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Things We Left Behind: Chapter 32


Dead to Me

Sloane

Assface: To confirm, the security team will be at your house at one.

Assface: At least acknowledge that you’ll be there to let them in.

Assface: The silent treatment. Very mature.

Assface: I’m not above getting the law involved.

Assface: I don’t know what point you think you’re proving by calling the cops on my team when they’re just trying to keep you safe.

Assface: Just because we’re not sneaking around having sex anymore doesn’t mean I don’t care.

Assface: I found your underwear behind the nightstand. Do you want it back?


The heyday of the Lawlerville courthouse looked as if it had occurred in the 1970s with its speckled tile floors, musty wood paneling, and ceiling tiles stained yellow from decades of cigarette smoke.

I shifted on the too-­low, too-­hard bench and stared at the door across from me.

The metal plaque on the wall read Judge Dirk Atkins. Behind that door were three people hopefully making Mary Louise’s dreams come true. And I was stuck out here trying not to gnaw my fingernails down to the bone.

And trying not to think of He Who Shall Not Be Thought Of.

On cue, my phone buzzed on the bench next to me.

Assface: Lina says you’re at the courthouse now. Good luck.

I glared at the text. It had been a week and a half since Lucian had kicked me out of his house. He hadn’t been back to Knockemout since. Between the library, my family, Mary Louise’s case, and my friends trying to oh-­so-­casually pump me for information about Lucian, I was staying busy. But not busy enough to forget that the assface existed.

I’d fallen into his trap twice now. If I fell a third time, I deserved to get mauled by the steel teeth of Lucian’s perverse whims. He cared about me. He hated me. He wanted me. He wanted nothing to do with me.

That was a roller coaster I didn’t need to get on again. I wanted stability, not volatility. A relationship, not a fuck buddy. A future, not a past.

I opened the dating app and, with a bracing inhale, started swiping.

The chamber door opened, and I bolted to my feet. My phone went flying.

Fran marched into the hallway, glaring at the district attorney, a man with wispy gray hair and thick glasses. He looked older than the forty-­seven my internet search reported. But I supposed that was what the criminal justice system did to a person over time.

“Way to back me up in there, Lloyd,” Fran snapped.

The attorney’s shoulders hunched. “It’s not a good look to have a magistrate reducing his own sentences.”

“That sentence is out of line and you know it,” she said, standing pink stiletto to scuffed loafer with the man.

“Is there a problem, ladies?” came honeyed southern sarcasm from the doorway.

Judge Dirk Atkins was a good-­looking man in his late fifties. He had a head of thick silvery hair and a dignified posture, and the tie under his black robes looked like it was Lucian Rollins expensive.

Fran’s face went from infuriated to impassive in half a second. The DA, on the other hand, looked as if he wanted the floor to swallow him up.

“No problem, Your Honor,” Fran said smoothly.

Judge Atkins bent down and picked my phone up off the floor. He glanced at the screen.

“That’s, uh, mine. Sir. I mean, Your Honor,” I said, holding out my hand.

He looked up at me with pale-­blue eyes and handed the phone back to me. “And you are?”

“This is my associate, Ms. Walton,” Fran said.

“Well, Ms. Walton, I wouldn’t swipe right on that one,” the judge said, nodding at my screen. “He has a shifty look about him. A young lady like you can’t be too careful these days.”

“Uh, thanks?”

“We won’t take up any more of your time,” Fran announced, hooking her arm through mine.

“I take it it didn’t go well,” I said out of the corner of my mouth as she marched us toward the elevators.

“The judge didn’t see anything wrong with the original sentence. Apparently he’s made a career out of ‘making an example’ of the defendants who come through his courtroom.”

“So he just doubled down?”

Fran stabbed the call button for the elevator. “Oh, he tripled down. He’s seen your interviews and doesn’t care for the ‘one-­sided storytelling,’” she said, adding air quotes. “He suggested we find a better use of our time rather than questioning his judgment.”

