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Wretched: Chapter 36

NICHOLAS

My cover’s blown.

Obviously. So I’m officially pulled from the case, and now I’m sulking in my apartment—my real apartment—the decision on whether to tell my department everything I know sitting so heavy on my chest that I can’t breathe.

Last night, I had made the decision, sure I was doing the right thing no matter how much it hurt. No matter how much it tasted like I was betraying the only person who had never let me down. But when I stared Seth in the face, I couldn’t push the words off my tongue. And when Eveline busted down the door and looked at me as though I had killed her spirit?

That’s when I knew.

I would pick her a thousand times over even if it meant rotting in hell.

I let her walk back out of the door, because I don’t deserve to keep her, and I broke down telling Seth everything. Everything except who the supplier is. Then I came home to my sister, not knowing where else to go.

Rose sits at the small round table across from me, a steaming cup of tea in her hands. She purses her lips as she watches me. “You look like shit.”

“Feel worse,” I grunt.

She sets down the mug, reaching out to grab the top of my hand. “Well, it’s good to have you home.”

I run my fingers through my hair, the cavity in my chest rattling. “Yeah. Feels good to be here.”

Except it doesn’t feel good, because this doesn’t feel like home anymore. I don’t think I knew what home was until I found it in her.

“You wanna talk about it?” Rose asks.

“Have you ever been in love?” I blurt.

She sits back in her chair, her red brows shooting up. “Uh…yeah.”

I look up at her. “What’s it feel like?”

“So that’s what this is,” she breathes. “A broken heart.”

Is it? I laugh, bending until my forehead rests on the table. “No, I just… I don’t know.”

She takes a sip of her tea. “I get it, dude. Love fucking sucks.”

“How do you know it’s real?” I whisper, stomach twisting.

“Does it hurt?”

“Like a bitch.”

She smacks her lips. “Then it’s real.”

I don’t say anything, just roll my head back and forth against the cool wood, hoping somehow it will reach inside me and soothe the burn.

“So who fucked it up, you or her?”

“Her. Me.” Another empty laugh pours from my mouth and I sit back up, tugging on the roots of my hair. “I don’t fucking know.”

Rose sips from her tea. “Who is she?”

“She’s this woman—”

“Yeah, I got that,” she cuts in.

I smile softly, biting down the pain that’s breaking me apart when I picture Eveline’s face.

“She’s… she’s everything.” I shake my head. “But she’s not a good person.”

Rose hums. “I find it hard to believe my brother would fall for someone who isn’t worth loving.”

The back of my throat swells until it burns.

“Does she love you?”

“She said she does… did. But I don’t know.” I shrug. “It’s fast.”

Rose’s nails tap against the side of her cup. “You know, I’ve never thanked you for saving me.”

“Don’t thank me,” I mutter.

She swipes her hand in the air. “Don’t do that martyr shit with me, Nicholas.”

“I’m not.” I scoff.

“You always do,” she says. “You’ve shouldered the blame for every single thing that’s happened in our lives when none of it was your fault.” She leans in, her eyes sharp as they stare into mine. “Do you hear me? None of it.”

I press my lips together, trying to hold back the sob that wants to escape.

Her eyes water. “I’m the older sibling. I’m supposed to be the one to protect you. And if you don’t know what it feels like to be loved, then clearly, I failed in that.”

“No,” I say. “The people who put that poison on the streets failed us both. You did the best you could.”

“And you’re doing the best you can too,” she replies.

“Am I? It’s my job to stop them. How can I live with myself for loving someone that represents everything I lost?”

“Oh, Nick,” Rose sighs, resting her chin in her hand. “Did you know I sold once upon a time?”

The breath whooshes out of me and I collapse against the back of my chair. “You… what?”

She nods. “Yeah. I was fucked up, and desperate, and sometimes, it was the only way I could keep enough in my pockets to survive.”

“You were sick. It wasn’t your fault.”

“I knew exactly what I was doing.” She wipes the tears from her cheeks. “Do you hate me now?”

