This book is dedicated to my readers. Seriously, you guys are amazing! There’s so many of you that have supported me and fought for me, even if I’ve been misunderstood at times. I’d also like to dedicate this book to my other half. He’s always there for me, and will always be there no matter. It goes both ways, J.
That was the first thought that went through my head as I crept into our apartment. It was my apartment—mine—and I had to slink inside because my roommate’s boyfriend was a pervert. I always snuck in when I saw his car in the parking lot, but this time was different. They were in the living room and my roommate cried out. I heard the slap next as he backhanded her and that stopped everything. I couldn’t move, but I could see them. Then he growled at her to shut up before he went back to his business. She still whimpered, but quieted as he kept thrusting into her.
I couldn’t look away.
He was raping her.
Sickness blasted me. I couldn’t believe what was happening in front of me.
He kept thrusting as he held her down in front of him. His legs held her trapped and he was leaning over with one of his hands holding both of her wrists together. He kept going. My roommate lay there in surrender. He had defeated her, broken her, and I was witnessing it all.
Vomit and hatred spewed up in my throat, but I clamped them down. They wouldn’t burst out of me, not when I had a chance to do something that I knew I would regret. But even with that thought, the decision had already been made in my mind.
Mallory cried out again. Her agony was heart-wrenching. My hand trembled before he ordered her to shut up again. Then he thrust harder, deeper. He kept going, clueless as to who else might’ve been in the apartment.
This was my home.
This was her home.
He was not welcome, but he didn’t care. He kept going into her. Then he growled in pleasure. The sound of it went straight to the pit of my stomach. I wanted to spew my guts once more, but instead my eyes hardened and I went to the kitchen. There was a whole drawer of knives, but none of them would do. Not for him.
I went past the kitchen and knelt at the floorboards of our patio. I removed one of them and gripped the box that I knew my brother would’ve hated to know I had. Another scream ripped from behind me and my resolve grew.
My arm didn’t shake.
I found the gun my brother had never wanted me to know about. I gripped it and lifted it free from the box before I put the floorboard back together. Then, with my heart going slower than it should’ve been and clearer eyes than I should’ve had, I turned for the living room again. The sounds of his thrusting continued. The couch slammed against the wall with each thrust. My roommate cried out with each movement. It never seemed to stop, but I held on tighter to the gun before I turned the last corner.
He had readjusted them. He sat her up against the wall as he kept pumping into her. Now her head bounced against the wall. She was pale as a ghost; fresh tears fell over the dried ones. Her eyeliner streamed down with them so that her face was streaked black, with bruises starting to fill in the rest of the space on her face. Her cheek was already swollen and red from where he had slapped her. There were cuts at the top of her forehead. Blood streamed from them. He had sliced her and pulled her hair out so much that it bled.
Her eyes met mine over his shoulder. A whimper left her again, but his hand slammed over her throat once again. He squeezed with more and more pressure, her mouth gaping open for oxygen. As he gripped tighter, his hips jerked even harder. He was getting off on it. Then she started to thrash around—she couldn’t get any air.
He squeezed harder.
When her eyes started to glaze over, I saw a flash of something in them. It was meant for me. I knew it. And my hand held even tighter to the gun as I lifted it in the air.
I felt his gurgle of release before I heard it. I felt it in the air, through the floor, through my roommate. It didn’t matter. I knew he was near to climaxing and nothing had ever disgusted me more, but my hand was steady as I held the glock. Then I removed the safety and I cleared my throat once.
He didn’t look around. He should’ve, but he didn’t.
I waited—my heart starting to pound, but he just started thrusting once again.
My voice was so soft, almost too soft, but he froze anyway and twisted his head back to look at me. When he saw what I held, his eyes went wild—and then I shot him.
The bullet hit the center of his forehead. I wasn’t surprised when Mallory started to scream, still in his hold. His body held her against the wall even as he slumped. He would have kept her in place if not for her frantic hands pushing him off. His body fell to the ground, as much as the bones and tendons allowed. His knees were still bent, but the blood seeped from him slowly. It formed a pool underneath, and as I stood there, it grew and grew.
Still screaming, Mallory scrambled from him and collapsed to the ground not far from his body. She scooted against the wall until she found the farthest corner and curled into a fetal position. She was sobbing, hysterical, as more screams ripped from her throat.
I went to her, but instead of soothing her like I should’ve, I put my finger to my lip and made a ssshing sound. When she quieted, I whispered, “You have to be quiet. People will hear.”
She nodded but gulped for breath as her sobs grew silent.
Then I turned and slid to the space beside her. I couldn’t look away from him. The pool of blood encircled him now. It seeped under the couch.
