Infinite - Chapter One
I look through the rear window of Hale’s Tahoe as he pulls away from the house. The window is tinted and I can’t see worth a damn. I wish I could. That’s my heart back there. I look up at Hale.
Well, at least half my heart . . .
The headlights from an approaching car illuminate the planes of his strong features. This is a man I first met when he was a boy. It was first grade and our teacher, Mrs. Newsom, sat him behind me. I pretended not to notice him. But how could anyone miss that blond hair and eyes so filled with mischief they sparkled like diamonds cast along the sand?
Hale was new to our prep school, his family finally making the money it took to pay for the absurdly expensive tuition. He should’ve been shy and intimidated to join the ranks of the so-called elite. But even then, Hale was fearless.
He tugged on my ponytail almost the moment he sat. This boy didn’t know me and had no right touching the hair Nana June had painstakingly brushed to a silky shine. I remember turning around just to glare at him, until I caught his grin. At the time, I thought it mirrored a boy clearly up to no good. I failed to see his innocence. My, oh, my. It was so pure, he could’ve sprouted a halo. Except, as he grew into the young man sitting beside me, that grin grew with him, transforming into naughty enough to set a nun’s panties aflame. Did I return that grin, way back then? Yes’m, I most certainly did.
The boy I first smiled at grew up long before either of us were ready, all the while hanging tight to the other half of my heart.
I’m not smiling now and neither is he. Tonight was all about a goodbye that’s been coming for too many years, despite our attempts to wish it away.
We’re no longer children. We’re college grads, taking that massive leap into the workforce and leaving the carefree life that comes with youth far behind.
I give another glance back. Even with the street lights, I don’t catch more than the looming shadows of the palmettos. “Do you think Trin is all right?” I ask.
“Nope,” he replies.
Hale sighs when I reach into the pocket of my jacket and pull out my phone, cupping my hand and lowering it until it skims just above the gray leather seat. His touch is gentle, kind, and one of too many reasons he’s stolen my heart.
The warmth of his skin and those eyes that see all make me feel everything I’m not supposed to. I don’t know when I fell in love with Hale. Maybe I’ve always loved him.
It only seems right I should finally tell him.
“Don’t, sugar,” he tells me when my thumb slides over the screen of my phone. His voice is set with worry and sadness as palpable as rain beating down during the harshest summer storms. “Trin and Callahan have to work their shit out on their own.”
The harsh sting of tears spreads across my pale green eyes. It’s not the first time I’ve cried tonight. The first was mercifully in Hale’s arms, during an acoustic version of No Retreat, No Surrender. Our tight group of friends sang it as we sat around the fire pit at Callahan’s place. I’d picked the song. It summed up our group and misadventures perfectly. I was right, and because of it, we all seemed to fall apart.
We’re starting our new lives. Me, in Charlotte working PR for Carolina’s football team, and Hale in New York, working on Wall Street. The song we sang was our final farewell to our reckless youth. We all knew it. It’s the reason only one of us made it to the last lyric.
“Don’t cry, sweet thing,” he murmurs, his thick Southern accent as soothing as the taste of warm honey. “You know I can’t take it when you cry.”
He slips his arm around me, just as he did in front of the fire pit when the last string of the guitar was plucked and silence descended upon us like the weight of a thousand deaths.
The window is cracked, allowing the last bits of summer and the scent of salt and sea to drift in and join our memories. The smell of the ocean is among the finest in the world, second only to Hale’s masculine fusion of musk intertwined with the lush foliage pushing through the clay-sand composition that makes up Kiawah. Hale’s scent is the closest thing to heaven on earth. I know it now. Maybe I always have.
My head falls against his shoulder. I clutch him like I did around the fire pit, afraid to let go. “Where are we going?” I ask, my barely there words not quite enough to mask my Southern twang.
“To Sean’s.” He pauses when I adjust my body so it rests against the collection of muscle stretching across his wide chest. “He’s your ride home, remember?”
“I don’t want Sean to take me home,” I say. My gaze fixes on the navigation screen of his SUV, each syllable I manage huskier than I intend. “I want you to take me home.”
