“No,” Celia pleaded, “Felipe sent me to warn you.”
“Why would he warn me?!” Caleb insisted.
“Felipe knows what’s been happening between the two of you and hasn’t said a word to Rafiq. He doesn’t want to deal with the fallout. You’ve been here for months, instead of the few days, Rafiq, originally promised. The last thing he needs is bloodshed in the house,” Celia cried. She rubbed at her throat; it was red, but the damage seemed relatively benign. She could speak clearly and there weren’t any bruises.
Caleb stood, “You stay here with her until I get back.”
This was my worst nightmare come to life. Caleb was going to walk out the door and never come back. I just knew it. “Caleb, please don’t go. Let’s leave. Right now.”
“I’ll get her out if there’s trouble,” Celia suddenly offered. Caleb and I stared at her incredulously. “There are passages in the walls. Felipe had them built in case we needed to escape. I’ll get her out, I promise.”
“Why would you?” Caleb asked. He seemed to be coming around toward Celia.
“Not for you,” she spat. “I don’t want her to suffer.”
Caleb nodded, “Thank you, Celia. I’m in your debt.”
“If anything happens to Felipe, I’ll be sure to collect,” she said.
“Understood,” Caleb whispered. He grabbed a shirt from the closet and put it on. “The library?” he asked. Celia nodded and with that, Caleb left the room.
I wanted to scream. Caleb was gone and he’d left me to fend for myself. He’d panicked and perhaps threatened Celia when he didn’t have to.
“Why would you bang on the door?” I asked Celia. She sat on the floor, rubbing her throat and wiping tears from her eyes.
“I didn’t want them to come looking for you. Felipe barely stopped Rafiq from coming up here himself,” Celia said calmly.
I felt the gun, warm from my hand, and wet with sweat. “Caleb says Felipe’s been watching us. He said you’ve been watching us. Why would either of you help?”
“Felipe trusts no one, Kitten. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but Felipe means more to me than you. I love him, but he’s an opportunist,” she said.
My head was spinning, “Did you really come to warn us, Celia? Is Caleb walking into a trap right now?” I tried to sound contrite. I tried to appear like a friend, asking for another friend’s advice, but truthfully, I wondered if I had it in me to shoot Celia if I had to. The answer terrified me.
“I swear I came to warn you. As far as I know, Caleb is meeting his friends and nothing more. The worst thing you could do right now is panic,” she said.
I saw the pleading in her eyes and my instincts told me I could trust her. I wasn’t sure my instincts were worth a damn, but the alternative left me cold. Celia was right, I was panicking. If Rafiq had wanted us dead and nothing more, he could have gunned us down in our sleep.
“I believe you,” I whispered and set the gun down on the bed. Celia’s eyes cut to it, but she remained in place. I started to put on the clothes Caleb had left for me.
“What are you doing? Get undressed. If they come up here and find you wearing Caleb’s clothes they’ll know you were planning to escape,” Celia said.
“What if something happens and I need clothes?”
“You won’t need them, Kitten. I promise. The danger was in Rafiq finding you both together in a compromising situation.”
Again, I believed her. Perhaps, I would believe anyone who told me I had no reason to kill, and no reason to suspect the worst. Perhaps, Celia was telling the truth. I chose to believe the less horrific of the two. I quickly removed the shirt I had just put on.
Abruptly, there was a knock at the door. “Celia?” asked a male voice.
I reached for the gun.
Caleb struggled for calm as he approached the door to the library. Tucked into the back of his pants and sheathed was his large hunting knife. He wondered for a moment if he was doing the right thing by meeting with Rafiq. He had hoped he could convince him their plans for revenge could still prove fruitful without sacrificing Livvie. He still hoped for that particular outcome, but having Livvie in the house, was less than ideal.
Upstairs, Livvie was vulnerable. If anything were to happen to him he knew she stood little to no chance of escape. Caleb had fucked up, plain and simple. He had let his emotions get the better of him and he’d acted rashly with Celia, who perhaps would sell him and Livvie out the moment the opportunity presented itself. For all he knew, she already had.
There was only one way to find out though, and Caleb was determined to see things to their conclusion, one way or the other. He opened the door and stepped into the library. Four sets of eyes turned to greet him and they belonged to Felipe, Rafiq, Jair, and Nancy. Each of the men had a drink in hand and sat near Felipe’s desk chatting about benign things. Nancy knelt at Rafiq’s side, her eyes on the floor. She trembled slightly, and Caleb wondered if it was fear or cold causing it, but didn’t care either way. Caleb breathed a sigh of relief, but still felt worried about the situation upstairs. He hoped Livvie could keep her head and not do anything drastic in his absence.
“Khoya! Were you sleeping? You look exhausted,” Rafiq said with a smile.
“I was,” he said cautiously. “I wasn’t expecting you so soon.”
Rafiq eyed him curiously. “Why would you? I told you I wasn’t sure how long it would take to resolve the situation.”
Caleb often neglected to take into account Rafiq’s political ties to the Pakistani government. From time to time, his job as a military officer took precedent over his more illicit activities. In those circumstances, not even Caleb knew what Rafiq was involved in and he’d never really cared. If Rafiq wanted to maintain separate lives, it wasn’t Caleb’s place to meddle.
