“Me and the other boys got together to talk about it, and we made the decision to keep our mouths shut. We didn’t want to live knowing that sick bastards were jerking off at the sight of us. Didn’t want to live knowing someone could recognize us from the videos or that they could be one day used against us. Didn’t want them haunting us all our lives. We also didn’t want Levi’s memory stained by them. We couldn’t save him, but we could at least be sure there weren’t what were effectively porn videos of him floating around.”
Fucking hell. “So she got away with it?”
“There are different kinds of justice. I haven’t hurt her, Kensey, if that’s what you’re wondering. I never rolled her up in a fucking carpet. But me, Bastien, and Tara have made her and her ex-husband pay in other ways. They divorced shortly after I bought and took apart the last of his businesses.”
“Hasn’t she threatened to post the videos online if you don’t leave her alone?”
“A year after Levi’s death, she and her ex-husband came back from a dinner party one night to find their home ablaze. Very little survived the fire. Shame that.”
I didn’t need to ask if he’d had something to do with it. Considering Blake’s mother died in a house fire, it might have surprised me that he’d set someone else’s home alight. But he’d clearly known Liza and her ex-husband were out of the house, and I could hardly blame him for wanting to be sure the recordings were destroyed. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to know that someone had explicit videos of you that could be uploaded onto child-porn sites at any time. As he’d said, it would have haunted him all his life. “And you’re sure the vids were destroyed?”
“Positive. See, she was blackmailing Bastien.”
“Bastien was angrier than the rest of us. Like Levi, he’d loved her. Trusted her. Allowed her to do … things to and with him that he hadn’t been comfortable doing, but he’d gone along with it all just to make her happy. So, yeah, he was running on rage. He kept loitering near her house, following her around, and turning up wherever she was just to psych her out. It worked. He scared her. So she threatened that if he didn’t back off and agree to pay her a monthly sum, she’d upload some pictures of him onto the web; pictures in which she was wearing Dominatrix gear and doing some heavily kinky stuff to him. It wasn’t about money for her, she was trying to keep him under control.”
Oh my God. “She has no soul at all, does she?”
“No, baby, she doesn’t.”
“Did she blackmail you or the others?”
“Me? No. But then, she didn’t have any pictures of me in kinky situations—I hadn’t jumped through sexual hoops for her. If she tried blackmailing the others, they didn’t say so. After the fire, Bastien told her he wouldn’t pay her another penny unless she could prove she still had the pictures. But she couldn’t. She threatened to upload his videos instead, but he called her bluff and said he didn’t believe they’d survived the fire. He also said that if she could prove she had them, he’d pay her double what he’d been paying her to stop her from uploading them. She’s a greedy bitch, Kensey—if she’d still had the videos, she’d have shown him a clip so that she could get her hands on his money and keep him under her control.”
“Free from the threat of the videos, did you go to the police with the whole story?”
“No, because we would have had to explain why we lied in our statements. We would have had to talk about the videos and tell the police the ins and outs of what happened. Shame kept us quiet. Shame and guilt over Levi.”
Needless shame and guilt—the boys had done nothing wrong. But I suspected that those words wouldn’t comfort Blake. He wasn’t a stupid man. He knew intellectually that the emotions were senseless. But what you knew and what you felt weren’t always the same.
“Bastien, Tara, and I don’t spend every waking minute of our lives concocting schemes to make her pay,” said Blake. “We leave her alone for years at a time. We give her a chance to rebuild her life. Get a new job. Make new friends. Find herself a boyfriend. Then, just when it’s all going great …”
“You swoop in.”
“She once made our lives hell.” He shrugged. “We’re just returning the favor.”
And who could blame them for that?
“She got engaged a few months ago to a very rich man in Louisiana. She gets engaged a lot. Very good at making the male gender fall for her.”
“You anonymously sent him information about her arrest and the investigation that took place, didn’t you?”
“Yes. We did the same to her other fiancés. She no doubt claimed it was all lies, but none of them ever gave her the benefit of the doubt—probably because they were all high-society people like politicians, who can’t risk being associated with that kind of scandal. I don’t know.”
I absentmindedly rubbed at my upper arm. “How did Tara fuck up when we were in Mexico? It was her who called you, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was. Liza managed to get a job as an online tutor, doing webinars and such. To me, that doesn’t mean her students would be safe. She could groom and lure them to her—she’s good at grooming. Tara should have been watching her closely enough to notice, since she long ago declared that she’d ensure Liza never worked with children again.”
“I take it Liza no longer has the job.” Which meant she’d lost her fiancé and her job in short order. “So, once again, her world collapsed around her. And she came to me, thinking it would make you show up.”
He slowly leaned forward, resting his arms on his thighs. “I’m so fucking sorry that she got near you. I never thought that would ever happen. Didn’t even realize she was in Redwater. She hasn’t been back for years.” He tentatively laid his hand on my bare knee, eyes drinking in my face. “I didn’t want her to ever breathe your air, let alone speak to you.”
I could understand that, since I didn’t want Michael anywhere near him. “Thank you for trusting me with all that.” He’d had the choice of letting me walk away, but he hadn’t. “But I’m going to reiterate that you don’t bear any blame in what Levi did. You don’t deserve to have someone pound on you with their fists.”
“I like the pain, Kensey,” he said, his tone something between sad and bitter.
“You say it helps you. I don’t understand.”
“I’ve never tried to explain it before. It clears my mind. Makes me feel … real. At peace. Alive, like after a really tough workout. I can focus better afterward. I feel more in control.”
And he’d had control wiped away from him several times in his life.
It was little wonder that demons lurked inside him—he lost his mother because she’d refused to come out of the fire until she found him. He lost a father he’d been unable to connect with, leaving him with a messed-up stepmother who’d made sexual advances several times. His teacher had groomed, abused, and fooled him into thinking she cared for him. And his friend had committed suicide in Blake’s bedroom, hating him.
I snapped out of my thoughts when Blake’s hand squeezed my knee gently.