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Chapter One - Trouble At Brayshaw High

I grip the ends of my hair and pull, trying to lessen the pounding at my temples. My body and mind are exhausted, and my head is taking the heat from it.  

   It doesn’t help a damn thing, so I drop onto the bar stool and look to the clock. It’s past three a.m. and still, no sign of Raven.

   Captain is pacing the fucking house while Royce keeps walking in and out the front door with his arms crossed over his chest. 

   I shake my head. Only hours gone, and the three of us are losing our damn minds. This girl, she’s got us all sorts of fucked up. 

   She had slipped out front only minutes after coming downstairs, and I was seconds from following her ass, but didn’t. I kept my feet planted and gave her the time I convinced myself she needed to build back the sass or fire she was ready to throw.

   When fifteen minutes ticked by and she still hadn’t walked back in, I knew without looking she took off, pulled a fucking Raven and made a solo decision.

   And a solo decision meant a stupid fucking decision.That’s the thing about Raven Carver, she does whatever the hell she wants, makes shitty judgment calls in a snap that you never see coming, and hopes it’ll all work out in the end, fuck the consequences.

   I can’t fucking stand it.

   Her ass has to stop taking off without us when she knows there’s nothing but trouble waiting in the dark. This is something Bass fucking Bishop should have thought about before he asked her to slip away from us and meet him at the warehouses last night where she ended up getting fucking jumped.

   He may be our bookie for all events out at the warehouses and a damn good one at that, but that’s my fucking girl. He should’ve known better. I might talk to my brothers about blacklisting his punk ass for that move alone – everyone on hand is replaceable, Raven is not. He should have fucking thought of that.

   The second we realized she ran, we tossed him out, called up our boys, and went searching.

   The problem, Raven’s spent the better part of her life sneaking around others. We knew we’d only find her if she wanted us to. Going to look was more us hoping her ass was walking around to clear her mind. 

   Hours ticked by and she was nowhere in sight, so we came home to wait her out while our boys kept looking, hitting random house parties around town in search of her.

   “I still think Bass is hiding something,” Royce spits, tilting his head to look along the porch. “Little bitch is out pretending to hunt for her, he prolly knows exactly where she’s at.” 

   Captain shakes his head. “If he does know something, no way will he give it up now.” He looks to me. “He knows we’d ream his ass for not talking last night after she got her ass beat on his time.”

   My jaw locks at his words, and I grind my teeth.

   He’s right, we would. I might for the fuck of it at this point. 

   My phone dings against the countertop and all our heads snap toward it. I jerk, quickly grabbing and unlocking it, completely fucking annoyed when I read my boy Mac’s message on the screen. I toss it back down. 

   “Mac got a hold of that Mello chick she went to The Tower with. She’s in fucking Maui – hasn’t talked to Raven since we dropped her shit off.”

   Cap looks to his phone right then, frowning down at the screen. “Leo said he just searched the school grounds and park again.” He stuffs it back in his pocket. “No Raven.” 

Fuck. Fuck it. 

   I jump to my feet, glancing from Captain to Royce. “I’m going to look again.”

  Royce has his keys in his hand in seconds, but Captain’s features tighten. 

   “What?” Royce drags out suspiciously. 

   “We’ve got a game to play tomorrow, or fuck, today now.” Cap licks his lips, glancing back our way. “We have to be ready for it.”

   Royce’s brows snap together. “Cap. No.” He shakes his head. “Maddoc, tell him.”

Shit. The game.

When I don’t say anything, Royce slices his eyes to Captain. “We’re not fucking going if she’s not back!”

   Cap is cautious with him. “Royce—”

   “Don’t fucking Royce me, man,” he cuts him off. “The fuck you actin’ like you’re calm, when I know you’re not?!”

   Captain glances from him to me. “We watched on the surveillance cameras, we know nobody took her. She ran. And you know if it weren’t for the game, I’d be in the damn driver’s seat already, but we need to be there, and we need to play well.”

   “And if she shows up, packs her shit or something while we’re gone?!” Royce shouts, a frenzied look in his eye. “I’m not fucking leavin’!”


I rub at my temples. Cap’s right, we have to play well, but damn, this is Raven we’re talking about.

   When we brought her here, we never expected her to fit. We sure as fuck never imagined wanting to keep her or to be unaccepting of her leaving.

   We were told to make sure she fell in line the way the others my dad accepted into the houses did, but she fought us at every turn from the first fucking day. 

   She was different, and I knew it instantly. 

   It was in the way she didn’t peek up at us but stared full-on, her chin held as high as ours if not higher. She gave lip when we demanded silence. When we pushed, she pushed harder, stepped in closer and lit our asses on fire in a way nobody ever had. She tested us more than we have her and without even trying, maybe even completely unaware. 

   At the thought, the pulse in my neck throbs harder against my skin as my anger boils higher with each passing second. 

   The fucked up part is I know Cap is on the same level we are right now, but he has more to lose, so he’s in a fucked up position. 

I know my brother, he’ll be kicking his own ass later over even suggesting we stop looking for the night. 

   Still, with his inner struggles now in our face, Captain nods, looking between us. He’s ready to ride even though he wishes we’d listen. “If we play like shit, we lose.” 

   “Yeah,” Royce mocks, not allowing himself to feel the guilt that’ll hit later for our being selfish right now. “We lose, we jeopardize the season and Graven Preps stats raise, and piece of shit Principal Perkins will cause problems, and Dad will get on our fucking cases from a five by nine cement cell, and it’ll all fall harder on your shoulders because of Zoey, man, but— ” His mouth clamps shut when a click sounds. 

   Our heads jerk when the front door slowly creeps open and Raven steps inside.

   She’s measured in her motions, taking her sweet ass time to close and lock the door, prolonging what she’s expecting to come at her – the fucking firing squad. 

