We roll to a stop in front of a gas station that's a million years old. The pumps don't have credit card readers, so I have to go inside. "So much for pay at the pump," I mutter, and follow Millie toward the door.
She skips ahead of me and makes a beeline for the bathroom. The inside of the gas station is supposed to be rustic, but it just feels dirty to me. There are shelves of food and soda machines. An old clerk with a handlebar mustache is sitting behind the cash register. He doesn't seem to blink. I wonder whether he's sleeping with his eyes open.
When I step toward the counter and lift my gaze, I look around quickly. There's a woman buying bread, and behind her, a row over, there is one other person in the store. Our eyes lock and we see each other at the same time. My heart pounds harder and faster as my stomach goes into a free fall.
In that moment, everything changes.
Those green eyes used to haunt me every time I went to sleep. I feel my body stiffen. It remembers what Dean did to me with the slightest provocation. Dean flashes that smile at me, the one that's all swagger and charm. He walks around the aisle and comes toward me. I'm frozen in place. It's like last night all over again. The shock of seeing him when I'd never expect to throws me off. No one ever stops here. It's too close to town, but my brother and Dean wouldn't know that.
My pulse increases with each step he takes toward me. My fingers twitch at my sides as the muscles tense up, ready to fight. But Dean doesn't want a fight, not in a public place like this. There are too many people around. I doubt Dean will do anything. The man seems to turn into a monster only at night, although I'm sure if he could get me alone now he'd happily pick up where he left off.
Dean stops in front of me. "Hey, baby." He looks so goddamn normal. There's nothing plastered across his face that says otherwise. I wish there had been. I wish I'd known.
People can be two-faced like that. An image of Peter flashes behind my eyes. Screw them. I don't need anyone.
I come back to myself. Anger frees me, and the fear trickles away. "Don't baby me, and if you come a step closer—"
Dean gives me a lopsided grin and steps closer. "You'll what, Sidney? Come on. We both know you don't have it in you." He's a breath away from me. Dean slips his hand on my waist and leans in closer, whispering in my ear, "Just wait until we get home and I get you alone. I've learned some new tricks while you were away." When he backs off, I'm frozen in place. My body is covered in a sheet of icy sweat, while my breath hitches in my throat.
Millie saves me. She bounces up behind me with a bag of Doritos in one hand and a giant can of tea in the other. "Stop picking up hot guys at the gas station. I already told you that they don't like riding in the trunk." She glances up at Dean and holds his gaze as she says to me, "The shovel will smack him in the head every time you hit a bump."
I nod like she makes sense. Millie takes my arm and continues to talk, but that look in Dean's eye freaks me out. I'm barely breathing while we wait in line to pay for the goodies in Millie's hands. She leans in close to me and laughs, like I said something funny. She's nervous. Her voice is too strained. It's like she figured out what happened without me saying a word. "That's him, isn't it? The guy from last night? Your ex?" I nod and smile at her. At least I try to smile. My face feels like I'm wearing a week-old mask that's turned to plastic. Millie laughs again and leans into me. "Let's pay for this and get the hell out of here."
The line moves slowly because no one is ever in a hurry. It drives me nuts. People materialized after we walked in and beat us to the counter. Millie continues to chatter as I glance around, looking for Sam. There's no sign of him. I glance around out of the corners of my eyes, looking for Dean. I feel his eyes on the back of my neck, but I can't see him—not without turning around. I don't want to do that.
It's finally our turn. Millie puts her things on the counter, and Mustache Dude rings us up. Millie pays, and we head out to the car. I glance over my shoulder and see Dean watching me as we walk out the door. He's got his hands in his pockets and is standing outside the store in a shadow. He waves at me.
"See you soon, Sid! I can't wait!" Dean calls out as I get into the car.
Millie finally acts like something is wrong. "Start the car. Let's get out of here. He's watching you."
I shove my keys in the ignition and twist. The car doesn't even try to start. My jaw is locked. Millie seems to realize it at the same time as I do. "He did something to the car."
I try to crank it again, but there's no power. My throat is too tight, and there are still goose bumps on my skin even though it's hotter than hell outside today. I feel safer inside the car. I don't want to get out, but I need to look under the hood. It feels like I'm in a trance. The world isn't spinning anymore. Time stops. I don't want to feel like this, and the only way to make it stop is to get away from Dean.
I kick open the door and get out. Millie does the same. I yank open the hood and look at my battery. One of the cables came loose. The cord is detached and lying there on top of the plastic battery case. I feel his breath on my neck at the same time as his voice. "Car problems, Sid?"
