Page 62 of Branded (Ignite #2)

“I fucking hate the sick, fucked up bastard who did this to you.”

“Funny, I hate that person, too.”

My hands grab onto handfuls of my hair and I tug as hard as I can as I continue to pace.

I told her I saw her. I told her I saw everything and that I loved it all, but I missed the most obvious fucking thing. I run through the things she said when she was in a daze when I first got here earlier, the cigarette in her mouth and the lighter in her fucking hand. It all comes together in one horrible, messy picture in my mind as I remember the look in her eyes, begging me to see that final piece of the puzzle and still keep my promise to love her no matter what.

One of the cops comes up to Dax, gives me a nervous look and then leans in to whisper something in his ear. When he’s finished, Dax gives him a nod and the cop scurries back to the rest of the group on the lawn.

“What’s going on? Did they find her?”

Dax pulls his keys out of his pocket. “A report of a house fire was just called in. The property is registered to Anthony Giordano.”

I can’t lose her. I can’t fucking lose her now when I have so many things I need to say to her.

“I’m fucking going with you,” I tell Dax.

He nods. “I figured as much, but if you get in the way of police procedure I’ll-”

“Toss my ass in jail,” I finish for him. “You already covered that a few times tonight.”

Dax shakes his head in irritation at me, but doesn’t say another word as we jog across the yard and hop into his car.

I blink my eyes rapidly as I open them, the bright light making the pounding in my head a thousand times worse. I groan and shut them again when a sharp, stabbing pain rockets through my skull.

“Ahhhh, you’re awake.”

A voice close to my ear makes my skin crawl, but I slowly open my eyes anyway. I find Jackson squatting down in front of me with a huge smile on his face. I try to lunge towards him to smack the smile right off of his face, but my body jerks to a halt and it feels like I pulled every fucking muscle in both of my arms. Looking above me, I realize my arms are tied over my head, the rope completely wrapped around a refrigerator. Ignoring the pain in my shoulders and arms, I start tugging frantically against my bindings.

“There’s no point in hurting yourself more, I was a Boy Scout back in the day. That right there is a double constrictor knot,” he informs me proudly, pointing to the thick, white rope that holds my arms secure.

“I see tying knots is the only thing you were good at. Did they kick you out for being a sick, twisted fuck?” I ask him sweetly through clenched teeth.

The smile falls from his face and he quickly pushes himself up to tower over me. “The only sick fuck in this room is you, my dear. Do you have any idea what it was like to find out you were fucking the enemy? The man who tore my family apart and took my best friend away from me?”

He starts pacing back and forth agitatedly in front of me, and I suddenly stop trying to tug against my bindings when I get a look at my surroundings. Lime green, rusty appliances, wood paneling on the walls, stained Formica countertops and a rickety blue plastic table against the wall. How many times did I get shoved face first onto that table so a cigarette could be jammed into my lower back?

“I see you finally recognize where we are,” Jackson says when he sees me glancing nervously around, his smile back in place. “Luckily, the place had been paid off before your parents moved in since they inherited it from someone in the family and your dad had enough money socked away to keep paying the taxes on it. It’s been sitting here unoccupied for fifteen years”

I notice dust and cobwebs on every flat surface and I try not to imagine myself as a little girl, cowering under the table when I’d hear the flick of my father’s lighter.

“I thought it would be fitting to take you on a trip down memory lane. Did you know I’ve been in contact with dear old dad for a few months? Nice guy, a little bit of a Jesus freak these days, but what can you do?” Jackson asks with a shrug. “He told me all about your rough childhood and let me tell you, my heart just broke for poor little Seraphina Giordano. He was a wealth of information on you. Had an entire notebook filled with facts about your life. He’s been keeping an eye on his little girl all these years even from prison, isn’t that sweet?”

I feel bile rising in my throat knowing that Jackson has been speaking with my father. Who knows what kind of shit that man told him?

“Did you help him get out on parole?”

Jackson tips his head back and laughs. “Oh, you have too much faith in me, Phina, if only that were possible. No, he really did get out on good behavior, but what a nice coincidence for me, wouldn’t you say? He’s been a big help.”

It’s bad enough knowing Jackson is insane and has me tied up in my childhood home. If my father suddenly shows up here, my life is officially over. How the hell can I take a cop AND a man who hates me and has spent fifteen years in prison learning how to fight dirty, all with my hands tied to a fucking refrigerator?

“This plan of mine only had a few snags. Lucky for me you and lover boy had a little fight tonight, or I wasn’t quite sure how I’d get you alone,” he tells me. “I tried to get to that asshole Collin, but that fucker is always looking over his shoulder and he’s always surrounded by fucking firemen. I didn’t really intend for Finnley to get hurt, but imagine my surprise when I cut the brakes on the wrong car? That whore finally got to feel a little of the pain I’ve felt since she allowed Jordan to burn to death inside their house.”