Melt (Steel Brothers Saga #4)

Melt (Steel Brothers Saga #4)

Helen Hardt



“What is it, Tal?” I walked into the kitchen of the main ranch house, where Talon, his girlfriend, Jade, and our sister, Marjorie, were sitting at the kitchen table. Our younger brother, Ryan, was also there.

Talon raked his fingers through his dark hair. Dark circles rimmed his eyes. He looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks.

“I came as soon as I got your text.”

“Thank God you’re here,” Talon said.

“So what’s going on?” I asked. “You look like hell.”

“Take it easy, Joe,” Ryan said. “He’s freaking out.”

Ryan always had Talon’s back. The two of them were close in a way I would never be close to my brothers. I was the oldest, the one doling out dictatorial commands when they wanted to play. And then of course there was the fact that Talon had protected Ryan the day of his abduction—a courtesy I had been unable to extend to Talon as his older brother.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that, thinking I was a piece of shit.

“You want some coffee, Jonah?” Jade asked.

I nodded. “Don’t get up. I’ll get it.” I helped myself to a mug, filled it, and sat down at the table with the other four. “What’s going on?”

Talon paced around the table, clearly agitated. “Someone’s been in our house. This house.”

I raised my eyebrows. “What are you talking about?”

Marj hunched her shoulders. “I’m terrified, Joe.”

Jade nodded. “It’s really scary.”

Frigid fingers trailed up my spine. “Would somebody please tell me what the fuck this is about?”

Talon looked at Jade. “You guys are well aware what happened between Jade and me a while back. When I asked her to leave the house.” He winced.

“It’s okay.” Jade stroked his arm.

He rubbed his hands together. “Evidently, sometime while Jade was in the shower, someone got into the house.”

“Again, please explain what you’re talking about.” My nerves were on edge, and I was growing impatient.

Jade cleared her throat. “After I came out of the shower, I found this on my pillow.” She opened up what appeared to be a law dictionary and pulled out a flattened red rose. “I never mentioned it because I thought Talon had left it.”

Marj piped in then. “Yeah, Jade told me about the rose. I thought it was kind of weird at first, because we don’t grow roses here on the ranch. But maybe Talon had gone into town and gotten it for her. I didn’t know.”

“Neither of us thought anything about it at the time,” Jade said.

Talon cleared his throat. “Then, just this morning, Jade mentioned it—that I had left a red rose on her pillow. But…I never left her a rose.”

Marj shivered, running her hands up and down her arms. “I don’t feel safe here. It’s…a violation.”

Talon darted his eyes back and forth. “We need to find out who it was. I can’t have Jade and Marj at risk in this house.”

“Absolutely, I agree,” I said, my skin cold. “Have you called the cops?”

Talon shook his head. “Not yet.”

“The only evidence we have is the rose,” Jade said. “And obviously it’s all dried out now.”

“I’m glad you kept it,” I said. “Maybe the cops can get prints or something.”

“I don’t know how they’ll be able to,” Jade said. “I’m sure my prints are all over the stem. And getting something off the petals would be impossible.”

“Still,” I said. “It’s all we have.”

Talon sat down at the table, finally, and then punched the wooden surface. “Damn! Just as we’d all agreed to move forward. Just when I was starting to feel like I could have a life with my family and the woman I love.”

Ryan turned to Talon. “You can still have that, Tal. This is just a minor setback.”

“A minor setback?” Talon’s eyes lit with fire. “Someone was in our fucking house, Ryan. The house I now share with my girlfriend and my sister, the two most important women in my life. I will not have them in danger.”

“Do you think it could have been Colin?” Jade asked, referring to her ex-fiancé.

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Talon said.

“Of course, no one knows where he is,” Ryan said.

“He’s dead,” Talon said. “Larry Wade killed him.”

