Reaper's Property (Reapers MC, #1)(2)

Oh, and he also stood right behind my brother with a gun pointed at the back of his head.

June 16—Twelve weeks earlier

“Marie, you did the right thing,” Jeff said, holding an ice pack to my cheek. “That cocksucker deserves to die. You will never, ever regret leaving him.”

“I know,” I replied, miserable. He was right—why hadn’t I left Gary earlier? We’d been high school sweethearts, married at nineteen and by the time I hit twenty I already knew I’d made a terrible mistake. It took until now, five years later, to realize just how terrible.

Today he’d backhanded me right across the face.

After that, it only took another ten minutes to do what I hadn’t managed in all our time together. I threw my clothes in my suitcase and left his abusive, cheating ass.

“I’m kind of glad he did it,” I said, looking down at the scarred formica table in my mom’s trailer. She was taking a little vacation at the moment in jail. Mom’s life is complicated.

“What the f*ck, Marie?” Jeff asked, shaking his head. “You’re f*cked in the head, talking like that.”

My brother loved me, but he wasn’t exactly a poet. I offered him a wan smile.

“I stayed with him for way too long, just taking it. I think I might have stayed forever. But when he hit me, it’s like it woke me up. I went from being terrified of leaving to just not caring anymore. Honestly, I don’t care, Jeff. He can keep everything—the furniture, the stereo, all that shit. I’m just glad to get out.”

“Well, you can stay here as long as you need to,” he said, gesturing around the singlewide. It was small and dank and smelled kind of like pot and dirty laundry, but I felt safe here. This had been my home for most of my life, and while it might not have been a picture-perfect childhood, it hadn’t been too bad for a couple of white-trash kids whose dad took off before they hit grade school.

Well, good until Mom blew out her back and started drinking. Things went downhill after that. I looked around the singlewide, trying to think. How was this going to work?

“I don’t have any money,” I said. “I can’t pay you rent. Not until I get a job. Gary never put my name on the bank account.”

“What the f*ck, Marie? Rent?” Jeff asked again, shaking his head. “This is your house too. I mean, it’s a shithole, but it’s our shithole. You don’t pay rent here.”

I smiled at him, a real smile this time. Jeff might be a stoner who spent ninety percent of his life playing video games, but he had a heart. Suddenly I felt such incredible love for him that I couldn’t keep it in. I dropped the ice and launched myself at him, giving him a fierce hug. He wrapped his arms around me awkwardly, returning it even though I could tell it confused and frightened him a little.

We’ve never been a touchy-feely kind of family.

“I love you, Jeff,” I said.

“Um, yeah,” he muttered, pulling away from me nervously, but he wore a little smile. He walked over to the counter, opened a drawer and pulled out a little glass pipe and a baggie of weed.

“You want some?” he asked. Yup, Jeff loved me. He didn’t share with just anyone. I laughed and shook my head.

“Pass. I’ve gotta start job hunting tomorrow morning. Don’t want to flunk a drug test.”

He shrugged and walked into the living room—which was also the dining room, the entryway and the hallway—to sit on the couch. A second later his ginormous big-screen TV flickered to life. He clicked through the channels until he hit wrestling, not the sport but the kind where they wear funny costumes and it’s like a soap opera. Gary was probably watching the same thing back at our house. Jeff took a couple hits and then set down the pipe and his favorite death’s-head Zippo on the coffee table. Then he grabbed his laptop and flipped it open.

I grinned.

Jeff’d always been the shit when it came to computers. I had no idea what he did to earn money—although I suspected he did as little of it as he could get away with and not starve. Most people, Gary included, thought he was a loser. Maybe he was. But I didn’t care, because whenever I’d needed him, he’d been there for me. And I’ll always be here for him, I promised myself. Starting by getting the place cleaned up and buying some real food. So far as I could tell, the man lived on pizza, Cheetos and peanut butter.

Some things never changed.

It took a lot of work to get the trailer clean but I enjoyed every minute of it. I missed Mom, of course, but I have to admit (if only to myself) that the place was a lot more comfortable without her around. She’s a terrible cook, she keeps the shades closed and she never flushes the toilet.

Oh, and everything she touches turns to utter chaos and drama.

Jeff doesn’t flush the toilet either, but for some reason it didn’t bother me as much. Probably because he’d not only given me the bigger bedroom, he’d also shoved a surprisingly large wad of bills into my purse that first morning and kissed me on the forehead for luck when I went out job hunting. I needed to find work despite sporting a nasty bruise on my face from Gary’s little love tap.

“You’re gonna kick ass, sis,” Jeff said, rubbing his eyes. I was touched he’d gotten out of bed to see me off. He wasn’t exactly a morning person. “Buy me some beer on the way home? And some of those coffee filter thingies… I ran out, and now I’m outta paper towels too. I don’t know if TP will cut it and I need my caffeine.”

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