Home > Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)(5)

Dignity (The Breaking Point #2)(5)
Author: Jay Crownover

Sucking in a breath, I pushed my bangs back from my face and gave myself a mental shake. So, I’d struck out with Stark. I knew there was no guarantee he was going to help me out, but that didn’t mean I was willing to walk away from this fatal game of hide and seek I’d started. The Mayor didn’t get to sit in his mansion and chase little girls while his corrupt city burned. Someone had to hold him accountable, and even though this situation sucked and was scary as hell, that someone was going to be me.

I quickly walked back down the front steps of the townhouse, pulling my beanie out of my pocket and slapping it back on my head as I went. I tucked all my hair up in the cap and stopped at the line of decorative hedges that dotted the front of the property so I could pick up my backpack from where I stashed it. Everything I owned was in that camo knapsack, and I felt naked without it. I also paused long enough to pull on a hoodie that was two sizes too big and covered me almost to my knees. No more minimal cleavage on display and no more pretending that my limited feminine wiles would get me anywhere with the moody, distant, computer genius. His heart was missing, and in its place was a processor that did nothing more than calculate and compute.

Sighing and lost in thought, I wasn’t being as careful as I should have been as I walked across manicured lawns and cut across driveways full of expensive cars. I wasn’t blending in or sticking to the shadows like normal because I was in such a hurry to leave Stark, and my disappointment in him, behind.

I was almost out of the subdivision, almost back to the main road that led into the Point, when I heard sirens and realized the blue and red flashing lights were for me. I was so close to the road—near plenty of gullies and ditches to slither through. The road that was relatively safe. I was so close to getting away. I’d never been a fan of law and order, but now that there was a price on my head, I’d done my best to avoid any kind of law enforcement or people in uniform. Too many were in the Mayor’s back pocket. I’d let desperation cloud my judgment. I should have known the police would be present in a nice neighborhood like this. It was their job to keep out people like me.

I contemplated dropping my backpack and making a run for it, but the cop car was too close and I didn’t, for one second, doubt that whomever was driving would put a bullet in me to slow me down.

Swearing, I slowed and lifted my hands to face the burly, mean-looking cop. He climbed out of the car, one hand on the grip of his gun, the other on his phone. I had a sinking suspicion every cop in the city had my picture and a basic description of me. They were all looking, and like a dumb ass, I put myself right in their line of sight.

“Can I help you, Officer?” I tried to keep my voice calm, but there was a thread of fear in it that I couldn’t hide.

“Got a complaint about a trespasser.” He was lying. I hadn’t been here long enough for anyone to complain, and even if Stark wasn’t my biggest fan, there was no way he would turn me in. I wasn’t sure how I knew when everything else I thought I knew about him turned out to be so wrong, but I knew it all the way to my bones.

“Well, I was just visiting a friend. I’m on my way back to the Point right now. I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding.”

He grunted and looked from his phone toward me and back. I knew he was checking my image against one on that little screen, and I also knew if I went anywhere with him, no one would ever see me alive again.

Throwing my backpack to the ground, I turned and started to run.

I had no idea where I was going. I had no idea what I was doing.

All I knew was that I couldn’t let that cop get his hands on me.

I made it across one more yard before I felt a lightning bolt blast through my body. It was like being tackled by a charging rhinoceros. I screamed and screamed and screamed, but the sounds of the traffic coming from the road, from freedom, drowned out my sounds of agony as the cop hit me with another charge from his Taser. I laid on the ground twitching, spasming out of control, watching in dread as his black boots got closer.

The last thought I had before everything faded away was . . . help . . . but like always, no one was there to offer it.

I was alone.

 

 

Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 

Stark

Fourteen fucking days later . . .

I couldn’t stop staring at that battered, torn, duct-taped backpack. It had been sitting on my coffee table for two weeks. Fourteen days. Each one of them seemingly longer than the one before. Each one dragging, endless, as I waited for information. I spent hour after hour calling myself every kind of asshole and was pretty sure I had given myself an ulcer and gray hair from the guilt that was tearing my insides apart. That backpack and the person it belonged to were forcing me to feel . . . more than I’d allowed myself to feel in years.

She needed help and I turned her away.

I told her no, shut the door on her pretty, hopeful face like it was nothing, because I wanted to convince myself I felt nothing. I was a void, a wasteland, a dry and arid desert. But I told her no, and now that empty, open space was flooded with the worst kind of emotion. Guilt. Raw, unrelenting guilt.

No one would have known that I had pulled the door open a few minutes later and tried to chase her down and tell her I was sorry for being a dick, but I was too late. Noe was gone. Vanished. Disappeared. The only sign that she’d really been on my doorstep, dark eyes wide with fear, was the backpack I found in the yard a few houses down from mine. It was the same one she’d clutched like a lifeline when I dragged her to meet Nassir. She wouldn’t leave it behind. Not when it was all she had.

Someone took her and it was all my fault.

Once again, I let someone down who thought they could rely on me. The girl before Noe had kept the fact she needed my help, needed me, hidden. I thought I knew her better than I knew myself, but I was wrong, and that mistake cost me everything that mattered. And yet, Noe had been right in my face with her desperation and fear, and I’d still walked away.

I failed to protect someone who was smaller, softer, and far more defenseless than I was . . . again. I didn’t need the reminder that if something didn’t have a motherboard and a Wi-Fi connection, I had no clue what to do with it.

I swore and kicked the leg of the expensive table that sat in front of my equally expensive couch. Half empty beer bottles toppled over, one spilling onto the keyboard of my open laptop. Typically, the sight of one of my babies getting destroyed would make my head explode, but not today. Not until I found out where Noe was. Not until I had her back and knew she was safe. That was the only thing that mattered at the moment. Not the couple of grand I just annihilated with the remnants of a stale beer that I couldn’t even bother to clean up, and not the fact that I now owed the Devil more than a simple favor or two. Selling your soul for a shot at redemption didn’t come cheap.

I was in so deep, I couldn’t even see the sunshine anymore. It didn’t matter, because he promised me he would do whatever he could to get her back. I tried not to cringe when I remembered the hard warning look in Nassir Gates’s amber eyes as he told me it might be her body we got back and nothing else.

I couldn’t think about that. I was good at shutting away whatever I was feeling, locking it down, and pretending like I was immune to basic feelings and reactions. I’d lost the other half of myself, the one thing that kept me human and functioning, so it was easy to pull anything that threatened my tenuous hold on sanity away from the tender places that remained inside of me. I was made of things that were hard, cold, industrial, and it allowed me to feel nothing. Steel, iron, wires, and gears. There wasn’t anything empathetic or gentle left. All of that had died when my twin sister did.

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