Maybe it was that. Maybe that’s why I propelled myself across the room to pull the tape off of him. I grabbed the end and whipped it off. The faster the better. I wanted to get this over with, so I could leave.
“AHHHH!” he screamed as I yanked it away, his mouth and surrounding skin reddening. He spat at me. “You fucking bitch.”
I acted without thought. I wrapped my hand around his neck and squeezed.
He started to make gargling sounds, rasping, wheezing.
I kept squeezing, an ironclad grip.
He began flailing around, as much as he could, bouncing the chair.
When he began to shake like he was having a seizure, I let go.
He gasped for breath, coughing frantically. He couldn’t stop coughing, and all the while, I stood immobile. I just watched the handprint I’d left on his neck, the way the color seemed to take forever to return to normal. When the whiteness was gone, I flicked my eyes back to his.
A small satisfaction bloomed in my chest. The first flicker of life post Kai’s devastation.
My father seemed cautious now, watching me warily.
I smiled. “I get it. I get why you love being cruel and a monster.” I turned away from his eyes. “I see why you wanted to kill me.”
The power. It was dark and addictive.
Then my stomach rolled over on itself, threatening to spew. I felt sick. That part of me was from him. I did have his darkness in me, and as I stood there, I felt it pooling, moving inside of me, growing.
My father. My mother. Kai. Having a front-row seat to this world. It had probably even started when I was seeing it through the lens of a Hider operative. I was changed. No, that wasn’t right. I was broken. There was a part of me beyond repair now. I could never have a normal life again. Kai had cemented what had been happening to me since Brooke found me.
This darkness wasn’t going anywhere. It slithered in me, like a snake, and I knew then that I’d never be able to get it out of me. It was there because of my father, Kai had brought the flame to life, and then it had burst into a bonfire at his betrayal.
And now here I was, standing in front of the man I used to fantasize about hurting, and it all clicked into place.
This was the moment all of it had been leading to, this moment when I decided my fate. Because I was the only one who could, no one else. Me. My decision.
He was frothing at the bit again, wanting to scare me.
I sighed. “You can’t intimidate me. You should give up. It’s time, don’t you think?”
His eyes widened. Surprise fluttered there before it settled into reluctant resignation.
“You thought my mother cheated on you, because that’s what you did to her. It’s how you make sense of the world. You cheat so you think everyone cheats. That’s how you think, but you’re wrong. She never cheated. It wasn’t in her. Not once.”
He scoffed in disbelief.
“She was too broken by you to even try.”
Not like Kai’s mother. I winced at the thought of her. Brooke’s mom. She cheated on their father. She must have done it to rebel. She had to. Why would the wife of a murderer cheat on that man? It couldn’t have been a careless mistake, a decision made out of passion. Not if it’d produced two sons—or three with Tanner. Maybe she fell in love after all, but to start? Perhaps it was loneliness? Misery?
She couldn’t physically leave him, so she did the next thing she could. She sexually escaped him, emotionally gave herself to others.
“Just kill me. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” A hard glint returned to my father’s gaze. A small spark of impatience. “I know I’m a dead man. So just do it. Why are you drawing this out?”
My phone buzzed in my pocket. Pulling it out, I didn’t recognize the number, but I knew Kai sent it. If not him directly, at his order.
Sender: Hit play on the projector behind him.
I looked, and there it was, sitting on a table. I moved around my father and did as Kai instructed, unsure if I wanted to see what he had lined up.
As soon as the screen lit up, silent tears began rolling down my cheeks.
It was my mother. She was at a beach, and as the video kept rolling, a dog ran into focus. My mother reached back and clasped hands with the man who was now her husband, who joined her on screen. They were talking, laughing, smiling. Then, my chest held suspended as my two half-siblings darted around them. They were kicking up sand in their bathing suits.
They looked nine and ten in the video, so this was a few years old.
Still. My heart ached. This wasn’t real-time or recent, but it didn’t matter.
I knew what Kai was trying to tell me, though if he was done with me, as he’d said he was, I didn’t know why he’d bothered. Even if he was an asshole, he was giving me the chance to say the one thing I’d always wanted to say to this man. I would’ve forgotten otherwise, and later I would’ve wished I had done it.
I turned to my father. “You messed up. Did you know that?”
He swore, his voice cracking. “Why are you torturing me? Just fucking pull the trigger. There’s a gun in here, isn’t there? Where is it?” He tried looking, making the chair jump around as he did. His voice rose. “Are you sure your man isn’t feeding you a pile of bullshit? You’re pathetic. You’re weak. You’re soft. You ain’t no kid of mine. You’re not—”
I grabbed the side of his chair and moved, yanking it with me so he was pivoted around. I stopped, and his eyes were glued to the screen on the wall.
Blood drained from his face.
His mouth fell open.
He was speechless. For once.
His eyes almost bulged out of their sockets.
I waited, expecting curses, or for him to say it was a lie, but he didn’t.
For a full minute, I watched him as he watched her, and a tear formed at the corner of his eye. He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down.
“Damn,” he breathed.
I didn’t want to hear whatever he had to say, so I said my piece instead.
“You failed. In all your miserable, piece-of-shit life, you failed the best thing that happened to you. Her. Me. You didn’t kill either of us, and to further give you the middle finger, she’s happy. Those kids are older now, thirteen and fourteen. That man is everything you never were. He’s kind, loving, supportive, and you might look at him as weak, but he is three times the man you ever could’ve been.”
I leaned down and whispered one last time in his ear, “She beat you. She won.”
I was done.
I was done with all of it.
There was nothing more to say.
I turned and caught sight of a gun on the table, beside the projector.
Another gift from Kai, I had no doubt.
I choked up, knowing he had left it in case I wanted to do the deed, but I didn’t have it in me. Ironically, I think I would’ve if Kai hadn’t taken everything in me that worked and left it in pieces. I might’ve even enjoyed pulling the trigger, then feeling sick about it.
I glanced at my father. He was still frozen. Not a sound left him as he continued to watch my mother with her new family. I had a thought… I shouldn’t, but… What did I have to lose?
I cut a slit in the rope by his hand. It was small, but enough to give him slack where he could pull it free, if he wanted. Then, I moved the gun closer to him on the table, and I left.
I paused, my back tensing before pushing through the door again. Guards waited for me on the other side. They began to go in, but I stopped them. “No. Wait.”
For… I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure until: BANG!
A month later
I’d returned to my childhood home.
Claude had been there, welcoming me home with tears in his eyes. He’d hugged me for a full five minutes. A few of the maids were still employed, and they were all happy to see me, but I was different. They saw it. They’d expressed well-wishes to me, then lied as they expressed their condolences after my father’s body was found.
Everything had happened as Kai said it would. Every. Single. Thing.
I’d been declared alive and welcomed back into Milwaukee’s high society. They’d thrown me a party. All the while, I was on automatic pilot. I barely remembered what happened day to day.
I knew my father’s old management team had all been fired. Not by me. Kai likely sent the orders down—a new accountant, a new business manager. Every person I would need to help me manage my father’s empire had been replaced. It was an all-new regime.
At home, I kept Claude and the staff I enjoyed and remembered.
On week three, Claude came to the office I’d set up. “A Mr. Bennett is here to see you, mistress.”
Mistress. I flicked my eyes up, standing, and trying to ignore the pit in my stomach. “My name is Riley, Claude. Riley.”
“Shall I show him into the first parlor?”
The first parlor? I wasn’t even sure where that was, but I nodded. “Yes, thank you.”
“As you wish, mistress.”