My ears were ringing. I looked up as Drake grabbed my arm; his lips were moving, but I couldn’t hear anything he was saying. She was here, in Drake’s home, my home now. I felt Drake pulling on my arm and I forced my legs to move as he led me to the couch. As he pushed me into the cushions, I caught sight of scarlet dripping slowly down my legs from several small cuts. That was funny; I could see the blood, but I didn’t feel any pain.
Drake kneeled in front of me, stroking my hair gently. “Chloe, can you hear me? Snap out of it baby,” he said in a soothing voice.
His voice snapped me out of whatever trance had taken over my body. I blinked rapidly and shook my head, trying to clear the ringing in my ears. It had settled to a dull hum in the background, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I could hear him.
“I’m here. I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened.” I glanced back at the front door. “Is she still here?”
He ran his hand across my cheek before standing. “Yeah, but I’m going to go get rid of her. Just stay here,” he said as he turned to the door.
“No, let her come in. Let her say what she has to and then she can get out.”
Drake looked back and forth between the door and me, doubt clouding his face.
“Really, I’m all right. Just let her in,” I said as I leaned back into the couch.
Frowning, he turned and walked back to the front door. I could hear both his voice and my mother’s, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying, only that they were angry.
A moment later, he stepped back into the room with my mother following closely behind him. I watched her as she took in our home with a look of disdain on her face. Andrea Richards, also known as my mother, had aged greatly since the last time we had seen each other. She looked at least ten years older than her thirty-six years. Wrinkles lined the corners of her mouth and eyes, and her skin looked gray and withered. Her hair was still as blond as mine, but it was unkempt and her roots were starting to gray. All in all, she was a perfect picture for the “after” portion of an anti-drug commercial.
Our identical blue eyes met as she sat down in the chair across from me. Hers were glassy and watery, but she was still able to show her dislike for me through them.
“When did you get so dramatic, Chloe? You didn’t have to put on a show for me—a hug would have sufficed,” she said with a smug smile.
“Cut to the point, woman, or get out. It really doesn’t matter to me,” Drake barked out beside me.
I jumped at the sound of his voice and my mother smiled. “What’s the rush? Maybe I want to catch up with my long-lost daughter.” She turned her attention to me. “So tell me, Chloe, how have you been? I see you landed a nice guy to take care of you. I wonder how long he’ll stay with you until he gets bored?”
Drake jumped to his feet. “That’s it! Get out of my house and don’t come back. Chloe doesn’t need your bullshit.”
“Calm your horses—I’ll say what I came to say and then I’ll leave.”
“Then just say it and go, Mom,” I said as I grabbed the back of Drake’s shirt and pulled him back to me. I didn’t want him fighting with her and getting himself in trouble.
“Fine, have it your way. It’s about your Aunt Jennifer. It seems she’s been hiding her failing health from us. She doesn’t have much time left—a couple of weeks max.”
For the first time in my life, I saw my mother look truly upset. I had spent only a short time with my aunt, but she seemed like such a kind person, nothing like my mother, and her illness broke my heart.
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked.
“Cancer. They thought they had it under control, but it’s spread.” She took a moment to clear her throat and compose herself. “Anyway, she doesn’t have much time and she’s asking to see you.”
My eyebrows all but disappeared into my hairline. “Me? But why? I’ve only met her a few times in my life.”
“You’re her only niece, and for some reason she likes you. You and I both know that Jen has more money than she knows what to do with. She’s leaving most of it to Danny, of course, but she wants us to have part of it.”
This took me by surprise. Sure, Aunt Jen was a kind soul, but why would she leave me any money? Or my mother? She had to know what kind of person her sister was. And none of this explained why my mother had come here personally to tell me all of this. There was something going on that she wasn’t saying.
“I don’t want Aunt Jen’s money. Let her give my part to Danny or Jordan. They deserve it more than I do.”
“Of course you don’t deserve it, but she’s adamant about it. Since Jordan and Danny couldn’t seem to find you, she sent me to do it. We need to leave soon—time is against us.”
“Why do you even care if I get any of the money? There’s another reason you’re here, so tell me what it is. You’re not selfless enough to help even Aunt Jen.”
My mother’s face distorted in anger. “You listen here, you little bitch. You don’t get to talk to me like that—you don’t have a clue about me.”
