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Until the End, Page 2

Abbi Glines

  “Oh, well, she sure is telling people you fucked her good up against the wall, on the car, and over the table,” she said, then giggled, batting her eyelashes at me.

  Chapter Four


  Friends? Was I crazy?

  After three classes this morning I was still replaying my conversation with Rock Taylor over and over again in my head. It was like watching a train wreck on repeat. I couldn’t be Rock’s friend. He didn’t want me as a friend. He wanted in my pants. Or panties, to be specific.

  Ignoring him was so difficult. He was huge. Bigger than life. Those arms of his looked like they could protect anyone. Guys in high school shouldn’t look like him. He was built like a wall. The men our stepmother brought home didn’t have anything on Rock. He could take care of them.

  No. Shaking my head, I cleared that thought right out. Rock had no clue what baggage came with me. He wanted to add me to his list of girls he’d nailed. He didn’t want to protect me from the men who enjoyed slapping me around when I didn’t let them touch me.

  Focus, Trisha. Focus. Keeping Krit safe was my only goal in life. Well, that and getting us the hell out of her house. The only thing I could find any solace in was that there was a line with Krit she would never cross. Fandora Daily didn’t let the men she screwed around with hurt her stepson too much. She preferred they hit me. Her unwanted stepdaughter who she also liked to hit. My mother had taken off when I was eight, and I’d been left with my father and his current wife, Fandora. When he took off, he’d left Krit and me behind. The only thing that kept Fandora from tossing me out with the trash was that I took care of Krit. She could go out on dates and live her life knowing she had a built-in babysitter.

  So I was given a home. By the time I was ten years old, both my mother and father had deserted me. All I had left was my little brother. And I made it my goal to keep him safe and to keep us together.

  Krit was the only person on earth who loved me. I would sell my soul for him. He was what kept me from just giving up and letting Fandora’s men beat me to death. I fought to live for my brother’s sake.

  Touching my side, I inhaled sharply. I was afraid this time my rib was broken. I didn’t know what to do about that. I’d taken medical wrap and wound it around my ribs tightly. That was all I knew to do. Going to the hospital could land both Krit and me in foster homes, and I couldn’t risk being split from him. He needed me.

  Yeah . . . Rock Taylor didn’t have a clue. Next time he hit on me, I should show him the black-and-blue bruises under my shirt. Or maybe the ugly green tint of the bruise healing on my ass. Or the scar that marred the skin on the left side of my hip where I’d been whipped with a belt so hard it sliced me open. I’d definitely needed stitches for that, but I’d never gotten them. Fandora was smart. She didn’t want me to be harmed where people could see.

  She was also completely selfish and bitter. And yet she loved Krit—well, to a degree. She was proud of the handsome man he was turning into, and I think she assumed he’d take care of her one day. So she kept him. And because he loved me, she kept me.

  But she made sure I understood that I was a burden on her and always had been.

  The end-of-class bell rang and I grabbed my books before standing up. Riley Owens stepped in front of me and grinned. Her dark brown hair was cut into a cute chunky style this year, and she was wearing more makeup than she had last year. I had always thought she was pretty, but she was really attractive now.

  “You were in a zone, chick. I tried all class to get your attention. I haven’t seen or heard from you all summer. What gives?” Riley asked, bumping my shoulder with hers as we began walking toward the door and into the hallway.

  Riley was one of the two good friends I had here. There were others who were friendly, but coming into this close-knit crowd last year was hard. They didn’t accept new faces that easily.

  “Sorry. I was working mostly. How was your summer?” I replied.

  She sighed in a dramatic fashion that made me smile. “Well, I had to go visit my dad and his new wife up in Pennsylvania. And, girl, let me tell you, they have rednecks up there too. Some people would give folks around here a run for their money. He lives out in the country, and his wife went barefoot to the grocery store! Seriously! Who does that?”

  That was another thing about Riley: She always made me smile. “Sounds traumatic,” I replied.

  She almost nodded in agreement, then squinted at me. “You’re being a smartass, aren’t you?”

