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Things We Left Behind: Chapter 31


The Fuck Fest Is Over

Lucian

Well? What did you find out?” I demanded, coming to my feet when Nash strolled into his office.

“Christ, Luce,” he said, flicking on the lights. “It’s 7:00 a.m. on a Thursday. At least let me have a cup of coffee before scaring the shit out of me with the lurking villain routine.”

“Someone is threatening one of the people you’re supposed to protect and serve, and you want a good night’s sleep?”

I’d barely slept. We’d spent the night at my place, and while Sloane had curled comfortably into my side and passed out within seconds, I’d run through each and every probability and possible outcome. When I settled on the most obvious answer, I’d slipped out of bed, triple checked the alarm, and tried to sweat out my anger at the gym with Shania Twain in my ears.

I was still sweating and still furious.

She was acting as though it was just some practical joke played in poor taste. Clearly her ability to take dangerous situations seriously had not improved since she was a teenager.

Bad things happened. Good people got hurt. She knew this first-­fucking-­hand. Yet I seemed to be the only one taking this seriously.

Nash sighed as he shrugged out of his coat. “I won’t waste my breath giving you the usual ‘police business’ speech since you never listen, and if some asshole was threatening Lina, I wouldn’t be in the mood to mind my own business either.”

I ignored the comparison. Sloane and I were fucking. That was the entire extent of our relationship. “Tell me what you’ve done so far.”

Nash shoved a mug under the coffee maker and stabbed irritably at the buttons. “They were feeder rats. You buy them frozen at pet shops to feed to snakes. So far no leads on where they were purchased. Bannerjee will be knocking on doors in the neighborhood today to see if anyone saw anything suspicious. You want coffee?” he asked, looking me up and down.

I had enough adrenaline in my system. I didn’t need a hit of caffeine. “I want answers.”

The corner of my friend’s mouth lifted.

“If you feel like doing something, talk Sloane into one of those video doorbells. Maybe a couple of those cameras. It’ll deter anyone from trying something like this again.”

“She’s getting an entire security system, and I’m not about to waste time discussing it with her. What else do you have?”

Amusement flared in his eyes as he took his time settling in behind his desk.

“The way it looks, there’s two theories. One, our little librarian pissed off someone who feels like letting her know about it. First the note, now this. They’re warnings. Vague ones. It’s not exactly like someone forced her into the trunk of a car or took a shot at her.”

I knew Nash well enough to understand he wasn’t insinuating that there was no actual threat. He knew better than any of us what kinds of darkness could fester beneath the surface.

“And your other theory?” I asked.

Nash leveled me with a cool gaze. “You two start spending time together, and suddenly someone has a problem with Sloane. Could be a coincidence. Could be related.”

It was the same conclusion I’d drawn around the 5:00 a.m. mark.

“You make enemies faster than friends. Somebody could have been paying attention and seen you two together. An ex-­lover, an old business partner, a crime boss you’re going head-­to-­head with. And judging from your expression, you’ve already thought of that.”

It was possible that I’d gotten careless and put Sloane in Anthony Hugo’s sights.

I sat perfectly still, ignoring my mind screaming that I needed to get up and take action. At one time, I’d gone still to remain invisible. Now I did it because stillness reveals nothing to enemies.

I’d underestimated Hugo. While I’d been playing games with his tracking device and tails, I’d played right into the man’s hands, serving up the perfect incentive for him to use against me.

“You’re doing that stone-­faced thing,” Nash observed.

“What stone-­faced thing?” I snapped.

“The thing where you look like you’re constipated and really pissed off about it. You go all stone-­faced when you’re having feelings you don’t want to have.”

“I’m not having feelings,” I insisted a little too loudly.

He put down his coffee mug. “Look, man. For what it’s worth, I don’t see Anthony Hugo driving up here and dumping a bunch of rat corpses on Sloane’s doorstep. He doesn’t go for subtle.”

“We both know he’s got an army of criminals eager to do his bidding.”

“We don’t know that Hugo has anything to do with this. It could have just as easily been Marjorie Ronsanto, who gives the library shit on a weekly basis. Or some idiot hormonal teenager who didn’t want to pay his late fees.”

“Or it could be Anthony Fucking Hugo. I’d expect you of all people to take this seriously.”

No one seemed to be properly upset about this. When I’d gotten out of bed, Sloane had rolled over, buried her face in my pillow, and asked me to bring her back a doughnut. Now Nash was placating me like I was an overly concerned citizen.

