When I’m presented with a semi unconscious Carnie, carried between Keeler and Brassic and dumped unceremoniously onto the long wooden table that runs down the center of the room, I’m a little buzzed myself. They lay Carnie out on his front, his back bare and just begging for some fresh ink.
The Widowers surrounding me, each and every one of them wearing their cuts with pride, all stand around and watch as I fire up the tattoo gun and begin my work. Carnie sleeps like a baby through the entire fucking thing. Probably for the best. Three and a half hours later, I’m well and truly fucked on good whiskey and Carnie has a perfectly straight, perfectly perfect Widow Makers New Mexico patch inked into his skin.
“It’s a fucking masterpiece,” Keeler laughs, slapping me on the back. “You’re the only motherfucker I know who can tattoo someone when they’re falling off their fucking chair, Boss.”
“Fuck you, Keeler,” I laugh. “All right. Someone get this sorry bastard out of here. Shay, maybe you can make sure he’s taken care of when he wakes up, huh?”
Shay, the girl Carnie’s been trying to impress since the day we brought him back here as a prospect, shoots daggers at me. “I’m not his goddamn old lady, Rebel. I thought the Widowers didn’t do old ladies?”
Her tone is shitty to say the least. I lift an eyebrow at her, too drunk to be fucked with warning her to watch her mouth, but sober enough to tell her what I think of her attitude with one look. “I didn’t ask you to wipe his ass for him. I asked you to look out for him. We clear?”
She looks away, pouting, staring at the floor. “Sure. Of course.”
Cade’s at my side, then, throwing his arm over my shoulder. “Time we shut this mother down,” he sighs.
“You gonna be hung over in the morning?”
I punch him lightly in his ribs. “When have I ever been hung over?” It’s true. I can drink until I pass out—not that I do that very often—and still be fighting fit when I wake up. It’s a god given talent.
“Whatever, man. You need to get your ass to bed. Don’t forget. You have a girl to charm tomorrow.”
I grunt, trying to tell myself that I almost forgot about the beautiful woman I have locked in my cabin over the ridge. That’s pretty fucking laughable, though. Throughout getting Carnie so fucked his eyes began to work independently, and through every minute I was pouring liquor down my throat, marking someone’s skin for life, marking him as one of my own, I hadn’t forgotten about her.
She was all I was thinking about.
It’s three am, when I’m headed in the direction of the cabin, the girl still on my mind, that I get the text from Leah McPherson. I can just about make out the words:
Your father’s term is ending. He needs you to come home and keep up appearances. It’s just for one night, big brother. Will you come?
I lay on the bed, wondering if he’s actually going to return or not. Sleep doesn’t come easily. On my back, staring up at the ceiling, I jump at every sound or creak in the cabin. I want to be alone, but then again I almost find myself wishing Cade or Rebel would come back, simply so I would have someone to be angry at. Being angry at them from afar is just as easy as it is in person, but face to face has its benefits. I’m hoping, despite how futile that hope might be, that one of them will finally realize how evil this is and let me go. Of the two men, my money is not on Rebel. He was so frustrated when I refused to do what he wanted me to. I get the feeling he doesn’t get told no a lot.
I fall asleep eventually. I dream that I’m at Dad’s work, at St. Peter’s, and both Dad and Sloane are working over me, trying to save my life. I have a gaping hole in my chest, and blood is pouring everywhere. Sloane keeps leaving instruments inside my chest cavity. She’s crying and so is Dad, but my sister is inconsolable. She’s sobbing so hard she can barely speak as Dad tells her what to do. I want to remind her to take out the scalpels and retractors and swabs she’s leaving inside me, but my body won’t respond. I have no voice.
Dad straightens up and wipes the back of his hand across his forehead, smearing blood everywhere. His mouth pulls into a tight line—a look of disappointment I’ve seen many times before. “That’s it. She’s a lost cause,” he says. “Nothing more we can do.” He turns to Sloane and throws his arm around her shoulder, pressing a kiss against her temple. “Never mind, pumpkin. I suppose I still have you.” He turns around and begins removing his gloves and gown, but Sloane bends down and whispers in my ear.
“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…”
“Stop that, Romera. I told you. She’s gone.” I can’t figure out why Dad’s calling Sloane by her last name. He pulls her away, but she fights him. She grows more and more hysterical and he wrestles with her, dragging her off down a long, white corridor.
“All the king’s horses! All the king’s men! All the king’s horses!”
I’m not listening to her, though. I’m sitting up on the gurney, reaching into my chest, searching for the instruments that were left behind. My fingers don’t touch upon anything for a moment, and then I find what I’m looking for. I remove both hands, covered in blood and gore, but I’m not holding scalpels and swabs. In one hand, I’m holding my fake ID, smeared with blood—Sophia Letitia Marne, smiling out of the photo. In the other hand, I’m holding a gun.