The elevator doors slid open, and we stepped inside. I slumped against the back wall. “So what do we do now?”

“Now we start the appeal process. If Mary Louise is going to have a chance to get out, it’s not going to come from this court.”

I drummed my fingers against the handrail. “You know, this makes me want to do more interviews just to piss him off.”

Fran’s smile was a little scary. “I was hoping you’d say that.”


“I wish I had better news, Mary Louise,” I said to my computer screen, feeling an uncomfortable combination of disappointed and pissed off.

“Honey, you’ve already done more for me than anyone else. I don’t need any apologies,” she said. Her beige jumpsuit blended in morosely with the industrial gray concrete block background.

“Don’t give up hope,” Fran said at my elbow. “This one was always a long shot. Now we can focus our resources on next steps.”

“I just want you both to know how grateful I am that you’re even taking an interest. It means the world to me and to Allen,” Mary Louise said, tears glittering in her eyes.

“We’ll be in touch soon,” Fran promised.

“Stay positive, Mary Louise,” I said, wishing we’d given her something to feel positive about.

The video feed cut off, and I slumped back in my chair. “Well, I feel like shit,” I announced.

“Don’t let it get you down,” Fran advised, getting to her feet. “Otherwise, you’ll be in the fetal position on the floor, and you’ll miss out on celebrating the millimeters of forward progress.”

Between my dad, the latest Lucian catastrophe, and now the disappointment Mary Louise tried hard to hide, the fetal position sounded pretty damn good to me.


I was wallowing, though at least not in the fetal position, when Naomi bounded into my office like an energetic golden retriever.

“Soooo. How are things?” she asked, perching on my visitor’s chair. She’d been checking on me every hour since I updated her on the disastrous meeting with the judge.

I abandoned the newsletter template I was working on and dropped my head to my desk.

“That good, huh?”

“Everything sucks.”

“I take it you saw it then,” she said sympathetically.

“Saw what?” I asked my keyboard.

“The thing about Lucian.”

I sat up. “What thing about Lucian?” I demanded.

Naomi winced and looked toward the door.

“What thing about Lucian?” I repeated darkly.

She brought her hands to her cheeks. “I’m sure it didn’t mean anything. It was just some Capitol gossip blog.”

My fingers raced across the keyboard as I typed “Lucian Rollins gossip blog” into the search engine.

I saw the pictures first. Lucian in a tux leading a stunning, statuesque woman by the hand into a hotel. Not just any hotel. Our hotel. Well, technically his hotel. She was beautiful in the kind of “I come from money and really good genes” kind of way. Her sleek, black hair was styled in a classic bun. Her ivory sheath dress contrasted beautifully with her rich, dark skin. And her tailored coat looked like it cost more than the one Lucian had given me.

There was another picture. Another woman on another night. Lucian had his hand resting intimately on a diminutive redhead’s back as they exited a trendy restaurant. She was shorter, curvier, and somehow just as horribly gorgeous in a flirty cocktail dress designed to draw the eye.

I looked away from the screen and willed myself to forget Lucian Rollins and his penis ever existed.

I was no longer the one who drove him crazy, or maybe, as I’d fantasized in my darkest, drunkest moments over the years, the one who got away. Now, I was just one of the legions of women he’d left behind.

My head felt stuffy and full. I could feel my heartbeat at the base of my ponytail. I heard a snap and glanced down to find I’d broken the cap on the pen I held.

“Okay. I can fix this,” Naomi said, pulling her phone out.

“What are you doing?”

“Calling Lina. We need alcohol and Silver Fox Joel.”

“I’m fine. We weren’t together. We were just having sex,” I said robotically. “Oh, look at that. His first date sits on the board of DC’s largest food bank, and the second one is a freaking astrophysicist.”

I wanted to reach through the screen and dump a very expensive cocktail over Lucian’s beautiful head. I also wanted to ask his date where she shopped because her shoes were phenomenal. Not that small-­town librarian me could pull off or afford that look.

