Dear fucking diary,
There’s only one day until my parole hearing. I got my hair cut for it as though I’m going on a date with lady luck. And I definitely need some luck to get out of here. I’ve been in this hell hole for ten years now. Iron bars, concrete, and the constant worry that someone is going to shank me because they think I’m a paedo. But I’m not. If I was a paedo I wouldn’t still be interested in Ash. I wonder what he looks like now at twenty-five. I've been told he's tall and built like his father, although, from memory, he resembled his mother more. She was a pretty thing. I didn’t mean to kill her. I didn’t mean to hurt Ash either. I loved that boy. Still do. I want to make it up to him when I get out. If everything goes to plan, I’ll take him up north and we can start a new life—away from everyone, especially from Dante. God!!! It makes me want to trash my cell just thinking about Ash’s brother. I HATE that shite! He should be in fucking jail, not me! He brought the knife into the room, not me! If he hadn’t done that then his bloody mother wouldn’t have taken it off him and tried to stab me. All I did was defend myself, but because of Dante no one believed me. He even got up on the stand and cried, like he was some scared kid. Dante doesn’t cry; he has no fucking feelings. All he was doing was buying the jury’s sympathy. Everything is about Dante with him. He always did what he wanted and never thought about anyone but himself. I don’t regret hurting him one bit, not one fucking bit! I’d kick the shit out of him again in a heartbeat, destroy the little prick—or even better—I heard he looks like Ash now, which means he must be a right handsome fucker. Ha! I know exactly what I can do to the arsehole.
Beth peered through the window of the police cell. Her boyfriend was pacing the small enclosure like a caged animal, the menace practically rolling off him. She wasn’t being melodramatic either; the blood on Ash’s knuckles and face adding to the effect along with his vicious glare. But despite the situation Ash was in, he wasn’t a criminal... Okay, maybe he was sort of, but it wasn’t like he was a bad one.
Ash’s angry gaze shifted to Beth, making her a little afraid of what was to come. Although she had no reason to be, because he’d never hurt her. He was just so... intense, yeah, that was the right word. It was thrilling at times, but also unnerving. He was definitely a hard man, but that was what attracted her to the oldest of the Rata brothers. And with the Māori-styled tattoo circling his neck, his wavy black hair and a body gift-wrapped in leather, he was definitely an impressive package. That sounded almost rude, although it was apt, because just looking at him got her we—
The police officer unlocked the cell. Beth stepped aside to allow Ash room to exit, tensing as he headed past. “I’ll see you at home,” Ash muttered, then disappeared through the gate further down the corridor. She continued to stare at the empty space he’d left behind, anger now mixing with disbelief. “A ‘thanks’ would’ve been nice,” she mumbled, wishing she’d said it before he’d left. He’d called her at work, making her close early, which she knew would get her into trouble with her boss.
“Thanks, Bethy-babe,” came a slurred response.
Beth turned to Ash’s brother. Dante was slumped on a bench inside the cell with his eyes half-closed. Despite his different tattoos, he looked the same as Ash, just with an irreverent personality and a smile that made her blush, like she’d gotten caught watching porn.
Beth went inside and coaxed him to stand.
Dante put an arm around her shoulders and got to his feet. “You love me,” he said as they walked out of the cell.
She wrinkled her nose. “Your breath stinks.”
“You still love me, everyone loves me.” He stopped outside the neighbouring cell and looked through the window. “Matty loves me; he said he’d suck my dick.” Dante raised his middle finger and placed it against the window. “Suck on this, twat-face!” He let go of Beth and staggered out of the holding area.
She followed him to the police counter, where a woman with a bruised face was yelling at a man, who was being forced into the holding area by two cops. A group of scruffy teenagers sat watching, their smiles suggesting they were high. Supposedly the worst neighbourhood in New Zealand, Claydon was situated on the south side of Auckland. The media portrayed it as gang-ridden, but Beth didn’t think it was that bad. Her workmates disagreed, saying she wouldn’t see trouble if it smacked her in the face, but they were wrong, they didn’t live here, plus she knew what trouble looked like, and right now it was staggering towards the front door of the police station.
Dante wobbled down the steps, looking like he was going to kiss the pavement at any moment. He laughed and wolf-whistled at a transvestite getting out of a police van. Beth apologised to the tranny, but the he-woman ignored her, instead blowing a kiss to Dante, who pretended to catch it and throw it back.
Beth steered Dante towards her car, momentarily distracted by the loud rock music blasting from the pub across the main road, where Dante would’ve gone earlier to fill up on booze and women.
“Bethy-babe,” Dante said, snapping her attention back to him. He leaned against her Volkswagen, giving her a devilish grin and again proving her point that he was trouble with a capital T. The street lights made his dark eyes shine like onyx, the Māori tattoo around his left one adding to his cheeky allure.
If she’d used that word in front of her own brothers they would’ve put their fingers down their throats and gagged. They always complained about her “pukeable” use of language, saying that she lived in a world of romance novels.
Dante waggled his eyebrows comically and grabbed his crotch. “I wouldn’t say no to you.”
Beth refrained from smiling. “I would to you. And you’re lucky Ash didn’t hear you say that.”
He pulled a face. “I don’t care; you should be with me, not him.”
Beth hesitated, wondering whether he meant it, then shook her head, annoyed with herself for believing him. “You’re drunk, Dante, you don’t know what you’re saying.”
He lowered his head, peering out from under his messy hair. “Yes, I do, and I’ll say it again: you should be with me.”
Feeling uncomfortable, Beth remained in the same spot. He’d never said anything like that before, only harmlessly flirted, but Dante flirted with everyone, including guys who showed interest in him, although he wasn’t that way inclined. He just liked to tease, then would walk away when someone he didn’t want pressed for more.
Dante gave her a cheeky smile, then slid down the side of the car, landing hard on his rear, his drunken state cushioning the blow for now, although it would be sore tomorrow.
Yeah, the sod was teasing. She opened the front passenger door and helped him inside, pulling the seatbelt down to buckle him in.
He grabbed her and kissed her head, slurring, “I do love you,” into her hair, then let go, one of his hands dropping onto his lap.
Unnerved, Beth clicked on his seatbelt then removed herself from the car, stopping to look down at him. He appeared to have fallen asleep. She reached out to brush his hair away from the tattoo, her hand lingering on his skin longer than she knew she should. He moved his head to the side, making her retract her hand quickly. He remained asleep, his hair falling back over the tattoo.
She continued to watch him for a few moments, then closed his door and walked around the car, guilt making her shiver more than the cold night air. She got in the driver’s seat and started the engine, the car coughing and spluttering like a sick old lady.
Dante jolted awake, mumbling, “Where are we?”
“On our way home.” She pulled out onto the main road and headed for the round-about, getting a feeling he was staring at her. She glanced at him, instantly regretting it. His dark gaze was latched onto her, his stare unflinching, as though he knew she’d touched him.
She focused on the road. “Why wuz Ash in jail with you?” Unlike Dante, it was a rarity for Ash to be picked up by the police.
“I called him for a lift. When he got to the pub he saw some underage kids being let in. He told the bouncer, but the prick just laughed and called the kids jailbait. Ash lost it, and attacked him. I tried to break it up, but the cops got the wrong idea and hauled us both in.”
“Dante,” she dragged out his name, exasperated with him. “You know he hates the pub, you should never have asked him for a lift.”
Looking guilty, Dante slumped in his seat. “I couldn’t get a hold of anyone else.”
“You could’ve taken a taxi.” Even though they didn’t live far from the pub, Dante had a bad habit of walking on busy roads when he was drunk, so she’d made him promise he’d always catch a ride home.
“I had no money left.”
“Then you shouldn’t have spent it all on booze,” she said, turning onto their road. “I distinctly told you to save some for a taxi fare before I went to work.”
Shaking her head, she drove into the driveway and parked on the grass next to Dante’s car, conscious not to block in Ash’s Chevy. The three-bedroom weatherboard house was shrouded in darkness, the street-lights on their road few and far between.
She got out of the car, and ran around to help Dante. She steered him inside the house and switched on the light. Her landscape paintings lined the lounge and adjoining dining-room walls, along with photos and a finely detailed portrait that Ash had drawn of his son, who he’d fathered at the age of sixteen, the little boy no longer living with him.
As Dante fumbled to get his boots off, she headed for her bedroom, surprised to find it locked. She knocked on the door. “Ash, lemme in.” No one answered. “Ash, open up.” Still no answer. She knocked again, now getting annoyed.
Dante brushed past her. She followed him to his room. He pulled off his jacket and threw it across his desk, the black singlet left behind showing off his inked skin. Māori tattoos with Croatian influences covered both biceps, the swirl of colours accentuating his muscular arms and captivating Beth’s attention. He fell onto the bed, breaking the spell.
Beth picked up his jacket and slipped it onto the back of his desk chair, smoothing it down. “Do ya know why Ash is angry at me? He’s locked me out.”
“I thought that wuz pretty obvious.”
“Well, obviously, it’s not.”
He grunted and sat up, giving her a filthy look, all sign of his earlier friendliness washed away. “Some girlfriend you are. You complain ’bout Ash not paying you enough attention, but you don’t even remember its Chaz’s parole hearing tomorrow.”
Beth inwardly cursed at the mention of Dante and Ash’s stepfather. She couldn’t believe she’d forgotten, but then again, the art gallery had been so busy the last couple of days that she’d barely had enough time to breathe, let alone think. “I took tomorrow off, so I didn’t completely forget,” she said, feeling bad.
“Good, cos he’ll need all your support if Chaz gets parole.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do to stop your stepfather from gettin’ out?”
“I’m goin’ to the hearing to give it a damn good try.”
“I didn’t think they allowed victims to attend that sort of thing.”
Dante winced. “Don’t call me that.”
“But, you are, and so is Ash. And what your stepfather did to your—”
“Don’t say it.”
...mother. Beth sat down next to Dante. “I wish Ash would talk to me more about what happened. I’ve been with him for a while now, yet all I know is that your stepfather beat you guys up and stabbed—”
Beth flinched, shocked by his sudden outburst. “I’m not rude to you, so don’t be rude to me.”
He moved his face up to hers, his breath reminding her that he was drunk. “What a load of bull. You called me a slut yesterday. I consider that rude.”
“I never called you that.”
“Liar, you were on the phone to your bro. I heard everything you said. You told him I wuz a slut, then complained ’bout me bringing women home. Well, it’s none of your bloody biz what I do—or who I do.”
More than embarrassed, she went to leave.
He grabbed her arm as she stood. “Why don’t you like me?”
Surprised by his question, she pulled her arm free. “I don’t dislike you,” far from it. I wouldn’t go out of my way to pick you up if I didn’t like you. I wouldn’t worry about you getting hurt all of the time, or feel sick when you bring horrible women home who aren’t good enough for you. She bit her lip to stop herself from saying it out loud.
“Bollocks, you can be a right bitch at times.”
She jerked back, feeling like he’d struck her. “Why’re you being so horrible? You were all nice before.”
He stood up. “I’m sick of being judged, plus you’re always sticking your nose into things that don’t concern you.”
“Don’t talk to me like that.”
“I can talk to you however I please, considering this is my room.”
“And you wonder why I get annoyed with you?”
“I rarely say boo to you, yet you’re always giving me disapproving looks. So fire away, hit me with what you really think, Miss Prim and Proper.”
“Okay, you asked for it.” Beyond annoyed, she crossed her arms over her chest. “You constantly call me to get you out of jail, you’re always gettin’ drunk or high, and worse, I don’t know whether I’m gonna find some woman goin’ through my stuff. You won’t keep your hands to yourself, and you don’t ever think about consequences, you just do what you want, then everyone’s s’posed to forgive you cos you’re Dante, the—” she made quote marks with her fingers. “—‘loveable rogue.’ Well, I don’t think you’re loveable, you’re just an arsehole.”
Dante stared back at her with wide eyes. She didn’t know how a tough guy covered with tattoos could look like a puppy dog that had just been kicked, but right now he was making her feel guilty for her outburst.
Beth lifted her chin. “Don’t look at me like that, it’s true. I feel like kicking you sometimes you annoy me so much.”
“You do kick me sometimes.”
“Only when you get too handsy.”
“No other chick complains.”
“Cos they’re pro’bly sluts, like you.”
The two of them glared at each other for what seemed like ages, then a slow smile crept across Dante’s face. He undid his leather pants and pushed them down to his feet, his green underwear flashing at her to run. But she was too shocked to move.