Those muscles holding me tense, loosening slowly until his grip on the steering wheel relaxes and the fingers of his opposite hand trail lazily down my arm. “I don’t think your daddy will like that,” he bites out, somehow keeping his voice soft despite the tang of bitterness drifting so close to the surface.
“I don’t care,” I reply. I don’t flinch, though I should. I may be a grown woman of twenty-two, but Daddy still gives me plenty to flinch about. The harsh criticism he has for Hale and his family more than prove his remarks are as heavy handed as his strikes.
I glance up. “Will you take me home? Please?”
“It’d be my honor,” he replies.
My father has never scared Hale, even long before Hale passed Daddy in height. It’s a rare feat seeing how scary my father can be. I’m not brave like Hale is. Not when it comes to Daddy. But Hale’s lack of fear scares me plenty enough for both of us.
I cuddle closer to Hale, the smooth blacktop road that leads to the other side of the island a gentle hum along the thread of the powerful tires. It’s like a lullaby in a way. Not that I’m not ready to sleep. My hand slides across Hale’s rock-hard abs to grip his hip. Tonight, I want a goodbye that means more than a hug between lifelong friends.
Hale stiffens. It’s brief, long enough to make me question whether he wants me, but not so long that my insecurities surface and force me to withdraw.
Throughout my young life, I’ve turned heads and garnered more attention than I’ve wanted or deserved. I’m not as confident as I come across. I’ve been hurt and weakened by those who should love me most, and while those scars have toughened my hide, they’ve never quite healed.
I think Hale senses the fear my memories stir. It’s just like him. He presses a kiss to the top of my head, giving me the green light to stay in place and wonder a little more where our time alone may lead.
I haven’t prayed much since Nana June died. I do now. When it comes to Hale, I want more than a superficial farewell stuffed with an obliged promise to keep in touch. I want him. Every time we’ve been alone this summer, the air between us has thickened to tar. Too many words were left unsaid, as well as too many sexy thoughts better shared beneath cool sheets.
“You sure about this, Becks?” Hale asks, his voice like rust flaking off an old steel pipe.
I’m so mesmerized by the rhythmic thuds of Hale’s heart against my ear, I almost don’t hear him, nor do I initially realize how fast I’m breathing. He shouldn’t know how badly I want him inside me, not when I’ve spent a lifetime telling him we can never be more than friends.
I don’t know how he hears me. I barely hear myself.
“All right then,” he answers.
I sit up as he rounds the bend that leads to the colossal house my granddaddy built. Granddaddy had a lot of money, but it doesn’t come close to the fortune my father accumulated.
“Not here,” I say, clasping his shoulder when he draws closer to the house. “Pull into the service road.”
He cocks a brow, easing off the gas so the SUV slows to a coast. “I take it your Daddy’s home?”
“He won’t be home until later, but just in case . . .” My gaze travels to the small road that separates the main property from where my father’s thoroughbreds are kept. It leads to an overgrown path that thins out at the beach. The thick vegetation should be enough to shadow us and keep us hidden. At least, that’s my hope.
Hale rolls to a stop in the middle of the road and sets his SUV in park. “I thought you wanted me with you.”
“I do,” I reply. “I just don’t want any interruptions. Not tonight.”
The muscles along his square jaw tighten and relax as he mulls through each word. He thinks I’m ashamed of him. His family will never have as much money as mine. What he doesn’t understand is that the shame I feel is for my family and all the harm they’ve caused.
“Becks, if we go on that beach, what’s going to happen?”
My nervousness lingers but stands no chance against my growing desire. “Anything you want,” I reply.
He drops his chin, slowly shaking his head from side to side. I don’t expect his touch to remain tender. Yet there it is, skimming down to hold my hand. “I don’t think you know what you’re saying.”
Tears escape, moistening my cheeks and causing Hale’s light blue eyes to darken to topaz. He’s sad, just like me. God, I’m going to miss him.
“I mean every word,” I promise. I thread my fingers through his. “Will you let me prove it?”
