Pricked (Page 45)
She shakes her head, and for a second, I’m sure she’s about to defend him.
“Here.” I tear a piece of paper from one of the sketch pads and grab the nearest pencil, jotting down my full name, date of birth, and Social Security number. Handing them to her, I say, “All yours. Run your own background check on me and see what you come up with.”
She takes the paper with reluctance. “He said you changed your name when you were eighteen.”
“I didn’t want to be a Kramer anymore.” I shrug. “I didn’t want anything to do with my father after what he did. As soon as I became an adult, I changed my last name to Ransom—which was actually my middle name before. Named for someone on my mom’s side of the family or something. I don’t know, I just liked that it had a little edge to it.”
She laughs through her nose, and finally, I feel like I’m getting through to her.
The tension between us is still there, but at least now it’s lifting.
“There’s something else I need to tell you though.” I clear my throat. “I don’t know how to tell you this …”
“What? What is it?”
“According to my dad, your father paid him to …” my words taper off as her hazel eyes begin to water. “He, uh, paid him to kill your grandparents. A quarter million or something like that. And when my dad got caught, he took the fall for it. That way, your dad would still pay up and his family would have something because either way, he was going to prison.”
I have no idea if she believes me, and I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t.
This entire situation is fucked seven ways from Sunday.
I give her a minute, let her process what I’ve just shared, and then she breaks her silence with a resigned sigh.
“Do you believe him?” she asks. “Your dad?”
“I do … at first I wasn’t sure, and then I figured what good would it do him to lie about it now? Twelve years later? And he told me this without knowing that I knew you. He volunteered the information.”
“Is there proof?” she asks before burying her face in her hands and massaging her temples.
“Proof that your father is corrupt?”
“I know my father’s far from perfect, but to say he’d hire someone to murder my grandparents is just …” she stops for a second. “It’s beyond anything he’s capable of.”
“Maybe you don’t know what he’s capable of,” I suggest. “You want proof that he’s a liar though? Run that background check on me. You’ll see firsthand that whatever he told you about me before was fabricated.”
She stares at the slip of paper between her fingers.
“You said you lost the baby?” I ask, tempering my voice.
“The day my father told me about all of this, I went straight to your father’s office to confront him. But before I could get a word in, he let me know that I’d gotten you pregnant. And then he told me that you were taking care of it.”
“He told you I was getting an abortion?” Her pretty face is laced with disgust. “Why would he say that?”
“Because, Brighton,” I say, “your father is a liar. He doesn’t care what he does or who he hurts as long as he gets what he wants in the end.”
I take her hand.
“The day after I left here is when I realized I was late,” she says, staring ahead at a blank TV screen. “I drove here that night. I was going to tell you in person. But when I got here, you were with someone.”
She shrugs. “A woman. Dark hair. Red lips.”
It comes back to me now. That was the night Veronica showed up unannounced, the night I swore I saw Brighton’s car speeding down the street before convincing myself it was wishful thinking.
“She was all over you,” Brighton says.
“I’m guessing you didn’t stick around long enough to see me kick her out and threaten to call the police on her.”
“I wanted to get out of there as soon as possible,” she says. “I was already so upset about the fight we’d had the night before and then finding out I was pregnant. I wasn’t thinking clearly.”
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“It’s not your fault.”
“No, I mean. I’m sorry you had to go through that alone. I should’ve been there with you.”
She lifts a single shoulder to her ear, a small, wistful smile claiming her lips. “It was ectopic, by the way. In case you’re wondering. It wasn’t growing in the right place. They had to surgically remove it.” She brushes a blonde tendril from her face, tucking it behind her ear. “God, I really hate calling it an ‘it.’”
“I know.” I put my arm around her, pulling her close. “When your dad told me you were pregnant … I felt some kind of way I’d never felt before. And I knew … I knew then …”
Her body relaxes against mine, and then her arms lift over my shoulders and she buries her face into my neck. I feel her breathe me in. I’m not an emotional man by any means, but holding her right now feels so good I cry.
But a moment later, I realize she’s crying.
The faintest sniffs fill my ear and I pull away, cupping the underside of her chin and examining her beautiful, tear-streaked face. I wish I could take away the pain I’ve caused her. I wish we could go back and do it all over again, the right way.
Guiding her mouth to mine, I claim her lips as mine for the first time in forever, and cupping her face, I kiss away her tears.
“I need to show you something,” I say when she’s calmed down.
Sitting back, I tug my shirt over my head, take her hand, and place it over the butterfly net inked on my ribcage.
“What is this …?” She traces her fingertips along the picture permanently etched into my skin for all eternity. “Madden … you didn’t have to do this. Not for me.”
“Of course I did,” I say.
I place her palm over my warm skin.
She blinks quickly, small tears sliding down her pink cheeks. I’d always thought about what this would mean to me, never fully comprehending how much something like this might mean to her.
“This … this is big.” Her mouth dances into a smile as she talks. And then she kisses me. Slow. Hard then soft.
“God, I’ve missed this.” My lips graze hers, then my fingers slip into her silky hair.
“I’ve missed you,” she says, breathless. “So much.”
“There’s something else I have to tell you.” My heart hammers with enough force it feels like it’s about to jump out of my chest at any moment.
Her golden gaze widens and she sucks in a breath, harboring it as her eyes search mine. She’s probably thinking she can’t handle another revelation. Another bombshell. But little does she know, I saved the best for last.
“I love you, Brighton,” I say those words for the first time, lips numb, hands shaking, vulnerability coursing through my veins followed by a shot of adrenaline. “And I’ll love you forever.”
Climbing into my lap, she buries her head against my chest and wraps her arms around me. “I love you, too, Madden. I never stopped.”
I splay my suitcase across my bed and shove in as many things as I can fit before fighting with the zipper.
“Brighton, what are you doing?” I turn to find my mother standing in my doorway. “Are you going somewhere? I just came up to get you … Laurel and Eben are about ready to start opening gifts downstairs.”
The house is filled with company, leftover wedding guests who’ve stopped over to eat brunch and watch the newlyweds open gifts.
“I’m leaving,” I say.
“And where is it you think you’re going?”
She chuffs. “You will not embarrass me in front of a house full of guests the day after your brother’s wedding. Leave the bag. Come downstairs.”
I stay planted where I am.
“I raised you to be smarter than this.” Her mouth curls. “Surely you learned your lesson the last time around? That boy is a menace. He left you at your worst and he dropped you the second you were no longer worth his trouble.”
“I’m sorry you feel the need to judge him after meeting him all of two times,” I say. “But he’s nothing like you think he is.”
“He’s a criminal,” she yells, though it’s more of a whisper. God forbid anyone downstairs hears our family drama.
“Actually, he’s not.” I stride toward my desk and grab a folded sheet of paper from my purse, handing it over.
“His real background check,” I say.
Her eyes scan the paper before she flips it over. “There’s nothing here. Just his name and birthdate.”
“I don’t understand.” She looks it over again.
“That background check Dad shared with us was a fake,” I say.
Her lips fall at the sides. “Your father is a good and decent man. He would never do such a thing. How dare you make such an accusation.”