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       Sustain, p.5

           Tijan
 
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  Security might not get here quick enough. They were on the other side of the bar. I’d have to fight the crowd just to get to them.

  “I told you—” Emerson was saying again when the first swing came, connecting with his stomach. He bit off his sentence and folded over.

  I couldn’t believe I was doing this. We were going to get killed.

  I surged forward, moving faster. “Hey!” I yelled, now running for them. They stopped their assault on my cousin and assessed me. I guess they figured I wasn’t too much of a threat, because the second guy wrapped his arms tighter around Emerson, bracing him for another hit.

  I could already hear Braden’s voice in my head, to get my ass away from this, but my feet weren’t moving back to the bar. Apparently, I felt some sort of loyalty to my cousin. Huh. Who knew? Weaving around the last car, I stopped just out of their reach and yelled again, “Let him go!”

  Emerson’s eyes were wide. I wasn’t sure who was more surprised, he or I. Either way, I was there. I rolled my shoulders back, and my chin rose. I knew how to fight. Although those times had been taking on girls or when I was in a scrap with Braden and Luke when we were younger against whomever we had a problem with back then.

  I’d never fought a grown man before. I was so screwed.

  “Or what?” The first guy, the leader I assumed, stepped toward me. He rubbed his hand at the side of his mouth. When he moved into the streetlight, I saw there was blood on his knuckles. He was tall with bland features. His thick eyebrows sat over eyes that were set deep in his face. His small mouth, which was too close to his very large nose, gave his face a permanently pinched look to it. “What are you going to do?”

  The guy holding Emerson pushed him to the ground and started toward me. It happened so fast. Emerson hopped back to his feet, looked at me for a split second, then rushed around both men and grabbed my wrist. He tried to pull me behind him to the bar. I went with him, but my other arm was restrained. I jerked backwards, out of Emerson’s hold.

  He stopped and braked between a row of cars as he looked at our new predicament. They had me, and he was the free one now. The indecision was clear. Then he started shaking his head and cursing.

  Was he…no way…and yes, he did. I watched, my jaw falling to the ground, as my cousin sprinted for the door.

  Asshole!

  I didn’t have time to plot my cousin’s murder. Bringing my arm up and around, I forced the guy to break his hold. He had to let go, or his wrist would’ve broken from the angle I forced his hand to move. As soon as I was free, I scurried away, treading backwards. Both guys tilted their heads to the side as they watched my every move, and they both wore the same menacing expression. The leader, whom I nicknamed as Thing One, was tall and thin while the other, I called him Thing Two in my head, was shorter and stout. He was built similar to Emerson.

  “I almost feel sorry for you, girly. You came to help that piece of shit, and he left you?” Thing One laughed.

  Thing Two raked his beady eyes down my body while running a hand through his greasy hair. “She looks nice and ripe. Too skinny for my normal appetite, but still a good ride.” He wet his lips, winking at me. “Is that what you came out here for? I bet you like it rough, huh?”

  I had a knife. Elijah always made me carry one, but I didn’t think I could do much damage with it. I didn’t want to get close enough to them. “You guys might want to stop and think about this.”

  “Oh, yeah?” Thing One laughed. The sound was sickening. “Or what? Honey, you came out here. Your friend abandoned you to us. Maybe that’s his way of paying me back?” He turned to his friend. “What do you think? Maybe we’ll let Emerson off the hook if we can get a good night from her?”

  His friend shrugged, his eyes darkening with lust. “Sounds good to me.”

  “Yeah.” The leader started to reach for my arm. “Sounds good to me, too.”

  I braced myself. This was really happening. Reaching into my back pocket, I started to pull the knife out when a body shot past me, took hold of Thing One, and slammed him against one of the garbage bins. Someone growled, “You’re dead, asshole,” and another thud as a second body shot past me, too. Thing Two was punched and tackled to the ground.

  Luke had Thing One pinned against the bin with a hand to his throat. His features were tightened and strained as he delivered a punch to the guy’s face. Once he let him go, Thing One fell to the ground and tried to block Luke’s blows, but there was no stopping Luke. He hit him again and again in the face, then kicked him in the stomach. The quick assault stunned the guy. He didn’t fight back, just tried to recover and block any more hits.

  Emerson was attacking Thing Two. After delivering a couple of kicks of his own, he stopped and looked at Luke. Both guys weren’t fighting back, so Luke and Emerson stepped back toward me, shielding me. Luke pointed to the back door of Rowdy’s. “Em, go and get that garbage. Bring it over for Bri.”

  Emerson nodded and went back.

  “Bri?” The leader looked up. “Brielle Masterson?”

  Luke seared me with a look, then stepped in front of me to completely shield me from the guy’s view. “Yeah, asshole. You think we’re bad? She dated Turner. What do you think he’d do to you?”

  The guy coughed some blood out and pushed himself to a sitting position. “We didn’t know, but it doesn’t change the situation. We’re not scared of Turner.”

