Jade shoved a flimsy branch out of her face and trudged through the woods. The sun had gone down over an hour ago, and she couldn’t see her hand in front of her face, much less the dark tree trunks she ever so gracefully kept running into. The woods at night didn’t tend to scare her, but these woods were . . . different—too quiet. The owls didn’t even hoot.
“Jade,” Erica’s voice scared the birds out of the trees. “The show’s coming on.”
How did they expect her to watch a show with them if she had to tune out another session of sloppy noises coming from Aidyn and Erica sucking faces on the couch?
A week in, and the two had entered the infamous spooning stage. Ugh. Thank God her sister didn’t pick the room next to her. Jade, on the other hand, stayed down by the lake, drawing for the most part. Sometimes Zeke and Jason would join her, and other times she would sit down there alone on the shore. She never stayed past sundown like this before. Next time, she’d bring a flashlight.
The dim porch lights shined through the thick vines and bushes. She struggled toward them with her blue Nike shoes slipping in the mud, and the leaves of the brush smacking and scratching her cheeks. As she neared the edge of the tree line, a rebel root of an oak tree caught the cuff of her pants leg, jerking her back as she tried to step forward.
Bending down, she fiddled with it, tugging and prying at it like a five year old playing tug of war with an imaginary friend. She gave the root the evil eye and pulled upwards on her pants leg. The shoe of her free foot dug into the dirt, while both her hands strained as they pulled. Gritting her teeth, she yanked back once, twice. Third time was the charm, the snap of the root sending her stammering backwards a couple of feet unbalanced on one foot . . . until she crashed against something extremely hard, big, and man.
She heard a deep inward hiss as two large hands shoved her back the way she came, and yet again she went sailing across the lawn. This time there was nothing to catch her fall, except for the ground as she tumbled face first to the dirt. Her cheek smacked the ground and she groaned, rolling onto her back, feeling a soreness consume her muscles.
The definition of evil towered over her with a snarl on his lips and a mean glint in his eyes as he glowered down at her. From the ground, Dom looked like a giant preparing to squash a bug. He was covered in crimson from the waist up, his chest glistening in it. Blood stained his arms, his face, and his hands. A sudden drop of her gut said it wasn’t animal blood.
His hand darted out, and out of reflex, she shrank against the soil, eyes closed, breath quickening as she counted the seconds for some sort of pain to ensue. Instead, he grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and pulled her off the ground with a rough tug. He dropped her to her feet, letting go of her just as quickly as he had helped her up. A stinging pain ran from the soles of her heels and up the back of her legs from the impact.
She contemplated saying “thank you”, but then wondered if it was necessary since he did push her in the first place. Her mouth seemed to be sewn shut as she stared at her feet. Bloody fingerprints stained her shirt. The copper scent wafted from the fabric, plaguing her nose.
She rubbed her throat and grew some balls. “Sorry.”
She grimaced as he let out another frustrated grunt, his black gaze holding nothing but fury as she peeked up at him. He shook his head as if annoyed and pivoted on his heel, stalking toward the house like an irate leviathan.
Stupid human. Dom wasn’t sure if he was mad about the human bumping into him, or mad at himself for feeling guilty at the way she had closed her eyes and cowered away.
He usually loved the fear he evoked out of humans. But her being afraid he’d hurt her—for some damn reason he hadn’t liked at all.
It made him feel like shit. Especially when he became aware of the fact he was still splattered with his lunch, which he can say wasn’t some poor animal. When thrown into a rage, he got a little . . . kill happy.
He cracked his neck and placed his palms on the dark granite counter of his sink. He stared into the foggy mirror that lined the white tiles of the bathroom wall, watching his face slowly appear on the glass. Water dripped from his chin to his chest as he stared at the scar over his eye. His mind picked through all the battles he fought and won. But that scar was from the only person he didn’t win against. Couldn’t win against.
It was supposed to be a reminder, and it served its purpose, triggering the memories each time he looked in the mirror.
The dark shadows beneath his eyes were growing darker, and they’d be staying that way at the rate of his non-existent sleeping habits. Soulless, ebony eyes glared back at him. He wiped a hand over the glass, cutting a pathway through the mist.
Those weren’t his eyes.
They weren’t who he really was. Were they? Had he really lost himself in this hate? In this evil he called home?
No. Dom could keep telling himself he hadn’t, but he had.
Grabbing a towel from the rack, he stepped into his room and paused as he caught a glimpse of a picture peeking out from behind the dresser. He picked it off the floor, running his gaze over it before setting it on the tattered book. He dragged the towel over his face and chest, and pulled out the first drawer of his dresser, taking out a pair of blue jeans and putting them on.
His stomach rumbled, and the smell of barbeque called to him as if he were a starving dog. He’d swing downstairs, snatch a few wings—and by a few wings, he meant thirty—and then barricade himself in his room again.
He nearly drooled as he headed for the kitchen, eyes trained on the glass dish that set on the island. As he reached the counter, he frowned.
One? They left him one chicken wing? Did they know who he was? He was a big man with a big appetite, and one chicken wing wouldn’t even satisfy a hungry orphan.