   I quickly meet my brothers’ frowns with my own before shifting it back to her.

   I clench my jaw, forcing myself to wait until she turns around and looks at me, but Royce jumps in before she even can.

   “What the fuck, Raven?!” He rushes forward.

   Captain grips his shoulder to try and calm him, but he jerks free waiting for her to meet is glare.  When she refuses, a sour laugh leaves him and he kicks over the coffee table, sending shit flying before storming up the stairs.

   “Raven,” I call her eyes to mine, but she only blows out a deep breath and looks to the left. 

   “I needed to clear my head,” she rasps. “And in case you forgot, I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to do it.” 

   “Are you for real right now?” I growl and push toward her. “After all the shit from the last few days, you wanna play this fucking game?”

   “I’m not playing games.”

   “Then fucking talk!” I shout, moving even closer. “You can’t just run off whenever—”

   “I can, and I will!” she yells back, trying for her usual defiant self, but her voice cracks without permission and her eyes quickly dart to the floor in a very un-Raven-like move.

   Every muscle in my body locks, a sudden sickness spinning in my gut. 

What the hell...

   I glance to my brother, hoping for a sign of what he’s thinking, but his stare is just as wary as mine.

   “Raven...” I try again, a little calmer this time and finally her stormy eyes hit mine.

   My lungs constrict as I get a good look. Her makeup has worn off, eyes are puffy and red, a silent scream bristling, a flicker of something I can’t quite read sitting at the edge, ready to burst.

   I bite into my cheek to keep my mouth shut, fighting for some damn restraint when it’s the last thing I want to do.

   I had every fucking intention of ripping into her and not letting up but staring at her now, standing in front of me all beat up and bruised, emotionally drained from whatever is running through her mind, and physically from being attacked at our underground ring, I can’t fucking do it. My shoulders fall.

   “I need ... a shower and sleep.” Even though she says it, she doesn’t move right away.

   She doesn’t move at all until I take a half step toward her. That kicks her into gear and she hustles for the stairs.

   Both Cap’s and my eyes follow until her feet are no longer seen on the steps.

   He turns back to me, speaking low. “I knew she was off earlier, but I can’t convince myself it has anything to do with the fight.”

   “Cap.” My fucking body is weighted, ready to drop. “Tell me it’s not because we weren’t there to help her. Tell me she doesn’t look at me and see a man who can’t keep her safe.” 

   Captain grips my shoulder, looking me dead in the eye. “She left on her own, man, she purposelystepped away from us. The question we need to be asking is, was it because she needed a minute to herself” —he lifts his brows— “or because she needed to take care of something she didn’t want us to be a part of? And I don’t know the answer, my man. But what happened to her last night? That shit wasn’t your fault.”

   “What if it was?” I argue. “What if she was jumped because of what we’ve made her?”

   Cap laughs lightly, but it’s defeated. “We didn’t make her anything, brother. Raven was born who she is. Yeah, we brought her into our world, but she came in strong and determined. It’s why she blended instantly. All we can do is try to understand the fucked-up way she was raised to think. Maybe down the road, she’ll understand she’s not alone anymore.”

   I narrow my eyes on him. “Why do you sound like you know she pulled some shit tonight?”

   He sighs, releasing me. “I don’t know, but I feel like she’s in her head right now. Last time she was like this was when we tried to force her hand the day her mom showed up and she purposely tried to get herself kicked out of the Bray house, all to prove a point. That she was in control of her own moves.”

   “Things are different now,” I all but growl. 

We’re not fucking dispensable to her. I know it. 

   I fucking feel it.

   His eyes widen as he lifts his brows. “Exactly. It was all about her then and she stillmade a move that would be bad for herself, get her ass sent back to the hell she lived in, out of spite, but she’s one of us now. Even if she hasn’t said it out loud, she knows it, and look what she did for us when she didn’t give a shit who we were... Pushing the girl in the pool at that Graven party, roping up the chick who had the video of Coach and his girl, the shit at the warehouses when she tried to let us get out without being seen, the cabins...” 

   When my brows dig in, he nods. 

   “Now, imagine what she’d do for us now that she cares.”

   Fuck. He’s right.

   I run my hands down my face and I push past him. “I can’t think about this shit right now, Cap. We’ll figure it all out tomorrow or fuck, tonight, after the game.”

   “Yeah,” he sighs. “That’s probably a better idea.” 

   He follows behind me, disappearing into his room.

   I stop by the bathroom, finding the water still running, so I head for mine to rinse off real quick. 

   I don’t know if anything Cap said holds any merit, and I sure as fuck plan to find out, but right now I’m gonna lay with her, fuck her if she needs it, hold her if she lets me, and we’ll worry about the shit that happened tonight tomorrow. 

 I crawl under the covers, pulling the fluffy comforter up to my chin, clenching it as armor when the sound of his footsteps pad against the floor in the hall.

   The handle turns, but only as far as a locked knob allows, and I hold my breath. 

   What seems like a never-ending beat of silence follows, and I bite into my cheek, denying the pathetic tears trying to fight their way to the surface.

   It turns again but slower, quieter as he tries one more time ... just in case.

   Angry feet pound against the flooring and a door slams in the distance.

   The second it does, I release a deep breath, pull my knife from under the blanket and flip it open. I turn it to run my finger over the blade while reading the inscription.

   Family runs deeper than blood.

   It’s funny when you think about it. 

   Family runs deeper than blood, yet it’s the ones we chose we’ll so willingly bleed for.

   I poke my fingertip until a drop of deep red appears, then run it across my lips. I rub them together, sliding my tongue along my teeth, spreading the metallic flavor left behind across my mouth in self-hate. 

I’m sorry, Big Man. For today ...  and what’s to come...


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