Prologue – First Night
I wake in the darkness, my heart pounding, a weird feeling of anxiety crawling over me, prickling at my skin in an unwelcome reminder, as though I’ve forgotten something.
I sit up, my head in my hands as I try to figure out what it is. Is it something to do with Sienna? With Reid?
I force my eyes to adjust to the darkness, blinking rapidly to clear the sleepy haze that hangs like a heavy cloud over me that just won’t budge. I realize I’m sitting on the couch, my couch and when I try to stand up, I can’t. My body like lead as it stays rooted in place, unable to move.
Panic starts to course through me, my heart now crashing against my ribs, my breathing growing ragged as the room slowly comes into focus, as though a heavy black curtain is being pulled back to reveal where I am.
The living room.
My living room.
What the fuck am I doing back here?
I left this place. Four days ago, I got in a car with my sister and my best friend and I left this house, this city and this life behind.
How the fuck am I back here?
I open my mouth to speak, try to call out, but no words come, my throat feeling tight as though something’s pressing on it, stopping my voice and the air I’m trying to suck into my lungs. My hands move to my neck but there’s nothing there, even as the imaginary vice grows tighter and tighter.
Sweat breaks out over my skin and when I hold my hands up in front of me, they’re shaking uncontrollably. I curl my fingers into fists, my body now clammy, my gut churning as nausea washes over me in waves.
I try to stand up again, but I can’t, my body is bound to this stupid fucking couch in my living room back in Providence.
I open my mouth, silently screaming into the darkness, but no sound comes out, no voice, no words, nothing…
Suddenly the room is bathed in a bright light, blinding me, shocking me as I freeze in fear and…
My eyes fly open and I scour the unfamiliar room, trying to figure out where the hell I am now. Scrubbing a shaking hand down my face, my fingers run over the small bump on my cheek bone, reminding me of the beating I took. Reminding me that I am still here, still alive. Even if alive means I’m barely living.
It was just a dream.
One of so many dreams I’ve had in the nights since I nearly died almost a month ago.
I force myself to sit up, the pain in my ribs no longer as bad as I turn and lean back against the couch, the blanket and pillows all scattered on the floor as though pushed off during the night. My heart is still pounding inside my rib cage, my body still covered in sweat as I suck in deep breaths of air, my throat no longer constricted.
The TV is on, its volume muted but its low light casting a comforting glow to the room. I haven’t been able to sleep with the lights off for ages. Too many things hiding in the shadows, like they were the night I came home and found Ray Bowen waiting for me.
“Jesus christ,” I mutter, sitting forward, as my head falls into my shaking hands.
When is this ever going to stop?
I have no reason to be afraid anymore, not now. Ray Bowen is in prison and he’s never getting out. All his men either disappeared or turned on him, spilling the beans in return for lighter sentences, so I know they aren’t coming after me either.
And Providence is long gone. The bar and our house have been claimed by the bank and I’ve left it all behind for a new start. A new start that doesn’t seem to have gotten the fucking memo.
I take a couple of deep breaths as I force myself to calm down. I can feel my pounding heart finally start to slow as I put a shaking hand against my bare chest, my skin slick with sweat. Lifting my head, I take in the room again, finally remembering where I am.
With my twin sister, Sienna and my best friend, Reid.
They convinced me to come back here with them after everything went to shit back home in Providence. They were only supposed to come back for our dad’s funeral. But in the six days it took them to get there, so many things changed.
I discovered that our father was up to his ass in debt to Ray Bowen, Reid’s dad. Debt that was now my responsibility. And debt that Ray Bowen didn’t take too kindly to me missing repayments on. The problem was though, there was no money to make those repayments. Not when our dad had gambled it all away. Not when the interest on the loan was through the fucking roof.
When Reid and Sienna had finally got back, the shit had really hit the fan. I don’t know why he’d felt the need to do so, but apparently Ray Bowen thought it was in my best interests to pay me a visit, remind me of that debt I now owed and what the consequences for non-compliance were.
My sister and Reid had been the ones to find me. I’d spent the better part of the previous twelve hours lying on the floor of my house, thinking I was going to die, before they finally walked in.
All of this had fucked with them too, in so many ways. Because after years of trying to pretend to themselves and everyone around them that they weren’t in love with each other, that road trip home had changed everything between them.