He grabbed his crotch. “You better close your big mouth, before I decide to fill it.”
“Dante! What’s wrong with you?”
“You!” He kicked his pants off, aiming them at her feet.
She stepped back, then spun around as he dropped his underwear. He walked past and grabbed the door handle, wearing only his singlet and socks. “The slut needs to wank, so unless you’re gonna gimme a helping hand, I suggest you leave.”
With her cheeks on fire, she took off out of his room. She ran into the lounge and closed the door, horrified with what Dante had done. She didn’t know why he had to be so in her face. She hadn’t meant for him to overhear her conversation, she’d just been so mad at him that day, after she’d found a female in the bathroom trying on her makeup. And it wasn’t like what she said wasn’t true, because almost every weekend he brought a different woman home, sometimes even more than one. She knew she shouldn’t judge him, but how could she not when he did things like that. And the noises that came from his room... Ugh! Calling him a slut was being polite.
When she was calm enough, she went back into the passage and knocked on her bedroom door, hoping Ash wasn’t going to make her sleep in the spare room. Shuffling sounded on the other side, then the door pulled open. She entered the room as Ash got back into bed. After shutting the door, she undressed and slipped under the covers, cuddling against his bare back. She didn’t want to tell him about what Dante had done, plus he had much more important things on his mind, things she wished he’d confide in her about.
“I’m sorry I forgot ’bout the parole hearing, but at least I didn’t forget to take tomorrow off. We can do whatever you want...” She hesitated. “Or we could stay home, and you can tell me more about what happened with your stepfather. It might help to talk about it, cos I know it’s been bothering you lately. You’ve been yelling in your sleep again.”
His body tensed.
“C’mon, Ash, please don’t keep me in the dark. Half the time, I only learn things by accident, like when Dante let slip ’bout your suicide attempt. I know it happened a long time ago, but I wish you had told me, not him.”
“We’ve already been over this,” he said, sounding more exasperated than angry. “And I’m tired.”
Tired of me? Upset, she removed her arm from around his waist and turned over, wishing he needed her like Dante seemed to. Even though Dante had been a right beep tonight, at least he didn’t ignore her. Sometimes she wondered whether Ash even loved her.
Dante’s earlier words came to mind, ‘I do love you.’
“I love you too,” she whispered. I love you both.
Dante walked gingerly along the corridor that led to the parole hearing, wincing as he pushed through a crowd of noisy people. Every shove and shout reverberated up the back of his neck, reaching through to punch the shit out of his brain. Having had so many hangovers, he would’ve thought he could cope with them better, but no, experience didn’t weaken the effect of a pounding headache.
He veered into the men’s toilets, his mouth drier than a used up whore. He stopped in front of a hand-basin and bent over to drink from the tap. When his thirst was satisfied, he glanced up, stopping when he saw his reflection in the mirror. His eyes were bloodshot with dark rings shadowing them, making him look way older than twenty-three. He’d only intended on a few drinks last night, enough to take the edge of things, but what he intended was never related to what he did.
He splashed water over his face, getting some on his good suit. He swore and wiped at it, then gave up, resigned that today was going to be crap no matter what he did. He headed out of the men’s and cut across the corridor, stopping in front of a policewoman, who was blocking the entrance to the courtroom.
“I’m here for Chaz... I mean Charles Greenwood’s parole hearing,” Dante said, looking down at the paper in her hand, assuming it was a list. “I’m Dante Rata, his stepson.”
The policewoman checked the paper then opened the door, indicating for Dante to enter. He headed inside, surprised by how empty the courtroom was. Except for two policemen standing in front of a glass barrier, the public gallery was unoccupied.
Dante stopped in the middle of the aisle, and looked through the glass. On the other side, three people sat behind a long table, their suits and airs of importance suggesting they were the parole board. A voice caught his attention, someone calling out Ash’s name. Dante’s gaze shifted to a box on the parole board’s left, where a blond man in handcuffs stood with a guard. It took Dante a few seconds to realise the man in prison greys was his stepfather. Of course he knew Chaz was attending, but to actually see the man—a remote memory from his childhood—was still a shock, something that didn’t feel real.
Chaz’s gaze bore into Dante, his expression almost happy. A scar ran down his right cheek, while two teardrop tats sat under his left eye. Dante stared at the tattoos, their meaning sickening him. They had been forced upon his stepfather by fellow inmates to mark him as a paedophile—an old New Zealand meaning, and something that Dante wouldn’t have known if Ash hadn’t told him. Since he was a fan of the rapper Li’l Wayne, he’d only heard of the American definitions, one of them symbolising the loss of a loved one through violence. And because he’d lost his mother, he’d wanted to get them done, but luckily he’d told Ash, his brother stopping him from making one of the biggest mistakes of his life.
The middle-aged woman seated at the long table spoke into a microphone, “Please take a seat, the parole hearing will commence now.”
Dante took the first chair on his left, using his hand to lower himself down. Although he felt revulsion, he couldn’t tear his gaze away from the man who’d caused so much pain for his family.
The woman, who he assumed must be the judge, resumed talking, “As you’ve been informed, it is unusual for victims and offenders to attend a parole hearing at the same time, but due to the request made by the Rata family and agreed to by Mr. Greenwood, we have decided to allow the proceedings to go forth in this manner. However, there are certain rules to adhere to, the main one, as stipulated in the information provided, is that no one is to interrupt this hearing, otherwise they will be escorted from the room. Now, let’s proceed.” She focused on Chaz. “Charles Andrew Greenwood, in the time you’ve served, do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?”
“Yes, Ma’am, I...” Chaz’s gaze shifted back to Dante. “I’m truly sorry for what I did to my family. I’ve regretted it every day since that night. Not cos I was imprisoned, but cos I hurt the people I love.”
Dante cursed under his breath, willing himself to stay seated. His stepfather didn’t love his family otherwise he wouldn’t have torn them apart.
The door behind Dante opened and closed, but he kept his eyes fixed on Chaz, wishing he could bash down the barrier and attack the sick bastard. He’d yank him out of the box and kick him on the floor, not stopping until ribs popped and cracked, then he’d take a knife and stab him like Chaz had done to his mother. No, he wouldn’t just stab him, he’d gut him, making it as painful as possible, and drawing it out so his stepfather could understand a fraction of the pain he’d caused his family.
As though he could read Dante’s mind, Chaz’s expression tensed. “I never meant to harm anyone, and especially not you, Ash.”
“I’m not Ash, you sick fuck!” Dante snapped, unable to hold back at the mention of his brother.
The judge leaned into the microphone. “Sir, please do not reply to any comments unless the parole board asks you.”
Dante got to his feet. “Then lemme say my piece now so I can leave,” because he couldn’t stomach looking at Chaz a second longer. He thought he could handle it, but now understood why Ash had backed out.
“This is not how things are carried out in a parole hearing.”
“I only need a few minutes, or don’t victims have a voice?”
“You’re allowed to speak, just at the appropriate time.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t just sit here while he tells you lies.”
The woman’s face softened, but her tone remained clipped, like a school teacher speaking to a naughty child who wouldn’t listen. “I understand your predicament, sir, but—”
“Then don’t give him parole. Ten years is nuthin’ compared to what my family got. My mother is dead cos of him, that’s a lifetime for us.”
“I don’t give a shit ’bout your rules!” Dante shouted, instantly regretting his outburst.
The woman got to her feet. “Mr. Rata, please leave of your own accord or you will be escorted out,” she said, indicating to the policemen.
When Dante didn’t make a move, the cops headed for him. He glared at them, furious they were touching their batons. He knew what they were thinking, that he was a gang-member, the Māori tattoo around his left eye most likely leading to their assumption. He wasn’t a victim in their eyes, but a perp just waiting to be arrested and put on the other side of the barrier in Chaz’s place.
Dante pointed at Chaz. “That bastard raped my brother, yet you’re looking at me like I’m the criminal?”
“What?” someone gasped from the back of the courtroom.
Dante’s head shot around, shocked to see his younger brother sitting by the door. He’d told Sledge not to come, because Ash hadn’t wanted him knowing about the rape. When the attack had happened, exactly ten years ago, Sledge had been staying with their grandparents. And since he’d been only eight at the time, all he’d been told was that their stepfather had killed their mother, the whys and wherefores too hard to explain to a child.
Sledge got to his feet, his tall frame dressed in brown leathers. “Chaz raped Ash?”
Dante headed for Sledge, dread and his hangover bringing him close to throwing up. “Yes.”
Looking both stunned and horrified, Sledge’s gaze shifted to Chaz. “Now it makes sense. The way Ash acts, why he’s so violent. You did that to him,” he said to Chaz.
Chaz screwed up his face. “I didn’t mean to—”
Dante spun around, furious at Chaz’s excuse. “Bullshit! You drugged him. He wuz so sick he had to be hospitalised.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the parole board being shuffled out of the room, while the prison guard opened the door behind Chaz.
“I didn’t know the roofie would do that,” Chaz said.
“You’re not sorry at all,” Dante barked. “You only regret gettin’ caught. You should never be let outta prison, cos you’d do the exact same thing to some other kid.”
“I’m not a paedo—” Chaz’s words were cut short as the guard forcibly removed him through the doorway.
Dante went for the other door, desperate to escape his past, present—everything. Panic throbbed in his chest as he entered the corridor. There were too many people blocking his path, slowing him down. He needed air, space, hated being surrounded by people, pushed against, unable to get free. People started to veer out of his way, his swearing no doubt scaring them, although it was something he couldn’t control during an episode. He shot through the entrance and jumped down the steps, cursing himself for not having taken his bipolar meds, something which usually stopped him from losing it. He needed to calm down quick, to find something good to centre his mind on before it fractured apart... Beth, think of Beth.
Someone grabbed his arm from behind. Dante spun around, ready to slam his fist into whoever it was, but stopped short when he saw Sledge. He tapped his brother hard on the forehead, still too amped to control himself, even though guilt instantly hit him back for doing it. “Don’t you ever listen? I told you not to come.”
Sledge batted his hand away, his hard features looking close to cracking. “I have every right to be here, he killed my mother too!”
Dante put his hands to his head, the pain in his brother’s voice making him feel even more ashamed. “I’m sorry, I can’t handle this.”
“And you think I can?” Sledge said. “Why the hell wuzn’t I told ’bout Ash?”
“He didn’t want cha knowing.”
“I have a right to know just as much as you do.”
“You were only eight at the time.”
“I’m not a kid anymore. It’s been ten years for fuck’s sake.”
“It’s too hard for Ash to talk about.”
“Then you should’ve told me.”
“I understand you’re upset, but I promised to keep it a secret. He hates people knowing—”
“And he hates me.”
Dante frowned. “No, he doesn’t. Why would ja say that for?”
“Cos it’s true. He’s always treated me differently, like I’m not part of the family. That’s pro’bly why he never told me ’bout the rape.”
“That’s a load of crock and you know it. He’s looked after you for the past few years, put a roof over your head, fed you, but you never acknowledge any of that.”
“Well, I ain’t ever living with him again, cos he’s a violent sonofabastard.”
“He’s not that bad.”
“He bashed the living shit outta me!”
“Cos you and Tama viciously attacked his friend.”
“I wuz defending my mates.”
A flash of something in Dante’s peripheral vision made him stop talking. Dante’s gaze shifted to the court building, the stone walls as formidable as the two cops watching them from the entrance. He hadn’t noticed them standing there before. He wondered what they’d heard, and whether anything he’d said could get Sledge arrested.
Sledge’s upset gaze followed Dante’s, the look on his face now afraid. “I’ve gotta go.” Sledge spun around and took off across the car park, heading for his motorbike.
Dante thought about going after him, but instead walked to his car, knowing Sledge needed some time to process everything—and for him to do the same. He got into his Holden and backed out, dreading telling Ash about what had gone down.
After a short drive, Dante turned into his driveway and parked next to Beth’s pink Volkswagen. He remained behind the wheel for several minutes, just staring at her car, wishing for things to be different. Exhaling, he pushed open the door and trudged across the lawn, getting mud all over his good shoes. He kicked them off at the front door, then unlocked the house and headed for Ash and Beth’s bedroom.
“Ash, are you awake?” he called out, giving the door a knock.
Voices started up on the other side, too soft for him to make out.
“Ash, I needa talk to you,” Dante said, putting his ear to the door. He could just hear Beth say, “It could be good news.” He wished it was. “Please, Ash, it’s important.”
