her palm.

He made her bleed. He would’ve done worse. I’d been keeping the rage contained, but a little bit slipped out there.

“She’s unharmed.” His voice shook, and he coughed, clearing his throat. He tried to sound strong as he added, “As you can see, I was checking on her.”

“Really?”

“She had too much to drink. That’s all.”

“You’re lying out of your fucking teeth.” My eyes narrowed. “I heard everything, Sebastian.”

He slammed into the wall behind him, upending one of the paintings. It fell onto his shoulders, rolled to the side, and crashed onto the floor. Sebastian’s gaze was glued to mine. He never reacted. I didn’t think he realized what he had just done.

“You’re weak, Sebastian,” I murmured lightly, casually glancing around the room.

He was scared, and he was backed into a corner. A wounded animal that couldn’t break free always lashed out. He was going to try. It was inevitable, and I knew it was coming sooner than later, but I was ready. Hell, I was going to use it to my advantage.

“You weren’t weak while hiding behind your fraternity buds. You aren’t weak when you’re trying to hide behind your connections.”

“Screw you.”

I paused. There it was. Some heat came back into him. He wasn’t such a wounded animal. There was some fight still left in him. That was good. I had more time.

“Screw me?” A soft laugh slipped out. “That’s what you were going to do to Sam.”

He seemed to shrink again.

“Weren’t you?”

“I wasn’t going to hurt her.”

Ah.

A baseball bat was mounted on a wall, underneath a professional ball player’s painting. It was signed, too.

I crossed the room for it and said, “Stop lying, Sebastian. There’s no reason for it anymore. I know everything.”

His eyes darted to where I was going. “What are you doing?”

I lifted the glass box that the bat was in and grinned at him. “No worries. I won’t throw the box at you.”

His eyes fell to the bat, and he scooted over until he was in the farthest corner of the room. Samantha was between us, and he looked at her. I pulled off the back of the glass box and grabbed the bat.

Pulling it out, I pointed it at him. “You’ll stay back from her.”

I didn’t want to scare him too much. If I did, all this would be over. He’d lunge for her, and I wouldn’t hear what I wanted to hear.

“I can’t let you hurt her. This is between you and me.” I kept my tone calm, casual even, and it worked.

He held my gaze, weighing my words.

His shoulders relaxed. The fear was leaving him.

Enough was enough. “Like I said before, I was trying to be smarter this year. No burning houses. No cars put on fire. No brawls. Nothing like that.” I tapped the side of my head. “Act smarter. Think smarter. Be smarter. Those were the basic rules I tried following when I came back.”

My gaze fell back to Samantha. She seemed more vulnerable than ever, lying there, where he could’ve done anything he pleased.

If I hadn’t been here…

I couldn’t finish that thought. I’d murder him here and now. I drew in a breath, trying to keep the rage at bay. This asshole…

I shook my head. “Logan and Sam have been trying to protect me this whole time. They knew all eyes were on me. They did anything they could, but this wasn’t their battle.”

It was mine.

I locked eyes with him again. “You went after me, not them. They were collateral damages.”

“They were weapons against you.”

Finally. That was the truth, but I needed more from him. I wanted to hear as much as I could before I hurt him.

I nodded. “You hurt them to hurt me.”

He said further, a soft sigh leaving him, “I was supposed to recruit you. That’s the kicker. I never wanted to use you for your power. We wanted to give you that power.”

He was in control now. That was fine. I could get more out of him like this.

More. I still needed to hear more.

I shook my head. “You’re wrong. I’ll be fine, no matter what I do. I’m a fighter. I don’t and didn’t need anything from you. It was the other way around. Isn’t that what you guys really do? You find people like me, Logan, Sam, and you latch on to them before they realize the game? You take from them. You don’t give them anything.”

“You’re wrong.”

“I’m not. Even you know I speak the truth. It’s why you don’t want us in. Right? You don’t want us to have the benefits your network could provide us?”

Sebastian shook his head, looking down for a minute. His hands were folded together, and he stood like that before lifting his head again. “It wouldn’t have worked with you guys. You, Logan, even Sam. The three of you were wanted, but the program would’ve had to work where you trusted us. We needed to obtain dirt on you in order to hold that against you, to use you later in life. But it never would’ve worked because the three of you never would’ve let any of us in. The three of you don’t trust anyone.”

He was right.

