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Poughkeepsie begins, p.9
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       Poughkeepsie Begins, p.9

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  “I told him there were too many people outside. This was a pretty dumb night to beat your kids. He took one look at Cole and agreed.” Beckett turned to Cole. “You do something pretty persuasive to him?”

  Cole looked at his feet.

  Beckett tsked. “If this is too much for you, you don’t need to do it. I get that it’s fucked up. And I know we’re getting beat based on my setup of the situation.”

  Cole shook his head. “If I tell you this, you have to trust that I handled it.”

  Beckett hummed with a low disapproval. “You know my word ain’t shit when I’m mad.”

  “Which is why it’s better it happened to me.” Cole stepped closer.

  Blake shifted and put his hands in his pockets. The thought that this arrangement was transitional made him feel sick to his stomach. Everything was set up here. These guys accepted him.

  Beckett held his hands out, waiting for the description of the event that could make Rick Cole’s lapdog.

  Cole ran a hand through his short, wavy hair. “Okay, fine. He took me to the woodshed for the hits. Right?”

  Beckett nodded. “That’s where he took me when I went.”

  Cole considered Beckett and then changed his position, going to stand in front of the closed bedroom door. Blake stood next to him, knowing it would take them both to stop Beckett if he lost his mind.

  Cole continued. “He was doing his thing, and Wintery walked in.”

  Instant anger flared in Beckett’s eyes. Blake hissed.

  Cole held up his hands. “I know, okay? I know.”

  “Did. He. Hurt. Her?” Beckett’s neck was tense, veins showing.

  “I scooped her up, and when he was hitting me his fist slipped off my back and hit her leg.”

  “Fucking asshole.” Beckett headed for the door like there weren’t people in front of it.

  Blake helped Cole push him back.

  Beckett just shook his head and went for the window—the second-story window.

  “I thought you trusted me?” Cole’s words stopped Beckett as unlocked the window.

  “You know I trust you.” He spoke to the panes of glass.

  “Then hear me out. I can promise he won’t hurt them right now.” Cole crossed the room and sat on Beckett’s bed.

  Beckett faced them, but he was still an angry bull of a guy.

  Blake pictured stealing the girls and taking them to a safe place in the woods.

  “I got her inside, had her put ice on her leg.” Cole paused while Beckett punched the wall he was closest to.

  “And then I went back to the woodshed. And I didn’t let him hit me again that night.” Cole’s face went vacant.

  Beckett took a deep breath, and Blake looked carefully at Cole. He was by far the deadliest of the three in that room right that minute. Not just because of the intense damage he could inflict once he had that blank look on his face, but because of how long it took him to come down from a fight. His eyes would roll into his head, and he would scream and scream until they could calm him down. It took time. A lot of time.

  Cole continued. “When I was with my mom, she had this thing she did. If you make someone think they’re going to die, they’ll do whatever you want. And she would do it a few times in a row. She called it breaking me.” The vacant look left, and a hard one replaced it. “So I broke him. And then I did it again.”

  Blake got chills. The thought of Cole as a small kid going through that torture was horrible. Shit, they’d all been dealt crap hands at childhood, but Cole had to have it the worst. The scars all over the guy’s chest, back, and legs testified for him.

  “And then I explained how things didn’t need to change. That we would be okay with things just as they are. Just never touch the others. Never touch the girls. And he agreed. So, we’ll see. He was pretty scared.” Cole held his own hands. “But I’m sorry. I should have asked for you guys too. I should have demanded he leave you alone, that I take it all. I missed that opportunity.”

  Though Cole had told them more of his childhood story than he ever had before, so much remained unsaid. How fucked up it was that they had to make these choices on top of not having real families. That Cole felt he had to apologize. Blake stared at the floor with the weight of it all.

  Beckett offered the answer to Cole’s misplaced guilt. “No. There’s not a time on this fucking planet where we don’t do this together. Brothers. It keeps me here.” Beckett pointed to his heart. “Instead of here.” He pointed to his head. “Do you understand that? Does that make sense?”

