I recognize his footsteps as he enters the café—hard, confident . . . thirsty for a fight. I’m glad of the warning. I wipe my eyes hastily and try to pull myself together.
He steps past me and drops down into the empty chair. Her chair, until a few minutes ago. I wonder if her warmth still lingers there. It angers me that he can steal even that.
“Is it done?” he asks. But it’s not a question.
“It’s done,” I mutter, and my jaw tightens. I stare him down.
He chuckles. “Your brother will be very pleased.”
“My brother can go fuck himself, for all I care.”
I know what’s coming—I knew it was a ledge before I stepped onto it. But, still, I’m surprised at just how quickly he is across the table, his hand tightening on my throat.
Up close, his breath is unpleasantly warm—it smells of fresh cinnamon and spiced meat, but underneath, there’s something older, fouler—something like decaying blood. He shifts more of his weight onto my neck as he leans in. Pressure begins to build behind my eyes. “You would do well to have more respect for your elders, cousin,” he whispers into my ear. I can hear the smile, the widening eyes. “A tongue like that can get you killed.”
He tightens his hand down a little more—slowly, carefully . . . rapturously. And a little part of me wishes he’d do it, too. For what I did to her. For what I let them do to me, too. And it’s not an empty threat.
But neither is it imminent. If he had permission to kill me, he’d have found an excuse to do it already.
“You are attracting attention, cousin,” I manage to gurgle out.
He looks around and releases me—reluctantly—and lowers himself back into his chair. He flashes his smile at the other patrons. Just a little rough-housing between friends, he says with his shrug. Everyone is reassured.
It’s for the best. He might have killed them all, just for the fun of being chased by the police.