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Crash
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Текст книги "Crash"


Автор книги: Nicole Williams






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Jude paused, something so strong going through his mind it was visible on the planes of his face. Finally, he shrugged his shoulder. “Well, whatever it is, it’s just a name.”

“A good one,” dad said, waving a spatula at him. “What’s your last name, Jude?” Dad glanced up as he plated the chicken.

“Ryder, sir.”

“Hmm,” Dad’s forehead wrinkled. “Name isn’t familiar, but you have a face that I feel certain I’ve seen before.”

Jude’s hand tensed around mine. “I get that a lot.”

“Did you grow up around here?”

“I grew up everywhere,” Jude answered, his hand clenching tighter.

“Jude’s family bought the Chadwicks’ place,” I interjected, not sure if it was more for Jude’s or my hand’s benefit. “Maybe that’s why you recognize him.”

Dad mulled this over as he spooned sauce over the plates. “Maybe,” he said to himself. “Maybe not.”

“Can I help you, Dad?” I asked, pulling Jude with me. I was sure if I let his hand go, it might be the last time I’d have it in mine again.

“These two are ready to be set,” he said as he finished saucing the other two. “One thing is for sure, son,” Dad said, patting Jude’s face. “Whether I’ve seen it or not, that is one good looking mug.”

I was used to being embarrassed by my parents, kind of came standard when your father was on the bad side of crazy and your mom was the poster woman for the ice queen, but this was hitting an all time high. Dad, all but stroking Jude’s cheek, dancing around the kitchen wearing the naked bust of an ancient statue, grinning like he was mad as a hatter.

If Jude still wanted to see me tomorrow after tonight’s ordeal, he could handle just about anything else I threw at him. I hoped.

Glancing up at Jude, I found him looking at me, staring at me like he couldn’t help it. Maybe that’s because I could have updated my heritage from Caucasian to Tomato Red.

Peeking back at the door, I looked back to him with expectation. I wouldn’t have blamed him either. As a blood relative of this family, I wanted to escape through that door more than a dozen times a day.

Shaking his head once, he leaned his head down until I could feel his breath hot against my neck. “You can’t get rid of me that easy.”

I was fighting a bad case of full body chills off, but I managed a quick, “Darn.”

“Mags!” dad hollered up that stairs, managing to jolt the hell out of me and rattle the china cabinet at the same time. “Dinner’s on!” He paused at the bottom of the stairs, expecting an answer to which I’d known for a long time he’d never receive. The only human being on earth mom neglected more than myself was my dad. Another second passed before he turned away and headed towards the table where Jude and I were taking our seats.

“I hope you like it,” Dad said as he placed the chicken piccata in front of Jude.

Looking over at me, his eyes all intentional again, Jude replied, “I already do.”




CHAPTER FOUR

I’d always loved a campfire. But a campfire at night, sharing a blanket with Jude squished up beside me, with a parent about to retreat to bed, went beyond love.

This was the campfire to top all campfires.

“Night, kids,” Dad said, stretching as he stood. Dinner had been a pleasant event, thanks to my mom staying locked in her office, giving someone a tongue thrashing through her cell. Dad, odd as he was, was pleasant to be around if you could get past the fact that reality escaped him. I’d managed to accept this as a fact of life, and Jude didn’t seem to have a problem with it either.

“Night, Dad.” My heart was already racing. I knew, once we were alone, something was going to happen. The tension had been that thick between us the past hour as expectant looks, hands playing finger hockey, legs brushing legs, and the unsaid words between us louder than had we spoken them ensued.

“Goodnight, Mr. Larson. Thanks again for dinner,” Jude called after my dad, his hand affixing above my knee.

“I like your dad,” he said as his thumb circled the inside of my leg.

It was impossible to offer any other response than a smile and a nod.

“The verdict’s still out on your mom,” he said, chuckling.

Another nod and smile.

“And I like you,” he said, his voice low. “In fact, I really like you.” Taking his hand from my leg, he lifted it to my face. And then the other. He held me so firmly I couldn’t look anywhere but at him, but gently enough that, had I tried, he would have released me.

