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Saving Hailey: Chapter 42

CARTER

“I asked you a question,” I seethe, summoning Rhett’s attention.

The vengeful glimmer in his eyes as he glares upward to where Hailey is makes my trigger finger tighten a fraction of an inch. He’s my father, but if he takes one threatening step Hailey’s way I will shatter his kneecaps.

“I have a better question for you.” Rhett swings his gaze my way. “Where’s the evidence?”

“Somewhere safe. You enjoy getting out in the fresh air?” I jut my chin toward the nearest armchair. “Then drop the gun and sit. You’re in no position to make demands.” Glancing between Rhett and Vaughn, I add, “Neither of you are. The evidence will bury you both if it sees the light of day.”

“You’ll turn me in?” Rhett scoffs, shaking his head. “You’re a joke, Carter.” Disdain layers his voice, but he’s not an idiot. He knows I have the upper hand so he reluctantly lowers his gun, urging Apollo to do the same.

“You’ll both get your share of the evidence,” I say, my finger grazing the trigger. “But it’ll cost you.”

I have this figured out. Vaughn’s price is retirement. Either he hands over his gun and badge, or the pictures will find their way to his superior’s desk by Monday.

If he retires he won’t try to bust my ass at every turn. It’d be a shame to have my future father-in-law build a case against me. No fucking way will I allow Vaughn to separate me from his daughter.

She’s mine now.

As for Rhett… well, I guess his price for freedom is more or less the same: step down quietly.

I doubt either will be pleased, but they’ve got nothing to barter with.

“What do you want me to do?” Vaughn asks, keeping a watchful eye on my father.

“Crawl into a ditch and die,” Rhett barks. “You used my daughter to clean up your fucking mess.” An arrogant, revolted smirk curls his lips. “You used your daughter. You’re a fucking disgrace. Not even the dirtiest cop I’ve ever worked with would sink as low as you did.”

“I didn’t know Alex asked Aalyiah for help,” Vaughn shoots back. “Not until it was too late.”

“You’re the reason she’s dead.” He points his finger at Vaughn. “You killed my baby girl! You, Alex, and that stupid bitch upstairs!”

“No,” Hailey’s faint voice comes from the gallery. She’s holding onto the railing, her complexion swimming between white and ghastly green, like she’s about ready to throw up. “You killed her,” she adds, eyes trained on Rhett for another beat before flicking to me. “It’s Aalyiah’s blood I saw on him that night…”

My pulse roars in my ears.

The atmosphere shifts in an instant.

Hailey’s words crash over me like a tsunami and the rage marring my father’s face crumbles, replaced by a burgeoning horror.

“You… what did you say?” Rhett stutters, his voice a fractured whisper, disbelief etched into every syllable.

“I saw you,” Hailey denotes, pushing away from the railing to shamble down the stairs. “You asked Aalyiah why she was at the warehouse… she was there to meet me.”

I’m frozen, fucking suspended in time, drinking every word from her mouth, but not processing them quickly enough.

The accusation sounds absurd.

Abstract.

As if spoken in an ancient, long-dead fucking language.

She’s saying that Rhett murdered his own daughter. The child he wanted. The child he planned, nurtured, and loved. The apple of his eye, his very reason for existence.

It’s unbelievable but Rhett’s silence fucking screams.

Guilt lines his face, regret glimmers in his eyes, and his shoulders slump under the weight of his actions.

“She begged you not to hurt Alex…” Hailey continues, still stumping down the stairs. “She told you she loved him and you… you shot her.”

A heavy silence engulfs us, punctuated by the drumbeat of my heart and Hailey’s dazed footsteps. She pauses halfway down when Broadway holds his hand out to stop her.

“You said she committed suicide,” I seethe at Rhett, grasping my gun tighter. “You lied through your teeth! How could you kill your own daughter?!”

“It was an accident,” he stammers, a feeble attempt to justify the unjustifiable. “I didn’t mean to, I… I don’t even know how it happened. That whole night is a blur. The last thing I remember clearly is someone texting me a picture of Alex and Aalyiah, captioned he’s a cop.”

“Someone?” I spit out. “Not even you knew Aalyiah was dating him, so who the fuck tipped you off?!”

“I did.”

The admission fills the room like a church bell.

Vaughn’s words are a match tossed into dry grass and as they roll off Vaughn’s tongue all hell breaks loose.

Rhett explodes with a vengeance.

Time slows to a crawl as he raises his gun at Vaughn.

At the same time, Hailey cries out a resounding no! The pain and fear layering her voice are the last fucking straw. The last sin Rhett Willard will ever commit.

I pull the trigger.

The sound of my bullet leaving the chamber with a bang!isn’t the only bang ripping through the loft. Rhett’s tommy gun spits out a round of ammo just as my bullet strikes home.

My father goes down, a chunk of dead meat…

So does Vaughn.

Hailey’s scream pierces the momentary trance. It shatters the eerie calm that permeated my bones when the gaping gunshot wound filled the center of Rhett’s forehead.

My body winds up tight, combat-ready when Hailey rushes to Vaughn’s side, skittering down the stairs. Her hands shake so hard she can’t apply enough pressure to his wounds.

“Dad!” she cries out, her panic palpable in the air. “Please, stay with me!”

I lower my gun, dropping it, eyes swinging back to Rhett’s contorted face, his skin paling by the second. Apollo’s not in the doorway anymore, gone the second his boss hit the ground.

I’m not surprised.

My Glock clatters against the floor.

Checkmate. The king has fallen.

All the lies he’s told over the past few months replay louder and louder in my head, cutting me deeper and deeper. He murdered my sister. He murdered his own daughter and threatened the safety of everything I hold dear.

It’s particularly beautiful tonight… the chaos.

The undeniable, twisted carnage.

Nothing will ever top the beauty of the crimson puddle expanding around my father’s head.

He got what he deserved.

The sharp contrast between life and death makes my head spin when my gaze moves from Rhett to Hailey. Vaughn’s still breathing, sputtering blood like he’s desperate to say something. Judging by his terrified eyes glued to his daughter’s face, he wants to apologize.

“Help me,” she whispers and begs with those gorgeous blues as they flicker toward me. “Please… don’t let him die.”

I couldn’t even if I wanted to.

Letting Vaughn bleed out would bring Hailey pain and that’s one thing I can’t fucking handle.

Dropping to my knees beside her, I lift Vaughn’s shirt, counting the gunshot wounds. Rhett fired off a whole round, but most of the bullets missed the target.

It’s not much consolation. Three found their mark and Vaughn’s bleeding out fast. With two holes in his stomach and another in his thigh, his survival hinges on making fast decisions.

“Broadway, call an ambulance,” I bark, tying my belt around Vaughn’s thigh. “Tell them we’re in the underground parking lot. Koby, get Jeremy Smith here and tell Dante what happened.”

Within moments we’re in the elevator and Hailey’s kneeling by Vaughn, begging him to stay with her. His eyes are hazy, but trained on her pretty face while she swears that he’ll be okay.

For the longest time, he clings to life, clings to her and her words. He feeds off her strength… until he doesn’t.

The ambulance sirens grow louder in the distance when Vaughn heaves his last breath. His chest doesn’t rise again, the hand Hailey’s holding goes limp, slipping out of her grasp, his eyes close, face pales…

And once again all hell breaks loose.

Hailey dives into a frenzy.

The wail that tears from her mouth will haunt me till the day I die. She screams, begs, then thrashes against my hold with such ferocity I struggle to keep her safely caged in my arms.

My heart breaks for her, for the nightmare she lived through, and the new one that’s just begun.


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