Home > Hostile Takeover

Hostile Takeover
Author: Amelia Wilde

 

1

 

 

MASON

 

 

Cornerstone still burns.

The fire department contained the blaze, but it’s not out. Nearby buildings are safe for the moment. The fire itself is not finished. It’s still chewing through millions of dollars’ worth of material and investment. They’ll have to dig through the debris to see if anything can be salvaged. No one will find anything. They never find anything worth saving.

A siren cuts through the night. More of them arriving to manage the scene. An ambulance’s red lights flash. A man bumps me on his way past, an elderly man on his arm. “Take deep breaths, Dad,” the younger one says. “We’re almost there.”

Jealousy tastes bitter. Like ash, like heat.

Two photographers jog toward the scene. A news truck screeches to a halt thirty feet away. They’ll want this conflagration for their pickup shots. Somewhere, a child is still crying. Wailing. Her mother doesn’t want to stay in case the fire spreads. “Chel? I know it’s late. Can we stay for the night?”

All this noise, all this motion, and all I can see are Charlotte’s eyes.

They’ve never been so blue.

A priceless, sapphire blue, flawless alongside rumpled hair and a T-shirt stained with dirt and ash. Orange flames from the wreckage of the Cornerstone building flickers in those eyes.

That fire is incinerating my heart.

“Don’t do this,” she says.

Don’t kill her father. Don’t kill the man who made this happen.

That denial—the denial of all this pain, all these years of struggle, all these years of knowing that one man was responsible for the suffering of my siblings—spurs me into motion.

It’s getting more chaotic here, not less. Come see, motherfuckers. Come see what it looks like when your life goes up in flames. I could shout at them, rage at them, but I push it all down and move. A lesser pain in my cheek follows me.

Charlotte hurries to keep up, her breath fast, her face pale. She has one fist clutched around the handle of her purse. “Stop. Please.”

I don’t answer. I don’t want a conversation. I want this to be done, to be finished. The pain in my knee is bone cracking on bone. I can feel it grinding down into nothing. My entire leg is a raw ache at this point in the evening. All those stairs. All those people who needed help tonight. I needed help, for fuck’s sake. Once in my life. Anger scorches the back of my neck. My spine. It chokes me like the ash in the air. I sidestep a news anchor in a perfect pantsuit and pay for my haste with a bolt through the knee that takes my breath away.

“Mason, wait,” Charlotte says.

I’ve waited so long for this moment. I’ve waited so long, and she has no idea how that feels. She has no idea what it is to wake up in the most excruciating pain of your life only to discover that it’s never going to end. It’s going to haunt you with every step you take for the rest of your life. It makes you wish you didn’t have to live.

“Just stop for a minute.”

New rage and old despair ignite at the base of my spine. I’m the burning building now. I’ve already been gutted once. Burned to the studs. I dug through the wreckage of my life with both hands, pulling out anything we could sell for money. I kept my sister alive. I kept my brothers alive. I put myself on the pyre to do it. Pain beats at my head, at my muscles—everywhere. Red crowds in at the edge of my vision. Every breath of the hot, charred air is pure misery. It could be that night again. That same night. My dad’s hands, steady and strong, pushing me out of the building.

Stop for a minute and what? Die here? Lose it completely on the street? No. Not here. I can’t answer her, can’t explain, because if I start talking to Charlotte Van Kempt I’ll kiss her. I’ll take her in my arms. Crush her to my body. I’ll let her hear everything that’s in my head, and I can’t do that. I can’t be swayed by want or need or any of the emotions that are a firestorm around my heart.

“Mason, please.”

Ten more excruciating steps and we’re at the SUV. I parked close to Cornerstone because I wasn’t thinking—I just wanted to deal with the problem. I had to deal with it. And now the goddamn thing is behind police tape. It’s part of the crime scene.

Because this is a crime scene.

It’s not an accidental fire.

Cyrus Van Kempt burned down this building, and now he’s going to pay. He’s going to pay for every sleepless night, every fight I had with my brothers, every one of Remy’s tears.

I curse at my phone like it caused this and not a Van Kempt. Dial. Scott answers on the first ring.

“I’m at Cornerstone. My SUV is part of the scene, and I want to leave.”

“I’m at the penthouse,” Scott says. “I’ve got about fifteen traffic alerts on my phone. The emergency vehicles—” He’s running, hurrying to one of my cars, no doubt. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Charlotte says.

It already is this way. It’s been this way since the day my parents died.

“How long?” I demand.

“Forty minutes.”

Forty minutes. “Fuck it.”

I hang up on him, out of words for that conversation, and start moving again. Down the street.

“Mason.”

I can’t stand it. I can’t stand to listen to my name in Charlotte’s voice. I want to give in to her. I have the most absurd urge to stop—to agree with her. Anything to see relief in her eyes.

My parents didn’t get any relief. They got to burn alive.

I owe my family revenge. No matter how much I want to wrap this sweet little thing in my arms, to promise everything will be okay.

I have to find a cab. It’ll be a couple of blocks before we’re in open traffic. Searing pain bands around my knee and crushes it. It goes down to the tips of my toes. It goes up to my hips. It’s radiating into my back. If I sit down now, if I give into it now, I won’t get up again.

“Mason, no. Just stop a minute.”

Charlotte puts her hand on my elbow. It’s a soft touch, gentle, only meant to get my attention, but even that is enough to change my gait and send a new spike of agony under my kneecap.

I turn on her, rage blistering out of me, fury searing my throat. “Why the fuck are you protecting him? He doesn’t give a shit about you.”

She startles backward, her fingertips finding the hollow of her throat. I feel like I’ve kicked a puppy. An innocent. The sweetest little thing on the planet. But I’m not going to give in. To her. To anything. We’re surrounded by noise. Sirens and car horns. A breeze lifts tendrils of hair from her neck and puts them back.

Charlotte takes a deep breath. “He’s not a great father, but he’s the only one I have.”

“And you defend him. Even after he threw a glass at you. Even after he killed my father.”

I sound incredulous, and I am. I can’t hide it from her. It hurts more than I’ll ever admit, how loyal she is to her family. She took my belt and my cock for her parents. This is a boot to a soft underbelly.

“No,” Charlotte says, her tone fierce. “If he did that, if he killed your mom and dad, then he deserves to go to jail. Not this.”

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