Drake had settled into the cushion next to me as we spoke, but at these words he shot out of his seat and lunged at her.
I grabbed him and pulled him back as I glared at her. I was usually a calm person by nature, but she had pushed me to my limit. “No, you listen to me—I can talk to you however the hell I want. Tell me why you’re really here or you can get out, and all Aunt Jen will get is a long-distance phone call!” I shouted.
Her face paled as she squeezed her hands into fists. “Fine,” she spit out. “You want to know the real reason I came to find you? She won’t give me my share of the money if I don’t bring you to her. I wouldn’t be here dealing with your stupid shit if I didn’t have to be.”
Now this was the mother I knew. All her kindness toward Aunt Jen was for her own gain. She wanted the money so she could run around and do what she wanted with it.
“You have got to be kidding me! How selfish can you be, Mother? Berate me all you want, but don’t use your dying sister for your own gain. Get out.” I motioned to the door as I spoke.
I’d had enough of her lies. I knew there was something in this for her and there it was: she was going to use me to get money from my dying aunt.
“I’m not going anywhere until you agree to come with me. If you don’t, I’ll make your life hell. I know where you work, where you live, who your friends are. I bet Amber and Logan would love a visit from me. You know I’ll do it.”
My stomach knotted as I looked at the vile creature in front of me. She was low enough to not only make my life hell, but everyone’s that I cared about as well. If I did this, went one last time to see my aunt, maybe she would leave me alone. Even though I hadn’t seen my aunt in years, I thought the world of her. I just hated the fact that I would be accompanied by my mother when I went to see her.
“You stay away from them—they don’t need your bullshit. If I do this, I want you gone from my life permanently; you will disappear the minute I walk away from this mess. Is that understood?”
Drake turned to look at me, his mouth agape. “You can’t be serious! This woman is mental.”
“I’m serious. I’m tired of playing these mind games with her.” I turned my attention back to my mother. “Do we have a deal?”
I saw triumph flash in her eyes at my proposition. She had no idea what I was planning. The minute I saw my aunt, I was going to tell her not to give my mother or myself a dime; that money belonged to Danny, and I was not about to let my mother get her paws on it.
“Deal. We leave tonight.”
I shook my head. “No, Drake is leaving in two weeks. I’m spending them with him before he goes.” She opened her mouth to argue, but I cut her off. “I said no. If you don’t like it, I can call Aunt Jen right now.”
Her glare was murderous as she stood. “Fine, you spiteful brat, but I’ll be back for you in two weeks if you don’t show up. I’ll drag you into my car if I have to.”
“That won’t be necessary; I’ll drive Chloe to her aunt’s house. She doesn’t need to put up with you in a car by herself for hours,” Drake said from his seat on the couch. A storm was brewing behind his eyes, and I knew I was in for it the moment we were alone.
I stood and walked to the door, holding it open for her. “There, everything is settled. Now get out of my house before I remove you myself.”
She walked swiftly past me and out the door. She turned when she was outside. “I’ll be waiting. Two weeks, or I’ll be back.”
I looked behind her and noticed a beat-up car idling by the curb. A large man was sitting behind the wheel, watching us. He gave me a grin that made my skin crawl as I slammed the door in my mother’s face.
“Two weeks,” I groaned as I leaned against the door. I looked up to see Drake watching me from the doorway.
“Not now, Drake—yell at me later.”
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” he roared.
I walked past him to the kitchen and grabbed a broom and dustpan to clean up the glass I had dropped earlier. I continued to ignore him as I swept up every shard of glass, even though I felt his gaze on me.
“Talk to me, Chloe. What were you thinking? Making a deal with that woman is like making a deal with the devil. You know better than that.”
I glanced up at him and saw the worry in his eyes. “I’m not doing this for her; I’m doing this for my aunt. I’ll be damned if I let my mother have one penny of that woman’s money.”
“What do you mean? You’re going to see her. If you don’t want her to give your mom the money, you need to stay away.”
I gave him a small smile as I walked around him and dumped the glass into the garbage. “Not necessarily. I’m going to my aunt’s to tell her not to give it to her. I’m sure she realizes my mom is a horrible person, but once I tell her everything that she’s done to me, I have no doubt that I can get her to change her mind.”
