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Authors: Kathryn Kelly

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BOOK: Incendiary
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“Let me explain how things will be from this point on,” she continues. “Georgiana is going to excuse herself and go upstairs to rest. She’ll never worry about the threat of arrest ever again. In her life.” She offers a pointed look, her demeanor adopting that sadistic life-ruiner vibe. “You, on the other hand, should get to your desk and clear it out.” She nods to me. “Go, dear.”

Detective Jackson draws himself up to his full height. “Are you threatening me?”

He must be new, not only to the force but the planet. Apparently, he hasn’t heard of Grandma, so he isn’t familiar with how she rules the world from her office and, when needed, her throne in the pits of Hell.

Detective Jackson’s outrage doesn’t faze Grandma. She smiles, and my wince matches dickhead’s. A moment’s pity for him rises in me, but I shove it aside. Asshole’s finally catching on. I resist the urge to poke my tongue at him and salute him instead.

“I have no time for threats, detective,” Grandma states briskly. “Now,

Although I want to stick around and hear what Grandma is about to rein on the detective, I’m not
stupid. It’s enough she interrupted whatever Detective Jackson had in mind.

She saved me and, in turn, I saved Sloane.


“We’ve been attempting to have a child for four years, but haven’t succeeded.”

A smile is plastered on my face as I listen to Jane, a nondescript name for a nondescript woman. Her husband, Joe, is equally uninteresting. He’s a trucker and she’s a waitress, the type of people perfect for Georgie’s little bastard.

Mother steeples her hands beneath her chin. “You understand, if this takes place, you’ll get one lump sum from me on the child’s behalf.”

We’re in my living room, where Jane has been gaping around.
Scoping for valuables?

“If?” Joe echoes, honing in on that nasty little word.

I shake my wrist to free my gold bracelets jammed on my arm higher than I like. “Figure of speech. There’s no question in this matter. It’s only settling on

“This isn’t a done deal.”

At Mother’s words, a gasp escapes me before I can wrangle it back. “Wh-what do you mean?”

“Just what I said,” she snaps. “Georgiana—”

“Is a minor,” I interject coldly.

Mother slides to the end of her seat, legs still crossed. “Who’s legally under my care and in my house. I’m her guardian.”

More’s the pity. The more Mother surprises me with little interferences here and there of what I want Georgie to suffer, the more my stomach sours that I turned over my parental rights. With only weeks until my daughter is considered an adult, my time to exact revenge is limited. Both Mother and I know this, so she’s coming around to my way of thinking.

There’s no room in the world for both Georgie and me to live.

Jane clears her throat. She’s smiling, attempting to cover her disappointment that I still so clearly see. Maybe, she’s trying to diffuse the situation. I’m offended that she thinks she’s my equal, who’s able to insert herself into my conversation.

“Mrs. McCall, I admire you so much. Because of you, my mother sought help for her depression. She saw your interview after your release from—”

“We don’t discuss that time in this house,” I interrupt, glaring down my nose at her.

I met Jane at a function I attended for one of the charities whose board I sit on. I don’t even remember which one. Jane was one of the losers trotted out to offer their sob stories, to soften hearts and open purses. Once she gave her sad, little speech, she was seated at my table. Since Parnell barely spoke to me—he still doesn’t—and photographers were circling, I struck up a conversation with her. By the end of the evening, I’d found a solution to the problem of Georgie’s baby.

A month has passed, and I’ve finally gotten this meeting on Mother’s schedule to introduce her to Jane and Joe. It was my idea to offer them money. Nothing will buy them class or status, but it’ll purchase their silence and loyalty.

“It’s been nice meeting you people,” Mother states and stands. “We’ll be in touch.”

Panic rises in me. “Where are you going?”

Ignoring me, she snaps open her purse, and then holds out a business card to Jane. “Call me at that number at ten tomorrow morning.”

My eyes bug out, just like Jane’s, but I recover quickly. Clearing my throat, I tap my hand on my chest in a delicate rhythm. The couple’s gazes follow the glint of my diamond ring.

“Don’t worry,” I say lightly, my lips frozen in a parody of a smile. “This will be a three-way meeting with her attorneys. Right, Mother?”


One word. So much meaning. Such a dire, gut-wrenching impact.

Her gaze roams over me, from my head to my toes, and back again, before she finally stares into my eyes. Her face gives nothing away. I don’t know what’s going through her mind. I don’t even know if my gray pencil skirt and pink summer sweater pass muster.

