“Maybe.” She walked into the room and stopped just before the bed until he freed one of his hands and patted the mattress. With a sigh, she obediently sat down. “I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Do I look bothered?”

His eyes were still closed and he’d slipped his other hand back beneath his head. “No.” She fell silent and drew in a deep breath. She turned to face him. “Dylan, I want you to press charges.”

“No.” Simple and immediate. He still didn’t open his eyes.



“Would you  just hear me out?”


“Fine, then I’ll tell Tamar and you can listen to her.”

His eyes flashed open then to lock with hers. This time his answer was nothing more than a bitten off growl. “No.”

Bekah found Tamar humming as she scooped vanilla cream on top warm pie slices into three serving bowls. She pushed away from the wall and strode over, arms folded across her chest. “This isn’t a one night thing, is it?”

Tamar swallowed the end of her tune and smiled sweetly at her cousin. “I thought you were sleeping?” She nudged her itching ear over her shoulder and placed another generous scoop on the second bowl. “Change your mind about ice-cream?”

“No, thanks.” Bekah eyed the three bowls and smirked wryly. “You can’t save everyone, Tamar.” She turned to face her cousin, her lips drawn in a stern line. “She’s not like you were. She’s got Dylan to protect her. Offering her a place to hide from whatever they’re facing only makes you more vulnerable.”

Tamar lifted the spoon. “I think you should let me handle this.”

“Oh yeah, like you’re handling your own issues?” Bekah narrowed her eyes at Tamar glaring at her. “Be mad all you want, but you can’t be anyone’s hero when you’re struggling to save yourself.” She sighed, patting Tamar’s shoulder. “Just think about what I said,” she said softly and stepped away from the counter.

“If it’s about the rent, I’ll take care of it,” Tamar said in a frigid tone.

Bekah clenched her jaw, her back to Tamar. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that stupid statement. Go be with your friends and we’ll figure it out tomorrow.” Snorting in annoyance, she walked back to her room.

Tamar scowled as Bekah’s door closed firmly, shutting off her protest and she angrily shoved the spoon back into the ice-cream carton.

“Well it’s either me or her. You can’t just keep fighting him, Dylan! When is it going to stop?”

“That’s not for you to worry about.”

“Well I’m worried! And for you to tell me not to when I have sit there and watch him hit you is stupid so stop it!”

Dylan rolled over carefully to look into her eyes. “You’re scared. I understand and I’m doing everything I can to get you out of there, okay? I just need-”

“This isn’t about me!”

“You know why I won’t press charges. We’ve been through this. I need you to be patient while I get this sorted out.”

“I can go to a foster home for a year, Dylan.”

The moment she said the words he turned back onto his back and focused on the ceiling.

“You can’t just shut down. We’re talking about a viable freaking option.” Her words were met with silence. “C’mon Dylan. All it takes is one wrong hit, one wrong fall. I don’t want to take that risk anymore. It’s not worth it.”

Tamar pinched the bridge of her nose to ward off the ensuing headache. Bekah’s voice kept echoing in her head, nagging her. Shaking her head, she straightened and placed the three bowls onto a plastic tray. Satisfied that she’d given the siblings enough time to catch up, Tamar walked back to her room. Crystal’s muffled voice slowed her steps and her brows drew in at the urgency she picked up from the girl’s low-pitched tone. She gripped the tray and slowly retraced her steps, leaning against the wall facing Bekah’s closed door to wait.

“You don’t make that decision,” Dylan finally said.

“What part of ‘you could die’ aren’t you getting?”

“My answer is no, Crystal. That’s not changing.”

“No amount of discomfort is worth your life!”

“Not your decision.”

“I can make it my decision.”

Dylan closed his eyes once more, trying to fight the way his throat seemed to close up. “Trust me,” he croaked. “That’s all I’m asking.”

“It’s not about trust. It’s about wanting you safe.”

“Trust me to keep myself alive, to handle this.”

She hugged her knees to her chest and said nothing.

When the voices eased into silence, Tamar balanced the tray on her forearm and knocked on the door before sticking her head in. “Sorry, the cream’s melting so I’ll just put it in here and come back later.” She ducked inside and perched the tray on top of her desk. Then picking up one of the smaller bowls, she turned and started for the door.

