"So, you lookin' for summin', ma?"
Her body completely froze when she heard him and she kept facing the wall for a few seconds before she slowly, so slowly, turned around, as if she was afraid he might disappear like a deer in the woods if she moved too fast.
And there he was, nonchalantly leaning against the storage unit door frame in his black outfit, his usual mocking smile resting on his lips and his gaze checking her up from feet to eyes when her body finally faced him.
Beth took a deep breath, her mind dealing with an internal storm of contradictory feelings and emotions. She was relieved and glad to see that he was apparently okay, but she wasn't stupid enough to ignore the fact that it meant she'd have to face consequences for what she'd done, which scared her. She wasn't even that much stunned that he was alive. After all, the man had always been an enigma to her, and somehow she'd gotten so much used to him suddenly popping in and out of her life in such unexplainable ways that she sometimes wondered if he wasn't actually gifted with some paranormal powers.
She opened her mouth but she couldn't find anything to say. He kept watching her patiently, waiting for her gaze to finally meet his, and she felt her heart clench when she locked eyes with him. The way he was looking at her was way too intense but she couldn't look away, hypnotized and breathless, trapped like a butterfly incapable of staying away from the flame of a candle. She had missed his eyes, she realized, before she rectified to herself. She had missed him. All of him.
As she slowly recovered from her initial shock, she finally found the strength to speak.
That was literally the dumbest thing she'd ever said in her entire life, she thought, but there were so many questions running through her head that she couldn't think of anything else to say.
"Yeah... That's me indeed." he said in a low voice with a hint of irony.
"How did you... I mean what... When... What do you want?" she finally asked.
He bit his bottom lip and looked away for a few seconds, considering her question, before his gaze came back at her.
"Tell me summin' Elizabeth, yeah?" he told her as his body straightened, pulling away from the door frame.
"What?" she nervously asked, trying to ignore the delicious shiver that just ran along her spine as he had pronounced her name. God she'd missed that too!
"Remember those nights I spent teachin' you how to use a gun, huh? How many were they?"
His eyes had narrowed and they were shining with a dangerous light while he spoke. She shrugged, breaking their eye-contact as she was counting in her head.
" I don't know, twelve? Maybe fifteen?"
"Kinda, yeah..." he nodded. He took one step forward, slightly reducing the distance between them and forcing her to re-establishing eye-contact with him, "And tell me, how many of these involved me showin' you how to hit your target with only one bullet, huh?"
She knew where this was going. But there was nothing she could say that would stop that train.
She swallowed before answering in a calm tone, "All of them."
"And were you good at it, though?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.
"I was." she said in a breath. "I'd hit the spot nine times out of ten, more or less."
She could tell that he was enjoying all of this, that he was having fun at slowly dragging her to the inevitable upcoming conclusion, fully aware of the fact that she knew exactly what it was.
"Good, good..." he cheerfully said, giving her an approving nod. His facial expression suddenly changed when he coldly asked, "So can you tell me why it took you three shots not to finish the job?"
She blinked as she hadn't expected him to ask her that so baldly. The coldness of his tone felt like the emotional equivalent of a punch in the stomach, ruining any possibility that she would ever tell him the truth. She couldn't tell him that she'd never meant to do that job in the first place, that she'd been upset and scared of him, that he had broken her heart the night before, and that shooting him had caused her pain beyond reasonable because she was shooting her feelings for him as well in the process.
She didn't know what to answer to that, and anything even remotely emotional was definitely off the table since she knew that he would use any weakness she'd show him against her.
She finally softly stated, "I guess real environment is more stressful than the training field."
He chuckled, taking one more step towards her.
"Oh, that's too bad, darling, that's too bad... Cause now I get to finish the job!" he said with that scary fake-enthusiasm tone that generally preceded one of his waves of violence. "It's a declaration of war that you signed here, sweetheart!" he unnecessarily added.