“Good day.” She turns toward the door.

Alarm thins my blood, and makes me light-headed. “Mother—”

“Good day, Cassandra,” she barks.

I can’t let this go. Georgie and Sloane’s baby…

your daughter,” I grit out.

She isn’t thinking about me. She’s considering Georgie. Otherwise, she’d snatch this opportunity to unload that brat.

“Your primary concern is me,” I screech.

Movement in my peripheral vision reminds me we’re not alone. Nervously, I glance at the couple and draw myself up at their shock. Control is slipping from me, but they are too beneath me to comment. If they did, I'd tell them about
. Georgie. How she’s brought my family’s dignity and good name into disrepute. Her ungratefulness always sends me over the edge.

I despise her.

My temples pound. Mother sighs and she sets her purse on a small table. Sailing to the far wall, she presses a buzzer to summon a staff member.

They know not to tarry. Two minutes haven’t ticked by before Della arrives. I leap to my feet, breathing through my mouth at the sight of the executive housekeeper. She certainly isn’t
. I wanted her fired, but they didn’t allow it. She found Georgie. Mother gave her a raise and Parnell was so happy he moved her to quarters on the second floor, where only family resides.

Catching sight of me, she begins to back away.

“See these people out, Della,” Mother orders, turning another stern look to Jane. “10:00AM

“Yes, ma’am.”

A moment later, they’re gone and so is Della. I can’t believe she didn’t know I was in this room, but I remain silent, determined to secure Mother’s agreement about the adoption. This has gone on long enough.

“You’ve got to fix this,” I wail.

“I have.”

“She’s still pregnant. For Sloane. I’m without him and my husband. All her fault.”

Mother lifts a brow. “Parnell’s cheating again?”

“No!” He just isn’t talking to me. Or sleeping with me. I almost prefer his cheating to his shut out.

“Then you have your husband.”

How can she be so goddamn ignorant? She doesn’t
to understand how miserable I am. Even if her lack of comprehension is real, I don’t know how to relay my feelings on most matters. Detailed explaining isn’t required in regards to my daughter.

I’d prefer to take the whelp before I allow Georgie the satisfaction of getting it.

Mother palms my cheek and my world rights itself. She loves me.

“You’re overwrought,” she soothes. “Go upstairs and take a muscle relaxer.”

“You’ll make her pay.” My words waffle pathetically from me. “You’ll break her for me.”

Sighing, Mother closes her eyes before nodding. “You’re forcing my hand, Cassandra.”

Her words bewilder me. S
promised she’d get it done my way.

Regret crosses her face, and I hold back a rage-filled scream. Only
brings this side out of her.

“Upstairs, Cassandra.” She turns toward her purse. “Give me a day or two, three at most, but I’ll set everything in motion and take care of it,” she swears.

I don’t question my mother, blindly trusting she’ll vindicate me. Satisfaction rolls through me at her calculating gleam.

Unfortunately, no one wears naiveté well. Especially not me.


Two days after Detective Jackson’s visit, I sit on my veranda’s swing, surrounded by the flowers in my garden. Grandma had a small section of land walled off just for me. It’s a neat little square and another way to keep me separated from the main house. The melody of the water falling from the fountain in the middle of the yard is soothing.

Clouds are rolling in, and the heat and humidity takes a toll. So I stand and walk into my dining room, only used when Josh visits.

Roaming into the living room, I draw in a breath at the silence. Since Grandma sent me upstairs and away from the cop, I’ve remained in my quarters, hiding from the detective, Grandma, and the world. Closeted away is easier than facing the boundaries outside these walls. The more space I’m afforded, the more alone I feel. Sighing, I flip on my television, not paying attention as I consider my sanctuary.

My living room is very feminine, painted in sky blue, separated in the middle by thick, white planks, with floral print wallpaper running along the bottom half. Grandma allowed me to decorate all of the rooms I use. I have my bedroom, the baby’s nursery I’ve recently put the finishing touches on, a living room and a tiny dining room. There’s also the bedroom for my housekeeper, private bathrooms for both me and Lindsey. I have no visitors but Josh and Grandma, so I don’t need a guest bathroom. I also have a kitchen. My luxurious prison is complete. I have no reason to use anything of Grandma’s.

I’ve never asked, either.