When no one answered, he headed for his own room, feeling exhausted and wrung out. He pulled off his jacket and threw it onto the bed, then unbuttoned his shirt.
Dante turned around. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, Ash stood in the doorway, his body as rigid as a statue. “Did Chaz get parole?”
Dante shook his head.
Looking relieved, Ash ran a hand through his messy black hair. “You had me goin’ there for a sec. With your expression, I thought he’d been given it for sure.”
“I don’t know if he got out or not. I got asked to leave.”
Ash dropped his hand. “Why?”
“I yelled at Chaz and unintentionally insulted the judge.”
“Bloody hell, Dante, I did tell ya not to go.”
“I had to, plus...” Dante cringed at his next words. “...if I hadn’t gone, Sledge would’ve been there alone.”
“Sledge?” Realisation flashed across Ash’s face. “You—”
Dante cut him off, desperate to explain himself. “I didn’t know he wuz there until it wuz too late.”
“You promised to keep him away!” Ash yelled, his expression telling Dante he was beyond reasoning with.
“I had no control over what happened.”
Ash’s jaw flexed, the anger in his eyes making Dante nervous. “Calm down, Ash, Sledge doesn’t think any less of you cos of it.”
“He fuckin’ hates me.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Dante said, not knowing whether it was true or not.
Ash lifted his hands to his head, then before Dante knew what was happening his brother rammed a fist into the wall. Beth screamed in the passage, causing Ash to freeze, then he spun around and headed for the bathroom.
Dante followed, stopping in the doorway as Ash got into the shower fully clothed. Ash turned on the tap and slid down the wall, tilting his head backwards. Water cascaded down his cheeks like a curtain of tears.
Dante closed the door, blocking Beth from getting in. “He needs to be left alone.”
“No, I wanna be with him,” she said, looking distressed.
Dante gave her arm a gentle squeeze. “Give him a bit of space. He’ll come out when he’s ready.”
“He’s upset over Sledge being at the parole hearing.”
“Why? Sledge has a right to be there.”
“Just go back to your room and wait for Ash,” Dante said, unable to tell her more, because Ash had also kept the rape a secret from her too.
“Why won’t you tell me?”
“Cos it’s got nuthin’ to do with you.”
Her eyes flashed with anger. “Everything to do with Ash is my concern.”
“Not this, its family stuff.”
“I’m part of the family now.”
“No, you’re not, you’re just a girlfriend.”
She shoved him. “And you’re just an arsehole!” She stormed into her room, slamming the door so hard it rattled on its frame.
Wincing, Dante returned to his room, his head still pounding. He closed his door and pulled open the top drawer of his cabinet, surprised when he couldn’t find his new meds. Stuff it, he’d look for them later, and anyway, he needed aspirin more. He stripped off his clothes, changing into jeans and a singlet, then headed for the kitchen, stopping at Beth’s door as she poked her head out of the room. He went to say sorry, but got the door slammed in his face again. Frustrated, he leaned his head against the wood panelling, again wishing for things to be different—and for someone he couldn’t have.
Sledge steered the motorbike into his driveway just as his mate got out of a battered blue Ford. He’d been driving around for the past hour, trying to get himself under control. God, Ash had been raped! That had blown him away, making his stomach twist up so bad that it physically hurt. He’d felt nothing but rage at what his stepfather had done to Ash. But as he neared his new home, his sanctuary away from Ash, the bashing his brother had inflicted upon him filtered back in, making him feel like he shouldn’t give the bastard any sympathy. But how could he not?
Sledge removed his helmet and got off the motorbike, trying to pretend that everything was alright, that he wasn’t hurting inside. His mate didn’t need to know, Corey had enough of his own problems to contend with. Corey walked towards him, self-consciously tugging at his beanie as though the wind was going to whip it away. Due to chemotherapy, Corey rarely took it off, too embarrassed over his hair falling out.
A smirk spread across Corey’s face. “You look like a gay dude’s wet dream in those leathers.”
Not in the mood for Corey’s smart-mouth, Sledge flicked him the finger.
“Sheesh, what got stuck up your arse?”
“An annoying li’l shit called Corey.”
Corey laughed. “I knew you dreamt about my cock.”
Resisting the urge to punch Corey, Sledge stalked past his mate. He headed towards the weather-beaten bungalow. After the big fight with Ash, he’d decided to flat with his twin sister and the Connor brothers. They’d found a cheap rental in Claydon backing onto the beach. It was pretty run-down, a skeleton of a place that should’ve been demolished years ago, but the view of Manukau Harbour and the smell of salt air made it worth his dole money.
Corey followed him, singing, “Macho, macho man...” then ran in front of Sledge, his grin still firmly set in place. “Didja go to the YMCA?”
“Stop being a cunt.”
“Nope, I don’t have one of those. So, where ja go?”
“None of your business.”
Corey stopped suddenly, almost causing Sledge to bang into him, the worry in his mate’s hazel eyes replacing the humour that had been there a few seconds ago. “You better not have gone to Stella’s house again,” Corey said, sounding sulky. “You promised.”
Sledge sidestepped him and climbed the steps to the front porch, muttering, “I didn’t, and I don’t even remember goin’ to her place, so lay offa me.” He knew it was a lame excuse, but he’d been upset over his grandmother dying and had gone to the pub by himself, wanting to get so blotto he wouldn’t remember a thing. And it played out that way, until Stella woke him up the next morning, her means of rousing him definitely memorable. He wondered why Tama thought the chick was a lousy lay, because he sure as fuck didn’t think so. Just thinking about what she’d done to him made his balls tingle, and if she hadn’t caused so much trouble for his mates, he probably would’ve hooked up with her again. Yeah, he most definitely would’ve, he liked skinny chicks—a lot.
“You’re just like Dante—a slut,” Corey said, snapping Sledge’s attention back to him.
“You cheeky li’l bastard, don’t you dare call Dante that—or me.”
Corey crossed his arms over his chest and stuck his chin up, looking like his older sister when she got mad, although Corey was a much shorter and paler version of Beth. “If the condom fits, wear it.”
“I don’t sleep with that many chicks, and if I did, so what? There’s nuthin’ wrong with sex. It’s you religious types who have a problem with it, slut-shaming people who enjoy what your so-called God gave them.”
“I’m not religious and I have no probs with sex.”
Sledge walked down the steps and flicked the cross on Corey’s chest. “Not religious, eh?”
Corey looked sullen. “It’s not like I go to church anymore, they don’t like my type there. Apparently, I should burn in hell for what I am.”
“Cos you’re a druggie?”
“Are you naturally stupid or do ya hafta work at it?”
Sledge closed his eyes and breathed in, then slowly exhaled. He’d rather run full pelt into a brick wall than lash out at his mate. Once calm enough, he re-opened his eyes.
Corey’s eyebrows pulled together. “You alright, Sledge?”
“I will be once you stop slagging off me and my brother.”
Corey shrugged. “You walked right into it, and I have no probs with Dante, I’m just sick of Beth whinging ’bout him and Ash.” He put on a breathy female voice, “Ash ignores me; he’s always goin’ off and brooding, while Dante brings home horrible women, and does God only knows what to them in his bedroom.” Corey changed back to his own voice. “He fucks them, Beth. F.U.C.K.” His voice reverted back to Beth’s. “Don’t say that! That’s a horrible word.”
Sledge shook his head. “Put on a wig and skirt and people will think you’re Beth.”
“Her butt’s way bigger.” Corey punched Sledge’s arm, then swiped the keys off him.
Sledge’s eyes lowered to Corey’s butt as his mate walked up the steps, thinking Corey was definitely right. Over the past few months, Corey had lost a considerable amount of weight, the chemo reducing him to a whisper of his former self.
Corey’s baggy jeans and boxers slipped down as he went to unlock the door, his mate giving Sledge an eyeful.
Sledge laughed. “Dude, you’re mooning me. Pull up your pants before my sis jumps your skinny arse.”
Corey grabbed his pants and turned around, his grin resurfacing. “Too late, I did her last night. See, I told ja I had no probs with sex. Booyah!”
Sledge’s face screwed up in disgust. “Dammit, Corey! I told ja not to touch her.”
Corey’s voice went high as he started moving his crotch back and forth, “Oh, Corey, you’re so damned good, fuck me harder—”
Corey started laughing, then stopped as the front door flung open from the inside. His smile disappeared at the sight of Sledge’s twin sister glaring out at him. She looked like a vicious pit bull ready to rip him apart.
“I told ja not to tell him!” Juliet hollered.
Corey pulled a face, then his grin was back in full force, although Sledge knew this one was fake, the tension in his mate’s neck a dead giveaway. “Yeah, sorry ’bout that, but in my defence, I kept my mouth shut for...” Corey glanced at his watch. “...thirteen hours. That’s gotta be a record.” His smile dropped as Juliet continued to glare at him. “Don’t hit me, hit Sledge, he made me talk.”
Juliet’s gaze shifted to Sledge. She was dressed in black pants and a T, the uniform for her new job at the art gallery where Beth managed. But unlike Corey’s sister, the uniform did Juliet no favours, her body too solid. “I did nuthin’ wrong,” she said. “He came onto me.”
Sledge knew why she was worried. He’d given her a slap around for getting his other mate into deep shit with Ash after Tama had turned her down.
“It’s true,” Corey said.
Sledge took the steps two at a time, and pushed past them to get inside. Fuck, he was pissed with Corey for touching Juliet. He’d told both of the Connor brothers that his sis was off-limits. Plus, Juliet didn’t deserve Corey; his mate was far too good for the munter.
Sledge entered his bedroom and shut the door on Corey’s face. The door reopened and Corey stepped inside. Sledge ignored him, and closed the blinds. His room was small and sparsely furnished with a single bed and a dresser. Posters of Bruce Lee and half-naked women brightened up the walls, while a single light-bulb hung from the ceiling, missing his head by only a few inches.
“Sledge, mate, gimme a break,” Corey said, moving in front of Sledge. “I couldn’t help it, she’s pretty.”
“Pretty?” Sledge stared at Corey in disbelief. “The only way Juliet could be called pretty is if you put ugly after it.”
“God, you’re a shithead.”
“Watch your mouth.”
“Or what, you’ll punch it? Go on then.” Corey moved closer, angling his face up to Sledge’s. Being vertically challenged and with a face that made grandmas coo, Corey looked as intimidating as a stoned chipmunk.
“Piss off.” Sledge pulled off his jacket and T, throwing them on his bed.
Corey’s eyes flicked between Sledge and the bed. Sledge sat down and yanked off his boots, wondering what Corey’s issue was. Agro one second; embarrassed the next. Well, he didn’t have time to baby him; he had to get ready for his job interview. Ever since Tama had been thrown into prison he wanted to get work there, so he could make sure his mate was safe. At the moment Tama was probably alright, but once his stepfather was released from prison, Sledge wasn’t so confident it would stay that way, Tama’s ability to insult people knowing no limits.
Frustrated, Sledge threw his boots at the wardrobe. But then again, what was the bloody point of going? There was no way they’d give him a job, especially since the application pack had said there would be tests. He’d always been useless at school, having to do Year Eleven twice.
Sledge leaned his back against the wall and focused on Corey, who was now facing the door. “C’mon, Corey, there’s no use gettin’ upset. It’s just ... you’re far too good-lookin’ for that ugly cow. You could get any chick. So, why the hell would ja want Juliet for?”
Corey turned around. “You reckon I’m good-lookin’?”
Sledge smiled. “Well, you’re prettier than Juliet, but that ain’t saying much.”
A slow grin spread across Corey’s face. He started to sing and wiggle his butt about, making his jeans fall down again. “You think I’m pretty, you think I’m sexy, I betcha wanna do me—”
“Stoppit, you sick moron.” Sledge grabbed a pillow and threw it at Corey. It hit Corey’s face, making Sledge laugh. “And pull up your pants; I don’t wanna see your Pākehā arse.”
“I’m not a Pākehā!” Corey picked up the pillow and threw it back with more force. His mate always reacted when people called him the Māori word often used for white people. Because of Corey’s pale Irish complexion, he’d been bullied at school, taunted with the word Pākehā. Even though Corey was half Cook Islands Māori, he didn’t look it, well, maybe apart from his full lips.
“Sorry, man, it slipped out,” Sledge said. “I didn’t mean it as an insult like those pricks at school.”
