I wanted him to carry me up to his room and close the door so we could be lost in each other as if the rest of the world didn’t exist.

But he just sat there.

I’d fought for Liam and look what that got me. It was someone else’s turn to fight for me.

I turned and left, letting the hot tears fall. It fucking hurt. My lips pursed together, trying to stop the flood, but it was no use.

I hated him.

And I loved him.

And tonight he was going to be sleeping with someone else, or maybe he had already last night or today, and I was an idiot. I was a fucking nonstop train wreck.

I grabbed Shane’s hand, squeezing it tight as I pushed our way through the crowd and out the front door.

I’d see him again. Probably a lot. And I cried more, realizing that. The tears burned my cheeks, and even though they just kept coming and coming, my sobs were silent. Misery usually was.

“Hey, where you going?”

I stopped, looking up at Tate through blurry eyes.

And Jared.

And, fuck me, Madoc and Fallon, too. I guess everyone decided to chase me down.

I sniffled, clearing my throat. “Home.” I tossed Madoc his keys and took a step, but Tate grabbed me again.

“Hey, hey. Stop,” she ordered, and I looked away when she held my shoulders. “You’re crying. What’s wrong?”

I said nothing. I didn’t need to talk about it. I’d spent my life around people who taught me nothing, and now I just wanted to be alone for a while. I wanted to be proud of myself.

I’d grown up.

I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and squeezed her tight, my face pinching with the heartache and the tears streaming down.

“I love you,” I whispered, and then pulled back and spoke to Jared. “I’m sorry I used you in high school,” I said, and looked to Tate, whose eyes were bright with concern. “And I’m so sorry I hurt you. I was wrong, and I will never betray your trust again.”

Tate’s voice shook. “Juliet …”

But I’d already turned and left.

CHAPTER 26

JAXON

I hate how Gordon walks behind me down the stairs. I want to see him coming, and I always feel as if he’ll push me. I move faster than normal¸ the bulge in my pocket giving me courage.

“There’s my boy,” I hear as I reach the bottom of the stairs.

My stomach shakes at the sound of her voice. Sherilynn, my dad’s girlfriend, is always the first to touch me, but I don’t look up. Her frizzy red hair, blond at the roots, and her smeared red lipstick always look the same. Her clothes, too small for her body, remind me what she wants with me, and everything is dirty.

Everything.

If I don’t look I can imagine that she’s pretty. Her wrinkled skin will be soft, and I can pretend that her voice, hoarse from too many cigarettes, is sweet.

I know there are pretty things in the world. Girls at school. My teachers. Things could be clean and sweet and pretty. The moms who pick up my classmates look as though they smell good.

I’ve never been hugged by someone who smelled good.

I curl my toes inside my old, cracked, secondhand sneakers, and I close my eyes as her hands go into my hair. My body feels sick, as if it wants to breathe but can’t, and the world turns black.

The wet, cold smell of mold, cigarettes, and dirt fills my nostrils, and I want to puke.

“Do you want the other one?” Gordon asks behind me.

The other one?

Sherilynn strokes my face. “Yeah, I think it’s time. Go get him.”

I snap my head up, opening my eyes. “Who?”

“Your brother, dipshit.” Gordon pushes my shoulder. “Time for him to join our fun.”

I swing around, pushing Gordon’s chest. “No!” I roar, and he darts out, grabbing my hair at the scalp.

“Why, you little shit.” His hand flies across my face in a loud smack that echoes in the room. My cheek burns, but I don’t stop.

I kick him and swing my arms. “Don’t touch him!” I yell, my face hot with anger.

My father had just beat the crap out of him while I was in the freezer, and tonight I was getting us out of here. I had to get him home.

I swing furiously, not even thinking. No!

“Take him!” Gordon yells, and I tense as soon as I feel Sherilynn’s fist in my hair, stinging my scalp.

Gordon lets go and his fist slams right into my face. I fall to the floor instantly, my ears ringing and my brain fogging over.

I hear footsteps on the stairs, and I dig out the knife in my pocket. The one I’d grabbed off the counter before they brought me down.

I slash at Sherilynn’s leg, and she cries out, letting go of my hair immediately. Gordon stops on the stairs and lunges back down, charging me.

I stumble as I try to stand, my body heavy as I raise my fist and lunge at him. “Leave us alone!” I scream.

And sink the blade right into his neck.

He stops. He looks stunned.

Tears blur my vision, and I start gasping in breath as I watch him without blinking.

He stumbles and paws at the knife still lodged in the side of his neck.

And then he falls.

I back up to the wall, my eyes wide, and I watch him gasp and sputter for breath and the tears dry. I remember Sherilynn is in the room, but it’s quiet. She should’ve screamed. I look over.

She’s lying on the floor, a pool of blood next to her thigh.

I slide down the wall and watch them both eventually stop breathing. I don’t go for help, and I don’t cry.

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