She didn't react at his last sentence, and she suddenly realized that she wasn't even scared. The possibility that he might have come there to murder her right away didn't even hit the top list of the scariest things she'd had experienced since she had met him. From a certain point of view, it was even some kind of relief not to have to worry anymore about all that stuff. The past few months had left her exhausted and depressed, and anything that would stop that never-ending fall was more than welcome. Even if she had to admit she'd rather fancy a less extreme resolution.
She swallowed and exhaled a deep sigh before quietly asking him, with an interrogative look, "Are you going to kill me?"
While she spoke, her gaze went down to his hips, looking for the shape of his golden gun under his shirt, and she realized she'd already asked him that question way too many times ever since they had met to ever qualify what they had as a healthy relationship.
He caught her gaze and shook his head, "Not right now. There are things I need you to do first. But then..." His lips twisted in a cruel smile, "Yeah, maybe I will."
"Excuse me? What do you mean, you 'need' something from me?" she asked, her eyes narrowing.
That was so typical of him, she fulminated. If he was seeking for revenge and wanted to kill her, fine, but who the hell was he to think he could force her to do whatever job for him in the meantime? And as these thoughts crossed her mind, what remained of the rational part of herself wondered if she hadn't lost her sanity after all, given her apparently new sense of priorities.
Rio thoughtfully stared at her for a while before answering, "I need you to pretend to be the boss."
She gave him an empty look, "I don't understand."
Rio considered her for a while, still wondering if he had made the right decision coming there as soon as Demon had told him where she was heading to. He had forgotten how stunningly gorgeous she was, how the way she looked at him made him want to bring her into his bed and worship her forever, how he loved the way she challenged him all the time. But things were different now. They had to. She had used him, dumped him, and tried to kill him for fuck's sake and she would pay for it. Still, he was quite impressed by the way she didn't seem scared of him at all, not to mention the fact that she had built a whole new business from scratch by herself. She seemed to have finally found that inner Boss Bitch he'd always sensed in her. Too bad it was happening too late.
Enjoying making her wait, he took a deep breath before explaining, "Okay, so I have a deal with that old bastard of Turner. Thanks to your lil' intervention" —he gave her an evil smile —"everybody thinks I'm dead out there, which gimme the opportunity to get rid of some competitors. All I gotta do is just sit and wait for them to attempt takin' the lead of the kingdom." he added.
She stared blankly at him, slightly shaking her head, "Okay, whatever," she said. "But I don't see what I have to do with that."
"Oh yeah, right, I forgot to tell you the best part." he chuckled. "See, I need an insider gang leader to tip me on what's goin' on." He had that same cruel and fateful face he had had when he'd told her they were good right after he had shot Dean in her living room, "And since you killed me, you're basically the king now, honey!"
"You wanna be the king you gotta kill the king, that stuff's medieval, darlin'."
She pursed her lips and her body stiffened, "No way. I'm not doing that."
He laughed, and she felt her heart, heavy as a stone, sink in her chest because she knew that his laugh wasn't boding anything good.
"Oh you will, sweetheart, I have good reasons for you to change your mind!" he told her with a hint of a threat underneath his hilarity. He briefly paused before adding with a low voice, "You know, the feds are still desperate for somethin' that'll help them put that sweet lil' ass of yours behind bars."
She contemplated her options for a few seconds, looking for a loophole in his blackmailing deal.
"Will you let me live afterwards if I do what you ask? Otherwise I'm screwed either way, so I don't see the point of giving you the bonus of working for you in the meantime." she pointed out as an attempt of negotiation.
He shrugged, "Nope, can't promise you that, darlin'. It's a chance you gonna have to take."
"And what if I don't? Are you going to turn me in, just like that?"
She pictured her kids growing up with the social stigma of having a mother convicted for felony, and a lump formed in her throat. A dead mother wouldn't be much better though, she thought.
"Oh, no, not just like that!" he sneered. "See, I know people there, you know, in the big house... I just have to say the words and your life there is a livin' hell, darlin'!"
Still staring at him, she bit her lips before exhaling a deep sigh. Suddenly she felt tired of all this game. She was sick of the way he was having fun with her and made her wait until she begged him for any piece of information, so she went straight to the point.
"Fine. What evidences do you think you have against me?"
