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Then he opens the door to Uncle Jerm’s office, I walk in and he closes it behind me. I take the CD out of my purse and sit on the sofa. I lean my head on the arm of the sofa and sigh.

I’ll just rest my eyes for a moment.

My eyes flutter open and I see Uncle Jerm sitting behind his desk, leaning to the side with a hand over his eyes.

The CD I brought with me is gone. I jerk and Uncle Jerm looks up.

He doesn’t look happy. Not that I thought he would be happy about my visit. His nephew wants him dead, for god sake!

I begin to speak but Uncle Jerm cuts me off with a firm, “Damn fool of a woman!”

Well, that’s not quite what I was expecting.

He continues, “Do you realize the danger you’ve put yourself in? Nik is going to be livid. I am livid. Of all the things you could’ve done, this was the dumbest.”

And that’s when I burst into tears.

My body shakes with sobs and I croak, “He wants to kill you, Jermaine. He wants Nik to hurt. I—I—I didn’t know what else to do. I heard Nik say you needed evidence that Omarr was recruiting and now you have it. So, do something!” I shake and whisper, “Please do something. I can’t lose Nik.” I cover my face with my hands and weep.

Uncle Jerm pulls my hands from my face and kneels before me. He wipes tears from my cheeks and assures, “Omarr isn’t a concern anymore, child.” My body slumps back with relief. He continues, “As of ten minutes ago, Omarr has a price on his head.”

Oh, no!

I stammer, “B—B—But I thought you would get him some help!” My face pales and I whisper shout. “I didn’t want him dead, Jermaine!”

He shakes his head slowly and answers me softly, “Tina, Omarr isn’t right. Think of it this way, it’s you and Nik or it’s him. And be warned, he will come after you. He will find out about this, baby girl. I know you had good intentions but it was crazy. Straightjackets, padded rooms, out of your damn mind, crazy. You feel me?”

If I pale any more I’ll be transparent.

What have I done?

Uncle Jerm smirks, “But, by god, you’ve got a set of balls on you.” Then he sobers and says, “We got to tell Nik about this.”

I nod.

That should be fun.

The CD Uncle Jerm had expressed to The White Rabbit plays on my computer. I sit at my desk and listen.

My insides dip.

I’m not quite sure what I’m hearing.

“Sure, just so we both know what we are dealing with. I continue to work Nik and once I’m paid, I’m yours. But you have to back off. I can’t be distracted. You want Nik hurt and I’ll hurt him, baby. For you, I’ll do anything.” No mistaking it. That’s my girl.

It can’t be.

No.

No.

Fuck no.

This can’t be happening.

Chapter Twenty-Six

The great misunderstanding of 2013

Uncle Jerm wouldn’t let me leave the warehouse he calls the factory until I had some coffee and breakfast with him. I’m glad he persuaded me. I probably would’ve passed out half way to The White Rabbit from exhaustion.

Upon departing, Uncle Jerm pulled me into a warm hug and told me, “You saved my life, Tina, which means I owe you. Big. If you need anything from this old man, just call.” He gives me his business card and I slip it into my purse.

Which brings us to now. I stand out front of The White Rabbit.

My heart races and my stomach knots.

I’m going to have to tell Nik everything. And he is not going to like it. My previous experiences tell me I should be honest with Nik but I am petrified of what his reaction might be. I close my eyes and breathe deep.

Nik will understand. He has to.

I compose myself as much as I can and make my way to Nik’s office. Just before I get there I’m greeted by a mad looking Max. He puts his hand up and says, “Don’t go in there, Tina.”

My feet stomp past him and I respond urgently, “Don’t try to stop me this time, Max. I have to see Nik right now. I don’t care if he’s busy and hiding out. This is priority. It’s important.” And I barge into Nik’s office.

Nik sits behind his desk staring into nothing. I approach and he stands up. Half way there I smile and say, “Hey, honey.”

His eyes turn cold and he says, “Nik loves me, O. He’ll give me anything and everything I want. I just have to hook him a little more.”

My face pales and my heart clenches.

He’s already heard the CD. Which means Uncle Jerm sent it over.

