Page 94 of Conceal

“Him?” I whisper. But he doesn’t have to say it for me to know. It’s the only thing that makes sense.

“Your father took everything from me.”

Like a freight train, it hits me. Everything I have pushed down and forced myself to forget. I can feel the car jerk. The impact. Falling forward. I can hear the screech of the tires and the screams. The smell of burning rubber. I close my eyes to run from the image in my head that I have worked so hard to forget, but it becomes crisper when I do.

The accident.

My father was driving and my mother . . . my body shakes.

“I see you’re remembering now.”

“My mother died.” I don’t recognize my own voice; it’s broken.

“My whole family died!” he fires back. Words laced with venom and pain.

The other car.

And like a puzzle that has been missing the pieces, I finally have the last piece to put it together.

The other car.

There was another family.

They didn’t make it.

All the hushed whispers pour into my ears. Things I had forgotten rush back.

In the other car was a family, but I never knew what happened to them. I never asked. Or pried.

“Shhh. She’s too fragile,” someone had said.

I remember hearing the word dead, also the word three. But I assumed they were talking about my mom.

The three of us in the car.

Liquid collects in my eyes.

“I didn’t know.” My body sways with my sobs, but his grip keeps me steady.

“Of course, you didn’t. He made sure of that.” Hatred leaks from his words. There is so much hatred. I don’t understand.

“It was an accident.”

“Oh, is that what they told the princess? It was no accident. Your father was drinking. But because he was rich, he didn’t go to jail. He was sent to a private hospital where he was the largest donor and sat on the board. They didn’t even fucking test his blood. The man couldn’t walk. I saw. I was there.” As he hisses in my face, I realize we are moving. Or rather he is pushing me.

The wind is knocked out of my lungs as my back hits the wall behind me.

“Everything was swept under the rug. My parents died . . .”

Still shocked from the impact, I lift my head and look at him. His feral eyes are far away and lost in a nightmare. I know he wants to kill me, but I still feel his pain. It’s written on his features as if the accident just happened.

“I’m sor—”

His other arm reaches up, pinning me by the throat, his hands wrapping around my skin and cutting off my words.

“I don’t want to hear you talk. I want you to listen. I want you to hear how your father ruined me. How because of him, my parents died, and I was sent to a home. The horrors I faced there. And while I was tortured, beaten”—he pauses and shakes the nightmare away of whatever else was done to him—“you were living a dream life.”

“I lost my mother,” I whisper.

“And I lost everything.”

His arm starts to tighten. “I married you to get access to your father,” he spits. “And then I killed him. He died slowly, choking on his own vomit. It was less than he deserved, and it still didn’t give me what I needed. I was going to keep you around. Make your life hell, spend my whole life torturing you, the way I was tortured, but I got bored with you. So now . . . I’m going to kill you too. I’m going to ruin you, like he ruined me . . .” He trails off, his fingers wrapping tighter and tighter as the air starts to become limited.

I’m frozen in place. My mind spins as I begin to lose consciousness.

Black spots dance across my sight, marring my vision.

Soter.

Squeezing. Tighter. Tighter.

Blackness flashes again.

Soter.

The word repeats like a mantra over and over again.

Soter. Soter. Soter.

Jaxson.

I can no longer see. I can no longer feel. My mind hovers above my body.

Soteria.

The goddess of victory.

This isn’t the end. The word rings in my brain. Everything Jax said to me, all the things Shay taught me.

I push past the pain, past the fear, and pull out the strength inside me. All of it. Because I won’t let him win.

No.

This is where it ends.

I won’t be his victim.

For months, I have run from fear. But I’m no longer afraid.

The past few months have taught me that I’m a survivor.

I don’t need a man to rescue me. I can rescue my own damn self.

My arm reaches out for something to stop him. Anything.

Then I feel it.

It bites at my fingers, spilling blood with it. But through the pain, I grip the blade. I think it’s a shard of glass from the construction.

I can barely see as I thrust it forward. But as I’m about to make contact, his free hand catches mine.

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