There’s nothing left of that boy who played with my hair all those years ago or the one all the ladies fought to lay their blankets beside when he’d take his post on the lifeguard stand. All that waits is a man full of need and a trickle of restraint barely keeping him in place.
He releases my hand to skim his knuckles over my jaw. With all the desire I see and feel, I expect a harsh kiss, tasting of sin and fury. That’s not what comes.
Lips too soft for a man who mere weeks ago knocked out a drunk for touching me, feather over mine, teasing me until I allow him further in. I don’t quite manage to return his taste before he eases away.
For a moment, we simply stare at each other. It’s our first kiss and one I’ll never forget.
“That was sweet,” I tell him.
“Becks, sweet is the last thing I want to be with you.” He steals another glance at the path. “You sure?”
I nod, my voice quiet. “I’m sure.”
He turns his SUV off the road and onto the path, the wheels crunching through the forest debris until we’re swallowed by darkness. He cuts the engine, his shoulders rising and falling fast.
“Wait until I come for you,” he says when I reach for the handle.
It seems to take forever for him to reach my side, his steady features latching onto mine as if he barely knows me. From one long second to the next, he flings my door open and helps me out. I’m tall, almost as tall as the men in my family, but not as tall as Hale. I don’t quite have my feet planted when his hands slide along my hips, banding my waist at almost the exact moment his mouth brands my lips with white hot possession.
Men have eyed me since puberty and sought to touch me before I was ready. I never became used to the aggression and outran most of it. I’m not running now.
He pulls back, the force of the separation making me gasp. His gaze searches my eyes, trying to unlock the secrets I was always too afraid to share.
The mangrove branches stretch out, the moonlight cutting through to illuminate Hale in silver light. “Do you have any fucking idea how long I’ve wanted to kiss you?”
“No,” I stammer. “Are you—” I glance around when I hear a chirp, certain my racing heart has woken the nesting birds. “Are you going to do it again?”
“Hell, yeah,” he says, shutting the door to his Tahoe.
We laugh, the remaining tension evaporating in the cool breeze breaking through the trees. The shin-length weeds tickle my bare legs as we head forward, allowing the increasing lull of the ocean to guide us.
“I suppose I should watch out for snakes and such,” Hale mutters, holding me closer. “But I swear, I can’t keep my eyes off you.”
I lean into him, shielding my face to hide my embarrassment. I don’t usually come across as quiet or timid. Both will get me hurt and I’m done feeling pain. “There’s no need for pretty talk,” I say, smiling softly. “You have me right where you want me.”
“Not yet, darlin’,” he assures me.
I nibble on my bottom lip. His terms of endearment send my insides fluttering in all the right ways. Hale isn’t playing me. He’s trying each out as if deciding which one he likes best.
I take a breath, giving myself a moment to take him and our surroundings in. The mournful harmony of the ocean vocalizes signals summer’s end, but I no longer share its misery. All I sense is Hale.
As the tree line arcs, he eases us to the sand. We land on our knees somewhere between the shadows of the trees and the sea we’ve swum in all our lives. It’s symbolic, my feelings for him coming out of the dark to lie where the moon can cast its final judgement and where my reservations strip away, leaving me bare.
“Are you cold?” he asks, pulling me closer, his large hands skimming down my body and over my backside.
I pull my focus away from the small cresting waves ghosting over the sand. “Not with you here,” I admit.
He pulls me to him, his mouth parting as it slides over mine. This is only our third kiss and everything should feel new. But with the way our bodies meld and the natural rhythm we fall into, it feels like we’ve had a thousand lifetimes to perfect our kiss.
At first, it’s slow and cautious, reminiscent of our childhood and more innocence than I think I deserve. But as his tongue probes further, I’m reminded that young or not, Hale is all man. His hold and the growing press of his erection as he lays us on the sand allow me to leave all flickers of virtue behind.
I return his kiss like a desperate woman, fueling his need.
Hale frees me from my jacket, tugging my white T-shirt free of the waistband of my shorts and skimming his hand upward to play with my heavy breasts. He stops our kiss, his gaze locked on mine as he explores.