Corey nodded and sat down on the bed. “And I’m sorry ’bout your sis. I should’ve kept it a secret, but I wanted to tell someone, cos she’s my first.”
“Your first what?”
“Bang.” Corey moved his crotch forward.
“Is not; we fucked that chick together.”
“Talk about shit for memories. We roasted her. I got heads, you got tails.”
“But, what about that other chick you said you fucked?”
Corey’s face reddened. “I lied to get Tama off my back.” Corey moved up the bed, and leaned against the wall, his shoulder pressing into Sledge’s arm. “He wuz always calling me a fag, cos I didn’t hit on chicks.”
“That’s cos you’re shy round them.”
“I ain’t shy, it’s just ... it didn’t bother me that they weren’t interested. I wuz so damned fat back then that I could hardly blame them for not wanting me.”
“Shit, it would’ve bothered me.”
Corey shrugged. “I had my mates, plus you were always there.”
“Yeah, but I couldn’t do without pussy.”
Corey grimaced. “I could. That blowjob I got wuz way better.”
Sledge glared at Corey. “Watch your mouth. You’re talking ’bout my sis, you perverted freak.”
“No, Juliet didn’t blow—” Realisation dawned on Corey’s face. “Oh crap, sorry, you meant her pussy.”
“God! That’s why I didn’t want you anywhere near her, cos I knew this shit would happen.”
“I only went with Juliet cos she looks...” Corey’s face dropped, then he tugged his beanie over his eyes.
“Cos she looks, what?”
Sledge pulled back the beanie. “No, tell me.”
“Don’t touch it!” Corey grabbed his beanie and jumped off the bed.
“Why won’t cha tell me?”
“Cos I’d lose you as a mate.”
Corey took off.
Sledge followed him into the passage, getting Corey’s door slammed in his face. He yanked it open and stalked into Corey’s bedroom. “What the hell is wrong with you?!”
Corey spun around. “Get outta my room!”
“Not until you tell me what’s wrong. You were all happy a moment ago, now you look like you’re gonna cry.”
Corey covered his eyes. “I wanna move out.”
Sledge went still. “What? Why?”
“This ain’t working.”
“Yes, it is.”
Corey pulled his beanie completely down, hiding half of his face, only his lips visible.
“Shit, don’t get upset.” Sledge reached out for Corey, pulling him into a hug.
His mate stiffened for a moment, then leaned into Sledge. “I’m scared.”
“’Bout the radiotherapy?”
Corey hesitated, then nodded.
Sledge placed his cheek on Corey’s head and tightened his grip. He was scared about that too. No, he was terrified; he couldn’t take it if Corey died. “You’ll be alright.”
A female voice cut through the room. “What the hell?”
Sledge let go of Corey fast. He glanced over at Juliet who was staring at him in disbelief. “Corey wuz upset,” Sledge said, feeling awkward, like he’d been caught doing something wrong. Juliet continued to stare. “What?” Sledge said. “Guys are allowed to hug too.”
“Not like that.”
“Yes, they do, so fuck off!”
Juliet jolted, then disappeared around the corner.
Refocusing on Corey, Sledge lifted up his mate’s beanie. Corey kept his gaze down, his cheeks bright red. “I’ve gotta get ready for the job interview,” Sledge said. “Will ya promise to be here when I get back?”
Sledge patted Corey’s cheek softly. “Things will work out, Corey. I promise.” Sledge turned and walked out of the room, not sure what just happened.
Ash lay on their bed, still shivering from the shower, his dark eyes staring into nothing. It was freaking Beth out, because no matter what she said he didn’t respond. She’d seen him act like this before, but he’d had an excuse then, he’d self-medicated after a nasty fight, the drugs causing him to space out.
Beth pulled the blanket further over him. “Please tell me why Sledge being at the hearing upset you.”
He remained silent.
“I wanna help, Ash, but I can’t if you keep shutting me out.” When he didn’t reply, she prodded him. “Say sumpthin’, anything.” She waited a few seconds then jumped off the bed. “I don’t understand why you can’t talk to me! It makes me feel useless, like I’m nuthin’ to you.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice barely audible.
She went still, surprised he’d answered her, then she lowered herself back down to the bed. “What did Sledge do?”
“Ash, don’t fob me off.” She waited for a moment then spoke again. “Please tell me.”
“Then you should be able to tell me.”
“Just leave me alone.”
“Not until you tell me.”
He turned over, facing away from her.
“Ash, stop ignoring me.”
He pulled the blanket over his head.
“God, you frustrate me!” She got up and stormed out of the room, too angry to deal with him anymore. As she entered the dining-room, Dante glanced up from his mug of coffee. He was seated at the white Formica table, tapping one of the packages in front of him. He dropped his gaze, giving her the impression he was ignoring her too.
She tightened the belt on her kimono, yanking it so hard she thought it might snap. “You two are always hiding things from me. Well, stuff you both.” She stalked into the kitchen and poured herself some coffee, her hand shaking badly. She felt guilty for getting mad at them when they were both upset, but she was just so... Gah! It was like Ash and Dante lived in their own world, which she wasn’t a part of, just a guest overstaying her welcome.
Coffee spilt on her hand, scolding it. She cursed and stuck it under the tap. She didn’t normally lose her cool, but it seemed to be one thing after the other with Ash. And he thought she was the dramatic one. It would’ve been laughable if it didn’t make her want to cry, because she couldn’t do anything right with him.
Dante coughed. Beth looked over the breakfast bar at the back of his head, his hair the same messy waves as Ash’s. Tension ran across his shoulders, his back ram-rod straight. He was tapping the table now, the tempo getting more and more agitated.
She finished rinsing her hand and wiped it on a towel, then picked up her mug and took it to the other end of the table. She sat down, and looked across at Dante. He was staring at the passage doorway as though he was willing Ash to walk through it. Her eyes wandered over his face, so similar to his brother’s, the age difference not noticeable. It was probably because Dante lived life harder; always at one party or another, snorting drugs or downing beer like it was soft drink.
Dante turned to look at Beth. She quickly dropped her gaze, hoping he didn’t think she’d been staring. Usually she was more careful when she observed him, but her emotions were all over the place at the moment, unguarded and strung out. Still, she shouldn’t be looking at him—at all, and especially not at a time like this. But she couldn’t help it! Lately, she’d been wondering what things would’ve been like if she’d asked him out instead of Ash, because he also fascinated her—which was driving her insane. She could be furious with him, but still find herself wanting to touch his hair ... his lips ... his body... She dug her nails into her legs to stop her thoughts.
The slamming of a door made her jump. Ash entered the dining-room, leathered up and with his dark sunglasses on, looking ready for work as though nothing had happened. He snatched the packages off the table and grabbed the keys off the breakfast bar, muttering to Dante, “Gotta use your car, mine crapped out last night.” Before she knew it, he’d disappeared out the front door.
Resisting the urge to cry, Beth covered her eyes. But it was her own fault for getting involved with him, because he’d always been slightly removed from everyone, preferring his own company over others. Plus, her brothers had warned her not to hook up with him, Corey being the most vocal of the two, saying that Ash was a thug and a few other unmentionables. She knew Corey hated Ash because of how he treated Sledge, but Ash wasn’t always harsh on Sledge, and when he did completely lose his rag it was only over something serious. In the time she’d been with him that had only happened twice. She frowned, knowing she was making excuses again, because whatever Ash’s reasons for hurting Sledge were, they still didn’t make his behaviour right.
Her curtain of hair was brushed aside, startling her. She glanced up to find Dante leaning over the table. His hand ran down her cheek, his expression concerned. “You alright?”
She stared at him, totally taken aback. No guy had ever looked at her in that way, like they truly cared—and especially not Ash.
Dante’s voice snapped her back to reality. “Don’t touch me,” she said, smacking his hand away.
“Sorry. You looked upset.”
She glared at him, willing herself to ignore his wounded expression. “Why couldn’t you do the delivery today?”
“You know why I can’t go to the Jones’s house.”
Yeah, she damn well knew why Dante couldn’t deliver there. “Then you shouldn’t have slept with Deano’s wife.”
“Why do ya always hafta bring that up? It happened ages ago, and I told ja enough times that I don’t remember nuthin’ ’bout that night.”
“Cos you were off your face—as usual.”
“It’s none of your business what I do—”
“—or who you do,” she finished his sentence. “I don’t need reminding, and you’re wrong, cos it is my business when Ash has to clean up after you.”
Looking sullen, Dante leaned back in his chair. “I wouldn’t have done Carly if I wuzn’t shitfaced.”
“Another pathetic excuse.” Her eyes widened at Dante’s furious expression, his change from apologetic to angry far too sudden.
“I shouldn’t hafta make excuses to you!” he yelled. “You’re not my girlfriend.”
He sneered. “You’re the pathetic one, hanging around Ash when he obviously doesn’t want you.”
Anger grasped Beth so tight it felt like Dante was squeezing her throat, making her want to scream at him for release, because he was right, she knew it deep down inside that Ash didn’t want her. “What would you know?! You don’t have a clue ’bout my relationship with Ash or about relationships full stop. All you do is have sex, and when you’re not doin’ some floozy, then you’re off drinking, snorting or doin’ the lot. You’re a bloody loser, leeching off your brother!”
Dante got to his feet, pushing his chair backwards, the crash resounding through the room. “I’m not a loser! I pull my weight round this place. For fuck’s sake, ever since Nike quit working for us, I’ve been the one dealing with the cokeheads.” He pointed a finger at her. “And I can fuck whoever I damn well please, it has got nuthin’ to do with you. And why the hell would you care anyway?”
“I-I don’t,” she said, shocked by his reaction. His right hand was fisting as though he wanted to slam into her face, her chest, her heart... She got up and moved around the table, using it as a barrier between them. He followed, making her back up into the glass sliding door. She lifted her hands instinctively. He pushed them down and moved in close—too close, and not like she wanted, his intimidating stance far from erotic. She’d seen him do this to people he wanted to scare, and right now, she knew it worked.
He bared his teeth. “Just cos you think I’m shit, doesn’t mean other females do.”
“I di-didn’t mean...” She flinched as he raised a hand.
He placed it on the glass door. “And you think I’m vulgar? At least I don’t scream my head off so the whole neighbourhood can hear me fucking.”
Feeling ashamed, Beth dropped her gaze. She’d wanted Dante to hear her having sex—wanted to turn him on. She didn’t know how she could do that to Ash, even more so because she loved him, but ... she loved Dante too. She’d never loved two guys at the same time before, didn’t think it was possible until she’d met the Ratas.
“Look at me,” Dante growled.
Beth shook her head.
“Am I that repulsive?” he said, running a finger between her breasts, parting her kimono.
Beth breathed in sharply, shocked that he was touching her so intimately.
His thumb brushed her hard nipple. “Looks like that’s a no.”
A thrill ran through her body, her reaction to his touch terrifying her just as much as his expression. “Don’t touch me!” she said, pushing his hand away.
A mean smile played across his lips. “I don’t believe it, you’re actually turned on.” His hand moved to her other nipple.
She slapped it away. “It’s cold, you arrogant jerk.”
His eyes danced with amusement. “You remind me of a chick I used to know. She insulted me all the time. You wanna know how I got her to stop?” When Beth didn’t reply, he lowered his head, so close that she thought he was going to kiss her. He stopped within a breath of her mouth. “I fucked her. Is that why you insult me? You want me to fuck you?”
“No,” she said, her voice barely a squeak.
“Say it with more feeling.”
She shoved at his chest, desperate to get distance between them. “I wouldn’t have sex with you.”
“I didn’t say you would, just that you want to.”
I do! Fuck, I do! Please go away...
He ran a hand down her leg.
“No answer?” he said as his fingers delved under her kimono. “So, how do you want it? Hard or brutal? Yeah, brutal, cos you’re a screamer.”
“Don’t touch me,” she said too softly, his hand distracting her.
“Don’t touch me,” he mimicked as his hand parted her thighs. “Say it with more feeling, slut.”
“I’m not a slut!”
“Then don’t call me one either!” he yelled into her face.
No longer able to take it, she shoved at his chest again, screaming out when it made no difference, “You are a slut!”
“Takes one to know one.”
“Liar! I don’t screw everyone in sight, not caring if they belong to someone else.”
He flinched. “I’m not a cheat.”
“Did I hit a nerve?” she said, feeling triumph she’d found something that upset him.
“Say it with more feeling, slut,” she said, flinging his words back at him.
“I’m not a slut!”
