I wanted it to make something of it. The way the Lawtons had sat on it for years, using it as a trophy to make them lofty and important disgusted me. Especially living in the home, being treated as if I weren’t worth shit. This money was mine now, and I was changing things. Country clubs and cotillions were no longer.

Not anymore.

“Are you listening to me?” Rhett taunted. “We will take you and clean you out. That’s our plan. Don’t fuck with us.”

I didn’t know who he thought “us” was, but our mother didn’t want them to win. I had the power completely, and I wasn’t worried.

“There won’t be a court battle,” I said simply.

He laughed and grinned like an idiot. “Hell yeah, there will. Dad will take you down.”

If I was a bigger man, I’d walk away and let him think whatever he wanted. But I wasn’t. I was a seventeen-year-old who had been talked down to and kicked around by this family my whole life. So sticking it to my brother felt like the right thing to do, as much as it hurt to do it.

“Seeing as how your father was a bastard and has no Lawton blood running through his veins, that might be a bit of a hurdle. But good luck with that and all.”

I didn’t wait for him to respond. I turned and walked away, only one—okay, maybe both—of my hands flipping him off on my exit.

As I walked past the door to the office I was never allowed to enter as a child or even now, I stopped and, without knocking, threw the door open. The man I hated more than anyone else on earth glared at me with a furious expression.

“Do not walk into my office unannounced or uninvited,” he roared.

This time I rolled my eyes and walked over to sit on the edge of his desk. “Seeing as this here is all mine and you aren’t even a Lawton, I figure I’ll do whatever the hell I want.”

If eyes could bulge out of your head until they appeared to be on the verge of popping out, his just did. And I laughed. Because that was truly the funniest shit I’d ever seen.

“I’ll call the police,” he warned.

I reached for his phone and held it out to him. “Please do, Father dear. Please fucking do.”

I Had My Own Past to Overcome

CHAPTER 45

WILLA

I could hear Nonna on the phone as she talked to her friend in Nashville, Tennessee. Every word. Part of me knew I should just start packing my bags now, but the small amount of hope I clung to kept me from doing so. This phone call meant I was leaving. The walls weren’t thick, and I knew what was being said.

Nonna was trying to get me into an all-girl Catholic school where her friend worked. From the sound of things, I’d be living with her friend and cleaning her house to pay for my room and board. It wasn’t as bad as a correctional center, but it was somewhere else I’d be alone.

Maybe I was meant to be alone. Life had taken any relationships that I cherished and ripped them away from me. I was getting tough. There weren’t even any tears this time.

There would be no telling Gunner bye. She’d already demanded I not speak to him or contact him. Doing so would get me sent away even faster. Nonna believed we’d been doing something wrong, and I couldn’t tell her the truth. That was Gunner’s secret to tell.

I would protect him and his secret however I could. This wouldn’t kill me. I had survived much worse.

I stood up, walked over to my closet, and began taking the clothes down one at a time and folding them. Items I thought I wouldn’t need I left here. I had nowhere else to leave them. Nonna was disappointed in me, but she wasn’t banishing me forever. She was keeping me from making my mother’s mistakes. She hadn’t said that, but I understood it just the same.

My nonna loved me. She was in there trying to find a safe place away from all teenage boys so I wouldn’t end up pregnant. That’s why she was sending me to a Catholic school. This wasn’t out of hate or annoyance. It was all out of love. It made it easier to accept.

When I heard her say good-bye, I stopped folding clothes and watched the door for it to open. This was it. I would be leaving and facing another new set of people. I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t cry.

The door opened slowly, and Nonna’s gaze found mine. She looked at the clothes on my bed, then back up at me. There was a sadness in her eyes, and there was worry. She was truly worried for me. I loved her for that even more. Whatever she chose to do, I would do. I wasn’t fighting it.

“You’re packing,” she said simply as she stepped farther into the room.

I nodded. “Figured I’d be productive.”

She frowned. “I don’t want to send you off, Willa. I love having you here with me. You’re home here, and it makes life brighter. But I can’t let you down like I did your mom.”

Just as I’d guessed, it was about my mom. “I know” was all I could say.

“You’ve got so much potential. Potential that your mother didn’t have. You’ve got a big heart, and you know how to overcome obstacles.”

The tears that I said I wouldn’t cry stung my eyes.

“I love that boy. Gunner is a good boy. He’s been neglected, and he’s damaged because of it. But deep down he’s got a heart ain’t neither of his parents have. He’s special, too. But he is damaged, Willa. The boy ain’t ever been loved in that home. He don’t know what that feels like. Close as he got was me, and I’m just the hired help. Not being loved by the people who are supposed to take care of you messes you up. I can’t trust him not to ruin your life. He won’t mean to, but he will. He can’t be that guy for you.”

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