I begin, “I…”

But Nik cuts me off with a quiet, “Stop.” He looks hurt. I never wanted to hurt him. I thought he’d understand why I thought I had to do this.

He continues just as quietly, “Never thought I’d be one of those schmuks. I thought I did a good job of protecting myself from women like you.” There is a fist around my heart and it squeezes tight. He goes on, “But you…You really got in there. With my family and friends, too. You went the whole nine yards.” He laughs acidly. “Who the fuck sends candy to a guy?!”

I do.

My heart is breaking. Nik thinks I played him.

I try to explain, “Please, Nik. Let me exp…”

He cuts me off with a hard, “No.”

My face bunches and I start crying. I hyperventilate, cover my cheeks with my hands and yell, “Let me explain!”

He shakes his head and I croak a desperate, “It’s just a misunderstanding, baby.”

Nik’s face steels and he whispers viciously, “Don’t say another fucking word.” He looks down and says, “You were my world. My everything. You really had me fooled. It was all just a game to you. A job. Never thought I’d end up with a woman like you. I loved you. Never believed I deserved you. But now that I know the real you, I don’t want you. So this works out okay. Another lesson learned.”

Sobbing, I walk up to him and choke, “I love you, Nik.”

He doesn’t look at me when he replies coldly, “Yeah, well, I don’t love you.”

My heart shatters. I feel extremely light headed.

What have I done?

Nik moves passed me and nudges my body with his passing shoulder. In my weak state, the nudge feels more like a push. I stumble back and my heel catches. I fall. My back, shoulder and head hit the corner of his desk. Hard.

I sit on the floor a moment and mouth, “Ow.”

Before I know what’s happening Max walks in. He takes in my weak form on the floor then Nik’s hard face. He storms up to Nik and gets right in his face and yells, “What the fuck is wrong with you? Get it under control, Nik.”

I take this as my cue to get the hell out of there. Max continues to yell into Nik’s face.

I crawl forward a few steps, stand unsteadily, and catch my breath.

Then I’m gone.

Max is in my face yelling at me but I can’t make out any of the words he’s saying.

Blood roars in my ears. Anger, pain, and heart-break have left me drained.

I didn’t mean for Tina to fall. It was my fault, regardless, but I wished it hadn’t happened.

My office phone rings and I cut Max’s rant off by answering it, “Hello?”

Uncle Jerm asks, “You get the disc, son?”

I reply, “Yeah, Jerm. Thanks for the heads up.”

Uncle Jerm tuts. “That girl of yours either has a death wish or loves you too damn much. Didn’t even flinch at going up against Omarr.”

Wait, what?

Confusion settles over me and I ask, “Sorry, what?”

Uncle Jerm hesitates, “You see your girl this morning?”

I reply coldly, “Yeah.”

He doesn’t say anything for a moment then sighs, “Please tell me you listened to the child.”

I didn’t listen.

I retort, “What was there to listen to, Jerm? She played me. End of story.”

Uncle Jerm loses his cool composure and shoots back, “Well, your girl came to see me this morning with evidence that my nephew is planning a mutiny. She played Omarr and just put herself on the hit-list of a psychopath for the man she loves and to save the life of a drug dealing old man she barely knows. So I’d say there was a lot to listen to, son.”

Fear makes my stomach dip.

No. That can’t be right.

I bark, “Explain.”

Uncle Jerm replies quietly, “Just did.” Then hangs up.

Anxiety eats at me.

My experiences with money hungry women have been ridiculously high. Always a women looking for a sugar daddy. Not once had Tina asked for anything from me. I never gave her a choice when giving her gifts or doing things for her. Not her fault. I wanted to do that as her boyfriend and protector. I never got that gold digger vibe from Tina. I should have listened to my gut.

I’ve made a terrible mistake. I need to find Tina. I knew in my heart something wasn’t right.

You told her you didn’t love her.

I put my hand on the desk to hold myself up and feel something wet. I look down and there is small pool of blood on the corner of my desk mixed with a small amount of hair. Tina’s hair. The blood blends in with the mahogany, you can barely notice it.