“Yes, you are! You screwed Deano’s wife right in front of me, on the same bloody bed!”
He jerked back. “What?”
She swallowed down her fear, the memory still humiliating her. “I wuz at that party. I felt sick, so I went to lie down. I woke up to find you having sex with that horrible woman right next to me.”
A whoosh of air left his mouth, like she’d punched him in the gut—or shot him in the heart. He took a step back and shook his head, his eyes pleading with her to tell him it wasn’t true. They stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity, neither one of them saying a word. Beth finally broke the silence, her discomfort growing with every breath.
“I thought you did it on purpose to upset me,” she said.
“Why would I do that for?” His face dropped. “Jesus, I didn’t do you too, did I?”
“Is that why you hate me?” he said, his voice breaking.
No, it’s why I want you. Ever since that night; she day-dreamed about Dante being with her instead of Carly, waking up to him on top of her—naked. She would fight against him, but he’d overpower her, forcing her to do what he wanted. She’d even asked Ash to take her roughly while she fought back, trying to stop him in the same way she’d fantasised about Dante. Ash had looked at her horrified, like she was disturbed, so she never asked again.
Dante raised his hands to his head. “Stop lookin’ at me like that, I didn’t do it on purpose. Jesus!” He glanced up at the ceiling, his expression pained. “I just... I don’t wanna remember things, so I get off my face, and when I’m off my face, I usually end up in someone’s bed. I tell myself not to take that shit, but I can’t stop myself.” He dropped his gaze. “You’re right, I am repulsive, a slut, and whatever other names you wanna call me.”
Beth stared at him, not knowing how to handle his hurt reaction.
His jaw clenched. “All the good females treat me like scum. Like you, Lavinia and Kara. Kara...” He shook his head. “I actually thought she wanted me for more than a shag, but nope, she went off with some lawyer. She lives in Remuera now. It figures she’d find someone rich with her looks.”
Beth didn’t know who Kara or Lavinia were, and she didn’t want to either, instead she was more interested in what he’d said about her. “You think I’m good?”
His brows furrowed. “Yeah, that’s why Ash is with you. He always gets the good females. Me, I drive them away.”
She wanted to hug him, to tell him those women weren’t worth his time since they were too stupid to see how wonderful he was.
He continued talking, like he was purging his soul. “I don’t understand what I do wrong. They tell me they’re fine with me being rough, then they get all upset when I follow through. And it’s not like they don’t know what I’m like to start with. Is that why you didn’t ask me out? Cos of my rep?”
“Why do ya think I would’ve asked you out?” Although I did seriously consider it, but kept changing my mind, not sure whether I wanted you or Ash more. But God, I want you more than anything now.
“Me and Ash look the same, but you still chose him over me. Why? You’re my age, not his.”
“My friends said you’re a player,” and that Ash was a one woman man. But was that ‘one’ woman me or his ex?
“Only cos I don’t have a chick like you. Even though you treat me like shit, I wished you’d asked me instead of Ash.” He pulled a face, like he’d said something he shouldn’t have. “I just want...” He swore, then grabbed her face.
Beth went still, too shocked to move, his mouth practically devouring hers, his kissing much rougher than Ash’s. And he tasted different too, a hint of mochaccino ghosting his breath, and... Oh God... His hand slipped under her kimono and grasped her breast, no teasing involved, just raw desire as he kneaded it and plucked at her nipple so hard she wanted to come.
“I would treat you right,” he murmured against her lips.
Beth remained still, too scared and excited to stop him, and not wanting to either. He took a hold of her kimono and yanked it down to her waist, the belt the only thing stopping it from falling to the floor. Beth shivered as he kissed down her neck and over her collarbone, then sucked in a breath as his mouth latched onto her bare breast, momentarily forgetting where she was.
He tore at her belt, dropping her kimono to the floor. Now completely naked, her dazed eyes shifted to the picture on the wall. A photo of a teenage Ash stood dressed in rugby gear, his frown a contradiction to the winning trophy in his hands. She closed her eyes, guilt hitting her hard. Ash didn’t deserve this, but...
She gasped as Dante’s fingers touched her below, one entering as he continued to suckle on her breast. She opened her eyes and looked down at his wavy hair, like she was looking at Ash. Dante let go of her breast and lifted her, propping her at the edge of the table. He grabbed her head with one hand and kissed her hard, his tongue delving inside her mouth. Something clunked on the lino. Breaking their kiss, he lowered her onto the cold surface of the table and lifted one of her legs. The touch of his cock at her entrance startled her, making her lift her head. He paused for a moment, staring at her intensely, then slowly entered her, not taking his eyes off her face. Wanting it faster, she pushed her pelvis at him, impaling herself further, the sudden movement causing her pain, but she groaned into it, loving the feeling.
He lifted her legs over his shoulders and started to piston in and out. Her hands reached for him, needing him closer. He leaned down and brushed his lips against hers, then stopped his thrusting completely as his mouth wandered down to her breast again. She grabbed his head and arched upwards, keening as he suckled her, his tongue, mouth and teeth working overtime, driving so much need down her body that she was desperate for release.
He bit her nipple, making her scream, a mixture of pain and pleasure thrashing through her. He let go of her breast and started pumping her hard, shunting the table back and forth, and taking her over the edge in more ways than one. With her head hanging over the table, she cried out, “I love you!” her body finally getting the release she needed.
He went rigid, then pulled out so suddenly it startled her. Still feeling the afterglow of the orgasm, she lay on her back in a daze, watching him as he stared at the wall behind her. He muttered something in a language she didn’t understand, then raised his hands to his head, his expression pained.
Concerned he’d hurt himself, she pushed up. “What’s wrong?” she said, reaching for him.
“Don’t touch me!” He stepped back and fell over the chair, then tugged up his pants and took off down the passage.
Beth went to follow, but stopped, her gaze moving to the picture he’d been staring at. Within the metal frame, a teenage Ash held a pre-teen Dante in a headlock, the smiles on their faces showing they were having fun—a loving relationship between brothers.
The full realisation of what she’d done finally hit Beth.
Beth banged on his bedroom door, pleading with him to let her in.
“Oprosti mi!” Dante shouted the Croatian words he used for apologising, something he said when he’d done something so bad that English was inadequate. And he was always sorry for something, because he found it hard to control himself, constantly doing whatever he wanted whether it hurt people or not. He saw, he took, and damn the consequences. But this time he’d gone too far, Ash’s woman not someone he should’ve touched, no matter how much he wanted to.
“Please don’t tell Ash!” Beth shouted.
As if he would. He didn’t want to hurt his brother, plus he couldn’t handle it if Ash stopped talking to him. He didn’t mind taking a beating—he deserved it, but Ash was the type to totally cut people off if they betrayed him. That scared him more than anything, because he needed Ash in his life.
Love me? Did she mean what she’d said earlier? It wasn’t something he thought was possible, yet he’d never thought she’d respond to his touch either. But now, after hearing her words...
“I didn’t mean for this to happen,” Beth said, snapping him out of his thoughts. “It wuz a mistake.”
He went still for a second, then grabbed a model car off the bedside table and threw it at the door, rage taking over. “I already know I’m a big fuckin’ mistake, so fuck off!” He flopped back onto his bed, pissed off for being so gullible, and believing for a second that she actually loved him. No female really wanted him, their words of love never leading to anything. They only came over for sex, because that was all he was good for. He was just something to brag about to their mates; a naked picture on a phone to laugh at or a dirty li’l secret to hide from their husband or boyfriend.
“I didn’t say you were a mistake,” Beth said.
“Yes, you did.”
“Just unlock the door, so we can sort this out.”
“It’s sorted: you love Ash, no one loves me.”
“Stop it, Dante, please lemme in.”
“Why? So you can fuck me over again.”
“Don’t be like this.”
He lifted his right arm, focusing on the faded number scrawled across his flesh. The female who’d put it there last night wanted to screw him too. She’d been all over him, even shoving her mate out of the way when the other chick tried to make a move. And she’d had a smoking hot bod that he wanted to pump so hard she snapped, but he’d decided not to go with her, because he was sick of being told after he’d done the deed they had someone else. Yeah, he’d noticed the pale line on her wedding finger. That wouldn’t have bothered him when he was a teenager, he just did any hot chick he could, but now... he wanted more, wanted an actual relationship, someone who loved him. He knew it was pathetic—God, how Beth was right, but he couldn’t do the one-night stands anymore, because... Fuck! He was turning into a sap, and a whiny bitch at that.
“Dante, I’m sorry,” Beth called out. “I lost control, but Ash doesn’t needa know ’bout this. It’s not like you love me or anything.”
“I already told ja I won’t tell him.” And I do love you. Bloody classic that he fell for his brother’s woman, a real walking cliché. The banging on the door continued. He needed a distraction, something to take his mind of her. He reached for the leather jacket hanging off the desk chair and pulled out his phone, scrolling down his contacts to look for Tiana’s number. Unlike Beth, Ash’s ex never talked to him like he was worthless. Oh, she would tell him off at times, but it wasn’t demeaning. Instead, it was more like a sister scolding a brother, just in a respectful manner. And he did love her like a sister. He missed living with her, and missed his nephew even more, the house not the same without the li’l fella.
He hit the number, hoping Tiana was home. After a few seconds a female voice answered, “Dante?”
“How’s it goin’?”
“Not too good.”
“Why, what’s wrong? Is Ash alright?”
Dante smiled sadly. No matter what Ash said, there was no doubt in his mind that Tiana still loved his brother. If anything, he thought those two were idiots for not sorting their shit out, because if he was ever lucky enough to find love like that, he would fight for it with all he had. Mutual love, that is. He looked over at the door as Beth continued to knock, wishing she loved him.
“Dante?” Tiana said, her voice sounding even more concerned. “You there?”
“Yeah, sorry. Ash is just upset. Chaz’s hearing went badly.”
“Oh, God, did that creature get parole?”
“I dunno, I lost my rag and had to leave.”
“Oh, Dante, I’m sorry. Did Ash go?”
“Good, he shouldn’t hafta see that horrible creature ever again. And what’s that banging?”
Dante glanced at the door as Beth called out again. Jesus, that woman never gave in. “Ash’s girlfriend is mad at me.”
Tiana exhaled loudly.
“Sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have mentioned her. And Ash is only with her cos you left him.”
“I didn’t have a choice.”
“Don’t gimme that bull,” Dante said, suddenly angry at her excuse. “You did have a choice, and you broke him when you walked out with his son.”
Tiana stifled a sob, then the phone went silent.
Dante swore under his breath. Why couldn’t he fucking control himself? He could go from being perfectly polite to biting someone’s head off in a second. He didn’t mean to, shit just flew out of his mouth before he could think.
“I’m sorry, T,” he said. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m just really strung out.”
She sniffled. “I can’t talk right now.”
“No, no, please don’t hang up on me; I didn’t ring to upset you.”
“So, you’ll forgive me?”
“Nuthin’ to forgive when it’s the truth.”
“Oh, sweetness, don’t cry,” Dante said, feeling like utter dog turd.
She breathed out, the sound shaky. “Don’t worry ’bout it.”
“I s’pose you won’t want me coming over now?”
“You wanna come over?”
“Yeah, I’d love to see Angelo. I bought him those rugby cards he likes,” Dante said, the last part a lie, although he fully intended on picking them up on the way.
She went silent again.
“Please, T, I really needa get outta the house, Beth is driving me insane.”
“Okay, you can come over,” she answered way too fast, his mention of Beth no doubt the motivating factor.
Relieved, Dante stood up. “Cheers, I’ll see ya in thirty minutes, and tell Angelo his Uncle Dumbte’s coming.”
Tiana laughed softly, the sound making Dante feel a bit better. “You shouldn’t encourage him,” she said. “He’s not three anymore, he can say your name properly now.”
“But I think it’s adorable.”
“Yeah, it is, Dante,” she accentuated his name.
“Okay, Tiana, see ya soon.” Smiling, he pocketed the phone, then grabbed his leather jacket and headed for the door, hoping that the silence meant Beth had left. He opened it, and looked down. Beth was sitting on the floor, wearing her colourful kimono. Her face was flushed, and she looked like she’d been crying.
She scrambled to her feet. “Are ya gonna tell Ash?”
“How many times do I hafta tell ya I won’t? Why the hell would I wanna hurt him? I feel like scum as it is.”
She raised a hand to her forehead. “I’m sorry too; I didn’t mean for things to happen.”