He smiled and she could tell from the look in his eyes that she had already lost that battle.
"Well, first I got this video recordin' of you pullin' three bullets inside of me, remember?" he answered, raising one eyebrow.
The vision of the camera she'd spot in his emptied loft as they were talking over the phone back then popped up in her mind. She'd completely forgotten about it and it had never occurred to her that the device might be on during that terrible night. An ice cold shiver ran across her as she realized it meant that anyone could see what she'd done to Rio. And not just anyone, she thought, which made it even worse. Since he owned the recording, he'd probably already watched it, maybe several times. The thought of Rio re-watching what she'd done to him was unbearable and made her sick. She didn't even know if she would be able to watch that herself and an inner voice told her she probably wouldn't.
However that at least didn't seem to be a huge threat from a legal point of view.
"I highly doubt the feds would engage any action against a mother of four who saved one of their guy's life by shooting someone who's not even dead!" she struck back.
He shrugged, "Yeah, I know, this one was just a foreplay... Good thing I have better, right?" He paused and smiled at her, "So cakes, huh?"
Her eyes widely opened and she wondered how he could possibly know that. Of course he did, he always knew everything. She could hear Annie's grumbling voice in her head, on some evening back then when the girls were discussing the fact that Rio always seemed to be ten steps ahead of anyone else, "Jeez, how does he do that? The man must be a fucking poltergeist or somethin'!" she'd said.
"Sweetie, I'm not sure you know exactly what a poltergeist is." Ruby had replied, and Beth almost smiled at the thought that Annie would become out of control in her ghosts analogies if she ever heard about Rio's coming back from the dead.
"I tried them, by the way, gotta admit you know the job, these cookies of yours are killer dope!" Rio added, openly mocking her now.
"How do you know about that?"
Rio's smile got even wider but his voice was snarky.
"Turns out you didn't lie to the feds after all when you told them you liked doin' it on the kitchen table, huh?"
"He pulled my panties down and we screwed right on the kitchen table."
She could still hear herself lying to Turner in his office, not aware at this time that she was just foretelling the evolution of her interactions with Rio.
But it took her a few seconds to understand all the meaning and implications of what Rio had just said. She immediately blushed when she realized that he was alluding to her recent quickie with Dean, and the shaming tone she could hear in his voice deeply hurt her. But she would have to deal with that later, she understood, as every piece of the puzzle was suddenly finding its place.
"That was you! The camera in my kitchen! The weird changes in my house! The shady people following me!" she angrily stated. "You had no right!"
Boiling-hot anger was taking possession of her as she realized that Rio was behind all the tricks that had made her life a living nightmare for the past few months. She suddenly felt the urge to jump on him and punch him everywhere but instead she just stayed still, slightly shaking while her fury was growing inside of her.
He chuckled, "Yeah, that was me and my boys... Funny, huh?"
"No it wasn't."
She articulated every word, fighting the trembling in her voice and on the verge of tears, her fists clenched in a vain attempt to control the hatred that she felt invading her guts.
"C'mon ma, don't be like that!"
His voice was caressing, almost flirting as he was openly enjoying making fun of her. His attitude could only but increase her exasperation.
"You made my life a living hell! I thought I was losing my mind!"
His expression suddenly got serious, his face losing any trace of the teasing cheerfulness that was written all over it one second before.
"Well, you almost made me actually live in hell! Fuck, Elizabeth, did it ever occur to you that I have a kid?"
She suffocated at the thought of a fatherless Marcus, but that was a low-blow, even for Rio.
"Did it ever occur to you that I have four kids?" she struck back." Because last time I checked you were considering murdering me!"
His tone was ironic when he slowly answered, "Yeah... That's too bad, huh?"
She narrowed her eyes, "You always do that, don't you? You pretend nothing is your fault, so it's always on someone else."
"You put everything on me so it's never on you, nothing's ever on you!"
"You asked for it."
She lost her breath when she realized they were resuming the argument they had had six months before, that argument she had pressed pause on with the pull of a trigger.
