“It’s not prison, pretty girl. I actually spoke with the doctor today. They want to run more tests, but I should be released by the end of the week. I’ve been ordered to bed rest so it looks like I’ll only be getting a change of scenery. The doctors warned I’m not out of the woods yet. The patch on my lung won’t hold forever.”
The air in the room was stifling at the reminder of Keenan’s death sentence. Keenan made his mistakes—daily in fact, but he didn’t deserve to die. He still had so much to live for—even though he wouldn’t agree now, but something told me he wasn’t ready to die either. Judging by the hard look on his face, I knew it to be true no matter what he said.
I doubted Keiran would let his brother die anyway. No, he would find a way.
“So, are you back now?” Keenan broke the silence.
“Yes. I figured with your brother going to jail, I had the all clear, but imagine my surprise when he didn’t go to jail after all.” As soon as I said the words, I realized my attempt at humor was poorly chosen. I watched the change of emotion cross Keenan’s features. I thought he would defend him or express his anger over me turning his brother in, but his response was unexpected.
“My brother,” he repeated harshly. “He’s not my brother. He’s not my cousin. He’s not my anything. He’s a fucking mother murderer.”
“So it was you who ratted him out, huh?” There wasn’t anger or accusation in his tone. He sounded proud, and his eyes held respect in them as he gazed at me.
“Good. Don’t let him make you weak again. Don’t let yourself be weak again. My brother—” He paused and ground his teeth. “Keiran is dangerous. I don’t doubt that, but he also has a thing for you. I saw it years ago. Everyone did but you. That thing might not be so good for you. It could get you killed. By him or his enemies.”
“It’s hard to believe he’s only eighteen, right?” I laughed dryly.
“He’s turning nineteen in a couple of months if that helps.”
“And you, you’re turning eighteen,” I teased. “I guess that makes me the only adult in the room.”
“Why aren’t you already in college?”
“I was held back in the second grade because of my dyslexia. It was before I was diagnosed, though. My parents were devastated at the thought of me being learning impaired.” How I wish they could see me now…
“It’s almost like it was fate…”
“What do you mean?”
“You being held back, your parents disappearing… Maybe it was fate.”
“You think fate would be this cruel?”
“I just found out my father isn’t my father, my real father wants me dead, and my brother who I thought was my cousin, killed our mother. Yes, I think fate is beyond cruel. It’s fucking evil.”
Wow… Point taken. I didn’t know the extent of Keenan’s anger before, but now it was very much apparent as I watched the play of emotions on his face.
It hit me.
How could I have missed it? It was something I should have seen before.
All the jokes, the whoring, and the troublemaking were all cover-ups. Keenan was just as affected by his past as Keiran was—he was just better at hiding it.
Keenan was tormented.
“Keenan, I’m sorry about what happened to you. I—”
His dry laugh was humorless as it filled the air, cutting me off. “That’s your problem, you know that? It’s what has made you a target all these years. Stop apologizing and stop cowering. My fucked up past has nothing to do with you. You didn’t cause my mother to leave, and you didn’t cause my fucked up brother to kill her. She’s his mother too, you know. Where the fuck does he get off?” A tear slid down his cheek, and he angrily wiped it away.
Seeing him so broken and pained weighed heavy on me and I couldn’t bring myself to stay any longer.
* * *
I walked into my home after visiting Keenan to find a strange man in my house for the second time—not counting when Mitch broke into my house to leave a creepy birthday card.
I was either prone to the idea of being caught unaware or the fact he was relaxing on the couch, holding a coffee cup that read ‘I love Jax Teller’ on the front.
“Um, who are you?”
Before he could answer, my aunt came down the stairs. “Oh… Hi, honey. Where have you been?” she questioned.
She was flustered, and I then got the feeling I had walked in on something. Their attempt to look innocent was overdone.
“I was visiting a friend. Did I interrupt?” I couldn’t conceal the surprise I felt even if I tried.
“Of course not. Uh, Lake, this is Jackson. Jackson, this is my niece I told you about.” He stood up to shake my hand. He was tall with medium brown hair and a muscular build, and I couldn’t help but admire how gorgeous he was even with the jagged scar on his right cheek. It only boosted his appearance making him look dangerous and rugged. I wondered what type of work he did that might have led to that scar. Maybe he was ex-military. He definitely fit the profile.
“It’s nice to finally meet you.” I looked at my aunt.
“Finally?” I asked and then turned back to Jackson. “I’m sorry, she never mentioned you.”
“Jackson was the private investigator I hired to help me find your parents while I was gone.”