I reached up and ran my fingers over my bare earlobe. The piercings that once framed my ear were almost all gone now. I’d not been able to wear them in the correctional center. I had gotten used to not having to deal with them, and I didn’t desire to put them back. Even without them, I was so different from the girl who had left here six years ago.
The Rest of Them Could All Go to Hell
I continued to glare out the passenger window of my own damn truck. I had drunk two beers. That was it. If Brady hadn’t been so busy with his hands all over Ivy Hollis, then he’d have seen I was sober enough to drive myself home.
“How’re you getting home? I sure ain’t letting you take my truck,” I told him, glancing over to see Brady smirk. Asshole.
“West is picking me up. He’s gotta take Maggie home anyway,” was his obnoxious reply. Since West had hooked up with Brady’s cousin Maggie, he’d become a do-gooder like Brady. It could drive a guy to drink.
“You completely messed things up for me with Kimmie. Can’t get a girl in my truck alone if you’re driving it.” And I was pissed about that.
“You should be thanking me. Do you not remember the drama Kimmie caused you last time you got her alone in your truck?”
He had a point. Shaking her loose wasn’t easy. I’d had to make out with Serena in front of her to get her to leave me alone. I just grunted a response. I didn’t like it when he was right.
“Whatever,” I mumbled.
Brady chuckled, and I didn’t have to look at him to know he was grinning. “Who is that?” he asked, all the humor suddenly gone from his voice as he slowed the truck down.
I glanced over at him to see which direction he was looking. Following his gaze, I saw someone walking toward the back of the property. It was so dark outside that I couldn’t make out who it was. They were nothing more than a shadowy figure from here.
Shrugging, I leaned back in the seat and closed my eyes. I was exhausted. Maybe Brady was right and I wasn’t safe to drive. “It’s probably Ms. Ames. You know she works late most of the time,” I replied, stifling a yawn.
“Ain’t real safe for Ms. Ames to be walking in the dark like that, is it?” he asked.
Brady was a perpetual good guy. I swear sometimes it drove me batshit crazy. “She’s been doing it for longer than I’ve been alive. I think she’ll be fine.” Ms. Ames was our housecleaner and cook. She was also my mother’s stand-in mother in a way. When my mother needed advice or help, she always asked Ms. Ames. I liked her better than my own parents. But then I figured she liked me better than my own parents did, so it was mutual. Since my older brother, Rhett, was my parent’s favorite child, Ms. Ames had made it clear I was hers. She was also one tough old lady, and I knew anything that encountered her out in the dark better be prepared to be taken down a notch. She could be fierce. I’d seen her take on more than one battle for me when I was a kid, and she always won.
“Maybe I should stop and go check on her. Make sure she gets home safe.” His voice still held that tone of concern.
“If you stop this truck, I’ll drive my own ass the rest of the way,” I warned him. He was the one who was insistent on driving me. We were almost there now, and my bed was so close. I just wanted to get home. Besides, by the time he got to Ms. Ames, she’d be in her house. Safe. Like she always was.
“You’re a little shit,” Brady grumbled, and continued on his way to my house. I didn’t take offense at his comment. Wasn’t the first time I’d been called that. My father referred to me as a little shit often. But when he said it, I knew he meant it. And abhorred it. Abhorred me. Because although I carried the last name of Lawton . . . I wasn’t his son. I was just the offspring of one of my mother’s many affairs. The man I called Father wasn’t my biological father. When my older brother was eighteen months old, my dad had gotten prostate cancer, and although the tumor had been removed, his junk never worked again.
Brady pulled into my spot in our six-car garage and turned off the truck, then tossed me the keys. “Go to bed. West just sent me a text, and they’re right behind us. I’m going to go walk out there and meet them.”
I wasn’t stupid. He was going to go check on Ms. Ames. I nodded and thanked him begrudgingly for getting me home in one piece before heading into the house. Walking past my father’s office door, I could hear him on the phone. It sounded like business. He was always working. That had once hurt when he hadn’t had time to give me. That all changed the day I overheard him call me a bastard, when I was twelve years old. It had been more of a relief than anything. I didn’t want to be like him. His pointless life full of anger and bitterness. Concerned with how the world saw him and the appearance of this family. He was everything I never wanted to be. I hated that man.
I never once blamed my mother for cheating on him. I’d never seen him show her any affection. She was a trophy on his arm, and that was all. Nothing more. He traveled more than he was home.
Where guys like West thought it was okay to love a girl, I knew better. Love wasn’t real. It was a fleeting emotion that confused you, then destroyed you in the end. You couldn’t trust people. The moment you loved them, they had the power to hurt you.
No woman would ever touch my heart. I was too damn smart for that. I had loved my mother once, but she’d managed to ignore me—unless she wanted to show me off like a prize pony—most of my life. I had loved my father, too, and sought his approval until I realized one day I’d never earn it. Rhett was his golden child. The son who he bragged about. The son that was his. I knew I was better off without all of them, but that still didn’t stop my heart from sometimes aching at what I had missed out on.
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