“God, you’re fucking feisty for a midget, aren’t you?” Zach laughed, and through the slits of the ski mask, his eyes held a scary gleam to them. “You and Kyler are just friends, huh? Fuck-buddies by the look of it. Yeah, I saw you two in front of the window. Would’ve got you out of the bar sooner if I’d known you were just another one of Kyler’s whores.”
Just another one of Kyler’s whores.
Rage swamped me, a fiery burn that slithered through my veins like poison. I bucked my hips, trying to throw him. “Get off me!”
“Hey!” Bat Guy shouted, his voice a high-pitch squeal. “This is going too far! I didn’t sign up for this shit! Fucking with the house is one thing, but this? Hell no. I’m not a part of this.”
“Whatever,” Zach growled. “Get the fuck out, then.”
Breathing heavy, my eyes locked with Zach’s. How far was he going to take this? Obviously, what was happening wasn’t a part of any plan. Bat Guy was way too freaked out for that to be the case. They must’ve been watching. Saw Kyler leave, and then me. They probably hadn’t expected me to show up in the middle of them vandalizing Kyler’s car. But now? My brain couldn’t go where this kind of stuff ended. This couldn’t be happening to me.
A door slammed shut somewhere in the house, and the last of my hope dwindled. Bat Guy was gone. I was alone with Zach, and revenge glittered in his stare.
Coasting over the snow, I cursed under my breath. Way too much time had passed since I’d left for the lodge. Syd probably thought Bigfoot or something had eaten me. I hadn’t intended on taking so long. Good news was that I learned that progress had already been made on the town’s roads, and the main ones were clear enough for slow traffic.
Man, my head was still spinning from what’d happened when Sasha had strolled into the lodge. It solidified two age-old sayings—the past always comes back to bite you in the ass, and no good deed goes unpunished.
Jesus. H. Christ.
All I wanted to do was gather Syd up and get as far away from here as possible. Coasting to a stop beside the other snowmobile, I frowned. What the hell was that doing out? Had Syd gone somewhere and come back?
Irritation bit deep as I turned the engine off. Goddamn it, would she ever listen to me? The last thing I wanted was her running around by herself, especially after what I’d learned from Sasha.
Fucking Zach—fucking redneck, backwoods asshole—had been behind the shit going on at the house. Apparently, he’d busted out a couple of her windows too. That little punk still couldn’t get past the fact Sasha had moved on. You’d think by the way Zach acted over a year later that Sasha had the golden vagina or something. Shit.
It took everything in my power not to find my way to where Zach lived and beat the living shit out of him. His screwed-up obsession with Sasha could’ve gotten Syd hurt—or worse.
It would’ve been your fault, whispered an insidious voice.
Fuck. That was true.
Whipping my helmet off, I hopped off the snowmobile just as someone came running out from under the half-closed garage door.
First thought: What the fuck?
Second thought: Fucker was wearing a ski mask and was coming out of my house, where Syd was? Oh hell-to-the-motherfucking no.
Throwing the helmet down, I caught the son of a bitch around the waist as he tried to dart around the house. I took him down in the snow, planting my knee in the dude’s stomach.
“Who the fuck are you?” I demanded, gripping the guy by the shoulders. “Answer me!”
The man held up his hands. “I don’t have nothing to do with this. I swear. He said he just wanted to fuck with the house and your car. That was—”
Grabbing hold of the edges of the ski mask, I yanked it up over the fucker’s head. It was one of Zach’s cronies. He’d been at the bar a few nights back. Without even thinking twice, I slammed my fist into the guy’s face. “Where is he?”
The guy looked like he was about to piss himself as he jerked his chin toward the garage. His bloody lips trembled.
“I’m sorry. It wasn’t supposed to go this far, but Zach, man, he hates you for that shit with Sasha. He’s inside, man.”
I went stock-still for a second. It was like the world had just fucking crashed on top of me. Fear exploded in the back of my throat and it tasted like I’d swallowed a mouthful of blood.
Springing off the douche, I tore through the snow and skidded across the cement. I hit the side of my SUV and rebounded. My head shut down as I flew through the open door, my eyes scanning the room for Syd.
Footfalls thudded upstairs and a cry rang out, stopping my heart. Shit, that sounded like Syd. Oh, my God, that sounded like her. My hands were already forming fists and pure rage boiled my blood, turning to ice at the sound of a fucking gunshot from above. Oh, God—Syd. If she was hurt, I swore to fucking God, I’d kill the bastard. There’d be no stopping me.
Racing around the pool table, I made a beeline for the stairwell as feet pounded over the floor above and down the stairs. A second later, another fucker in a ski mask rushed out of the dark stairwell, drawing up short when he saw me. I knew it was Zach. It was his build. Half of his face showed through the torn, lower half of the ski mask. My gaze dropped to his hands. There was blood all over them.
I fucking lost it.
