I waited thirty seconds until he was gone before I did what I needed to do. Once it was done, I picked Sam up in my arms and left. Nate was in the car, waiting for us, and when I got inside, I never let her go. I held her as I told Nate, “Go to the hospital.”
He took off, but looked in the rearview mirror. “Is she going to be okay?”
I nodded. “Yeah. We all will be.”
Then he asked, “Did you do it?”
I nodded again, resting my head against the seat’s headrest. Yeah. I used the passcode Summer told us her brother used for his phone. Once in there, I clicked on the e-mail I sent from the computer upstairs to Sebastian’s phone. Then I sent it to his entire list of contacts titled The Network.
Everyone within The Network would see the blackmail material the organization had on them, and on everyone else. What they did with that, was up to them. When they would look into it, there would be no evidence linking me to the e-mail. Everything was connected to Sebastian. He would say it was us; I knew that much, but now everything was in Garrett’s hands.
He would lie for us. He would protect Sam.
I was dreaming about flowers, weddings, and candles. Mason got up from the bed, and the mattress dipped from the movement. That woke me up as he padded barefoot to my bathroom. He didn’t turn the light on. The sun filled the room enough, and I waited one moment, guessing that it was eight thirty-two in the morning before I opened one eye, seeing that I was right from the clock on my nightstand.
The smell of pancakes and coffee told me the time more than how bright it was in my room. Malinda would’ve gotten up around seven. By this time, it would be the second pot of coffee, and I sat up, waiting for it.
“Mama Malinda, you’re looking fresh this morning.” Logan’s voice could be heard all the way down to my room in the basement. A faint grin came over my face, and I snuggled back down underneath the sheets.
Home. That was where we were.
I woke up in the hospital where they got the drugs out of my system. I told them I’d been at a party, and it must’ve been slipped into my drink. After a few hours under intense scrutiny, they released me to go home with Mason. It helped when Garrett came later to check on me, stating that he was my father. He brought my phone too. When Mason was finally allowed to take me home, Garrett followed behind to the house. There, with Nate and Logan, we all sat around the table, and he told us Sebastian’s fate.
“I didn’t even tell them about Sam.” His gaze lingered on me before casing a sharp look to Mason beside me. “You already leaked the e-mail.”
Mason smiled at him. “What e-mail?”
Logan sucked in his breath as a wide smile started to grow. “Oh, damn.”
“It’s like that, huh?” Garrett’s eyebrow lifted up.
Logan coughed into his hand, “Burn.”
Mason started to speak, but Logan cut in, leaning forward and placing a hand onto the table, “We never admit. To anything.” He made a show of looking Garrett up and down, and his top lip curled upward. “You know, so we can’t be incriminated for things we don’t do.”
Garrett’s eyes grew lidded, but he nodded. “Fine. Whatever your ‘policy’ is, I’m here to tell you that once the e-mail was leaked, everyone went into chaos. They blamed my godson—”
Logan opened his mouth, but Mason held up a hand, putting it in front of his brother’s face. He said first, “Which they should. It came from his e-mail. Right?”
“It did, indeed.” My biological father had a knowing spark in his eyes. It was like he was realizing Mason wasn’t a normal college student.
I glanced down to my lap, slid my hand from underneath Mason’s, and tangled my fingers together. Mason and Logan weren’t normal. I wasn’t either. When they burned Sebastian’s frat house down, I knew things were different. Or I knew things were going to be different, and they had been. We all went our own paths during this semester. Each of us tried to protect the other, but all in our own ways. I didn’t want that to be the normal routine. I enjoyed, relished even, the feel of Mason and Logan always having my back. I didn’t know why, but I frowned to myself. We were individuals, but we were family. Mason and I—we were individuals, too. Yet, we were together. I knew nothing would get between us, not unless we allowed it.
This was a different feeling than before.
I had changed.
I didn’t need them in a way like before. Mason and Logan were there for me. Seeing my biological father across the table, he stood for the other parents in my life. All of them abandoned me. I was left with no one. That was when Mason and Logan came in. They became my real family. I was related to Garrett and Analise by blood. David raised me, and Malinda would be there for me for the rest of my life, but Mason and Logan—they were the real deal for me.
