All that was rolling through me as I entered the house.
But it wasn’t Griffith beating the shit out of Stephen in front of me; it was the other way around.
Stephen reared back, roaring, and threw another punch. “You.” Punch. “Get.” Punch. “The fuck.” Punch. “Out.” Hit, hit, hit. “Of this house!”
He stopped, his chest heaving.
He was in a suit, his tie thrown over his shoulder. There was blood on his hands and at the corner of his mouth, and he had a nasty looking bruise around one of his eyes. Griffith had gotten a few hits in.
My mom was in the dining area, her hands covering her mouth. Tears streaked over her face, which was deathly white. I cursed, heading for her.
Stephen was shaking Griffith now, and my non-bio dad wasn’t a small guy. He was two hundred and eighty, almost all muscle. Stephen was half his weight, but trimmed up.
Crap. Maybe I’d gotten my violent streak from him too?
“You are scum for what you have done to your wife and son,” Stephen bellowed. “My son! Mine! You will leave their lives and have nothing to do with them. You hear me?” He turned and tossed Griffith across the kitchen.
He started for him, but Cross shoved through the crowd. “Dad!”
Stephen jerked back, looking around. He blinked a few times.
I crossed the kitchen, intending to go to my mom.
She saw me, and her eyes filled with tears. “Oh, no.”
I hardened. She didn’t get to cry anymore, not over this asshole.
Stephen fell back a step. “Cross!” Then he saw me. “Blaise.”
Griffith’s functioning eye opened, hearing my name. I saw the old asshole come back to him. Hatred filled that one eye, and the fucker who used to put his fists on me thought he could do it again.
“You little piece of—”
“No!” Stephen roared, going for Griffith.
I got there first. My hands went down, fisting his shirt, and I lifted the fucker to his feet. A good punch of adrenaline eased the strain.
“Don’t!” I roared in his face. “Don’t you say another word. You’re going to do as he said.” My arms started hurting, so I shoved him against the wall. He tried to swing, but I ducked and kicked out his knee.
He crumpled after that.
He was done.
It was all over his face—he loathed me. He wanted to hit me.
I laughed, kneeling next to him. I’d ceased caring who was going to hear me the second I walked inside my home. “You beat me, you miserable piece of fuck.”
I heard a gasp behind me.
“You locked me in closets when she wasn’t around. You threatened me. You threatened her. You used your belts on me. Those days have been gone for a while, but I have evidence.”
His eyes widened.
“I kept a diary. I wrote it all down.”
I felt dead inside. I let him see that. I let him see what he’d done to me.
“You never broke me. Ever. And if you think you’re going to go to the authorities and make some bullshit claim against my real father, I’ll come forward against your ass. Look behind me, Dad. All these guys are witnesses. Not one of them will back you up. Not one.”
His eyes shifted, and they narrowed.
When they opened, I knew I was looking at a beaten man, in more ways than one.
I leaned down. “I know about your lawsuit.”
His eyes shifted again, blinking, then focusing on me. I couldn’t name the emotion I saw there. Maybe it was panic? I was beyond being able to read him. He was just an abuser—that’s all I could see.
“I don’t know what those women have on you, or what they’ll get you charged with, but you will not do a goddamn thing to pull myself or my mother into it with you. You are alone. You got it? Alone. You’ll not utter her name or my name once during the entire process, or you will have worse things to deal with. There’s no statute of limitations for child abuse in New York. Remember that.”
I stepped back, and Zeke rushed in.
He’d been standing right behind me, and he went around to grab one side of Griffith. Brian took his other side, and the two of them dragged Griffith from the house.
I knew Zeke would call one of his dad’s private service cars. The driver would take Griffith to a hospital, and he would stand with him the entire time, pretending to be there for him, but he’d act as a spy.
And I knew this because Zeke was my best friend. He glanced back just before hauling Griffith out of the door. His eyes met mine, and his chin went up.
I nodded back.
I might not have my brother’s crew, but I had Zeke.