“I thought you’d contact me, is all. If I’d known to expect you, I would have greeted you at the door,” Caleb said without bite. Rafiq let Caleb speak candidly in private, but in public, there was a protocol to be followed. Rafiq was older and as Caleb’s mentor and former guardian, in a position commanding respect. To publicly disrespect Rafiq would be folly of the worst kind.
Rafiq smiled, “No worries, Khoya. You’re here now and so am I. Come,” he gestured toward another chair, “have a drink with us.”
Caleb managed a smile, “Of course, but let me go upstairs and put on some shoes first. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I rushed.” What he really wanted to do was go upstairs and give Livvie some relief.
“Where is Celia?” Felipe interjected. His tone was light and jovial, but Caleb saw the way his eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted.
“Upstairs with Kitten, I didn’t want to leave her alone,” Caleb offered, with a warning glance of his own.
“Does she still require constant supervision?” Rafiq asked disapprovingly.
“No, but I thought it best not to leave her alone, just the same,” Caleb said, before Felipe could offer his own thoughts.
“Hmm,” Rafiq replied and took a sip from his drink. It looked like scotch. “Well, have a seat, Caleb. Don’t put on shoes on my account. We’ll all be retiring soon. I’m tired from so much traveling.”
“Of course,” Caleb said and took the drink Jair offered him before he sat next to him. Jair smirked, but said nothing and Caleb decided it was best not to make a scene.
“So, Felipe tells me the girl has been making excellent progress. He says she’s even participated in one of his sordid parties,” Rafiq said with a smile. “He assures me the girl’s involvement did not compromise her virginity.”
Caleb swallowed all the liquid in his glass and winced as the amber liquid burned down his throat, “Yes, that’s right.” Inside his chest, his heart took up a rapid beat.
“Glad to hear it, Khoya,” Rafiq said. “Jair had his doubts, but I told him you would never betray me. Not for the sake of one girl.”
Caleb turned to scowl at Jair in open disgust, “Of course not, Rafiq. I’ll never understand why you listen to anything this pig has to say.”
Jair stood and flung his chair back, but Caleb was prepared to meet him. As Jair lunged, Caleb used his upward momentum to push the other man into the air and slam him to the ground. Caleb took advantage of Jair’s stunned state and landed a satisfying punch across his face.
“Caleb!” Rafiq admonished, “Get off of him, now!”
Caleb landed another punch and Jair lost consciousness. Caleb couldn’t stand the son of a bitch and regardless of how things turned out, he wouldn’t suffer Jair a moment longer. He reached back for the knife in his pants, determined to plant it in Jair’s chest, but then felt two sets of hands pulling him backward.
“Caleb, no!” shouted Felipe, “Control yourself in my home.”
A flat hand collided with the side of Caleb’s face and he knew instantly it had been Rafiq who slapped him. As Caleb struggled to regain his bearing, he heard a gun being cocked just before Rafiq’s foot landed on his chest, winding him.
“Jair does what I ask him to do. If you have a problem with it, you can take it up with me, Caleb. I won’t tolerate your disrespect. Apologize to Felipe, or so help me, you will walk with a limp from this night forward,” Rafiq shouted.
Behind Rafiq, Nancy was weeping. Caleb held up his hands in surrender. “I’m sorry! I lost control.” Rafiq’s eyes burned with anger and Caleb knew he wouldn’t hesitate to follow through on his threat.
“What the hell would possess you, Caleb?” Rafiq spat, literally.
“He’s been begging me to put a knife in him since we met, Rafiq. Do you honestly expect me to let him disrespect me? In front of you? You’ve never doubted me before. Never! And suddenly, his word means more to you than mine?” Caleb’s chest heaved beneath Rafiq’s foot.
Rafiq sighed deeply and shook his head. “I never said such a thing, Khoya.” He removed his foot from Caleb’s chest and cocked his weapon one more time to take the bullet out of the chamber. “Things are….”
“I know,” Caleb whispered. Their revenge was close at hand and Caleb had jeopardized it. Rafiq had every right to shoot Caleb where he lay. The pain in Caleb’s chest suddenly had nothing to do with being held down. He had betrayed the one person who’d never judged him for the things he’d done, for the sake of the one person who loved him in spite of the person he’d become. “I’m sorry,” Caleb said again, knowing Rafiq couldn’t yet guess how deeply his apology went.
He realized there would be no reasoning with Rafiq, no compromise over his fate or Livvie’s. There was only one option left and Caleb had always known it might come down to it all along. One of them would have to die.
“Celia?” the man repeated. I held the gun in my hands, but didn’t know what I meant to do. I looked toward Celia.
Her eyes were wide as saucers, but she held up her hands and kept calm, “It’s Felipe. Please, put the gun down.”
“Caleb said not to let anyone in. I think that includes Felipe,” I said. I felt faint, my world blurry at the edges as I considered shooting my way out of the room.
“Please, Kitten! Don’t be an idiot. Felipe will never let you out of here alive if you don’t put the gun away,” she pleaded.
“Tell him to go away,” I hissed.
“He’ll know something’s wrong. I would never tell him what to do,” she said.
Loud knocking and a string of Spanish came through the door, “Celia, come to the door now or I will break down the door.”
I nearly vomited in my mouth as I considered going up against Felipe. I looked to Celia and she frantically wiped tears from her eyes. “Go to the door,” I said.