I do, but I don’t feel good about it.
A couple minutes later we approach a jail cell. I freeze, staring at the dark little corner of Mateo’s basement I knew nothing about, and my stomach turns upside down in protest. I realize I’m still carrying the bag of Chinese food, and it suddenly feels hilarious, but I’m too afraid to laugh.
Adrian grabs a key ring off the wall and opens the cell. “Get inside. I’ll hide the key.”
“Why are you hiding me?”
“Because I didn’t hide Beth,” he states.
A breath whooshes out of me and my legs go weak. I drop the white bag with the yellow smiley face on it, and my kung pao chicken box springs open.
Wordlessly, he pushes me into the cell. I don’t resist this time. I don’t understand what’s happening, but I trust Adrian’s intentions. I don’t know why Mateo would be a threat to me. I don’t know why all of a sudden Adrian’s asking about Castellanos—why now? Why today? Why all of a sudden? What happened? Did he get a phone call in the bathroom?
Adrian picks up the bag of Chinese food, checking it. Seeing the food inside is unharmed, he places the bag just inside the cell before closing it. I watch as he turns a lock and pockets the key.
Bars now separating us, Adrian stands on the side of freedom and tells me, “Mateo will see where I took you. He’ll come down here. I’m going to talk to him first, but whatever you do, keep to the back of the cell. There’s no second key. He can’t get inside without the one I have, and he can’t hurt you if he can’t reach you.”
“Yes, he could,” I say, wide-eyed. “He could pull out a gun and shoot me dead, and here I am caged like a fucking animal. Why would Mateo want to hurt me?”
“You know why, Meg,” he says, a little sadly.
“Why did you ask for me?”
“What?” I ask. I’m so lost that I think I might actually burst into tears, and it’s a humiliating impulse.
“You could’ve had Mia take you.”
“Take me where?” I feel like I’ve entered an alternate universe, and I’m so fucking confused.
“Don’t lie to him any more than you have, Meg. You’ll only push him closer to the edge if you do.”
With that, Adrian pushes away from the bars and goes back the way we just came, leaving me alone and completely bewildered.
It’s a long time before Mateo comes down.
In my mind, it was just a couple hours ago I was wrapped up in his arms in bed, him pressing a kiss to my hair. His body was so warm and hard beneath mine, and I felt so content.
I expect to see that warmth on his face when he appears somehow. For this to have all been some crazy, inexplicable mix-up. For him to have the key, because Adrian gave it to him, and to let me out, to take me in his arms, to explain what the hell he thought I did, but acknowledge I didn’t do it and we’re all good.
It has to be a mix-up. Why would today be the day, out of the blue, when he would discover Antonio Castellanos sent me that first night? How would that even happen? I’ve all but given up worrying about it at this point, because he’s made it clear Antonio Castellanos is a temporary problem—for better or worse.
But when Mateo shows up, I don’t even recognize him. There’s no hint of the man whose eyes sparkle with warmth when he looks at me, whose hands tenderly roam my body each night, whose lips cherish mine every time we kiss. Where before there was warmth, now there is fire—but not the kind I was hoping for. Mateo doesn’t walk to my cell so much as he prowls to my cage, an aggression in his eyes that frankly makes me thankful for the wall of bars between us.
He doesn’t speak for a long time. I don’t know if he’s waiting for me to, and boy do I want to, but Adrian’s confusing parting words to me echo in my head. What lies? The lies I’ve been telling? The omission that the man who wants him dead was, technically speaking, the one who sent me to kill him?
Okay, yeah, that’s not a small lie. But how does he know now when he didn’t this morning?
He stalks the outside of my cage, back and forth, back and forth, periodically glaring in my direction. It’s not just anger that’s rolling off him in waves—it’s rage. Hatred. There are so many flickers of various emotions across the face I adore, none of them even remotely hope-forming.
It’s when the anger slips, and I get a glimpse of pain, that I crack.
“Mateo, I don’t understand what’s going on,” I finally tell him. “I don’t understand why you’re mad at me—”