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Ruin You (The Debt #3)
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The only thing that stands in the way of my revenge is her.
The lying scheming daughter of the man who killed my parents. She has the secrets I need to bring down her father.
And I’ll do anything to get them. I will lie to her. Steal from her. Use her.
It helps that our chemistry is explosive.
What I’m not expecting is for her to be so sweet. And so strong.
After so many years of lying and hiding, I finally have a place to call home. With people I can call a family. The Paintbrush Inn is my life now, and I won’t let anyone ruin it.
When sexy and world-weary Simon checks in to the Inn, I never expect him to glance my way. I’ve spent my whole life blending into the background. Being overlooked and ignored. It’s been helpful, even though it’s lonely. And he’s way out of my league.
But our attraction is powerful. Undeniable.
Because I can’t let anyone close. If the secrets I keep were to be revealed, my whole life would be destroyed. But something about Simon makes me break all my own rules. I’m letting him in to my home, my body, my life, never expecting he has his own secrets.
His own lies.
When the truth comes out, we’ll both be ruined.
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San Francisco Civic Center
Eight years ago
The knife is heavy in my pocket. It burns with its own heat. Pounds with its own pulse. It’s alive against my palm. And I can’t quite believe I’m doing this. Part of me is ice cold with fear and doubt and…fear. Mostly fear. So much fucking fear.
Mom, I think. Because I’m scared and I’m seventeen and missing her is a bitter taste in my mouth that doesn’t let me sleep. Or think. Or eat. It barely lets me breathe.
Mom. Mom. Mom.
The thought of her…of her rattling breath from the hospital bed we put in our living room, her fragile skin tearing at a touch, the sourness of her body as she lay dying. My beautiful, wild, fierce mother reduced to a paper husk.
All preventable. All for nothing.
The injustice of it, the wrongness of it, that my mother is underground, my father next to her, while Dale Simpson just got exonerated for his crimes…
Vengeance and fury and righteousness; it’s a wildfire in me, burning down my doubt. Clearing out my fear.
Dad, I think, I’ll finish what you started.
I’ll make you proud.
No one notices me as I walk through the crowd. A seventeen-year-old kid wearing a jacket in the gray drizzle of a San Francisco afternoon. Like a ghost I ease between people standing outside the courthouse waiting for Dale Simpson to come out and make a statement.
To lift his hands in the air in triumph, to say something so vile and repugnant about the nature of the free market and the cost of doing business.
That’s when I’m going to run up the steps and stab him.
Without warning, tears are pouring down my face. A nerves thing. An anger thing. I can’t stop them and my ghost status changes. People notice me.
I wipe my face with my sleeve, my other hand in the pocket, holding the knife.
You don’t even know how to hold the fucking thing.
That voice, reasonable and so sure, is not helping. It’s the last tantrum being thrown by my logic. My better sense.
You really think this, THIS, is going to make Dad proud? Who the hell are you kidding? Acing the AP physics test you have next week, that will make him proud. Writing that essay for the state competition. THAT will make him proud.
And what’s the best-case scenario, the voice continues. You manage, through a miracle, to actually kill Simpson and then what? You get shot immediately? You think they’re going to ask questions first?
You die and all your parents’ dreams die, too.
For a second I think I’m going to throw up. For a second my throat is clogged and my eyes stream and I miss my parents so much it’s a weight pushing me down and I stop to catch my breath, bracing myself against a garbage can.
And what about your aunt? And school? What about college? Law school?
Worrying about those things — my future — feels selfish. Because my parents are dead and someone should do something.
And the only someone who can do something is me.
Their only son.
And part of me knows I’m going to fail.
Part of me knows I’m too much of a coward.
A crowd is gathering around me and I’m about ten feet from the steps of the courthouse. It’s the third courthouse. The first two were destroyed, the first in a fire, the second in an earthquake.
We came here on a field trip in seventh grade.
Nausea rolls through me again.
“You okay?” a voice asks and I look up to see a girl standing on the other side of the garbage can. She’s wearing a sweatshirt like mine and for a second, ridiculously, I wonder if she’s got a knife in her pocket, too.
“Don’t I look okay?” I ask, reaching for a joke. I’m pretty confident she can tell I’m crying. There is probably snot everywhere.
“You look like shit,” she says and I glance at her face. She’s my age, maybe a little older. Her cheeks are thin and her skin clear. She’s not wearing makeup and her blonde hair is pulled back behind her ears, revealing a port-wine birthmark on her neck. She’s not looking at me; she’s looking at the steps of the courthouse where someone wearing black is setting up a microphone.
And if I look like shit, she…she looks like fury personified. Her pale cheeks are bright red and her hand is white-knuckled on the garbage can. She’s vibrating, she’s so wound up. She’s tiny, physically. Skinny and short with small features and small hands. But still somehow huge.
“You okay?” I ask her, because it’s like standing next to a grenade with the pin pulled. I’m the guy with the fucking knife and she seems more dangerous.
“No,” she says. Her lips are kind of amazing. Like one of those dolls, the top one bigger than the bottom one. In another life, another situation, I might think she is cute. I might try to make another joke to see if she liked her boys smart and nerdy.