“You can stay,” Crystal assured her quietly. She doubted she’d get any kind of agreement out of Dylan anyway.

Tamar glanced warily from sister to brother before settling on the bowls on her desk. “Then, let’s eat the dessert before it goes to waste.” She smiled and gestured to the tray.

Dylan considered passing but he knew how hard Tamar was working to make him feel better. The last thing he wanted to do was be a jerk. He rolled over once more and reached over for a bowl. “Thanks, Tamar.”

Tamar nodded and tilted her head to Crystal expectantly.

Crystal grabbed a bowl and studied her ice-cream in silence for several seconds. “How do you get through to someone who’s bent on protecting you without concern for the cost to themselves?”

At first, Tamar didn’t respond, thinking Crystal was still carrying on her conversation with Dylan. Then she peeked up at the young girl and frowned, considering the question. Her face fired, wondering to herself if Crystal had overheard her and Bekah. “It depends…” she started, poking the dessert with her spoon. “Depends on the person’s intentions. Why they are doing the protecting in the first place.” She turned the spoon in her bowl. “I mean, if they’re just trying to help and they care a great deal for you, what’s the crime? You should just accept the help, even if it’s risky.” She bit her bottom lip. “Maybe by trying to protect you, they’re saving themselves too.”

“I should accept the help? Even if it means they might die in the process?”

“Enough,” Dylan warned before Tamar could respond.

“Die?” Tamar echoed and blinked at Dylan’s sharp response. She frowned. “Why would I. . .” she trailed off, her heart plummeting to her stomach as the siblings exchanged dark looks. She quickly realized the question wasn’t addressed to her and suddenly wished it was. “Who could die, Crystal?” she asked softly, dreading the girl’s response and the direction her frazzled thoughts wandered. Her eyes slowly moved over Dylan’s bruised face and she suddenly couldn’t breathe.

“Nobody’s going to die. Crystal’s being dramatic.”

“I am not being dramatic. He could hit you in the wrong spot. You could fall and your head could hit something. That’s real. Not dramatics.”

Tamar gripped the bowl in her hand, their voices roaring in her ears. “Wait a minute,” she snapped to quiet the voices. She turned to Dylan. “Is it your father? Is he the one that could…” she swallowed against the hardened lump lodged in her throat. “Kill you?”

“Crystal is just worked up. It’s not going to be an issue, pretty girl.” He complemented his words with a charming smile.

Tamar’s face instantly hardened at the smile. “Don’t do that,” she said in a low voice. Tears welled up, trailing down her cheeks and she angrily swiped at them, frustrated that her attempt to be strong for them was being foiled by her crying. “Stop acting like it’s nothing. Can’t you do at least that?”

Dylan dropped his head back. “Don’t cry, Tamar.” He could deal with a lot of things right then but he couldn’t handle the tears. “I’m not acting like it’s nothing. I’m telling you both that I’ve looked at this from every angle and I need you to trust me to do the right thing.”

She snorted. “Trust you when you can’t trust me? Does that make sense?” She placed the bowl on the table and folded her arms across her chest. “Your entire face is saying everything you’re not. There’s a monster out there putting you both in harm’s way and you’re trying to tell me everything’s fine? That you’ve got it all figured out when you haven’t? Tell me, do you even believe that?” Her heart was racing, her mind telling her to shut up but she couldn’t. The fury from Bekah’s earlier words and the hesitation and blatant distrust in Dylan’s eyes provoked her to continue. “What exactly, Dylan, is the right thing to do?”

“This has nothing to do with trusting you. Things aren’t perfect but they’re under control because I’ve made them that way. The right thing to do is keep Crystal in an environment where I have access to her, can protect her until I can get her somewhere else. Anything that needs to be done to achieve that is what’s going to be done. No discussion necessary. Whether the two of you like it or not doesn’t matter. That answer your questions?”

Tamar’s lips pursed, her arms tightened around her. “Not even. All I know is you’re being a jerk.” She turned to Crystal and swallowed hard. “I’m sorry but it’s true.” Shaking her head in disgust, she spun on her heels and stormed out of the room, feeling more helpless and confused than when she first walked in. Almost bumping into Bekah standing open-mouthed in the hallway, Tamar pushed past her and stomped out of the house.

<<Chapter 26 || Chapter 28>>