But the pain in my soul wouldn’t stop overflowing from my eyes, and incurring his wrath was an inevitability.
“Time to snap the fuck out of it!” He lifted me from behind, arms winding around my waist, and carried me down the steep path to the water’s edge. I kicked and screamed, nearly causing him to lose his balance on the way.
“No!” I shrieked. “You can’t do this! Stop!” My shouting came out as sputters once he dumped me in the shallow part. I clawed my way to the rocky shore, hands and knees sinking into slimy dirt. My heart beat so fast, it caused a physical ache in my chest. Little by little, I scrambled away from the water, as if it called to the dark place in my mind that tempted me to sink into the depths and die.
For an instant, I considered it.
As I sprawled onto the rocks, Zach grabbed my wet hair, bringing me back from the perilous idea of death. He yanked my neck back until I gazed at him instead of the waterhole. “The moping is gonna stop. I gave you ecstasy so we could get beyond the bullshit, not so you could turn into a depressed zombie while straight. I’ve had to force you out of bed for the last three days. Enough is enough, Lex.” He let me go and threw his hands in the air. “I don’t know what to do. You’re fucking sexy as hell when high, but you want nothing to do with me otherwise.”
“What do you expect? You’re drugging me all the time. I can’t cope like this.” I shoved my hair out of my burning eyes and hoped the water dripping down my face hid the tears.
“I just want you back.”
“You never had me!”
“I did.” He clenched his teeth, and tension spiraled off him in currents. “I had you. You can lie to me and to yourself, but you loved me.”
“You killed Rafe! I could never love you. Never.”
“Your precious boy toy isn’t dead.” Zach scoffed, rolling his eyes. “I had to know if he lived or not, so I went to Dante’s Pass yesterday.” He crouched in front of me, tilting his head. “You know what I found, Lex? I saw him strolling through town without a care in the world. Didn’t take him long to wind up on the doorstep of Nikki Malone. Remember her? I guess old habits die hard.”
I shook my head, refusing to let hope rush in.
“It’s true, so you can let go of the guilt and blame game because he survived.” Zach stood again and gestured to the vast wilderness that enclosed us in hell. “But where is he now, huh?”
My heart leapt, despite knowing better. “Don’t mess with my head like that. You’re lying.”
“It’s the truth. He’s not coming for you. Why would he? He has Nikki to keep his dick occupied. For fuck’s sake, you sent him to prison. Do you honestly think he’d love you after you had him locked up?”
My sobs escaped in gasping, pathetic hiccups. I struggled to my knees and gripped my midsection, unable to catch my breath as the echo of his words struck me in the gut with sharp-edged truth.
Zach knelt down and held my face in his hands. “I love you. No matter what. No matter how much you say you hate me or try to push me away, I love you. Always.”
“You hurt me.”
“You used to like pain.”
With tears streaming down my face, I saw Zach in a warped light, blurred from the product of my sorrow. He believed every word he’d said. An image surfaced, a blip in time in which I saw him as my brother, the boy I remembered from what seemed like a different lifetime. The brother who would do anything to make me feel better. But that boy was gone. Not a facet of his innocence remained. A chill spread over me, and goose bumps broke out on every inch of flesh.
“Just because my body is fucked up, that doesn’t mean I love you.”
His hands slipped from my face. He stood, brows narrowed as he glared down at me. “He will never love you like I do. Never.”
“You’re right. He won’t. But I’ll never love you like I do him.”
It took four of them to hold me down, my cheek pressed to the gritty cement. The biggest and meanest straddled my thighs, his rough hands spreading my ass cheeks as he worked his cock between them. I tried to buck him off. His laughter gave him away; he was enjoying the struggle. More laughter sounded, deeper, gruffer, but it didn’t come from the assholes doing this. No, it came from the assholes allowing this to happen. The scent of tobacco blanketed the shower room, wafting in the air so thickly, I nearly choked.
No choking. No sound. I’d fight, but they wouldn’t drag a plea from me. I gritted my teeth, pulled against the vise grip of the other three pricks restraining me, and closed my eyes as a scorching burn ignited in my rectum…
I shot up in bed, my hands fisting the sweat-drenched sheets. With a shudder, I let a breath out and fell against the headboard. The same nightmare had plagued me for the last four nights, but I didn’t want to analyze it. I wanted to forget every fucking detail. I pulled deep breaths into my lungs and waited for the pounding thud of my heartbeat to slow, to stop hammering at my throat. Flinging the damp, gnarled sheet to the side, I slipped from bed and padded across the loft bedroom to the stairs that lowered to the first floor.
Two things beckoned me: a bottle of vodka I’d found stashed away in the back of a cupboard, and the smoking gun in the cellar—the cage. Landing on the bottom step, I glanced around the empty living room.
Jax hadn’t been back since I’d caught him with Nikki, and I hadn’t stuck around to hear their explanations.
Absently, I grabbed the stashed vodka, unscrewed the lid, and took a drink straight from the bottle. Darkness blanketed the cabin, as not a single bulb highlighted the shadows. I didn’t feel inclined to turn on a lamp. The darkness called to me, the unassuming companionship it offered. Quiet solitude didn’t pester me about my state of mind like my brother’s phone calls did. It didn’t ask if I remembered anything. But it also didn’t tell me shit. That damn cage in the cellar might, if I could only force my brain to cooperate.
I swayed for an instant and did a double take at the bottle. Who knew vodka could go down so well. As I stumbled a path to the cellar door, I kicked myself for turning to alcohol. Booze only numbed the problem temporarily, and it turned smart people into fucked up stupid people. I pulled the door open and took an unsteady jaunt down the stairs, then came to a stop in front of the evidence I wanted so badly to deny.