Only selfish girls get everything they’ve ever wanted and then want more.
That’s what Eric said to me before he left for work this morning. It’s not the first time he’s said it. And I know it won’t be the last. But it’s how I know things are going to be bad when he gets home tonight.
I’ve spent every minute of the day since he left dreading my husband coming home from work. I cleaned the entire house. I made sure that every room is perfect. Every picture frame is hanging perfectly level. Every pillow is perfectly fluffed. You could take a white glove to any inch of this house, and you wouldn’t find a speck of dust.
It probably won’t make a difference. But it’s worth a try. Maybe it will help? Maybe it won’t get so bad if everything is perfect when Eric gets home? But I know better than that. I hate the part of me that still hopes. I know by now exactly how bad it’s going to be.
Dinner is in the oven. Everything will be ready right when Eric gets home in an hour. I made Eric a roast and all the fixings. I’m a vegetarian. I hate touching meat, but Eric won’t be happy unless he gets his meat. I let Riley watch videos on his tablet while I made dinner. And I’m going to let him keep watching videos. I can’t risk him making any messes before Eric gets home. I know that he won’t mean to, but Riley’s only four. Mess follows him around like a shadow.
That means I have an hour to myself until Eric comes home. I’m so anxious that I need to distract myself. There’s nothing left to do. Nothing left to clean. So, I slip into my makeshift studio to paint until it’s time to serve dinner. It’s not a studio, exactly. But it’s a little space that I carved out for myself to paint. In this giant house with six bedrooms and only three people living in it, Eric insisted there was no room for me to have a studio. So, I paint in the laundry room. The light is actually really pretty in here. And Eric would never come anywhere near the laundry room, so it’s all mine. That’s what matters.
My thoughts flow freely as my hand automatically sweeps my brush over the canvas. Painting is where I feel at home. Where I feel at peace. My body knows what to do when I have a brush in my hand, even if feel completely helpless the rest of the time. I wasn’t always helpless like this. I used to be normal and fun. I used to have a life outside the luxury home that’s become my prison.
Eric Wellington was everything I ever wanted. He was exactly what every girl is taught she’s supposed to want. Eric was tall and strong. His sandy, blonde hair shone like a golden crown. He had piercing, light blue eyes. He came from a wealthy family, but he chose to become a police officer because he wanted to help people.
He was the prince from a storybook.
And somehow, he wanted me. I couldn’t believe it the first time that Eric asked me out. I couldn’t believe it the second time or the time after that. I couldn’t even believe it when he proposed to me two months later.
Eric was perfect. My friends from university all pretended not to be surprised that he was interested in me. But I could tell they thought he was out of my league. I did too. My hair was always in a messy bun and paint could perennially be found under my short, practical, artist’s fingernails. I was the exact opposite of the type of woman that a man like Eric Wellington should marry.
I didn’t need to think about it when he proposed. Eric was exactly what I had always hoped for. He was my happily ever after.
Our wedding was a fairytale.
Our marriage became my nightmare.
Eric didn’t even make it through our honeymoon before he started hitting me. Something changed in him like a light switch once we said our vows. Or maybe it was always there, and I just didn’t see it. But once Eric started hitting me, he never really stopped. Eric was always careful not to hit my face, so no one could see the bruises. No one could know about how he punished me. That was just between him and me.
I didn’t want to get pregnant. But Eric decided after we’d been married for two years that it was time for a baby. He didn’t want people to start talking about why we didn’t have children. He hated the idea that people might think it was his fault. He told me that it was time I provided him with a son.
Once he decided it was time to start trying, Eric wouldn’t let me take birth control anymore. And I was afraid of how he would punish me if he found out that I defied him. But I tried everything I could find online to stop myself from getting pregnant. But everything I tried didn’t work.
When I was pregnant with Riley, Eric made sure to never hit my stomach. He made sure I never fell on my stomach when he punched me hard enough to make me fall to the ground. But everything else was fair game. It was all fair to him. He was punishing me. He had the right to punish me. He told me that every day. I heard it so often that I started to believe it.