What I
asked about is returning to school. When it opens in late August, the baby should be five-weeks-old if I deliver her on time. Grandma always says we’ll
about enrolling me. Then my mind wanders and I panic, worrying that I’ll go to school one day and return to find the baby gone, never to be seen again.

Trusting Grandma is hard, therefore I haven’t mentioned school in a while.

The Phoenix Rising song still used as my ringtone blasts through the room, so I waddle back to the table near the sofa. Lifting my cellphone in one hand and the television’s remote control in the other, I absently answer the phone, sit down on the couch and flip the television channel.

“George?” The voice I haven’t heard in months seeps through the line. The
voice, I mean. Crowell. The one who was once my lifeline. Now, I only wish this was Sloane.



“Hey, babe. How are you?”

I bite my lip, still freaked by the detective’s visit.

“Are you okay?”

“Um, yeah. Fine.” It’s odd that Crowell is calling now, after so many months. In case Detective Jackson put him up to this, I keep quiet about the baby. Immediately, Crowell would know who the father is.

“Do you miss me?”

I swallow. Do I? I don’t know. Nights are wrought with discomfort, as I can find no comfortable position in bed. Turning on either side doesn’t help. My past few nights of hell are thanks to Kiln’s call and Detective Jackson’s visit. With my thoughts roaming in all directions, beginning and ending with Sloane, I’ve gotten very little sleep. I’m too exhausted to miss anyone other than Sloane. That includes Crowell.

He sighs. “I’ll take that as a no.”

“I miss you a little,” I relent, not wanting to hurt him. “Things had gotten out of hand. I was using way too much.” Despite how good he was to me, something else bugs me, and as much as I want to let it go, I can’t. “You hit me.”

After that evening, my life took a sharp turn, so I’ve never confronted him. He’s the last person I ever believed capable of raising a hand to me.

“I’m sorry, George,” he says gruffly. “I should never have struck you. Don’t hate me, baby.”

My heart softens at his sadness. I know how despair feels and I don’t want Crowell to suffer as I have. He was once my friend, always upbeat and keeping watch over me. Wanting to reply to his kindness, I search for a topic to cheer him up. “How’s Lana?”

“Good. I guess,” he adds on a huff of laughter. “I haven’t seen her recently.”

I swallow, detecting his loneliness. “I’m sorry.”

“Things happen, George.”

“I know. I’m just sorry they’re happening to you.”

“So you forgive me?” he whispers in a coaxing tone, the same he’d use when he wanted oral sex.

At first, I was so shy about opening my legs so he could put his mouth on me. It was even worse when he convinced me to reciprocate. However, Crowell had a way about him, always knowing the right thing to say to put me at ease. “You’re my little sweetheart. I don’t think I can go on if you don’t accept my apology.”

I giggle at his bullshit. “Con artist.”

His laugh is easier this time, and I smile, happy his tone is lighter. “Do you forgive me?”

“Of course.”

“Then why haven’t you told me you’re pregnant?” His hurt blasts over the phone line. “Why did I have to find out from your mom?”

An answer eludes me. I didn’t intend to tell him now because of the detective, but why didn’t I call him months ago? He deserved better than second-hand information.

Already on overload, I won’t ask why he’s talking to my mom. Maybe, he’s sleeping with her too, just like Sloane did. My tolerance level for such news is lacking. Not because I’m jealous over Crowell, as I am about Sloane. It’s just weird to think about Mom sleeping with my lovers. I grunt at my hurt, quickly pushing it aside. This isn’t about me. Or Mom. Or how confused I am over her. I still want to talk to her, even after she didn’t care if I lived or died.

“The baby is his. Sloane’s,” Crowell guesses.

I choose who my deeper loyalty belongs to.
. I remain silent.

“I wish it were mine,” he says huskily, surprising me. “I should’ve claimed you when I had the chance. Taken you, like he has. I love you, Georgiana. I’ll always love you.”

He chokes up at the return of his emotional pain.

“Crowell,” I whisper, and sniffle, his hurt so hard to hear. “You love me?” I can’t reciprocate. Though I care about him, vows of love would be a lie. “I—”

“Yes, I love you,” he declares in a steadier voice. “Can I come over? We can talk. I want to make love to you the way I should have before.”

No way will I allow Crowell to touch me. He’s handsome, sexy and familiar, but he isn’t Sloane. The man who has fucked half of Europe
been linked to an actress, reportedly his girlfriend. His. Girlfriend. The distinction I believed I held.