He looked good with both women. Better than good. They looked like they belonged on his arm. Like they could sit next to him for longer than five minutes without bickering.

“You and Lucian have history. Unfortunately for you as a woman with strong feelings about everything, that means you can’t just have sex with him.”

“I can and I did,” I insisted.

“You just broke your pen and crushed your paper cup. Iced coffee is literally running down your arm,” She pointed out.

“Shit.”


“Feels good to be on this side for once,” Knox said, settling with satisfaction onto a sticky bar stool at Hellhound, a greasy, dingy dive bar outside Knockemout.

“This side of the bar?” Lina asked, angled into Nash, who stood next to her, his back to the bar, his gaze scanning the bikers gathered around rickety tables and arguing over pool games.

“Nope, this side of Men Suck, Let’s Drink,” Knox said.

“We are here purely for social reasons,” I insisted. “There is no reason to participate in Men Suck, Let’s Drink, because that would imply that I care what Lucian is doing when I don’t because he means nothing to me. We had sex. Then we stopped having sex. End of story. Where is Joel? I need a drink.”

“My bar is better,” Knox said, giving no indication that he’d been listening to my convincing tirade.

Naomi beamed at him. “It is. But wait till you meet Silver Fox Joel.” She pointed down the bar to where our favorite bartender poured shots of cheap whiskey in front of three morose-­looking women in ripped denim and worn leather.

Lina waved at him, and Joel gave her the cool guy nod.

“Okay, I filled the jukebox with men suck songs and told the biker couple with matching tattoos that you’re in a cult and looking to recruit members. That should buy you some time before anyone starts hitting on you,” Stef said, grabbing the stool next to me.

I patted his knee. “Thanks, Stef. You’re a good friend.”

Knox and Nash moved closer to their women as the studly bartender approached. He stopped in front of me. “Hey there, blondie. What’ll it be today? Shots? Spicy Bloody Mary?”

“Hi, Joel. I’d love a Bloody Mary for no other reason than that you make an excellent one. I’m not drinking away man problems or anything like that,” I told him.

“Glad you cleared that up,” he said with a half smile.

He took everyone’s drink orders and went to work under Knox’s watchful eye.

Naomi elbowed him in the ribs. “Stop staring and glaring.”

“I’m not glaring, I’m judging him professionally,” her husband insisted.

“I, for one, think since you two finally got each other out of your systems that it’s time for you to tell us about that history,” Lina announced.

“I agree. We’re your friends,” Naomi said, nodding her thanks as Joel handed her a very large glass of wine.

“For what it’s worth, I think you should tell them,” Nash said.

“How do you—­” I closed my eyes. “You have access to sealed records.”

Naomi and Lina shared a wide-­eyed look. “What sealed records?” they demanded in unison.

“Is this like you insisting I burden everyone with a couple of anonymous threats?”

Nash shook his head. “No, Sloaney Baloney. This is different. Your personal safety is one thing. You don’t get to hide dangerous things from the people who care about you. But you get to decide what stories you share.”

Joel set a Bloody Mary in front of me with a resounding thump.

“For the record, if you don’t tell us, I’ll do whatever it takes to get the information out of hotshot here. And I can be very persuasive,” Lina promised, a glint in her brown eyes.

Nash leaned in and pressed a hard kiss to her mouth. “Damn right, Angel.”

I should have come here alone. Not that I needed to drink away my feelings or whatever. I just didn’t need to be a fifth wheel in the happily ever after party. Especially not when all I wanted was my own happily ever after. And especially not when I’d just wasted weeks on Lucian Assface Rollins.

I took a sip of my drink. My eyebrows winged up at the spice level. “Nice one, Joel,” I coughed.

Nash plucked his beer off the bar. “In accordance with man code, we’re going to let you talk while we go hustle some bikers over pool.”

“What if I wanna know what shit went down?” Knox asked.

“I’ll give you the short version,” his brother offered.

