Reign of Brayshaw (Brayshaw High #3)

“So why not take her straight to them?” I ask.

If he had, we wouldn’t know her as we do, wouldn’t care who she was or the reason behind any of this shit. It wouldn’t matter, Zoey wouldn’t be at risk. We wouldn’t be standing here cracking on the inside, facing decisions we could never make.

Acid lining my tongue as I say, “I wish you never dropped her here.”

“Maddoc!” Royce snaps. “The fuck, man?”

I ignore him. “What’s the reason behind all this? Why wasn’t she with Graven the second you found out she existed?”

“I was waiting, hoping Collins would find someone else and we’d be clear until the next generation came, worry about it then, bring her home without telling her who she was, watch out for her, offer her a place here, but then...” He trails off, looking toward Captain.

I follow his line of sight, finding Cap staring right at him.

“But then Zoey was born,” Cap rasps. “The first female Brayshaw in decades, or so they would have thought.”

“Yes, son,” our dad whispers. “Everything changed in that moment.”

“Tell me the fucking truth,” Cap speaks, but his words don’t match the defeat in his tone. “Did you do this? Did you have a hand in Mallory giving her away, hiding her from me? Are you the reason I almost lost my daughter completely?”

My head snaps toward our dad.

“No, son.” He shakes his head slowly. “I knew nothing about her until you hired our men to watch out for her. As soon as I learned, I brought in Maria. I made sure she was the one who would care for her. I knew she was the only person whom I could trust with my granddaughter, if not us or Maybell.”

Cap shoots to his feet. “Maria Vega, you know her? She’s good? She’s... she’s safe?”

“You had her checked out, have had her watched. You know this, Captain,” he tells him.

Cap slams his palm against his desk, dipping into his face. “I know what I’m told. I don’t know the truth. We know better than anyone, anything could happen behind closed doors.”

“If you really believed that, son, you never would have put her back in her car.”

“Say it,” Captain demands.

He relents. “She is safe, loved, and will be very much missed by that woman once we bring her home.”

“And when will that be?” Cap pushes.

Our dad winces, his eyes hitting mine briefly and I drop my chin to my chest before meeting Cap’s stare.

This is why the decorator thought she’d be preparing the room across from Captain’s for Zoey – it would be empty for her.

“Madman,” Royce whispers and Cap’s eyes tighten.

“No...” he whispers, shaking his head, eyes pleading and completely fucking wrecked.

He loves her like I do. They both do.

I give a small nod, gut twisted and tight. “She can come home when Raven is delivered.”

No one speaks for several minutes, but it’s the loudest silence we’ve ever suffered.

Our dad is the first to break it.

“Do you understand now, why she must go? Why I had to bring her here now? Why I could no longer protect her by keeping her away?” our dad asks.

Royce scoffs. “Man, don’t start with the protecting her bullshit. If you really cared, you’d have sent someone there to guard her.”

“You think I didn’t try?” He narrows his eyes. “I sent many people, but Raven trusted no one, no matter what role I tried to place them in her life.”

“’Cause she’s fucking smart,” he throws back. “Still could have had someone making sure she was fucking fed, something—”

“She had that Gio guy,” Cap interrupts. “I’m bettin’ he didn’t end up with the Riveras by accident. Why not set him up there, have him pull her in more?”

“I thought about it, though I’m not sure it would have even worked.”

“Why?” I ask.

“For one, he was her friend, yes, but she still held back. And two, kids like them don’t pin against each other when outsiders ask, not even for money. They’ll take it, then show their loyalty to each other,” he says. “I couldn’t afford curiosity from either of them. As far as where he is, no, he didn’t. I led Trick Rivera, Oakley’s father, to Gio after I saw and decided his character was pure.” Our dad looks across us. “The only person we saw Raven grow a liking to outside of him, was her last principal. He would have looked out for her but leaving her there was no longer an option. Collins learned she existed, and he was determined to find her. Our only move left was to bring her here, throw her in with the other girls and hope he didn’t figure out who she really was.”

My brothers and I share subtle looks. We’re not fucking stupid – he’s hiding something.