  I bit back a grin and started to say something when her dark green eyes went wide as she looked up at something behind me. I started to turn and stopped. I could smell him. Peppermint and leather. Why did that smell so good?

  Riley’s eyes went from amazed to flirty real fast. She was preparing to grab my new friend’s attention. With her new look, I had no doubt she could. She would be an easy target. I needed to save her.

  “Hello, Rock,” I said, turning to face him. He was completely focused on me, missing Riley’s fluttering eyelashes and come-hither smile.

  His lips did a sexy smirk. “What lunch period did you get?” he asked me, keeping those determined eyes directed at me.

  “Second,” I said, wishing my voice didn’t sound affected by him. But he was so close and he smelled so nice. I liked peppermint and leather. It worked. Totally worked.

  “Me too,” he replied, his smirk turning into a pleased smile. “Let me walk you.”

  Walk me. Rock wanted to walk me to lunch. Deep breaths, Trisha. Deep breaths. “Oh, I was going to walk with Riley to lunch.” It was the only excuse I could think of.

  Finally Rock shifted his gaze from me to Riley, and I am pretty sure she made a swoony sigh. “Care if I join y’all, Riley?” Rock asked her.

  “No. Not at all. I mean, you can walk us both. I don’t mind. Or if Trisha doesn’t want to, you can walk me. Anywhere at any time.” She was babbling like an idiot.

  I shot her an annoyed frown. She had just told him he could walk her anywhere at any time. Really? Dear God. No wonder the guy thought all women should fall at his feet. Apparently they all did.

  He chuckled. “I’d really like to take Trisha. She’s my new friend, and I’m working hard to get her to keep me.” His gaze was back on me.

  Riley nudged me hard in my battered ribs, and I fell into Rock’s chest as I let out a small cry. Pain shot through me, making my vision blur and my eyes water. I was going to be sick. If only I could breathe, I would have run to the restroom.

  Two strong arms wrapped around me and held me steady as I focused on not throwing up. “You okay?”

  I couldn’t answer him. The pain was still shooting through me, and I was struggling to breathe.

  “Shit, how hard did you hit her?” he asked angrily. His arms were gentle but held on to me firmly. I didn’t fight him. The pain was ebbing, and I could hear Riley apologizing as the pounding in my head eased. I needed to tell her it was fine, that this wasn’t her fault. But I was still fighting back the nausea.

  “You okay? You need me to walk you down to the nurse? Have her take a look?” He was concerned. If he hadn’t held on to me, I would be on the floor in the fetal position.

  Pushing past the lingering pain, I managed to nod and take a deep breath. Straightening my shoulders, I stepped back, trying to move out of his arms. At first I didn’t think he was going to let me go, but he dropped his arms slowly, reluctant to let me move away.

  “I’m so sorry,” Riley whispered. “I didn’t mean to hit you hard. I was just trying to get you to go with him. I mean, it’s Rock Taylor, for crying out loud. He’s . . .” Riley paused.

  “It’s fine. I think you just hit the wrong spot and, uh . . . hit my, uh . . . funny bone.” That didn’t even sound believable.

  Riley scrunched her nose up and frowned. “I thought I hit your side. . . .”

  I glanced back at Rock. He was going to think I was crazy. But maybe then he’d give up on trying to get me to like him. “I’
m not going to lunch. I need . . . to go get a book from the library,” I said in a hurry, then turned and walked as fast as I could down the hallway. No footsteps followed me, and I took that as a good thing.

  With me gone, Rock would probably turn the charm on Riley and she’d let him sweet-talk his way into her panties. The idea of that made me ill. I didn’t want Rock hooking up with Riley.

  Shoving that thought away, I passed by the library and headed toward my next class. Lunch was one of my favorite things about school: I got a hot meal. I was hungry, and I doubted I would get much, if anything, to eat tonight. Fandora was in a bad mood. Her latest boyfriend had left her.