“I like you, too.”

Cocking an eyebrow, he waited.

“I really like you,” I added, feeling so many damn sparks I could have ignited any moment.

Grinning, his thumb moved to my mouth. Brushing the line of my lower lip, he studied me like I was something he could possess.

I was all for woman empowerment and all that jazz, but standing in the heat of that touch, I wanted to be possessed in every way another person could possess you.

When I was sure more than a minute had gone by, but lost track of all time other than that, I opened my eyes. His were the lightest shade of gray I’d seen yet. “You can kiss me, Jude.”

I expected just about anything else than his forehead lining as his eyes darkened. “I know I can,” he said, his voice tight. “I’m just not sure if I should.”

The ache that originated at the very core of me began to spread. There was only one way to alleviate it. “You should kiss me, Jude.”

His eyes went another shade darker, but they never looked away from mine. “I shouldn’t,” he said, sliding a hand behind my neck, skimming a finger beneath the collar of my shirt. “But right now, I don’t give a damn.”

His words hadn’t settled on me before his lips did. They were as powerful as his hands, but as gentle at the same time. Parting his lips, his groan rumbled against my chest, and before I had time to process if I should or shouldn’t, I swung my leg over his lap because, beyond every rational reason, I couldn’t be close enough to him.

His tongue against mine, his chest pressed to mine, his hands holding me like they were as hungry as mine were, I wondered if this was one of those moments people looked back on in their darkest days and smiled on. I wouldn’t only be smiling, I’d be cartwheeling from this memory until the day I died.

My hands slipped beneath his shirt, scrolling up his stomach until there was nowhere left to go but down.

“Luce,” he breathed, when my fingers settled on his belt. “Stop.” His hands gripped my hips firmly, but his mouth kept pace with mine again.

“I’ll stop when you stop,” I whispered against his mouth.

“Dammit,” he sighed, pushing against me with his hands, but continuing to welcome me with his lips.

“If you’re done with her, can I have a turn?” a voice suddenly shouted at us from down the beach.

“Shit,” he hissed, lifting me to a stand in one seamless movement.

“What?” I whispered, running my fingers through my make-out hair.

“Go inside, Luce,” he said, situating himself in front of me. “Right now.”

“Why?” I wasn’t going anywhere. Not with a man that could do that to me out here. “Who are they?” I asked as a few dark figures walked up the beach towards us.

Spinning on me, his eyes were so disturbed I couldn’t determine if they were more frantic or manic. “Don’t why me, Lucy Larson. Get your ass inside that house right now.” Grabbing my shoulders, he spun me around, then shoved me in the direction of the cabin. “Right the hell now.”

He had a temper, not a good thing. Because I had one too.

Spinning back around, I glowered up at him. “Don’t you ever push me again!” I shouted. “And don’t you ever tell me what to do.”

Jude’s expression flattened before lining into desperation. “Please, Luce. Just go inside.”

His plea was so raw, his eyes so helpless, I almost did. But then the three figures were upon us.

“You been holding out on us, Jude?” one said, stepping into the firelight. He wasn’t as tall as Jude, but he was stocky. Running his eyes down me like he was peeling off my clothes in the same motion, he said, “You unearth some fresh piece of ass and don’t have the decency to share with your brothers?”

“Brothers?” I whispered this time, letting Jude step in front of me and stay there.

“Metaphorically, baby,” the stocky boy answered. “And brothers that share everything.” Jude’s broad back was the only thing saving me from another eye raping by stocky boy. “Everything,” he repeated, telling a crass story with one word.

“Vince,” Jude said, his voice murder. “Get the hell out of here before I make you.”

Vince laughed. “I know you like yourself a little piece of ass, whether you’re kicking it or screwing it, but I doubt you’d be able to take all three of us down before we took you down.” The two other boys, who must have been twins and hygiene-impaired, stepped into the circle. “Right before we took your girl down. Each took your girl down.”

I should have been terrified. Every survival instinct inside me should have been firing at top speed. Teenage girl had nightmares about situations like this.

