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Poughkeepsie begins, p.8
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.8

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  With that they left. Candy listened as they walked away, but she didn’t hear any more protests from Zyler, nor did the team seem to be forming a mob. She turned to look, and he was engulfed by his teammates, two of whom had jumped into the hot tub. The party had resumed as if she’d never been there at all. And she really hadn’t been.

  Beckett held her hand and pulled her through to a path. He was so quiet, she was starting to triple-guess her decision to go with him. When they finally got to a vehicle, it was a black SUV.

  He pulled open her door and pushed on her ass to get her inside before opening the back door and tossing in the backpack. He got in the driver’s seat and started the engine. Music blared in her ears. She covered them and looked at him with wide eyes.

  He turned off the radio. “One question.”

  She nodded.

  “Are you really sick?”

  She shook her head.

  He threw the SUV into reverse and got them out of the spot where he’d hidden the car. She wanted to ask why the car was tucked away. But she didn’t want the answer. Beckett was a drug dealer, and despite knowing she shouldn’t, she really, really wanted his mouth on hers again.

  They flew down back streets in the bad part of town, and her stomach knotted. Beckett’s face was so intense it was almost scary. When they finally pulled to a stop, she looked out at the Hudson River, the burned-out Poughkeepsie train bridge in the distance. Had he brought her on a drug deal?

  He turned the music back on. “Get over here.”

  “What?”

  “Get over here and sit on my lap. If I don’t kiss you right now my head’s going to explode.”

  She took off her jacket and obeyed.

  As soon as she kneeled in her seat, he took over, lifting her over the console to straddle him. He kissed her and ran his hands all over her white sweater. Hot. Hot. He made her so hot. His mouth tasted like cinnamon, and his hands weren’t gentle, but they were knowledgeable. It made her knees weak when he released the clasp on her bra.

  He stopped kissing her and put one of his big fingers on her mouth. “Are you into me?”

  She took her hands out from under his shirt. His chest was alarmingly muscled—the kind of strength that was terrifying. She put her lips around his finger and sucked, running her tongue up the underside, looking him in the eye while he watched her.

  He responded by slipping his hand under her shirt to cup her breast. The minute his skin touched her nipple, she arched into him, breathless. She felt bold. This is what it was all about—the electricity she felt when he smiled at her, the pull of his body when they were in the same room.

  She was a sensible girl, got good grades and followed the rules. She worked to please her parents, and it wasn’t usually that difficult a job. But her mind only held smoke now. Her whole body was on fire. She could feel him below her and began to rock. He kissed her again, pressing her against the steering wheel, holding her there by her breasts. She moaned. God, he felt so good.

  He pushed her sweater and bra out of his way, took his cinnamon mouth from her lips, and put it on her nipple. She became frantic, yanking at his leather jacket and pulling on the bottom of his shirt. He helped her, and soon they were skin to skin. She pulled him to her, holding his cheek to her heart for a second. He slipped his hands around her waist and waited, his ragged breath dusting her skin with chills.

  “Are you a virgin?” He said it so quietly she patted his face to ask him to repeat it. “Are you a virgin?”

  She got shy then, topless with a drug dealer in a parked car. He made his hands her bra and sat back to listen to her answer.

  Candy bit her lip.

  “If you answer no, I’m fucking the hell out of you right here, right now. We’ll be honking the horn, rocking this bitch right into the water.”

  She looked down at his hands and covered them with her own. He was ridiculous. His chest, his determined face, his hands that she now noticed were cut up and bruised. It just made him hotter. More dangerous—but not to her. She realized she felt totally at ease in his hands, in this car.

  She didn’t want to answer. Instead she explored him with her hands—his face, his nipples, the dusting of chest hair in between. Devastating. He ignited her. Whatever his body was made of, she was either made of the same stuff or the exact opposite, like poles of a magnet. One forcing a reaction from the other. She ran a finger over his bruised hand, and he inhaled.

  “Hurt?” Concern flavored her voice.

  He nodded. “I like it.”