Launching myself across the room, I slammed into Zack and took him down. Punk-ass swung on me, but I dodged the strike. Grabbing the collar of his sweater, I pulled him up by one hand. My arm swung back and shot forward, connecting with his jaw. Once. Twice. Three times. He didn’t get one punch in. Fuck, no. The blows blurred into blood, split skin, and flares of dull pain. It wasn’t enough. I wanted to pummel him into an early grave, but when Zach’s head flopped back on his neck, I dropped him on the floor and forced myself to stand.
My hands were shaking, knuckles busted and raw.
Taking the next breath was hard, but not as hard as it was to step back from Zach. The only thing that made me do it was that I needed to get to Syd. Gunshot—oh, God. If she was hurt or…I would never forgive myself. It was as simple as that. I shouldn’t have left her here alone.
As I stepped over Zach, he rolled onto his side, moaning. I resisted the urge to kick him upside the head. Racing up the stairs, my heart was throwing itself against my ribs. “Syd!” I thought I yelled, but I choked on her name, choked on the possibility of what could’ve happened to her.
Barreling through the half-closed door, I skidded to a halt when I saw her.
She was sitting on the edge of the coffee table, staring at the dying fire, her arms wrapped around her waist. Dark hair fell forward, shielding her face. My stepdad’s shotgun lay across her knees.
I walked around, easing my hands open. Stopping in front of her, I knelt and felt my heart crack. Splinter. The collar around her neck was torn, the skin along her chin red and blotchy. Her lower lip was split and an angry red. Fury slammed into me with sickening force. I wanted to go back downstairs and beat Zach into a nice little head injury.
“Syd, baby, look at me.” I reached out to her, wanting to pull her into my arms, needing to do so.
“Don’t.” She jerked away and stood, clutching the gun and backing up rapidly. “Don’t touch me.”
Standing next to the Christmas tree, I watched the state vehicle ease down the road, its plow scraping up snow and pushing it aside. Sirens blared off in the distance. Kyler must’ve called the police. That was smart, really smart. I honestly hadn’t even considered that. It was like my brain wasn’t working right.
My jaw and lip ached, but I felt detached from it. Residual terror and adrenaline sent a shudder through me. I wasn’t really hurt. Other than the one blow Zach had landed, I was okay for the most part. By the looks of Kyler’s knuckles, I bet Zach was worse off than me. And the wall of the living room had taken the bullet.
Zach had wanted to scare me, and he’d succeeded. I honestly don’t know what would’ve happened if I hadn’t been able to pull away and grab the gun from where Kyler had propped it against the wall. And what if Zach had gone for it? Right now, I couldn’t really consider all that could’ve happened. If I had learned anything in my psychology courses, it was that humans were capable of doing anything and Zach…yeah, something was definitely wrong with him. The gun had shaken so badly in my hands when I’d turned and pointed it at Zach. I’d seen the hesitation in his eyes—does she have the guts to pull the trigger? Is it even loaded?
I’d wondered that at the time, too.
My knees shook so badly I was surprised I was still standing and hadn’t fallen into the Christmas tree yet. I knew it was shock. Not the deadly kind, but shock nonetheless.
At the sound of Kyler’s voice, my eyes stung. I didn’t turn around.
“The police are almost here. They’re going to want to know what happened.” Another stretch of silence and when he spoke again, he sounded closer. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I croaked, wishing he’d just go away. I wasn’t ready to deal with him yet. I didn’t think I’d ever be ready. My chest ached worse than any other part of my body.
There was a pause. “Did he…did he hurt you? I mean, more than what I can see?”
I shook my head, swallowing hard. The sirens were closer. I dreaded talking to the police.
“Syd, will you…will you look at me?”
I didn’t want to, but I forced myself to turn toward him. He was as pale as I felt, eyes wide and dark like chips of obsidian. I steeled myself, because looking at him hurt in a deep, unforgiving way. “What, Kyler?”
He looked like he was about to take a step forward, but stopped. “What…what’s going on? Why won’t you let me touch you?” His head tilted to the side and a chunk of brown hair fell across his forehead. “And I really want to just hold you right now. You have no idea how scared I was when I realized he was in here. I never—”
“Stop—stop right there.” I held up a hand, realizing that I still had the gun in the other. I lowered it to the floor, the lump in my throat the size of a golf ball. Everything rushed to the surface in dizzying speed. This so wasn’t the time for this, but I couldn’t stop myself. “You don’t think I know where you were?”
His brows rose as he took a step back. “Syd, I—”
“I went to the lodge looking for you. Yeah, I know I was supposed to stay here, and maybe this shit wouldn’t have gone down the way it did if I had stayed here, but I went there and you weren’t there.” The back of my throat burned. “You were with Sasha, who, from what I heard, seemed really happy to see you, and you didn’t think twice about going back to her place. Not even after we—” My voice gave out and I shook my head, blinking back tears. “You lied to me.”
Kyler opened his mouth, but I cut him off, on a roll. “You told me that you and Sasha weren’t like that, but that was obviously not the case, was it? All of this—the stuff with the window, and the generator, and Zach? This was because of you and her. Zach came here because you slept with his girlfriend!”