But I wasn’t. Whether it was Jude’s balled fists, or the fury rolling off of him, or the fact that my survival instincts took a hiatus, I felt as calm as calm could be.

“Let’s find out how that goes for you,” Jude said, his jaw set. “Come on, you dip-shits. Which one’s going to be the first one to come at me?” Curling his finger at each of them, he waited.

We waited for a while. No one, least of all the stinky twins, looked like they could come away alive, let alone walking, if they came at Jude. From the looks they were shooting at him, you would have thought he was walking death with a pair of fists that packed a powerful punch.

“We’ll leave you alone,” Vince said at last. “Let you finish up what you came here for. One last summer screw.”

Jude made a noise that sounded more animal than man. “That’s a smart move, but isn’t going to save you from catching an ass-whooping the next time I catch up with you.”

“As always, Jude, such a pleasure,” Vince said, following after the twins who were already halfway down the beach. “And a word of advice for you, girly,” he said, stepping to the side so he could look at me. When he did, a smile that was nasty by every definition of the word curled his mouth. “Make sure he uses a condom. You don’t want to catch what that man whore’s got growing down there.”

Jude’s entire body jolted forward, he wanted to chase after those guys and do who knows what to them, but he stopped. Glancing back at me, his shoulders dropped and then his arms relaxed back at his sides.

The man had been insulted in as many ways a man could be, threatened, taunted, and teased, and here he stayed. A foot in front of me. A man who I didn’t doubt could end all three in ten seconds time judging from the rage and confidence I’d witnessed in his eyes.

And he stayed behind with me. Whether to protect me in case the three stooges made a return trip or to pick up right where we’d left off, I wasn’t sure. And I didn’t care.

“Hey, Dickweed!” I yelled at any and all of the trio ambling down the beach. Not able to make out any details, I guessed from them stopping they were looking back my way. I made sure to step into the fire light so they could get my full message. Raising my middle finger, I yelled, “There’s plenty of this to share!”

“What the hell are you doing, Luce?” Jude hissed, pulling me behind him again. I didn’t take Jude for the chivalrous type, but I liked it, more than any woman of the twenty-first century should.

“Not even a fraction of what I’d like to,” I said, as the only reply the three gave me was a chorus of laughter.

“Listen, I dig your spunk and your take no prisoners attitude, I do,” Jude said, turning to face me, “but you don’t mess with people like this.”

“People like this or brothers like this?” I said, so much nervous energy bouncing out of me from the highs and lows of the past ten minutes I didn’t know what to do with it.

Jude sighed.

“Those are your brothers?” I actually said a quick prayer it wasn’t true.

“In a way,” he replied, closing his eyes.

“In what way?”

Opening his eyes, he reached for my hand. “In the way that doesn’t matter.”

“Then screw them,” I said, letting him take my hand when I knew I shouldn’t have before I had some clarification as to who or what he was. “I should have flipped them off again. They’re all bark.”

“No,” he said firmly. “Please, Luce. These are the kind of bastards that have no bark. They sink their teeth into you without any damn warning.” Grabbing my arms, he pulled me close, looking at me like he could force his words to absorb. “Don’t mess with them. If you see them coming down the sidewalk, cross the street.”

This earned an eye-roll from me. Surely he was exaggerating. I didn’t doubt the doofus triplets had done their fair share of pot and defacing public property, but they weren’t ballsy enough to do the stuff that would earn them hard time if they were caught. Coward was stamped across every one of their foreheads.

“Shit, Luce,” Jude said, crossing his arms behind his neck and spinning towards the beach. “This is exactly the reason I told you to stay away. So you didn’t find yourself eyeballs deep in my shitty life.”

Now his words of caution were starting to make sense. Why he said I should stay away from him if I was smart.

The thing was, if staying away from him made me unsmart, I never wanted to be smart again.

“Jude,” I said, looping my fingers through his belt.

Turning around, he looked at me with weary eyes. “Yeah?”

“Kiss me.”

And, after a moment’s pause, he did.

