I was feeling a little shaky as Ryan led me through the forest. I thought of how the huntsman had led Snow White into the forest and cut out her heart… It made me very nervous. But still, I walked with him. We were side by side. He kept a firm grip on my wrist as we walked.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked him, finally breaking the dead silence. He glanced at me and sighed, saying nothing. I swallowed, my throat now dry, kicking myself for agreeing with this. How stupid could I be? He finally stopped, and let me go. We were surrounded by flowers. All of them swaying gently in the breeze, seemingly radiant in the moonlight. I looked around me in awe, it was singlehandedly the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.
“What is this place?” I gasped, gaping at the scenery.
“This,” –his deep voice spoke from behind me– “is where I fell in love for the first time.” I looked at him and found him watching me. His gaze was intense, unwavering.
“What do you mean?” I was pleased my voice didn’t shake. Ryan gestured for me to sit down on the grass. It would ruin the dress and Levi would grill me about ruining a custom made Louis Vuitton dress, but I was in the forest with an assassin—this dress was the least of my worries. I took off the diamond and gold encrusted headpiece I was wearing and sat down on the cool grass. Ryan sat down beside me.
“I wasn’t always a killer,” he began softly, closing his eyes. “I was just a normal man once. A man in love.” He chuckled slowly, a far away look in his eyes. “Her name was Lana and she was beautiful. The most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my life.” He looked at me sadly.
“Was?” I asked quietly. Ryan was quiet for a moment before he spoke again.
“This is where I met her. She was crying. She was sitting right where you are now. I asked her what was wrong. “‘Nothing,’ she said, looking up at me with the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. ‘I just find it cleansing for the soul to cry every once in a while. To let all the things that hold you down go.’” He smiled fondly. “I knew I loved her at that very moment. We would come here everyday to meet. And every time I saw her, I fell deeper in love with her. “And then it happened. Lana had been talking about how she felt she was being followed. I let her stay with me, to keep an eye on her. Months went by and she was safe, but she still stayed with me. We preferred living together. I loved waking up beside her every morning.
“One day I came home from work and I called out for her, but she didn’t respond. I was immediately worried. Lana was always home by the time I would come in. I sat my things down and called her cell, thinking maybe she’d lost track of time.” Ryan closed his eyes, swallowing hard. When he spoke again his voice was so quiet I had to lean in close to catch what he was saying.
“I heard a rustling from our bedroom. And I smiled, thinking she was there and everything was fine. I slipped my hand inside my pocket, making sure the box that contained the engagement ring I was gonna give to her was still there. It was.“When I went into the bedroom, I slipped. I caught myself on the wall and flipped the switch on. I then realized I was standing in blood. Not just anyone’s blood, her blood. Her body was crumpled on the floor. Her eyes which were once so full of wonder and light were lifeless.” He hung his head. My hand hovered above his shoulder. I was torn. How should I comfort him? He raised his head and I quickly let my hand fall, listening intently as he continued.
“Written in her blood on the wall were the words ‘Hathaway always gets what he wants’.”
“Hathaway,” I whispered the name, nodding to myself.
“He was a famous mobster here. But he was killed last year…” I trailed off and looked at Ryan who was smiling his signature smile of sadness.
“You did that?” I gasped.
“I had to avenge Lana’s murder. I made that bastard suffer,” he spat, rage on his face. “After her death, I fell into a dark place. Never loving anyone else. I killed because what did other lives matter? The one that mattered to me was no longer living, no longer able to laugh and smile. If a woman as gentle and kind as Lana could be killed, then so could everyone else.” He took a deep breath, letting it fill his lungs completely, before finally exhaling.
“Evil isn’t born, Yvonne, it’s made.” I swallowed. I suddenly felt bad for this man. Now I knew why he always looked so sad. That woman—Lana—she had meant the world to him. I could see it in his eyes when he spoke of her. And to suddenly have her snatched away… I put my hand on his arm. He whipped his head around to look at me, shock replacing the sadness in his features.
“I’m sorry,” I said quietly. There was nothing more I could say. He looked at me for a long time with a strange expression. “What?” I asked, getting rather uncomfortable.
“Nothing.” He turned away. “But now you know why the lives of others hold no value to me.”
“Then why haven’t you killed me?” The words slipped out and when he turned to look at me, I instantly regretted them.
“Because,” he finally said after staring into my eyes for a long time. “You remind me of her.” I reminded him of Lana? That’s why he hadn’t killed me. I blinked and Ryan turned away. “I know it must be…odd. It’s odd for me too. The first time I saw you, I hoped against hope that maybe she hadn’t died. That maybe somehow it was all just a terrible, twisted nightmare.” His English accent was soothing as he spoke. I was quiet, a little creeped out at being told I looked like a dead woman who he was once madly in love with.
