“I’m sure there’s gotta be some soup or something.” He clamped his hand around my upper arm and ushered me from the bedroom. On the way to the kitchen, I eyed the front door, just a few feet away, yet it seemed like yards. The promise of escape disappeared from view too soon, leaving behind the fleeting idea of freedom. He pulled out a chair at the kitchen table, wooden legs scraping across the floor unnervingly, and shot me a pointed look, but he didn’t push me into the seat.
Rafe would’ve shoved my ass into it.
I gave myself a sound mental slap. I had to stop torturing myself with thoughts of him. It fucking maimed too much, but unbidden, his voice haunted my mind, his words gruff with sexual need.
Howl for me. Come undone. I’ll put you back together.
My knees buckled, and I choked back a sob as I slid into the chair. I hadn’t accepted the idea that he was gone. I didn’t feel it in my heart, and like a dope addict clamoring for another fix, I clung to the frayed thread of hope that he was alive and looking for me.
Zach either didn’t care about my rocky emotional state, or he didn’t notice. He turned his attention to the cupboards and chose two cans of soup. As he prepared our food, he never quite turned his back on me. This was my brother, a guy I’d shared a house with for twelve years, which meant he knew me too well, knew what buttons to push, what words to use as weapons. He’d be stupid to let his guard down for a second.
I might have a sick attachment to him, but I despised him too. And I’d never felt so torn. Love for a brother, and hate for a twisted, obsessive…I didn’t even know what to call him. The term lover came to mind, but that wasn’t right either. He’d fucked me. A lot. And I’d let him.
Maybe if I’d fought harder, Rafe would still be alive.
My stomach roiled with renewed self-loathing, and when he carried two bowls of steaming soup to the table, I couldn’t fathom forcing the liquid down my throat. His gaze lifted and clashed with mine. I looked away, fearful my thoughts were plastered all over my face. He rounded the table, and his fingers brushed my cheek, making me flinch.
“I’m sorry I hit you.”
He was always sorry, yet it never stopped him from doing it again. I edged away from his touch. Even the feather-like caress of his fingers against my cheekbone hurt.
“Don’t pull away from me.” He grabbed a fist full of hair and jerked my head forward. “I’m trying to apologize, Lex, but fuck, you sure know how to piss me off.”
“It’s not hard.” I yanked violently from his grasp. The cost of freeing myself remained in his fist—several clumps of my hair. “You go off on the smallest things. Ever hear of anger management?” Or a cell for the criminally insane.
“Ever hear of the words shut up?” He stomped across the room and began rifling through drawers. As he busied himself with his frantic search for whatever he was looking for, my attention veered to the living room where the front door beckoned just beyond.
He took out a roll of duct tape, and I flew from my seat, my feet carrying me into the next room before I’d given thought to the consequences. The exit pulled at me like a net, as if dragging me from the depths of terrifying deep sea. My momentum slammed me into the door, shaking the coat rack in the corner by the closet. I hoisted it, launched it behind me, and prayed the obstacle slowed his thundering footfalls.
That’s when I spotted the keys hanging on the wall. I grasped at them with one trembling hand while the other fought with the knob, panic taking root in my fingertips. Finally, I flung the door open, catapulted off the porch, and ran toward his BMW.
“I disconnected the battery, Lex.”
His words halted me, and I whirled, expecting to find him on my heels, but he hadn’t ventured further than a foot from the porch.
“There’s nowhere to run!” he yelled, throwing his hands in the air and turning in a slow circle. I followed with my gaze, taking in the nothingness surrounding us. The black nothingness that came with nightfall. Above, a vast canvas of stars lit the sky, but without the moon to light the way, getting lost wasn’t just a possibility, it was an inevitability.
Maybe he’s lying…
I could try the car, but if he was telling the truth, I’d be trapped for sure. Tightening my grip on the keys, I pushed one out to use as a weapon and took a step away from him, toward the edge of the trees.
“We’re in the middle of nowhere, baby! Where’re you gonna go? You wouldn’t last the night in this forest.”
He underestimated what I was capable of surviving, but he had a point. The nights were notoriously chilly, even during the summer months, and I didn’t know where I was. I also didn’t have any shoes—another nail in the coffin of things that would slow me down.
I could make a run for it, hope to find help. Hope he didn’t have a spare set of keys in his possession. Eventually, the gravel road had to lead to civilization. But knowing Zach, he did have a spare set, and he’d pick up my sorry ass in no time.
As if my desperate thoughts blinked on my forehead in neon glory, the curve of his mouth turned cruel. “You know I’ll find you.” A threat dangled in that statement. A promise. I could run, but if he caught me, I’d find out what he was truly capable of.
I took another step anyway, despite the unmistakable lump of fear clogging my throat. Despite the rocks digging into my bare feet. My gaze zigzagged in every direction, searching, hoping. So many trees, and I had no idea what waited beyond them. Hopelessness crawled down my spine, an inescapable chill that threatened to ice my blood.
He had nothing holding him back now. The facade our father created, society’s watchful eye—none of it mattered out here, in this desolate place no one would think to look for me, because according to the world, I was dead.
In the twitch of an eye, I turned and fled.
My feet skidded across rock and dirt, and I heard him pound the ground behind me.
“Are we really doing this, Lex?”
I cranked my head, horrified to discover him gaining so fast, and doubled my efforts, picking up speed as I careened down the slope of the road. Sharp rocks tore into my bare feet with every frantic step. But I was an easy target, in plain sight, no matter how much distance I managed to put between us. Getting lost in the woods was my only shot at escaping.
My gaze swerved to the blackness beyond the trees, and I gulped. Get lost, or turn around and face him? Face possible years under his control. Endless years that would surely break me. Another glance over my shoulder told me I had but seconds to decide.