“I’m not sure he did,” Jade said. “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any love lost for Larry Wade. I’m glad he’s going to prison for a very long time. But when I talked to him recently, he swore up and down that he had nothing to do with Colin disappearing. That someone had planted Colin’s personals on him.”

“Colin could definitely be the culprit,” Marjorie said. “He turned out to be a bad seed. How did I spend four years with him at college and not realize that?”

Jade shook her head. “You’re telling me. I spent seven years with him. I was going to marry the creep.”

“Colin.” Talon hit the table again. “He wanted you back. Somehow that motherfucker got into our house.”

“What about Larry Wade?” I asked. “It could have been him.”

“Why would Larry leave me a rose?” Jade asked.

I let out a sarcastic laugh. “Why would Larry molest his nephew?”

Eight eyes met mine, all widened. Perhaps I shouldn’t have said such blatant and tactless words, but really, the time for pussyfooting around this subject was long past. “Look, I’m sorry if that upset any of you. I really am. But this is no longer a secret. Everybody knows why Larry is sitting in a jail cell. It made the news, and this time Dad and Wendy Madigan weren’t around to cover it up. Maybe I should have quashed it. In truth, I thought about it, but what good would that do any of us now?” I zeroed in on two of the eyes. Talon’s. “Did I do the right thing, Tal? Did I do the right thing by not covering it up?”

He met my gaze, and his expression softened. A bit. “I would’ve covered it up myself if I’d wanted to, Joe. As humiliating as it is, I know it wasn’t my fault. Maybe my story will help someone. Who knows? That’s the least of my concerns right now. Right now, I want to know who the hell broke into my house and put a flower on my woman’s pillow.”

Chapter One


In the end, I knew the guilt would eventually kill me.

As I lay on the harsh pavement in a dark alley, guilt—in the form of a couple homeless vagrants booting me in the kidneys—was kicking my ass.

I always protected my face. I couldn’t risk my brothers seeing evidence of what I was up to. Anything from the neck down was fair game though. Sometimes I even threw the guys a couple bucks for their trouble.

Tonight, though… Nope.

Tonight guilt would end my life.

And I welcomed it.

“Joe! Thank God!”

My sister’s voice. I opened my eyes. Marjorie’s form was a blur, but it was her. Her dark eyes shone with concern. Where the hell was I?

I groaned. My lower back throbbed, and I inhaled sharply. Big mistake. Damn, guilt had gotten a few of my ribs, too.

But I was alive.

Still alive.

“Thank God you woke up. I’ll go get Ryan. He just stepped out for a minute to take a call.”

Marj’s blur was replaced with a blue blur I didn’t recognize.

“How are you feeling, Mr. Steel?”

Like shit, thanks. I wasn’t sure if I’d said it out loud.

“I’m going to check your blood pressure. You might feel some squeezing.”

Not likely. I couldn’t feel anything over the bass drum beating on my back.

“You’ve been beaten pretty badly,” the blur said.

Not badly enough, apparently. I inhaled again, and a knife sliced through me. Damned broken ribs. Nothing I hadn’t experienced before many times. This was the first time I’d ended up in the hospital, though. As I tried to focus on the blur through slitted eyes, my heart sped up.

What had I been thinking? I didn’t want to die.

I had this revelation every time after I let myself get beaten up. Each time would be the last. I swore it. Well, this one would truly be the last. Even though she’d been a blur, Marj’s voice had cracked with fear. I couldn’t take that sound in my baby sister’s voice, nor in the voices of either of my brothers.

I breathed in again, wincing at the sharp, knifing pain.

Never again, goddamnit. This dangerous self-indulgence was over.

“Hey, you gave us a pretty good scare, Joe. Thank God you managed to crawl to that bar and get help. What were you doing in that neighborhood? What the hell happened?”

Ryan’s voice. A bar? I’d been at a bar? The last thing I remembered was blacking out in the alley. I opened my mouth to speak, but only a crackled croak emerged.

“It’s okay, bro. Don’t try to talk. Looks like you’re going to live.”

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