Going into that house, stalling Sebastian so that Mason could upload the flash drive—no. Not even that. I was different. I just felt it in me. Sebastian was going to rape me, and he might’ve if Mason hadn’t been there for me, but it wouldn’t happen again. I knew I wouldn’t allow that. If I were in a room with my enemy, I’d be watching everything. How he moved, what facial expressions he had, where he looked, how he said things, and yes, most definitely if one bottle of water was left in the refrigerator. I’d be aware of my surroundings. That was one lesson Sebastian taught me, but I knew there were more.
Garrett was a person. He was a fuck-up dad, but he was a person. That’d been another lesson. And the other main lesson: I was going to be okay. No matter what happened. I just escaped a near-rape, and it hadn’t changed me. From all the crap I’d been dealt over the years, that was almost nothing. Still. I might start carrying a bat with me, or maybe it was time I learned more than a few moves of self-defense.
I think it was time I became a badass fighter like Mason.
Having that thought, I glanced at him from the side of my eye. All that time in the arena, learning those defensive and attack moves, I rubbed my lips together. It might take a while for me, but the whole training process would be fun. Hell, it’d be delicious, and I couldn’t wait to start.
Garrett informed us that Sebastian was blamed for the e-mail leak. He denied until he was blue in the face that it was him, putting the blame on us, but my biological father vowed Mason was nowhere near the house. There was no way Sebastian could blame this on him. As for me, apparently I had been scanned when I came through the front door by some hidden machine. No flash drive was on my body, so they knew it wasn’t me.
Then we heard the best part.
Sebastian raped a girl his freshmen, sophomore, and junior years of college. That wasn’t the good part. It was the evidence The Network had on him. In true casting-out fashion, all that evidence was leaked to the authorities. And that meant Sebastian was going away to prison for a long time.
When he would be released, Garrett informed us that more blackmail information would be released. Sebastian did more than rape a few girls, and if he saw the outside of a prison, there was more information that would send him right back.
In short, Park Sebastian was screwed. Literally.
We never had to worry about him again, and we were home for holiday break. That meant an entire month of being here, having Mason next to me every night, and not worrying about next semester. Right now, hearing Malinda laughing above me from the kitchen as Logan’s laugh followed a second later, I was happy.
I was content.
Mason asked from the bathroom doorway, his toothbrush in hand, “You okay?”
Was I? I smiled at him and didn’t hold anything back. “Hell to the yes. I’m more than okay.”
He lifted up an eyebrow before grinning from the corner of his mouth before he putting away his toothbrush, and coming back to the bed. “You and me, we’re okay?”
We lied to each other. It was wrong. I said I wasn’t going to do it. So had Mason, then we did it, but we were protecting each other. I needed to remember that, an
d I sat up, pulling the bed sheet against my chest as I reached to touch the side of his face.
He was mine. No one else’s. We weren’t perfect, but we would do whatever it took to protect the other. I didn’t know another couple who could say the same thing. A surge of love filled me, and I nodded, feeling choked in the throat. “We’re good. We’re great.”
He took my hand in his and leaned down, resting his forehead to mine. He murmured, gazing deep into my eyes the entire time, “You’re strong, Samantha. You kick ass. You don’t flinch when someone’s coming at you, and you’ll go back. You’ll always go back, no matter the consequences, if it means protecting someone you love. I am lucky to have you. I am lucky that you love me.”
I was feeling the tears coming. I pulled back, my smile almost taking over my entire face. Holy shit. I didn’t think I could love him more than I did at that moment. “No more lies, right?”
He grinned, laughing softly. “You would’ve thought we had learned, right?”
His forehead moved against mine, a gentle brush as he nodded, echoing my word quietly, “Yeah.”
Screwed up or not, I knew we’d be fine. We always would. I was thinking about pulling him down to the bed with me when someone knocked on my door. Mark’s voice sounded through it, slightly hesitant, “Uh…Sam? You have a visitor.”
Mason sat back, still gripping my hand. He asked me, “He’s not talking about Logan?”
That didn’t sound right. Logan didn’t get announced by others. Logan did the announcing. I started to climb out of bed and called out, “I’m coming. I’ll be up in a bit.”
Ten minutes later, still dressed in my pajamas, but refreshed for the day, I stepped into the kitchen, holding Mason’s hand behind me. Malinda looked over, a worry line sticking out from across her forehead.
I frowned. She’d been laughing twenty minutes ago.
I cast Logan a look. He wasn’t paying attention to us. He was standing, staring at whoever was at the front door with a scowl on his face. When he realized we were there, he said, “The code word is strangle. You say it, and I’m there for you. I’m not letting her hurt you again.”
