Return to poughkeepsie, p.36
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.36

           Debra Anastasia

  Though he was perfectly still, she knew he was still awake. She came close to the bed, hugging the folder to her chest, and sat down. “Tell me what it was like—as a boy. What happened?”

  There were a whole host of reasons she’d never asked that question in all the years they’d been together. For one, she knew it must have been horrible and she hadn’t wanted him to relive it. It was long in the past, but now it seemed important, relevant to this situation. She could make out his shape as her eyes adjusted. His hands tucked behind his head, his feet crossed at the ankles. Wanting to lay her head on his chest, instead she sat crisscross and waited.

  He cleared his throat. “It’s funny. The adults told me not to tell. Now look at me—decades later and my throat still closes at the thought.”

  She placed a hand on his knee, and they were silent for a while.

  “The lady who gave birth to me…she wasn’t a nice person.” He made the noise of a laugh, but there was no joy in it. “It was drugs, they said. The counselors. But she was cruel. Her eyes? There was nothing like compassion there. Like when you see a cute cat or hear a sad story? I look at your face and see the stuff affect you like it’s supposed to. She was concrete—her face, her eyes. I look back on her, any memory I have, and that’s all I see. Flat. Flat hair, flat eyes, flat ass.”

  His tone was strange, like he was sliding into those very memories as he spoke. She crawled to him and rested her head on his bare chest, petting the soft hair there.

  “I was a means to an end. That’s how it was for her. Anyone was a piece in a puzzle. A way to get: get more money, get more drugs, get more money again. I was a pawn for her. I remember the times the state came to get me. She’d fight so hard. But it was never for me the person, you know? It was for this body, this human body she felt entitled to.”

  He waved a hand over his scars. “There were things she did to me that most people wouldn’t have the heart to do to an animal.”

  Kyle knew he could tell she was crying. He had to feel the tears that fell on his chest. She hugged him tightly.

  “There was a cage. It was really a closet they’d rigged with dog crates. Anyone who gave her money…well, they got the keys to the cage.”

  Kyle’s fury engulfed her. He had been right not to tell her, because right now she was vicious for that little boy. Thinking of her husband so helpless made her crazy.

  “And then I went to Evergreen. The bitch still wouldn’t sign me over, so I had to do home visits. I’d be at the school, taking classes, talking to my teachers. They’d take us to see movies or to a restaurant. It felt like another planet. And the other kids there? We were all shell-shocked, amazed that crazy crap didn’t have to happen all the time. That someone would wash your clothes? Care where the fuck you were? Remember if you were in one place or another? They never forgot us in a cage for days at a time.”

  He was barely a shadow now—his voice, the look in his eyes. She touched his face.

  “You know, I had Mrs. D. She’s the closest I’d ever had to a mom. She let me know I was going to have more someday, that there would be a day I’d make my own choices. She knew it was hell when I went home. I know now she went to bat for me a billion times, and eventually that woman who birthed me signed away her rights. And that’s when I made enough of a change that I could go to a foster home.”

  “Where you met your brothers…” Kyle added for him. Even though that foster home had been shit, at least he’d made a family for himself.

  “Yes. There was Beckett. He just knew there was more to me. And Blake had an aura, you know? Like he was something special. You just wanted to help him. But Beckett, he wanted to help us both. He did help us both. And I know he’s a criminal. I know that. He’s made terrible choices, but sometimes I know he didn’t really have a choice.”

  Cole sat up a bit, scooting up against the headboard and pulling her with him. “But whatever Beckett had done, I knew with everything in me that he’d never let anyone lock me in a damn cage again. And I’m a grown man, and this sounds ridiculous, but I trust him. I know he wouldn’t hurt me with this. He’d never hurt you either.”

  “Not on purpose. I agree with that.” Kyle nodded.

  “That’s it. Right there. Not on purpose. That, to me, is goodness. When you’re caring by default.” Cole hugged her back. “I’m sorry if this wasn’t the right choice for you. Here I was thinking I’d save you worry, and I’ve upset you.”

  “I think we should do it.” Kyle pulled away from him enough to see his face as his eyes went wide.