  She tried to come in for another kiss, but he held her in place.

  “Answer me, Candy.”

  “Why does it matter? Please.” She pressed her breasts into his hands. He squeezed. She hissed.

  “Hurt?” Temptation flavored his growl.

  “I like it,” she whispered, though she might as well have screamed based on the frenzy of his next actions.

  Invaded. He invaded her space, her understanding of sex and her body. Jesus. He was so good. So quick. Pulling her sweater and bra over her head, he slipped his hand into her jeans and kissed the hell out of her. Dragging his mouth to her neck, he sucked just enough to feel like a bite. Then he did the same on her left breast, pinching the right one hard while he rubbed her. She felt lightning where he touched.

  “Ohhhhhh.” She was pretty sure she purred when he took to her earlobe, forcing every sensitive part of her to throb together. Want. She wanted whatever he so clearly knew how to do to a woman.

  He was in her ear, demanding again. “Tell me. Tell me the truth.”

  He was so earnest now. Determined, earnest, and amazing.

  “Yes.”

  “Yes, what?”

  “Yes, I’m a virgin.”

  His hands stilled. “I fucking knew it. Damn it all to hell.”

  She rocked on top of him. “Please.”

  “Don’t. Don’t say that again. I only have the tiniest bit of control around you. Around these beautiful tits, this bouncy fucking hair. Those eyes. Jesus.” He sat on his hands and groaned.

  “Did I feel okay?” She felt self-conscious all of a sudden.

  He grabbed her then, his hands on her face, dragging his thumb over her bottom lip. “Say this after me. You ready?”

  She nodded, though just barely because of his grip. She let her hands dance on his skin again, circling the button on his pants.

  “You always feel like fucking heaven. Any man who gets to put his hands on you should have to dip them in gold first. Say it.”

  “With the curses?” She gave him a fake confused look.

  “Yes. Damn it. Even though it will kill my dick to hear it.” He watched as she kissed the tip of his thumb.

  “I always feel like fucking heaven. Any man who gets to put his hands on me should dip them…” She trailed off, looking at him. This guy was just taking all of her sense.

  “The gold part. Don’t forget the gold part.” The softness in his eyes was sincere. Like these words she repeated mattered—life or death even.

  “…in gold first.” She smiled.

  “You’re the kind of girl I can never have.”

  She didn’t know why he thought that, but she also understood. “I’m the kind of girl you can never have.”

  His expression shut down. She watched as he erected walls.

  “But I hate to do what’s expected,” she added.

  When he tried to stop her, she tossed his hands away and grabbed his throat. He liked pain? Well, she could figure it out. She squeezed and kissed him, biting his lips and then his tongue when that slipped into the kiss.

  His moans and curses were the gold she wanted to be dipped in, if that’s what was required. They were full-out humping though their remaining clothes. His hand found her again and tested her, slipping a finger inside. She groaned and tried to push it further in.

  And when he put an end to the whole thing, she was stunned. He lifted her off his lap and tossed her back to the passenger seat.

/>   “Candy, what’s your fucking middle name?”

  She caught her sweater and bra as they flew at her. Confused, she answered, “I don’t have one.”

  “Candy no fucking middle name Cox, when I take your virginity, it will not be on the side of the road. I will take it when I can make you come properly. And I want the lights on. I want to see every single part of your body.” He started the car as she pulled her clothes on.

  She wanted to cry. He was so angry. She was so horny. She didn’t even know what to do with the feelings washing over her. They were halfway to her house before she realized she hadn’t told him how to get there. “You know where I live?”

  “Of course.” Beckett’s face was illuminated by the blinker indicator.

  She glanced at the dashboard. It was only eleven; she had more time. She wanted to spend it with him. “I’m not due home for a little while. We can fix this problem.” She looked at her hands.

  He stopped at the stop sign near her house. “This isn’t a problem; don’t think of it like that. Just know, if you are going to have sex for the first time, I want it done right for you. I want to set a tone with you. You’re on the edge, and some asshole could really take advantage of that.”