“Trusting means being used.” I skimmed him up and down. I’d heard enough. I needed to take that control from him.

His head lifted up and down in a smooth nod, and he ground out, “I tried telling my grandfather that, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He kept insisting, even today, that I was supposed to bring you in. This has gone too far for that. I told Samantha everything, but I already knew that I was going to ruin her, so she wouldn’t have ground to stand on against me. I didn’t think you’d have the balls to come here with her.”

His eyelids twitched, and his gaze fell to the ground behind me. “I’ve underestimated all of you this entire time.” His eyes went to the bat in my hand. “You should know that it was me the whole time. The Network had nothing to do with the hit-and-run and when me and the fraternity went after you, Nate, and Logan. That was me. I used the fraternity against you guys, and I did it because…” He faltered now, lifting his head.

He was calming again.

No.

I chided softly, “Because I turned you down. Because I wanted nothing to do with you.” I moved closer and hardened my voice. “Because I decided that you were beneath me.”

“I hated you. Who are you to go against me? Who is Nate to think he’s better than me? Who were you to think you could take one of my fraternity brothers away from me? You’re nothing! You’re no one,” he ground out, spitting at the floor. “You are beneath me, Mason Kade.” Disdain sparked in his eyes. His mouth tightened, stretching at the ends, and his eyes narrowed to slits.

“No one turns you down, right?”

Because he was the best. Everyone else was less than him.

“Exactly.” He flared up. The coward was gone. The wounded animal side of him left. This was the real Sebastian. “Who are you? Who are any of you?”

He came toward me.

I’d fanned the flames, and he took the bait.

I murmured, “Your grandfather chose us over you.”

“He did.” He became like a statue. His shoulders grew rigid. His hands slowly curved inward, forming fists.

“Even your own sister chose us.”

His nostrils flared, but he didn’t reply. I was getting to him.

I added, “She slept with Logan—” I had more to add, but his head whipped up.

There it was. The anger was taking over him. I moved closer. Samantha was still between us, but I was in control.

“She told Samantha that she didn’t regret it.”

He sucked in his breath.

I advanced. “She was stressed about finals, and he offered to have sex with her as a joke. Screwing her was a joke to him.”

He was breathing hard now. He couldn’t look away from me. The anger was almost to a rage now.

I added more, “They went to a janitor’s closet, an

d they were back within an hour.”

“You’re lying.”

“No.” I shook my head.

He could read the truth from me.

“I’m not. She’d do him again, too. She invited us to call her up whenever we’re in New York. She wants to remain friends with Sam.”

“Shut up, Kade.”

His breathing was ragged now. His hands were pressing into his sides, and his head was bent down. He was trying to keep calm, but he was unraveling.

My hands gripped the bat. It was almost time. One swing—that was all I was going to do.

Act smart. Think smart. Be smart. All that was down the drain.

He was going to shatter Samantha. No one would walk away from that.

“What’s the worst insult to you, Sebastian?”

He stopped breathing, but he was still listening. His vein was throbbing in his neck, and his feet moved, so he had a wider stance.

I waited, ready. “The fact that I won or the fact that you underestimated us? Or is it that, even after today, we’ll still be welcomed into your family, and you can’t do a thing about it?”

That was enough.

Sebastian lunged for me, but I was ready. This was what I wanted, and I ducked, ready to hit him when the door burst open.

“Stop!”

Garrett raced into the room. His hand was stretched out, but he stuck his leg out behind him to catch the door. His eyes were wide and alarmed, a look of panic in them. His mouth was open, and he was panting. He said a second time, “Stop.”

I didn’t.

I reached up and grabbed Sebastian’s arm, then flung him into the wall.

“Mason,” Garrett yelled. “Stop.”

“No.” I reared back to swing at him.

Garrett was there. He was on me the next instant, wrapping his arms around mine, and he pulled me back before I could hit Sebastian. The bat fell from my fingers. I bent over and threw Samantha’s father off me. He bounced against the wall but was on his feet the next instant. He shot a hand out to me again. “No, Mason, I mean—I need him conscious.”

Both Sebastian and I threw him a look. “What?” we both asked together.

Garrett turned on him and moved so he was standing next to me. He straightened to his fullest height, and he narrowed his eyes before he cut to where Sam was on the couch. “I know Mason wouldn’t do that. Sam wouldn’t do it to herself. That leaves one person.”

“You’re my godfather,” Sebastian started.