I pant, losing myself in his gaze while his fingers circle my tightening nipple.
I grunt when he pinches the taut center, my lashes fluttering with each of his greedy pulls. I suppose it’s his way of asking for permission to do more. I don’t deny him. I can’t.
The pads of his fingers linger over my flat stomach, tickling my waist before freeing the top snap. He swallows hard. “Tell me to stop,” he practically begs.
I don’t recognize my voice. “I don’t want you to.”
His fingers clamp over the zipper, snagging it more than once before he’s able to guide his hand beneath my panties. His moves are leisurely, teasing, giving me time to move away.
My pelvis tilts upward, meeting the calloused edges of his skin. His fingers slick over my center, his swirls making me quiver.
“Jesus,” he rasps.
My back arches as he pushes further in until his palm presses against my tantalized flesh. He curls his fingers, stirring my sweet spot as he strokes in and out. The motions are careful, becoming rougher the more I moan.
Hale dips his head, trailing kisses down my neck until his hot mouth pulls my nipple through the lace.
“I’m going to come,” I whimper, as if he doesn’t already know. “Please, don’t stop.”
Grains of sand spray along my legs as I peak. My hands are frantic, desperate to touch Hale. I reach in through the front of Hale’s board shorts, gripping his thick, rigid staff.
“What the fuck you doing here?”
We jerk at the sound of my cousin Kirk’s voice. Hale hauls me to my feet, shielding my body with his. I scramble to fix my disheveled clothes, my mind whirling from the abrupt interruption. I manage to snap my shorts closed and pull my shirt down only to freeze when I realize Kirk isn’t alone.
From the shadows, four forms, ranging from average to hulking builds, emerge. Brent, Davey, Sully, Parker—all my cousins are here, except Matthew, their self-appointed leader. But I know him well enough to know he’s not far behind.
“Hale,” I whisper. “You have to get out of here.”
“I’m not leaving you,” he grinds out.
“I asked what the fuck you doing here, boy,” Kirk hisses.
Brent steps forward, his breath reeking of Wild Turkey. He spits on the ground. “Better question is, what the fuck are you doing with one of our own?”
“None of your damn business, boy,” Hale fires back.
I try to shove my way between them. Hale doesn’t allow me, lugging me back and keeping me behind him. “Becks, I need you stay where you are, okay?”
He knows what’s coming and so do I. I snag my jacket from the sand, clambering to reach my phone.
“Whatcha you doing there, cuz?” Sully adds.
I don’t have to look up to know they’re closer, my fingers shaking as I text Mason and Sean.
We’re in trouble.
“Shit,” Brent says, dragging out the word. “You ain’t got no one to call.”
Get here now.
I barely manage to hit send when Hale’s hands shoot out, shoving Brent off his feet when he reaches for me. “Get the hell away from her,” Hale growls, his voice all primal rage.
“You’ve got some nerve telling us what to do on our land,” Kirk says, sounding more amused than angry.
“This isn’t your land,” I counter, speaking through my teeth.
“No, it’s your Daddy’s,” Sully agrees, showing me the first real taste of their collective anger. “You shouldn’t be hanging with trash, Becca. Come on. Time to go.”
Hale adjusts his position, guarding me when Sully moves forward. “Don’t touch her,” he says, his words stabbing the air like frozen daggers.
“We’re not here to beat her ass, son,” Sully says, laughing. “Oh, no, this is all about you.”
The phone flies from my hand as Sully tackles Hale. Sully is a big guy and used to play ball. But so did Hale and Hale was always better than Sully.
Hale uses Sully’s momentum against him, rolling them toward the water. Hale lands on top, his fist crashing into Sully’s face.
The crunch of bone explodes over the sound of crashing waves. I scream when Davey dives on top of Hale and Parker and Kirk stomp forward. Brent lifts me by the waist, dragging me back when I lunge at them.
“Don’t hurt him!” I shriek, kicking wildly. “Don’t you fucking hurt him!”
Brent is twice my size. He drags me along the beach and toward the house. Through the tasseled strands of my long hair I watch them pound on Hale. “No!”