A tear slips down my cheek. One of us has to show loyalty to the other. Eventually, he’ll remember me. If I sleep with Crowell, and Sloane finds out whenever he returns, he’ll be livid.

I slap another tear away. I’m living in a dream world. Sloane’s gone. My only memento of our time together is our daughter. A small sob escapes me, my heart shattering.

I miss him so much. He anchored me.

For him, I was just another girl to fuck.

“George, baby,” Crowell croons. “I know you’re at Helen’s.”

“Mom told you that too, I guess,” I respond glumly, tears punctuating my words. Sometimes, I think I’ll lose my mind if I don’t hear Sloane’s voice. I stay away from the Internet, most of the time. Googling him now also lists the new woman in his life. Everyone reaches a limit. When I do and want to jump out of my skin if I don’t hear his voice, see his smile or those blue eyes full of intensity, I cave.

God, I’ve got to stop this.

He’s gone, Georgie!

Crowell isn’t, though. He’s on the phone, wanting to see me and confessing his love for me, after months without contact, thanks to my desertion of him. “H-have you talked to Josh?”

Hopefully, this question removes our awkwardness. Without drugs and oral sex in common, we don’t have much to discuss.

“Josh swore to pull my guts out through my navel if he runs across me.”

I lick my lips and wipe the back of my hand across my nose. “Josh?” Such a dirty threat from my brother doesn’t sound right. What Crowell is suggesting is plain gruesome. Josh wouldn’t want his designer suits spattered with gore and guts. “Are you sure you aren’t talking of my half-brother? Cash?”

“Jesus Christ, George. Don’t
speak the biker’s name again. Fuck, let me clear my ears. He showed me boxes. Fucking
boxes he’d use for my eyeballs—” He stops and swallows audibly. “No. Josh’s threats are…are…My God, just don’t.”

I roll my eyes. “You’re so dramatic. If you’re so frightened, you wouldn’t call me now or ask to see me.”

“Dramatic? Scared shitless!” he admits in the same breath. “Still, I’ll risk anything to gaze into those gorgeous purple eyes of yours.”

Laughing nervously, I consider his fear. Crowell is as cocky and arrogant as Josh and Cash, so he wouldn’t readily confess to fright unless there’s a valid reason. My brothers were furious about Crowell’s physical relationship with me, but the extent of their anger escaped me. For him to admit he’s afraid is telling. My brothers threatened the fuck out of him. Totally unfair because I willingly participated. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I knew they were angry. I’ll talk to them—”

“NO! No. Are you fucking crazy? I’ve spent enough time in ICU.”

“I thought they only threatened you.”

did. Your baby daddy nearly beat me to death,” he grumbles.

I’m so shocked I almost blurt Sloane’s name, but I rein in my surprise and shout, “

“Sloane beat the fuck out of me. For the slap I gave to you. For keeping you strung out. For our sex. Why do you think I didn’t visit you in the hospital?”

I can’t believe Sloane fought with Crowell! At one time, silliness made me think he was jealous. Still, he was territorial. While I was with him, he was also protective of me, so it’s reasonable to assume he’d act like a barbaric asshole and try to kill Crowell.

“You two shouldn’t have fought.” Sloane is no longer a threat, but Crowell risks the wrath of my brothers if they discover he’s checking on me. “If you hadn’t engaged—”

“Did you hear me, Georgiana? Fighting with someone implies what you said. I engaged as well. That can’t be farthest from the fucking truth. I opened my door and Sloane punched me in my fucking nose. Broke it immediately. I didn’t stand a fucking chance. He’s in the wrong fucking profession. Rock star? Fuck no. Try boxer. MMA fighter. Hired fucking killer. Headcase—”

“I get the fucking point!”

“You could’ve called me,” he says in an accusatory tone, deftly switching gears once more.

“If I would’ve known what happened, I would’ve checked up on you. We’re friends, always and forever.”

Not only didn’t I know Sloane had beaten Crowell so terribly, I didn’t have access to a phone or my iPad. Sloane had taken everything away from me, determined to have me focus on recovering from my suicide attempt and sobering up from my drugs and alcohol.

“George, love, I forgive you…”

A photo of Sloane flashes on my television screen, and I scowl. I’m in no mood today, to hear reports about whatever woman he’s hooking up with—

Aiming the remote to change the channel, I open my mouth to respond to Crowell, but…

BOOK: Incendiary
10.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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