“And you did that to my daughter!” He thrust a finger in Samantha’s direction with each word he yelled. “You, Park. You did that to her. She’s my daughter.”

“He was going to rape her.” My patience was wearing thin. Sam’s dad had three seconds to say what he needed. If it wasn’t enough, I was knocking Sebastian unconscious. I didn’t give a shit about his plans. “Why do you want him awake?”

“I wasn’t going to—”

“Shut up!” Garrett lurched forward.

For a second, I thought he was going to hit him for me. I didn’t know if I wanted that, but I waited. Sebastian and Garrett both seemed surprised by the movement. He caught himself, reining backward and let out a disgusted sound. It was a groan, but a growl at the same time. “I swear, Park,” his chest heaved up and down for control, “you will be quiet, or I will let Mason do whatever he wants to you.”

He moved forward and poked him in the chest as he said the last three words. The second poke was harder than the first, and with the last one, his finger never lifted from Sebastian. It stayed there, drilling into him.

Finally, after another ten seconds of staring into Sebastian’s eyes, Garrett stepped backward. He said to me, his head lowering, “I wasn’t aware you were going to make your move today. I sent Sharon back home where she was safe. I was coming back to tell you guys I would help you, but Logan told me at the house where you really were. I almost got into two accidents speeding here.”

I snorted. “I’m sorry. Were we supposed to run it by you first?” My sarcasm was thick.

“No. I’m just saying that I would’ve been here. She…” He snuck a look at his daughter. His jaw clenched, and he looked away immediately. “She wouldn’t have been hurt. I wouldn’t have even let either of you in.”

Another snort from me. “I’m sure you wouldn’t have.”

He glanced up, holding my gaze. “I mean it, Mason. I would’ve done the dirty work for you.”

That surprised me, and I held my next retort. Instead, I replied, “He’s like family to you.”

“He’s not.” His head lifted again, and he was almost glaring at Sebastian, who seemed to wither in place, his shoulders scrunching together. Garrett clipped out, “Samantha was an innocent, as were you. I don’t know what he’s done to you, but I talked to Gerald. His grandfather told me something about a house being burned down?”

“He used his fraternity brothers to jump me, my best friend, and my brother. All of us at separate times. They tried to hit me with a car last year, too.”

“I see.” Garrett’s eyes narrowed to slits. He stepped toward Sebastian, asking, “Is that true?”

A guttural, “Yes,” came from deep in his throat. “Yes.”

“All of that on top of what you were going to do to my daughter?”

Sebastian was staring at him, then he tried again, “Uncle Garr—”

“I’m not,” he snapped at Sebastian. “I’m not your uncle anymore. I’m not your godfather anymore. I’m nothing to you. Like you’ll be nothing.”

“Garrett?”

He ignored Sebastian’s one-word question and turned to me. “Take Samantha. Take her home. I’ll deal with Park.”

“What will happen to him?”

“He’ll be cast out. All the blackmail material The Network has on him will be used against him and,” he cast a scathing look at him, “I believe there’s enough to strip him helpless. He’ll have no power. The Network will turn on him. Rape of another member is never allowed.”

“She’s not a memb—”

“It doesn’t matter!” Garrett roared back at him. “She’s my daughter, and you were going to hurt her.”

I heard enough. Picking up the bat again, I knew what I was going to do, no matter what Sam’s dad was saying. It wasn’t allowed because she was going to be a member? That was it? Because she was Garrett’s daughter? What if she weren’t? What if she was someone else’s daughter, not someone from The Network? I’d been repressing my fury, but it was done. I didn’t care what happened after this. Whatever Garrett was going to do, it wasn’t enough.

I turned and swung, clocking Sebastian clean in the face. He dropped like a bag of weights, and I kicked at him, double-checking. He was unconscious.

“Mason?”

The bat fell to the floor again. I knelt down and rummaged through his clothing. Feeling his phone inside of his pockets, I took it and stepped back. I pointed at the door, which Garrett left propped open. “Take him. Get him out of here before I do something permanent to him.”

He glanced at the phone. “What are you going to do?”

“If you want Samantha to be in your life, you will protect her after this.”

“You’re not going to tell me?”

I didn’t have to. He’d know in a second, and after that, Sam would know, too, if he was going to actually step up as a dad or hang her out to dry. Either way, it was going to end after this. I gestured to the door again. “Take him.”

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