“Cut the shit, Becca,” Matthew says, somewhere behind me. “You’re already in it enough.”
His voice is steady, silently watching the show. If he’s here—if all my asshole cousins are home—so is my father. I can’t let them take me back to the house. My father can’t know I’ve been with Hale.
My heel crashes into Brent’s shin. He hollers a curse, falling back and taking me with him. I rush to my feet when Davey and Parker hook Hale’s arms, allowing Sully to get some payback for his busted nose. I’m almost to them when Matthew fastens his meaty fingers around my arm and heaves me backward. My fists punch against his chest and face, my panic mounting when I catch the first glimpse of my house.
I’m no match for Matthew. He whips me around, crossing my arms and driving me to my knees.
I cry out in frustration and pain when Brent shoves my head down, forcing my body to curl forward, immobilizing me. “Knock it off, Becca,” Brent snarls. “We ain’t here to hurt you.”
In hurting Hale, they already have. I can’t see anything, but I hear every grunt of pain and feel every fist connecting against flesh.
“Quiet, Becca,” Matthew says when I start to cry. “You’re only making it worse for yourself.”
“You don’t have to do this,” I sob. “God, just leave him alone!”
Hale is hurt. I know he is. Just as I know it’s my fault.
The sound of tires shrieking to a stop echo in the distance. I twist my head, ignoring the pain it causes my neck. “Sean, Mason!” I scream, begging to heaven and back it’s them.
I choke back a cry when I hear our friends. “The fuck!” Sean yells.
Brent releases my head, racing forward as Sean’s long, lanky body shoots toward the fray. But it’s Mason, all stocky build and muscle who reaches Hale first, punching Davey hard enough to break his jaw.
I rip free from Matthew, racing toward my friends. They’re outnumbered, but the element of surprise worked in their favor. Hale is already back to his feet, nailing Brent in the head as hard as Sean and Mason are swinging.
I’m almost to them when the blast of a rifle erupts, sending rows of nesting birds to flight. Aside from the ocean waves soaking the shore, everything quiets. Hale’s T-shirt is torn open, his chest splattered from the blood oozing from his mouth. Sully is on the ground beside Brent, who is pressing his hand against the gash above his right eye. He’s going to need stitches.
I could give a damn.
Davey blinks at the star-filled sky above from his position on his back. Otherwise, he doesn’t move. Neither does Parker, his face contorted with pain as he lays on his side holding his ribs.
Everyone is breathing hard, except for Matthew and the man I feel looming behind me.
I start to turn when I catch Hale’s bracing features. “Becca, come here.”
It’s the one thing I want to do most. But I can’t.
In my gaze, I plead with him to understand that what I do next isn’t to betray him. It’s to protect him and our friends.
I turn slowly to where my father holds the rifle pressed at an angle against his chest. Everyone tells me I resemble him. I hate it. Especially now.
“Don’t hurt them, Daddy,” I beg.
My father passes the rifle to Matthew, as a child would a toy he’s grown tired of. Like a good wannabe son, Matthew takes it without question, assuming the armed soldier’s pose Daddy had.
“Seems to me, Becca June, these boys have been roughed up enough,” Daddy says.
He doesn’t mean that. He’s only trying to save face. Hale, Mason, and Sean are as tough as any true southerner. It may have been three against five, but no way would my cousins have won that fight.
In the bright moonlight, I see it all. Mason’s cheek is swelling like Hale’s, and Sean’s lip is busted up. Mason gives me a wink, his dark skin gleaming in the moonlight, all the while his deep frown remaining in place. He’s trying to tell me I did the right thing by calling them. I feel horrible about doing so, except when it comes down to it, me and Trin, and Callahan, too, would have done the same for them.
In the south, you don’t call the police where family and friends and grudges are concerned. You handle your own.
My cousins were wrong to show up and gang up on Hale like they did. Cowards, as far as I’m concerned. Daddy, he’s wrong, too, for this and lot more. I don’t tell him. Right now, I’ll do anything so long as he leaves Hale and our friends alone.
