May. Three months since I’d returned home. I breathed in the crisp spring air the Olympic Peninsula offered. I would never live anywhere else in the world. My heart thundered in my aching chest, my feet slapping against the asphalt. I’d had to tuck my sweaty t-shirt into the waist band of my shorts, but I relished the cool morning mist on my bare chest. Finally being able to run, to work out, I felt more myself.
I turned off the main road onto my driveway, ready to run uphill for the last quarter mile. Mrs. Potter was already there, cooking me breakfast. My prize at the end of my five mile run. I broke free of the final stretch of moss covered trees, my angular, modern home beckoning me. Mrs. Potter’s small red sports car was in the driveway. Obviously I paid her enough. I slowed to a jog, then a walk, smiling. It had felt so good to run with little pain. The thick gray clouds overhead threatened rain, but I’d be tucked away against it, hopefully indulging in a steak dinner by myself, sifting through emails. It was time I chose another job.
I leaned down, ruffling a panting Kai’s ears. His tongue lolled to the side, but I could swear he wore a goofy grin. I pushed my way inside, kicking off my shoes and discreetly hiding my gun under the hall table. The sounds of breakfast preparation made its way to my ears, along with BBC radio. I rolled my eyes, using my shirt to wipe the sweat from my brow as I entered the massive kitchen.
Mrs. Potter stood at the island stovetop, scooting eggs around a pan. The smell of sizzling bacon made my mouth water. I sat down at the island across from her, smirking as I reached for a piece of cooked bacon. She swatted my hand with the greasy spatula.
“You sweaty mess!” She chided. I leaned back, sighing in contentment.
“I could have given you a hug.” I pointed out.
“Well, if you’re offering,” she winked, flirting with me as usual. I felt myself blush as her eyes scanned my naked torso.
“So many scars young man,” she said, setting aside the spatula and turning off the stove top. She grabbed a plate, shoveling eggs, bacon, and hash browns onto it. My stomach growled audibly.
“I’ve just lived an exciting life.” I said nonchalantly. I reached for a fork, digging in, forgetting my manners.
“Fank ooo.” I said around a mouthful of food. She rolled her eyes, pouring me a cup of coffee.
“Such bitter, disgusting stuff.” She quipped. I swallowed the burning food.
“Better than drinking essence of leaves.” I retorted.
“Well, it’s done wonders for me,” she pursed her lips, patting her perfectly bobbed hair. I smiled, returning my attention to the decadent breakfast.
“There’s fruit in the fridge and enough supplies for dinner, young man. I’m afraid I’ll just have to shop for you tomorrow. My granddaughter has her first dance recital this evening.” She said, beaming with pride. I nodded grudgingly. As soon as I began working out, my appetite was sure to skyrocket. Kai whined at my side, begging. I shoved him away with my leg, shooting him a menacing glare. He trotted around the island, knowing his chances were better with a sympathetic woman.
“Oh,” Mrs. Potter said, her voice tinged with sadness as she reached for the remote and turned up the volume on the kitchen TV. She was the only reason I had the damn things, so she could watch the news or her shows while she worked. I paid no mind to the newscaster, completely engulfed in feeding myself.
“Police have interviewed the girl’s father, Greg Fawkes, as a suspect now.” The man said. My brow furrowed as I turned around to stare at the screen. An aging man with a tuft of white and gray hair stood before a plethora of microphones, teary eyed and sullen.
“Please, if anyone has any idea where my sweet Ellie is, please just bring her home.” He held up a different photo of the missing girl, a picture of her in a volleyball uniform. My heart clenched. I hadn’t given her much thought since the night of the party. If she wanted to ruin her life with the Baptiste boys, then she wasn’t as smart as these people made her out to be. I gripped my fork hard as I stared at her angelic face, thinking of her and Gerard that night. Thinking of him plowing her.
“Oh that poor man! I cannot even imagine,” Mrs. Potter said, shaking her head. “And now they make him a suspect because they have no leads? Disgusting police work, if you ask me.” She tutted.
Then her eyes fell to me and narrowed.
“Are you the one working the case?” She glared. I choked on a piece of bacon.
“No,” I rasped, my eyes watering.
“Hmph. Maybe you should be. I bet things would get done proper around there with your menacing presence.”
