I’d found a dying bird today.
Its nest-mates had kicked it from its home, leaving it to die at the bottom of the tree. I’d wanted to tear apart the nest and see how the other chicks liked it—being bullied and left to wither alone. Instead, I’d scooped up the baby bird and took it home.
It was so easy to help. So gratifying to save another who needed saving. If I could change the life of a baby bird, perhaps I could change Arthur’s life, too. After all, he’d been fighting to leave the nest for years. —Cleo, diary entry, age twelve
I was a prisoner.
For six long hours, I’d been barricaded in Arthur’s home by Switchblade—the Pure Corruption security detail left to protect me.
Only, he wasn’t protecting me. He was imprisoning me. And there was nothing I could do about it.
But then … I felt it.
A snipping … a slicing.
The link forged between Arthur and me through a lifetime of love suddenly … severed.
My stomach plummeted.
My heart disintegrated.
And I gave up being calm.
I didn’t know how, but I knew …
… something had gone terribly wrong.
Pain had layers.
I’d been wrapped in a layer for weeks—ever since Rubix had shown me how a creatively wielded baseball bat could be used.
But tonight, I was buried in layers.
Tonight, he’d beaten me so fucking bad, I swore to do anything just to get it to stop. That was when he’d laughed. That was when he’d told me what I had to do to make the pain stop.
Kill the Price family. —Kill, age seventeen
“Hello, Father.” I gritted my teeth, holding my bleeding side. “I hoped I’d find you.”
Scott “Rubix” Killian grinned. “What¸ so you could show me you haven’t changed? That you’re still a pussy?” His long hair was flecked with silver, messy and unkempt. His goatee held blood and dirt. “Or to learn about what I have in store for Cleo once I kill you?”
Every muscle stiffened. “Neither.”
He cocked his head. “I suppose I should be proud that you found me—that you caught us unaware. Fuck, I’m even proud you got one over Sycamore. But then again, why should I be proud of a son that’s always been a disappointment?” He chuckled. “All of this could’ve been pure luck.”
It crawled through my veins like a demon.
“Not luck. Years of preparation.” The pain in my side disappeared under a torrent of adrenaline. I looked down briefly, clenching my jaw against the dark blood staining my T-shirt.
“You always were a slow-ass, Arthur. Surprised you’re not wielding a math textbook or that tatty eraser you always carried.” He took a step closer. “They were the only things you were capable of using.”
Glaring at my father, I shrugged out of my cut, dropping it to the floor. The pain increased, sprouting sweat over my brow. “Little do you know.”
I didn’t have a weapon. I’d dropped it when my father’s blade entered my flesh and he’d kicked it across the room.
My hands shot to my belt, unhooking the wicked hunting blade and brandishing it.
In a way, I was glad. A gun would’ve been too quick. Bullets weren’t enough for this asshole.
I hadn’t drawn out my brother’s death. But my father? I would take great pleasure in extracting it.
“Oh, I know more than you think.” Rubix glanced at the red river down my side. “I’ll draw more before we’re through, you’ll see.”
Bunching my fists, I advanced. “I guess we will.”
His eyes widened, as if the memory of his browbeaten obedient son didn’t compute with this pissed off president who’d served time for his sins. He back-stepped, moving toward the center of the room.
Beetle’s corpse filled the space with seething retribution. Tonight, I wouldn’t just kill my father for my sake, but for Mo and Beetle, too.
I have you now. I’m not letting you live another fucking minute.
Rubix ran a hand through his hair, clearing his vision from oily strands. “You really gonna take me on?”
A young girl in a torn nightdress and bruises all over her white skin sat upright in bed. The room was as filthy as the rest of the compound. Magazines scattered over the floor, tissues littered the bedside table, and the sheets looked like only a cockroach would find them sanitary.
“I’ll take you on and win.”
Rubix laughed. “As fucking if. You remember the past, don’t you, boy? You remember the way I handed you your ass every fucking time?”
The girl whimpered, eyes bugging.
I tilted my head at the exit. “Leave.”
I didn’t want an audience and I didn’t want collateral. If my father lost, he wouldn’t hesitate to use her as protection. And I wouldn’t hesitate to kill her if he did.
She scrambled off the bed, eyes dancing between Rubix and me.
Rubix sneered. “Get back into bed, baby.”
“Do as I said and go,” I growled.
Whatever loyalty she had to Rubix quickly vanished. Grabbing a disgusting bathrobe, she darted to the door.
Rubix glared. “Don’t want a piece of pussy, Arthur? You always were a—”
“Were you the one to beat up that girl or just sloppy seconds?” I cut him off, taking another step.