I spit in Darrel’s face and stared daggers at him. I wanted to punch him in the face. I wanted to claw his f**king eyes out.
He casually wiped his face clean with his thumb then inhaled through his nose and spat back onto my forehead, making me scream.
"This bitch is feisty," he said coolly to the guys restraining me. "She’ll bite your dick off if you try to have fun with her. Better to let her go." He smiled at me right before his fist slammed into the side of my face.
I collided with the pavement, my ears ringing, and my jaw radiating pain.
"Let ‘em be," Darrel said to the bikers. "She can go with him. He likes to run like a coward, so I say let him do it."
The bikers murmured their agreement, then each took turns spitting on Jax’s motionless body sprawled across the pavement.
"C’mon," I heard Darrel shout. "Let’s go inside. I’ve had enough looking at these two."
The thugs obediently followed Darrel toward the house, their footsteps growing fainter.
When I could no longer hear them, I struggled to my hands and knees, desperate to get to Jax. My head felt swollen and dizzy. I tried to get to my feet, but suddenly the world began to turn sideways. I cried out as I crashed back to the ground, landing on my elbow. Fighting to keep myself steady, I gave up on standing and crawled over to Jax.
I touched his face. "Wake up Jax," I cried desperately.
"Riley . . . ?" he mumbled, a trail of crimson staining the side of his mouth.
"It’s me," I said, as tears rolled down my cheek. I was so relieved to hear his voice. I didn’t know what I’d do if he hadn’t responded. "It’s me, baby. It’s me."
"Are you okay?" he said slowly, his eyes half-open.
I carefully brushed his hair out of his face, trying my hardest not to break down. He was in much worse condition than I was. I needed to be strong for him. "I’m fine, Jax, they’re gone now. Let’s get you out of here okay? Can you stand?"
"I might need some help," he muttered before spitting some blood out of his mouth.
Draping his arm over my shoulder, I helped him to his feet, the both of us wobbling for a moment before we steadied ourselves. We limped over to Jax’s motorcycle. When it failed to start again, I shrieked and kicked it angrily half a dozen times until it finally revved to life. I cursed myself, wishing that I had done that sooner.
Jax wasn’t in any condition to drive, so I helped him onto the backseat while I climbed on as the driver. I’d never driven a motorcycle before, but I was confident that I could do it after having ridden with Jax.
I took a deep breath, feeling my sides ache as I did so. We were going to get back to the bus. We were going to leave this place—this horrible place where Jax's demons lived.
It was all quiet on the streets once again. The gnarled shadows from the flickering streetlamp still looked menacing as they lapped at fresh blood stains on the ground.
My eyes stung. This had been my fault. If I hadn't pushed him, he would’ve never come back here, and all of this would’ve never happened. Jax would’ve never been hurt. I couldn’t help a horrible feeling of guilt from knotting in my stomach. Jax had helped me beat my demons, and all I did was push him into getting beaten by his own.
I didn’t fully understand it before, but now I knew why Jax wanted to keep his past buried. Why he never wanted to face it or make sense of it. You bury your demons to starve them, to weaken them because they’re too strong to face directly. After a while, you get stronger and the demons get weaker. When the demons are on the verge of death but refuse to die, you dig them up and strike the final blow then give them a proper burial. For most people this works. But the thing is, some demons never weaken when you bury them. Sometimes, they get stronger. Jax could never face his demons and win. At least not alone, he couldn’t.
As Jax leaned against me on the rumbling bike, his soft, irregular breaths blowing against my ear, I knew nothing would ever be the same between us after tonight. If only we could rewind everything, to go back to that beautiful night in Las Vegas when it seemed like nothing could get between us.
Then I remembered how the bikers spit on Jax while he laid on the ground, broken and bloodied, and uncontrollable fury rushed through my veins. My hand tightened around the throttle as I struggled to contain the storm of emotions building inside my chest. No one was going to hurt the man that I loved and get away with it.
No, this wasn't f**king over yet.
"Jax, wait here. This will just take a second," I said as I stopped the bike.
"Riley . . . no . . . don't get hurt."
Even as injured as he was, Jax was more concerned about my well-being than his own.
"I won't," I said quietly, trembling with sorrow and rage.
After I eased him down on the bike, I walked over to the bottle of whiskey one of the bikers had thrown at me earlier. I picked it up and brought it back to the bike. I tore the hanging bit of fabric from my blouse sleeve and stuffed it into the opening of the bottle. I took Jax's lighter from his pocket and lit the end of the sleeve hanging out of the top.
On the bike, ready to go, I secured Jax’s arms around me and raised the flaming bottle above my head.
"What are you doing?" Jax managed.
I lifted his bruised hand to my mouth and kissed it tenderly. "Burning away the past."
Then I threw the flaming bottle toward the house.