“Oh, sweetheart, you look beautiful! Roger is going to go nuts when he sees you in this dress.”
I turned and looked at my mother and then back in the mirror. I smiled at my reflection.
I’m so blessed. I was blessed with wonderful parents, with the greatest best friend in the world—who had picked out this dress for Roger’s graduation party—and with the handsomest and sweetest boyfriend ever. Roger was the love of my life.
“Mom, you know Roger is leaving right after graduation to work for his dad’s company in New York City. He wants me to go, and I really want to.”
“Mom, I want to learn all about the party-planning business. I want to have my own company someday. New York City is the best place for me to get started.” I rotated and faced my mother. “Don’t be mad.”
“Ah hell, Whit. That usually means I’m going to be mad.”
I let out a small laugh. “Mom, I talked to Michelle Durkin. She said I could start working under her as soon as possible. She’ll teach me everything she knows about parties, weddings, birthdays, and reunions. Everything. Mom, this is something I really want to do. And who better to learn it from than your best friend from college?”
“Whit, you’re so smart. You can get into any college you want. Your father and I are both doctors. Why don’t you want to go to med school?”
“Ugh, Mom! I don’t want to be a doctor. I can’t even stand to see a paper cut. Please, Mommy, I really want this. Plus, I can be with Roger. I love him more than life, Mom.”
My mother smiled and glanced over my shoulder. I turned to see my dad standing there, smiling.
“Do we let her?” my mother asked my father.
When he looked at me, his smile grew. I’d already talked to him about New York. I hated to say it, but I had my daddy wrapped around my finger. He would do anything if he thought it would make me happy. I tried not to take advantage of that, but this time, I used it for my benefit.
“I guess we let her. You know, Whit, if things don’t work out, all it takes is one phone call. One call, and I’ll personally come take you away from that hellhole of a city.”
My father hated New York City. We lived in Rhinebeck, New York, and my parents loved the country and small-town life. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to leave Rhinebeck and move to New York City. I loved the country life, but right now, I needed to be a city girl for a bit.
I jumped up and down and clapped my hands. “Don’t worry, Daddy! Nothing would ever make me want to come back here! Roger is going to make me so happy.” I ran into my father’s arms.
“He better, baby girl. He’s promised me that his only goals in this life are to make you happy and keep you safe.”
I smiled as I thought of Roger talking about New York City and how wonderful it was going to be. His dad was starting him out with his own condo in Manhattan and a more than generous pay to learn the family business. It would be nothing but parties, shopping, and more parties.
I can’t wait to start my new life with Roger!
Life couldn’t get any better.
The moment his fist hit my face, I felt extreme pain in my jaw.
Tonight might be the night he finally kills me.
The force of the blow had been so strong that I was literally seeing stars. I stumbled backward, and I started to fall down the cold steel stairs that I hated more than anything.
I saw the look on Roger’s face. Is he smiling?
Then, all I could see were the metal beams across the ceiling as my body began falling back. My head slammed against one of the stairs.
After I hit the bottom landing of the staircase, I slowly stood, and the room started spinning. I saw Roger walking up to me.
He grabbed my arm. “This is your fault, goddamn it! If you had just listened to me, Squeak, none of this would have ever happened!”
It’s always my fault. Always. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
I felt his grip tighten around my arm. My head was killing me, and my jaw felt like it was broken. He’d never hit me this hard before.
“You didn’t do anything wrong? You were flirting with him, Squeak. I saw the way you were touching him and dancing with him. Did you flirt with him just to piss me off?”
When I looked into his eyes, the anger caused a chill to run up and down my spine. I tried to pull away from him. I knew I shouldn’t have talked to Nick, let alone danced with him. He was Roger’s biggest competition, and they were both up for the same job promotion at work.
Roger had been dancing and hanging all over Lucy Waters, and he hadn’t so much as said two words to me all night. At one point, I’d seen him grab her ass and whisper something into her ear. I got pissed, so I’d sought out Nick and started to talk to him. We’d danced only one time, and as I was thanking him for the dance, I’d placed my hand on his upper arm. The moment I did it, I knew I’d made a drastic mistake.
“It was just an innocent dance, and I was thanking him for his kindness since you seemed to be making plans with Lucy for later.” I attempted to jerk my arm out of his grip.
He pulled my arm so hard that I heard something pop. I dropped to my knees and let out a scream. When I looked up, I saw the expression on his face turn from anger to hate.
Oh my God, he’s going to kill me.
He pulled me up, and tears started rolling down my cheeks from the pain in my jaw, head, and now, my shoulder. As he put his face right up to mine, I could smell the alcohol on his breath. It turned my stomach, and I tried to turn away. He grabbed my jaw and turned my face back to him, causing me to yell out again.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you, you fucking bitch! You. Don’t. Touch. Other. Men. Ever! You are mine, Whitley. You’ve always been mine, and you always will be. You need to be taught a lesson, so you don’t whore around like you were tonight. You showed up at that dinner party, looking the part. I told you, no strapless dresses ever!”