I didn’t have a clue what time it was by the time Jude and I were finally able to pry each other away from one another, but as I tucked myself into bed that night, I knew the sun would be making its debut in a few hours max. That meant I’d have to get through a killer three hour ballet practice on two hours of sleep.

I didn’t care. Every minute of sleep lost was spent losing myself in Jude’s arms.

Forcing myself to close my eyes and turn off my overheated mind, I opened them a heartbeat later. Rambo went off like a hurricane warning.

I jolted out of bed and ran to the window. Rambo wasn’t a barker; he growled, smiled, and gave an occasional yap, but I’d never heard him go off like this. It was like either him, or someone close by, was about to have the life strangled from them.

I couldn’t make out much other than the gleam of his kennel and what could be shadows winding in the wind or people moving around the perimeter. Lifting the window to get a better look, a wall of flames exploded up and around Rambo’s kennel.

It wasn’t something I thought about. It was purely a gut decision. Crawling out of the window, I scooted down the roof. The only thing on my mind was saving Rambo from another fire. One I could actually save him from.

How or whom had started the fire wasn’t even an afterthought; I just had to get to him. To save him.

Swinging my legs over the edge of the roof, my feet landed on the porch rail, and then it was a mere jump to the ground. I’d done it a dozen different times, but I didn’t think this instance qualified as sneaking out of the house.

Rambo’s barks had stopped at the inception of the flames, and I wasn’t sure if that was because he was scared barkless or dead. It seemed wrong to hope for the former.

Grabbing the hose around the side of the house, I cranked it on and sprinted down the yard. The hundred yards to the beach where the kennel was took an eternity to cross. Thrusting my thumb over the end of the hose, I sprayed the kennel door first, hoping to kill the flames there so I could open it and free Rambo. I couldn’t see him through the fire, but I had to believe he was all right.

I couldn’t tell you if the laughter behind me had just started or had been going on for a while, but when clapping accompanied it, I finally took notice.

Keeping the hose aimed at the kennel, I looked over my shoulder to find Vince and the twins ambling towards me. Without Jude’s formidable frame blocking me, they, and the menacing looks on their faces, terrified me.

“So we meet again,” Vince said, separating himself from the other two.

I felt like I could vomit, but I didn’t let that keep me from replying. “I was hoping we would since I wasn’t sure if you got a good look at my parting message.” Separating one hand from the hose, I performed a repeat flip off.

I knew it was childish, I knew it was out of place, and I knew it was useless against three men and whatever they were going to throw my way, but it felt so damn good at the time.

Vince’s face dropped, like he couldn’t believe I was giving them the bird when my dog was very likely on fire and three boys that personified disturbed were looking at me like I was next up on their climb towards crime escalation.

“I’m going to enjoy watching you burn, bitch,” he said, spitting to the side. “Grab that whore so we can teach her some manners.”

I should have yelled, I should have ran, I should have at least dropped the hose so I’d have use of both hands when the twins came at me, but I’d never been the girl that did what she should have.

Keeping the hose firing at the kennel, I glanced over at Jude’s house, waiting for him to come barreling out the front door any moment to save me. Two sets of arms grabbed ahold of me, twisting me around with such force the hose snapped free of my hands.

“You better let me go right now!” I shouted at the two of them, struggling against their grips. “Unless you want a fist dent to your foreheads.” Another look over my shoulder revealed no sign of Jude, not even a hint of light in his house.

“He’s not coming to your rescue, honey,” Vince said, stepping forward. “Jude’s not the kind of guy who likes to play hero. He’s more the anti-hero type if you catch my drift.”

This earned a couple of snickers from either side of me.

“Ha,” I snorted. “This coming from the person who lit some helpless dog on fire to lure a girl out of bed so he could attempt to intimidate her. That sound like someone who would recognize a hero when he saw one?” My mom had told me from the time I was three my mouth was going to be the death of me, and gauging by the flash of murder across Vince’s face, she was right.

“So what exactly are you calling me?”

Narrowing my eyes, I sunk my heels in the ground. “A coward.”

It didn’t seem physically possible that a guy that rotund could move as fast as he did.

