Hold on to me, my love
The world cannot forgive
Those who bear deep scars
And still know how to live.
Close your eyes, my dear,
And take the jump with me.
The flames surround us, darling,
But then they'll set us free.
They're out to get us, darling,
At each and every turn,
But we can't die, my dear,
Not unless we burn.
CHAPTER 1 – SHE WANTS ME DEAD
~SOUNDTRACK: Cazzette vc. AronChupa ft. The High – She wants me dead~
Ivy woke up with an arm draped across her waist. She cracked her eyelids open and looked around. She didn't remember much from last night and she most certainly didn't recognize this room. It looked like a random hotel room, with sheets that smelled softly like citrus, with sunlight creeping through thick curtains, with a mini-fridge in a corner and a lamp that seemed to have been knocked over. And clothes, so many clothes spread all over the floors. Some hers. The other ones, definitely not hers. So she assumed it was time to assess who this arm circling her waist belonged to.
She skillfully slid out of the grip as subtly as she could without waking up the guy. She reached down to grab the first shirt she could get her hands on and, as she put it on, she looked over her shoulder at the man still sleeping peacefully on the other side of the bed. His face didn't ring any bells, but he was pretty handsome, she had to give him that. His hair was dark brown, cut short, his lashes long and his cheekbones sharp. Somehow she remembered he had dimples and a dazzling smile. Pretty cute freckles, too. Not half bad for a one-night stand. Now if only she had a name to put to the face. Definitely something with an A. Andrew? Aaron? Arnold?
She was wasting time. It didn't matter. She'd had a task and she'd flunked. Donovan was gonna be pissed. Ivy reached for her jeans and got his instead by mistake, his wallet falling out of his back pocket. Huh. Well, now she definitely had to know. In her line of work, one doesn't simply walk out on a situation without full intel. So she picked up the guy's wallet and fished out his I.D.
The name read Noah Clark.
Ivy blinked once. Then twice. Then she smiled widely, hurrying to put her clothes on and grabbing her gun. Sliding back the gun's safety, she sat back on the bed, leaning her head against her free palm, and patiently waited for her target to wake up.
~SOUNDTRACK: Troye Sivan – Strawberries and cigarettes~
The night before~
Ivy looked around and sighed deeply. She had it on good authority that Noah Clark was gonna be here tonight. Donovan had connections all over the city and they'd been tipped off he'd be here. After all, with all of Donovan's guys that he'd caught and turned over to the police, he might as well have had a painted target on his back.
Except he wasn't here. At least Ivy didn't think so. She liked to think she would've recognized him. She'd gotten the description. Granted, she'd only seen a bunch of blurry pictures caught with traffic cams from when she'd busted her father's guys, but she liked to think it was enough. She'd worked with less on many more occasions.
Except the bastard wasn't here. For once, Donovan's sources must have been wrong, because she sat in that bar for two hours and she didn't see a single man that even remotely resembled Noah Clark. The only thing sadder than her sorry ass sitting for hours in a bar, drinking alone and smoking her way through a pack of cigarettes, was the guy sitting next to her who seemed to have sat there for almost as long as she had. Wearing the same sorry expression on his face. Scanning the crowd with the same look in his eyes as her. Poor guy must have been stood up. Come to think about it, Ivy had been stood up, too. The situation was just a tiny bit different.
She wasn't waiting for a date. She was waiting for a target.
Noah Clark was a threat to Donovan's Kowalski organization. Word around the streets was that he was a new bounty hunter that the cops had taken as a pet and, for some reason, he only went for the Crimson Skulls. Donovan didn't take well to his people being threatened. So he'd made use of the best resources he had to put an end to this Noah Clark.
Except he still wasn't here. With a loud sigh, Ivy realized tonight had been just a giant waste of time. She realized they'd need more than some stupid traffic cams if they wanted to be able to recognize the guy. She'd have Donovan get his hands on some mugshots, at least, even some yearbook pictures, and then she'd go out on the hunt again. After all, the Crimson Skulls were her family, too. She wouldn't allow that bastard to mess with her family.
She put one last cigarette between her lips and tried to light it up. After a few failed attempts, she cussed softly under her breath when it didn't ignite. Even her lighter hated her tonight.
Her cigarette still between her lips, Ivy turned sideways to face the guy who'd been sitting next to her at the bar for the past couple of hours. He'd fished a lighter out of his pocket and held it forward, motioning to light her cigarette.