The corners of his mouth turned up in a grin. “Wait, let me get this straight. She manipulated you into going only to have you turn the tables and manipulate her?”
I couldn’t help but giggle at the look of awe on his face. “Yeah, that about sums it up. She has it coming to her, and I’m going to personally make sure she gets what she deserves.”
Drake was across the room in a flash. He picked me up and swung me around until I started feeling dizzy. “Do you have any idea how sexy you are when you’re being evil?”
“Put me down! I’m not going to be very sexy if I vomit on your shoes, and you’re making me sick!”
He quickly dropped me and stepped back. I grabbed the countertop to keep my balance. “Thanks.”
But before my head could stop spinning, he grabbed me and pulled me into his arms, kissing me deeply. “Come on, I want to show you just how sexy you are.”
With that, we made our way to the bedroom, our now cold dinner forgotten. Who needed food when you had Drake?
â€¢ â€¢ â€¢
“You’re absolutely insane, woman!” Amber screeched at me the next afternoon.
I was having lunch with Amber and Logan, and I had just broken the news about my surprise trip to Maryland and my mother’s visit last night. Unsurprisingly, they were not taking it well.
“Chloe, this is insane—you’re willingly walking into the belly of the beast. Even if your plan to change your aunt’s mind works, you’re still going to be stuck in a house with that woman when your aunt breaks the news. I don’t see that ending well,” Logan said as he looked at me with concern.
After everything that had happened between us, he was trying to rein in his overprotective streak, and I could see how much trouble he was having right now. His voice was calm, but his eyes said he wanted to grab me and lock me in his room.
“I won’t be there when my aunt tells her. I’m only staying long enough to convince her not to give my mom the money, and then I’ll be in my car on my way to one of Drake’s shows. But if things do go bad, Danny will be there to help me, and I’m sure Jordan will be too.”
“How long are you staying?” Amber asked as she sipped her coffee.
I twirled my hair as I watched people through the window of the café we were sitting in, lost in thought. If I could pull this off without any problems, I would be there only a couple of days. If something went wrong—well, I wouldn’t worry about that now.
“Not long. Drake will be playing shows in Maryland while I’m there, so whenever I’m done I’m going to meet up with him and continue on.”
“So you’ll still be gone all summer?” Amber asked as she pouted. When I told her about Drake asking me to go with the band, she had not been happy at all. She had plans for us this summer that had involved lots of shopping, along with other things I absolutely hated. I had felt horrible about ruining her plans, but secretly I was glad I could get out of them.
“Yes, I’m still going with Drake. You’ll have Logan to keep you company—take him shopping,” I said as Logan shot me a glare.
“Yeah, not happening. I have better things to do than walk around the mall for six hours while Amber searches for the perfect pair of shoes,” he said with a visible shudder.
I couldn’t help but laugh at his reaction. If there was anyone else in this world who hated shopping more than I did, it was Logan.
Logan shot me a grin and I felt my heart lighten. After three months, I still took every smile he gave me to heart. There had been a few tense weeks when I thought I’d lost him forever, but Logan, being the kind soul he is, had taken me back with open arms. Even though things would get strained and awkward from time to time, Logan and I were healing together. Drake and he had both agreed to get along with each other, but if I brought Drake around I could easily see the resentment in Logan’s eyes. I tried not to let it bother me—the past was the past—but sometimes it did.
“Shut up, both of you. I don’t need either of you to go shopping with me; I can have fun all by myself!” Amber said, shooting us both a glare.
“We know you can, Amber,” I said as I hid a smile.
“And you’d better freaking call me at least once a week while you’re gone! I mean it. I can’t go from spending every day with you to nothing for three months,” Amber said.
“You know I will. I’m going to miss you guys too, you know—this isn’t all one-sided. It’s been a long time since I spent any real amount of time without you two and it’s going to suck.”
“Damn straight it will!” Amber said as she practically pulled me from my seat to hug me.
I giggled as I turned my head to look at Logan, who was watching us as if we’d lost our minds. “Get over here, big guy—group hug!”
He rolled his eyes as he leaned in and wrapped his arms around both of us. “You two are completely mental. How I’m even friends with either of you, I’ll never know.”
Amber stuck her tongue out at him. “You know you love us both, so shut up.”
His eyes met mine and I felt my stomach clench with guilt.