His gaze lowered to her breasts as the kimono parted from the movement. He closed his eyes. “It’s not your fault, it’s mine. I shouldn’t have touched you.”
“Dante ...” Her hand brushed his arm.
Jesus, he couldn’t do this. Opening his eyes, he moved her aside, and strode through the passage. He didn’t want to be near her—to be tempted. He pulled out his phone and scrolled down to find the number of a taxi.
Footsteps followed him. “Dante, where are ya goin’?”
He opened the front door, and reeled off his address to the lady on the other end of the line, then hung up.
“Can’t we talk some more?” Beth grabbed his arm.
Dante pulled free. “There’s nuthin’ to talk about. I already said I’d keep my mouth shut. What more do ya want from me?”
“I wanted to know how you ... feel.” She looked almost hopeful, like she really cared. His gaze followed her hand as she brushed her long, straight black hair away from her beauti— Shit, he had to stop looking at her like that.
“What do you care how I feel?” he said. “You made it doubly clear that you don’t give a shit ’bout me. And you’re forgetting that I’m just a slut.”
“I didn’t mean that—”
“But you’re still treating me like one. Maybe you should stuff some cash down my pants, cos all I am to you is a fuckin’ whore, your dirty li’l secret.”
She looked like he’d slapped her. “That’s a horrid thing to say.”
But it’s true. Dante glanced at the road, hoping the taxi would turn up quick. Beth continued talking. He blocked her out, not interested in her panicked babbling. After a few minutes, the taxi finally arrived. He jumped down the steps and headed for it.
He ignored her. There was nothing he could say that would make things right, but there was one thing he could do, and that was to never touch her again—no matter how much he wanted to.
After stopping off to buy a bundle of cards for Angelo, Dante glanced back at Sylvia Park shopping centre from the backseat of the taxi. A Hoyts cinema, the yellow PAK’nSAVE supermarket and numerous other shops made up the largest mall in New Zealand, along with a massive car park lining the front.
Lower to middle class houses flashed by as the taxi headed along Mt. Wellington highway, the neighbourhood a step up from his. The music on the radio came to an end, soon followed by the twelve o’clock news: “There has been a prison riot at...”
The mention of Chaz’s prison caught Dante’s attention. “Turn it up.”
The taxi driver did as instructed.
“Two deaths have been confirmed, while four other prisoners have been admitted to Middleton hospital, one critically injured. Police and hospital staff have assured the public that the prisoners are being heavily guarded and are not a threat to public safety. The riot was believed to have started after an eighteen-year-old male attacked a fellow inmate. The youth is amongst the dead.” The reporter cut to another story.
“You can turn it down now,” Dante said, wondering whether Chaz had been injured—or killed. He pulled out his phone, checking if he had any texts or calls relating to it. Instead, numerous messages from Beth cluttered his in-box. Dante deleted them, then re-pocketed the phone as the taxi turned onto Tiana’s street. He pointed to her house. “Number 8 with the large trees out front.”
The taxi driver pulled over to the kerb. Dante paid the man then got out. Several houses along the road were well looked after, the two-storey brick one across from Tiana’s the nicest, while a few others only required a slap of paint and a clean to turn the street into a picture of middle-class suburbia.
Dante entered Tiana’s property. Custard apple trees shaded the front of the wooden bungalow, while a banana tree framed the far corner. He jumped up the steps and knocked on the door. A young voice squealed inside, then a few seconds later the door pulled open. Angelo peered up at Dante with food smeared across his face. With an unruly mop of black hair and dark eyes, his nine-year-old nephew was a mini-Ash, just darker, Angelo’s Tongan and Māori blood overpowering his Croatian heritage.
“Uncle Dumbte!” His nephew ploughed into him, trying to tackle Dante’s legs out from under him.
Dante steadied himself on the doorframe then grabbed Angelo, lifting him upside down.
Angelo reached for the ground, squealing, “Lemme down, lemme down!”
Laughing, Dante turned him around and placed Angelo gently onto his feet.
“Where are my cards?” Angelo hollered. The kid was loud, always talking at top volume. The only time he was quiet was when he was asked a question, then the li’l blighter wouldn’t say a word, usually ignoring the person—like his father often did.
Dante pulled the cards out of his jacket as Tiana rounded the corner. Angelo snatched them from Dante and took off down the passage, pushing past his mother, who snapped at him to say thank you.
“Thank you!” Angelo yelled, disappearing around the corner.
Tiana shook her head. “He’s a li’l ratbag that boy.”
“At least I got a thank you this time,” Dante said. “I usually only get a grunt.”
Tiana smiled. She had flour dusting her caramel-coloured cheeks and some on her apron. Like Beth, she was tall, but other than that, the two looked nothing alike. Instead of being slim, Tiana was voluptuous, and had thick, wavy brown hair and almond-shaped eyes. When Ash had started dating her in high school, his brother had nicknamed her his “Polynesian princess.” And she was a beauty, although she didn’t realise it, unlike Beth, who knew she was hot.
“What do ya want to drink?” Tiana asked. “Juice, coffee or tea?”
“Juice will do,” he said, although he was aching for something stronger. He wanted to get blotto, so he didn’t have to think about Beth—or Chaz. Jesus, what else could go wrong today?
He followed Tiana into the lounge and settled himself on the floral couch, while she went to get his drink. Angelo was sitting cross-legged on the floor, staring at SpongeBob on the telly with his rugby cards spread out in front of him.
“You wanna go outside and play rugby?” Dante asked.
Angelo didn’t answer.
“It doesn’t hafta be rugby, it can be anything you want.”
“Shut up, SpongeBob’s on,” Angelo said, without taking his eyes off the screen.
“Don’t be rude, Angelo,” Tiana growled as she entered the lounge. She placed Dante’s drink on the coffee table, then picked up the remote and switched off the program.
“No!” Angelo scrambled for the TV.
“Your uncle came to visit you, not SpongeBob. And you don’t tell adults to shut up.”
“I needa watch it!” Angelo squealed, turning it back on.
“Don’t worry, T,” Dante said. “It’s alright, I don’t mind.”
Tiana gave the back of Angelo’s head a scowl. “He needs to learn some manners.” She sat down next to Dante, looking like she was aching to turn the TV off again.
Dante patted her leg. “Chill, boys are naturally rude, there’d be sumpthin’ wrong with him if he wuzn’t.”
“My brother wasn’t rude when he was little.”
“Then he sure made up for it as a teenager.”
She smiled, reminding Dante of Ash’s love-struck description of her, ‘Brighter than the sun and lovelier than the moon.’ His brother never said things like that anymore—and definitely not to Beth.
Tiana’s expression saddened, a cloud of emotion smothering her sunny smile. “Why didja go to the hearing?” she said.
“I thought I could handle it. Not one of my brightest ideas. Still, it wuz lucky I did, cos Sledge turned up.”
“Good Lord, does he know what happened to Ash?”
“How’d he take it?”
“Shocked, angry, disgusted with Chaz.”
“Has he talked to Ash about it?”
“No, they stay well clear of each other now. Remember I told ja Ash kicked Sledge out a few months back?”
“Yeah, you mentioned they had an argument.”
“An argument?” Dante shook his head. “I must’ve been tripping that day, cos that’s the understatement of the century. Sledge and his mate attacked one of Ash’s friends, so Ash took it upon himself to enact justice. I had to pull him offa Sledge, cos he wouldn’t stop bashing him.”
Tiana’s eyes went wide. “Angelo, go outside and play.”
“But, I wanna watch SpongeBob!”
Angelo pulled a face at his mother, then ran out the backdoor, yelling that she was mean to him.
Tiana refocused on Dante. “I can’t believe either of them did that, but Ash... I thought of all people he would know better, especially after how your dad used to beat him up.”
Dante sighed. “My dad wuz ill when he hurt Ash, but he did try to make up for it, and he’s not such a bad guy now, he just needs help at times.”
“Still, it doesn’t excuse what he did to Ash, nor what Ash did to Sledge. Sledge is just a kid.”
“No, he’s not. Sledge is a big bugger, even taller than me and Ash now.”
“Yeah, I guess he doesn’t visit you guys.”
“I haven’t seen him since we moved out of Claydon.”
Dante shook his head, disgusted with Sledge. “I’ll have a word with him, cos that’s not on. And don’t mention anything to Ash either, cos he feels bad enough over what happened. He tried to make up for it, begged his mate not to press charges against Sledge, which at least kept the bugger outta prison.”
“Not like I see Ash anyway, so it won’t be a problem.”
Dante frowned. “Only cos you take off with Angelo every time he comes to visit. You shouldn’t do that, Ash has a right to see his son.”
Tiana ran a hand over her face, looking like she wanted to cry.
Dante squeezed her knee. “You shouldn’t run, it hurts him, and he misses Angelo like crazy, and you too. You do know he still loves you, don’t you?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“It’s true, he does.”
“If he did he wouldn’t be with Beth.”
“He’s only with her cos you left him. And he’d drop her in a second for you.”
“Doubt it, he let her move in.”
“Cos she pestered him, and she isn’t right for him; she doesn’t love him like you do.”
Tiana shook her head again. “It doesn’t matter what I feel, I can’t live in that house anymore. I hafta do what’s right for Angelo, and that’s to be away from what your family does.”
“What your family does. You’re part of the family whether you like it or not.”
“No, I’m not, cos I don’t get a say. And if Ash left the business—like I asked him to, we wouldn’t be having this discussion now.”
“You know he tried to, but the boss has got him by the short and curlies. If he doesn’t work for Craven that bastard will send out his thugs to take Angelo.”
Tiana screwed up her face. Dante put an arm around her shoulders and pulled him in close, giving her head a kiss. “Don’t cry, sis.”
Tiana wiped her eyes. “I miss him.”
“I know you do, which is why I don’t understand why you two can’t sort out a compromise.”
“He has Beth.”
“I told you my opinions on her.”
“If he left her, then...” she sighed. “It doesn’t matter; it’s better this way.”
“No, it’s not. You love Ash, he loves you, and poor Beth is caught in the middle. He’s making her miserable. Sometimes I don’t even think he likes her, just lets her hang around.”
“Why do you care ’bout how she feels? She’s horrible to you. She’s a horrible person all round.”
“No, she’s not, she’s lonely. I see it. I know what it looks like,” feels like. “You should see her face when Ash ignores her. She asks him a question and it’s like she hasn’t even spoken. I don’t think he does it intentionally, it’s just... He gets too wrapped up in his thoughts and he doesn’t see what’s around him sometimes, or how it hurts people. I thought he wuz having hearing problems to start with, but it’s just him, he’s off in his own world. Please, T, go see him. Stop this now, it’s not just you and Ash hurting here, it’s Beth,” and me “as well.”
“I...” She breathed out. “Just gimme some time to think ’bout it. It hurts seein’ him. All I want...” She shook her head, her face pained. “I hafta think ’bout what’s best for Angelo.”
“Which is for you and Ash to get back together.”
She dropped her gaze again. “We’ll see.”
Dante nodded. Although it was a small concession, he felt like he’d made a breakthrough.
“Where’s Ash now?” Tiana asked.
She glanced up, her expression wishful. “Do ya think Craven will ever let you two quit the business?”
“Dunno. Plus, if he did, I’m not sure I could give it up. Unlike Ash, I only know how to deal. That’s pretty pathetic, which is ironic, considering how I went mad at Beth earlier. Guess she’s right, I am pathetic.”
“No, you’re not!”
“Others have said it too.”
“Well, they’re wrong.”
“No, they’re not; you’re just way too nice to admit it.”
“No, Dante. They. Are. Wrong. And what about your family? They don’t think you’re like that at all, they love you. Sledge even idolises you.”
“Don’t shrug at me, it’s true, and don’t let those horrible people get you down. Ignore them and prove them wrong.”
“I should’ve had a teacher like you when I wuz a kid. Your students are lucky.”
“I love teaching. You should find sumpthin’ you love to do too.”
He smiled. “I have; I love drugs and they make me feel real good.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sumpthin’ legal.” She cut him off before he could reply. “And don’t you dare mention sex.”
He laughed. “You know me far too well. Anyway, what does legal mean?”
“Don’t be a smart-alec, Dante. You must like sumpthin’ other than drugs and sex.”
“I like to rap and sing.”
“Yeah, you’ve got a lovely voice.”
“But, it can’t pay the bills. Drugs do.”
“Yeah, but at the expense of both yours and other people’s health. And I’m always worrying ’bout you two, especially with those Joneses. I hope you’re not dealing to them anymore.”
