“Okay…” I said, waiting for the bomb to drop.
“This came to the house addressed to you. I didn’t open it, and I kind of hid it from your brother, too, because I didn’t want him to go off half-cocked. But this worries me because if it’s what I think it is, then you’ve got trouble. And if you have trouble, we have trouble,” he said, motioning to himself, Brandon, and the whole of the house, indicating Jackson and the rest of them even though they were still outside and clueless.
I reached out tentatively to take the envelope he was holding but Brandon snatched it away. I didn’t argue. A rock had settled in my stomach and was growing because I had a feeling that things were about to go bad.
But I had no idea just how bad.
I stared at the envelope in my hand, turning it over and over and over but not opening it. I’d ignored it last night as best I could, tucking it into my purse and going back outside with the others.
Luke had hugged me before we went back outside and asked that I call him when I finally read it. He’d looked at me so seriously and said, “Not sure how he got it, but he’s got our address because that’s where Jackson was. That’s what I figure anyway, but, babe…I got a baby about to pop out and I need to know what’s going on so I can protect my family. ‘Cause there’s no fucking way in hell that anyone is going to touch so much as a hair on the head of a member of my family.”
His eyes were the most intense I’d ever seen them, almost scary-intense. I’d gulped and nodded, the sick feeling in my stomach growing that much bigger because of the threat I’d caused to people that have been nothing but nice to me, to my friends that had become my family.
He’d leaned even closer to me then and made sure I’d understood what he was saying. “And by family, Chloe, that means you, too.”
I flipped the letter over again and stared hard at the postmark and the return address scrawled in the corner. The address and inmate number glared back at me, taunting me with the knowledge that this was from him.
“Sunshine, let me do that for you. Please,” Brandon implored quietly.
We were sitting in bed on what should have been a happy, normal Sunday morning, when we should have been getting ready to go to Emma’s parents’ house for Sunday breakfast. Instead, there we were. Quiet. Serious. And the sick feeling in my stomach had yet to leave.
I sighed and closed my eyes, shaking my head at him. “No, I have to do this. I’ve been pretty damn strong since I left California. I’m not letting him get the best of me.”
Without another word, I ripped the envelope open and pulled out the single, handwritten page. I skimmed through it and then, knowing Brandon was getting impatient, I read it out loud, my voice wavering and cracking with suppressed emotion.
Dearest, Ungrateful Slut,
By the time you get this letter, I’ll be out. Don’t think I don’t know where you are, because I do. I’m coming for what’s mine, bitch.
Don’t bother thinking we won’t be together again. I’m giving you a second chance to please me, regardless of the fact that I’m sure you’ve spread your fucking thighs for countless diseased pricks since I’ve been gone. I’ve got a bottle of bleach with your name on it so I can disinfect your nasty cunt before you welcome your daddy home.
See you soon, bitch.
P.S.-Don’t think your big, bad brother is going to save you just because you ran to him. In fact, I’ll be paying your mom a visit before I come get you. I’m sure she’d like to come see you, might make it a little bit easier for you to decide to be a good little whore and come home.
“MOTHER FUCKER!” Brandon roared, flinging himself out of the bed to pace angrily around the room. He raged, mumbling incoherently, his voice deeper than usual, and it wasn’t in a sexy way. His face was dark, murderous.
I dropped the letter and watched him silently. When his growling increased, I beseeched, “Brandon-” but my words were cut off on a gasp when he drew his fist back and punched the wall.
The drywall crumbled beneath the onslaught, a hole immediately appearing. With an anguished cry, he dropped to his knees and covered his head with his hands. In a flash, I was off the bed, falling to the floor beside him and whispering to him brokenly. I could hear him breathing heavily, but couldn’t tell if it was anger or pain.
I grabbed for his hand, beyond sick at the thought of the damage he might’ve done to himself…to that beautiful hand of his that is his livelihood. How could he tattoo with a broken hand?
He didn’t let me have it, pulled it away from my grasp immediately. But it wasn’t because he didn’t want me to touch him. No, it was because he reached for me, dragged me into his arms and buried his face in my neck. He drew in a ragged breath and squeezed me tighter as he whispered, “On pain of death, I swear to you, Chloe, he will never lay a hand on you again. I will never let you go, sunshine.”
I curled into him and held him just as tightly, letting the tears finally fall. He rocked me, giving me his strength, and if I hadn’t been in love with him already, I’d have fallen right then and there.
When the tears subsided, Brandon shifted me in his arms and got to his feet, still holding me. He sat me gingerly down on the end of the bed and knelt in front of me, looking up at my face earnestly while he wiped away the tears lingering on my cheeks.
“I love you, Chloe. I don’t care how it happened, how fast it seems, none of it. All I care about is the fact that we’re together and that’s not going to change. You’re mine now and I’m not letting you go. And I for damn sure won’t stand by and let anyone threaten you. We’ve got this, sunshine. I promise.” With that, he leaned in and kissed me sweetly.
“Brandon, your hand,” I whispered to him, trying to get a good look at it.
He moved his hand up and looked at it like he was just realizing that something was off about it. The skin was puffy and bruised already, broken in a couple places and seeping blood. He sighed heavily and swore under his breath before he shook it off. “Doesn’t matter, sunshine. I’ll get over it. Won’t be able to work for a couple days, but I don’t think it’s broken.”
I looked at him helplessly but he shrugged the injury off, pushing up off the floor and reaching for his phone. He dialed and when the other party answered, the conversation was short and to the point.
“It’s bad news. Get Jacks and get here when breakfast is done.” He listened for a second and then cracked a grin very briefly. “Yeah, I know. Tell Jan and Ben I said hi.”
He hung up without saying goodbye and turned to me. “Let’s get dressed, baby. Group will be here after a while to talk.”
It seemed like it didn’t take any time at all before my house was overflowing with friends and family, including Leah and Ian. Jackson had walked in the door, letting me know that my mom was on a trip with friends for two weeks and would be coming directly here when she got back, and then scooped me up in his arms, hugging me and reiterating what had already been said to me in various ways.
“Bastard won’t get near mom, and he won’t touch a fucking hair on your head ever again, little sister,” he grunted. He gave me one last squeeze and put me down.