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“You know, you weren’t part of our orders.”

Esmeralda huffed out a breath, the closest thing to a laugh that she could manage. If she wasn’t a part of their orders, then they just reveled in the beating. She wasn’t a doctor, or anything close, but she knew that she should feel something. She should still feel the screaming pain that had wracked her body earlier.

In its place though, was a cold numbness. She had lost far too much blood.

“Just tell us where the little princess is and this will be all over. You can go back to your life.”

Breathing was harder by the minute but she had more than enough energy to glare. The pair of men had dragged her into a slouched position but they still towered above her. Try as she might, she could recognize their faces or their voices. So they’d chosen someone she wouldn’t easily recognize. “What,” she wheezed, trying not to think about how she thought she could hear a gurgle in the back of her throat. “Kind of mother would that make me?”

“The living kind. Think about the Boss, about your other kid. What was his name again?” They were baiting her, taunting her with her husband and son. They must have thought she was stupid if they thought that would work. She wasn’t walking out of here, not even if she wanted to.

Besides, that wasn’t a life she could live. Esmeralda knew the man she married, the life she walked into, and none of that meant she would give up Rikku. This was probably going to be the worst part of her marriage so far. And it pained her more that she wouldn’t be there to hold them when this was all over.

Cerin had trained their girl to defend herself and had gone over what to do in a situation like this over and over again. It was dangerous being the wife of a mob boss but it was far more dangerous being Cerin’s daughter. She knew Rikku was stubborn and probably hadn’t done everything she had been told. Esmeralda just hoped that she’d gotten far enough that she hadn’t seen or heard any of this.

She was a mother first. Before she was an interior decorator and before even being a wife. She’d do everything again, just the same, because doing anything different would mean not having those two stubborn kids in her life. And since her husband wasn’t here to be the shield, she’d protect her baby until he got here.

Would be too late for her but at least their attention was still on her.  Her gaze dropped to her hand, covered in too much blood. She almost couldn’t make out the glint of gold around her finger. “Are you proud?”

“Of?”

“Planning to kill a fourteen year old girl.” Her hand was shaking but she kept her gaze on it. Let her hold onto the good memories; pretend that she was back at home and waving her kids off to go play. Or that it was the day that Cerin proposed and first slipped a ring on that finger, back when it wasn’t covered in so much blood you could barely see the ring. She could pretend to be brave with their faces in her head.

“It’s all business. They paid us handsomely to remove the little princess from the picture. Besides,” the taller of the two squatted down to get more in her face but she refused to look up. “Isn’t Cerin training her like a little assassin? A fourteen year old girl.”

“I don’t like it,” Esmeralda admitted, clenching her hand as she leaned back on her legs. She refused to look at them still but she could admit that much. “But if you people would have just left her alone, she wouldn’t have to learn all this.”

“If she’d died as a baby, we wouldn’t be here.”

They were goading her, bringing up one of the first attempts on her daughter’s life. Someone had broken into the nursery and put a poison of sorts. She didn’t remember the exact details, only that the nanny that her husband had brought in smelled it and got Rikku out. Cerin had found the man who did that and so she knew these two hadn’t been there.

While her mind was many years away, something hard flew knocked into her chest. What little breath she had left was gone as she fell back against the wall. It was a movie cliché to die in a back alley, back behind the business she’d built from the ground up. She was glad it was here though, where she had let Cerin install the extra security measures.

“One last time, Boss Lady. Where is Rikku?”

She wasn’t born into this lifestyle, wasn’t made the same way as her husband’s family. That was always the problem they had, and it carried over to her kids. As her gaze rose, she flinched at the movement she saw out of the corner of her eye. That would be the one regret she carried with her. But there wasn’t enough time to think about that. Not when a round object was pressed to her temple. It was only then that she met the gaze of her killers. Look away, baby. Don’t watch this part.

“I hope he guts you.”

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