“Not turn into my mother,” I replied. “Yet here I am in an MC clubhouse in nothing but my underwear. What’s that bed for?”
He looked at it, puzzled—the thing was old and battered, the blankets so thin they hardly qualified.
“This is one of those rooms the old ladies won’t clean, isn’t it?” I asked, raising a brow. “I know what this place is. You run trains in here, don’t you? You and all your friends and whatever poor whore is stupid enough to let herself get sucked in. I swore I’d never see one of these rooms again, Puck. Then Teeny called me and I’m right back where I started. I have to fix it.”
Puck’s face hardened.
“You’re not thinking straight,” he said coldly. “I’m sorry your mom is dead but you need to shut your mouth.”
“Fuck off, Puck.”
He started toward me, grim purpose written all over his face.
“If you needed money, you should’ve come to me,” he said. “I’m your old man. Shit like this happens, you’re supposed to call me.”
“Couple problems with that scenario,” I snapped. “One, you’re not my old man, yet you keep telling people I’m your old lady. I haven’t agreed, Puck. Takes two people, did you know that?”
“Don’t condescend to me,” I continued. The anger was pushing through the numbness. It felt good. Really good. “I’m an adult and I’ve been taking care of myself for years now.”
“And a fucking great job you’re doing, too. Where are your clothes, Becca? Oh, wait. You lost them during a raid on a strip club. Was that before or after you threw everything you owned out the window?”
“Teeny murdered my mother!”
“He killed her,” I said, my throat tightening. Shit. I was going to cry again, and I didn’t want to cry. I wanted to be strong and angry. Focused. “She warned me. She said he’d kill her unless I sent money for her to get away, but I didn’t have the money. I even went to the strip club earlier this week—figured I’d try to earn it for her. But I couldn’t go through with it because I had my precious dignity and school and you, asshole. Yeah, that’s right. I didn’t want to lose you, so I let her go instead. Now she’s dead. He killed her.”
Puck stepped toward me, but I held up a hand. He ignored it and I fell into his arms, tears breaking free. Then he rubbed my back softly. God, why was he being so nice? It made everything harder.
I wanted to fight, not cry.
“Okay, let’s figure some stuff out,” he said finally. “First—and I have to ask this—do you have any real proof she’s dead? He might be lying to you.”
“My cell phone,” I whispered. “It’s back at my car, but he sent me pictures. From the morgue. Also a death certificate. It’s real.”
“Okay,” he replied. “And how do you know he’s the one who killed her?”
“Because she said he would. She begged me to save her and I wouldn’t. This is my fault.”
“No,” he said. Suddenly he was looking me right in the eye, holding my shoulders in both his hands. “You didn’t cause any of this. This is not your fault—she made her own choices and they included hurting and using you. If you told her no, it was because you were smart enough to save yourself. About fucking time, too.”
“You just had to add the last part, didn’t you?”
He didn’t respond, although I saw his mouth tighten. Good. I’d gotten to him.
Silence fell in the room.
“So why did you need money for California?” he asked finally. “Is he having a funeral?”
I shook my head bitterly. “No, but he said if I wanted her ashes, I had to pay him. A lot.”
“You’re fucking kidding me.”
“Three grand. If I don’t send it, he’s dumping her out.”
Puck’s face darkened, and I saw the little muscles in his jaw clench. “So he called to say your mom’s dead and then shake you down. You weren’t going to earn three grand at that club, Becca. Not in a day—and you had to know I’d come looking for you when I heard what happened. What’s really going on?”
I considered the question. If I stalled him, sooner or later I’d get my car back. I could still go after Teeny.
“Answer the fucking question, Becca.”
“I wanted to get her ashes.”
“You know I’d help you.”
“Your help comes with strings.”
“I get it,” he said suddenly. “You think if you attack me enough I’ll give up. Answer. Now. Why were you going to California?”
“I was going to kill him,” I admitted. “I don’t feel like I’ll ever be free unless he’s dead. Maybe it sounds crazy, but he’s an evil, evil man and he doesn’t deserve to live. That’s why I didn’t talk to anyone—I didn’t want to turn you into my accomplices.”
Puck growled, then pushed away from me to stalk toward the window. He leaned forward on it, fingertips turning white as he squeezed hard. I supposed I should be glad he wasn’t squeezing my throat.
“Did it occur to you that I could take care of this?” he said, teeth clenched. I looked at him blankly.