LOCK deleted scene
FOURTEEN YEARS AGO
I rolled my eyes. “Not.”
Johnny leaned over to whisper in my ear. “The way you roll your eyes irritates the hell out of me. He’s your Boss. Respect him.”
I slanted my head so my nose was pressed to his. “I care about your thoughts on my actions why?”
The corner of his mouth slanted up in a wolfish grin.
My breath hitched.
That damn smirk was my undoing with Johnny. And he knew it.
He was cold and cruel and an asshole.
He was trouble.
And that smirk had gotten my heart into trouble with him.
“Don’t look smug. You’ve won nothing. The affect you have on me doesn’t change my mind. You’re an ass, I don’t care what you think about me or what I do. I’m happy to put you in your place and that’s the end of it.”
His eyes burned with a need that made my breaths deepen. His grin widened into an animalistic smile. “I want you. Now.”
“Good.” I let my stare drift down when his hand curled over my thigh, his strong fingers spreading my legs underneath the table. With a faint smile, I gripped his hand in mine and removed it. “Unfortunately for you, we’re in a family meeting. Have some respect.”
Heat rushed to my cheeks when I looked away and found three sets of eyes on us.
Johnny and I had kept our voices low—too low to carry through the room. But from the way Libby, Dare, and Joseph were glaring at us, I was sure it hadn’t mattered.
“If you’re done . . .” Dare said on a growl when I struggled to bite back my smile, “Einstein, you’re doing this last year and graduating.”
“There’s no point. I have hundreds of Borello-related things that my time is better spent focused on.”
We all looked to the center of the table where our cell phones were resting—as they always did whenever there was a family meeting or meal—when one of them chimed.
“That’s mine,” I mumbled, itching to grab for it.
My brows furrowed when it chimed again and again and again.
Dare looked from the phones to me and cleared his throat. “The point is, this is high school. You need this.”
“I can create a flawless-looking diploma with my eyes closed.”
“Are youplanning on graduating when the time comes?” I looked from him to Johnny. “Is Johnny? Are you going to make Libby graduate?”
He worked his jaw, then nodded to his sister. “Libby’s graduating this year. She has to. I need both of you to so we can keep up appearances.”
“I graduated, fuck you very much,” Johnny’s cousin, Joseph, mumbled from where he sat, leaning back in his chair, hands folded behind his head as he leered at Libby.
I started rolling my eyes again but managed to stop them mid-roll, returning my focus to Dare when I pointedly asked, “You and Johnny?”
I scoffed. “Like hell it is.”
“Einstein,” Johnny mumbled under his breath, his voice all grit and steel.
“I have a family to care for and businesses to run,” Dare said, his tone firm. “I don’t have time for school. I’m only gonna say this one more time, I don’t give a shit if school’s boring for someone with a brain like yours, we need to keep up appearances.” He grabbed for my phone when it chimed for what had to be the twelfth time. “And who the fuck is messaging you when we’re all here?”
I ignored Johnny when he tried to capture my attention again and tried not to let my frustration rule over everything else because I knew Dare was making sense.
Dare’s stare snapped to mine just before he slid my phone across the table. “It’s your sister.”
I was so surprised I barely reached out to catch my phone in time before it could fall off the table and into my lap.
I hadn’t spoken to her in . . . God, so long. Months.
She and I had been inseparable growing up. But I’d officially become a Borello—become part of thisfamily—when she left for college a year ago, and we’d grown apart.
I opened the messages, wondering what could make her suddenly want to talk to me when she hadn’t even come home this summer. And what could be so damn important.
But even though there was nothing—no indication—my heart leapt into my throat and my stomach twisted with unease.
Over and over and overagain.
“Numbers?” Johnny asked darkly. “She needed to send numbers a bunch of fucking times?”
“Words,” I said breathlessly.
I tapped out that I was coming and hit send, already standing from my seat as I did. “I have to go.”
“We’re in the middle of a meeting, Einstein,” Dare said in a tone that left no room for discussion.
“This is urgent,” I pleaded with my eyes alone. “I will do my last year. I will graduate. Let Libby fill me in on the rest later.”
Before he could answer, my phone rang in my hands. It was Allie.
I hurried to answer. “I’m on my way.”
“No, no. Don’t,” she said quickly, her voice catching on a sob.
I dropped back into the chair, my stomach falling straight through to the floor. “Allie?”
“He’s coming for me. He’s coming—he’s following me. I can’t stay there, he’ll find me.”
Fear gripped at my chest, making it difficult to catch a breath. “Who will?” I looked up when I heard a knock on the wooden table.
Dare was staring at me in a way that didn’t need words.
He wanted to know what was going on.
Not wanted to. Needed to. Was quietly demandingto.
I put the call on speaker and dropped it to the table. Allie’s cries filled the room for a few seconds before she managed to utter a name that meant absolutely nothing to me.
“My boyfriend,” she cried out, then quickly corrected, “Ex. Ex. He—God, Avery. He was amazing at first. Amazing. And then he started changing. Little things. He stopped letting me hang out with friends. Wouldn’t let me go places or go home. Wouldn’t let me call home. Then he started—” She broke off on wrenching sobs.
Dare cleared his throat and said an address. This address. Our address. After a few seconds, he repeated it. “Go there.”
There was silence on the phone except for the background noise from the car and Allie’s sniffling. “Who . . . Avery, who was that?”
I looked at Dare, then to Libby, Joseph, and Johnny. “Demitri Borello. Trust him, Allie. Go to that address. That’s where I am.”
“Demitri—I remember him.” She hiccupped. “Are you, are you withhim?”
Johnny’s hands slowly curled into fists on top of the table.
“No. I’m not, but I . . . it’s complicated. Just come here. You’ll be safe here.”