“Look, Luce, I get it. You care and you’re worried. We’ll keep her safe. Between you, me, and the rest of the department, no one’s gonna get near her.”

I shook my head. “I’m going back to the city,” I decided.

If I was what had drawn Anthony Hugo’s attention to Sloane, then I’d be the one to draw it away.

“You sure about that?” my friend asked.

“You don’t need me here interfering in your investigation,” I said flatly.

“As if that’s ever stopped you before.”

“Maybe I’m choosing to listen to reason this time.”

His eyes narrowed. “Or maybe you’re turning into a pile of chickenshit in my office.”

“We’re not in a relationship. We’re fucking.” Even saying it out loud had my muscles tightening.

“I love you like a brother, so hear me when I say don’t fuck with Sloane,” Nash warned.

“She knows the score,” I said.

He shook his head. “You’re an idiot.”

“Why do people keep telling me that?”

“Because even I—­an emotionally stunted Morgan man—­can see that you’ve got feelings for her. You always have. And now that you’re close to finding something real with her, you’re gonna hightail it back to the city and pretend you’re not scared shitless that she’s in danger. If Lina were in trouble, there’s nothing that would stop me from standing between her and that trouble.”

“If Lina were in trouble, she’d kick it in the balls and sharpen her nails in its eye sockets.”

“Sloane’s not like Lina. She gets riled and she goes off half-­cocked,” he reminded me unnecessarily.

“That’s not my problem.” Hot acid was eating its way up my esophagus.

“It was once. I went through Ogden’s old case files after dinner the other night. Sloane was the unnamed minor Ansel Rollins attacked, wasn’t she? That’s how she broke her wrist.”

“She didn’t fucking break it. He did,” I said, getting to my feet. “And if you want details, you’ll have to ask someone else, because I wasn’t fucking there. I was in jail.”

“Got sprung the very next morning though, didn’t you?” he pressed. “Interesting coincidence, don’t you think? That she’s championing the cause of the wrongfully imprisoned.”

“Keep her safe,” I said coolly and headed for the door.

“I meant what I said,” Nash called after me. “Don’t fuck around with her.”

“I won’t,” I muttered under my breath as I stormed out of the police station, already dialing my phone.


“Where’s my doughnut?” Sloane pouted.

She was wearing my T-­shirt, pouring coffee in my kitchen, and looking adorably disheveled. Something clenched awkwardly in my chest. A wave of possession knocked me off balance. I wanted this. Her. And I couldn’t have it. Not when being close to me made her a target.

“I didn’t bring you one,” I said flatly.

“Mean. What did Nash say? Did anyone report a rat heist?”

I took the mug out of her hand. “You should go.”

“Why? What’s wrong? Your face is all weird. Oh God. Did something happen to Meow Meow?”

There was only one button of Sloane’s I knew how to push to make her walk away. “There’s nothing wrong with your cat. I just don’t want you here.”

“That’s not what you said last night,” she said smugly.

“You can keep the shirt,” I said, scanning her from head to toe, careful to keep my expression impassive.

“Oh no, Lucifer. I’m not going anywhere until you tell me why mere hours ago, you were begging me to make you come, and now you’re Mr. Freeze.”

“I remembered all the reasons I don’t like you.”

She snorted. “Nice try. You never forgot them in the first place.”

“I spoke to Nash. He dug into my father’s arrest record and connected some dots.”

She remained silent.

“You jumped willingly into a dangerous situation.”

“So did you every time your parents fought,” she pointed out.

“That’s different. It was my responsibility. You never should have been there. I never should have told you what was happening. It’s bad enough that he ruined your plans. He could have ended your life. And you went over there willingly.”

Sloane crossed her arms over her chest. “Because you loved her. Because you wanted to keep her safe. And because I couldn’t stand another minute of you being locked up for a crime he committed.” She spoke softly, firmly.

“He broke your wrist in three places. You had to have surgery. All your plans, your dreams, everything gone because you couldn’t listen to me and do the right thing.”

Snap.

My freedom wasn’t worth that. My life wasn’t worth that.

Snap.

“Lucian,” she said carefully.

“What?” I realized I was yelling. I didn’t raise my voice like him. I didn’t have to. “What?” I repeated quietly.

“I’m sorry for not listening to you when you asked me not to call the police. I had no idea that would happen. But I’m not sorry for what I did to get you out.”

