The rest of the drive to Kearny passed in silence. Because what the hell was I going to say, knowing that Liam might overhear every word? On that note, why might Liam overhear every word? Was he just paranoid by nature? Was that where Jakob got it from? Admittedly, I’d just met Liam. I knew nothing about him besides what Jakob told me and what I’d seen with my own eyes. Liam seemed stable enough, but for all I knew, he was secretly a control freak who bugged all his vehicles because he wanted to hear every word spoken outside of his hearing.
Oh, Sweet Christ on a Couch. Jakob got me off in the mustang yesterday.
I started to turn toward him in horror but stopped myself. The mustang didn’t even have automatic windows, let alone enough circuitry to support a complex bugging system. I hoped. And would Jakob have fingered me knowing that his father would overhear every sound we made? I didn’t think so. Sure, he hadn’t given a shit about being seen in the Kings’ driveway last night, but being briefly glimpsed through tinted windows and eavesdropped on for a prolonged period were two totally different things. Plus, he’d been much more talkative in the car, much more open with me – I mean, at least for Jakob he was – whereas he’d barely said two words since we’d climbed into the van.
I let out a shaky breath and tried to calm down. Okay, so Liam probably hadn’t heard his son get me off. But he still sent us out today in a vehicle that might be bugged. After suggesting that Jakob take some Specters with him.
I thought back to the tension of our discussion on the patio, the open worry on Liam’s face, knowing that his son might be heading into danger. Was Liam just an anxious father? Jakob was their only kid; I could understand him being overprotective. Or was something else going on?
Back in the cornfield, Jakob hadn’t been acting like Jakob. I thought of the near-desperation of his kiss, the way he’d hauled me so far away before answering my questions, his hurry to get back in the van after mentioning his father might be looking at the GPS tracker. It all made it seem like Jakob was almost…afraid of his father, or at the very least, wary of him. He sure as shit didn’t want him to know who we were about to go visit.
I started to look back over the past few days and question my perception of everything that happened. While I’d been so focused on Daniel King and his mysterious buddy, Redding, should I have instead been thinking about Liam Larson?
I tried to remove myself from the situation and look at it from the perspective of an outsider. My dislike of Daniel King made me want to think that he was up to no good. That he was the kind of man who would endanger innocent people like my grandmother just to get ahead in the world. And really, who could blame me for that? He’d thrown Jakob and me under the bus the day after learning about our fake relationship. He’d broken into Jakob’s apartment and then treated him like dogshit.
But now that I was thinking about it, really thinking about it, I realized how much my own bias might have skewed my view of recent events.
As much as I disliked him, as much as it rankled, I knew that Daniel King was good for this town. That he cared about this town. Was he highly problematic? Yes. Was he a volatile megalomaniac that I would never, ever let myself be alone with? Also, yes. But again, not everything was black and white. The characters of most people I’d met were shaded in hues of gray, and as much as it pained me to admit it, that included Daniel King.
Not a single function happened in Kearny without him being involved in some way, whether that be by donating his time or his money. He was a judge at the annual 4H fair. The Kings sponsored three of the local youth sports teams. They’d even started a summer camp for underprivileged children, so they had someplace to go during vacation, and their parents could keep working without having to worry about paying for two months of childcare. Daniel’s wife, Eva, sat on half of the town boards, and where most of the folks in Kearny had a healthy fear of Daniel, they viewed Eva as a legitimate community leader. They trusted her opinions. They looked to her for guidance.
It made no sense that The Kings would do so much to keep this town safe and thriving just for Daniel to turn around and bring drugs into it, and the more I reexamined my original theory, the more I saw the gaping holes in it.
Because, really, what did Daniel King have to gain by destabilizing Kearny? How would a border war with a subchapter of The Bandits help him throw off the oversight of Liam Larson and The Specters?
Maybe I wasn’t devious enough, maybe I wasn’t good at thinking outside of the box, but any way I came at that question, I still ended up in the same place. Even if Daniel was angling to start a war just to make it look like The Specters couldn’t protect their own people, Kearny and Daniel King would still suffer because of it. And a big ugly fight like that would draw national attention, something The Kings, The Jokers, The Specters, and The Bandits would want to avoid at all cost, because with national attention came federal focus, and no one wanted to give the FBI a reason to invade.
After poking at this problem for a solid ten minutes, I didn’t see any way that kind of tactic would work for Daniel or even be beneficial to him. And I’d bet good money that Daniel King didn’t do anything unless it benefited Daniel King in some way.
So what the hell was really going on here? Who had the most to gain from weakening his hold on the town? The head of The Jokers was a prime candidate. With Daniel out of the way, it would create a power vacuum in Kearny that they could try to slip in and fill. But they would never pull that off without one hell of a fight from the rest of The Kings. The clubs hated each other. Their rivalry went too far back for The Kings to accept the yolk of leadership from The Jokers, and lord knew The Specters would never let it happen without one hell of a fight. Which brought me back to no one wanting to bring the attention of the feds down on their heads.
