Chapter Twenty-Three

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By the time we arrived, a car was already parked in the house's driveway, and it wasn't Seth's. We exited the cab after paying the cost of the trip, and trodged towards the house carrying our shopping bags.

As we neared the front door, it became clearer who the car belonged to as the familiar, random wave of excitement rushed through my veins. Stepping inside the house, a mixed aroma of mahogany and rainwater wafted through the air.

We stopped at the living room where we spotted some heads. Dropping our bags to the floor, we circled around to enter the living area and face whoever occupied the couches. Across from Elliot and Noah sat Xavier, his back straight and fingers interlocked over his lap as if he was waiting patiently for our return. At the same moment, our eyes met, and his silver orbs shimmered under the lights.

"Took you guys long enough," Noah murmured, standing up. He turned towards the kitchen, "anyone want a drink?" He yelled back as he continued walking, not even waiting for an answer.

"What are you doing here?" I asked Xavier. He stood up and inched closer, stopping a feet away.

"I heard about what went down in town," he replied. "And I suddenly realized that I failed to assure you-" he stopped and looked around at everyone else in the room, "all of you - that no harm will ever get to you in this town. The entire state, actually. Rest assured that you have my full protection here."

Elliot hesitantly nodded. "And we are very grateful for it. Thank you."

"But what about the man from earlier? The driver?" Ariel asked. Elliot tensed at her words, his shoulders straightening.

"What man?" He seethed.

"The driver, Luca, I had truly sent to pick you up, since I had heard Seth had to go off to care to a business of his own, and you had no ride back." Xavier reassured Ariel, and simultaneously three pairs of eyes - Xavier's, Ariel's, and Bella's - turned to me. Ariel pursed her lips and raised her brows, as if silently saying "I told you so!"

I rolled my eyes. "Well, how in the world was I supposed to trust a complete stranger inviting us to ride in his car, at a time when we are literally being hunted down?"

Ariel went silent, pondering over my answer.

"You made the right move, Nora. I realize I should have personally informed you that I'd send a driver for you. I apologize for the confusion," Xavier said, offering a small smile.

I nodded in understanding, telling him its alright.

"Would someone explain to me what went down?" Elliot was clenching his jaw, not liking being left in the dark. Bella went on a rant about what happened, from the moment I went off to a different shop to the point where I - apparently - "shoved" them into the backseat of the cab. I rolled my eyes at her exaggeration, making it clear to everyone present that I was not that violent. Bella chuckled.

"Why did you go off on your own?" Elliot turned to me, frowning. I shrugged nonchalantly, telling him I just needed to grab some necessities.
"Yeah, but you don't go off alone when we're clearly being hunted down." He repeated my words from earlier; and for some reason, his words triggered me.

I clenched my jaw, and spoke through gritted teeth. "I'll be fine on my own."

Elliot stepped away from his seat, inching closer to me. "This isn't the time to play stubborn, Nora."

"I'm not being stubborn. I'm just telling you that I'll be fine on my own." I stood my ground, my hands clenching by my sides.

"Oh, yeah? Fine like you were last time you decided you're fit to take on shit on your own?" His face was turning a light shade of red, and his eyes looked wild as he stared me down.

"And I did take it on, didn't I?" I growled.

"Yeah, like a champ."

My fist flung forward involuntarily, aiming to hit him square in the jaw. But halfway through, a strong arm wrapped around my waist and pulled me back, so my fist met the air. I stumbled forward and would've fallen had the arm not been secured tightly around me.

I thrashed in the arms of my captor, demanding they let me go.

"Snap out of it, Nora! Our entire lives are in danger now. One wrong move and everything could go downhill. We need to stick together!" Elliot yelled as I gave the chest behind me a strong shove and set myself free. I turned to glare at Xavier, whose arms slowly fell down to his sides once again. His jaw was also clenched, and he stared between Elliot and I as if he was searching for an answer among us.

I turned to spit more words at Elliot, but the second our eyes met, I shut my mouth. I bit the inside of my cheek, trying to calm myself down so I don't make a bigger deal out of what happened.

"What's going on?" Someone asked in the distance, but my heart was clenching and unclenching so hard that I couldn't remove my eyes off of Elliot's.

"Screw you," I finally spat, his words from earlier leaving an aching hole in my chest. Elliot's eyes widened for a fraction of a minute, not expecting my words. They softened as he opened his mouth to reply, and at the same moment my vision started blurring, and I took that as my cue to leave before the tears came streaming down.

I shoved past his shoulder and strode out of the living room, hearing footsteps following behind me as Ariel immediately started going off at Elliot.

Warm fingers suddenly wrapped around my arms and halted me in my track. I turned around as I tried to contain the tears and came to face Xavier, who was giving me the most heartbroken, apologetic look. His eyes softened even further as he noticed my expression. "I am genuinely, very sorry to have caused you all this trouble, Nora." His tone was so low, almost as a whisper, and the pain was evident behind his voice.

I shook my head, "this one wasn't your doing."

Xavier opened his mouth, looking like he was about to push his apology further, but instead he hesitated for a few seconds.

"Let me take you away." My only reply was a frown of confusion. "Until everyone cools off," he continued.

I really wasn't feeling like staying in the same house when the tension was so high; so I nodded in approval. Xavier gave me a soft smile, and gestured towards the front door. I walked past the living room completely ignoring everyone there, not even bothering to let them know what I was up to. As I walked past, I noticed the shopping bags from earlier, and I immediately grabbed mine as well as my purse, and stalked out of the front door. Xavier stalled behind me, and I could hear him informing the rest that he will take me for a ride until things cool off, adding a promise that I will be completely safe within his presence.

I reached his car and instantly hopped into the passenger side, violently jerking the car door back shut. A few seconds later, Xavier followed and climbed into the driver seat, and without another word, he drove off down the road and away from the suffocating tension in the air.



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