“What happened?” Daddy asks.
He raises his hand, silencing me instantly when I try to speak. “I found the Wilder boy on top of Becca,” Kirk answers.
Daddy cocks a brow high enough to disappear into the crown of his wheat-colored hair. “He was raping her?” he asks.
“No,” I yell over Kirk’s response.
“You know damn well I’d never hurt her,” Hale counters, ire blanketing him like fire.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Daddy replies, his repulsion at Hale and Mason’s presence as tangible as my mounting fear.
I push down my need to cower. It won’t help me or Hale. But fear always enlivens memories better left alone.
“What happened?” Daddy asks Kirk.
“I don’t know, sir. Like I said, I only saw him on top of her.”
Kirk knows Hale wasn’t forcing me to do anything. But he fears Daddy, just like his brothers and I do. Kirk won’t say anything to defend me or to anger my father. Like a typical follower, he’s merely along for the ride.
“Y’all trespassing on my property,” Daddy reminds them, ignoring the swelling and bleeding faces.
“Just let them go,” I say, wishing my voice didn’t shake as much as it does. “Please. They won’t come back here no more. I swear it.”
“No,” Hale says.
Hale’s voice robs Daddy’s spotlight. Sean and Mason recover first, flanking Hale’s side.
“What did you say?” Daddy asks, his tone rising.
Hale ignores him. No one else exists now, not the way his steely features bore into mine. He holds out his hand. “Becca,” he says. “Come with me. I won’t leave you behind with them.”
My breath releases in a stammer and for a long while all I see is Hale’s outstretched palm and the olive branch he offers.
“Please, baby,” Hale says, ignoring my cousins as they struggle to their feet. “You don’t need to be here.”
It’s only because I’m here that my father hasn’t lashed out at him. My father walks forward, squaring his shoulders. I know that stance.
My racing pulse surges painfully as I hurry forward and intercept him.
I look my father dead in the eyes. “Go, Hale. Leave. Sean, Mason, you, too.”
My back is to them. It doesn’t matter. I know they’re not leaving, because I wouldn’t leave them, either.
A sharp pang squeezes my heart. “Please,” I say, my composure dwindling as I continue to stare my father down. “I need you to leave right now.”
Sounds of feet shuffling through the sand draw near and like the rising tide, the sense of danger returns. “Only if you leave with us,” Hale’s deep voice thrums. “I’ll take care of you. I swear to Christ I will.”
My composure crumbles and I clasp my hand over my mouth. My vision blurs with tears, but not so badly that I don’t catch my father’s smug smile. “Hale, if you feel anything for me, you’ll leave without me. Please,” I beg.
“Let’s go,” Mason mutters.
“Like hell,” Sean says.
He’s still itching for a fight. But Sean’s family has money like mine. He’s not in the same danger as Hale and Mason.
“We’re going,” Mason says, his promise stopping Daddy and everyone else from closing in.
“Becca,” Hale says. “Becks, come on—Get the fuck off me,” he adds, shoving someone away.
“I don’t want you here,” I say, my voice likely reflecting the dull hate overtaking me. “You don’t belong here.”
I mean what I say. Hale . . . he doesn’t belong with this shit. I only wish it didn’t sound so cruel.
I don’t know how long I stand there, trying in vain to stare my father down. It’s long enough for a truck to start and then another, their dense tires kicking back debris as they peel away and back onto the road.
With my boys gone, I’m on my own. I should be used to it. After a lifetime of being treated like I’ll never be good enough, loneliness is more friend than foe. Except I want to be good enough. My word, I need to be.
My first mistake is standing this close to my father. My second is speaking.
“He didn’t do anything I didn’t want—”
My father cracks me across the face. The force is so hard it vibrates through my skull and instantly shatters my nose. My hands and knees slide through the sand as I fall. He hasn’t hit me in years. I suppose he thought I was long overdue.
“If you wanted that shit from the likes of Hale Wilder, you’re nothing more than a whore,” Daddy says. “Just like your mother.”