  “Don’t say that because you feel bad for me.” Cole watched her carefully.

  “No. I was going to say it before you told me what you went through. I think I was—and am—afraid to get my hopes up. If this Chery decides she wants her baby back, or to not give him to us at all…I’m just scared.” Kyle sighed. “But that could happen with any adoption, and even with any pregnancy. Sometimes things don’t go as planned.”

  Cole swallowed. “So?”

  “So I’d really love to try and see if we can make this work.” Kyle patted his cheek and kissed him. “I’m ready for a baby, even if my body isn’t. And this—you and me and little John? Let’s try. Let’s hope and pray and figure it out. We’ll talk to Chery, and I’ll try not to curse my face off. Let’s have a baby, Cole Bridge.” She kissed him again with all the hope she had. With her hands she willed him new memories—just love, only caring. This body of his, which heartbreakingly had been currency for someone else, she would treasure and value.

  “Will we do okay, you and me, do you think?” He kissed her before she could answer.

  When they took a breath, she let him know the only thing that mattered. “Always.”


  Hell and Gasoline

  BECKETT WAS GOING TO FIGHT without his douchebags. He’d convinced the fuck out of them that he’d be fine, that he had a deal with Rodolfo and this was all for show.

  He didn’t, and it wasn’t.

  Yet he wasn’t about to drive them to a bloody fucking death. Bad enough that he’d done it to himself, but really, what did he expect? After the life he’d lived? The choices he’d made? Perhaps this was best for everyone. To make sure of it, he’d arranged a few things: set up trust funds for his brothers and pulled a few listings for available property clear on the other side of the country. A letter detailing how they could all live there and who to call to manage their money would arrive by courier tomorrow at noon, unless he was by some miracle alive to stop it. He’d planned for everything he could think of, including a birth suite for Chery and a specialist to help Cole and Kyle with the adoption. He’d done everything he could to make it legal now, and that gave him peace.

  He’d dressed like the fine motherfucker he was and didn’t bother to pack heat. He’d be outnumbered a hundred to one, so what was the point? Seeing Eve had been a kick in the nuts, but a necessary one. He needed to know she was okay—moving out and moving on. It gave him a sick pleasure to know Ryan was past tense, but damn it, once he was dead he’d probably be half rooting for the bastard. She needed someone good in her life. Someone better than him.

  Eve was a tough one. It took tenacity to get into her heart. Like he could say he had any claim, but fuck if he didn’t love her. He hoped tonight would prove that to her once and for all, even if he weren’t around to see the outcome. And if this game took everything from him, at least he’d leave with his debt paid and his family taken care of.

  His fantastic black Hummer looked as pimp as it should, and he rolled up onto Rodolfo’s meeting place without hesitation. Beckett planned to go out with a shit-eating grin because, well, fuck you, world. He was born to assholes, and he’d raised himself and created his family. He’d leave them enough money to be provided for. Eve would be alive and maybe with him gone, she could truly fucking heal. He exhaled as he opened the door, leaving the engine running and his music blasting.

  Old-school Rodolfo was surely pissing his Depends with anger
. Respect was demanded, but Beckett wasn’t in the mood to play games. Or to fake anything. He found himself at the back end of yet another huge house. The man was just crapping money at this point. The front must have faced a lake or something because he could smell a moldy wetness in the air. Torches along the driveway and blazing light from the house’s floor-to-ceiling windows illuminated the yard, as well as the snipers perched in the upstairs windows. Rodolfo came strolling out the French doors, cane in hand and face in obvious disapproval of Beckett’s lack of an army.

  The old man slowly made his way to Beckett. “Turn that off.” He pointed at the Hummer. Beckett shrugged, so one of Rodolfo’s men hopped into the vehicle and shut it down.

  “You were to show force tonight. Prove yourself. You haven’t been able to do it any other way. Your value is rapidly dwindling.” Rodolfo looked furious, though he was reining it in.

  “This is all I need to show you how awesome I am.” Beckett winked at the old man and held out his arms. “You don’t appreciate my mind, baby.”

  “There are ways to do things. Proper ways. How is it you can’t even do this right? Go get your people, then come back.”