And all of that had been shot to shit when Sienna discovered that Reid’s father was the one who beat the shit out of me and killed our father. She’d freaked out and thought that automatically meant Reid knew too. He didn’t of course, but she was too messed up in her grief and her anger to realize that. Thankfully they’d eventually figured everything out and gotten back together. Although they’re now kind of nauseating; like love-sick puppies, following each other around and shit.
But in all honesty, as weird as it is to see my best friend make out with my sister, they are the two most important people in the world to me. I’m glad they’re happy; they’re perfect for each other.
I take another deep breath, inhaling deep into my lungs before letting it out on a long exhale. Standing, I turn and make my way quietly into the dark kitchen, the only light coming from the streetlamp outside the window. I hate the fact there are no blinds on it, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Instead, I try to ignore the shadows outside as I glance at the clock on the microwave.
The house is silent, Sienna, Reid and Sienna’s roommate, Ruby all asleep in their bedrooms. Because of course they are; it’s three o’clock in the fucking morning.
I wander over to the fridge, opening it as I search for something cold to drink. My eyes move over the beers, debating whether I want to go down this path. It’s not that I don’t drink, it’s just that having a drunk for a father is enough to scare anyone into avoiding drinking alone in the kitchen in the middle of the night.
So I close the fridge door, instead grabbing a glass from the cabinet and filling it with water.
I drink the whole glass while standing at the sink, forcing myself to look outside before refilling it and moving over to the stools that line the kitchen counter. I take a seat, pulling my phone from the pocket of my sweats and bring up the web browser.
As soon as Google loads, I type in Ray Bowen’s name, my eyes scanning the news articles that pop up, looking for anything different, anything that might have happened since the cops finally caught him and put him in jail.
There isn’t going to be a trial, thank fuck. I’m not sure I could stand in a courtroom and face the guy who tried to kill me over something that had nothing to do with me. I know Reid didn’t want a trial either and I don’t blame him. Considering he was the one who’d turned all the evidence over to the cops, it’s quite possible his father hates him even more than he hates me.
There’s nothing new there and when I check my emails, I see nothing from the detective in charge of Ray’s case either. Letting out another breath, I re-open Google and instead type in a search for jobs near the Hawthorn campus, knowing eventually I’m going to have to try and get my life back to normal.
Whatever the fuck that looks like.
I scroll through the list and see plenty of positions in the various bars that surround the campus. They’re the type of jobs I could do in my sleep and even though Reid has suggested on a few occasions I should consider going back to school, I know that’s not going to happen now.
School feels like a dream from my old life. A life that took place before all the secrets and lies that contaminated our family were finally revealed. I’m not sure I can go back to that version of me; not now.
I make a note of a couple of possibilities, but until I get this cast off, there’s not much I can do. Thankfully, it’s only another couple of weeks until that happens.
Suddenly, the kitchen light flicks on, bathing the room in brightness. “Shit,” I half shout, my eyes closing as I practically jump out of my seat.
“Fuck!” a female voice calls out. “Oh my god, what…who…”
I shake my head rubbing a hand over my face as my eyes try to adjust to the sudden brightness. By the time they do, I see Ruby over by the fridge, standing behind the now open door.
“Holy shit,” she exhales. “I’m sorry, I totally forgot—”
“No, it’s my fault,” I tell her, my voice shaking just a little. “I shouldn’t sit here in the dark in the middle of the night like a weirdo.”
She giggles and if I didn’t know better, I’d say she was still a little drunk. She’d been drunk when we got back to Hawthorn only eight hours ago, stopping briefly to say hello before heading over to Reid’s place to continue drinking. I hadn’t even heard her come home, which is weird, but evidently, she had.
“Well, I’m also a middle of the night weirdo, obviously,” she says, shrugging. “I just turn on the light.”
I feel myself smiling at her, liking that she’s acting like this is all totally normal. Then again, she is drunk so maybe to her it is. “Couldn’t sleep?” I ask. “Or just getting home?”
She giggles again, hiccupping a little. “Just getting in,” she says. “Haven’t been to sleep yet.”
“Mmmm,” she says, reaching into the fridge and pulling out an apple. “The usual to be honest.”
I nod, not sure what she means by the usual. Having never been to college, let alone a college party, I have no idea what goes on. And despite living in a college town and working close to Brown University, I was always too busy trying to save our bar to venture out. Fuck, that makes me sound like such a loser.
