Reign of Brayshaw (Brayshaw High #3)

“As you should.”

“At all costs,” Royce rasps, moving his stare to Maddoc’s.

Mine follows.

Pure anger lines his face, sharpening his already sharp edges, hardening his already hard eyes.

A soldier’s strength in a king’s body.

Maddoc’s eyes laser in on mine.

The cost?

Cap’s hand leaves hers the second my body moves forward.

She stands taller, her game face slipping into place, but that shit won’t work right now.

I’m in her space in one step, but before a single word leaves my mouth, three fly from hers.

“I love you.”

I freeze, my pulse drumming harder in an instant.

She cautiously lifts her fingers, trailing them across the ticking vein in my jaw. “I love you, Big Man. I don’t know why,” she says as if she’s honestly confused.

The corner of my mouth tips up and my brothers’ low chuckles come from behind me.

“But I do,” she continues with a shrug. “You can ask or demand I stay a sitting duck, but I won’t even pretend to listen. I wanna puke right now at nothing but the thought of something – or someone – trying to take you from me. You, Maddoc, whatever your middle name is, Brayshaw” —another round of chuckles— “are mine. The only person allowed to take you from me is me.”

At her words, my chest caves with the pressure of the fucking world.

She has no clue, but that’s exactly what it would be, if she found out.

Fuck, who am I kidding, when she finds out.

She’ll take herself from me, to save my family the way she thinks we need saving, to protect my niece.

Would I let her or betray my brother instead?

Neither option is a fucking option.

I’d never turn my back on my brothers, and I’ll never let them have her.

My head starts to pound as I look at her. My dad said Ravina had to accept the marriage, so Raven will have to do the same. She will when she finds out it’s her or Zoey.

She’d do anything for us.

So damn selfless. So fucking strong. So mine.

For now?

As if reading my thoughts, her features pull, so I quickly wrap my arm around her waist and tug her closer. I run my lips across hers, but she’s feelin’ vexed, and bites mine.

“You could try to take yourself from me, but I’ll tell you right now it won’t fucking work.” I shift to squeeze her hips. “And I love you too, baby.”

“Yeah, almost as much as I do,” Royce throws over my shoulder and a laugh bubbles out of her, her eyes shifting to the ceiling before she steps back.

She studies the three of us, but before anything else can be said, the front door opens and closes, and our dad’s voice echoes up the stairs.

“Boys, Raven. I need a few minutes of your time before school!”

Raven’s frown is instant, and my brothers look to me.

With a curt nod, Royce turns and leads us out, but Raven grabs my wrist, keeping me back.

Her glare intensifies, but I let her get her look, search for whatever it is she feels the need to find.

She lets go, stepping past me, so I wrap her up by the waist and bury my face in her neck.

“Me and you, baby,” I remind her, nipping at the soft skin there.

She drops her head back a split second before pulling away.

We meet my brothers at the landing, our dad a few feet away, balanced on the edge of the couch.

He takes in Royce and Captain’s wide feet and squared shoulders and the slight edge forward I have over Raven, who stands beside me, chin held high.

Discontent clouds his eyes but it’s gone with a single blink, his focus on Raven in the next second.

“I’ve had Ravina’s old account unlocked and switched over to you. Everything from your grandfather’s personal account has been transferred into it, along with fifty-one percent of all Bray earnings from the day I discovered you existed to last month. It’s calculated and dispersed monthly, so you’ll see a fresh deposit by the fifth of every month.” He holds out an envelope and her muscles lock at the sight – same shape, size, and color of the one Donley gave her. “Few papers need signed by you. Your card and some on-hand cash are in here.”

She shakes her head. “I don’t want your money.”

“This is your money. I have my own.” He lowers his hand, gauging her.

“I don’t want it,” she refuses.

He pushes to his feet and all three of us naturally inch closer to her. He doesn’t miss the move, and anger tightens his eyes.

He calms himself. “It belongs to you. You will take it.”

“Yeah, and how do you plan to make me?” She bounds forward, and I quickly slide between her and my dad, blocking him from her view.

She looks up at me, so fucking feisty. Testiness burns in her eyes but the more she stares at mine, the more it eases, and a small smirk finds her lips. She gives a bratty blink, so I step back.

My dad’s questioning gaze moves from me to her.

“Look,” she starts, calmer this time.

He stands a little taller, thinking he’s got her, but he doesn’t know Raven.

“I’m not intentionally pushing you at every fucking corner, but you keep throwing stupid shit my way. I need you to chill out a little, especially with this stuff. It’s ridiculous. I won’t take the money from a man I never knew and who never even knew I existed. It’s not right. You knew him. He trusted you enough to hand this all over in the first place, so it’s yours.”

His brows draw in, but not in anger. “That’s not how this works, Raven. It belongs to you.”

She shrugs, her brows lifting. “Yeah well, I’ll sign it over or whatever if you’re worried about logistics.”

He stares at her, a little in awe, a little in shock, while Cap and Royce wear soft smiles, and me, the organ in my fucking chest beats like crazy.

She’s fierce despite her weak mother.

Loyal despite her inability to trust.

Honest even when it hurts her.

She’s Brayshaw even though she had no idea what it meant to be one.

With zero guidance or push.

She proves it more and more every day.

Our dad slowly steps closer. “I will not take something I am not owed.”

Raven lifts her chin, her long, dark hair brushing against my wrists. “Which is why you paid for me, yeah?”

“I agreed to pay for you because I thought, in giving her money, it would provide a more stable life for you when I knew it wasn’t time to bring you home,” he snaps. “I didn’t know she would blow it all on drugs and more. I have no idea how she could have possibly gone through so much. She not only got money from me, but the state, and, of course, her clients. Yet still, she couldn’t keep your house clean, warm, or full of food.”

Raven shrugs, but it holds less pop this time. “Tales of an addict, Rolland.”

“Right.” He nods, his frown matching hers, a hidden something passing between them. “The money is yours, Raven. I know you’re running out if you’re not out already and the warehouses are not an option for you anymore. There must be things you need or will soon, hygiene products and such. Perhaps you’d like a phone or even a car.” He holds out the envelope again, and when she takes another step away, he announces something that has her freezing in her spot. “There’s an identification card in there, social as well. Your mother informed me when you started tearing your trailer apart searching for them. They’ve been in my possession since I found you.”

I tense beside her and her eyes fly to mine.

ID card. In her mind, that was all she needed to run, she said herself, without one she couldn’t get a real job or function like she wanted. This was all that was holding her back from the normal life she craved, the life she wanted before us.

Why give it to her?

“There are also emancipation papers in there,” he says and Raven’s eyes narrow. “They’ve been fast-tracked, were signed by your mother the day Maria picked you up. All you have to do is sign them, and they’ll be processed within twenty-four hours. No court needed, it’s been handled. Sign them, and you’re an adult in the eyes of the law, not that we need to worry about laws much here.”

She reaches over, grabbing my hand, and when I look back to my dad, his eyes are locked on our connection.

“I know what you’re doing, Rolland, and it won’t work,” she tells him and ever so slowly he meets her stare. “The money, whatever. I don’t even know, maybe that’s something you have to do, but the other... giving me something I’ve been searching for for years? Offering me the little taste of freedom these things provide, it’s your way of trying to mollify me. Make me think I’m in control when in your mind that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“You’ve watched us closely, and decided I won’t run, it’s the only reason you’d even consider handing me a way out. You want this to act as your confirmation, and you know what, I won’t make you wait to witness the answer.”

She meets my eyes, then Cap’s and Royce’s.

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