FUCK!

Oh, God. She has hemophilia. Her blood doesn’t clot well. She could be losing too much blood. Maybe she doesn’t even know she’s bleeding. I feel sick to the stomach.

What have I done?

I snatch my phone up off my desk and call Tina. Her phone goes straight to voicemail. I don’t leave a message. Instead, I run out of the office and straight to Safira.

Nat is at the counter and greets me with a smile. She obviously doesn’t know about the misunderstanding with Tina otherwise she’d already have ripped my balls clean off.

She says, “Hey Nik, you just missed her. She knocked her head on the car door and has a cut on her noggin so I sent her home.” She looks left then right, comes closer and whispers, “How awesome was she with Omarr?! I didn’t think she had it in her. And please! She’s having hard times with money! Ha! Tina’s a freaking millionaire!”

I blanch and whisper loudly, “What?”

Nat’s face straightens and she asks, “She didn’t tell you yet?” She sighs, “Her mom’s life insurance policy was huge. Mia had a policy, too, but it all went to opening Safira. Tina put all her mom’s life insurance money into an interest account. Over five years, she has well over three million now. It’s a little hard to access but with my signature as well as her dad’s, she can take it all out today if she wanted to.”

Great. Just great.

I accuse my girlfriend of being a gold digger and she has more money than I do!

Remembering my reason for being here, I ask, “You said she was hurt. How bad is it?”

She waves her hands, rolls her eyes, and says, “Don’t get all protective on me! It was just a cut. But Tina’s a bleeder so it always looks worse than it is. I cleaned it. It’s fine and no longer bleeding.”

Thank god. Now to go over to the apartment and beg on my knees for forgiveness.

I ask Nat, “Is there any candy Tina likes?”

Nat looks at me like Well, Duh. And I understand it. This is Tina. She loves candy.

I roll my eyes and ask, “What’s Tina’s favorite candy?”

She writes down four different names and I head down the street to the candy store.

I hope this works.

I drag my sorry ass out of my car with a bag full of candy.

As I approach Tina’s apartment I think about my entrance. Should I knock? Or use my key?

I think using my key is the better option. If I know she can pretend not to be home. But I see her car isn’t here.

Using my spare key, I enter the apartment and the first thing I notice is a handwritten note on the dining table. I walk closer. It’s addressed to Nat. I sit and read.

Hey hon, sorry I didn’t talk to you about this before but I’m feeling a little raw. I don’t think I could’ve spoken about it without crying a river.

Nik and I broke up.

The Omarr thing worked but everything is screwed up. There was a big misunderstanding and I need some space. I’m going away a few days for some R&R. I’ll have my phone but it’ll be off so leave a message if you need me. I wouldn’t entrust the store to anyone but you. You know me, I’ll be fine. Just needing some time alone. Talk about it when I get home.

I love you. You’re the best sister ever.

My heart sinks.

I’ve driven the only woman I’ve wanted to protect from hurt and pain to this. I feel like the world’s biggest asshole. Actually, I am the world’s biggest asshole.

When the Sissy office ordeal happened, Tina listened to me (with the help of Nat) and believed me. I didn’t even let her speak a word. I knew something wasn’t right but I let my pride get in the way.

A sudden idea pops into my head. I flip open my cell and dial my guy. He picks up and I state, “I need someone found. Like, yesterday.”

He responds with, “I need a cell number.”

I give it to him and tell him her cell will be off most of the time so he’ll need to check regularly. I quickly add he’ll be well paid for the time he spends on this assignment. He accepts the terms and says he’ll call as soon as he gets a hit. I end the call and pray to god that Tina is safe and well.

If something happened to her I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.

Two days later…

My mind is only focused on one thing.

Tina.

Not being able to see for myself that she’s okay is driving me insane. I’m anxious and moody at everyone who cares about me.

One of the worst things I’ve ever had to do was admit to the girls what I’d done. To say Nat was angry at me would be an understatement. She punched me in the nose. And broke it. I took it without a word because I know I deserved it. So I’m sporting a couple of black eyes and a busted purple nose.

❮❯