Rio was considering her with a hint of disgust now. He was still upset about the way she had rejected him and turned down his every move so many times while he was trying to make space in the game for her and give her what she was asking for. And the fact that she was still unable to acknowledge that was disappointing and hurtful.
Hence his voice was harsh and he was almost shouting at her when he replied, "Yeah, you right, that's my fault. I gave you the keys to the kingdom! I taught you everythin' 'bout the job! Oh you think I do that with anybody, Elizabeth? We were partners! That your way to say 'Thank you'?"
Although a corner of her mind noted that he had just basically told her she wasn't anybody to him, it didn't hit the surface of her conscience, blinded with pain and reproaches. She hated how unfair his way of presenting things was.
Her voice was trembling when she replied, "I didn't ask for it."
"Yeah you did, ma. When I told you we were good, you came back to me, askin' for more. And I gave you what you wanted but then you wanted out. And you kept messin' up with my money, you didn't follow the instructions, so you—"
"It's not what happened and you know it!" she angrily interrupted him. "You asked me to kill people!"
"And you didn't do it!" he shouted back. "Said you couldn't. Instead you tried to kill me?"
"Well maybe I shouldn't have only tried after all!"
In the heat of her anger, the words had just escaped before she could hold them, and she immediately put her hand on her mouth as if she could take them back but it was too late.
This time she had gone too far and she knew it. He decidedly walked towards her, biting his lips with a threatening look on his face that scared her. She stepped back only to feel the metallic wall hitting her back and there she stayed, motionless like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car, barely standing on her shaking legs. He moved closer, until she could feel the warmth of his body just a few inches away from hers. He placed his left hand on the wall behind her, blocking her way out and making her gasp, while his right hand firmly grabbed her throat, forcing her to stare at him. He watched her with murder written all over his face for a moment and she briefly considered the idea of spitting at his face but her anger was already flowing back as she regretted her last words. Instead, she started to feel her body react to the contact of his fingers and she decidedly ignored the sensations. He was peering at her with intensity but suddenly something saddened his gaze. One by one, his fingers detached from her neck and his arm slowly came back to hang at the side of his body. She was panting and she felt her skin burning where Rio's fingers had roughly pressed her flesh. She rolled her eyes down, ashamed and defeated, unable to look him in the eyes and admit her weakness in front of him.
He was still standing so close to her, though, motionless, and she could feel the weight of his gaze on her. She looked at his hand with a retrospective shiver before following the line of his arm up to his shoulder, stare at the tattoo on his neck, then his chin, wishing she could rub her face on its stubble. Her eyes slid on his mouth, lingering at every detail of his lips, and she had to force her gaze to rise up to his face. He was patiently watching her, waiting, and his mouth smirked when their eyes finally met, but his look was still tense.
A few seconds later, he was the one lowering his gaze and staring at her mouth and his right hand came back at her face, but this time his pinky was slightly apart from his other fingers. She shivered at the sight of his hand moving in a very slow motion and she briefly closed her eyes, her attraction to him gradually filling the empty space that anger had left inside of her. She reopened them the second he touched her, his little finger softly caressing her temple and brushing her hair away. Her whole body startled at his touch and she blushed, knowing that he couldn't have unnoticed the way she'd reacted to him. He smirked indeed and she knew that it was the whole point of it. A power demonstration. But she didn't have the strength to push him away at this point, despite how much she knew she should have. Why did they have to fight each other all the time, she thought, why couldn't things just be like this?
His fingers softly trailed their way along her cheek and the line of her jaw, having her exhale a languid sigh that she hated how weak it made her sound. His hand then reached the wall next to her head, caging her with his both arms. His face suddenly softened, his eyes expressing a mix of things she couldn't decipher, and a strong wave of desire ran through her body, leaving her breathless. Her heart was violently pounding in her chest as he slowly leaned his head towards hers, stopping his move when their lips were only a few inches apart, just like that day in his loft when he had asked her to leave. His scent was intoxicating and she resisted the urge to bury her face in his neck and breathe his skin in forever with her lips resting close to an inked eagle wing. She closed her eyes as he hoarsely whispered "Elizabeth..." with a mix of pain and tenderness in his voice. She felt she was about to faint, barely able to breathe, her body fully tense in expectation and desire. She nervously licked her lips and kept them slightly apart in anticipation of his kiss, wanting him so badly that she thought she could collapse any minute.
