“Why didn’t you?”
I shrug, watching out the window. “Didn’t want him to sink.”
“Even though you didn’t love him?”
I nod, not even denying it. “Even though I didn’t love him.”
When I look at him again, Adrian’s nodding, watching the road as he tells me, “You might do all right with Mateo after all.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Based on that story?”
He smirks, glancing at me. “Yeah.”
“Oh, good,” I mutter.
“Well, you don’t have to worry about that guy’s bullshit anymore,” he tells me. “Your existence has been absorbed by Mateo Morelli. Anyone your husband owed money to is likely to let it go before they bring it to him. And if they do, respectfully, he’ll take care of it. Regardless, it’s not your problem anymore.”
I don’t know how to accept that. I’m tempted to feel relief, but I’ve never had someone ease my burdens before—it’s always the other way around.
“Why would he do that for me?” I finally ask, still watching out the window. “Especially after last night. He should throw me to the wolves, not protect me from them.”
Adrian doesn’t answer at first, but then he says, “I think he likes you.”
I scoff, nodding my head. “Right. Well, he’s taken pulling on my pigtails a little far. I mean, this part’s nice, but since he just tried to set my daughter on fire last night, I feel like the signals are a little mixed.”
“He didn’t try.”
“He didn’t try. He threatened. If he tried, he would’ve done it.”
“And you’re okay working for a man who would murder a toddler?” I ask sharply.
“I don’t have a choice either,” he states.
I frown at that, but before I can ask questions he probably wouldn’t answer, Adrian says, “Do yourself a favor. Don’t hold that against him.”
I shake my head. “I don’t know what to feel about anything. He told me he may not be nice to me.”
“That’s probably true.”
“But it seems like he’s being nice to me. But then there was the crate, which… was unforgivable.”
“Would’ve been unforgiveable,” Adrian corrects.
Shaking my head, I say, “I could never do something like that. It’s not human. What if he would’ve dropped the match? You say it was only a threat, but it was a dangerous threat.”
“He had to make sure you got it. You did try to kill him,” Adrian reminds me.
“I didn’t try. I had the shit in my purse, yes, but I didn’t do anything with it. I wasn’t going to. Once I met him… I liked him.”
“Good. Then keep liking him,” he advises.
“I don’t know,” I murmur. “I’m still attracted to him physically, but I’m not that sort of woman.”
“What sort?” he asks.
“The sort who could ever care for a man who would put my daughter’s life at risk,” I state.
“Her life wasn’t at risk,” Adrian says, shaking his head.
“We’ll have to agree to disagree,” I say, folding my arms across my chest.
Adrian is quiet for several minutes, and I think he’s dropped it until he asks, “Do you remember the smell?”
Frowning, I look at him in the rearview mirror. “What smell?”
“Gasoline. It’s a strong smell, right? You draped yourself across the crate—the stench of the gasoline must’ve been so strong you could taste it, right? Would’ve been all over your clothes, your body.”
“I don’t…” I trail off, shaking my head, my mind replaying the horror of last night. He’s right, of course—get a drop of gasoline on your shoe when you’re pumping gas and you’ll smell it the whole way home, so I should’ve smelled it.
But I didn’t.
Staring at him in the rearview mirror, I wait, wordlessly. When his gaze meets mine, he says simply, “Water.”
“Water?” I repeat, dumbly.
Nodding, he says, “I told her to pretend she was a mermaid, trapped by the evil sea witch. Mommy was going to come save her.”
My mind is completely blank with confusion, and then disbelief. “They doused the crate… with water?”
Smiling slightly, Adrian says, “Don’t ever tell him I told you that.”
“But why?” I shift in my seat, sitting forward as far as my seatbelt will allow. “Why…?”
“He got his point across just as effectively without any of the risk,” Adrian states. “Mateo’s a showman. He had to perform for you.”
“He wouldn’t have really done it?” I ask, feeling a million pounds lighter.
“I didn’t say that,” Adrian says, carefully. “But he had no intention of hurting your daughter last night. He was pissed off and he wanted to scare the shit out of you, but… he didn’t actually want to hurt you. Like I said, I think he likes you. If you like him too… no point letting that get in the way.”
“Well, I don’t think he likes me now. He thinks I almost killed him.”
“It happens. You’re not the first person to try. Never try again,” he warns, glancing back at me. “You won’t survive betraying him again, I promise you that, but… Mateo could use a little sunshine in his life.”