  Beckett was about to start in and tell the man how, unlike him, he had respect for his people and wouldn’t use them in a chess game when the buzz of a distant motorcycle caught everyone’s attention. It was traveling at a tremendous speed.

  Beckett smirked. Instantly he knew who it was. She drove like a goddamn stunt person. After a few moments the motorcycle came to a stop in a spray of gravel somewhere close behind him. He didn’t turn—Rodolfo could just think he’d expected her—instead he watched the reactions of the men standing before him.

  Beckett pictured her in his mind’s eye. She’d stunned them stupid, that’s for sure. He heard the clack of her steel stiletto heel on the bike’s kickstand, the sound of her pulling off her helmet. He imagined her long blond hair falling out from under it. From the way a few of the men around him adjusted their pants, he was betting on black leather that looked like it had been poured over her insane body, every curve highlighted by the unforgiving material.

  She stood right behind him. He could feel her there, her hands behind her back like the amazing weapon she’d always been.


  That was all she said, and all she needed to say. She’d let him know why she was here with one word. Somehow she’d figured out what he was doing, where he’d be. And she had the timing of Superman. Unfortunately they’d probably both die—Rodolfo knew how he felt about Eve.

  “The hair is different. But that’s the woman who murdered Mary Ellen.” Rodolfo set his heavy gaze on Eve.

  Beckett finally allowed himself to turn to her, to see what they saw. He had to smile. She was sheer sex and sin. The boots were old favorites with high, steel heels. And as predicted, her pants were orgasmically tight. She had a corset on, goddamn it, and her tits were so distracting it was obscene. Across her chest hung rounds of ammo like she’d just won the beauty pageant of death, and a leather jacket topped the whole fucking thing off. Well, that and the impressive automatic weapon slung over her shoulder.

  She pulled her favorite knife from where it was strapped to her thigh next to another. She twirled her hair into a bun and slid the knife into it, meeting his gaze when it was set. Eve was magnificent. Every damn time.

  “I’d have loved for us to live through this.” Beckett shook his head and held out his hand.

  She looked at his hand briefly before knocking it out of the way. Instead of walking past him or blowing his balls off, she grabbed the back of his neck and laid a kiss on him that made his knees buckle. She leaned close to his ear before pulling away. “Never say die.”

  Rodolfo looked on at this ridiculous display. His child’s murderer put on quite a show, but he was actually grateful for a moment to take stock. The kid showing up without a crowd had been a huge speed bump. He’d not wanted to kill him. Beckett’s work negotiating the Harmon deal had showed some promise. In fact, Rodolfo explicitly forbade his army from taking Taylor’s head. He just needed to remind him who was in charge here, motivate him in his deal-making. When things slowed down, Rodolfo had learned to worry it was because his people were getting greedy.

  He certainly hadn’t expected this kind of upheaval in his golden years, this sort of betrayal from his own daughter. She was the one who’d gotten him into this mess. Women. He’d always suspected Mary Ellen would be an exercise in futility, but his son was a sorry sack too. Neither had children. However, Primo was just entering his fifties, so an heir might still emerge.

  He regarded the woman again. She would make an excellent breeding mare—as long as she could be prevented from eating her young. A nice son from her womb with his blood in its veins…that could work.

  Rodolfo cleared his throat, drawing their eyes toward him. “You’ve flouted my traditions here tonight. And I’d like you all to take a moment of silence to observe my restraint and understanding—this woman killed my daughter, and she’s still breathing.” Rodolfo waved over his closest man, who responded by pulling out a foldable chair. Getting old hurt every moment of every day. No matter how much money he had, his joints ached, and his left side was slow to cooperate. He was exhausted, honestly, and this nighttime meeting was kicking him in the ass. He’d wanted to be asleep three hours ago.

  Taylor was obviously shocked to see his ladylove. She’d put herself back together since the last time he’d seen her, and this bitch with a plan was a scary scenario. Back in the day he’d have offed her a long time ago. But now, she was more. He was really warming up to the idea of her as his grandchild’s mother, and he could kill her moments after a baby was born.