We hung up after she assured me she remembered where about the house was located and was only a few minutes away, and I hurried from the meeting room, taking off for the front door.
Everyone was right behind me.
Silent and solemn, standing strong for me when it felt like I might crumple from the pain I’d heard in my sister’s voice.
I thought she’d deserted me when she stopped calling and coming home. Now to know it had been some guy, some guy she’d never mentioned before tonight . . . it hurt. It made me feel like it was my fault for not realizing something was truly wrong sooner.
I ran to her car when she pulled up in front of the house, opened her driver door and pulled her out of her seat and into a hug. Not noticing the bruising on her throat or face until after I finally released her.
A knot formed in my throat. “Allie . . .” I lifted a shaky hand to her face but left my fingers hovering just above it. “What—I don’t understand? Why didn’t you call me? Why didn’t you leave him sooner?”
Her entire body seemed to curl in on itself. “I couldn’t. I couldn’t . . . I tried. I was so scared of what he would do. And he’s coming. He keeps calling, Avery. He’s coming. He knows where I’m headed.”
I grabbed her hand and started pulling her away from the car, toward the lawn. “We can protect you. We can help you.”
She stopped suddenly and ripped her hand from my grasp. Her wide, terrified eyes taking in the people standing there, waiting, before she looked back to me. “No, I have to go. I want you to go with me,” she said frantically. “Remember what we always dreamed of doing? Remember the life we planned out under the tree?”
Running from this town—from our disastrous parents—and never looking back. My head shook, slowly at first, then more resolutely. “Allie, no. This . . . this is my home.”
Panic covered her face. “No. No, Avery, I need you. Remember our plans? We were going to New York or LA. Remember?”
“I was ten. I didn’t know what I wanted back then.”
“Yes you did. We both did.”
“I don’t want that,” I nearly yelled, gripping her hands to try to make her see reason. “You don’t need to want that. You can have a life here. You’re scared, I see that. I understand that, but we will keep you safe.”
“You can’t,” she screamed. Her chest heaved with her rough breaths and her jaw trembled as her eyes flooded with tears. “I have to go.”
“I have to. Please . . . Avery, please come with me.”
“I can’t,” I whispered through the growing knot in my throat. “This is my home. This is my life. I can’t leave it. I don’t want to leave it.”
My words floored her. Hurt her.
And I hated that I was hurting her after she had clearly been hurt so, so many times.
Her stare drifted to Libby and then Dare, lingering on him for a moment before shifting to Joseph and Johnny, where she paused. Fear slowly filtered through her pain as she stared at him, clear as the finger-shaped bruises around her neck.
“They’re dangerous, Avery.”
“They’re my family.”
She jolted, a crease forming between her brows when she faced me again. Confusion and grief poured from her, and I wished I could make it go away.
I wished I could make all this go away for her.
“They can take care of you.”
Her head shook in quick jerks. “No one can. Not from him.”
“Allie,” I cried out when she hurried back to the open door of her car, but she didn’t stop.
The last look she sent my way gutted me.
Betrayal and contempt and like she was staring at a stranger.
Johnny came to my side after she drove away, his hand slowly curling around my shoulder to pull me against his chest. “You can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.”
“But she did. She does.” I swallowed roughly and tried to fight back the tears. “She wouldn’t have asked me to leave with her if she didn’t. She wouldn’t have texted or called. She wouldn’t have been waiting for me at that spot.”
I let him lead me into the house, my heart feeling like it was already miles away and slowly turning to lead.
“I shouldn’t have let her leave,” I whispered when Libby wrapped her arms around me. “I should’ve made her stay. I think we scared her because she doesn’t really know any of you. If I would’ve met her alone, I could’ve convinced her to stay . . .”
Dare pushed out a slow sigh. “Her mind was made up, Einstein. She was leaving. It’s like Johnny said, you can’t help people who don’t want it. Some people are just too proud to accept it.”
“I just . . . I can’t let her go. I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach like letting her leave was the biggest mistake of my life.”
I pushed away from Libby and hurried to my room. Within seconds I was at my desk and pulling up the site I needed, slipping into their server undetected as easily as deciding to breathe. And then Allie’s number was in and I was waiting, hoping that it picked something up.
But the last cell tower she’d pinged off had been from when she called me. I hurried for my phone and tapped on her name, but the call went straight to voicemail.
“Say the word, and we’ll look for her,” Dare said decisively.
All it took was a look from me, and within the next few minutes, we were all leaving the house in separate cars.
For hours we continuously called each other, checking in and updating on where we were searching. Hotels. Gas stations. Anywhere we could think of. Dare even got the older generation of Borellos in while Johnny got the word out to people we’d worked with in town and the surrounding cities.
Even I knew when to give up.
Allie had gotten almost a ten-minute head start. She could’ve been disappearing onto the freeway by the time we hit the streets.
I reached for my phone to call Dare and let him know I was done and headed home, but the phone rang before I could grasp it.
A small spark of hope flared in my chest, diminishing only slightly when it wasn’t Allie’s name on the screen. I hurried to answer, nearly dropping my phone in the process.
“Johnny?” I said in way of greeting, my tone breathless.
He didn’t say anything for a few seconds.
And in his silence, I somehow knew.
A sob wrenched from my chest.
I don’t remember pulling over, but I was suddenly on the side of the road. My forehead pressed to the steering wheel.
“Found her car at a gas station in Raleigh.” It was pure hesitation and regret. “Einstein . . .”
“Just tell me,” I cried out.
“Her body’s in the alley behind the building. She’s been gone awhile.”
My mouth opened with a sob too powerful for sound.
I couldn’t move.
I couldn’t speak.
The grief that burst from me felt violent enough to shatter the world.