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Wretched: Chapter 28


S: She’s safe. At my place and asking to see you.

Relief flows through me and gratitude filters into the cracks for Seth. I’ve been a shitty partner but more than that I’ve been an awful friend, taking out my personal issues on him when out of everyone in my life he’s the only one who has my back.

He’s never done me dirty and I’m repaying him by exploding in fits of anger and going behind his back, hooking up with the one girl I promised him wasn’t a problem.

She is a problem. And that’s never been as clear as an hour ago when I walked into her father’s hotel room and saw marks on her skin.

My vision bled red, and it took everything inside of me not to cause a scene. I know she can take care of herself, but it doesn’t mean she should have to.

I turn to Zeke just as he flips the key in the ignition, the rumble of his car coming to life. We’re making a quick run to the store, grabbing some food and more cigars for Farrell.

“I need you to take me somewhere.”

He glares at me, his hand pausing on the gearshift. “Sorry?”

“It’s been a minute since I’ve checked in with my guys, so I need you to take me there,” I repeat.

His cheeks grow ruddy as he looks at me incredulously. “The fuck I am.”

Impatience wrings my muscles. “It’s not a suggestion.”

Ever since my failed attempt, the need to see Rose in person has only grown stronger. To see with my own two eyes that she’s thriving without me.

That she’s still sober.

Grabbing the phone, I call Seth who picks up on the second ring.


“I’m coming over.”

“Hey, buddy. Nice to hear from you. I’m good, thanks.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Shit, sorry. I’m in a bit of a time crunch, but I need to… I need to see her.”

The line grows silent. “You sure that’s a good idea?”

“No,” I reply. “But you said to tell you if shit was getting real. Shit’s getting real and I need to talk to her.”

“Alright, man. We’ll be here.”

Nodding, I blow out a breath. “Thank you.”

Ten minutes later, I have Zeke pull into a gas station three blocks from Seth’s house. He may be working for us, but that doesn’t mean I trust him with knowledge of where a federal agent lives. “You can wait here. I’ll be quick.”

“When is this shit gonna be over?” he questions.

I had already started to get out of the car, but I sit back down, turning toward him. “When you get me the supplier.”

His face drops. “Oh, fuck off. That wasn’t the deal, and you know what? Even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you.”

He slams his fist against the steering wheel, the horn beeping so loudly it makes my insides jump. “I feel like shit, okay? The guilt’s fuckin’ eating me alive.”

I shrug, even though I relate to his words more than I care to admit. “That sounds like a personal problem, Zeke.”

He breathes out an empty laugh. “You can pretend you don’t care. Play the part of the big federal agent coming in to put away the bad guys. But I see you.”

My heart stalls. “See what, exactly?”

“You know why Skip came to me all those years ago, wanting to team up and rebuild my father’s legacy? It wasn’t because of who I was… not fully anyway. My father was king of the jungle, not me. I never got that gene, the one where you can climb to the top and not be afraid of the fall.” He taps his fingers to his temple. “But I’m perceptive, and that shit’s valuable in this life.”

I shift in my seat.

“Turnin’ on the Westerlys?” He shakes his head, his tongue pressing against the front of his teeth. “I’ll have to live with that shit for the rest of my life. And you can say I’m doing the right thing all you want, but the truth is, it doesn’t feel right. It feels like the easy way out.” He stares at me. “And whatever it is you’re doin’? There won’t be an easy way out for you. You understand? You’re fuckin’ with the wrong woman.”

And I know without a doubt, right then, he’s talking about Eveline.

I smirk, but my insides are reeling. “Stay in the car. I won’t be long.”

“Yeah, whatever.” He focuses out the driver’s side window.

I jump up from the seat, slamming the door behind me. I don’t have time to worry about Eveline and the mistakes I’m making when it comes to her, or how things will end. Right now, I need to focus on my real life; the one that’s looking blurry, like I’m staring in a rearview mirror.

The walk is quick and before long I’m standing at the base of a hill with a steep drive, a small ranch-style home with blue shutters on the windowsill staring back at me. I make my way up the steps and Seth opens the door before I even knock, reaching out and dragging me in for a hug. “What’s good, bro?”

“Where is she?” I ask, pulling back.

He nods toward the back hallway, rubbing his neck. “In the spare room.”

My stomach flips as I make my way to where Rose is, and I push open the door, my muscles relaxing when I see her, legs crossed in the middle of the bed. She has headphones in her ears and when she opens her eyes and locks them on me, they narrow.

Before I can get a word out, she stands up, walks over, and slaps me across the face.

Pain shoots up my cheek and I cover the spot trying to soothe the burn. “Ouch, what the fuck?”

She points a skinny finger at me. “That’s for making me come here.”

I groan. “Please don’t start with your shit, Rose. I need you to do this for me, just until I’m back.”

She rips the headphones from her ears and tosses them on the bed before throwing her hands on her hips. “And how long will that be, Nick?”

The name is a jolt to my system, and I blink at her as I absorb the blow.

Her brows rise, the anger fading from her features, being replaced with something softer, something more like concern.

“Are you alright?” she asks.

I nod, gritting my teeth. No. “Yeah.”

Her eyes flit over my face and she bobs her head. “Okay. I’ll stay.”

Relief pours through me and I move to the left wall, shoving my hands in my pockets. “I want to know how you’re doing. You seeing your sponsor?”

She sighs, reaching behind her and grabbing a pillow to throw at my head. “I haven’t seen you in three months and this is the first thing out of your mouth?”

“You smacked me.” I duck, chuckling. “I just worry is all.”

“Yeah… I know.” She nods, her fingers traipsing up her arm. “I actually found a new job.”

“No shit?”

Her face perks up. “Just basic level data entry for some rich guy who has a bunch of apps, but it’s nice.” She grins. “It feels good.”

Contentment flows through me, happy that she seems to be happy. I glance behind her, seeing it’s been thirty minutes since I left Zeke. My stomach cramps, knowing I need to get back.

“I gotta go, kid.”

She crosses her arms. “You just got here.”

“Yeah, well… it’s a miracle I could even stop by in the first place.”

She brings her fingers up to her mouth, chewing on the ends of her nails as she walks over to me, linking our arms together and walking us back out to the front room.

I’m only there for another ten minutes, just long enough to brief Seth and say a quick goodbye.

When Rose falls into my arms, she hugs me tighter than normal, resting her head against my chest. “Promise me you’re safe?”

I swallow, hating that I have to lie to her. Hating that I have to lie to everyone. “I promise.”

“Love you.” She squeezes tight and then lets go.

“Love you too, kid.” I smile down at her.

She rolls her eyes. “I’m your elder.”

I shrug, grabbing her into a headlock, and giving her a noogie, joy sparking in my chest when she fights against my hold.

This is what I needed. A reminder that while I feel like a fraud in a sea full of people, she’s here, waiting for me to come back home.


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