“Blaise,” my mom whispered.
Tears streamed down her face, and she looked stricken.
“I never knew.”
I saw the emotions crossing her face, and I shook my head. “I never wanted you to know,” I said, my voice rough. “I never wanted anyone to know.”
“Baby.” More tears. She bit her lip, and that reminded me of Aspen.
I wanted my girl, but that’d have to wait. I lifted my arms, and my mom stepped into them. She broke down, clutching me.
I knew, in the logical part of my mind, that this wasn’t my fault. I’d been the victim. But I’d chosen to keep it hidden from her. So in a way, it was my fault too. I was the cause of my mom feeling this pain, and I hated myself for it.
Then again, I usually hated myself. This was par for the course.
Zeke had done exactly what I’d known he would, and he’d come back in after the car took Griffith away. He gave me the numbers for the driver and guard that’d be with Griffith until the hospital released him, and then he asked what I wanted.
I told him to take off, and he nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
He left with the rest of the guys.
After she broke down for the fourth time in my arms, Stephen had taken my mom into the bedroom. They’d been in there for two hours.
I didn’t know why I was waiting, but I was. I moved to the back porch.
Maybe I’d been waiting for this moment, though I wasn’t at all happy about it, now that it had arrived.
Cross stepped out on the back porch and sat in a chair beside me.
I stopped him. “Get lost.”
I turned to him.
I didn’t give two fucks about anything.
“Get lost. Not your life. Not your problem.”
He sat there for another beat, and a disgusted laugh ripping from him. He shoved up, shaking his head. “Fucking prick.” He crossed the patio, and a second later, he was gone—he and his friends.
I waited another hour.
It was dark by then.
It was cold by then.
I saw nothing, and I felt nothing.
I’d read that once you finally share your deepest secret, you’re supposed to feel free. That was bullshit. It had just imprisoned me further. I was pinned down, experiencing it all over again—every emotion, every memory. Now I would wait, holding my breath while everyone who’d heard my secret had the power to further hurt me or give me nothing in response.
There was no freedom.
There was no love, or healing, or warmth.
I was a fucking victim.
I’d never said the words, but I knew that’s what I’d been.
I hated him because he’d done this to me, and I hated myself, because I wasn’t a fucking victim.
No. I just hated life.
I hated fucking life.
Then there was movement at the door. I heard it slide open.
I didn’t look, but I knew it was Stephen. He was the only one still operational. My mom was probably passed out by now.
“Did she take a valium?” I asked the darkness.
He was quiet as he crossed to take the chair his real son had sat in earlier. He eased down slowly. I heard a crinkle and looked over. He had an ice pack on his face. “Yeah.”
I nodded. “She’ll be out till tomorrow. You’ll have a full night’s sleep.”
“The fuck I will,” he said.
I turned to him.
His eyes burned. “I just learned one of my sons has been physically abused. You think I’m going to sleep tonight?” He shook his head. “You must have no clue how much I love you.”
My stomach clenched.
“How much I fell in love with you the first time I saw you,” he added.
My chest clenched.
“The second I saw you, I knew you were mine.”
I closed my eyes.
“I was livid with your mother, but that’s not for you to deal with. You’re done with that. You got it?”
I looked at him, not understanding.
“I told you I had it tonight. You didn’t have to come.”
I opened my mouth.
He shook his head. “Cross told me he called you. He told me what you said, and I don’t know if that’s why you came, but I’m here. This is my shift now. While I’m glad all this is out, and your mother and I know what happened to you, making sure Griffith doesn’t talk isn’t your job. Do you get that?”
I just stared.
“You beat me, you miserable piece of fuck.”
I’d ceased thinking once those words left my mouth.
Stephen leaned forward, the chair squeaking under him, and he rested his elbows on his knees. “There’s a lot to process, but are you going to be okay for the night?”
My entire body was locking down, but I managed a slight nod. “Yeah.” I flinched internally, hearing how monotone I sounded.