Chapter One

KNOX

The girl, whose name I couldn’t recall, writhed beneath me on the bed, ready and waiting. My pulse spiked as I watched her tempting curves move in the moonlight.

“Go down on me.” She squirmed, wiggling her hips as if to entice me south.

“I’m not eating your pu**y. You’re a stripper, baby, I don’t know where that thing’s been.” It was probably an ass**le thing to say, but that shit was the truth.

She let out a short laugh, but didn’t disagree.

“Roll over. I want you from behind.” That way I wouldn’t have to look into eyes that weren’t McKenna’s when I sank inside her. The darkness inside me had lain dormant for too long. Because of her. It was probably a good thing she figured out I was all wrong for her before I did something bad.

I reached for a condom, knowing that the dual sensations of relief and regret would soon be flooding my system. It was familiar to me, and a feeling I welcomed. Even as I rolled the condom on, I knew this dull ache inside wouldn’t be satisfied by the girl in front of me. But this was who I was and I wasn’t fighting it anymore. McKenna might have helped me see the light, but she wasn’t here now. Just this warm, willing girl who wanted me. Sinking into her slick heat was the only thing I needed to numb my pain. Not to be psychoanalyzed by a girl who would probably never trust me anyhow. I’d lost McKenna anyway, so why was I even thinking about that? The truth was, she was still the only woman I thought about day and night, even when I was about to satisfy my needs with some random hookup.

The pattern was impossible to ignore – I’d lost every woman I cared for, beginning with my mother several years ago. That had been the start of my descent into becoming the man I was now. Thoughts of my mother did nothing to relax me. In fact, I felt on edge and wound tighter than ever.

“What’s wrong? What are you waiting for?” The girl shifted to her side and gazed up at me, obviously looking for the same release as me. Blinking several times, I fought to understand what I was seeing – her dark hair and eyes made her resemble my mother. What the f**k? I scrambled away from her on my hands and knees.

With my heart hammering against my ribs, I opened my eyes to blackness all around me. I blinked again, struggling to see.

I was in my bed, alone, sweat glistening along my skin. It’d all been a dream. Thank God. My room was as dark and empty as my heart. I took a deep, shaky breath and scrubbed my hands over my face while adrenaline pulsed through my veins. I needed to calm the f**k down.

Knowing I wouldn’t get back to sleep anytime soon, I climbed from bed and headed downstairs. I downed a glass of cool water and checked on the boys, who were all sleeping soundly, before returning to my own bed. I fell onto the mattress with a thud, my heartbeat still too fast to fully relax.

It’d been a week since I’d seen McKenna – sobbing and hysterical over the thought that I’d slept with Amanda. It still tore me up remembering her like that. I’d done my best to calm her, to try and make her see reason – that I was messed up and it was only a matter of time before I really hurt her – but I hadn’t touched that girl. She’d fled the building without a backward glance. She either didn’t believe me, didn’t care, or both.

I stared up at the ceiling as the minutes ticked past. My mother’s death left a cool, empty place inside of me, and McKenna running away only intensified that.

I hated this sick need that followed me into the night. The desperate wanting that tightened my balls against my stomach. I knew only one way to make it go away. I needed to forget, to bury myself deep in distraction and pleasure. I forced my eyes closed and tried to breathe through the craving. Sweat broke out over my skin and my heart sped. Shit. I hated this side of myself. Trying to quiet my swirling mind, I thought of McKenna, of her quiet confidence and wholesome beauty. Bad idea. My dick started to rise to attention, liking the new direction of my thoughts. I considered grabbing the bottle of Jack that sat untouched in my nightstand drawer and downing a healthy measure to force my brain into oblivion. Switching tactics, I focused instead on my brothers. I would do anything to protect them from the man I’d become. I had to fight these feelings inside myself.

The fact that I was even questioning all this, trying to calm my raging nerves without sex or alcohol, meant one thing. McKenna had gotten under my skin. And hell if a part of me didn’t like it. She was a fascination, someone I wanted to understand. And I felt that way around very few people. I had the boys, and I rarely made time for others. Even friends I’d once been close with no longer counted on my list of priorities. Besides, most were busy being twenty-two years old while I was busy playing dad and sinking deeper and deeper into a hole.

Pulling in a deep breath, I began to relax. I pictured Tucker’s uneven grin when he’d sunk that basket straight through the net earlier. I thought about my mother’s upcoming birthday and made a mental note to buy flowers and take the boys to her grave. I thought about all the little things I needed to get done this week. Luke’s upcoming college placement tests that we needed to register and pay for, Tucker’s family tree that we needed to create for his history lesson, and Jaxon… I had no clue what was going on with my eighteen-year-old brother, only that he seemed to be becoming more and more like me. Which made my stomach cramp with fear. I wouldn’t wish this life on anyone.

Rolling over and shoving my pillow into place, I released a heavy sigh and closed my eyes, praying for sleep to take me.

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