  I had gone longer than this without food. I could make it until tomorrow at lunch if needed. What I wasn’t ready to do was face Rock after that fiasco in the hall. I doubted he’d try to speak to me again. He and Riley probably thought I was insane.

  Chapter Five


  I didn’t like Trisha’s friend. First she hurt her, then she didn’t run after her. Instead the brunette had started flirting with me. Which pissed me off.

  After grabbing the burger off my tray in the cafeteria, I headed for the library to find Trisha. Eating would have been impossible while worrying about her. Something had been off about that whole scene. Riley had only elbowed her in the ribs. I’d seen it and I hadn’t liked it, but I didn’t think it was hard enough for the reaction it caused. Hell, if I hadn’t gotten a look at how pale Trisha’s face had gone and the pain in her eyes, I would have thought she was acting just to get my attention.

  Her body had been trembling as I held her. She’d really been in some serious fucking agony. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. The only reason someone would react like that was if they were hurt already. And if she was hurt there already, why not just tell us instead of making up some library bullshit and running off?

  Preston had lipstick smeared on his face and messy hair, plus a blonde on his arm whose name I couldn’t remember, when I stepped back into the hallway from the cafeteria.

  “You leaving already?” he asked, frowning at me.

  “Got somewhere to be,” I replied, and headed past him before he could ask me any more questions.

  “Need me to go with you?” he called out after me.


  Preston was always ready for a fight. He assumed that was the only thing that would pull me out of the cafeteria. He had his future riding on his baseball career just as much as I had my future riding on my football career. Pisser didn’t think about that, though. He’d jump into a fight without thinking about it if he thought we needed him.

  I would too. But I’d worry. I would be careful. I was too close now. I didn’t just have a college career waiting on me. I had a dad for the first time in my life. He was proud of me. Someone cared, and that meant something. I hated that I needed my dad’s attention like a damn kid. But he’d never been around before.

  If I could keep us out of a fight, I did. For me and for Preston. Dewayne and Marcus had parents. Good parents who would make sure they went to college. They had parents who loved them. Preston and I had to work a little harder. Hell, we had to work a lot harder.

  Shoving open the library doors, I stepped into the quiet room stacked full of books. I only came in here if I absolutely had to. The place gave me the creeps. Too many damn books and no one was supposed to talk. Then there was the librarian. She was older than a human should be and mean as hell.

  Her sharp eyes squinted at me and I froze like a naughty child. She was all of five feet tall and hunched over slightly. The little bit of white hair she had left was on top of her head in a tight bun. Seriously, I think she might have been sipping some everlasting life concoction.

  I scanned the room, but none of the tables had the pretty blond head I was looking for. She had lied. This wasn’t where she had been headed. Deep down I’d known she was lying. But I’d still hoped I would find her here.

  Turning, I stepped back out of the library and began my search of the empty classrooms. I didn’t know what her schedule was or this would have been easier.

  “Rock! Come on! Coach just called an early meeting in the field house. We’re supposed to go directly there,” Marcus called out as he, Preston, and Dewayne came walking down the hallway.

  “We have fifteen more minutes left of lunch,” I pointed out, annoyed.

  “Coach is fired up about the game Friday night,” Marcus said with a smirk.

  Shit. After lunch I went to the field house to work out that period, then came back for Algebra II before heading out to practice. Coach was messing it all up. I wanted to find Trisha and make sure she was okay.

  “Heard we’re leaving after a half day on Friday to get on the buses and head to Rock Creek. Coach told Simmons he wants us rested and ready to go by game time. So he’s getting us there three hours early.”

  Glancing back into the hallway, I looked for the white-blond hair that fascinated me, but I saw nothing. I’d have to find her later.

  Chapter Six


  Krit and Green were already waiting at the bus stop in front of school when I got there. Both of them had big smiles on their faces and were talking animatedly about their days. I didn’t have to ask how they liked eighth grade. Just watching them talk answered that for me.

  My problems vanished as I watched my little brother grinning like he owned the world. He hadn’t been given many things in life to smile about. Knowing he’d had a good day was a relief. My ribs had throbbed the rest of the day, but I had managed to dodge any questions from Riley because we didn’t have any other classes together.