“I fuckin’ love the short version,” Knox decided. He looked at Joel. “You got ’em?”

“I got ’em,” Joel agreed.

“We don’t need babysitters,” I insisted. “And I don’t need to get anything off my chest.”

But it was too late. Nash and Knox were already sauntering off, drinks in hand.

“I’ll help you get something off your chest.”

I turned on my stool and found a greasy, gold-­toothed guy drowning in gold chains. He leered at my chest.

“Didn’t you hear about the cult?” Stef asked him.

“I don’t mind a girlie who’s whacked in the head.”

“Go away before I make you require an eye patch,” Lina announced.

“Feisty filly,” he said, licking his thin lips.

Joel leaned across the bar just as Nash and Knox started back toward us, but I held up a hand. “Listen, you unshowered, deodorant-­avoiding dumbass. I’m in the market for a husband and kids. So unless you’re willing to start showering, see a dentist, and learn to assemble nursery furniture, I suggest you move along.”

“Nobody ever wants to just have a good time anymore,” he grumbled and wandered off.

“That’s because all good times must come to an end, as I recently discovered,” I called after him.

“Okay. Spill it,” Lina insisted, swirling her mediocre scotch around the glass.

“It’s time,” Naomi squeezed my hand.

“Or we’re just going to speculate wildly,” Stef added.

“It’s not just my story,” I said. Even though Lucian was a big, dumb, well-­hung idiot, I couldn’t share his part of the story.

“Then just tell us your part.”

I took a bracing gulp of vodka and tomato juice.


“They arrested Lucian?” Naomi gasped.

I’d told them a heavily redacted version that included no details of what Lucian’s father had put him through. But even this edited version induced rage.

Lina slapped the bar. “Pardon my language but what in the fucking fuck?”

“I never liked that Wylie guy,” Stef slurred.

My friends were a little bit tipsy, which made them an even more enthusiastic audience.

“Wylie Ogden was friends with Lucian’s dad. Ansel told him that Lucian attacked them, and Lucian’s mom backed up his version of the story.”

I stared down at my second, mostly untouched Bloody Mary and decided I didn’t want it anymore.

“That’s horrible,” Naomi said.

“He blamed me. I’d promised I wouldn’t call the police, and then I did.”

“Sometimes the right thing to do is also the wrong one,” Stef said philosophically.

“You had your reasons,” Lina said, reaching out and grasping my hand. Alcohol made her more affectionate.

“May I have some napkins, Joel?” Naomi asked, a tear sliding down her cheek.

Knox looked up from the pool table and glared. His husband radar was top notch. Naomi gave him a watery smile and a wave before blowing her nose on a cocktail napkin.

“What happened next?” Lina demanded.

“My dad went down to the station to try to get Lucian released, but Lucian’s dad insisted on pressing charges. They were going to charge him as an adult. My dad kept fighting for him, but I felt so guilty. It was my fault he was in there in the first place. And I knew he’d be terrified that something was going to happen to his mom. So I decided to fix it.”

“Uh-­oh,” Stef said.

Lina covered her eyes with her hand. “Oh God. What did you do?”

“I decided that I needed irrefutable evidence.”

Naomi groaned. “This is going to go horribly wrong, isn’t it?”

“Let’s just say I achieved my objectives.”

“At what cost?” Lina asked.

I looked down at my right hand and flexed my fingers. “Ansel Rollins caught me recording him at the window and broke my wrist in three places.”

Stef held up his hand. “I think we’re gonna need some shots here, Joel.”

“It was fine,” I assured them, even though bile rose in my throat. “Not only did I get him on camera, but a neighbor saw him come after me. No friendship could keep him out of jail with that kind of evidence. Lucian was released the next morning. But not before he missed his own high school graduation.” I looked at Lina. “I think that was the moment Nash decided to become a cop. He saw how easily the bad ones could hurt good people and decided to fix it from the inside.”

