“I really, really don’t want to talk about this,” I hissed, trying to ignore his soft breath in my ear, the hard length of his c**k pushing against me. My ni**les were tight and my entire body screamed for me to open to him, but deep inside my brain lurked a cloud of darkness and fear that threatened to tear free with every word.
“I should’ve killed him for what he did to you,” Ruger said, eyes full of frustrated regret. “But then he was in jail and I didn’t want to do that to Mom, so I let him live. You left and I’ve hated myself ever since. I can’t go back in time, but I sure as f**k won’t make the same mistake twice. This time you’re not gettin’ away, Soph.”
I took a deep breath, trying to calm my hormones enough to think. Then it hit me. I should tell him the truth. If that wasn’t enough to convince him this was a lost cause, nothing would.
“It’s my fault,” I said, the familiar wave of self-disgust washing over me.
“Honey, Zach beatin’ the shit out of you was not your fault,” Ruger said, his voice like ice.
“No,” I said, looking him right in the eye. “It was my fault, Ruger. I planned it. When you starting kissing me—touching me—I knew Zach was coming over. He’d texted me, wanted to make sure I had food ready when he got there. I knew he’d catch us. He was so jealous of you, Ruger. Drove him crazy. I knew if he caught us together, he’d lose it. I wanted him to hit me hard, because then I could make it end.”
Ruger inhaled sharply.
“What the f**k are you talking about?”
“Zach had to leave bruises,” I whispered. “I was so scared all the time, Ruger. I never knew what he’d do. Some days he was great and things were fine, like they were before Noah. Then I’d drop my guard and he’d turn on me. I tried calling the cops, but he never left marks, so they wouldn’t do anything. He told me he’d kill me if I left him.”
Ruger took a deep, ragged breath and his eyes went dark.
“When you came over that day, I saw my chance,” I admitted, disgusted with myself. “This tension—lust, whatever the hell you want to call it—it was between us by then. I felt it every time I saw you. And you were so good with Noah, always coming around, fixing my car or mowing the yard for us. I’d bring you a drink and you’d look at me like you wanted to throw me down on the ground and f**k me until I screamed. You know what? I wanted you to do it. So I let it happen.”
Ruger gave a dark, harsh laugh that had nothing to do with humor.
“Yeah, babe, I remember that part,” he said. “Although we never did get to my happy ending, what with Zach comin’ home. You seriously telling me that was planned?”
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, my eyes filling with tears. “I knew seeing us together would drive him crazy. I knew he’d lose it. Noah was safe at your mom’s house. So I let him catch us and have his little pissing match with you. He took off, you took off, and I waited for him to come back and punish me, like always. But this time he was finally worked up enough to leave evidence—I made damned sure of it. I told him how much better you were than him. I told him I’d been f**king you all along. For a while I thought he might kill me, and you know what? It would’ve been worth it, just to make it end. You know the rest. He got arrested, I got my restraining order, and me and Noah were finally free.”
Rugers eyes narrowed as emotion rippled across his face. Anger. Outrage. Disgust? For a second I thought he might actually hurt me, he seemed so angry.
No, I realized. That was the difference between Ruger and Zach. Both men had tempers, but Ruger? Ruger would never hurt me.
Never. No matter what.
“He beat the shit out of you,” he whispered. “You almost died, Soph. Why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve f**king killed him for you. You didn’t have to let it get that bad. You should’ve told me the first time he hurt you. I can’t believe this was happening and I was too f**kin’ stupid to see it.”
“Because he’s your brother!” I said to him, tears running down my face. “Your mother loved him, Ruger. What he did to me almost destroyed her. If you’d lost it, if you’d gone after him, you’d be in jail right now and your mom would’ve died alone and miserable. What kind of hateful bitch would I be if I let that happen?”
“You could’ve gone to one of those places for women,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t get it, Sophie.”
I gave a harsh laugh.
“Damned straight you don’t get it—it was his word against mine,” I said, willing him to understand. “I had no evidence, nothing. Sure, I could go to a shelter, but he’d still have a right to visit with Noah, maybe fight me for custody. You think I’d risk my baby alone with Zach? Nobody could help me until he took it up a notch, so I made it happen. I’m not an idiot. A woman who’s being controlled by a man can’t get shit for help unless she’s got evidence.”
“Those weren’t just bruises,” Ruger said. “Three broken ribs and a punctured lung are not bruises. And why the f**k do you think I would’ve gone to jail, hmm? Look at me, Soph. Do you think I’m the kind of man to do time when I don’t have to? He would’ve just disappeared. Poof. Problem solved. I dare you to look me in the eye and tell me there’s one f**kin’ reason that a man like Zachary Barrett should still be breathing, because I’m comin’ up blank. I nearly had him taken out while he was locked up, but I figured a dead guy couldn’t pay child support.”
I gasped, eyes wide.
“You’re serious?” I whispered.
“Yeah, Sophie,” he said, sounding almost tired. “I’m f**kin’ serious. Christ, I’m the first thing Noah saw in this world. I caught him with my own hands on the side of the road, babe, and then he opened those eyes and looked right at me. From day one, I can say with a clear conscious that there is nothin’—not a f**king thing—on this earth I wouldn’t do to protect him or you. How long?”
“How long was Zach hurtin’ you before it all went down?”
I shook my head, looking away, trying to think.
“It wasn’t big stuff,” I said finally. “Not at first. He’d yell at me, make me feel like shit. Then he started doing it in front of Noah.”
His entire body stiffened, his jaw clenching spasmodically. I stared at his chin and forged ahead.