Ten minutes earlier …
Crap. I smack my gum and ignore the sound of a hammer being pulled back behind me. At this point in my life, I'm not even surprised. My fingers curl around the handgun in my bag.
“Poppet,” I say, twisting my head to look at my sister. She seems surprised that I knew it was her, but I already saw her when I was onstage, standing at the front of the crowd and staring up at me. Maybe she thought the press of sweaty bodies gave her anonymity?
“Nice heels, babe,” I tell her, my voice decidedly lackluster. Even discovering the spark in my life that is Ronnie fuckin' McGuire, I haven't been able to pull myself out of this funk. Thinking your sister's being held hostage is bloody terrifying. Finding out she's actually betrayed you is heartbreaking. It might sound selfish, but I think the fear was easier to deal with than the betrayal. I nod my chin at Poppet's orange heels and lift my eyes slowly to her face. Her blonde hair hangs loosely around her shoulders and her blue eyes are sparkling with an odd mixture of pain and frustration. I'm about to make a nasty comment about her ugly arse dye job, tell her that brunette was definitely a better look on her when I notice what's clutched in her left hand. Three times as fucked as the semi-automatic she's holding in her right, there's a Goddamn kid's T-shirt rumpled in her fingers – complete with ankle biter.
Fuck a nun's dry cunt.
“Oh, shit, Poppet,” I growl, squeezing my gun tighter. If it were anyone else – Cohen, Honesty, KK – I would've already shot 'em. But … Poppet is my sister. My sister. My brain swirls with happy memories as my heart weeps in frustrated pain. This is not how things were supposed to turn out. This bitch was supposed to be in fuckin' France, living with her cheese making husband. It's not right, just ain't fuckin' right. “Who's the kid?”
“Doesn't matter, Lola,” she tells me confidently. There's a sense of conviction in her voice that scares the shite out of me. It's the kind of confidence that only crazy people get, right before they jump off the deep end and drown. She shakes the poor boy around by his shirt and a few tears escape, rolling down his cheeks as he looks at me in terrified desperation. I would say I knew my sister, that she'd never hurt a child, but this woman in front of me with the bad bleach blonde hair and the dangerous eyes? She might as well be a stranger. “What matters right now is that you've got one more chance, one chance to redeem yourself.” I rise to my feet, the sounds of Turner's and Naomi's voices blending into white noise around me. Poppet moves a step forward, keeping her gun trained on my chest, but she lets me keep my bag, doesn't even seem to notice I've got my hand all shoved up in it.
“Eh?” I lift an eyebrow and close my eyes, trying to decide exactly what it is here that's really important. I'm only going to have a split second to make a decision and once I do, that's it. “Redeem myself?” I open my eyes and find Ronnie looking back at me, mouth tight, hands shaking. Cohen Rose is standing next to him with a gun clutched in his grubby ass fingers. No. My heart picks up speed and slams into my ribcage, reverberating through my bones, liquifying them. I want to collapse to the floor, cover my head with my hands and scream. That dream I was chasin'? It's turned into a fucking nightmare. “How on earth do I go about doing that, Poppet? I was under the impression that I was one of the good guys.” I wink at her and force a smile to my face. If Cohen looks this way and sees the fear in my eyes, he'll shoot Ronnie and that'll be the end of that. Where's that stupid Irish fuck, Brayden Ryker? I'll tell you what, that ginger haired bastard isn't worth his weight in salt. Even I knew shit was going to go down tonight. Fucking hell.
“Lola, this isn't about good versus evil. There's no such thing. It's just about us versus them. You're either with us or you're with them. When I first met Stephen, you were firmly entrenched in us. But now? Now, I don't know what to think.” Poppet swallows and yanks the kid closer. I don't know how old he is – six? seven, maybe? – but it doesn't matter. The fear in his eyes is hard to miss. I examine my sister's round face, letting my gaze sneak past her to catch on Ronnie. Cohen's got him and Jesse pinned against a wall now. Ronnie's brown eyes are still focused on me, his muscles tight with barely leashed violence. If I don't act now, he will. He'll risk everything to save me, I know that.
I close my eyes again and force myself to breathe. I love Ronnie. I do. I've been scared to admit that to myself because, bloody fuck, who falls in love this fast? But it's true. That's why I couldn't do what Stephen wanted me to do. I couldn't drive Ronnie into the dirt, crush his soul, break him. And I can't be a part of Poppet's madness, not even if I love her, too. I have to make a choice now. This kid in front of me, he hasn't done anything wrong. And Ronnie? He's got so much to live for. Friends that are really family, parents that love him, kids that are gonna need him.