I turned my back on her so I wouldn’t be tempted to shake some sense into her, decades-­old panic and anger rearing their ugly heads.

“I still feel sick about what happened that night, what I saw, what you must have lived with for so long,” she continued. “I know how lucky I am that things didn’t end differently. I’ve wasted a lot of time over the past several years thinking about the what-­ifs. What if I’d gotten there too late? What if he hurt my dad? What if he’d gotten away with it? But I have never once regretted the way things worked out. He went to jail, and you got out. Justice was served.”

I turned to face her even though I didn’t want to look at her. “There’s no such thing as justice,” I spat.

“That sounds like a conversation neither one of us has time for.”

“You have someone actively threatening you. Not only did you not think to mention it to me, you’re also not taking it seriously. It’s fucking selfish again.”

She gasped and the fight in her eyes flared to life. “Selfish? You think me putting your father in jail so everyone would know who the real monster was is selfish?”

“You deciding you know what’s best for everyone is selfish. You refusing to take the bare minimum of safety precautions once again is selfish. You putting yourself in danger is selfish.”

She took a step toward me and laid her palms on my chest. “You’re really starting to piss me off, and I don’t like to be pissed off on Thursdays because it’s Lunch Swap Thursday, and I like Lunch Swap Thursdays. So I’m going to say this. I’m sorry for my part in all of it. I’m sorry for not doing what you needed me to do or not being what you needed me to be. I’m sorry for making it seem like I’m not taking these threats seriously, because I am. I’m freaking the fuck out that someone decided to throw a pile of dead rats on my front porch! Now can we talk about whatever this is like adults, or are you going to double down on shoving your head up your ass?”

She was yelling by the end of her tirade. Her chin jutted out as she glared up at me. I wanted to kiss her. To lock her in a bedroom and keep her safe. I wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled and she saw reason. That she never should have gotten involved. That once again, being close to me had brought her up against danger.

But this time, I could do something about it.

“I need to get back to the city, and you need to go home,” I announced. “This little fuck fest is over.”

“Doubling down, I see,” she quipped. “Fine.”

She gripped the hem of the T-­shirt she wore and dragged it over her head. Sloane Walton was naked in my kitchen. I wasn’t sure how many fantasies of mine had started that way, but it was at least a thousand.

“Keep the shirt,” I insisted.

“I’d rather walk home naked,” she snapped.

We’d spent too much time doing this. Fighting then finding our way back to each other only to blow up again. We were like magnets drawn together in one moment before we were reversed, repelling each other the next. But this time, it needed to be permanent. This time, I needed to blow it up forever.

I followed her to the coat rack. She snatched her parka off the hook and slid her arms into the sleeves in quick, jerky movements.

“Poor broody boy with his big cock and all that emotional baggage.”

She hopped on one foot and yanked a snow boot over the other.

“You can at least get dressed,” I said dryly.

“Thanks, but I’d rather burn it all than look at it again and think of you.”

She was playing with fire. I was angry and she was pushing buttons like a toddler in an elevator. She was either oblivious to my anger or brashly confident in her nonexistent abilities to protect herself.

“I spent enough of my life with a woman who had no sense of self-­preservation. I’m not doing it again. Not when I have a choice in the matter this time.”

She stopped midhop and glared up at me. Fury snapped off her like sparks from a bonfire.

“Don’t you ever compare me to your mother. And while you’re at it, have fun spending the rest of your life alone because you’re too fucking stubborn to learn to do better.”

“As long as I don’t have to deal with you on a daily basis, I look forward to it. I pity your future husband.”

Sloane’s laugh was sharp and humorless. “I wouldn’t waste any time thinking about me or my future husband if I were you. Because I’m going to forget you ever existed.”

“Good luck with that.”

But she didn’t hear me because she’d already slammed the front door behind her.

I whipped it open and stepped outside. “A security company will be coming by this afternoon to install cameras at your place,” I called as she stormed toward her house.

“If they have anything to do with you, then they’re not getting anywhere near my property.”

“Don’t be a stubborn idiot.”

“You already have the monopoly on that!”

She made it to her driveway and had just started for her front porch when she thought better of it and marched toward the garage door.

“If you see anything that feels off to you, call Nash. Immediately.”

“Sell your damn house, assface!”


Emry: Does this suit make me look like I should have laid off the cookies a few decades ago?


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