  The cocky bastard winked at him. “Sorry for blowing air up your skirt, grandpa. I kind of suck at following rules.”

  “Primo, come here. Pick one of these two to live. Only half can leave a meeting with me. Those are the rules. Let’s let my boy make a choice.”

  Rodolfo snapped over his left shoulder. There was some hustling behind him and finally his son stood next to his chair.

  The blonde held up one fist. Taylor smirked.

  “Hey, Primo,” the woman purred. “You might want to stop breathing. Just for a fucking second.” She pointed with her pinkie.

  Rodolfo turned in his chair to see his son’s head covered in laser dots from what had to be twenty different scopes at all kids of angles.

  He turned back to face Taylor. The blonde had just finished whispering in the traitor’s ear.

  “You waste my time, Taylor. You think I don’t have rings of men protecting this very location? Two guys with a handful of laser pointers aren’t going to scare us off.”

  The blonde walked to the closest car, Rodolfo’s midnight black Rolls Royce Ghost, and pulled the knife out of her hair. “You had twenty dropshots here, here, and here.” Using the blade, she marked his car with an X and made little circles in the paint, revealing all the tactical places he’d put men. “We found fifteen of your scouts on the ground, and we easily outnumber you just beyond these trees.”

  His car now bore the marks of his defeat. His eyes burned like hot coals. “So what’s the situation, Goldilocks? You and your boyfriend want to run my business?” Rodolfo looked to his right-hand man and Nicholas nodded, giving a hand signal he hated to see. It confirmed that his men would retreat as soon as he ordered it.

  Eve gave him a onceover. “No, sir. We only want you to take your business elsewhere. No more of the crap your daughter started. Leave us and Poughkeepsie alone, and no one has to die tonight. Every single one of your men has been incapacitated, but they live. Taylor insisted on a peaceful show of force out of respect for your years.” She slid the knife back in her hair, then paused, as if she’d almost forgotten something. “And I believe if you check your accounts you’ll find everything in order. Due to Taylor’s efforts we were successful in recovering your stolen money.” She resumed a soldier’s stance.

  Taylor s
hook his head in apparent disbelief before recovering. “I gotta tell you, R, I was prepared to lay my balls on a platter for you, but she’s right. This is better. Back in the day I stayed out of your way for a fucking reason. You’re a legend. And all I want—all I’ve ever wanted—is that tiny town and my family safe.”

  Rodolfo stood. His son still looked like he had a case of the electric chicken pox, and the dots scarcely wavered at all. The marksmen at the other end of the weapons had steady hands, no fear, which was all the proof Rodolfo needed to know the words from the blonde were the truth.

  He had no choice. “I agree to your resolution with one addendum.”

  Taylor nodded, showing he was listening.

  “The girl comes with me.”

  She didn’t even flinch. Just an ice-cold stare. If Rodolfo still had a working penis, it would surely be pointing at her.

  Beckett scoffed. “No way, oh cadaverous one. Get your own monster bitch. She’s with me till the end.” The younger man’s face went deadly. “Why is it you still think you hold the cards here? I’ve done what you asked, what I agreed to do.”

  “I do not hold all the cards.” Rodolfo stepped in front of his son, the lights dancing on his face as they worked to re-aim on their original target. “Not here. But out there? You know I do. I can buy and sell you. You know you’ve been sloppy enough that I can find everyone in the world who ever muttered your name.”

  Silence. A stand-off as both men waited to see which way the wind would blow the conflict. Taylor looked over at the woman, who seemed to speak to him with her eyes. Eventually Rodolfo’s patience was rewarded.

  “I don’t want a war,” Beckett told him. “All I want is peace in Poughkeepsie and this woman next to me. Without them? Know that I’m crazy enough to take us all to Hell with a couple gallons of gasoline.”

  The kid wasn’t posturing, there was no ticks or tells.

  “All right, Taylor. I will release you from your allegiance.” Rodolfo waited, taking a deep breath and wondering if he was doomed to miss this night’s sleep. If he was awake past twelve, he’d be up until five pissing every half hour. Getting old was torturous business. “But I do hope we might prove useful to one another in the future.”

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