Indeed they would, I thought bitterly. If only she knew I was on the other side of the law. She sighed, moving about her work.
“I’ll finish cleaning the kitchen before I leave.”
“Here,” I stood, searching for my discarded wallet. I handed her a few hundred dollar bills for groceries and other supplies. “Keep the change,” I winked. She batted her eyes at me and fanned herself with the bills.
“I’ll do just that.”
I chuckled, discarding my plate in the sink before heading to the stairs to shower. My phone pinged before I entered my room.
What are you doing tonight?
I snorted, pushing into my room and closing the doors behind me before typing back.
I waited for his response as I undressed. Ping.
Come to Gerard’s. Boy’s night.
I ran a hand through my sweaty hair.
Because I was actually invited to a boys night. When is that ever gonna happen again.
He had a point. I shoved my way into the bathroom, cranking on the hot water of the shower and stepping back.
He answered as soon as I’d pressed send. I rolled my eyes at his enthusiasm. I considered for moment before answering. Why the hell would Gerard invite Jonah and not me? I felt a pit in my stomach. They probably wanted to play some cruel prank on him. Something just bad enough to cause him utter embarrassment, but good enough that our father’s wouldn’t be at each other’s throats. I growled into my hand, peeking at my phone through my fingers. I picked it up, ready to respond. Jonah made it there first.
Fine. I’ll meet you there.
I tossed my phone onto the granite counter, stepping into the scalding hot water of the shower.
I sorted through emails until the late afternoon, the storm finally hitting in full force as rain spattered the windows. It was a calming sound. Mrs. Potter had left an hour ago, telling me I worked too hard. I couldn’t deny that observation. My father had forwarded me numerous small jobs, most within the country. Some were in France, Germany. I sighed in frustration, sitting back in my swivel chair.
Which to choose.
My phone buzzed. I reached for it, answering without having to look and see who it was. I knew he’d be calling me soon.
“Hello.” I said.
“You’ll be at family dinner next Sunday, I presume, or you can break the news to your mother. Five pm.”
I sighed again, raking my hand through my hair and glancing at the calendar hanging on my wall. Entirely blank.
“Fine.” I muttered.
“Thank you, Nick.”
“You’re welcome, dad.”
“I sent you some new proposals for a bigger job. Look into it for me.” Click. I brought my phone away and stared at the black screen. My father and I were very similar men; simplistic, non-emotional, and stubborn. Jonah was more like my mother; kind-hearted, artistic, smart as could be. At least we each picked up where the other left off. It’s what made our family so successful.
I glanced at the clock. Shit. I stood, shutting my laptop and rushing to get dressed. I’d be late, but at least I was going.
I dressed in jeans and a plain black shirt, putting my holster on my belt. I didn’t trust the Baptiste boys and the crowd they ran with. Carrying my Glock with an extra mag was a necessity in my life. I threw my rain jacket on.
“Stay.” I commanded to Kai. He whined softly, his tail wagging slowly as he watched my every move. I grabbed my car keys and went into the garage. I’d chosen much less conspicuous cars than Jonah. My goal was to blend in, not stick out like a sore thumb. Although, my car was pretty damn fast. I opened the garage door and revved it to life, backing out and speeding down the gravel driveway as rain beat against my illegally tinted windshield.
My thoughts were rather blank as I mindlessly drove to the cabin. It would only take me an hour to get there, maybe another hour to convince Jonah to leave, and then one more back home. I could handle that.
Her enchanting brown eyes flashed through my mind suddenly. My blood boiled in a sudden fit of rage as I pictured her and Gerard together. Stupid girl, I thought. Why that asshole, of all people? Though, why was she even crossing my mind at all?
I thought back to the brief moment I saw her over three months ago. Sitting in that bed, shaking like a frightened dog, tears glossing her eyes. Had she been ashamed that someone had walked in on them about to do the deed?
My stomach began to writhe as I thought more about her odd behavior. If she liked the guy, why had she acted that way? Sure, it could have been seeing me. Had someone warned her of who I was?
