I’m a lightweight, but the weed shouldn’t affect me like this. Except I haven’t eaten in days. I haven’t smoked in years, and my emotions are leaking all over the place.

“I need to…” My vision blurs. “Lie down.”

I topple over, straight off the side of the bed.

As I brace to hit the floor, strong arms catch me instead.

Cradling my back, he settles me on the mattress. The intoxicating scent of clean, musky spice hits my nose and works its way through my muddled mind like an aphrodisiac. He smells divine. Like warm skin, soft linens, and insatiable sex.

He’s unbelievably tense. His fingers, arms, chest—every part of him that comes in contact with me is coiled tightly, his teeth grinding to the point of fracturing. He might hate me, but if I shoved a hand down his pants, I bet he’d fill my grip like a loaded shotgun.

“Why no cops?” The wavy mirage of his perfectly symmetrical, gorgeously masculine face hovers over me as he braces his hands on either side of my head.

I moan, swaddled in doped exhaustion. “You don’t want cops involved.”

“No, I don’t. But why don’t you?”

“They’ll stop me.” My tongue feels too big in my mouth, lolling in slow motion and slurring my words.

“Stop you from doing what?”

“Gonna take a nap.” My hundred-pound eyelids shut out the world, and I bask in the solace of darkness.

Until painful pressure ignites through my jaw.

I snap back into consciousness to find his fingers squeezing the hell out of my face.

“What are you planning?” His green eyes blaze down on me.

I gently clutch his muscular forearm and caress my thumb across his wrist. The soft touch does exactly what I intended. He lets go.

Working my jaw, I blink slowly, heavily. “I’m going to kill John Holsten.”

He straightens and rests his hands on his trim hips, his expression unreadable. “You think I won’t stop you?”

“You won’t.”

“There’s a reason he’s still alive.” He glances at the door, no doubt considering John’s sons.

I was here the day Jarret and Jake evicted their father from the ranch. They could’ve killed him then. I wish they would have. They knew enough about his crimes to justify it.

But they don’t know everything.

“I’ll tell you why he needs to die.” My voice fades to a whisper as sleep threatens to pull me under.

“I don’t care how you got involved with him or what he did to you.”

“This isn’t about me.” I mean, it partly is. I have my own reasons for gutting that monster, but like Lorne said, he doesn’t care. “He’s a murderer.”

“I know that.”

“You don’t know.” A swallow sticks in my cotton throat as I meet his distrustful glare. “John Holsten killed your mother.”

Lorne goes eerily still, his expression closed off and voice monotone. “My mother died in a car accident when I was four.”

Ava O’Conor did die in a car. That part is true. She was driving, and John’s wife, Julep, was with her.

Julep and Ava were best friends. When Ava inherited the land from her parents, Julep helped her turn it into a successful cattle ranch, which Ava named after her. Julep Ranch.

All of this is common knowledge. The truth surrounding their deaths, however, was buried twenty-two years ago.

“The accident wasn’t accidental.” I float on a groggy high that’s too lofty for this conversation. The rounded edges of my thoughts blur together, garbling my voice. “Julep wasn’t supposed to be in that car.”

“John told you this?” He stares at me, incredulous.

“All the time. Usually while drunk.” A yawn stretches my jaw as I muse, “He loved his wife.”

Air hisses past his teeth. “The man isn’t capable of love. You know what he did to my sister.”

Eight years ago, John put a hit on Conor and Lorne. That night left a tragic mark on this family. It’s the reason Lorne went to prison. He has every right to kill John himself.

“I know what he did.” I gentle my expression. “I also know he loves Jarret and Jake.”

“You’re defending him? A man who beat you and raped you?”

“Not at all, and he didn’t rape—”

“There was blood between your legs when Maybe found you chained in that room.”

My skin heats. Did she tell the whole family about that? These people have no sense of privacy.

John did a lot of disgusting things to me, but I put myself in that position and accepted the consequences.

Until I couldn’t.

The night I fought back, my world turned inside out.

Lorne’s mouth twists into a cruel snarl. “Did you or did you not willingly fuck that son of a bitch?”

My brain sloshes through a sedated state of confusion. The answer isn’t black and white. I let him fuck me, but did I have a choice? Maybe if I was stronger, smarter, I could’ve steered the past two years in a different direction. “I was willing, but—”

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