrugged, and smiled at him, because she couldn’t seem to stop. “I’m really, really happy.”
He kissed her.
She touched a hand to his back, and pressed in closer, deepening it.
After, she saw she’d smeared lipstick on his mouth. She laughed, and licked her thumb, wiping it off for him. Jenny hadn’t ever worn lipstick. She turned to flag the bartender, leaning her elbows on the bar. She could feel Bellamy’s gaze on her face.
“Is my lipstick smeared, too?” She touched a hand to her mouth.
He shook his head. “No.” He was looking at her softly.
For a moment, she thought he was going to say he loved her. There was such a warmth in his gaze. He didn’t, though. He leaned in, and kissed her forehead with a tenderness that made her heart swell in her chest until there was no room for any breath in her lungs. He didn’t have to say it.
She loved him, too.
“You know, if you’re lucky,” she said, “I’ll let you buy me a beer.”
“Is that so?”
“Keep up this gentlemen act of yours, and I might even go home with you tonight.”
“What can I get you?” asked the bartender.
She pulled her gaze from Bellamy. “I will have a vodka with pineapple, please, and he will have a bottle of your grossest, cheapest beer.” Bellamy sighed, and his hand slipped over her back to rest half on her hip, half on her ass. Clarke smiled.
I know I've dreamed you a sin and a lie,
I have my freedom but I don't have much time.
Faith has been broken; tears must be cried.
Let's do some living after we die.