"Leave me alone," I growl at Dean before turning on my heel. I walk to the trunk and grab the tools I need to reconnect the cable. Who does stuff like this?
Dean's grinning ear to ear. "I can fix it for you and buy you pretty gals lunch, if you like."
"No. Go away." I plan on ignoring him, but Dean won't leave me alone. He keeps brushing into me, touching me like it's an accident. He follows me back to the hood and shoves in between me and Millie.
"We're fine," Millie tells him. "You should be on your way."
"Aw, how sweet. Your little friend thinks she can protect you. What happened to the teacher?"
"Fuck off, Dean." I'm mad now. I hate him. I hate everything about him, everything he's done to me. My life would have been so different if Dean never came along. I'd run him over with the car if it would reset everything, but it won't.
Dean feigns offense. "Who taught you to talk like that? Such a dirty mouth on such a pretty girl. Just the way I like it." He grins at me. Millie makes an annoyed sound. Dean ignores her. While I'm under the hood, Dean slips his hand over my back. His fingers tease at the edge of my shirt and brush against my skin. The touch makes me jump.
I don't think anymore, I just act. I swing my fist at his face and scream, "Leave me alone!"
Dean is smiling, acting like this is a game, until I land a punch on his cheek. Anger flashes in his eyes. He backhands me. The wrench goes flying out of my other hand. Millie screams, and I can hear the old clerk yelling, but there are no words.
Dean grabs my wrist and starts pulling me across the parking lot. "Walk or I'll make you wish you had."
I try to peel his fingers off, but I can't. I drop to the ground with the intention of making him drag me. My jeans save my skin from being torn up by the rocks and scattered debris. No one helps me, well, no one but Millie. She does something. Dean yells, and then he drops me. My wrist is burning where he was holding me, and my hand has cracked open.
I jump to my feet and look up in time to see him grab something from Millie and smash it on the ground. Millie tries to take it back, but he shoves her so hard that she falls. Millie is screaming. The old man is yelling. And Dean is standing in front of me looking really pissed off. "Get in the fucking truck. Now."
Someone yells that they called the cops. It's the woman with the bread. She's been inching closer and closer, but she's too old and small to do anything. "You better get out of here, kid."
Dean spits at her. The woman steps back. Dean hisses, "Go inside and let us finish this alone. This is a family matter." He sounds totally reasonable, but his actions don't match his words. The woman doesn't move.
My body is so tense that it feels like the muscles are going to snap. This is a new level of crazy, even for Dean.
"Sidney, I swear to God that I'll make you regret this. Your mother asked us to get you and you act like a goddamn bitch—" He reaches for me when a voice booms behind us.
"Get off of her." Every head turns. I half expect to see a police officer, but it's not. They aren't here yet. It's Peter, and he looks insanely pissed off. Millie's eyes widen, and her head twitches back and forth between Peter and Dean. Part of me is relieved that Peter showed up, but the other half doesn't know how to accept his help. Lucky for me that I don't have to decide.
Dean thinks that Peter is the timid professor from the other night. He doesn't realize the man standing in front of him is a Ferro. If Dean knew, he'd run the other way. The Ferros are fierce, and Peter has been in more fights than his other brothers combined. There's no way to be that rich and not attract media attention when you punch your way from Manhattan to Fire Island. Peter's reckless behavior left behind a trail of people who would love to see the Ferros fall.
Dean steps in front of me. It's a possessive move. "Better go home and get your crush in check, Professor, or—"
Peter doesn't stop. He walks across the dusty parking lot, straight up to Dean, pulls his arm back, and swings. It's not a sucker shot, but Dean doesn't expect it. His neck twists to the side on impact. Peter doesn't stop. He's not the same man he was last night. Something changed. Just as he takes another swing, Dean moves. The lunatic runs straight at Peter, and Dean rams his shoulder into Peter's stomach. There's an oof sound, and the two keep at it. Peter twists around quickly and manages to grab Dean by the throat. He pulls Dean close, so Peter's lips are nearly touching Dean's ear. Peter's eyes lock with mine as he says words that I can't hear. Dean's eyes narrow into slits as Peter chokes him, whispering threats—probably the same threats that made my brother turn pale.
The hot wind whips my hair away from my face. I brush it back, watching the two of them. I can't believe what I'm seeing. Peter's muscles are corded tight. His shirt is stuck to his body as beads of sweat roll down his temples. The look Peter gives me says so much, but this version of him scares me. Last night Peter didn't fight back. I want to know why. I thought that he wasn't a fighter, but not now. Peter Ferro can protect himself and anyone he cares about. Our gazes are locked. Only a second passes, but it feels like a lifetime.