Ivy regarded him closely. He had a boyish vibe to him that made her want to devour him. He seemed cute and goofy and innocent. Just how she liked them.
"Please," she shot him a feral smile, leaning forward to put the tip of her cigarette through the small flame, never taking her eyes off him. To her utter surprise, he didn't even flinch, still offering that teasing half-smile that revealed a delicious dimple.
Ivy leaned backwards in her seat, drawing the smoke into her lungs.
"Thank you," she all but whispered, and he nodded once.
"Your date stood you up?" he asked, and Ivy resisted the urge to cringe. Yeah, it sure looked like it. And even if it wasn't exactly the truth, she couldn't admit that her supposed date was a guy she was meant to kill on her father's orders.
"Guess so," she offered, the cigarette resting lazily between her fingers as she played absent-mindedly with the neck of her beer bottle.
The guy clicked his tongue. "We can't have that," he mused, the same wide smile plastered across his face. "The night is too young to be wasted."
Ivy thought about it. She'd already wasted half of it and it was clear they'd been tipped off wrong. Noah Clark wasn't here. There was no reason why she should waste the rest of it. And this guy looked fresh and sweet. The perfect kind of prey. She smiled lazily at him, enjoying the way his breath seemed to catch every time they locked eyes.
"Well, then," she tilted her head to one side, looking at him through her lashes. "Buy me some strawberry vodka and let's see what we can do about that."
His smile sealed the deal. And in no time, that same smile ended up on her lips, tasting like cigarettes and strawberry vodka.
~SOUNDTRACK: Cazzette vc. AronChupa ft. The High – She wants me dead~
Noah woke up with a gigantic headache. He could not, for the life of him, remember what the hell had happened last night. All he had were some flashes of raven black hair and sultry lips and blue eyes, and a bitter taste of strawberries and cigarettes on the back of his tongue. But the rest was blank.
Christ. He'd gone into that bar having it on good authority that Ivy Kowalski was gonna be there. He'd been there on a job. What the hell had happened in between?
With a groan, he rolled over and opened his eyes into the blinding sunlight.
And straight into the barrel of a gun.
Just like that, he was wide awake. He jumped up in bed and held his hands in front of him.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," he exclaimed. "Not cool. Give a guy a fair warning."
The girl simply smiled widely. It was the same girl from his flashbacks. The raven hair, the full lips, the clear blue eyes. The gun was an entirely new element, though.
"Hi, Noah," she said cheerfully. "Fair warning. I'm gonna shoot you."
By now, Noah was breathing heavily. He was usually pretty good at finding his way out of nasty situations, even if his life was hanging by a thread. But the fact that he was just freshly woken up and stark naked under the blanket kinda put him at a disadvantage.
"Can I at least ask why?" he sassed her, his hands still raised in the air, then instantly blamed his smart mouth. He was at gunpoint. And the chick didn't look like the kind who appreciated smart-ass humor. Not when she had the upper hand and the fucking gun.
She tilted her head to the side, almost playfully, the gun in her hand never faltering.
"Do you remember my name, Noah?" she asked slowly as if he were a stupid kid who had trouble understanding sentences.
Noah nearly groaned. Was this what it was all about? He forgot the names of his hook-ups all the time. It was a dick move, but nothing worth being shot over. If he had a bullet every time he forgot a girl's name in the morning, he'd had a full collection of them gather between his eyes and digging straight through his skull.
"Oh, don't bother," the girl rolled her eyes. "This isn't a walk of shame routine, kid. Just proper introductions." She stepped forward, the gun uncomfortably close to his face now. "My name is Ivy. Pleased to meet you."
Noah's eyes widened. Fuck.
"Ivy," he stated flatly. "As in, Ivy freaking Kowalski?"
Ivy circled him like a panther about to attack. "The one and only. How's that for a plot twist. You see, Noah, I've been looking for you."
Noah gulped loudly. Think, Noah, think. He was naked and unarmed and she was scary and had a gun. He ran all the algorithms and there was no situation where he was coming out of here alive. This was Ivy freaking Kowalski. The daughter of the biggest mobster in New York. Donovan Kowalski was a man everyone feared, and everyone knew his daughter was the one doing his dirty work. The one who disposed of loose ends. Such as Noah.
Stall, he thought. Stall until you find a way out of here.