  Cole nodded. “I feel like that.”

  Blake nodded as well. He got it too. What they had here, this friendship, took the aloneness from them, gave them an identity to replace the ones that had been stripped. A claim. A family.

  “But if he so much as looks at one of those girls, I’ll bury him alive.” Beckett shook his arms, letting the murder flow out of them, Blake guessed.

  “Fair enough.” Cole stood and held out his arm.

  “I’ll pick a nice spot in the woods for it.” Blake smiled and added his arm.

  Beckett looked from one to the other. “If not for you, my soul would be gone by now.”

  For a few beats they stood happy together, though Blake disagreed in his head with Beckett. There was something in him that would always be a true north. The guy would be as bad as he had to, so that everyone around him could be good.

  Candy sat between Zyler and Randy in Zyler’s truck. When he’d called the day after their date to make sure she wasn’t sick, she’d felt guilty about deceiving him. Or maybe it was guilt that she’d left his ridiculous party and gone on to have a great time making out with another guy. Either way, she’d pictured her parents’ smiling faces fawning over Zyler and agreed to let him show her a Poughkeepsie Halloween. He’d promised it would be something she’d enjoy, though after the last time she should have realized he didn’t understand what she enjoyed at all. Case in point, here she was in the truck with all his friends again.

  Candy had chosen a black cat costume for Halloween. It was the easiest, and as sexy as she was allowed to get away with. She had on a short skirt and a low-cut top (which had had a sweater over it when she left her house) that was revealing enough to make her pretty damn proud of her boobs. She’d finished the outfit with black tights, black heeled boots, tiny black cat ears, and a tail she’d tied with a bow around her waist.

  Zyler was loving it, flicking her tail and purring in her ear every chance he got. Dunns had called her a pretty pussy. Asshole. But the guy she’d found she was really waiting for hadn’t shown up at the party. The football team had heard a rumor that the coach might be forced to do some random drug testing, so the boys were only drinking. They all became chemists when she asked why that was okay. Alcohol leaves the system at a rate of zero-point-two blah blah an hour, so they would all be more than fine by practice time. And even that was sort of a needless precaution, because the tests didn’t screen for alcohol.

  So now they were loaded and searching for houses to TP and egg. Which was apparently a tradition for the seniors—or a bullshit story they told the new girl to get her in the truck. Zyler kept assuring her she was going to love where they ended up. The music was blasting, and they all shouted the lyrics to a song she didn’t know, but the three beers she’d had kept an amused smile on her face—even when they stopped and picked up the cheerleaders, who piled into the bed of the truck.

  “Look! Follow Dunns.” Randy pointed at the vehicle containing another group looking to do the same thing.

  Candy started paying attention to the roads, and when they were close, she recognized Beckett’s street.

  Before she could protest, the truck pulled to a stop, headlights illuminating Beckett, Cole, and Blake mid-throw. They were egging their own house. TP already waved from the front trees.

  “Those dumbasses beat us to it!” Randy slapped the dashboard.

  Candy waited as Beckett squinted and seemed to recognize the trucks.
He grabbed the carton of eggs at his feet and started throwing them at the vehicles, doing a great job of finding his mark.

  And that’s when the war began. As usual, the football boys were fueled up on the stupid battle they’d created with Beckett and his brothers, and soon she found herself hunkered down outside the truck, covering her head as Zyler, Randy, and the others unloaded the eggs, shaving cream, and TP they had in the bed. The cheerleaders giggled and made half-hearted efforts to throw the contraband.

  She could hear Beckett laughing and shouting curses. Then all three brothers ran straight through the trucks and stood across the street, watching. Beckett made eye contact with her and gave her the universal what-the-hell-are-you-doing-here shrug. She gave him the same shrug back.