He means to hurt me with his words, just as he has every time I didn’t measure up to his standards. I was eight the first time he called me a whore, all for playing with my mother’s makeup kit. I didn’t deserve it then. I don’t deserve it now.
I spit out the taste of metal coating my tongue and swallow even more. It was a powerful strike. If I’m lucky, I won’t need surgery to repair it. Not that my father cares. The damage is just one piece of the punishment.
For the next few weeks, every time I look in the mirror, I’ll be reminded how I disappointed him and let the family down.
“Get in the house,” Daddy snarls.
“What’d you say?” Daddy asks me, kicking sand up as he stomps forward.
“She’s hurt, Uncle Lloyd,” Matthew says. His bare feet stop near me, his immense size barely enough to keep Daddy away.
“Becca, get up,” Kirk mutters.
I do, but not because Kirk tells me to. This is what’s called survival and stubborn refusal to bow down.
I’m wobbly on my feet, my face throbbing and my balance askew. Somehow, I keep my feet, but not by much.
“Get in the house,” Daddy says, his voice so eerily still it borders on psychotic.
I yank my arm away when Matthew reaches for me. “I’m not going anywhere with you.” My voice trembles with unsurpassed rage. “I don’t want anything to do with you—”
Another strike, this one causing me to spin before my body crashes onto the beach. Stars explode in my vision. I’m hurt. Jesus Christ. I’m really hurt.
Daddy’s voice comes in and out as if speaking under water. Through the hard pounding in my ears, I catch enough. “After everything I’ve done for you, this is how you treat me?” he growls. “Becca June, you’re no daughter of mine!”
I force my mouth to move. “Good.”
I don’t realize how loud I speak until Daddy’s Burberry loafers step in my line of vision. “What did you say to me?”
This is the part where he expects me to beg for his forgiveness, to say something to placate him enough so he returns to the house after one last parting insult. I rise slowly, my legs rubbery from how hard I’m shaking and the adrenaline pumping through me in merciless waves.
A small twisted sneer cuts across his face.
He’s happy I’m injured. Didn’t he show me who’s boss?
He thinks I’m afraid.
He’s never been more wrong.
“I said, ‘good’, you fucking redneck piece of shit.”
I don’t know who is more stunned. This man in front of me, who dares to call himself my daddy, or my cousins. They gasp, an air of shock and fear pelting the air. They think Daddy is going to kill me. They’re probably right. But I’ll be damned if I go down without a fight.
Daddy takes a step toward me. I step away. As much as I hate him, and truly and desperately want him to die, I won’t simply attack.
His gaze drags down my body, something he sees in me keeping him in place and deepening his sadistic features. “You’re dead to me,” he says. “You hear me? Your car. Your clothes. Everything, but what what’s on your slut back, belongs to me. Get out of here. I don’t ever want to see your face again.”
He spits at my feet and walks slowly away. One by one, my cousins leave, but not before casting me a worried glance. I don’t know what they’re so worried about. They still have Daddy. They’ve never needed me. I was just one more person to split the inheritance with.
The last of my family to reach my house is Matthew, his solid form giving him away. He pauses, looking in my direction. He may be having second thoughts, even though, like the others, he probably blames me.
Ultimately, he opens the security gate and strolls inside. I can’t fault him. Leader or not, he belongs to my father as much as the rest of them, including my mother.
The only person my father never could control was Nana June. It’s one of the reasons I loved her as much as I did.
I stumble forward. I didn’t notice anyone pick up my jacket or phone, but they’re gone. I stagger toward the road and in the direction Hale vanished. I know that he left and that I made him. But it’s only when I come to terms that he’s gone that I finally break down. It’s not a pretty cry. It’s one of those awful, ugly cries that reflect the loss of a life and the one true love.
I dab my face with the edge of my dirty T-shirt. When it only brings a fresh jab of pain I give up and start the long road alone.
It would be several years before I saw Hale again. It didn’t hurt any less when I finally did.
Hale was my friend, confidant, the young man I could laugh with and cry to. The one man in my life I could always count on.
He was never supposed to break my heart.
And I was never supposed to break his . . .
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