Her? Then I remembered what James said to me after Mason met with the board for Logan’s punishment hearing. He drew me to his vehicle …
I was remembering the conversation, as I was moving in slow motion.
My heart slowed.
His words came back to me as I stepped around Logan, and I saw who was waiting just inside the doorway, huddled against the wall with her arms hugging herself.
He had said, “The doctors are pleased with your mother. Her progress has been incredible over the last six months.”
It was her.
His voice droned on, dipping down an octave, “They said she might be able to come home. I’m not sure when that would be, but I wanted to let you know. We’d be coming back, Sam. I wanted you to be the first to know.”
I blocked out what he said.
That was the truth. With Sebastian and knowing we still needed to deal with him, everything James told me went in one ear and out the other. I couldn’t digest it. So I hadn’t.
I just couldn’t deal with it, but here she was.
I took a step toward her. I felt like I was walking through invisible mud, and I said, my own voice sounding muffled and unclear to my ears, “Mom?”
Her head came up. She was huddled in the doorway. Her arms were wrapped around herself. Her hair was pulled back in a low ponytail behind her head. She looked…I couldn’t process it. Natural. Her eyes lifted, clearing from whatever emotion she was feeling, and her entire face became radiant. She had no make-up on and she pulled her sweater even tighter around her frame.
“Samantha.” She beamed at me. Then she said it—the words I didn’t think I ever wanted to hear. “I’m home.”
For more information, go to www.tijansbooks.com
Stay tuned for Fallen Crest Six (untitled), but until then, here’s a sneak peek at Logan Kade.
(This teaser is not in Logan’s point of view.)
We were only two pitchers in when the party came to an end. Jason and I had taken up position on the front lawn. We were on two lounge chairs, and he’d just come back with our third pitcher when a girl walked around from the back of the house for the cars. Before she could slip through them, a group of guys stepped out. They seemed to have materialized from the road. The girl started backing up as the guys continued moving toward her. They weren’t chasing her, but they weren’t holding back either.
“Oh no.” Jason sat straight up. The pitcher was forgotten.
He didn’t answer. I swung my head over and saw why—he wasn’t there. “Jason? Where’d you go?” It didn’t matter. He really was gone, and I wasn’t going to be able to find him. People were starting to come around the house.
“I’m leaving. I suggest you get out of my way.”
The girl from before said that. I frowned, surprised. She wasn’t scared. She was annoyed. The rest of the crowd began to form around her, and I walked over as well. If she was going to be hassled, I wasn’t going to stand for that. The complete pitcher I downed myself may have been assisting my bravado, but I tucked that away. I would’ve done this sober too, or I hoped I would’ve.
I stepped closer, and then recognized the girl. It’d been the same girl that had been with Logan Kade earlier. Her hands were beside her, her feet set apart. Her shoulders were back and ready while she watched the guys warily. She was getting ready to fight. I recognized the signs, and a nervous flutter started in me. She meant business, but so did the guys. I didn’t know who they were. I frowned, scratching at my forehead. I didn’t think they were at the party, but who knows. They could’ve been. Either way, this girl wasn’t happy with them.
I heard other people saying the same thing, but I was focused on the girl. She really was stunning, even more so up-close. She raised her chin, and a warning flashed in her eyes. “Touch me. I dare you.”
The three guys were unfazed. All tall, and not to be stereotypical, but they looked like preppy douchebags. If I found out later they all belonged to some Ivy League secret society club, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Each of them was gorgeous with bodies built like they rowed every morning for hours. They also looked like money. It was dripping from them, from how they dressed. Their jawlines looked rigid enough to form glaciers. Their eyes were icy, too, as they stared back at the girl.
They weren’t backing down.
I started to break from the crowd, to stand next to her. If they were going to screw with one girl, they were going to take on the rest of us too. Girl power and all, but before I could, the crowd broke in half. An actual opening formed, and Logan Kade strode forward.
My foot jerked back in its spot. I was still holding judgement, but it looked like I didn’t need to link elbows with this girl and form a wall.
As Kade stopped beside the girl, the three guys turned their attention to him. They didn’t move or say anything, but the air shifted. It went from dark and ominous to dangerous. I felt a battle brewing. My gut was telling me that these guys didn’t want to mess with Kade. I remembered Jason’s words from the backyard. Kade started fights, and he finished fights. At that moment, I hoped that was the case.
“Kade.” One of them finally spoke, grating out his name. His nostrils flared.
Kade’s eyes narrowed. He glanced at the girl, and then settled