  He waved her over, so she stood and ran. Beckett took her hand, and then they were following Blake through the woods. She glanced over her shoulder to see if Zyler was coming, and instead she saw a bunch of football boys lined up with the brothers’ foster father pointing at their faces. Then Dunns’ truck, which contained most of the cheerleaders, pulled away. Beckett tugged on her hand again. As soon as they were out of sight, they had to stop to laugh.

  “Oh my God! Those assholes just got blamed. Shit.” Beckett put one hand on a tree and the other on his knee, laughing so hard with Blake and Cole that Candy had to join in.

  “Did you guys egg your own place?” she asked.

  Cole shook his head. “It’s not ours, it’s Rick’s. And yes.”

  They laughed some more.

  Blake could barely get out the words. “What was he going to do? Beat us?”

  That brought on a new wave of laugher.

  “I’m only disappointed this was the first time we did it,” Beckett added.

  The sight of these three handsome guys laughing was heady. She felt included in this thing they had.

  “You two should go around and climb in the window. I’ll take Candy home.”

  Cole nodded. “What do we tell him if he checks in?”

  “It’s not likely. But just close the hallway bathroom with the light on and tell him I’m in the shitter.”

  Beckett took her hand, and they peeked around the large oak to see that Rick had gone back inside, and the footballers were getting back in their vehicles. Zyler called out for Candy more than a few times. Beckett covered her mouth when she considered speaking up.

  He mouthed No.

  God, he was gorgeous—the charm in his blue eyes, the feel of his rough hands on her face. He pressed her back against the tree, putting his boots on either side of hers. He whispered in her ear.

  “You’re dressed perfectly for hiding. Except for the skin. Too pale.”

  With that he leaned down to the center of her cleavage, running the tip of his tongue from the edge of her neckline back to her earlobe. She gently bit the palm of his hand. He growled.

  It was sudden, the combination of want between her legs and strain in her heart. Love. She was in lust, love, and want with Beckett. In the moonlight, hiding from Zyler on Halloween night, her first real romance hit her like a wave.

  She pulled his hand away from her mouth, his face expecting her to alert Zyler to her presence. Instead she kissed him. She kissed him hard and pulled his body against hers. He abandoned all interest in the lingering footballers and focused on her passion. His taste, his mouth was what she needed, and she told him so with everything she had except for words.

  When he finally broke the kiss, she was disappointed until he whispered, “Zyler’s coming. Gotta move.”

  And then they were sneaking through the trees. He helped her hop over one side of a fence and used the gate on the other end. In the carport alongside a house was a pristine sedan. Beckett opened the front door and motioned for her to get in and slide over. He sat in the driver’s seat and turned the waiting key, pulling the door softly closed. No headlights, he backed down the driveway as if he did it every day.

  “Are we stealing this car?”

  “No.” Beckett closed the door the rest of the way at the stop sign and turned on the headlights. Candy looked out the back window to see Zyler helping two left-behind cheerleaders into his truck. Beckett finished his statement, “I’m stealing this car. And for all intents and purposes, I’m kidnapping you too, if anyone asks. Wouldn’t want the pink princess getting in trouble.”

  She shook her head. He was crazy. It occurred to her that Zyler could very well go to her house to see if she had gotten home. Or worse, he could call her parents or the cops. She hoped the case of beer they had back at the development was a more pressing matter.

  Beckett hit a button on the preset, and the car filled with the same music that had been on in the SUV when she’d been with him the first time. Hopefully, tonight would be the second time.

  “You set the radio?” She pointed at the dashboard.

  “Yes. I like my tunes on point when I’m cruising around.” He mouthed the lyrics to her.

  “So the SUV wasn’t your car?” She put her seatbelt on.

  “Uh, no. It’s was a…business associate’s car. He keeps my station tuned in so I don’t kick him in the dick when I return it.” He tapped out the beat on the steering wheel.

  There was a saint’s medal hanging from the rearview mirror. Candy leaned over and popped the glovebox open, looking for the registration. Beckett made no move to stop her. The car was registered to Walter Carlson.

  “So is Walter an associate?” She looked harder at the interior. Rosary beads looped around the volume button on the radio. There was a light scent of mothballs.