Absentmindedly, my hand found Mallory’s exposed and bleeding knee. I patted it to soothe her, but I couldn’t tear my eyes from him. I had killed him. I had killed someone. I couldn’t think it or comprehend it, but everything was wrong. I should’ve been at the gym. I should’ve been trying to flirt with the new trainer, but I had been tired. I skipped the gym, just this once, and came home instead. When I saw his car, I almost turned around. I hated Jeremy Dunvan. He was connected to the local mob and he treated Mallory like crap. Still, I hadn’t gone back to the gym. I figured I could sneak inside. They were always in her room anyway.
Jeremy’s face had fallen towards us somehow. I remembered that she had shoved him away from her so his body bent at an awkward angle, but his eyes looked at me. He was dead so they were vacant, but he could still see me. I knew it. A shiver went down my spine as I looked the guy I had murdered in the eye. He was damning me to hell with those eyes.
“Em,” Mallory sobbed.
This time her crying broke through my walls. The sound was now deafening to me. My heart picked up. I worried that they could hear in the next apartment, maybe below us or above us. They were going to call the police. We should call the police, but no—I had killed someone. No, I had killed Jeremy Dunvan. We couldn’t call anyone.
I found her hand and gripped it hard. One of them was cold and clammy. Mine. My hand was pale while hers was warm with blood. I turned and saw she had her other hand to her mouth. She kept taking gulping breaths as she tried to contain her sobbing.
“We have to go.”
My voice sounded harsh to my ears. I flinched from the fierceness in it.
She nodded, still sobbing, still gulping, still bleeding.
“We have to go.” My hand squeezed hers. “Now.”
Her head jerked in another nod, but neither of us moved. I didn’t think my legs worked anymore.
Everything after that was blurry, only remembered in flashes.
We were sitting in a gas station parking lot as we looked at each other. Mallory needed to be cleaned up. Did we go to the hospital? Did I need a camera to prove that she’d been raped? Then she started crying some more, and I remembered who I had killed. Jeremy’s father would come for us. No police would help us, not when half of them worked for Jeremy’s father, who worked for the Bartel Family. His body would be found in our apartment, I hadn’t the stomach to dispose of it.
The bathroom was connected to the outside so I had to get the key. She couldn’t be seen like this. One of the two lightbulbs didn’t work so the lighting wasn’t the best, but I used my phone as I inspected every bruise on her body. She was covered from the top of her head to the two large welts on her calves. When I saw them and looked up, she whispered, “He kicked me.”
I got Mallory sunglasses and a scarf to cover her head. She looked like she was from a different country, but it hid the damage. No one spared us a second glance as we went into a diner and ordered two coffees. My stomach growled, but I couldn’t eat. Mallory’s hands shook so much she couldn’t pick up the cup so both of our coffees grew cold as we sat there. I’d grown numb long ago, but her lip still quivered. It’d been quivering for hours now.
It was past midnight. Neither of us ordered food. When the servers changed, I ordered a new coffee. This time I could finally sip it. Mallory gasped. My eyes shot to hers and then I felt the warmth in my mouth. I had burnt myself, but I barely felt it. After my second cup, I waited ten minutes before I picked it up. I knew it wouldn’t burn me then. Mallory still couldn’t pick hers up.
It was morning now. Both of our phones rang, but we only looked at them. I couldn’t speak. I could barely order more coffee from the new server. Mallory’s lip had stopped quivering, but I knew her hands still shook so she kept them in her lap. Then she choked out as she reminded me to go to the bathroom. We went together.
We were back in the car again. The staff had started to whisper about us so we left. We didn’t want them to call the police, but now we didn’t know where to go again. Then Mallory said, “Ben. We can go to Ben’s.” I looked over. “Are you sure?” My hand was so cold. I barely felt the steering wheel when I turned the car around. She nodded, some tears slipped down again. She had started crying when we left the diner. She said, “Yes. He’ll help us. I know it.” So we went to her co-worker’s house.
The force of what happened hit me full blast after we had been at Ben’s for a few hours. He opened the door, took one look at Mallory, and swept her up in his arms. She’d been sobbing ever since, and now all of us were huddled around his kitchen table. He draped a blanket over both of them at some point, but I couldn’t remember when.
As she told him what happened through her sobs, I slumped in my chair. Jeremy Dunvan. He had been living twenty-four hours ago, breathing. Oh my god. I had killed him—I felt punched in the stomach. No. I felt like someone tied up my hands and legs, threw me in the highway and waited as a bus ran over me, and then ran over me again. And again.
I was going to die. It was a matter of time.
