Brody was sweaty, exhausted, and covered in blood that wasn’t his. He was also twelve thousand five hundred dollars richer. He parked his motorcycle in the storage unit beneath his building and locked the door. He had a few cuts and bruises from rolling around in underbrush, which Jillian wouldn’t ignore. She’d use it as proof that he was putting himself at risk and should quit, even if it meant having a goddamn kid on the living room floor again. He just couldn’t let that happen.
Killing was only dangerous if a person was bad at it, and he’d been born and bred for it.
Going to Leo’s with Spinder to present proof of kill and collect his money had taken longer than he expected. He’d be cutting it close for the rendezvous with Gypsy Lass, but Colin’s bike was chained around the corner. The captain would be visiting with Jillian and trying to decipher Maxine’s babble, giving Brody enough time to shower and change before he had to say goodbye to his girls.
It always hurt, but he wouldn’t have to do it for much longer now. Soon, they’d be saying goodbye together—to their old life, to the whole goddamn planet.
As he approached the fourth-floor landing, he felt relaxed. He’d taken action. In just one night, he’d brought them one month closer to their goal. Jillian couldn’t argue with that.
But when he stepped off the stairs and started towards the end of the hall, the smug smile fell from his lips. His apartment door was ajar, and Colin was leaning against the wall, waiting for him. His arms were tight across his chest, and he was staring at the floor. His coveralls were stained with blood, and as he got closer, Brody saw that his hands were, too. Finally, with effort, he lifted his head and looked his brother-in-law in the eye. Brody’s heart stopped.
Colin was composed now, but he hadn’t been. His auburn hair was wild, and his eyes were red-rimmed. Brody clenched his fists, bracing himself for whatever blow was coming.
“What?” Brody growled through gritted teeth when the other man still didn’t speak.
Colin’s gaze flitted to a wall behind Brody. In a moment of uncharacteristic weakness, he couldn’t look Brody in the eye. “They’re dead,” he said flatly.
Then he looked at him again. The bad news had been delivered. Brody stared. He wanted to punch him in the face. What the hell was he playing at? His words didn’t make any sense. But even as his brain denied them, his heart knew that they were true and broke. For a long moment, Brody couldn’t move. He could only stare at the grim line of Colin’s mouth in disbelief.
Then he was nothing but movement.
He burst into the living room, dropped his bag, and found Jill on the floor. She’d been dragged from the couch, probably by Colin, who would have tried to revive his sister. But it was clear from the blue of her lips, the pallor of her skin, the blood where her heart would be—she was dead.
“No,” Brody muttered.
He turned towards his daughter’s room.
“No,” he said again.
He moved to the open door. They. Colin had said it. Colin had warned him, but he still had to see for himself. If he didn’t, he would never believe. She lay sprawled out as she always did when she slept—his baby girl and all of her brains and blood.
“No.” The word was a choked sob.
The scent of blood, metal, and death were unmistakable. He’d been the cause of it often enough. But it was never supposed to reach here. Not here. Not them. No.
He realized he was screaming the word, clutching his daughter’s legs, but they were already cold. She was no longer his daughter, just an empty vessel where half of his heart used to be.
She was dead. Jill was dead. And with them went all of his hopes and dreams and everything he loved. Sledge. It had to have been Sledge. And that meant that this was because of him, because he’d crossed the bastard. This was his fault.
Jill worried about him. She worried he would be hurt or killed. She worried he would be taken from them. Neither of them had considered that she and Maxine might be in danger. But this was his sector, his world, his goddamn profession.
He should have known.
He should have known that cold-cocking one of the meanest sons of bitches in Sector 25 and then taking a job out from under him would have repercussions. But he hadn’t set out to do that. The opportunity was there, and he’d needed the money. Anyone else would have done the same thing—the same goddamn thing for themselves. Brody was doing it for his family, and wasn’t that noble?
Now he had no family. He’d gotten them killed.
No more smirks, soft kisses, and sweet caresses from his Jill. No more laughing and stumbling through bedtime stories with his Maxi. He’d never even get to meet the second babe.
Red clouded Brody’s vision. The pain was unbearable. It consumed him, begging for release. He screamed and put his fist through the closet door, but it wasn’t enough. He wanted to burn the whole fucking building to the ground, but it would never be enough.
When his vision cleared, his knuckles were bleeding, his throat was raw, and his chest heaved with exertion. He’d torn his daughter’s room to pieces, but she remained untouched, a red-haloed angel in the middle of it all.
Something else caught his eye. Jillian’s snub-nosed revolver, the gun that had murdered his daughter, was on the floor beneath a cracked dresser drawer. He picked it up. It was the only real way to escape the pain—to join them in the nothingness. But he slipped it into his pocket instead. He might take that route, but first Sledge had to die. Sledge, who had murdered them with his hands. Then Brody, who had murdered them with his own fucking stupidity.
His girls deserved that much.
When he turned, he found Colin standing in the doorway. He might have seen Brody unravel, but he was too deep in his own pain to care.
“Who would do this?” he asked.
“I know exactly who,” Brody rumbled.
“Then what are we waiting for?”
Brody stepped past Colin and grabbed his backpack, still heavy with his favorite guns and all the ammo he could fit. He wouldn’t deny Jill’s brother his part, as long as he could keep up. He took one last look at his dead wife, at the apartment that had been their oasis in Ptolemy’s desert of crime and corruption for four years. Then he turned and walked away.
Brody hauled his bike up to the road. Colin was waiting for him. Neither said a word. Brody took off, hell-bent on finding Sledge and showing him far less mercy than he’d shown his family.