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“I told Chop about your promise to me, about the ring, and he laughed in my face. Then I heard you tell King it was all a joke.” She lifted up her shirt so high she revealed the rounded underside of her breasts. She pointed to the purple black and blue bruises on her ribs. “Does this look like a joke to you?” Then she pointed at her swollen lip and then the butterfly stitch around her eye. “Do these look like jokes?”

For the first time in my life I was caught off guard. I wanted to pummel the girl for not listening to me, but for the first time realized that her injuries would never have happened if I wouldn’t have given her that ring or told her that lie. “I got it from here.” She pushed against my chest but it was useless, I had at least a hundred pounds on her.

She wasn’t going anywhere.

“Just let me go! I want to go home!” she screamed, continuing to struggle, wincing when I’d grabbed her by the waist and lifted her off her feet. I loosened my grip but didn’t put her down.

“Listen to the words I’m saying.” I seethed, leaning down, invading every inch of her personal space. “Did I say that I didn’t want you to leave? Am I begging you to stay? What did I just say?” I asked, trying to make the girl see reason.

Thia gasped and her eyes went wide. “You said…I CAN’T leave.” She stopped struggling, but I continued to hold onto her like she was. “Why? Why can’t I?”

“Reason number one is because I fucking said so. I still don’t know if you’re working for my cocksucker old man…” I started, even though what King had told me made that possibility highly unlikely.

Highly unlikely wasn’t beyond Chop.

“I’m not!” she snapped.

“Shut up and listen. I’m going to show you something, but I need to be able to use my hands. I’m going to let go of your arms. You fucking make a move to run and I won’t be gentle next time,” I warned, finally letting go when I felt the tension in her arms start to fade, setting her back down onto her feet. I pulled out my phone and clicked on the internet where I’d already had the website for the Logan’s Beach News Press queued up. I clicked on the morning’s latest news and turned it around so she could see the screen.

Thia paled. Her already white skin fading to damn near see through as she read the headline.

HUSBAND AND WIFE FOUND SLAIN IN JESSEP HOME

MISSING TEEN DAUGHTER ONLY SUSPECT

POLICE HAVE DEEMED THE KILLINGS

THE ‘ORANGE GROVE SLAUGHTER’

I snapped the phone shut and answered her honestly.

“Reason number two, is because we were too fucking late.”

CHAPTER TWELVE

Thia

I was officially wanted.

And unwanted.

All at the same time.

Bear wasn’t going to let me go. Going home to Jessep and confessing to what I’d done to the sheriff was no longer an option. The headline was so damning. Would they even believe me if I told them the truth? Would I face charges even if they believed me?

I couldn’t do anything at all, yet I wanted so badly to do something that would take away the lump forming in my throat and chest, slowly suffocating me with each intake of breath.

Breathe in, squeeze.

Breathe out, tighter.

Breathe in, squeeze.

Breathe out, even tighter still.

I wish I could say I felt numb. I wanted numb, craved it. I longed for indifference and detachment, because I was a runaway train, racing forward at full speed toward the end of the tracks and a crash I could see clearly in front of me as if it had already happened.

The fight in me faded as quickly as it had built.

I was trapped.

In this place.

In this horrible life.

Tomorrow had come, a day too soon.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Bear

Thia sat perched on the edge of the bed, staring at the wall with an unreadable expression on her face. The same place she’d been since hanging her head in defeat and silently following me back up to the garage.

Ray came over and brought some fresh clothes and a toothbrush for Thia who thanked her and disappeared into the bathroom, but when she came back out both Ray and myself noticed right away that although we’d heard the shower and the sink, she was still wearing the same shorts. We shot each other the same confused look. “Ummm, the nurse who checked you out when you got here, her name is Sally,” Ray said. “You wouldn’t let her check you everywhere. She called earlier and she’s worried and wants to know if you want her to come over and take a look to make sure you’re okay,” Ray offered.

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