  “Are you that asshole? Because if you want to take advantage, I’m ready.” She met his steady stare until he punched the steering wheel. And then they were kissing again. Hard, deep. He had her almost completely pressed against the passenger window.

  “Do not say that. Do not curse. I’m trying to do the right thing.” He pulled away from her.

  “I want you to do the wrong thing. A lot.” Candy started to climb toward him. He kissed her again and again until she was in her seat, then he pulled the seatbelt over her and fastened it.

  “Go home, Candy Cox. Be a virgin for a little while longer.” Beckett put the car in gear and dropped her off one house away from her own.

  She couldn’t help but feel rejected. She’d begged him to make love to her, and he’d turned her down more than once. Zyler wouldn’t have done that, she didn’t think. Still, Candy put her chin in the air and walked to her door. She shot one last look as Beckett did a three-point turn in the street. As the streetlight hit him, instead of waving, he licked the tips of his fingers. Where he’d touched her.

  The blush went all over her body.

  8

  Understanding

  COLE HAD FINISHED SANDING THE SHED, and it would be ready for the coat of paint when Rick returned from the store. It was almost like they were memorializing the understanding they’d come to in the ranch’s woodshed a couple nights ago.

  The minute Cole had grabbed Rick by the neck, he’d decided to train the man. To train him in the most insane way he knew: the way his mother and her various men had trained him. They had made him beg for death. And when he was taken to the very edge and brought back, he was so grateful for the relief he felt—the sobbing, crazy relief that he was still alive—he could be convinced of anything. Anything that would let him take another breath again.

  So Cole had worked mercilessly on Rick. To the brink of death, he’d dragged his foster father twice. Twice he’d let the man wonder how crazy he actually was. He’d watched the understanding reach Rick’s eyes: he really had no clue what Cole was capable of. Beckett had been the bad ass, the scary one. But Cole had shown Rick that the quiet in him was made of madness. Brutal. His method of torture was so sickeningly simple: lack of air. It had happened to Cole so many times, when he got a glimpse of himself in the mirror as a child, he assumed that the busted blood vessels in his eyes were part of their natural color. As he choked Rick, Cole held his own breath as a gauge to know when to let go.

  When he had broken Rick, when the man had pissed himself and begged for his own vicious mother with raspy pleas, Cole took the air from him again. He’d learned from the best. His mother could take courage from anyone. But especially from Cole.

  And every morning he’d spent with her, he had woken and thought, maybe today will be better.

  But it wasn’t. It was bad for so very long that he feared the damage done to his mind would never be healed. The lack of oxygen was the worst part. The other things done to his body, he could endure. He could pass out. But the lack of air—he still woke with nightmares from it. And when he cut himself in the bathroom, he held his breath then too.

  So very fucked up. He knew it. He knew he was shattered on the inside. On the outside, he was going to school. He was saying the right words. Mrs. D had believed in him, had cut through the thorned vines he’d woven around his soul with hugs. God, the contact. To feel her and have no fear of her was the sustenance he’d needed.

  But he was on his own in Rick’s world. And he should leave. Could certainly tell Mrs. D what happened in the woods behind Rick’s house. She would raise hell. Sometimes he pictured it. Pictured her small, angry frame storming up to the foster house and taking him away with her, home to her sons and her dogs. Mrs. D would be furious for him. But then Cole would lose Beckett and Blake. And his brothers had made him belong. They made him normal. And they had seen the side of him that Rick had now experienced, and they accepted that. They understood it. So with the razor he kept the thorns from growing on his soul again. He pierced from the outside in so there was no room to pierce from the inside out.

  That night, after the second time, when Rick had been truly his, when he would have licked the soles of Cole’s shoes, that’s when the arrangement was struck. He’d sat down, faced his monster of a foster father, and explained that he understood the beatings, that he liked the beatings. He understood that sometimes pain—whether inflicting it or receiving it—was the glue holding reality in place. But there had to be rules going forward. Some things would not be tolerated.