Grabbing her fingers across the table, I squeeze. “Of course not.”

“Right. Because I’m still me.” She sniffs. “We’re all just out here living, you know? Roaming under clouds that are a thousand different shades of gray. But you can’t help who you love, Nick.”

Nodding, I stare down at the table, my rusted heart trying like hell to pump in my chest.

“I’ve watched you exist for a long time now. You go through the motions and you… you pour yourself into your career, trying to make up for mistakes that were never your weight to bear in the first place.”

My bottom lip trembles and I grit my teeth.

“You aren’t to blame for the decisions other people made. The decisions I made.”

I meet her gaze.

“And neither is she.”


“You sure about this?” Seth asks, his tone low and deep.

I blink at him, not saying a word—not having any words—because what else is there?

What’s left for me to say?

I spin around in the desk chair I haven’t sat in for months, staring down at the few framed accolades and the screensaver dancing across the monitor. It feels foreign, as though Nick Woodsworth doesn’t really exist. Like he never really did.

It’s funny how something that felt so intrinsic to who I was for so many years, now feels like a stranger.

“I’m sure,” I reply.

Seth leans on the edge of the gray cubicle wall, nodding. “You know it won’t change much. We won’t stop the case, not until we find what we’re looking for.”

I swallow around the knowledge I’m keeping close to my chest, and I stand up, grabbing my badge and my gun, knowing they’ll need them back when I resign. “I know.”

“Want me to come with you to tell him?” he asks.

“Woodsworth. Adams. My office, now,” Cap’s voice yells out.

I grin at Seth. “Looks like you don’t have a choice.”

Seth’s hand meets my shoulder and squeezes, holding me in place. “I’m your partner, but more than anything, I’m your friend. Professionally, I can’t condone what you’re doing.” He pauses, a slight smile lining the corners of his mouth. “But personally… it makes me happy as hell to see the man behind the machine.”

He walks away before I can say anything back, but his words ache in the deepest parts of me. I’d give anything to go back to how I used to be, because this feeling now? It fucking sucks.

And I don’t know if it will ever go away.

I follow Seth down the narrow aisle through the cubicles and head into Cap’s office, stopping short when I see Oscar Norman, mayor of Kinland, sitting next to another man in a gray suit and mussed up hair.

Cap smiles when we walk in. “Fantastic news, boys. Turns out it doesn’t matter that you fucked up.”

I frown, confused.

“Gentlemen, meet Agent Baum.” Cap nods toward Oscar. “And this is Mayor Norman.”

Agent Baum stands from his chair, reaching out his hand to shake mine, his wire-framed glasses falling slightly down his face. “Nice to meet you.”

“What’s going on?” Seth asks, looking around with a furrowed brow.

Cap nods toward the men. “Agent Baum is with the Chicago division of the FBI. They’ve been building a case against the Westerlys for the past few years, and they’ve had a big break.”

My stomach drops. Fucking FBI.

“And you’re here because?” I jerk my chin toward Oscar.

Agent Baum clears his throat. “The mayor and the commissioner of Kinland recently decided they’d rather cooperate with us than not.” He grins over at him. “Isn’t that right, Oscar?”

Oscar’s lips are pressed tight as he nods.

“He’s been integral in getting us what we need against both the Cantanellis and the Westerlys.”

A light bulb explodes in my brain. The charity on Oscar’s yacht. The meeting. Holy shit.

I whoosh out a breath, sinking into a chair in the corner of the room, my elbows going to my knees as I take in what this means, what they’re saying.

Agent Baum bobs his head. “We appreciate all you’ve done up to this point. I’m here as a favor, to let you know your hard work won’t be forgotten. As soon as you can get us access to all your evidence, the better.”

Seth laughs. “There’s not much we can offer.” He glances at me. “Our focus was on finding the supplier, not building a case for petty crimes. Agent Woodsworth was made before we could find them.”

My leg taps out a nervous rhythm.

Agent Baum grins. “But we did.”


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