He yanked the top of my dress so hard that the fabric tore and fell off my body. I watched as he looked me up and down and licked his lips.
No. Please, God, no! “I wasn’t flirting, Roger! He asked me to dance, and I didn’t want to be rude.” My jaw hurt more with every word I spoke.
Roger threw his head back and laughed. When he finally peered at me, he shook his head. “Did you want him, Squeak? Did you want to fuck him?”
What in the hell is he saying? How could he even think that?
“Answer me, Whitley!” Roger yelled, causing me to jump.
“You’re lying to me. That beautiful dress you had on tonight—the only reason you can afford to dress like that is because of me. These nails…” He pulled my hand up to his face and then bent my hand back, causing me to drop to the floor in pain. “These nails are possible because of me, Squeak. Your hair, your sweet-smelling soft hair—this belongs to me. It’s all because of me. This beautiful condo in Manhattan—this is all me, baby.”
He pulled my hair, but I couldn’t even call out in pain anymore. All I wanted was for the pain to go away.
I need to get away from him. “You’re hurting me, Roger.”
Usually, if I said he was hurting me, he would know I was at my breaking point, and he would stop. Then, he would leave and go drink until he couldn’t walk, and he’d stay at the Ritz for the night. The next day, he’d come back, beg for forgiveness, and tell me how much he loved me and how afraid he was of losing me.
Yanking me closer to him, he reached down, tore off my panties, and then began touching me.
“Did. You. Want. To. Fuck. Him?” he slowly whispered in my ear. “If you want to, Whit, I can arrange it. Maybe I could even watch the two of you together and then join in.”
I sucked in a breath of air and looked into his eyes. He’s gone crazy!
“I heard Nick likes threesomes. We could have a little fun, Squeak. You would like that, wouldn’t you? You’re such a dirty little whore. You’d like to be fucked by that asshole, wouldn’t you?”
I shook my head, the pain growing twenty times worse. I tried to open my mouth to say no, but Roger started to penetrate me with his fingers.
“Hmm…you’re not very turned-on, baby. Let’s get you good and wet. Do I need to call Nick to help out with that?”
I pushed him away from me and found the strength the talk. “Don’t ever touch me again, you sick bastard! I don’t want Nick, and I don’t want you!” My skin started to crawl with the disgust I felt from being near him.
The look in his eyes changed. I didn’t even see it coming until it was too late. He slapped me across the face, and then he grabbed my hair. When I saw Roger’s fist coming straight toward my face again, I closed my eyes and waited for the blow.
“Is he ever coming back, Mike?” I asked my older brother as I watched him gut a deer.
“No, Layton. I don’t think he’s ever going to come back.”
“He might.” I started the fire and zipped up my jacket.
It was such a cold night out, and all I wanted was a warm bed. It wasn’t uncommon for it to be cold in Texas in October.
Shit, I’m just so sick of being cold.
Mike stopped gutting the deer, took a deep breath, and turned around to look at me. “Layton, he’s been gone for almost two years. He only sends us the tax money, so we can keep the ranch—the only damn thing he ever cared about. We couldn’t even afford to keep the cattle on this place. I’ve just about used up all the money we got from selling them off. He left us. He left us in a house that wasn’t finished. We have no heat and no air conditioning and no fucking running water! He doesn’t care about you or me. He never has. All we are is a reminder of Mom.”
I thought about my mother. She had passed away from cancer about two and a half years ago. My dad had started to build her dream home on top of one of the hills on our ranch, but then they found out she had cancer, and we’d had to move to Austin to be closer to the doctors.
She’d lived six months to the day after they’d sat Mike and me down on the sofa and told us she had breast cancer. I thought my world had ended there. I was wrong. It had ended two more times after—with her death and then our father leaving us.
I glanced over toward Mike and watched him work on the deer.
We had pretty much learned to survive on our own. Our dad had moved us back to Llano to our ranch after our mom passed away. He’d raised cattle, and he had also been big into racehorses. He’d made good money at both, so it made no sense to anyone why he would just up and walk away.
He’d said he was going to New York to look at a racehorse, and that was the last we’d heard from him. The only thing he’d done for us since then was provide the tax money on the ranch, so it would stay in the family, and that was sent through his lawyer.
We never had anyone come to the house. It looked finished from the outside, but if anyone knew that we lived in a shell with no running water or heat and air conditioning, they would put us both in foster homes. There was no way we would let that happen. We had a hot plate, a microwave, and a small refrigerator. We hunted for all our meat, and we had a small garden, using seeds that we’d found in our mother’s box of stuff that our dad had packed up and stored.