Rio had thought he would keep it all under control, but her last words had made him overreacting in a way he had not expected. The fact that she expressed regrets for missing her shot, even for a second, was hurting him as much as it infuriated him. As a reaction he had meant to crush her pride under the demonstration of his power over her, he wanted to humiliate her, but it turned out she had a reciprocal effect on him that he hadn't seen coming. Touching her had sent a bolt of electricity across his body, which had asked for more. And now he wanted her as much as he had wanted to hurt her a minute before. He couldn't explain how she made him lose his self-control in so many ways. To his own surprise, he suddenly found himself willingly drowning in the Caribbean sea of ever-changing shades of green and blue in her eyes, and he hadn't faked the way he had pronounced her name despite how angry he was at her. And now that they were so close, he couldn't handle nor hide his desire for her anymore, and although he was reluctant to let her win this particular battle, he couldn't resist to her and he slowly approached his lips towards hers.
But suddenly the images of her and her dumbass husband on the kitchen counter popped up in his head, freezing his move before he instantly straightened.
Feeling the change in the atmosphere, Beth opened her eyes, blinking as she was trying to recover from the intensity of the moment. They stared at each other silently for a while. There was something new in his eyes, that she'd never seen before, and looked like contempt. She instantly knew where that came from, and the thought of him being jealous of Dean irritated her, since Rio had never allowed her to be jealous of the other women in his life. Speaking of which, she admitted to herself, she didn't even know if there were actually other women in his life, but that wasn't the point.
"You didn't like what you saw on that footage, did you?" she quietly said, raising her chin in a provocative way.
They both knew that it was a rhetorical question. He didn't move nor speak, but she heard his knuckles creaking as his fists clenched. He swallowed and, still silent, he slowly took a step back from her, his hands leaving the cold wall and releasing her from the surrounding of his body. She sighed in relief, feeling the tension moving away but the disdain in his eyes was hurtful.
"I used to think you were worth better than that, Beth." he coldly told her with a low voice, spitting her name with all the disgust and despise someone could possibly put in a word.
Calling her Beth was the most insulting thing he could ever say to her and they both knew it. She felt her heart breaking into pieces at his words and tears fell from her eyes before she knew it, running down her cheeks and leaving her furiously struggling against her emotion.
"I used to think you were worth better than being a jealous asshole!" she scathed back. "You have no right to judge me! That's unfair." she hissed with a broken breath.
He didn't even look at her as he turned away.
"I'll send you the instructions tomorrow. And FYI one of my guy's gonna keep an eye on you so don't act surprised if you see 'em at your place. From now on you're under my watch."
As if she had not been already under his watch with that camera he'd put in her kitchen, she bitterly noted.
"Actually I never told you I'd take your deal!" she yelled at his back in a last attempt of restoring her pride.
He had turned his head and was considering her, one eyebrow raised. She gave him a defying look for a few seconds, but she pursed her lips and slowly ducked her head, surrendering in her silent answer. Like she had a choice anyway, she thought.
He stormed out of the storage unit, leaving her still upset and slightly shaking from their intense confrontation. She slowly let herself slid along the wall and sat down on the ground, her thoughts swirling in her mind like the flakes from a snow ball. She deeply breathed until she gradually calmed down and felt strong enough to drive.
On her way back home, she realized that she hadn't even told him how sorry she was for shooting him, and how she was inexplicably glad he'd made it through, despite the fact that it meant she had probably signed her own death warrant. Instead, she had just told him the exact opposite of that, and that thought was killing her.
She barely slept that night, but when she did, she didn't have to watch him die in front of her for the first time in months. Instead she saw his face, smiling at her in a comforting way that made her want to rush into his arms and just snuggle against him, oblivious of anything else. But when she tried to scurry to him, an invisible wall stopped her move and Rio disappeared in a last echoing laughter.