Franco Dunvan worked for the Bartel Family. They killed my brother. It was my turn now. Icy panic seared through me. I couldn’t hear Mallory anymore. It had been in defense. He was going to kill her. He’d already been raping her. I killed him because he would’ve killed me too, but it didn’t matter. As I started struggling to breathe, I tried to remain logical. The police wouldn’t have helped. Why did we take pictures of her bruises then? What did it matter? None of it did. We ran. We should keep running.
“We have to go, Mals,” I choked out.
She looked up from Ben’s chest. He wrapped his arms tighter around her, and if possible, she paled even more. “We can’t.”
“We have to.” They were going to hunt us down and kill us.
“Please, Tomino, please.” My brother had begged for his life, but they shoved him to his knees and took a bat to him. AJ watched me the whole time. As he stared past the alley where they found him, we both knew they couldn’t see me. He made me crawl behind a vent before they saw him in the alley. My hands gripped each other as I kept myself from crawling out and helping him. He shook his head. He knew what I wanted to do.
I jerked back to the present and saw Ben frowning at me. “What?”
Everything seemed so surreal. It was a dream. All of it was a dream, it had to be.
He snapped at me, “Christ, the least you can do is be there for her.” Then he pushed off from his chair and stormed past me.
What had happened?
“Carter’s going to come for you.”
I went back to that alley. I heard my brother warn them as he gasped for breath. He was choking on the blood, but they laughed at him. They fucking laughed!
“Whatever. You’re a nobody, Martins. You’re a waste of space. Your boy’s going to get the same as you if he comes after us. In fact, we want him to come to us, don’t we, boys?” Tomino had spread his arms out wide and the other three snickered with him. Then he lifted the bat once more.
AJ looked at me. He mouthed the words, “I love you.”
Then the bat came down at full speed.
I fell off my chair and was slammed back to the present again. I was on the floor now.
“Jesus, Emma. What the fuck’s your problem?” Ben grabbed my arm and hauled me up. He pointed to the bedroom. “I finally got her to sleep and now you’re going to wake her up? Do you know the hell she’s been through? I can’t believe you. Have some consideration.”
Have some consideration?
I yanked my arm away from him and glared back. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Was he? He had to have been. I shoved him back and then followed to get in his face. “I killed him, you asshole. I killed that rapist for her. I saved her life!”
Now I needed someone to save mine.
When I woke, everything was groggy. Nothing made sense, and my back was killing me. It protested when I uncurled from the ball I had formed and spasms shot up. I nearly screamed, but threw my hand over my mouth to muffle the sound. I couldn’t make a sound. A sixth sense instantly reared, but then I frowned as different noises came from behind me. A pot clanged against a pan, and there was a sizzling from something being fried, which was quickly covered with a curse before the fire alarm went off.
I rolled over as found myself on half of a mattress, pulled into a corner of a living room. Peering over the two couches in front of me, that boxed me into the corner, I remembered.
We were at Ben’s.
Mallory had been screaming and crying. Mallory had been raped.
I dropped back to the mattress with a thump.
Panic swelled in me, but then the front door burst open. I jumped back and screamed. I kept screaming when it banged shut and people ran to the living room. And, even as I saw it was a friend, I couldn’t stop the scream.
My own voice haunted me. The bang of the gun came back and I felt the kickback in my hand again.
“You have to be quiet. People will hear.”
With an anguished gasp, I closed my mouth and fell over. Bending forward, I buried my head into the pillow. Another scream rushed through me. What had I done with the gun? Oh god. There was evidence. I couldn’t remember where I had put it.
Soft hands touched my shoulder. “Emma.”
I heard Amanda’s voice, one of the few that I trusted. She knelt beside me and gathered me to her. “Come on. Lift up.” Her finger slid underneath my chin, and she raised my head. I gasped for breath, but I couldn’t breathe. My entire body wrenched forward, and I started to pound my chest. The panic swirled in my chest. It was suffocating me. Oh god. The gun.
My head snapped to the left, but I never felt the sting from her hand. It was enough to pull me back so I could breathe again. I looked back as I felt my pulse slowing down and grasped Amanda’s elbows. “Thank you.”
She brushed back some of her blonde hair and smiled. It was a gentle smile, but I didn’t care that it was from pity. I grabbed her and held on with all my might. She had no idea, she couldn’t have, but she was there. I drew in a ragged breath.
“Amanda.” Ben stopped in the doorway between the kitchen and living room. He had a white apron tied around his waist and he was shirtless. The jeans he wore underneath were wrinkled and ripped at the knees. They looked like he had slept in them, but then I saw