“I stay well clear of that family,” he said, knowing it wasn’t wise to mention where Ash was right now. “So, there’s nuthin’ to worry about. Nuthin’ at all.”
The Jones’s place looked like a crack house, run down with windows taped up and graffiti defacing the broken fence. On the overgrown lawn, two small children played inside a beat-up car, their squeals of joy at odds with the environment. Across the road, a stereo blasted rap music, while a dog barked further down.
Ash tucked his gun into his pants, and got out of Dante’s car, his mind still on Chaz’s parole hearing. If Chaz got out he’d deal with the situation, regardless of whether it landed him in prison, but he didn’t know how to deal with Sledge, to make things right with his bro. And now Sledge knew about the rape, he wasn’t sure if he could face him again, because he couldn’t stand it if the kid looked at him with disgust, mixed in with the fear and hate Ash already knew Sledge harboured against him.
He grabbed the bags from the boot, then headed up the path and knocked on the Jones’s door, for once wishing he could give the finger to his commitments like Dante often did. But not with booze, he hated that shit, it did nothing but ruin his life, instead, he’d disappear down south with his surfboard, going someplace where no one but the waves could find him.
“Get it, Len!” a female hollered, bursting the perfect wave in his head, and sending him crashing back down to reality.
Approaching footsteps sounded on the other side, then the door pulled back to reveal a fat, six-foot motherfucker. Kitted out in jeans and a red and black bush-jacket, Len sneered at Ash, showing a set of yellowed teeth the same colour as his hair. “You’re lucky Deano ain’t here.”
“Why? He has no issues with me.”
Len took a drag on his cigarette, then blew smoke into Ash’s face. “Cos you fucked his wife.”
Ash screwed up his nose and waved a hand in front of his face. “Don’t blow that shit in my face. And how many times do ya hafta see me before you figure out I’m not Dante, you dumb cunt?”
“Watch your mouth, dago bastard. And you look the same.”
“I’m not Italian and Dante has a tat round his left eye.”
“How the fuck would I know? Deano usually deals with you pricks, not me. So, shut your gob, and get in here before someone sees you.”
Ash tucked his T-shirt behind his gun and entered the house. He wished he didn’t have to deal with the Joneses, but his boss gave him no choice, the family also working for Craven.
Ash placed the bags on the table and faced Len as the fat cunt closed the front door. Len’s eyes lowered to Ash’s gun. “Nice piece, just keep it in your pants along with your cock, cos Carly’s home.”
“Fuck off; I’m not interested in her.”
“Good. Now, do you want a beer?”
“The last time I had one my mother died and I ended up in hospital, so get my bloody money or I’m leaving with your stash.”
“What’s your fuckin’ issue?”
“You shot at Dante.”
“Deano ordered me to, and it was last year, so get over it, you prick. Anyway, I purposely missed, so you should kiss my arse.”
“It’s true, cos Craven would’ve killed me if I damaged his property. I aimed for Dante’s car, which made Deano happy and kept Craven off our backs.”
Ash sniffed, surprised that the guy actually had some brains, because he was right, Craven would’ve brought the Joneses down to their knees and begging for mercy if they had killed Dante. Property. Yeah, they were all Craven’s property.
“Just get my money so I can go,” Ash said. “Your place reeks.”
Len headed into the kitchen mumbling, “Dago bastard.” He stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray on the bench dividing the rooms, then pulled open the fridge.
Ash sat down on the couch, wishing Len would stop pissing him about, because he hated being in this place. Not only did it stink of cat piss and cigarettes, but the lounge was lined with boxes, which he knew were full of stolen goods.
A female squealed. “Dante!”
Ash’s gaze shot to the passage doorway as Deano’s wife headed towards him. Bloody hell, she looked awful. He hadn’t seen Carly since Dante had told her to fuck off just under a year ago. Back then she’d been a right stunner, with a figure to die for, but now she appeared gaunt with sunken cheeks and sores peppering her skin, while her once lovely blonde hair was stringy and unkempt.
Len ran out of the kitchen, and grabbed Carly’s arm. “It’s Ash, not Dante.”
Carly tried to yank herself free. “You bastard, lemme go!”
“Don’t speak to me like that!” Len let go and shoved her into the coffee table.
Ash bolted to his feet.
Carly moved in front of Ash, blocking him from Len. “Sit down, hun; I’ll get ya a beer.”
“I don’t drink,” Ash said, still eyeballing Len.
Len jabbed a finger at Carly. “Stay put, woman, while I get him his money. And if you touch him...” He smiled. “Deano said I can take care of things.”
“I won’t touch him.”
“We’ll see.” Len smiled wider, then disappeared down the passage.
Ash sat back down, then jolted in surprise as Carly launched herself onto his lap. She grabbed his head and started kissing him, making him want to chunder. She reeked of cheap methamphetamines, the smell resembling a mixture of burnt plastic and ammonia, the latter probably why the place smelt like cat piss. He hated meth, it was the only drug he refused to sell, his father’s addiction still weighing on him.
He pushed Carly off, accidentally knocking her into the coffee table. She righted herself, then placed her hands on either side of his head, leaning into the couch and giving him an eyeful of what she wasn’t wearing under her baggy T-shirt. “C’mon, Dante, Deano’s out of the country, he won’t know.”
“I’m not Dante. My bro has a tat round his left eye now.” He swatted her hand away as she stroked his hair. Her pupils were dilated, making her irises look almost completely black. Freaked out, Ash shifted down the couch. “Stoppit.”
She followed him. “We were good together.”
“I’m Ash. Remember I went out with your cuz at high school?”
“But I wanna be with you, not Deano,” she said, as though she hadn’t heard him, too spaced-out to listen to reason. She placed her arms around his neck, and tried to kiss him again.
“No!” Ash jerked away.
“For fuck’s sake!” Len stormed over with a bag, and yanked her away from Ash. “Don’t you ever bloody listen?”
She squealed and slapped Len. Len pushed her into the passage, closing the door behind her. She kicked the door and yelled at him, making him holler back: “Stay in there!” When she went silent, Len shook his head and walked back to Ash, muttering, “Crazy bitch.” He slumped down on the couch and dumped the heavy bag on Ash’s lap. “It’s all there, check it if ya want.”
Ash unzipped it, and started counting the money, while Len grabbed the brick of coke. Len opened it and stuck a finger inside, licking off the white powder. “Sweet ... that’s good shit,” he said, putting it aside to check the bag of weed.
Ash quickly finished counting. “All good?” Although he had no idea why the Joneses wanted to get into the drug business, because the amount they were ordering was definitely not for recreational use and well above their means—gathering from their royal abode. Ash snorted, slightly amused. Len gave him a glare, making Ash smile more.
“You dealing now?” Ash asked, not really caring if Len stole his lower-end customers or not. If anything it amused him, knowing that Craven’s men would string the fat bastard up alive, because there was no way Len had been given permission to sell anything but electronics.
Len’s eyes narrowed. “No, it’s for me and Deano.”
“A kilo in a week? Yeah right, I can see you consuming a hundred kilos of McDs in that time, but not coke.”
“Watch your mouth, you cheeky bastard!”
Ash shook his head. “If Craven catches ya dealing, you’ll end up in the Waikato River with the other fat logs.”
“You keep your greasy mouth shut or my aim will be more accurate next time.”
“You threatening me?”
“No, I’m threatening Dante, so shut your gob if you want him hole free.”
Ash clenched his fists. “If you go near my bro—”
“I won’t as long as you don’t tell Craven.”
Ash got to his feet and glared down at Len. “Take my biz away from me for all I care, I don’t give a shit. I’ve had enough of dealing.” He snatched up the bag and headed for the door, sick of this shit-arse business.
Len followed him. “Next time you come here, keep your opinions to yourself, Dago boy.”
Ash flicked Len the finger as he jumped down the front steps. Len yelled racist names then slammed the door behind him. Rain descended over Ash, the cloudy sky matching his mood. He headed for Dante’s car, pissed off with everything. A loud crash came from the house, making him stop. Ash glanced back, then at the kids in the beat-up car. They continued to play, seemingly unconcerned by the noise. He dumped the bag of money into the boot, then moved around to the front of the car, just wanting to go home and bum out for the rest of Saturday. Maybe he could watch a DVD with Beth or spend some quality time in bed with her, making up for how he treated her earlier. Yeah, he’d stop by the dairy and buy her some flowers, because she always liked that. And it wasn’t like he meant to upset her, he just needed some breathing space before he choked on his memories.
Another loud crash sounded, followed by a high pitched scream. Ash froze for a moment, then swore up a storm as he headed back down the path, knowing he shouldn’t interfere, but also knowing he had to do something. Finding the front door locked, he took off around the side of the house. Like the front of the property, the backyard was overgrown with the additions of a garage and clothesline. He entered through the kitchen as another shattering sound came from down the passage.
Len screamed, his voice dripping with pain. “You bitch! I’m gonna fuckin’ kill ya.”
Ash bolted down the passage and stopped at the bedroom where the noise was coming from. Shattered glass and ceramics littered the floor and bed, along with broken picture frames, while on the mattress a bloodied Len was punching Carly, who was curled up into a ball and screaming. Ash grabbed Len from behind, but the guy was too heavy to budge.
Len stopped punching Carly and shoved Ash away, making him stumble into the cabinet. “This has got nuthin’ to do with you!”
Ash launched himself at Len, this time putting his full weight behind him. Len fell off Carly and over the side of the bed, knocking into the front wall. Ash grabbed Carly, yanking her off the bed and pushing her behind him. “Get outta ’ere,” he said, remembering his gun.
Len got to his feet, his fat face full of rage. Before Ash could pull his gun out, Len stepped onto the bed and flung himself at Ash like a WWF pro-wrestler, the fat bastard’s speed taking Ash by surprise. Ash fell into the passageway, the back of his head hitting the wall hard. On autopilot, he raised his leg, kneeing Len in the nuts just as a punch connected with his face. Both of them grunted, but only Len crumpled to the floor. Ash brought a boot down into Len’s fat gut. Len hollered and lashed out, clipping Ash’s heel. Ash righted himself and raised his boot again, then stopped, a sudden bout of dizziness taking over. He wobbled and staggered to the side, then everything went blank.
The sound of a gun firing brought Ash around. Another shot rang out followed by a loud thud. He sat up, everything a blurry mess of colours. He wiped at his eyes, then jolted when a hand touched his face.
“God, I thought he’d killed you,” a female said. She hugged him then started peppering kisses all over his face.
Too disorientated to push her away, Ash laid his head against the wall, wincing at the pain it caused. She stopped kissing his face and latched onto his lips, her breath making him gag. He tried to raise a hand to push her away again, but it flopped back down. He blinked and shook his head, finally clearing his vision and realising where he was.
Carly stopped kissing him and reached around his head, her expression upset. “My poor baby, you’re bleeding.” She wrapped her arms around him and heaved, getting nowhere as she tried to pull him up. “Help me, Dante.”
Too sore and dizzy to correct her, Ash pushed to his feet. She directed him down the passage. He stopped at the doorway to the lounge and leaned against it, everything that had happened coming back. “Where’s Len?”
“I shot him. And I hope he’s dead!” she screamed down the passage. She started laughing, the sound surreal for the situation.
Ash looked down at his pants. Fuck, fuck, fuck, she used his gun! Ash turned to go back to the room. Carly blocked his way, steadying him as he swayed slightly.
“I was protecting you, like you protected me,” she said.
“But, you shot him with my bloody gun.”
Confused, Ash blinked at her. “But you just said you shot him.”
Ash breathed out, remembering she wasn’t all there. He turned and walked back to the room, spotting the gun lying in the doorway. He swiped it up then went still, his gaze moving to the body on the floor. Blood covered one arm and a shoulder, but apart from Len’s scratched up face, Ash couldn’t see any critical damage. He reached out a foot and nudged Len’s leg, then jerked back when Len pushed up onto a hand.
Len’s gaze moved to the gun in Ash’s hand, his eyes going wide with terror. He shuffled away from Ash, banging into the wall. “Don’t kill me, man, please don’t kill me.”
“I don’t intend to as long as you stay away from my family.”
“Yeah, man, no worries, it wasn’t your fault, it was Carly’s,” Len babbled. “All’s good between us.” His gaze moved to Ash’s right, his expression changing from fear to anger in an instant. “You bitch!” Len screamed. “Wait ’til Deano hears what you did!”