He had to bring her here, fine. He had to protect Zoey, good.

So, why not take her straight to Graven?

“I am not the villain here, boys. I was simply protecting my family. She was never supposed to be expendable. I was saving her for one of you, I planned to bring back the power having someone from the bloodline provided, but I had to make a rash decision and I chose my granddaughter.” He shrugs, unapologetically. “Had I explained this to you in the beginning, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. She never would have set foot in this home, and she’d be at Collins’ side already. You’d have agreed in a heartbeat.”

“This is what Collins meant when he kept telling her she didn’t belong with us. He knew she was meant to be his,” I growl.

“You put her in the Bray house to try and distract them.” Captain frowns. “How did they figure out the new girl was Raven?”

“Besides the striking resemblance?” our dad asks, his tone off, softer than normal. “People searched for Ravina, their runaway princess, for years. Many believed she was killed, others thought she was locked in a dungeon somewhere...”

“Someone saw her,” Cap offers.

I look to him then back to our dad. “She told Raven she couldn’t be in this town long. She knew people would spot her.”

He nods. “It was the first time she set foot here in eighteen years.”

“Let’s back the fuck up a minute,” Royce snaps but his shoulders fall. “Raven... what do we do? I mean we can’t...” He trails off, licks his lips and looks away.

“We can’t tell her,” Captain stresses, his eyes hitting mine.

“Cap.” I glare. “Don’t.”

“I’m serious.” He steps in front of me, pleading eyes and fucking all. “Maddoc, we can’t.”

“Cap, we can’t keep this shit from her, man.” Royce steps closer, but his tone disagrees, and his next words prove it. “I mean, can we?”

“Graven made a move on her,” I tell them, filling them in on the bit they missed when Cap went after Perkins. “Donley drugged her, and he got a girl from our fucking group home to do it. He had a doctor waiting, pulled Raven’s fucking pants off, and stuck shit inside her, checked her. They could have done worse. She needs to know.”

Captain’s temple ticks. “If you tell her, she will be gone quicker than you can fucking run.”

My head draws back, my jaw locking shut a moment. “She won’t run from me,” I growl.

He gives a slow, mocking nod, eyes widening. “I know, brother, trust me, I fucking know what she’ll do. So do you. Don’t refuse to accept it.”

“Fuck!” Royce shouts and starts pacing, dragging my attention to him. Hands folding over his head, his beaten eyes smash into mine. “She’s too fucking loyal, brother,” Royce whispers and it hits me. “Too fucking loyal to sit back and do nothing.”

My face pales, my eyes slicing to my dad’s.

He gives a rueful smile. “She didn’t grow up here, yet she embodies who we are. She is Brayshaw by blood, at heart and will. She’ll do whatever it takes to save one.”

My facial muscles constrict to the point of pain, an instant pounding in my head taking over and dulling my vision.

I swallow, dropping against my dad’s desk, fucking struck for the first time I can remember.

“Nothing we say will matter, no move will make a difference. She’ll go to them willingly.”

Royce turns to our dad. “We need time. Can you make it happen?”

Regret washes over his face, his stare quickly cutting to Cap before returning to Royce. “There is nothing you can do, son.”

“Just fucking try to delay!” he yells, his moves growing frantic. “Can you do this for us or not?!”

“It will delay Zoey’s homecoming,” he says.

We look to Captain who gives a tight, instant nod.

“Delay, not prevent,” Cap rasps, looking away. “We have to try. We owe it to Raven.”

I keep Cap’s eyes on me, masking my face as they shift, reassurance and promise now staring back at me. His eyes beg me to see what he won’t say.

What do you know, brother?

Our dad nods. “I’ll cancel the meeting I set with the other families, but we can’t avoid Donley forever. He wants to collect what his family is owed, and I can’t promise they’ll stay away. Collins knows she’s to be his and he likely won’t be quiet about it.”

“So it’s settled.” Captain makes sure to meet and hold our eyes, our dad’s too. “Raven can’t know she’s promised to Collins.”

“Wow.”

All our heads whip around to find her in the doorway, arms crossed, glare on me.

Fuck.





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