  Luke clipped his head from side to side. “Doesn’t matter. Go near her again, and I’m sure you can test that theory—that you’re not scared of him.”

  Emerson came back with both garbage bags. He tossed both into the bin and closed the lid. Ignoring the two guys on the ground, he swept past me and said to Luke, “If she wants in, I’m fine with it.” Then he said to me, “We’re even with this.”

  He didn’t wait. He left, heading to the street instead of back to the bar.

  Luke said to the guys, “Get lost. I mean it.” Turning, he took hold of my arm and began guiding me back to the bar. Once we were through the back door, he glared at me. “What were you thinking? If you see two guys hiding by the garbage bins, you don’t approach them by yourself.”

  Emerson hadn’t told him.

  I didn’t even groan. I should’ve known better. Cousin of the Year was not an award he’d be winning. Ever. “I…it’s done. Whatever.”

  He cursed under his breath, then went around me, and opened the basement door. Before going down, he glanced back. “Are you really done with Turner?”

  I nodded, feeling pinned in place by his piercing gaze.

  “Luke?”

  A girl waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs. Of course, he’d have a girl waiting for him.

  He ignored her and said to me, “Elijah deals drugs, and that brings problems. We have enough problems of our own. We don’t need him around, so if you’re really done with him, you can join the band. We have a gig out of town next Thursday. You have until then to decide.”

  He didn’t wait for my answer. He went downstairs, took the girl’s hand, and led her back into the basement.

  What a perfect ending for the night. I had a sudden urge to start my own bar fight.

  The first thing I noticed when I stopped just in front of the porch steps was the blood dripping from the soles of his shoes that were hanging out the door. The second thing I noticed were the dark, tattered jeans. I recognized the shoes, but the jeans sealed it. I knew without a doubt it was Luke.

  The bag I’d been carrying fell to the ground, and I couldn’t move.

  He was dead.

  “Bri!”

  I woke with a gasp, then saw a shadow of a large man standing above me and froze. It was him. He’d come back for me. Blind fury kicked in, and I launched at the shadow as I let out a blood-curdling scream. “No!”

  The shadow ducked and shoved me back onto the bed. He pinned my arms to my sides and got in my face. I saw his lips move, but couldn’t hear what he was saying in my panic.

  He coul
dn’t be back. He couldn’t. I kept trying to hit him, but he was holding me down.

  Braden was yelling, pulling me out of my dream. His voice wafted back and forth. “Bri…Stop...me…”

  “What’s wrong with her?”

  He looked to whoever had spoken from the doorway, but I couldn’t see. It wasn’t a voice I recognized. He scowled at them. “I told you to wait outside.”

  “I need to use the bathroom. You wouldn’t let me use the one at the bar, remember?”

  “Shit. Yeah, go and use hers.”

  I was still gasping for air, but saw a girl disappear toward the hallway. I heard a door close a second later. When Braden realized I had stopped fighting, he released my arms and stood back. “Holy crap. What was that?”

  I shook my head and shoved him aside. Then I sat on the edge of the bed and put my head between my knees. Deep breaths in and out. I hadn’t thought about that day for so long.

  “When did you start having nightmares again?”

  The toilet flushed from my bathroom. I held out an arm, pointing at the hallway. “Who was that? And what the hell happened to Kelly?”

  My brother visibly grimaced and bit his lip before running a hand through his hair. “Uh. Her name’s Crissy.” The bathroom door opened and he raised his voice towards the hallway, “You can head to the kitchen. I’ll be out in a minute.”

  I smacked him in the stomach. “And I repeat, what about Kelly, and why is that girl using my bathroom?”

  “Uh.” He cursed under his breath and sat beside me on the bed. “Come on, Bri. I’m not exclusive with anyone. I like Kelly, I do, but I don’t want a relationship.”

  I heard his condescending tone and glared. I shot back, “What’s wrong with a relationship? You could do with some maturing.”

  He gave me a ‘duh’ look. “I’m in a band.”

  “So?”

  “So. I’m. In. A. Band.” He shook his head. “Come on. For real. You don’t get that?” His shoulders rolled back, and a cocky expression flashed over his face. “I’m hot shit. Why would I want to get a ball-n-chain?”

  I stared at him, waited ten seconds, and then smacked him on the back of his head.

  “Ow.” His hand moved to where I hit him, and he cradled it. “What was that about?”

  “I’m going to have to apologize to my future boss because my brother’s a man-whore douche nozzle. That’s what that was about.”

  “Your future boss?”

  “Kelly offered me a job.”

  His eyes got big. “No way. You can’t. Em and Luke said they okayed you to join the band.”

  “No.” I shook my head. A big yawn came over me, and I reached for my phone. “Braden, why are you in my apartment at three in the morning? I’m tired. Leave me alone.” Nudging him off the bed, I pointed to the door and yawned again. “Go. Leave. Take your Kelly-replacement-because-you’re-afraid-of-commitment girl with you.”