Gerard was a slick guy, able to get any girl he wanted, so it surprised me that he’d chosen someone so…natural, for once. And young, to boot. The more I played through the conundrum in my head, the more the situation baffled me. Something felt…off about it. Why are you even concerned? My conscious bit back. I’d seen the worst sides to humanity. I’d seen sex-trafficking, cold blooded murder, drug addicts screaming for their next hit. And I’d never even batted an eye. Their lives were spheres that didn’t touch mine. They were lower than me, as disgusting as that sounded. Sure, I took deep pleasure in killing those that harmed innocent people. I liked leveling the playing field a bit. Perhaps that was because of Jonah, of how I’d always stuck up for him. Maybe it was just engrained in me to feel that way because of circumstance.
All I could think of as I pulled up to the sprawling log cabin was how haunting her eyes had been.
I smelled pot as soon as I walked in. Music thumped at a much lower volume than last time in the back. A bunch of drugged up, beefy dudes milled around, nodding respectfully at me as I passed. None of our family was here. They were too smart for that. I spotted Jonah, blazed out of his mind, sitting on the green upholstered couch where I’d met the blond chick. Before I’d taken her to bed. I still didn’t know her name.
Gerard was next to him, talking animatedly with his brother, Levi, and his two buddies. They were waiting their turn for pool. I paused in front of the couch, looming above them. I kicked Jonah’s shoe. He snapped out of his trance, focusing on me as a wide grin spread across his chubby cheeks.
“Niiiiick,” he drawled out. I rolled my eyes as Gerard and his brother laughed. He stood, sticking out his hand for me to shake. I clasped it firmly, feeling how small it was in my grasp.
“Glad you could make it!” He said a bit too cheerfully.
“Thanks for the invite.” I said pointedly, smirking as his smile fell. He wasn’t good at hiding his emotions, especially when he was inebriated.
“Wanna play pool?” He offered. No, I thought. But I would, just to kill some time for Jonah’s sake. Looks like I’d be driving him home. Again.
The previous game finished and Gerard re-racked. I chose my pool stick, not caring much for the game. Though, we’d grown up with one in our home, and I couldn’t stand losing to Jonah or my father. Naturally, I’d become pretty damn good.
“Drinks?” Levi asked, the spitting image of his big brother. He was tatted from head to toe though, and dumb as a fucking doornail.
“No thanks,” I said, holding up my hand.
“Aww, come on big guy! Celebrate having some time off after killing that bastard in Japan!” Gerard clapped me on the shoulder. I inwardly growled, detesting being called ‘big guy.’
I glared down at him.
“I don’t drink.”
“Suit yourself, bring me the whiskey, Levi.” He commanded. I glanced at Jonah, who was staring at the ceiling with his mouth hanging open. Dumbass.
“You wanna break?” Gerard asked. I shrugged, lining up the pool stick and breaking.
“So,” Gerard began, chalking up his pool stick as I sunk two solids. “There’s a job coming up in France. You get the info?” He asked.
I lined up again, staring only at the pool table.
“I did.” I said.
“Not quite sure yet.” I answered, sinking another solid. It wasn’t like I needed the money. Working now meant that I was keeping things in line for my father, for his business, knowing one day that the mantle of responsibility would pass to me.
“Well, it would be nice to have you as back up,” he commented, leaning against his pool stick, his greasy black hair slicked back. Levi returned with the bottle of Jack. Gerard took a long pull straight from the bottle, staring me down, not wincing in the slightest. Was that supposed to impress me?
“I’ll consider it.” I said, sinking another solid. There was no way in hell he’d even get a turn.
He wiped his mouth across his sleeve, pointing at me with the bottle.
“Last time you were here, you fucked that blond chick, Amy, I think,” he said, chuckling. I rolled my eyes. So that was her name.
“Yeah, why?” I asked. Gerard laughed heartily, leaning forward as Levi sulked.
“Levi’s been on her tail for years,” he admitted, much to Levi’s chagrin.
“Sorry man, I had no idea.” I said to Levi. He shrugged, though clearly it was still affecting him.
I finished the game, victorious as usual.
“Fuck, dude, Jonah was right,” Gerard laughed. I felt the corner of my mouth tug up in a forced smile. I sat down next to my brother, nudging him out of his trance. His high seemed to be fading a bit. Thank God.
