"That girl is too much. She's beautiful, though."
"Yes she is. I'm a lucky man, to be surrounded and loved by such beautiful and talented. women."
I give him a sly grin, running my hands up the lapels of his jacket. "Promise me you'll be extra careful tonight."
"I will," he says, trailing his hands down my sides.
I take his hand and we make our way downstairs. As Blake and I hit the bottom stair, several people gasp. I look up, smiling shyly. This is only the second time I've worn a dress and it's more awkward than before. My Taurus brand is in full view , as are the scars on the top of my back. My gun holsters cover some of it, but not enough to make me comfortable.
"You look lovely, Lily," Carmen says, stepping forward to plant a kiss on my cheek.
"Yes, you're a vision," James says, taking her place to hug me.
Blake's arm is firmly around my waist. I glance up at him, a tight smile pasted on his face. I've started to notice the tension his parents create in him since learning the true fucked up terms surrounding his family life. I wish there was a way I could make things better for him where they're concerned.
Sorina, walks slowly to us. She's trying so hard to be proper for Blake. It's sweet and sad at the same time. She doesn't need to act a specific way for him. God knows I never have.
"You look pretty, Mom," she says, slipping her arm around my waist, covering Blake's.
"Thank you. So do you, kiddo."
She blushes, gazing at the floor.
"Shall we?" Dresden says, stepping toward us.
He's in a tuxedo too, and my mouth falls open. His hair is slicked back. He's clean-shaved with a light in his eyes I've never seen before.
"Don't you look dashing," I say playfully.
"Shut your face," he snaps with a smile on his lips.
We laugh, and walk toward the door. The Taurus has made no attempts since their last on the apartment, but tonight is a prime occasion for them to make a scene. Sammi has cameras in every available spots and she hacked the CCTV for the evening. If we're lucky, we can get through this without incident. My stomach's been in knots since I got out of bed, and the overwhelming sense of dread will not stop plaguing me.
Something is going to happen, and I'm praying we can stop it.
Vlad counted six Taurus members so far. Sorina's sitting at a table, close to the stage, with five other girls from the halfway house. They've been smiles and giggles all evening. I'm shadowing Blake closer than ever. He's in perfect spirits tonight, my arm draped through his, and smiles on our faces.
The dinner is Italian influenced and amazing. Blake and I both pass on the alcohol. I need my wits tonight, and wine will only dull them. The team's quiet, with no side chat sounding in my ear. The Master of Ceremonies walks onstage as we stand next to the stairs.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce tonight's host, Mr. Blake Mason."
A thunderous applause echoes throughout the room, as we move up the stairs. At the top, I let go of his arm, and he raises his eyebrows at me. I shake my head slightly. He frowns, turning to strut across the stage. Several women in the audience whistle, jealousy boiling in my veins.
"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for joining me tonight for this special occasion. As some of you know, five years ago, my beautiful sister, Shannon, disappeared from outside a local business," he pauses, taking a deep breath.
I glance around the room, the attendees entranced as Blake speaks. My eyes fall on the members of The Taurus, scattered throughout the room. Each one angry, hate filling their eyes. I bring my communicator to my mouth.
"Keep your eyes on the hitmen. If they're going to make a move, it'll be soon."
"We got them, Viper, relax," Dresden says in my ear.
"Shortly after her disappearance we learned that she had been kidnapped. Her kidnappers sold her to a human trafficking ring known as The Taurus. This ring is one of the most deadly, and for the past several years, my dear sister was lost within their grasp.
"Recently, thanks to an amazing agent from Interpol," he says, looking at me with affection in his eyes. "Shannon was returned to us. Tonight, we celebrate her homecoming, and we celebrate the countless number of women and children who have survived this horrific organization."