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I learned that from fighting with King.

“You think I’m afraid of you?” I laughed, shaking my head from side to side. “I’ve known fear, real fear. Shit that would make you piss your fucking khaki shorts. You think you can scare me? Think again. Because I’ve seen what real fear looks like and I’ll tell you something, real fear is much bigger than you, has bright green eyes, and a lot more tattoos.”

“You’re talking about that fucking felon?” Tanner asked, bitterly. “That motherfucker is going to pay for what he did to me the night of the party.”

What did King do to Tanner at the party?

“Oh, he didn’t tell you?” he asked. “I came to your window to make yet another fake apology to the almighty Ray Price when I saw you two.” My eyes went wide. “That motherfucker knew I was there watching, made a show of fucking you in front of me, making you tell him that you love him.” Tanner heaved as if he were about to throw up but took a deep breath and continued, “He fucking came all over your back, literally rubbing it in that you were his!” Tanner grabbed the sides of my head and started lifting it up and pounding it back into the carpet, like he was trying to force his point into me. Over and over again until my eyes started to cross and I saw double. Two crazed Tanners were shouting at me, spit flying out of their mouths as they pounded my head into the floor. “But you’re not his! You’re not fucking his Ramie! You’re not! You’re mine!” Tanner roared. Cocking back his fist, his blow landed in the dead center of my stomach.

All the wind left my lungs. A sharp pain tore up my spine. I turned on my side and folded myself in half, hugging my middle. I prayed that he hadn’t taken away the life that King and I had made.

“Are you afraid of me now, bitch?”

“Stop! Don’t! I’m—” I croaked out, stopping just short of saying the words. Tanner’s eyes went wide. His chest heaved up and down. He didn’t blink. His mouth opened but no words came out. Then suddenly it was if he’d registered what I’d said because he stood from the floor and kicked the side of the dresser, sending the baby monitor and the contents of Sammy’s diaper changing station crashing to the floor around my head.

He crossed back over the room and stood above me, glaring so hard I could feel the heat of his stare. I flinched when he bent down, but he’d only picked up something from the floor.

The phone King had given me. A wicked smile lit up his face. With a guttural roar, he lifted his boot.

The last thing I saw was the heel.

The last thing I felt was it connecting with my face.

Chapter Twenty-Five

King

“So, I’ve decided I’m not going to die,” Grace announced, handing me a beer. Ever since I brought her back home from the safe house, I’d noticed a change in her. She was moving with more ease. Her skin had some color back in it, the bags underneath her eyes were gone.

“That’s just something you can decide now?” I asked, taking a swig of my beer and setting it back down on the table. Grace reached over and picked up the bottle, setting it onto the coaster she’d set out on the table for me, but I’d forgotten to use.

I’m pretty sure that if you went back to my house and searched top to bottom, you wouldn’t find a single coaster.

“Yes. It is.” Grace reached out and placed a hand on my forearm. “You have been through so much, my boy. I don’t want to put you through anything else. Besides, you kids need me. That much is obvious. So nope, I’m not dying. I’m staying put.”

“What does your doctor say about your new life revelation?” I asked, taking another long pull of my beer. With Eli out of the way as a threat, and a date to bring my girl back home, I finally felt like I could let my guard down.

“Oh, what does he know? I’m feeling great and that’s what I am going to focus on. Going back to him week after week, wasting hours of my life just to hear him tell me how much of it I have left? It’s absolutely useless. So I’ve decided I’m not going anywhere, and that’s that.”

“Honestly,” I started, “if anyone can avoid meeting their maker just because they decided to live instead…I believe you can.” And it was the truth. Grace wasn’t just an old lady with too many ceramic rabbits. She was a force to be reckoned with and if she wanted to use that force to fight the boatman, then who was I to argue? “So, you won’t need me to bring you weed anymore?”

“Now I didn’t say that,” Grace sang. “And I have to be around for a lot longer, especially now that my boy is going to have a kid running around. Grandma Grace has her spoiling hat on, and I’m warning you, once it’s on, it’s hard to get it back off.”

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