Because I almost can’t believe it, I flip the manila envelope back over and just to make sure… yes, it’s addressed to Jayce.
But why in the fuck would Jerico ever be sending this to Jayce?
Tears well up in my eyes as I realize there’s something nefarious going on between Jerico and my brother, and I’ve apparently been a pawn in it all. I pick up a DVD, but I don’t know what to do with it. I have to assume it’s either more photos or Jesus—my stomach clenches—video of me having sex in the club.
I stand there… just blankly staring now at the top photograph, feeling my entire body start to turn inward from the humiliation. I wasn’t humiliated when I did those things. I had loved doing them, because I was in a safe environment.
And all along… I was never safe at all.
“Trista.” I hear Jerico’s voice and look up to see him walking toward me. His eyes flick down to the stack of photos and the envelope in my hand, and then back up to me. They’re filled with wariness and unease.
“You son of a bitch,” I whisper, my throat too constricted with a million different emotions to get out much more than that.
“It’s not what it seems,” he says hastily as he puts his hands out in a motion to calm me down. He’s looking at me like I’m a wild animal getting ready to bolt.
My voice is still low, barely audible but now it quakes with fury. “It looks like you were going to mail sex photos to my brother.”
“I was, but I changed my mind,” Jerico says, still holding his hands out. “If you’ll just let me explain—”
“I don’t want to hear a fucking thing you’ve got to say,” I yell at him and suddenly I’ve found my voice. “There is nothing you could say that would justify this.”
“I know,” he yells back at me, then in a softer voice as he runs a frustrated hand through his hair, he says, “I know. But at least give me the chance.”
“You don’t deserve it,” I say as I spin from the desk and run to the office door, clutching the stack of vile photos in my arms.
“I hate your brother,” Jerico calls after me, and I falter. Then I come to a stop when he says, “So much that I thought this would be a way to hurt him. It was for revenge. That’s not a justification, it’s just the reason I was going to do it. It had nothing to do with you, and I never wanted you to get hurt. But I changed my mind and couldn’t go through with it. Hurting Jayce wasn’t worth hurting you.”
I snort, and then give a hysterical laugh as I turn to look at him. “Well, joke is on you, Jerico, because this wouldn’t have hurt Jayce. He wouldn’t give two shits about this stuff.”
“What?” Jerico asks in disbelief.
My voice is sharp with malice as I tell him, “Who do you think made the original loan to me, Jerico? Who do you think beat me up when I couldn’t come up with the money?”
I don’t miss the way Jerico’s eyes flame with fury and his jaw goes rock hard.
“I’ll kill him,” he grits out, with his fists opening and closing tightly as his body seems to vibrate with rage.
I give a mocking laugh at Jerico even as the tears break free of my eyes and fall down my cheeks. “I don’t give a shit what you do to Jayce. I don’t give a shit what you do at all, Jerico. I just never want to see you again.”
“Trista,” Jerico calls to me as I grab the door and tear it open. I can hear him coming after me, so before I can take three steps down the hallway, I spin on him. He comes to a halt just a foot away.
I suck in a breath. In a voice laced with so much hurt and pain it hurts my own ears to hear it, I tell him, “If you have any care for me at all… don’t come after me. Respect my decision to leave and let me go on with my life.”
Jerico’s entire body deflates as his expression turns haunted. He rubs his hands over his face and when he drops them, he looks resigned. Nodding, he says, “If that’s what you want.”
And oh, God… my heart feels like it’s collapsing, the pain is so intense. If that’s what I want, how come his capitulation is making me hurt like this?
Before I start sobbing, I turn around and quickly walk down the private hall to the lobby.
I keep my head down, although I know people are watching me.
Then I’m out of The Wicked Horse, and I don’t look back once.