  “No. Walter’s dead.” Beckett glanced over at her.

  She dropped the registration. He laughed.

  “I didn’t kill him. He was old as fuck.” Beckett turned the car onto 9 North.

  “This is creepy.” She shivered a little.

  “Think so? I don’t know, dying doesn’t bother me much. His wife actually owns the car now.” He turned down the radio, brushing the rosary and setting it to swinging with his touch. “Ethel doesn’t drive. So Cole’s been taking her to church, to the grocery store, that kind of thing. He mentioned she keeps the keys in it. I took it late one night when I needed a ride. Actually, I was just dicking around looking for trouble. But when I went to drive it home, it was damn near out of gas. It had been a good night, so I topped off the tank and reparked it.”

  He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “The next morning? Ethel was smiling and telling the whole fucking neighborhood that her husband’s ghost did it. Damn near glowing. It was the cutest thing. So now, when I have to take it, I sneak stuff in. Flowers and shit. Crap, I even broke into her house when Cole had her out so I could get some ideas of what to give her. She has, like, this insane frog collection and was holding red flowers in her wedding picture. The picture was crazy old. They’d been married forever.”

  Beckett shook his head. “He died, like, six months ago? And since her husband’s ghost has been visiting, she’s taken off her fucking housecoat and put pants on again. Anyway. I mean, I do all sort of evil shit with this car, but I like to leave things for her. She smiles all the time. Runs to it every morning to see if there’s something new. Hope she doesn’t catch me.”

  Beckett pulled into the 24/7 Save-Mart and threw the car in park. “Walter loved Halloween. Decorated the fuck out of the house. Even had a mini haunted house in the garage. Maybe we can get her some shit in here?” He pointed at the store with his pinkie.

  She nodded. “You know that’s beautiful, right? Do you get that?”

  He shrugged.

  “You don’t get what that is. How amazing that is.” She scooted closer to him, wrapped a hand around the back of his neck, and put the other on his chest. She made sure he was looking in her eyes. “That’s amazing.”

  “Don’t staple a halo on me yet, princess. I’m not a good guy.” He kissed her lips.

  She leaned up after brushing his lips with hers to put a kiss on his forehead. “You’re not a bad guy either.


  Beckett felt like the look in her eye could baptize him. And it scared him. She was a glorious pink daydream. He’d seen it before—a girl getting wrapped up in him only to have her wise up after a little while. It was better to be wary. But dressed like she was—holy crap. The sexy kitten outfit was making his balls die. She smelled like candy, tasted like mint with a hint of beer, and her skin was satin. Having it at the tip of his tongue made his dick wish for the same chance. To be inside her silk and see her blush with want might damn near kill him.

  He should have pushed her away and driven her home. Instead he helped her out of the car and held the door for her. Seeing her glance over her shoulder to smile at him was a knife in his heart. She made him want to join the fucking football team so she could wear a jacket with his name on it. His last few months of high school flashed before his eyes as she presented him with a stuffed frog that sang a Halloween song. He could start doing his work, make sure he went to class, work on that project they had…Take her to the movies, feel her up there, taste popcorn on those pretty pink lips when he kissed her. He held a basket as she filled it up with candy. She wandered into the card section and went to the religious ones. Looking for a husband-to-wife card no doubt. He could barely hear her as she read some out loud. What color would she wear to prom? He’d rent the most expensive limo.

  As he watched her, she shifted into soft focus as a Save-Mart employee stepped into the card aisle with a hard look aimed at him. He recognized her from last year. Times had been tough, and the kids had needed school supplies. He’d gotten caught shoplifting ’cause he was high as fuck at the time. She’d called police. He looked from his past to his feet and back up at her. How would Candy take that news? She’d look for the good in it, most likely.

  He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, flashing cash at the lady. She scowled.

  Candy came over, looking confused. “What’s going on?” She had two greeting cards in her hands.

  “Nothing, princess. You all set?” Beckett held his hand out for the cards.

 
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