"I'm flattered," his smart mouth got the best of him again. "A superstar mobster like you looking for a low-life like me? Humbled, really. I'm speechless."
Ivy smirked in a way that Noah could only interpret as a bit exasperated and annoyed. Oh, he knew exactly why she'd been looking for him. But he didn't need that reason pointed out to him, hanging in the air as a totally reasonable reason why she could shoot him on the spot.
"Oh, I doubt that," she mocked. "You're cocky, but not stupid. Surely you expected some kind of retribution when you started turning in our guys."
Oh, he had. He just hadn't expected to end up sleeping with the retribution.
He would've said as much as soon as he thought it, probably finally earning himself that bullet down her gun, when they were interrupted by a loud knock on the door.
In the blink of an eye, so fast Noah barely caught the movement, Ivy was sitting in front of him, the tip of her gun digging under his chin.
"Make a sound and you're dead," she hissed under her breath. Noah cursed at that tiny part of his brain that noticed how hot she was before going back to his escaping plan.
He smirked widely. Well, he at least intended to go down in style. "I'm dead anyway," he whispered low and dangerously, then raised his voice. "Come in!"
Ivy let out a series of profanity as the door clicked and opened and the housekeeper walked in. In a swift motion, Ivy turned him around and moved the gun from under his chin to under his ribs. Not a happier predicament, but definitely an improvement.
"Sorry to disturb you," the housekeeper smiled sweetly at them, totally oblivious to the gun pressed into Noah's side. "Do you need clean sheets?"
"We're fine, thank you," Ivy said curtly, but Noah knew this way his only shot at freedom. At survival. He knew of Ivy Kowalski. There was no room for mercy when she was involved. That's why when Josephine Bouvier, the prosecutor he was working for, had assigned him the task of bringing her in, Noah had known it was gonna be no walk in the park. The woman was dangerous. The woman killed. The woman was Donovan Kowalski's little lap dog. If that housekeeper walked out of here, he was done for.
"Actually," he said cheerfully before the girl could turn around and walked out of the room, ignoring the tip of Ivy's gone pressing even harder against his ribs. "You know what? You go ahead and do your thing. We know you're a very busy woman and we wouldn't wanna keep you."
He heard Ivy hiss in his ear, but it wasn't as if she could shoot him with the housekeeper in sight. Sure, there was always the possibility of shooting both him and the housekeeper, but Donovan Kowalski wasn't a fan of making too big a mess when it can be done quieter. Noah knew as much.
"No, we're—" Ivy tried to dismiss the poor girl again, but Noah just went for it. It was now or never.
"Knock yourself out, ma'am," he winked at the housekeeper, the turned towards Ivy. "Actually, sweetie, I'm just gonna go check us out right now so that we'll get out of their hair as soon as possible."
Serenely, he planted a chaste kiss on Ivy's lips like they were a sweet happy couple and quickly reached down to pull up his boxers. The plan was silly, but it worked. The housekeeper started cleaning around the room and, with her in sight, Ivy was forced to keep her gun low. Noah did his best to stay calm while getting dressed, making idle chit-chat with the housekeeper under Ivy's murderous glance, but the second he stepped out the door, he broke into a sprint.
He heard Ivy cuss and a loud yelp from the housekeeper. She'd probably knocked her unconscious so that she could chase him. Surely enough, in no time, he heard her footsteps closely behind him. He needed to get out of here. He was running down the long hallway, praying Ivy wouldn't get the bright idea to start shooting in the middle of the hotel, when he saw the elevator doors slowly closing. It was a long shot, but he was out of options.
"Hold the elevator!" he screamed.
One of the men in the elevator put his umbrella between the doors long enough for Noah to slip in. The last thing he saw was Ivy's face contorted with rage as the elevator doors closed in her face. And as the elevator started to descend, he even heard her bang her palms against the hard metal of it and grunt in frustration.
"One-night stand gone wrong?" the man who'd held the elevator smiled down at Noah.
Understatement of the year.
"You could say that," he mumbled underneath his breath, and the man chuckled.
"Mind the crazy ones, son."
If only he'd known how right he was. Noah's taste in women was notorious for being horribly bad, but from there to sleeping with the literal enemy… He'd reached a new low.
He knew Ivy would take the stairs and try to catch him in the lobby, so instead, he went up to the last floor, from there to the roof and he climbed down the fire escape. He'd dodged this one. But he had a feeling this wasn't the last he saw of Ivy Kowalski.