  “Hey, babe,” Green called out when he saw me.

  I shot him a warning glare and he started laughing. Krit rolled his eyes, not amused by his friend’s constant flirting with me.

  “Don’t call me ‘babe’ again if you want to live,” I informed him.

  Green waggled his eyebrows at me, and Krit shoved him and said, “Dude, stop it. Seriously.”

  Green’s tall, lanky body hadn’t had time to adjust to his overnight height either. He stumbled back, then laughed. “Jeesh. You two are uptight.”

  “Was your day good?” I asked Krit, ignoring Green.

  Getting Krit through a school day without him losing his temper or having some kind of emotional snap was an accomplishment. He was severely ADHD, and I was beginning to think he also suffered from some sort of personality disorder that we didn’t know about. Fandora wouldn’t take him to have him checked out. She hated giving him meds at all. It took time out of her day to get them.

  When one of her boyfriends had slapped me and Krit threw a brick at his head, she had gone and gotten his meds. But we were getting low again. Krit tended to get addicted to things. He was like a live wire, unable to stay still. Ready for the next adventure. And if you stood in his way, he lost it.

  Keeping him calm was my job.

  “I was an angel today,” he informed me, then gave me his crooked grin. My heart squeezed. I loved my brother. So many times I felt like he was mine. I wasn’t old enough to be his mother, but the way I felt about him was what I believed a real mother’s love would feel like. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for Krit. Nothing. When he was happy it made me happy.

  “Don’t lie to her. You got sent to the office once,” Green added.

  “What?” I asked, my heart sinking.

  Krit shrugged, then glared at Green. “Nothing big. I told the teacher I’d get to the assignment in a minute. I was finishing up something. She got all pissy.”

  That was typical Krit. He didn’t like being bossed around. Not by anyone but me. I could get away with it. In his eyes, everyone else needed to step back. Even his mother.

  Krit started to say something else but stopped as his eyes lit up at something behind me. Frustrated with his erratic attention span, I turned to see who had his interest.

  Rock Taylor was walking up from the football field dressed
in pads and that tight uniform they wore. His helmet was in his hand, hanging forgotten by his side. As impressive as all that perfection was, the breathtaking part was that his eyes were locked on me. Me.

  “He’s headed this way, I think,” Green whispered.

  I wasn’t ready to deal with him again. What if he asked about my side in front of Krit? Crap. I had to get out of here.

  I reached for Krit’s arm. “Let’s go. Bus is almost here. We don’t want those back seats with the thugs. Let’s be sure to get in line.”

  “But I think Rock Taylor is coming this way. Like, to us. Or . . . you,” Krit said, watching Rock carefully now. He wasn’t so mesmerized anymore. He seemed to be thinking this through.

  “He’s not coming for us. Let’s go,” I said, pushing them both toward the bus line.

  “Trisha.” Rock’s voice stopped me. Green’s jaw dropped, and Krit’s eyes no longer held fascination. He was studying Rock hard now. A tight frown came over his face, and I watched my little brother turn into a man as he stood up straighter and stepped in front of me.

  “What do you want with my sister? She don’t seem real excited about seeing you,” Krit said in a hard, cold tone.

  Rock was a wall of muscle, and Krit had to tilt his head back to make eye contact with him. But Rock didn’t seem to care or back down. He was determined to protect me. He was doing that a lot now. I was so worried he was going to get hurt. It was my job to protect Krit. Not the other way around.

  Rock’s jaw twitched, and it looked like he was trying not to smile. “Trisha and I decided to be friends today. Didn’t we, Trisha?” he said, looking over my brother’s shoulder to me.

  I had to calm my little brother down. I nodded and stepped around Krit. “Yes, we did,” I confirmed.

  “Then why were you trying to get us on the bus before he could get to you?” Krit asked, not buying this at all.

  “Yes, why were you doing that, Trisha? Hurts my feelings,” Rock added. This time he was smiling. Dang him. He was amused by all this.