“Won’t Gretchen throw a temper tantrum if you don’t kill me?” I wondered, looking at him.
“You know I was supposed to bring you out here and take you away somewhere. She didn’t care where I took you, as long as you were gone and couldn’t stand between her and Liam.” It was hard to miss the bitterness and quiet rage in his voice and on his face when he said Liam’s name. “However, you’d hate me if I did and…” he looked at me. “I don’t want you to hate me.” His voice was quiet, barely even a whisper. I stood up, gently picking up my headpiece.
“You should probably take me back,” I said, looking down at him. “Liam is probably going out of his mind with worry.”Ryan’s mouth turned downward in a bitter scowl, but he nodded. He stood up and led the way.
When we finally arrived, the party was winding down. The guests were leaving. I turned to Ryan and smiled.
“I never thought I’d be saying this to you, but I had fun with you.” He tilted his head to the side in shock.
“Really.” I smiled. “Bye, Ryan.” I walked away from him and walked back to the mansion. I bumped into someone and I looked up. Simon and Kate.
“Oh, Simon, Kate, hi,” I greeted them awkwardly.
“Yvonne where have you been?” Kate yelped, her eyes widening with false worry. “Liam was looking everywhere for you.”
“Oh,” I responded, thinking about how pissed Liam would be after he got over the euphoric fact that I was safe. I frowned. “I should probably go find him. Apologize for making him worry.” Simon scoffed in disgust and walked off. I almost grinned. Despite everything that happened with Ryan and Gretchen, my original plan was still working.
“I should go after Simon,” Kate stammered. She started off, then turned back around as if she just remembered something. “Oh and by the way, we’re going dress shopping tomorrow. And since you’re my bridesmaid you should come.” Ah, shit, I forgot about that. I forced a smile and nodded, turning around and stepping into the house. I was instantly greeted by Martia’s loud mouth.
“I thought you were f—–g dead,” she yelled, looking pissed. Levi and Kayleen were yelling over each other at me.
“All right, guys, let’s relax,” Chauncey said soothingly.
“Chauncey is right,” Liam said, suddenly stepping into the room. His costume was rumpled and his hair was disheveled. He still managed to look stunningly handsome even though he looked like he’d been through hell. “Can everyone please leave? I’d like to talk to Yvonne alone.” I was about to get my ass handed to me. Everyone else seemed to sense that as well.
William and Carole headed upstairs. Kayleen, Martia, Levi and Chauncey left to go home. I walked toward the sofa, keeping my back to him. I sat down the diamond and gold encrusted headpiece. I kept my back to him for a long while, afraid to face his anger. I could feel his blue eyes burning into me. But finally I’d had enough of the silence.
“Just say something,” I said, turning.
“What do you want me to say?” he asked quietly, his voice surprisingly calm.
“I don’t know, yell at me, scream at me. Do something.” Liam walked toward me until his shoes were flush with my sandals. I swallowed hard, my heart pounding as he reached out and touched my cheek. His hand was warm and gentle. His fingers gently stroking my cheek as he looked into my eyes for what seemed like an eternity. And suddenly I was in his arms and he was holding me dangerously close. I knew he could feel every frantic beat my heart made. How could he not? Every line of my body was pressed up against his.
“I was so worried about you,” he spoke softly in my ear. I gave an involuntary shiver and he chuckled, his breath tickling my ear. He pulled away and cupped both of my cheeks in his powerful yet gentle hands. “I’m glad you’re okay. Did he hurt you?”
“No, he didn’t. I’m fine. He was actually…nice to me.” Liam nodded, his lips pulling into a thin line.
“Of course. I knew he wouldn’t hurt you, but I wanted to be sure,” he murmured to himself. I looked at him and the realization dawned on me that Liam knew about Lana. Before I could ask though, Liam smiled gently. “You must be tired,” he said quietly. “Go get some rest.” And then his soft, warm lips touched my cheek. My heart was in my throat as I nodded and turned to go upstairs.
“I thought we discussed this,” Gretchen yelled at him, her face twisted in rage. “You would’ve gotten what you wanted. You could’ve had her for the rest of your life. All you had to do was take her and leave.”
“But I wouldn’t really have her, would I? She would loathe me the entire time. I don’t want that.” He looked at the brunette before him. “If you want Liam, win him over with who you are. If he doesn’t love you, then he doesn’t love you. Just move on.” Gretchen’s lips curled back over her teeth in an animal-like snarl. And Ryan knew then that her heart was even more tainted than his. She was lost in a bigger, darker part of herself.
“Since you won’t take care of her, I’ll find someone who will.” And she stormed out.