She sighed and looked moonily toward Nash, who was bent over the pool table, his spectacular ass on display. “My fiancé is the most amazing man.”

“With the most amazing ass,” I added, admiring the view.

She snickered. “It’s true. If I weren’t me, I’d hate me.”

“How did Lucian feel about…everything?” Naomi asked.

“You’d have to ask him. He got out of county lockup, we fought, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.”

“What the hell did you fight about? He should have been worshipping the ground you walked on,” Lina pointed out.

“You’re not only beautiful, you’re also incredibly astute,” I told her.

“I know,” she said with a wink.

“And you’re stalling,” Naomi pointed out.

“You guys are supposed to be too drunk to follow the story by this point,” I complained.

“We had two drinks each,” Lina said smugly.

“We just wanted you to feel safe opening up,” Naomi added.

“Sucker,” Stef teased.

“You sneaky, conniving, sober—­”

“Compliment us later. What did you fight about when Lucian was released?” Lina said.

“He accused me of ruining his life and being selfish and stupid. I accused him of being ungrateful and stubborn. It went downhill from there.”

“Well, you sure as hell didn’t ruin his life. You’re a goddamn hero,” Lina said, tipping her glass in my direction.

“There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity,” I admitted.

“So he goes all dick mode on you for the rest of your lives?” Stef asked.

“Not to side with the enemy, but I can see it from his perspective. A little. Even though he’s very, very wrong,” Naomi amended when Lina and I whipped around to pin her with twin glares.

“What’s his perspective?” I asked, trying to sound casual.

She shrugged daintily. “He was a seventeen-­year-­old boy who felt responsible for keeping his mother safe. That’s a heavy burden for a grown adult, let alone a teenager. I’d guess this was an escalating situation that he’d dealt with on his own for a long time, and that kind of long-­term trauma can take a toll. He probably saw you and your parents as some kind of idealized version of a family he could never have.”

I snorted. “That’s just stupid.”

“As stupid as deciding to make yourself the target of a raging alcoholic with a history of violence?” Lina pointed out.

“Hey!”

She held up her hands. “Don’t get me wrong. Team Sloane all day every day. But Witty over here paints an empathetic picture.”

I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter. We’re not teenagers anymore. We’re adults. It’s our job to learn more and do better. But he hasn’t changed. He gets all alpha over some pile of dead rats. You know the drill, ‘You’re not staying here alone’ blah blah blah. Then the next morning, he says he wasted enough of his life with a woman who didn’t care about self-­preservation and that he’s not going to do it again.”

“Ouch,” Naomi winced.

“He said what?” Knox sounded pissed off and baffled at the same time.

I hadn’t noticed he and Nash return.

“Fucking idiot,” Nash muttered.

“Where did he go that morning?” Lina asked, her eyes on her fiancé.

“He came to see me,” Nash said evenly.

Knox slapped his brother in the chest. “Did you make him dump her?”

“Ow!” Nash rubbed his pectoral. “Watch the bullet hole.”

“There was no one to dump because we weren’t together,” I said despite the fact that no one seemed to be listening.

“Hotshot, you’ve got some explaining to do,” Lina said.

Nash sighed. “He wanted to know what we’d found about the threats. I told him what we had. Then he wanted to know my theories. So I told him.”

“And what were those theories?” I demanded.

“That either you pissed someone off over late fees or some shit, or maybe the timing meant there was a possibility you were being targeted because of your relationship with Lucian.”

“Once again, I don’t have a relationship with Lucifer. Second, we were sneaking around. No one knew we were not having a relationship. And third, I’m nothing to him. No one would try to manipulate him by threatening me because he literally doesn’t care.”

“That’s bullshit,” Knox said, tucking his wife under his arm.

Nash nodded. “Agreed.”

“Gotta side with the testosterone twins,” Stef said, hooking his thumb in their direction.

“They know something,” Lina said, narrowing her eyes.

I crossed my arms. “Then they better say it.”

The brothers shared a look.