“How’s that couch?” Ruby suddenly asks, motioning to the living room with her apple. “Comfy?”
“I’ve slept on worse,” I say, giving her a small smile.
Ruby nods, hiccupping again. “Good. Sorry about the two bedroom situation though. Sorta sucks you move out here and you’re forced to sleep on the couch.”
I hold my hand up. “Don’t be, I’m just grateful for somewhere to stay,” I tell her. “And I promise, as soon as I get some work lined up, I’ll move out so you guys have your living room back.”
Ruby takes a bite of her apple before waving it in the air, swaying a little. “All good,” she says.
Ruby tilts her head, her arms out as she gives what I’m guessing is a little curtsey behind the still open fridge door. “You’re welcome,” she says, giggling again. “Besides,” she adds, her eyes flicking in the direction of Sienna’s bedroom, “with those two pathetic loved up fools now living here,” she pauses, pointing to Sienna’s bedroom as she mimes throwing up, “it might be nice to have someone to actually talk to.”
I chuckle, shaking my head a little. “You think this is bad,” I say, waving my hand around the room. “Try being stuck in a car with them on a four-day road trip.”
Ruby laughs, letting out another hiccup. “Touché.”
I chuckle. “You still a little drunk there, Ruby?” I ask, my eyes meeting hers. She’s basically hidden behind the fridge door she doesn’t seem to want to shut, but what I can see of her is pretty fucking adorable. Her hair is all pulled into a messy knot on her head and as I continue to watch her, she blushes a little and fuck me if that doesn’t make my heart skip a beat.
“Maybe,” she eventually answers.
Her response and reaction makes me laugh…and my heart skip another beat.
What is it with this girl?
When I’d first met her earlier, she’d thrown herself into my arms, hugging me as though we’d known each other for years. It had felt both strange and totally normal all at the same time. And as much as I didn’t want to think about what it meant, I’d loved the feeling of her warm body against mine, the smell of coconuts that filled my nose as she wrapped herself around me.
Neither of us says anything now as a peaceful silence falls between us, as though neither of us feels the need to fill the empty space. I risk another glance at Ruby, who’s still standing behind the open fridge door, quietly eating her apple as though this is all completely normal.
“Anyway,” I eventually say, finishing off my water as I stand from my stool.
I watch as Ruby freezes, the apple that’s in her hand stalling out halfway to her open mouth as she stands there, wide-eyed and staring at me, not even bothering to hide her reaction. I want to glance down, try to figure out what she’s staring at, but I don’t look away. I know the bruising on my ribcage has faded a lot, so it can’t be that.
“I’m gonna head back to the couch,” I say, jerking my thumb over my shoulder.
Ruby nods, still not saying anything as I walk around the counter and put my glass in the sink. I can feel her eyes on me though, tracking my every move as I walk back to the counter. It feels strangely intoxicating, whatever this feeling is, my heart skipping another couple of beats.
Just before I walk back to the living room, I pause, looking up at her. “Goodnight,” I say, offering her a small smile.
Ruby swallows hard, letting out another hiccup as she whispers, “Goodnight.”
Then I turn and walk back into the darkened living room. Just as I’m about to lie down on the couch though, I hear the fridge door close, the sound of footsteps padding across the kitchen floor.
Without moving a muscle, I stop, watching as I wait for Ruby to pass by the open archway that separates the kitchen from the living area. It’s dark enough in here that she won’t notice me, not with the light still on in the kitchen.
And when she eventually walks past, I have to swallow hard as my heart now starts to tap out a hard beat against my ribs that’s got nothing to do with my nightmares. Because as she walks past, I finally get a look at what was hiding behind that fridge door.
Ruby, dressed in nothing but a tight black tank that clings to her body, showing off her amazing tits and flat stomach. Underneath it, I spy tiny red panties that barely cover her ass and give way to a spectacular set of lean, toned legs.
But as quickly as I get a glimpse of her, it’s all too soon taken away as she flicks off the light and walks out of the kitchen. It doesn’t matter though, because the image is seared into my brain and as I settle back onto the couch and close my eyes, I replay it over and over and over again in my head, knowing this is the perfect antidote to my nightmares.
She’s fucking gorgeous.