“I was going to let you live,” he hissed outside my ear, as his fingers encircled my neck, “but that was before that comment.” His fingers left my neck and went to my head. I already knew what he was prepping to do, so I braced myself for it, but expecting the pain didn’t dim the pain when he yanked my hair so hard I was certain he’d unrooted half of it.

“You’ve got pretty hair,” he said, as a vaguely familiar flicking sound came from behind. “I hope you enjoyed it.”

The pungent smell was instant, more instant than my mind processing and accepting that this guy was torching my hair.

Finally, I screamed.

“Cover her mouth, Zeke,” Vince ordered, shoving one of the twins. “Dammit. The two of you are worthless.”

By now, I could feel the heat from the fire creeping towards me, incinerating my hair in its journey. I knew I wouldn’t get out of this with my hair, but there was still a chance, remote as it was, I could fight my way out of this with my life. That’s what I clung to when I bit down on the inside of Zeke’s finger so hard I tasted blood, and that’s what I believed in when I stomped down with all my five foot four might on the other twin’s foot.

That’s what I hoped for when I realized no more hands were attached to me and a trio of gasps and grunts hummed around me. I felt the fire licking at my neck, and now, instead of burnt hair perfuming the air, something that smelt an awful lot like what I’d imagine burning flesh to smell like permeated the ozone.

I sprinted for the lake. Of course stop, drop, and roll was the preferred method for extinguishing fire, I knew that somewhere up in the wrinkly, gray matter, but when you’re actually on fire and a cool body of water rests less than twenty feet away, you don’t think. You run like hell and throw yourself into that water, preferring a cold drowning over death by fire if you have to choose.

The water stung in a euphoric and painful way. I don’t know how long I stayed submerged, but I wanted to stay under longer. There was peace and calm and quiet and no unpleasant smells drifting up my nose under the water. It was such a relief, floating there flame-free, that I thought to myself drowning might not be such a bad way to go.

That was, until a pair of hands encased my neck and held me under. The lake went from being a place of refuge to an enemy with its teeth bared.

The last of my breath was bubbling to the surface when Vince pulled me up, his hands still wound tight around my neck. “If I was a good guy, I’d just drown you and be done with it,” he said, dragging me out of the water. “But I’m not a good guy.” I stumbled up the beach, eyes shifting from the engulfed kennel, to Jude’s silent cabin. “You’re going to burn, bitch.”

It was this moment that everything felt acutely real. Like I’d somehow convinced myself everything up to this point was just some nightmare, but now I’d woken up and knew my lifespan only spread minutes into the future.

“Colton, get the gas,” Vince said, pulling something out of his pocket. It was a strip of cloth, a wet piece of cloth, that he pulled tight. “Don’t want to wake the neighbors.” He had me gagged so quickly and tightly it was obvious this wasn’t the first, second, or tenth time he’d done this. He’d become a gagging expert somewhere along the way. Jude was right, these delinquents were the real thing.

Tears started then. I hated to cry. Actually, I loathed it with a passion. But something about knowing I was about to become a human torch at the not-even-legal age of seventeen had a way of bringing on a bawl fest.

My eyes frantically scanned Jude’s house again, desperate to find him blazing across the beach to save the day.

“He’s not coming, sweetie,” Vince said, snatching the gas can out of Colton’s hands. “You are—correction,” he said, lifting his index finger, “you were nothing more than a piece of ass. A piece of ass that didn’t pan out. Jude’s off making some other girl holler, so quit looking like Superman’s going to come from the sky and save the day.”

Upending the can, Vince lifted it over my head and began pouring out the gas, letting it trickle down me until a small pool puddled at my toes.

I vomited. As if my current situation couldn’t get any worse. The unfortunate thing about puking when you’re gagged is that there’s nowhere for that substance to go but back down again.

For the first time in my life, I was ready to die. In fact, I wanted it to hurry up and catch me. Fate had finally caught up to me, ready to make me pay the price I’d dodged years back.

