Third Debt Page 2

Balling my hands, I forced myself to find courage.

Cut moved closer, his arms steadfast by his sides. “I was fair to you, son. I gave you more chances than you deserve.”

So many options flashed before my eyes. I could beg for mercy, threaten him—even commit murder to protect myself.

But Nila had been in my life for two months.

My father had been in it for twenty-nine years.

He’d done his best with me. Through his manipulations and crazy conditioning, we’d both thought I could change. It wasn’t his fault he had to do this.

It’s mine.

I dropped my eyes, keeping my mask resolutely in place. “Send me away. Disown me. Do whatever you want.” I kept staring at the carpet as I pleaded for leniency. “You have my word; I won’t come back.”

I’ll run with her. Take her where you’ll never find us.

Cut chuckled. The sound was like a babbling brook in hell. “I have no intention of doing this half-assed, Jet. This is what has to happen. Don’t prolong it.” Raising his arm, he pointed the gun at my chest.

Everything went into fucking lockdown.

My eyes zeroed in on the weapon; no amount of courage could prevent me from debating the worthiness of my life. Yes, I wasn’t like him. But fuck, I’d tried. Didn’t that mean anything? “I’m still your son.”

He pursed his lips. “Debatable after the past few months.”

“I disappointed you. I proved unworthy, but for Christ’s sake, just let me go. Banish me, cast me away, make me penniless. Do whatever you want. Just don’t kill me.”

The word ‘please’ danced on my tongue, but I swallowed it back.

I’m not weak.

I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of begging.

“You’ve heard the tales. You’ve seen the proof of why we live such strict lives. You know I can’t do that, Jethro. It’s better for everyone this way. You’re firstborn. I cannot legally grant my estate to Kestrel while you’re still alive.”

“I’ll sign whatever you want renouncing my claim.”

“Jet—” Cut growled, stepping closer, calm and resigned. “What’s done is done. Time to suffer the consequences.”

He discussed taking my life as if I were the household trash and not his flesh and blood.

I turned my back on him and looked out the window again, reliving the procession of cars that’d stolen Nila from my world.

She’d given me so much, yet taken more than I could bear.

It wasn’t fair.

Life is never fair.

I snorted.

My life is over.

“Jethro—” His temper snapped my name in half. “Unless you want a bullet in your brain, I suggest you come with me. As terrible as you think of me, I don’t want to hurt you.”

I spun around. “What?”

My heart raced in false hope.

Moving closer, he waved the gun. “Come without a fuss. You don’t want your sister to see a mess in here…do you?”

Whatever hope had gathered in my heart ruptured. I flinched at the thought of Jaz witnessing a gruesome dispatching.

“I’ll come with you.” Crossing the distance between us, I wrapped my hand around the muzzle of his gun. “Put it away. It’s not needed.”

Silence webbed around us.

Cut sighed and holstered the weapon in the back of his trousers. “Good boy.” The compassion in his eyes was so wrong. He did care for me—more than he would admit.

Normally, my condition meant I had no choice but to listen. To feel. To understand.

Not this time.

My body shut down, already killing off sensitivity and accepting fate. Thoughts of beating him up and running filled my mind. It didn’t have to end this way. But if I left Hawksridge, I would still have to live with the nightmare I’d been born with. And after falling for Nila, my reserves were empty. I wanted a rest.

I was fucking tired of everything.

Cut stood aside, waving at the door. “After you.”

“No, after you. I’ll follow. I gave you my word.”

Cut scowled but finally nodded. Wordlessly, he made his way to the door and looked over his shoulder to ensure I obeyed.

This was it, then.

On the cusp of winning, I’d lost everything.

So be it.

I followed.

“STOP THE CAR. Please, stop the car.”

The policeman shook his head, gripping the wheel and taking me further away from Jethro. “Sorry, Ms. Weaver. The next place we’ll stop is London.”

The sway of the vehicle sent goosebumps over my skin. Every spin of the tyres thickened my blood with dread.

What will Cut do to him?

How could I leave?

Straining in my seat, I winced. The bruises on my ribcage from CPR, the flaring heat in my throat from drowning, and the headache from confusion all competed with the fisting sensation around my heart.

I tapped the policeman on his shoulder. “Please, this is all a big misunderstanding. Take me back. I want to go back.”

Now. Immediately. Before it’s too late.

“Don’t worry. Just relax. Everything is as it should be,” the officer said.

I just walked away! How could I do that?

“No, it’s not. I don’t have time to explain, but I need you to take me back.” Debts and death and diabolical Hawks didn’t scare me anymore.

Only the thought of what Jethro would face scared me.

I wouldn’t let him suffer alone.

What can you possibly do to help?

I ignored that thought and the panic it brought. I was useless, but I had to try. It was the least I could do. He cared for me. He sent me away and put himself in my place.

Damn him for sending me away!

The officer lost his cordial nature, turning stiff with annoyance. “Miss, I understand that you’ve lived through a great deal, but the Hawks are not a family to be trifled with. We’ve acted on the wishes of the media and your family, so don’t say you did not wish to be rescued when the world knows what you’re tangled in.”

My eyes bugged. “The world knows what?” When he didn’t answer, I pried, “How did my father get you to come?”

The policeman glared at me in the mirror. “Your father and brother didn’t make us do anything. We went to them—we had to do something. Your sibling was out of control.”

My heart hurt. My head hurt. I couldn’t make sense of this mess.

Pressing my fingers against my temples, I begged, “Please, whatever you’ve heard, pay no attention. They have it wrong. Just—please take me back.”

Take me back so I can save him. He needs me!

My soul cried for lying about my brother—the one person who had my wellbeing in mind—but my loyalties had changed. Somewhere along the way, I’d chosen Jethro over everyone. He was my curse, my challenge, my salvation, and I wasn’t going to leave him when he needed me the most.

I’d forced him to notice me. I’d forced him to lean on me.

And now I’ve left him without any help.

The car didn’t slow. We kept driving…mile after mile of rolling hills, grazing deer, and dense forest. The car remained silent.

Fear gave me palpitations. Frustration gave me shakes. I hated that I wasn’t in control. I hadn’t been in control my entire life, and this was just another instance in which men believed they knew better.

First my father. Then Jethro. Now these assholes.

I wanted to scratch out their eyes and slam on the brakes. I wanted to scream and teach them just how capable I was.

Breathe. Calm down.

You’re free!

You should be happy!

To prevent myself from combusting, I glanced out the window. Our speed blurred tussock and seedlings. Acres and acres of woodland and fences. No wonder Jethro had let me run for my freedom. I would never have made it to the boundary.

Miles already separated me from the Hall, but I couldn’t stand another metre without Jethro.

Gripping the door handle, I tried to open it. “Let me out. This instant.” It remained locked and impenetrable.

A cough caught me unaware, residual liquid still in my lungs.

The policeman glanced at me, eyebrow raised. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Miss.”

“Why? Am I under arrest?”

The further we drove, the more my body hurt—I could no longer distinguish if it was from drowning or leaving Jethro in the hands of evil.

A smidgen of relief came unwanted. I was free. Despite everything, I’d gotten out alive—at the cost of another. I’m safe.

The officer smiled thinly. “You’ll be fully debriefed when we get to London. I suggest you have a rest.”

Every new distance, my diamond collar grew heavier, colder.

Every metre we travelled, my fingertip tattoos itched with spidery scratches.

It was as if the spell Hawksridge had over me tried to suck me back—gravity throttling me with diamonds and ink bursting from my skin to return to its master. As much as I despised being a prisoner of the Hawks, I’d found love with Jethro. I’d found myself, and every hill we ascended, I lost more and more of who I’d become.

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