Carly screamed back, the two having a yelling match.
Ash put a hand to his head, then hollered at the top of his lungs, “Shut the fuck up!!”
Both Len and Carly went quiet.
Ash pointed the gun at Len again. “You make sure Deano knows nuthin’ ’bout my involvement or I’ll come after both of you, cos I don’t want that jealous shit threatening my brother again.”
“Dante has got nuthin’ to do with this,” Len said.
“Deano will use this as an excuse to get back at him, so ... do you understand?”
Len nodded. “Yeah, no worries, all’s clear. This is Carly’s fault, not yours or Dante’s. You weren’t even here; I didn’t see you at all.”
Ash lowered the gun and pulled out his phone, quickly pressing his boss’s second-in-command’s number. Saul answered after a few rings. Ash relayed what had happened, relieved when Saul said he’d take care of the situation. Ash hung up and pocketed the phone. “Saul will be sending someone over to help you,” he said to Len. “He told me to drop Carly off at the hospital, cos he doesn’t trust you two to be left alone together. So, if you have any issues take it up with him, but be clear, he has stated his men will also come after you if you go near my family, and they’ll make you wish you chose a bullet instead.”
“Yeah, yeah, I understand,” Len said, nodding so hard Ash thought the guy was going to lose his head as well as his mind.
Ash’s attention snapped to the sound of a car. “Gotta go.” He took off, praying that it wasn’t the cops. He exited out the back, almost falling over the steps as the two little kids appeared in front of him. They squealed and disappeared around the side of the house. Ash followed until he neared the front, then flattened his back against the wall. He peered around the corner at the street, relieved when he only spotted Dante’s car. He double-checked all was clear, then moved out, still aware that someone could be watching him from one of the surrounding houses.
Ash turned around, remembering he was supposed to take Carly to the hospital.
She stopped in front of him, looking more excited than scared, again her reactions odd, considering her bloodied and smashed up face. Wishing he didn’t give a fuck, he indicated at the Holden. “Get your kids in the car,” he said, not wanting the little ones around when Craven’s men showed. He wasn’t sure what they would do to Len, the guy having caused trouble too many times before.
Carly hollered at the boy and girl. The kids ran for the car, their angelic faces still scared.
Ash fended off Carly as she tried to help him through the gate. “Stop touching me, I’m fine,” although he didn’t feel it. His vision may have cleared, but his head was hurting like a bitch. He pressed the alarm, trying his best to ignore the chatter of the kids and Carly as they got into the car. He slid behind the wheel, just wanting to go home and sleep for five hundred years.
Carly smiled at him as he started the engine. “I knew it was you, Dante. You’re such a tease. And stop looking so worried, everything will be okay.”
Ash ignored her and headed for the hospital, knowing that things were far from okay.
Corey peeked through his curtains, wishing Sledge would get home. He’d been lying on his bed since Sledge had left for the interview, replaying over and over what had happened earlier. Even though Sledge had been nice, he was afraid his mate would eventually suss out what a fraud he was. He couldn’t handle losing Sledge’s friendship, because if he did, he wouldn’t care what the cancer did to him, because his mate was his life.
Moans started up again in the next room, snapping Corey out of his thoughts. He screwed up his nose, wishing Naf and Aroha would quit it. Man, it was gross that his brother was doing the smelly bird. Yeah, Naf was fat and desperate for a shag, but Aroha? She must be as old as their mum. Gross! And worse, she smelt like she didn’t know the meaning of the word bath.... or shower... or wet-wipes...
Corey dropped the curtains and sat down on his bed. He pulled out a joint from the bedside drawer, and grabbed his lighter out of the jeans lying on the floor. After a few flicks, the weed lit up and he sat back on his bed inhaling the sweet smoke. Marijuana was the only thing that made him feel better, even made him want to eat, which he avoided unless he was starving. Because of chemo, he felt sick and tired most of the time, barely able to get up ... in more ways the one. He frowned at the memory of going with Juliet. Well, she always managed to get the
A car pulled up outside. He pushed off the bed and peeked out at Juliet’s red Hyundai. Bugger it. He was hoping it was Sledge.
He turned back to his bed, gritting his teeth as the noise coming from his brother’s room picked up in volume, Naf’s girlfriend working more than her vocal chords. Corey lay down on his side, and jammed a pillow against his ear, wishing that Naf worked the day shift.
He took a drag on his joint, dropping ash onto the bed. He flicked it, then took another puff, not caring that he was ruining the sheet. He jumped as someone banged on the door.
“Corey, you in there?” Juliet called out.
Corey kept quiet. He felt bad about breaking his word to her. But whenever he was with Sledge he couldn’t help what he said, his mate always making him want to brag. Still, he shouldn’t have done it.
He heard the door open and close. He removed the pillow and looked up as Juliet walked towards him.
“You alright, Corey?” She focused on his hand. “That’s dangerous. You shouldn’t be smoking in bed.”
Not wanting to answer her, he took a long drag. He didn’t know why she was being nice to him, because he didn’t deserve it.
“You had anything to eat?” she asked.
He blew smoke out the side of his mouth. “No.”
She sat down on the bed and ran her hand up and down his leg, the chemo having left it hairless. “You’ve gotta eat or you won’t get better.”
“Sorry ’bout before,” he said, ignoring her food speech.
“Don’t worry ’bout that. Sledge took it a lot better than I expected.”
Yeah, Sledge had taken it far too well. Corey leaned over and stubbed out the joint in the ashtray, saving it for later. “Lie down,” he said, patting the mattress.
Smiling at him, Juliet did as instructed. Unlike the other guys, he thought she was hot. With her hair pulled back she looked a lot like Sledge, but a much smaller version—although she was still bigger than himself, but all his friends were. He lifted a finger and ran it down her nose and over her lips, laughing as she tried to bite it. He liked her wide mouth and distinctive features, and didn’t think they were bull-like at all. They were just strong and memorable—like Sledge. He frowned, wondering whether he was being unfair to her.
“Why’re you lookin’ so sad, cutie?” Juliet asked.
“I make you sad?”
He grinned, finding her pouting amusing. “You look adorable when you pout.”
Her face lit up again, her expression again similar to Sledge’s. He leaned forward and kissed her lips. Her hands instantly went to his boxers, trying to yank them down. Amused by her determination, Corey laughed. He’d never met such an aggressive chick before. From the way his mates talked, he’d always thought females were supposed to be the ones getting their clothes ripped off, not the other way around.
She stopped. “Whatcha laughing at?”
“I just like the way you yank my pants.” He lifted his butt so she could pull them off.
She flung them behind her, then jumped off the bed and started undressing. Once she was naked, she climbed on top of him and grabbed his T-shirt, yanking it up roughly and almost taking his head off in the process.
He pushed her hands away. “I’ll do it.”
She shrugged and started kissing his neck.
“Lemme get my shirt off first,” he said.
She leaned back on his stomach, causing him to grunt in pain. She pushed up onto her hands. “You alright?”
He shook his head. “My stomach hurts. Turn around and I’ll take ya from behind.”
She got off him and lay on her side. He removed his shirt then reached into his bedside cabinet, grabbing a condom. He ripped it open and slid it on, then moved up behind her and slowly inched inside, straining to stop himself from coming. When she didn’t complain, he started up a rhythm, making sure he was gentle after he’d unintentionally hurt her the first time. Damn, she was tight. He grabbed one of her hips, wandering whether she’d also let him take her up the—
He jumped as a car door slammed. Must be Sledge, he thought. He kissed Juliet’s shoulder and continued to move, determined to make it last longer this time. Last night had been embarrassing. He’d barely managed to get inside before he’d come. But, to be fair, he’d been amped up from watching a porno with Sledge earlier, so when Sledge had gone out, he was desperate for release and Juliet was just so damned convenient. Plus, he’d always been curious what it would be like to do her.
The front door closed, and the thud of boots neared his room. Definitely Sledge. His mate didn’t know the definition of quiet, always slamming things and thumping around the place regardless if people were trying to catch some shut-eye or not.
Juliet grabbed his left hand and moved it to her breast. Corey moved it back to her hip. Man, he hoped Sledge had done well, because his mate would make a great prison guard. He was certainly big enough, and since Sledge had started working out with Naf’s neglected gym equipment he’d cut up real nice too. He’d seen the results when Sledge had undressed in front of him, his mate’s six-pack more than impressive. Corey was glad that at least Sledge was putting it to use, because his lazy, fat-arse of a brother hadn’t touched it since opening the box.
Juliet moaned, and moved his hand back to her breast. Grimacing, Corey pulled it free and placed it on her hip again. He closed his eyes and pushed harder, wondering what Sledge was doing right now. He could hear him in the next room, probably undressing. Corey moaned.
A few seconds later, footsteps approached his room. “Corey, you in there?” Sledge called out.
“Yeah, but I’m also in your sister.” Corey yelped as Juliet pinched his leg hard.
“Bastard!” Sledge kicked Corey’s door, then slammed his own.
Corey swore under his breath. Wanting to apologise to Sledge, he pulled out of Juliet, but got shoved onto his back.
Juliet climbed on top of him. “You’re lucky you’re so cute, otherwise I would kick your butt for saying that. Cos of your big mouth, Sledge is gonna be a right pain now.”
“I know, so get offa me so I can smooth things over with him,” Corey said, knowing he didn’t have a shit show in hell of pushing her off, the girl packing more muscle in her arms than he had in his whole body.
She leaned over him, making Corey wonder whether she was going to hit him, but instead she kissed his nose.
“I s’pose it doesn’t matter,” she said. “He’ll hafta learn to deal with it since we’re an item now.”
Corey’s face dropped. An item? He never asked her out, just for sex.
She ran a finger over his brow. “Don’t look so worried, cutie. Things will work out.” She leaned down and kissed his lips.
He remained stiff, but not in the right place. She ran a hand up and down his side as she continued to kiss him. He yelped as she lowered her weight onto his stomach.
She sat up. “Sorry, I’ll be more careful.”
A bang came from Sledge’s room. Corey looked at the adjoining wall. Juliet grabbed his face and turned it back to her. “Forget him, Sledge could never share.”
Her mouth smothered his words. Corey blinked up at Juliet, then closed his eyes, giving into the kiss, although all he could think about was Sledge. He imagined his mate throwing his boots at the wall, mad that he was with Juliet. It worried him, but also gave him a thrill that Sledge thought Juliet wasn’t good enough for him. He didn’t agree, but still, Sledge thought he was good-looking. He smiled into the kiss, then inhaled sharply as Juliet grabbed his balls, her fingers playing with them.
She nipped his lower lip, then started kissing him again, her soft lips too gentle. He kept his eyes closed, imagining rougher lips replacing them, consuming him while large hands ran all over his body. He groaned and pushed his cock up as it grew hard once more, aching for anything to grasp it and make him come.
A hand answered, taking a hold and pushing his cock inside a tight, wet opening. He tilted his head back as a rhythm started up, the ride making his dick want to explode instantly. “Slow down or I’ll come too soon,” he gasped, then yelped as his nipple was twisted.
“Sorry.” Juliet lapped at the abused nipple, taking away the pain and causing him to moan. “God, you look sexy,” she said.
Corey opened his eyes. She was staring down at him, lust written across her face, something he wasn’t used to seeing. It gave him a thrill that someone actually wanted him. Smiling, he closed his eyes again and grabbed onto the headboard, desperate to return to the place he was before, to imagine someone else looking at him like that.
Hands ran over his chest then tweaked his nipples softly. He moaned again. “More,” he said. His nipples were twisted, but again too hard, causing him to cry out. Juliet apologised, but he barely registered it, Sledge’s tirade of f words making Corey go wild, his imagination taking him to places he’d gone so many times in his dreams. Above him the speed picked up, the body riding him clumsily. The movement hurt his stomach, but he was beyond caring, the pressure below was building to the point of... He gasped as a hand cupped his balls. Oh God, that did it!
He thrust up. “Yes, Sledge, yeessss!” he yelled, coming hard.
“What?” Juliet gasped.
Breathing heavily, he opened his eyes and looked up at Juliet’s angry expression, wondering what her problem was—he’d lasted ages this time.
“What do ya want?!” Sledge hollered from the next room.
Corey’s eyes widened as he saw Juliet’s fist coming for his face, the realisation of what he’d called her hitting him harder than her punch.
AMAZON LINKS for buying Behind the Tears
(Behind the Lives #2)