Flicking a lighter to life, Vince grinned down at me. “Something tells me it’s going to be a closed casket,” he said, stepping away because, judging from the gallon of gas he’d poured on me, I was going to ignite so brightly a satellite would be able to pick me out.

I closed my eyes and whispered a prayer I’d said every night as a child before I got into bed, and then, when I expected to hear the scream of fire crawling up my body, I heard another kind of scream. One that was so desperate and enraged at the same time, it sounded like the devil himself had decided to pay Sapphire Lake a visit.

Opening my eyes, the first thing I saw was Vince’s face eclipsing from domination to dread, right before something small nailed him straight between the eyes. He staggered back, grabbing at his head, right before he fell backwards. The lighter died and fell free from his hand.

And then Jude was on top of him, seemingly coming out of nowhere, landing fist after fist into any part of Vince he could get to. “You’re going to have to tie me up better than that next time, you sick son of a bitch!” Each word followed by a punch, each punch landing like a clap of thunder.

I stood there, still in shock from narrowly missing death, still in shock from being faced with death in the first place, and now, also in shock watching Jude beat another man with such hate he didn’t seem to care if he killed him or not.

I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved he was on my side or terrified that a person like this existed out there.

Stalling suddenly, Jude looked back at me. “Luce,” he said, his voice even, not showing any of the signs of being winded as you’d expect him to be, “go inside and call 911.”

When I stayed frozen in place, he added, “I’ve got this. I won’t let them hurt you.” Just then, the cowering in the corner twins decided to unite forces and come at Jude. Or at me, I wasn’t sure. “Go, Luce,” he begged, motioning back at the cabin. “I’ll protect you.”

This time, when I tried to put one foot in front of the other, I was able to do it. Striding up the beach felt like I was trying to run a marathon in under an hour, my lungs and body were so fatigued, but I pressed on, glancing back every other step to make sure Jude was holding his own against the threesome.

Holding his own would have been the modest term for saying he wasn’t taking any prisoners. How and wherever that man had learned to fight like that, I didn’t want to know, but I couldn’t help but be thankful for it tonight.

I was just staggering around the corner of the cabin when I noticed the red and blue lights, followed by the cop glaring a flashlight into my face.

“We’re responding to a report that someone across the lake noticed a large fire burning in this general area,” he said, walking towards me as his partner came up behind him. “You see anything, miss?”

“Here,” I said, breathing heavily from my jaunt up the beach. “The fire’s here.” Pointing down the beach, the officer looked at me again, this time really seeing me. His eyes widened.

“Miss, are you in need of medical care?” he asked, walking slowly towards me like I was mentally unstable, which, at this point in time, wasn’t that far off the mark.

“Maybe?” I answered, not sure. Adrenaline was still firing through me so intensely I couldn’t feel any of my injuries, or ascertain if I had any.

“Hal, call for a paramedic.”

His partner nodded and jogged back to the cruiser.

“Okay, miss,” he said, stopping in front of me. “I’m Officer Murphy. What’s your name?”

“Lucy,” I said, clearing my throat. “Lucy Larson.”

“Good, Miss Larson,” Officer Murphy said, his eyes darting over me, trying without success to look at me like something wasn’t very wrong. “Is anyone else down there?”

“Yes,” I said, grabbing his forearm and pulling him towards the beach. “There are four others and my dog.” Although if Rambo was still alive and smile-panting, that meant miracles were real and I’d learned the hard way that believing in miracles was the work of fools.

“What are their names?” Murphy asked, striding ahead of me in a hurry.

“I only know the first names of three of them.” Three first names I wasn’t sure we’d find still alive, and first names who’d wanted me dead for no good reason other than why not.

“And the fourth?” Murphy stopped, looking back at me.

I swallowed. “Jude,” I said. “Jude Ryder.”

“Wait,” Murphy said, his face changing. “Jude Ryder’s down there?”

I nodded, my forehead lining.

“Shit,” he said under his breath before tearing his walkie from his pocket. “Hal,” he sighed into it, “call for back-up. Jude Ryder’s here.”

Hal muttered another curse back before answering, “Copy that. I’m calling for back-up now.”


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