“Uh-­uh. None of that telepathic guy code,” I insisted.

Nash cleared his throat. “Evidence suggests otherwise.”

“What evidence specifically?” Naomi pressed.

“When you blew into town and needed money, Lucy coughed up half the cash to fund the grant that paid your salary,” Knox announced.

“How do you know that?” Naomi asked him.

“Because I paid the other half,” he said.

Naomi sighed. “Just when I think I couldn’t love you any more than I already do.”

I slapped the bar. “Hang on. You’re saying I didn’t earn that grant? That you two bozos just decided to give the library the money?”

Knox shrugged. “We heard the funding you applied for wasn’t gonna come through. So we made it happen another way.”

“That’s very generous of you,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Uh-­oh. Sloane’s going to explode,” Stef observed.

“No, I’m not.” The effort to keep from shouting made my throat hurt. “Why would he do that? He’s always hated me.”

“No, he hasn’t,” Lina and Naomi insisted together.

“At the risk of breaking man code, let me tell you a story about Lucian’s bike,” Nash said.

“I don’t care about Lucian’s bike,” I snapped. “I want to know why the guy who told me I wasn’t worth his time because I’d ruined his life would dump money into a cause I care about.”

“It’s a metaphor,” Nash promised. “Luce’s aunt and uncle who lived in California got him this sweet mountain bike for his thirteenth birthday. He loved that thing. Rode it everywhere. Washed it every other day. Two weeks after he got it, Ansel got pissed at him for not taking the trash out or mowing the lawn crooked or some shit like that. He took the bike out of the garage, threw it in the driveway, and then backed over it with his truck.”

I rolled my wrist. Apparently time didn’t heal all wounds.

“That’s horrible,” Naomi said.

Knox handed her a fresh napkin. “Do not fucking cry, Daze.”

“His aunt and uncle must have heard about it because they sent Lucian another bike. He hid it at our place in the shed. He only rode it when he came over. He never once took it into town or anywhere his dad might see him on it,” Nash explained.

Knox frowned. “I remember that.”

I didn’t want to feel sorry for Lucian. Not right now.

“So he protected it by hiding it from his dad,” Lina said. “That’s a spot-­on metaphor, hotshot.”

“I do what I can,” he said with a flirty wink.

I shook my head. “Yeah, okay. He was thirteen and living under the thumb of a god-­awful monster. But what’s his excuse now?”

“How the hell should we know?” Knox said.

“Sounds like the guy you’re not worried about didn’t grow up with any kind of emotional support to show him what it’s like to be a real man in a real relationship,” Joel said, magically appearing behind the bar. “A guy like that might think the only way he can keep something safe is by keeping his distance.”

I didn’t want a reason to empathize with the man who was currently fucking his way through the beautiful female philanthropic geniuses in the District of Columbia. I wanted to forget that Lucian Rollins existed.

I held up a finger in Nash’s face. “First, you are hereby not allowed to discuss anything regarding me, including any past, present, or future threats.”

“Noted.”

“Second, who the hell would be targeting me to get to Lucian? A discarded lover? Some politician he put into office?”

He shrugged. “Possibly. Or maybe someone like Anthony Hugo. An enemy with the resources to dig into exactly who and what Lucian is doing.”

“Well, that puts a fucking damper on things,” Stef said, breaking the ensuing silence.

“Look. Right now, we don’t know who it is. So it’s smarter to be vigilant,” Nash explained.

“Then why the fuck isn’t Luce being vigilant here?” Knox demanded.

Nash shrugged. “Because he’s a dumbass? Did you at least install the new cameras you said you were going to get?”

“Waylay came over last weekend and helped me order everything,” I told him. “Now can we please change the subject and start in on Stef for still not telling Jeremiah he’s ready to move in together?”


Assface: How did it go with the judge?

Assface: Holly brought in gas station sushi to share. The entire office smells like listeria.

Assface: I’m making an effort here. You could at least pretend to have the maturity of an adult and respond.


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