Page 25 of Coercion

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“No.”I turn away from the door.“Just…hold off.”

“Hughes will probably have a response in—wait.What?”

“Don’t send anything yet.”

“Okay.”Emily sounds like she’s doing cartoon blinks on the other end of the line.“Okay.I won’t.”

“Great.I’ll get back to you on next steps.”

Hughes Industries is the last thing I want to talk about right now.What I want is to be in the same room as Bristol.Just being in the same apartment isn’t enough.

I toss my phone in the vague direction of the bed.Bristol’s in the living room, folding a throw blanket.She drapes it over the back of the couch, then picks it up and re-folds it.My Van Gogh supervises from the other side of the room, the scene as peaceful as it always is.


Bristol shakes out the blanket a third time.“Twins are asleep, I think.”

“You did the right thing, you know.”

She glances up at me, and my heart jumps over its next beat.“What do you mean?”

“Telling the twins they had nothing to worry about.”I probably wouldn’t have, but Bristol’s not a mean bastard like me.“Your dad doesn’t deserve to have you bail him out, but they obviously want to be with you.I hope you’re not worried about that.”

I hope that’s not why she’s made this throw blanket her life’s mission.

“I’m not worried.”An unfinished thought if I’ve ever heard one.Bristol smooths the throw blanket over the sofa.She tidies the small stack of Mia’s library books on the coffee table.Straightens a throw pillow.“I did want to ask—no.”Bristol shakes her head.“We didn’t have a chance to talk about what happened with your mother.”

“Don’t.”Bristol blinks at my asshole-ish tone.“What she did is nothing like what you’re doing.She just fucking left.It’s the exact opposite.”

She frowns, and I want to kiss it off her lips despite the raw, bristling feeling all across my torso.“I know, but…she didn’t have the resources that I have.And even this is hard.”Bristol lifts her hands, then lets them fall back to her sides.“The men who want my dad to pay his debts—”

“I’ll take care of them.You won’t have to think about it.”

“I talked to her, you know.”Bristol’s eyes look incredibly green in the soft light.“At the coffee cart by Hughes.She was sitting on a stoop and crying, so I—”

“Felt bad for her.You shouldn’t have bothered.”

Except Bristol always bothers.She’s good.“I didn’t know who she was, and she looked like she was having a shitty morning, so I bought her some coffee.We chatted for a few minutes.”

“And what?”I don’t want to punch anyone.I don’t want to be in the ring with somebody who’s strong enough and fast enough to get one good hit in.That would feel better than this conversation.“You decided she deserves a second chance?”

“She said she was trying to…” Her brow furrows.“Make amends.She wanted to make amends, but she didn’t know if it was possible, and she was thinking of giving up.I told her not to.So it’s partially my fault that she kept trying to talk to you.”

“I’m not going to blame you for the beach house.”

“I’m not saying you should blame me.I’m saying…” Bristol looks at the Van Gogh, her face softening, then looks back at me.“I’m saying that she didn’t have somebody like you in her life.I’d bet anything she still doesn’t.”

All my old arguments are right there, but I can’t make them.They’re worn out, like the clothes that Sin and Emerson and I left behind when we moved.

“Anyway.”Bristol tucks her hair behind her ear.“I just felt like I should say something.”

She breezes past me, out of the living room.There are soft noises at the dining table—chairs being pushed in.Then back to the kitchen.The dining room.Kitchen again.

I go to the Van Gogh and scowl at the lights reflecting on the water.

Maybe I do need to re-think the situation with my mom, as much as I hate it.I hate feeling so soft and bruised and wounded.