Home > Taming Cross(5)

Taming Cross(5)
Author: Ella James

I hear the clearing of a throat, and I notice the stiff set of my mother's shoulders just before she turns to look at me. She regards me like a stranger. “Delphina Fieldman told me your shop is still closed. How are you getting buy?”

I press my lips together. Not straying far from the script, of course. She’s always tried to buy my loyalty. “Fine,” I half-growl.

I rotate my left shoulder, digging my hand more deeply into my coat pocket, and I wonder why they invited me here tonight. I assumed it was so Dad could get his ducks in a row. Mom’s involvement…it bothers me. Almost as much as her abandonment.

“I’m fine,” I lie more smoothly. “The shop will reopen soon.”

She smiles, and I can't read anything in it before she turns back toward the hallway, leading us past an alcove filled with bookshelves and leather couches, closer to the formal dining room. “I'm designing a restaurant in La Jolla.”

Just a few years ago, I would have asked questions and had an interest in her answers, but that was before my father kicked me out. Before I found out he let a porn star—the infamous Priscilla Heat—talk him into selling his former mistress as a sex slave. When my mother chose to tow his line, she lost me.

We near the end of the hall, so I can see the candlelight flickering in the massive, formal dining room, and suddenly I want to turn and run. Instead, my temper flares, and I stop walking.

My mother turns, wide-eyed, and I relish the startled look on her face.

“What's the point of this, Mother? Why invite me into your house? Was it Drake's idea?”

Her brows narrow. “Don’t call your father by his first name. You’re not sixteen, Cross.”

I twist my face into something between a smirk and a scowl, and she folds her arms over her chest. “It was your father's idea. He'd like to make amends. And we want to...explain what happened while you were unconscious.”

“Explain what happened?” I cross my arms—another habit—and I notice my mother's eyes fly to my left hand. I drop both arms to my sides. My face feels hot. “Well, I'm here right now. Why don't you tell me—what happened?”

She squares her shoulders, giving me a defensive kind of look. Then her eyes flicker to my hand again and I grit my teeth. “You better get on with it, or I'm leaving.”

“Your father has bled us dry, Cross. Spent us dry.” She makes a dry-throated sound, a darker version of a laugh. “That's why we had you moved from the nicer facility at NVIR.”

I raise my brows. I'm surprised she even knows the name—Napa Valley Involved Rehab. After all, they never visited.

“Let me guess: too many hookers.”

As soon as I say the words, I want to take them back. My mother recoils as if I've slapped her, and I open my mouth to say something to undo the damage. But I can see in her eyes that she's still denying it. Pretending he's not a philandering dickhead who cheats from coast to coast. And that pisses me off.

“You know he has mistresses. Everybody does. You think because he's the governor that you can't leave him? Damnit, Mom. I don't know what he does to make you drink the Kool-Aid.” I shake my head. “Does he have something on you?” That's how things in this family seem to work.

My mother locks her jaw. She looks furious enough to hit me, and as I stand there with my heart pounding, I almost hope she does.

“I stay with your father because I was raised Catholic, Cross Evangeline Carlson, and despite his substantial flaws, he is still my husband. Don’t you disrespect me—”

I bark a laugh. Disrespect her? I cock one of my brows. “If you think I give a damn about respecting you, you're wrong. You don’t deserve it. Either of you.” I clench my jaw so hard it pops. My head feels hot, the way it used to when the Dilaudid would kick in, in rehab. “You deserted me. You didn’t even visit.”

I watch a vein pulse in her forehead, and I know I've gotten to her when her face screws up and she tosses her hands into the air. “It was too painful!”

That’s such shit. “You were a coward.”

She whirls, and then she's gone, stalking through the dining room and moving in the direction of the stairs. I hear a low murmur, followed by my father's voice at regular volume, followed by my mother's strangled sob.

Fuck her.

I stride into the dining room, my heart pounding despite the cold, detached feeling that's encased my chest. A second later, I'm staring my father down from across the massive Georgian table. He's wearing a Zenga suit and the same clean, in-control expression that got him elected, and I'm surprised to see that, unlike my mom, he looks better than the last time that I saw him.

As soon as he meets my eyes, his voice rings out. “Did you come here just to upset your mother?”

I grit my molars. I can ruin him. I can turn him in. I really can.

When I find my voice, it's quiet and controlled. “Do you think that's why I came?”

“Is it?” He arches one black brow.

“I came to talk to you.”

He spreads his hands before him, like he's got nothing to hide. “Let's talk.”

“Are you sure you don't want to go into your office?”

Without missing a beat, he motions toward the hall. “Anything to make you comfortable, son.”

Anything to make me comfortable. For half a heartbeat, I'm going to slam my fist into his phony face. But before I can, he turns and walks into the hallway that runs behind this room. His caviler, uncaring attitude takes the steam right out of me. I couldn't punch him if I wanted to. Then I almost laugh as I remember I'm a leftie. I'm not even sure I can take a swing with my right hand.

For a weird moment, as my legs stride after him, the hallway spins and I feel like I might fall down. I can feel the awful burn of gravel in my forehead. I can feel the roar of pain that starts in my neck and runs from the ruined spinal discs down my shoulder, exploding in an inferno through my hand. And, oh God, I can feel my fucking hand.

My neck's so tight I think it might pop off my shoulders, and as we step into his office, I can feel the curtain falling, the curtain of badness that always leads to darkness, fear, and pain.

I knew this would happen.

My father steps past me to shut the door. I hear the click through the agony of nerve pain. I feel his hands on my elbows as he thrusts me down, into one of his leather chairs, and leans over me.

“I hope you didn’t come here to threaten me.”

I shove him in the chest, and he wraps his hand around my neck, somehow finding just the spot where the vertebrae were crushed and wired together. Just where all my pain begins. Fucking surreal. I blink up at him, breathing so hard I can barely find my voice. “You gonna finish the job?”

He loosens his grip, steps back. I'm pleased to see his shoulders are heaving just like mine are. “What do you want from me?”

“Did you know about it?” Ignoring the pain, I stand.

“Know about what?” He's rocking on his heels.

I swallow, using all my energy to focus on my words and not the pain that's still lighting up my neck and arm. “Did you know about what they did to me,” I rasp. “To my bike.”

“No,” he snorts, “I don't know the first thing about your bike.”

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