But he ate it and grabbed a bottle of Jack from the fridge. On his way back through the dark dining hall, he slowed his steps and looked around. The air smelled of hot sauce and spicy barbeque, and the TV from the lounge blared Family Guy. Voices floated from the room. He leaned his shoulder to the wall and peeked inside. His eyes lit up as he spotted the chicken wings piled in a giant bowl on the coffee table. He licked his lips, wanting to go in and steal them.
Except an idiot was standing in his way.
“I don’t have a bubble butt.” Zeke’s face scrunched as he stood in front of the table, licking his fingers as he finished a wing. “It’s just very . . . toned.”
“Bubble butt.” The redhead giggled.
“Jade, tell her I don’t have a bubble butt.”
“She’s kind of telling the truth though,” Jade said, reaching for another wing.
Zeke spun around. “Whatever. You both still like it.”
Jade took a sip from her glass. “Your brother’s is better.”
“Are you kidding me?” Zeke’s face reddened as he pointed to Aidyn. “He doesn’t even work out.”
She crossed her legs. “I wasn’t talking about him.”
“Dom?” Aidyn’s brow rose as he stole another chicken wing from the pile.
In the darkness, a smile formed on Dom’s lips.
“But Dom’s an asshole.” He couldn’t deny that.
“So? That doesn’t change the fact that he has a nice ass.”
Zeke bent down and leveled eyes with her. “Yeah, well I can assure you I’m a better kisser than any man you’ve ever locked lips with.”
Zeke placed his hands on the back of the couch on either side of her head. Their noses touched as they shared a heated gaze—well, it looked pretty damn heated to him. His hand twitched. His teeth gnashed. The sudden urge to slam his brother into a wall welled inside him.
“You wanna bet?” Zeke asked and planted a rough kiss on her mouth.
The blood in Dom’s body began to boil as Zeke’s lips smothered Jade’s. A loud popping sound echoed throughout the hall, and Dom glanced down to see he’d broken the bottle of Jack Daniel’s in his hand. The whiskey poured onto the floor while pieces of the shattered glass cut deep into his palm. Ignoring the mess he made, he looked back up at Jade and Zeke, who hadn’t heard a thing.
Zeke pulled back and grinned. “Impressive, huh?”
Jade wiped her mouth and furrowed her brows. “No, somebody else has you beat in that area.”
Zeke huffed. “You’re impossible to win over. Why can’t you be easy like your sister?”
“Hey,” Erica looked insulted, “I’m not easy.”
Dom drowned out their voices and focused on Jade. Hating her and the possessive feelings she was unknowingly stirring in his gut. The strange reaction didn’t make a lick of sense. He got away from the noise and went to the dining-hall bathroom. Snatching a towel off the counter, he threw it over the glass and wasted whiskey that covered the side of the hallway. He left the mess where it lay and strode back to the bathroom and flicked on the lights. He was picking bits of glass out his palm when he sensed he was being watched. A foot out the doorway, Jade stood, staring at his bleeding left hand.
“You need help with that?” Her voice sent him into a relapse, and he had to shake himself out of it.
He answered her the only way he knew how. He glared. She got the memo fast and backed away from the door with a strange look shadowing her features. He shrugged it off and finished rinsing his cuts. When he walked into to the hallway to clean up the broken bottle, he noticed the towel and the mess were already gone. Figuring one of his brothers took care of it, he headed back to the kitchen to get another bottle.
This time, he wouldn’t break it.
Dom froze in the archway. By the back door, Jade shook the soaked towel over the garbage can, dumping glass in the trash, the pieces clattering to the bottom. She then brought it up to the sink and squeezed out the liquid. He watched as she went to the laundry room and tossed the towel in the washer. When she turned around and saw him, her hand flew up to her chest.
“Dude, you gave me a heart attack.” She let out a deep breath, tensing slightly as she headed back to the sink to wash her hands.
Dom opened the freezer, fishing out two more bottles of liquor, knowing good and well he’d drain both of them before the night was through. He snatched up a pack of Oreos from the pantry and, again, went through the dining hall.
“Hey, where are you taking my wings?” He heard Aidyn ask.
“And where’s my liquor?” Zeke sounded next.
He assumed they were talking to Jade, because in the next second she was stepping into the hallway with a large bowl in her hands. Dom’s body came to a halt as he tried not to collide with her.
“Peace offering, my mute friend?” She stared up at him, holding the dish out for him to take it.
His mouth salivated and he snatched the bowl, the greediness within him rearing its ugly head.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” she said, stuffing her hands in her pocket and rocking on her heels.
On impulse, he stuck out a bottle of whiskey.
Jade paused and glanced up at him and pointed her hands to her chest. “For me?”
He gave a stiff nod.
“Thank you.” As she took it, he avoided her fingers. “Does caveman know how to shake?”
He ignored her comment and stared at the hand she held out. Shake? He scoffed and stepped around her and carried his bowl and whiskey up the stairs.
“Guess not,” he heard her mutter.