Page 51 of Coercion

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My vision kicks back in, and—fuck.I did try to punch Emerson.He caught my fist in the air with both hands and is just holding it there in front of his chest.

Thewayhe’s holding it, and the way he’s standing, pulls at something in my mind, but I can’t tell what it is.Where did he learn to do that?Sure as hell wasn’t me.I’m just glad he knows, because he’d be flat on the ground otherwise.

“He’s not here,” he says again.I can’t stop trying to punch him, for some reason.“Nobody can get in.It’s safe here.”

I wrench my fist back and trip over a beer bottle.Good thing I didn’t open it.I don’t remember letting go.There are about a thousand things I’d like to say to Emerson.You’re an asshole,for starters.Why didn’t you tell me before?

None of that is important.None of it matters.There’s only one thing that matters.

So what comes out, with the breath I’ve only half-caught, is: “What do I have to do?”

To get over this—thisjoke.This thing that came with me when we left that last, shitty house.

Emerson would know.He had to claw his whole life back before he could be with Daphne.

“You know Bristol’s not going to hurt you.”

“Of course I know that.”

“You have to go outside until you can do it by yourself,” Sin says.

Those memories are as vivid as anything.Emerson throwing up on the sidewalk one step outside our apartment building and going immediately back in.Sin with his arms around Em’s shoulders on the curb at the corner, twenty feet away.The first drive to the beach to surf, Sin’s knuckles white on the wheel, Emerson next to me in the back seat with his hands over his eyes.I could feel his heart race through my death-grip on him.The months it took for Sin to teach him how to drive, and how Emerson would sleep the rest of the day after every lesson.



Shoving hands off my shoulders at the frat house and playing it off as a joke.The guy I punched because he wouldn’t letgo of meat three in the morning, both of us wasted.The first time I walked out on a woman who was supposed to be a quick fuck because—because I didn’t know why, only now I do.How every day that Dad called my office, I drove to the warehouse, even if they wouldn’t let me fight.Bristol, hurt, because I’d pushed her away.

“I have to let her do this until it doesn’t hurt?”

“Yes.”Emerson takes his beer back from Sin.

“Fuck.”I drop back onto the couch and retrieve my beer from the floor.My brothers go back to their seats.“Let’s talk about business, for the love of Christ.”

“You tell us.”Sinclair settles back in his chair.“Did you hear from your lawyer?”

“Yes.I have about a hundred pages of documents on my phone.My lead lawyer and her team agree that the best case is to strong-arm the Hughes into giving me what I want.”

“You’re good at strong-arming people.”Sin arches an eyebrow.“But they’ll fight you.”

“No, they won’t.”I open my beer.“They don’t want a court case.”

“Yeah, but they want to look like they’re undoing the final deals Hughes Senior signed off on even less.”

Emerson points at Sin.“He has a point.”

“Shut up.I know he does.”

Em considers me.“What’s your end goal with all this?”

“What?”Survive the conversation.That’s my first goal.

“If you win, you get Summit back.Then what?”

“I haven’t thought that far ahead.”

Emerson gives me a look.

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