I shake my head. “I just don’t know if there’s a way for us both to be happy. She wants a normal life and that’s the one thing I can’t give her.”
“‘You decide your own normal.’ You told me that on the playground the day we met. Remember? I told you people don’t treat me like I’m normal and you said, ‘Richie, you decide your own normal’.”
I face him and lean back on the windowsill. “Really?”
“Yeah. You didn’t have it normal, either, right? Everyone knew who you were. A McManus.”
“I didn’t want to be one,” I mutter, memories floating to the surface. “I wanted to play football and go to the dances, instead of sitting in on meetings with my father. Watching him negotiate. Or inflict injury. But I guess…I don’t know, I guess he just pushed and pushed until I stopped wanting or expecting anything but what he was offering. This life.” Cold slices through me. “Jesus, I’ve become my father.”
Richie snorts. “No.”
“Yes. I didn’t give a fuck about what she wanted, did I? I just told her how it was going to be, whether she liked it or not.”
“Your father just liked to be in charge, boss. You wanted to keep her safe.”
“I will keep her safe, no matter what. I have that power. Oh Christ…” I drag my hands down my face. “If something happened to her, I would die. But her unhappiness might kill me first. I have to try and fix this. There has to be a compromise.”
Richie smiled. “You decide your own normal.”
“Hey, thanks, Rich. I owe you double now,” I say, moving through the living room toward the stairs at a fast clip. “Can I take a rain check on that sudoku? I have some apologizing to do.”
He’s already on his way to the door, tongue in the corner of his mouth, scrutinizing the puzzle as he goes. “Sure thing, boss.”
On my way up the stairs, it occurs to me that Helen brought the tray up to Meadow half an hour ago. Why is it taking so long for her to come back down? Maybe she’s comforting my girl? The possibility that I’m going to walk in and find Meadow crying in Helen’s arms flays my insides.
“Meadow?” I call, reaching for the doorknob as soon as I travel the hallway. Pushing it open and stepping inside. “Meadow, I’m sorry—”
What the fuck.
With a growing sense of despair, I take in every detail of the scene at once.
Helen is tied to the bedpost with the belt off my robe.
The window is open.
Meadow is nowhere to be seen.
“I’m sorry, Walker. I couldn’t stop her—”
“She’s gone?” The words heave out of me. “How the fuck did she get out? We’re three stories up.”
Helen looks green. “She j-jumped.”
The roar climbs my throat and rips out like a barrage of gunfire. Ice forms on my skin as I throw myself toward the window, terrified at what I’ll find. Jesus. Jesus. She could be hurt. Could be dead. Could have killed herself trying to escape from me.
No. No. No.
Relief pelts me when there is nothing beneath the window.
Meaning she’s alive. But for how long? She’s out there without protection. She’s walking right into the middle of a street war she knows nothing about. We haven’t retaliated yet for New York’s attack on me today and that means I haven’t killed them yet. They’re still out there. And if she’s seen leaving my house, she’ll be targeted. Taken. I did this. I didn’t listen. I fucking drove away the love of my life.
I throw my head out the window. “MEADOW!”
I got lucky escaping with a twisted ankle, but it hurts like hell.
There was a man standing guard beneath my window, but thanks to the timing of the century, he was off peeing in a bush when I made my move. And by move, I mean risking life and limb for freedom by hurling my headstrong ass from a third-story window. Would I do it again?
There’s definitely a knot in my throat as I hobble away from the house as quickly as possible with my throbbing injury and cut into the trees on the edge of Walker’s property, searching for a break in the gate. Come on, come on. I don’t have a lot of time. I have no doubt that Walker will notice I’m missing soon and—
Walker’s bellow shatters the night. On reflex, I throw myself down on the ground and cover my head, because it sounds like an explosion.
His obvious misery brings hot tears to my eyes and expels a sob from my mouth. It’s an effort to pick up and keep moving. I can hear Helen’s voice in my head telling me he was raised for violence. That he has a good heart but wasn’t given a chance to be anything but a brutal mob boss. I can feel his skin under my fingers and hear his heartbeat in my ear.