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I wouldn’t run.
I could never run, and where would I go if I could?
Turning my hands palm up, I locked my knees together as I sat on the stone bench in the old garden shed and stared down at his blood, darker where it had gathered in the creases of my skin. The gritty sands of dried pain were proof of what I’d done and what I could never deny.
That I wasn’t sorry.
I ground my thumbs over my fingertips, cocking my head and studying the red under my fingernails as the hair on my arms raised up and my skin tingled. An air of peace settled in my gut, and I sucked in a new breath, dropping my head back and closing my eyes.
No. I couldn’t run anymore. They’d be coming to find me, and I wanted them to. I’d wait.
When they were in high school, they called them the Four Horsemen. God’s judgment to purge the world through famine, pestilence, war, and death, but our horsemen were far different.
He was blind action and absolute faith that truth was in whatever could be seen. A machine built to act, not think, and that’s why Michael kept him around.
Damon had made me cry.
William—or Will, as he was called—was unconditionally loyal and had absolute acceptance in his brothers. He was a disciple. A devoted allegiant that snuck up on me.
I hadn’t known he was there until it was all over.
Kai. I squeezed my fists tight and shivered in my wet tank top, the cold strings of my damp hair tickling my back.
Kai made me burn.
His loyalty lasted only so long as you deserved to keep it, and he was strong. So much stronger than me as we both well knew.
And Michael. Michael built me.
They all built me in a way, but Michael began the foundation when I was thirteen, laying brick after brick after brick and then tearing it all down to start over again. He lied to me, gave up on me, took from me, never believed me, and always—always—dug the knife deeper to chip away at me until I was nothing but bones.
And while the other three were at my back, never letting me escape, he was at my front, bearing down until I was shaking with fear.
Or high from it.
That’s what Michael had taught me. We can’t stop what happens to us, but we can choose how we survive it. Own it or it will own you.
I breathed hard, dropping my head as I tried to calm my suddenly racing heart.
“Michael,” I barely whispered, rubbing my chilled hands down my damp jeans. “What do I do?”
I hated him.
I hated his beautiful face with his hazel eyes—the color of cider with flecks of spice—and his hands…I hated his hands. They had hurt.
I hated that he knew I watched him, and I hated that he wasn’t looking for me right now.
I gritted my teeth, rubbing my forehead with the back of my bloody hand.
He wasn’t looking for me, because he knew I wasn’t running.
I looked down, seeing the pointed tips of my breasts harden through the thin fabric, and I shook with silent, bitter laughter, reveling in my degradation.
I didn’t hate him. I simply wished I did.
I pushed up, raising on shaky legs, the sharp edges of the wet leaves under my feet poking my toes as I walked toward the window of the garden shed.
The old, wooden shack was filled with bushels of roses that had been freshly cut only hours ago, their perfumed scent filling the musty air inside as the rain seeped through the dilapidated roof, soaking the cement floor under my feet. My jeans, wet from earlier, stuck to my skin as I peered outside into the late afternoon drizzle.
Tonight would be a long night.
The Crist family home in the distance, the only glow through the rain and cloud cover, stood as a threat and a punishment that I was putting off.
Michael’s parents weren’t home this time of year, and there were no neighbors for miles. With forests to my left and right and cliffs at my back, cutting off to a dead end and a fatal fall into the Atlantic, the only way out was forward, through the house, and out the gates. Which were no doubt locked.
The men were in the huge house—all four of them—and I curled my toes into the floor, knowing what was waiting for me. They’d been patient for years and continued to be so.
No one was coming to help me.
No one even knew where I was. Not even Trevor, Michael’s brother and my only friend.
Something crackled to my right, and I turned my head, sucking in a startled breath as a voice came over the speaker system on the wall.
“I feel irrational,” he sang, and I stopped breathing as he continued, “so confrontational, to tell the truth, I am getting away with murder,” he serenaded with the Papa Roach song I heard playing in the background.
I froze, closing my eyes as heat flooded my veins and fear crept in to my chest.
They’d found me. Where else would I go, after all?
“Riiiiiikaaaaa,” Will sang, toying with me from an intercom in the house. “I know where you are, little monster.” I could hear the smile in his sickly sweet voice, and my stomach rolled.
Where was Michael? Tears sprang to my eyes, and I held my bottom lip between my teeth to stifle the cry.
“You’re not breathing, are you?” he taunted. “Oh, you’re so sweet when you’re scared. Just as sweet as I remember.”
I let my head fall as I tried to take in air, but I couldn’t stop my chest from damn near convulsing. All I could get were short breaths.
“You won’t go anywhere,” he told me. “You believe in him too much, don’t you, Little Monster?”
I swallowed down the lump of fear and forced myself to take in a breath of thick air. Walking over to the wall, I pressed the Talk button.
“There was a time when I believed in you, too,” I told him, trying to keep my voice gentle.
“You were always stupid,” he shot back.
I dropped my forehead to the wall, shaking my head.
Will was absolutely right. Damon, Kai, and he would’ve come for me eventually. I knew it three years ago, and although I was afraid, I wasn’t surprised.
I’d simply expected that Michael would shield me. Why I thought that, I had no idea, but Will was right. I’d believed in him, and I was stupid.
“You think I’ll come back willingly?” I asked, my breathing finally slowing down.
“You need to be fed,” he pointed out, “and you need a bath.”
I dropped my head back, suddenly gasping for breath. No.
They were going to groom me. Pretty me up to tear me apart.
“Nothing you take from me will come easily!” I yelled into the intercom.
“I won’t come all the way out there to get you,” he growled.
“Oh yes you will,” I snarled, damn near laughing. “You’re the pack’s dog. Come fetch, little dog!”
“You stupid fucking bitch!” he snapped.
“I’ll come to get you,” another voice chimed in on the intercom, and I stilled.
My heart dropped into my stomach, and I let my hand fall away from the intercom.
Damon. How did…?
“And I’ll want my blood back,” he warned.
I backed away from the intercom, holding up my hand and staring at his dried blood coating the insides of my fingers.
Michael, where are you? Only Michael could stop them.
If he wanted to.
Damon’s voice came over the intercom again. “I will take it out of your ass before we leave that shed, Rika,” he threatened. “Don’t run.”
And then the intercom went dead, and I hunched over, knots twisting my stomach.
Michael and Kai were in the house, too, but they weren’t coming for me. Even though I’d seen them do things no better than Damon or Will, they were the only two that could control themselves. That could reign the others back in.
I breathed in and out, sensing that Damon was already on his way.
And Michael and Kai weren’t coming. They were letting this happen.
It’s just you, Little Monster. Own it or it will own you.
Standing up straight, I squared my shoulders and let the fear sit. I didn’t push it away or try to bury it.
Damon and Will were going to hurt.
Kai…I had no idea what Kai was going to do.
And Michael. He had already hurt. I balled my fists, remembering the years of being invisible to him, and then the first time he’d touched my hand.
I had been sixteen, three years younger than him, and he’d raised his eyes, meeting mine as he barely held my fingers in his. Years ago, but it seemed like yesterday. I could still feel the heat on my skin.
Those moments of good where he’d looked at me or gave into me were what I’d craved so viciously that I hadn’t seen what was in front of me.
But I did now, and inch by inch, my skin buzzed with anticipation as I turned to open the shed door.
It’s just you, Little Monster. Own it or it will own you.
I would never run. I was built for this.