Page 20 of Room Seventeen

Jagged edges of pain slice through me. He won. He finally won. The greedy, power-hungry mobster got what he wanted.

Rage fires through me and the flames licking inside my veins last night don’t come close in comparison to the furious anger consuming me now. I surge forward only to be held back by a clamp of arms around my middle. I kick out, slamming my size five-and-a-half boot into someone’s shin.

I spot my stepfather on the wide arching stairs and recalculate my trajectory. I break through the barrier and the cops manning it, but the Barney Fife sidekick to Cowboy Boots is surprisingly strong for his small frame.

“Ma’am, you need to keep back. Damn it, someone help me!”

“What do you mean, keep back?” My voice reaches its peak, earning me the hard glare of my stepfather. I can feel the burn of his aging blue eyes on me the second they swing my way. He’s taller than the sheriff at his side and more robust too. From looking at him you’d think he was in his mid-forties. He eats right, works out last I heard, and makes sure the gray won’t settle in his hair for more than a day. On the outside, I would dare say he’s handsome. But on the inside…thousands of tiny bugs crawl over my skin and I immediately feel like hurling.

“You finally showed up. It only took your mother hanging herself to bring you back. Nice.” Acid drips from his cruel words.

Cold sheets of ice drape over me. Careful not to show how he affects me to my core, I wipe my expression clear of emotions.

But I’m not as successful with my tone. “My mother what?” I seethe, shaking on the inside. He can’t be right.

His dark eyes gleam with twisted glee. The sheriff is busy looking at me like I’m a threat instead of the devil’s snake at his side.

“Hung herself like the pathetic woman she was.”

I cast around. None of the cops walking back and forth with their tiny notebooks and badges stand up for the woman who organized galas and fundraisers in order to support the local cops.

All the faith I have for other people in this world shrivels into dust.

My heart flexes and contracts with trashed nerves, clawing fear and rage. But what has me unable to breathe is my world crumbling. Dreams, aspirations, and the hope I held that I could one day save her all fall at my feet like stars dying among the blades of grass crushed under tens of boots. Cops march by like this is just another day on the job for them while my universe crumbles.

Lines etched into the aging skin at the corners of his eyes crinkle when he narrows his eyes on me. There’s evil in those black depths. How everyone fails to see it but me is the greatest mystery I have no way of solving.

“Take her to her room, officers. I will deal with my stepchild momentarily.”

Desperation claws at me. My room? Deal with me? My throat closes, cutting off my air, and silver dots fill my vision. He’s off his fucking rocker. There’s no way these officers can “take me to my room”. I’m fucking twenty-two years old woman.

Vices for fingers dig into my skin and I am being hauled up the steps leading into La Rogue. I dig in my heels, shake off the scrawny cop with the new badge, and hit a flat-out dead run for my car.

“Let her go. She won’t get far.”

The burn of eyes lasering between my shoulder blades nearly sends me falling over my boot laces as I slam the car door behind me and gun the motor. Gravel and grass fly as I make a hard U-turn.

His threat chases me across the yard. Yeah fucking right. He’ll never see a hair on my head again.

My stepfather has enough money to buy the law in a small parish outside of New Orleans. Fine. But he will never buy me. Never control me again. He can have the riches he gained with my family’s name. I want no part of it. If I’m lucky the ground will open up under him one day and swallow him whole.

Miles pass in a blur of shimmering scenery. I don’t realize I’ve driven back to Club Sin until I shut the engine off outside the closed iron gates.

There’s a man outside my window knocking on the glass. I ignore him.

“Ma’am, can I help you? You can’t just park here.” He bangs a knuckle on the glass.

A burst of light hits me. I just sit there in a blur. He killed her. I know he did. I just can’t prove it. I don’t need to. I can go back there tonight and drive a blade into his heart. Any blade. It doesn’t have to be a special one. I can wait until he drinks too much and falls asleep in his home office and…

My door is yanked open and steel eyes find mine.

“I didn’t know where else to go.” The tears finally fall.

Strong arms pull me out of Hell’s fire.

“You came back. That is all that matters.”

Eight


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