Eric wanted a child so badly. He wanted a boy that took after him. A boy he could raise to be just like his daddy. Once I got pregnant, I prayed for a girl who looked nothing like him. I got half of what I wanted. A boy who looks just like me. Riley has my green eyes, my same cute little nose, and my heart-shaped face. He’s a beautiful child, and he’s going to be a beautiful man. But he looks nothing like his father.
“Mommy! Mommy!” Riley calls out from the door of the laundry room.
That’s when I hear the beeping. Beep! Beep! Beep!
The smoke alarm’s ringing loudly in my ears. I don’t know how I didn’t hear it. Shit! Dinner!
“It’s okay, baby!” I cry out to reassure him, before I’ve even turned around.
I start running towards the door and back to the kitchen, but I jerk to a stop when I see Riley standing in front of me.
“Let’s go, Mommy. We need to go,” Riley tells me.
He looks so serious. He’s wearing his little backpack and he has his little suitcase he likes to stuff with dress-up clothes. Both are covered in sea turtles. Riley is obsessed with sea turtles.
I kneel in front of him, ignoring the screeching smoke alarm in the kitchen, as it drills into my head.
“Sweetie, it’s just the smoke alarm. Everything’s okay,” I promise him. “Why do you have your suitcase?”
“We need to go, Mommy,” Riley says again. “So, Daddy doesn’t hurt you.”
Riley’s little lip quivers as he says it. And my heart shatters into a million tiny pieces.
He doesn’t know. He can’t know. I’ve been hiding it from him. I’ve been protecting him. I’ve been protecting him from all this. From the bruises. The fighting. The sound of Eric punching me.
But he knows. My baby knows.
I wonder what it does to a child to grow up in a home where what Eric does to me is normal. And as the smoke alarm screeches at me again, I know something more certainly than I’ve ever known anything in my entire life.
I’m not going to stay and find out.
Four months later.
I’m restless. My morning runs are getting longer and longer. I can’t sit still. No matter how much I run, I can’t get my anger in check. Part of me doesn’t even want to. It’s been three months since I helped my brother dispose of Danny Jones’ body.
Danny Johnson’s body.
I have to keep reminding myself that he was Danny Johnson, not Danny Jones.
I trusted the wrong man. I brought him into the Black Ravens. And he betrayed me. Danny Johnson lied to my face every day for three years, pretending to be one of us while he was out for revenge against us the whole time. I don’t know how I fucking missed it. I can never make a mistake like that again. When I make mistakes, people die.
Dean Joras is dead. My best friend for twenty-five years. And Danny Johnson killed him to get back at me, or get back at my brother, Silas. It doesn’t fucking matter. The effect was the same.
Dean is dead. He left behind a widow and two teenage sons. They’re my responsibility now. I have to watch out for Delilah and the boys like they were my own.
Dean paid the price for what Silas and I did seventeen years ago. But haven’t we already paid enough for Sabrina Johnson’s death? My brother spent ten years in prison. He walked away from the Black Ravens – the gang we started in high school. He walked away from me.
How many lives need to be ruined in exchange for the life of one innocent girl? We didn’t mean to kill her. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and, she got caught in the cross-fire. Shit happens. We can try to minimize the risk, but it’s always there. People get hurt when there’s this much money and power at stake. It’s inevitable. And I would choose that risk every fucking time.
Silas may have been the one to go to prison, but we all suffered. My brother likes to think of himself as the great martyr for taking a plea deal and going to prison for manslaughter. He asked me to walk away from the Black Ravens back then, too.
I refused. I’m a Raven. I’ll always be a Raven. My blood runs black.
Danny Jones may be dead. But I’m not the one who killed him. And I needed to be the one who fucking killed him. My men want answers. They want justice. But all I have are two dead Ravens and no answers to give the Ravens they left behind. Or at least none that I’m willing to give them.