Maybe the point wasn’t to take over The Kings’ territory. Maybe The Jokers only wanted to destabilize The Kings so they wouldn’t be competition anymore.
Or maybe it was something else.
I turned in my seat, looking at Jakob but thinking about his father. Liam Larson. A man who, from all appearances, loved his son more than almost anything else in the world. Worried about him. Was proud of him. Probably wanted the best for him. To see him rise to the same kind of influence and power that Liam had.
The quickest way to make that happen was to get rid of the man standing in his son’s way. Daniel King wasn’t great to Jakob. Maybe Liam had seen that and didn’t like it. Maybe Liam thought he’d have greater influence on Kearny and The Kings if his son headed the club.
Liam must have known how loyal his son and the other members of the club were to Daniel. So how would he go about dethroning Daniel without The Kings suspecting his involvement?
The answer was obvious: by framing him. By bringing in a man from Daniel’s past and setting him up as the head of a rival drug operation right on Kearny’s doorstep to make it look like Daniel had to know about it. That he had to be involved.
And I had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.
Jakob glanced over at me, feeling my regard, and I started to look at him in a new light. I’d been thinking of him as the strong silent type, but what if I was as wrong about him as I’d been about his father? He’d grown up in the MC world. How young was he when he first dipped his toes into the politics of the bigger clubs? Had Liam spoon-fed him a steady diet of paranoia and coercion all his life? Taught his son how to toy with others? How to stand in the background and manipulate events like a puppet master pulling the strings of his marionettes?
How long had Jakob suspected his father’s involvement? Because from everything that had happened over the past few days, it was pretty obvious that he didn’t think Daniel was behind everything.
Had he known since that first night in the bar? Jakob was the one to approach me and strike up a conversation, and later I’d learned that he’d looked into me when I moved to town. Had he already known that Gran was in Magnolia? Had he dropped that cryptic comment about her safety, hoping to reel me in?
Jesus, had he intentionally trapped me in his apartment and seduced me all so he could use me to weasel his way into Magnolia and get a look at what was going on for himself?
I leaned away from him, feeling sick to my stomach. Because it seemed…possible.
Don’t get ahead of yourself, Krista.
I took a deep breath and tried to shove my anxiety down. I’d jumped to conclusions about Daniel, and look where that had got me. After everything I’d been through with Jakob over the past several days, the least he deserved was the benefit of the doubt.
I turned to frown out my window, setting my unease about Jakob aside for a minute. There was still the problem of my apartment. If Liam was behind everything, had he ordered someone to trash it? Or had Redding and his goons done that on their own?
I circled back to an earlier question I’d asked myself: who had the most to gain in this situation? By trashing my apartment, the goons would send the message that I wasn’t safe and that I should stop sticking my nose where it didn’t belong, but Liam…
If Liam was anywhere near as manipulative as I was starting to think he was, then it was plausible that Redding had told him about his son showing up at the nursing home, and who his son had been with. Had he also told Liam that I said Jakob was my boyfriend? If so, what better way to keep his son away from Magnolia and Kearny than by making him believe his alleged girlfriend wasn’t safe there? After all, Jakob’s initial response was to pull me out of Kearny and bring me home, placing us right beneath Liam’s thumb. My trashed apartment would ensure he stayed right there.
My head started to spin. If Jakob had already suspected Liam’s involvement by then, he might have known Liam could be the one behind my trashed apartment and had brought me home because he wanted to play right into Liam’s hand. It meant Jakob could keep an eye on Liam while simultaneously making Liam believe that Jakob had no idea what was really going on. Because if Liam was willing to have my apartment ransacked, and maybe even go so far as to have Dr. Perez attacked, what was next? Ordering someone to hurt me? Or Gran?
The blood drained from my face. Oh, God, I left her there with him.
I could wait until we got to Kearny before I started interrogating Jakob, but the question of Gran’s safety had to be answered now.
As we wound out of Hill Country and descended back into civilization, I pulled my phone from my purse and punched something into my note app in caps, waiting until we rolled to a stop at a light before shoving it beneath Jakob’s nose.
It read, IS MY GRAN REALLY SAFE WITH YOUR PARENTS?
Jakob reached out and gripped my shoulder, dropping his shades so he could look me in the eyes. “Yes,” was all he said, and from the conviction in that one word, it was clear that he believed she was.
But did I? If Liam was willing to destroy my apartment just to get his way, how far would he really go? Who else would he hurt?
And for that matter, how far would Jakob go?
Had anything between us been real?
One thing was for certain; Jakob and I needed to have a long conversation once we got out of this van.
Copyright © 2020 by Navessa Allen
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.