  In the end, Rick promised not to touch the girls. Not to touch any of the little kids. He’d thanked Cole by the time it was over. Spineless. Ultimately, he was spineless, easy to break. It only took one night. Cole’s mother had worked at Cole for days at a time before he was undone.

  And as Rick approached Cole now holding the paint, he recognized the busted red vessels in the man’s eyes as the badge of the broken. But now Cole had another reason to cut. Because when he’d had Rick on the ropes, he hadn’t asked for an out for his brothers. He’d wanted the pain to continue to bind them.

  Three days later, Blake and Beckett inspected Cole and the kids as they came through the door to the house. All looked okay, if not a little tired, Blake decided. Rick and his wife walked in right behind them, so they didn’t offer Cole their normal brothers’ handshake, but instead fist bumped.

  “How’d it go?” Beckett mumbled in his brother’s ear.

  “Fine.” Cole refused to meet their eyes.

  Blake continued to watch him, his arms now full of Summer and Wintery. The girls had so much to tell them, but also had to get dressed for Halloween. The dining room table was piled with the costume choices he and Beckett had grabbed at the store. Rick gave them a withering look, then cornered him to find out how they’d paid for all of it.

  “Teacher at school gets them at ninety-percent-off the year before. She wanted us to take them,” Blake explained smoothly.

  It was a quick lie, and Rick seemed to buy it. The older boys volunteered to walk the kids around the neighborhood for trick or treating. Summer had decided to be a ninja, and Wintery a little witch. The other kids suited up and soon they were all walking the neighborhood in the cold evening air.

  “So how’d it really go?” Blake asked as the brothers hung back, moving to the next house as the kids clambered over the lawns.

  Cole shrugged. “It’s over.”

  Beckett snorted. “I wish we could say that about Rick’s life.”

  The dark humor again, slipping in. Blake felt awful that Cole had had to endure while they were home. He was sure Beckett felt the same.

  “Did you guys get what you needed while we were away?” Cole seemed eager to change the subject.

  “Yeah.
The money is ready to go. I signed the girls’ permission slips as him and handed them in.” He’d timed his drop off with a cloudy rain that had descended on Poughkeepsie one day during Cole’s absence.

  Beckett pointed at the next house and gave the little kids a thumbs up. “Yeah. Got you a new pair of kicks too. Not sure if they’ll fit. The fucking receipt is tucked in the toe.”

  “You’re buying stuff legit?” Cole sounded surprised.

  “No worries, brother. The cash was all ill-gotten.” Beckett turned, so he missed the look of concern on Cole’s face.

  Cole and Blake exchanged shrugs. Beckett was getting shit done. Summer and Wintery danced up to show him the full-size candy bars they’d just gotten. He pretended to eat them like Cookie Monster until the girls were laughing so hard they couldn’t go on.

  So easy to label him, with the stints in juvie, the horrible grades, and the constant reprimands at school, but Blake and Cole got to see this, this side of the man. And although Beckett was still only seventeen, he presided over the world like he’d been there for a millennium. No one but his brothers had seen him stride right into the role of drug dealer to make sure two little foster girls got a trip to the zoo. And to give Cole, who had endured beatings on the ranch to keep those girls safe, new sneakers upon his return. People didn’t see that.

  Their trick-or-treat walk was peppered with talking to the kids and just shooting the shit. It was great to be back together. When the little ones were done, having hit every house in the neighborhood with the lights on, they all strolled home. It felt like walking back to a jail cell, counterintuitive.

  Rick was waiting, looking edgy. Beckett cornered him and whispered harshly. Rick gave Cole a quick glance and nodded, leaving them be. Beckett ordered and paid for pizza to be delivered, and the kids sprawled out on the floor with their candy and the TV. Blake caught Beckett nodding as he surveyed the room. Satisfied. His brother was satisfied. Whatever he’d had to do to get this moment for the kids had been worth it.

  When the guys went upstairs to bed, Blake asked Beckett what he’d had said to Rick to avoid going into the woods for a session.

 
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