The cops are still circling my brother for Dean’s murder. Danny framed Silas for killing Dean, and the cops are too stupid to figure out that it was a set-up. There’ve been a few rumblings from my enemies questioning whether the Ravens are weak now with the loss of two members and no retaliation.
I usually don’t see the point of violence for violence’s sake. It’s a means to an end. And an effective one. I can be as violent and as brutal as I need to be to get the job done. But there’s no target now. Danny Jones is dead. And none of my rivals have come for me in years. I made sure of that. I’ve instilled enough fear in them to make me untouchable. They can rumble all they like. There’s no real threat. They wouldn’t dare rise up against me. They value their lives too much.
There’s no target for my rage. I want to burn, kill, destroy – but who? The man who deserves my wrath is already dead at my brother’s hand. Until I figure out where to aim my fury, I need a fucking distraction. And I have one in mind. My brother hired a new server at his diner. She’s been on my island for a month or two. And I can’t get her out of my head. I’ve started frequenting my brother’s diner almost daily just to see her.
I’m happy enough to see my brother. Our relationship is less murderous these days than it’s been for seventeen years. But I’m there to see her. Fucking her will be the perfect distraction from thinking about Danny Jones’ – Danny Johnson’s – betrayal and what I’m going to do about it.
Her name’s Laurel. Laurel Wells. I already know everything about her – well everything there is to know about someone who’s only existed for two months. I had my private investigator in Vancouver look into her. I have him look into everyone who crosses my path because I don’t like surprises. In my line of work, surprises get you killed.
My investigator couldn’t find any trace of Laurel Wells before two months ago, shortly before she arrived on Raven Island. Pretty, single mothers don’t just miraculously appear on this little, out-of-the way island off Canada’s west coast out of thin air. But this one did. She’s running from something. Finding out she had something to hide only made me want her more. I want to unravel every single one of her secrets and find out what she’s hiding from me.
Silas may have hired her, but I don’t think he has any idea that she’s not who she says she is. I didn’t tell him. I don’t want her to get spooked and run again. Not before I get what I want from her. Not before I taste her. Before I’m inside her.
As soon as I get back from my run, I shower and change. I’m headed for the diner without even deciding to go there. Something about her just keeps pulling me back.
I don’t even talk to her when I’m there. Not really. I just watch her. That ends today. I’ve waited long enough. It’s time to make Laurel Wells my distraction.
I see her the minute I walk into my brother’s diner. She’s carrying a tray of food, and she stops dead in her tracks when she lays eyes on me.
Good. I like that I make her nervous.
That piece of shit, Tommy Watkins, is here. Raven Island PD’s finest. I can feel his eyes on me as soon as I set foot in the diner. Tommy’s hated me since high school. Part of me wishes he would just fucking come for me. I’d be happy to end him. At least then I wouldn’t have to see his fucking ugly face walking around my town.
And this is my town. My island. It’s my fucking coast. I’ve run organized crime in the Pacific Northwest since my brother and I weren’t all that organized. We were just two angry kids looking to take back some power from those who had it. And we fucking did. All that power is mine now.
I walk over to my usual booth in the corner, and wait for her to come over and take my order. I’ve been coming to the Raven’s Claw diner so often since Laurel started working here that I have the damn menu memorized. So, I bide my time just watching her. She’s small. She can’t be more than five-foot-two. She’s tiny at the waist and has gentle curves at her hips and tits. Her breasts are full for how small she is. Maybe not quite a handful, but I bet they’re close. I mean to find out.
Her blonde hair falls just past her shoulders. As much as I want her body, it’s her face that keeps me up at night. She has a heart-shaped face with green eyes and full, pink lips. She doesn’t wear a lot of make-up to wait tables. Her hair is always either up in a ponytail or hanging loose around her shoulders. I want to see her all dressed up for me in something tight and sexy. And then I want to tear off her clothes off and taste everything she’s hiding underneath.
Soon, Laurel. But not soon enough.