Page 38 of Coercion

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“It’s me, Bristol.”

I close my eyes.A burner phone.My dad, calling from a burner phone.I open them for just long enough to find the emptiest corner in the hospital room.“What the hell, Dad?”

“I had to get out of there.I need to stop these guys.You don’t understand how relentless they are.They know you have the twins, and they won’t stop.”

“You gotshot.”My voice shakes, and I hate that I can’t help it.“You’re injured.What do I have to say to get through to you?The only place you should be right now is the hospital.Will’s taking care of it?”

“How?”There’s a noise in the background, but I can’t tell what it is.“Whatever he pays them won’t be enough.You know me.I’m always racking up debts.And these are the kind of guys who’ll realize the twins are a hot ransom ticket even without my debt.I have to stop them the old-fashioned way.”

My gasp is louder than I meant it to be.“Dad—no.You were never that kind of man.”He was never a killer.Never even that violent.This is a huge change, and it’s not a good one.

“Yeah, I know.But there comes a time in any parent’s life when he has to protect his kids.I missed that boat a long time ago, but better late than never.Don’t look for me, okay?I’ll be fine, and the three of you will be safe.”

“Dad—” The call disconnects.

I make it to the windowsill before my knees give out and sit down with no grace whatsoever.

My dad was wrong.We’re never going to be safe.



There are veryfew things in my life I’ve regretted more than letting Daphne whisk Bristol off to the hospital.It doesn’t feel great to lock the front door with Bristol on the other side.

Sin’s laugh tapers off.“You okay, buddy?”

“Shut up.I’m fine.”

It’s not even noon, but I go to the kitchen and get beers from the fridge.Sin follows me to the kitchen, then the living room, and Emerson appears a minute later without his jacket.

“Here.”I push a beer into Emerson’s hand, then Sin’s, then lead the way to the furniture and sit in the chair I like best.Sin sits sideways on the couch, one of his legs stretched out, and Em sits across from me.He’s doing the thing where he pretends not to notice that something’s wrong.“Thanks for coming over.”

Sin narrows his eyes over his beer.“Is this an intervention?Or did you just want to talk about yesterday?”

“The last thing I want to do is talk about yesterday.It was fucked up.”

That’s saying something, because we were lucky if we woke up and things were justfucked upas opposed tohorrifyingornightmarishorbarely survivable.What happened to the twins seemed like all those things combined, only worse, which doesn’t make any sense.It was my fault, just like our shitshow of a home life was, but I’m not a kid anymore.I have money.I’ve won in the ring against people like Mountain Man.It shouldn’t have been the same.

“You woke up and the twins were gone?”Emerson’s voice is extremely neutral.

“I woke up and got a photo of them on my phone, tied to a utility pole.”

Sin covers his eyes.“Jesus.”

“Then Bristol ran in, all upset because they’d left a note saying they had to go help their dad.It was a whole fucking thing.”

“So…the warehouse guy wants a second chance to kick your ass?”Sin sounds less delighted than tired.

“He does now?”

“How’s Bristol?”Emerson asks.

“Tired.Worried about her dad.Worried about the twins.But she doesn’t have to worry.I have it under control.”What I don’t have under control is the pressure rising in my chest.“I should never have taken her to that beach house.”

“Why?Both of you had a good time there.”Sin shakes his beer at me.“Don’t try to argue.I saw you having fun.And yes, it still counts, even if it wasn’t some illegal beatdown in a warehouse.”

“She keeps a plastic palm tree on her desk at work because her dream is to go on a beach vacation.I can’t take her to another andreplacewhat happened.”