  “Oh.” His cheeks puffed out, and he raked a hand through his hair. “You’re going to hate me, like really hate me.”

  Why did I get a sudden doom and gloom feeling after hearing those words? Ignoring my gut, which told me to push him out the door and lock it, I folded my arms across my chest. Dear Lord. I would probably need His help by the end of the night, judging from the sudden nervous look on my brother’s face.

  His laugh moved up an octave, and he shifted, his hands going behind his back. “Uh, I need your help.”

  “That’s established. The ‘with what’ is not.”

  He rolled his eyes. “Come on, Bri. Don’t be snippy.”

  I lifted an eyebrow. I was waiting.

  “Okay, okay. Paul called me. You know Paul?”

  “From Shifter?” I named another local band.

  “Yeah. He said Emerson’s at his party, and he’s in bad shape. He wants us to come and get him out of there.”

  I sighed. Goddamn, Emerson. “Yeah,” I mumbled as I started to look around for a sweatshirt. I’d need to put on jeans, too. “Is he drunk or high? I need to know what to prepare myself for.”

  “He’s drunk.”

  I heard the hesitation in my brother’s voice and looked up, fixing him with a stare.

  He shrugged. “And high.”

  “All right.” I shooed him out of the room. “Get lost. I need to change.”

  “You’ll come?”

  “Yes.” Ducking my head, I pulled a sweatshirt on and grabbed a new pair of jeans. These were faded and ripped, like all my others. It was my trademark look. “Get out before I change my mind.” As he did, I grabbed my shoes. With Emerson, who knew what situation would happen. Having to run away or chase someone down was realistic for us. It’d been like this all our childhood. Emerson did something or said something, and the rest of us had to fight for him. I didn’t know why Elijah hadn’t been called, and I didn’t want to ask Braden either. He’d scowl and say this is family business. When I was ready to go, I headed for the kitchen and found Braden waiting with his girl.

  She had long black hair that fell to the middle of her back with white streaks running through it. Her jeans were like mine, and she was wearing a black tank top. Her boobs were pushed up to high heaven, and her lips were plump. We didn’t run in a wealthy crowd, and this girl didn’t look like she had money for Botox, but I was pretty sure she had way too much injected into her face. She would’ve been pretty if she had gone with a natural look— less makeup, less Botox, less cleavage, and less white streaks, but I didn’t say a word. I never mixed well with ninety-eight percent of other females.

  “We ready to go?” I asked, grabbing my keys.

  “Hi, I’m—” Crissy held her hand out, but Braden stepped in front of her.

  He pushed her arm down and nodded to me, saying, “Yep. We’re all good.”

  Ignoring the puzzled look she gave him, I swept past them and headed for Braden’s truck and took shotgun. When Braden and the girl realized what I was doing, he started laughing. The girl paused. A soft “Hey,” left her, but Braden hushed her before going to the driver’s side. She had no choice but to take the backseat. When she got inside, I waited, but she was quiet. Good. No fight there, but then I saw another one coming.

  Braden started the car and pulled across the road…right into Luke’s driveway.

  “What the hell?” I sat forward in my seat.

  “What?”

  My brother’s tone was too innocent. My eyes narrowed. “Stop with the bullshit. Luke?”

  “This is what we do. This is our crew.”

  Frustration like no other rose within me. This had been our crew. Emerson got in trouble. Braden, Luke, and I went to help him, and after dating Elijah, I knew he got called quite a bit, too. This wasn’t our crew anymore, but it didn’t matter what I said. Luke was leaving his house, and he braked when he saw who else was in the car.

  His mouth tightened, but then he went to the other backseat door.

  So he hadn’t known either.

  I hissed to Braden as the door was opening, “We need to talk about how things have changed from three years ago to now.”

  He rolled his eyes. “Get over it. We need all the help we can get. Paul said some other guys were at the party—guys he didn’t know. He asked Emerson about them, but Em was adamant that he needed to leave them alone.” When Luke shut the door, Braden looked up in the rearview mirror. “Hey, man.”

  “Hey.” Luke glanced at me. His tone was cautious, but resigned.

  Lovely. I was glad we were on the same page, at least.

  He glanced at Crissy. She held up a hand. “Hey there.”

  Luke narrowed his eyes and didn’t respond to her. He asked Braden, “Was he high or drunk?”

  Braden answered Luke, “He’s both and Paul said there are some other guys there who will help us get him out.” If this became a bigger problem than a four—I doubted the girl would help—three-person job.

  “We might need them.” Luke’s tone was ominous.

  Crissy was looki
ng among all of us. “Uh, should I be worried? Is this guy violent or something?”

  Braden opened his mouth to answer. I beat him to it, saying, “Or something. He’s an asshole when he’s sober, so take a guess what he’s like when he’s drunk.”

 
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