Echo:A Dark Billionaire Romance(2)

By: A Zavarelli

Brayden sighed in frustration. We’d been over this a thousand times, but I didn’t care. I needed to believe this wasn’t happening.

“Everything they say is true, Brighton. I know you don’t want to believe it, but you have to. I killed that family. I ran them off the road, and then I left them there to die. And now I’m going away because that’s what I deserve.”

My chest constricted, and I fought for air as I forced my gaze to the ground. It wasn’t true. I hated him for saying these things. I knew it couldn’t be true. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run away and take him with me. Away from the horrible media and all of the darkness that surrounded us. But I couldn’t.

“You need to let go of whatever hope you’re holding onto,” he said softly. “I need you to promise me that you’ll be strong, and you will do what I asked.”

I couldn’t be strong. But I didn’t need him worrying about me anymore. Brayden would need to worry about himself where he was going.

“If that’s what you think is best,” I said. “I’ll leave as soon as I can. I promise.”

He nodded and glanced around the room, no doubt looking for our absent mother. “And one more thing,” he said quietly. “I’m not asking you to take care of Norma-Jean, but will you just… try to look out for each other?”

I swallowed down the lump in my throat and nodded. Norma-Jean was all I had left now. Talk about depressing. “You know I will.”

He released me with a sigh and gestured to the back porch. “Why don’t you go do your thing, get some fresh air for a bit. These guys won’t be here too much longer.”

I gave him a watery smile and retreated on wobbly legs to the door. Escaping the acrid stench of cigarette smoke and sympathetic glances would do me some good.

As I stole onto the deck, the summer air clung to my skin, pungent with the aroma of Lilacs in full bloom. Two rickety lawn chairs and a small table were all that adorned this space. But if I had a favorite place in the whole world, this would be it.

This was my thinking spot. Where I’d spent countless hours questioning and evaluating my life and all the people in it. It was my safe haven, my sanctuary. I didn’t have anything else like it, and I was fiercely protective of it.

So when I caught someone else sitting in my chair, playing with my Rubik’s cube, I came to a dead halt. I didn’t recognize him, but I assumed he was one of Brayden’s friends. He had to be if he was here tonight.

Why he was touching my cube, or sitting in my chair, I didn’t know. But it irritated me. Didn’t he realize this was the only good thing I had in my life?

His masculine fingers moved the pieces of the cube around with a precision and grace that disarmed me. After having that cube for six years, I’d still never figured it out. I lingered awkwardly in place, one foot still paused mid-stride as I debated my next move. His concentration was so focused on the game, I doubted he knew I existed at all. I was half-tempted to tell him to go inside, but that would be rude. And I was never rude.

I was the good girl. The glue that held the family together. The peacemaker. The one who kept her thoughts to herself and never stepped out of line. That was my role, and I’d accepted it long ago. But for just one night, I wished I could be someone else. Someone who spoke her mind and didn’t care if she hurt someone’s feelings.

Could I do that to a complete stranger?

I stole a glance at the man’s profile, trying to make out his features in the shadows. He wore nice clothing. The kind of blue jeans and soft grey tee shirt that were artfully faded to look casual. They weren’t fooling me, though. I may have lived in a trailer park, but even I knew what those clothes really smelled like. Money.

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