The boys started up another game as I scoped through the jobs in my email. Six month assignment in Paris, taking out three top guys that controlled the area. They’d agreed to meet with our father’s men for a deal, but they’d beat the shit out of them and stolen the guns. It was our turn to seek revenge.
I stood, needing to stretch my legs and take a piss. Everyone was distracted as I left the room. I avoided the first floor bedroom where I’d gotten down with Amy. I shuddered at the memory, feeling disgusted with myself. I yanked the railing, tugging myself up the stairs and into the darkness of the second level. There was a room at the end of the hall, one of the only ones that seemed unoccupied at the moment.
I twisted the handle, walking into the room and closing the door behind me. Wind and rain battered the windows. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. A large bed loomed in front of me, a little lump curled in a ball under thin sheets. My heart clenched. Her hair. Her silky brown hair. It was that fucking girl, asleep in Gerard’s bed. I wiped my hand along my mouth, feeling anger shooting through me, seemingly from nowhere. Why did I care who he fucked? Why did I care about her idiotic choices? She had a seemingly amazing father, searching high and low for her while police interrogated him. To know she was hiding out with scum like this, I shouldn’t have felt anything toward her.
I stepped forward, though, wanting a better look at her. There was no movement. Was she dead? I inched closer, lurking in the shadows and looming over her. I watched as her shoulders rose and fell slowly, discreetly. She was so small and frail. Only asleep, though. Wearing nothing. I felt disgusted all over again.
In the lowlight offered through the windows, I began to make out dark blotches on her left arm. Bruises.
I stepped back, wracking my brain for a better solution than what my heart was trying to force on my mind. Be rational, I thought. An eighteen-year-old valedictorian, on her way to Harvard, with a loving father. Why would she choose to run away? My blood began to run cold through my veins.
Maybe…she hadn’t gone voluntarily. I combed a hand through my hair, grabbing a fistful of it as I thought through the likely scenarios. Her dad was a prominent scientist. I withdrew my phone, quickly searching his name and reading his bio from the University of Washington, where he’d conducted most of his research. The dude was a genius, albeit batshit crazy. He had solid theories on nuclear power…and weapons.
Could his daughter have been used as leverage—kidnapped until he gave away priceless information? Why had the fucker gone to the police, then? And why, of all families, were the idiotic Baptiste’s involved?
I growled, shoving my phone back in my pocket, my eyes darting to the bed. I was met with one, wide doe-eye. She clutched the sheet to her bare chest, where I could see more bruises. Her lip was split, bloodied. Her right eye swollen shut. I grit my teeth together as I stared at the mess before me, as everything clicked into place. My hand itched for my gun, longing to put a bullet in Gerard’s greasy head. What a sick bastard.
She made a pathetic, muffled cry, kicking herself backwards on the bed, her shoulders colliding with the headboard as she trembled, tears spilling onto her cheeks. She shook her head back and forth.
She was afraid. Of me.
It was a new, peculiar feeling, to have someone be afraid of me, someone who I didn’t want to fear me. I ground my teeth together. What the fuck was I supposed to do? Walk away like I’d never witnessed this? I could only imagine the things he and his friends had done to her. For three fucking months. I knew it went well beyond beating her.
“Fuck,” I muttered, reaching for my phone again and dialing my cousin’s number.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Reggie. I need you to come to the Baptiste’s cabin and take Jonah home. Text me when you get here.”
“Sure,” he responded cautiously, hearing the menacing tone in my voice.
“You ok man?” He asked.
“Yeah, just hurry.” I hung up, staring at the frightened, hysterical girl before me. I didn’t know the first thing about consoling a woman. I only knew how to sleep with them, how to fulfill their lusty desires, before I bolted.
I took a step forward, eyeing her response. She shook her head again, tugging for more of the thin sheet to cover herself. I held out my hand, palm down, like I would to a frightened, cornered animal. After all she’d endured, that’s what she was. An animal trying to survive. I was standing directly above her as she cowered, looking anywhere but my face. I crouched down, eye level with her as she leaned away, her breathing ragged and rapid. I studied her, her fear from the first night now making sense to me.
“You’re coming with me.” I said with finality.
A/N: This book is now just a sample on this platform. To read the rest, head on over to the Galatea App and search it under its title, or check the New Arrivals section!
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