Authors: Stella Rhys
TOO FAR GONE
Copyright © 2015 by Stella Rhys
All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
I’d woken up certain it was all a dream.
No way this was real. No way had I agreed to marry to a man who would end up blackmailing me for the death of a girl he cheated on me with. No way would I sleep in the same bed as a man who hired someone to attack me, just so he could come to my rescue and win me back. No way in hell would I stay with a person vile enough to threaten me should I ever try to leave. That could never in a million years be my reality.
And yet here I was, living every second of the nightmare.
With the door closed in our bathroom, I stood in front of the mirror and stripped off my clothes. Jackson had once again picked a dress for me to wear to dinner, but tonight, I undressed behind a wall. After yesterday, he had officially become a stranger to me, and the thought of being naked in front of him made my stomach turn. If I had my choice, Jackson would never look at me again.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have any choice at all. Not when Jackson had my T-shirt stained with Gabrielle Winter’s blood and a jump drive of her panicked voicemail, screaming about how I’d broken into her apartment. With her missing case still under investigation, he had two pieces of evidence that would rather convincingly point toward me as her killer.
So I couldn’t say a word.
Not even as he opened the bathroom door, watching me push my maxi-dress off till it fell in a puddle around my bare feet. Knotting his tie, Jackson’s crystal blue eyes swept over my body, lingering on my satin bra as I stood there frozen before him, my jaw so tight I could feel my pulse in my teeth. “Come on, baby,” he murmured. “Let me see you try on my gift.” His lips curled into a devious smile as he watched me start to pull the stretchy cotton dress over my head. “Lara, don’t fuck around. We both know you can’t fit a bra under that.”
Anger flared in my cheeks but I didn’t so much as look at Jackson as I reached behind my back to unsnap my bra. I gritted my teeth as I heard him rumble something deep and full of lust when it dropped to the floor. As I began pulling the dress on again, he stepped forward to stop me.
I waited but when he said nothing, I finally lifted my glare. “What, Jackson?”
Pushing the knot up on his tie, he came toward me. “I just want to look at my beautiful fiancée for a second,” he said softly. My breath shortened as he closed the gap between us. I ignored the look of hurt on his face when I froze at his touch, stiff as a wooden board as he ran his hands along the curve of my waist. “Lara, it kills me that you’re treating me like some monster right now,” Jackson murmured, pulling me into him. My throat tightened as he hugged me into his chest, kissing the top of my head. “I don’t think you realize that I did all this because I love you. I kept that voicemail and that shirt because I was afraid you’d lost it. I was scared for you, Lara. For us.”
My eyes were blank, utterly dead as I listened to him try again to convince to me – to make me believe that I
crazy, that I might in
be a murderer. With a heavy sigh, Jackson gently stroked my bare skin, raising every last hair on the back of my neck.
“That’s why I called Jake to come back to New York. I wanted him to help me help you. But I ended up too scared to tell him because I want to fix this just you and me, Lara. No matter what you do, what you did, I’m going to stick behind you, babe. Because I’ve loved you since the second I laid eyes on you and I’m not going to let us be anything but the couple we were meant to be.”
Pulling away, Jackson looked into my eyes with true warmth.
Christ, he actually believes himself.
It was unbelievable. Jackson was truly under the impression that he was helping me, not keeping me as his fiancée against my will. It was official. He was insane.
“Right,” I returned with about as much warmth as a mannequin.
“Baby, don’t be like this,” Jackson breathed, trailing his hands down my backside as he kissed my neck. “Come on.” I felt his hot tongue draw a wet line on my skin. “Let me show you how much I love you,” he murmured, pushing his fingertips under the lace of my panties and squeezing my ass. With a groan, he was hard. In no time, his erection was pulsing against my belly. “I promise, babe... I’ll make you feel better than I’ve ever made you feel,” he whispered, pushing me against the sink and trailing his lips down my neck and into the valley between my collarbones. But as his breath continued downward, I shoved him away.
“You’ve got to be kidding me, Jackson,” I managed between my teeth. My eyes were cold and steely on him as he took a step backward. “I forgave you for cheating on me with Gabrielle, but if you think I’ll ever forgive you for all the shit you’ve pulled on me since, you’re out of your fucking mind. In case you don’t realize what’s happening here, you are blackmailing me. I’m staying because I’m scared of what you’ll do if I leave, not because I have any desire to be touched by you ever again.”
Jackson stared at me like a dog that had been kicked in the ribs. But in a flash, that false hurt morphed into a cocky sneer.
“We’ve been through this before, Lara,” he smirked as he pushed my hair back and gazed down at my exposed chest. Leaning in, he pressed a kiss against my curled lips, his hands cupping me gently at first but squeezing gradually harder till he sucked in a sharp breath and let out a grunt. “Oh yeah, you’ll get over this soon, babe. And when you do, I’m gonna fuck harder and better than I did the last time you forgave me,” he grinned, adjusting his stiff cock in his pants. “But till then, I’ll wait. Because I love you, Lara Kinsley,” he kissed me once more. “And I know you love me too.”
Can’t leave Something happened
Please go to dinner tmrw night so we can talk
Don’t txt back. Jackson near
Lara’s cryptic texts last night had tightened every last muscle in my body. It had taken truly everything in me to keep from jumping into a car and driving straight to her apartment. I could see the panic in the way she typed and knowing my piece of shit brother, I had a hunch he’d worked his master manipulation. Some way, somehow, he had gotten his way. And I should’ve known better than anyone. When it came to keeping Lara, Jackson would do anything. The thought made me sick to my stomach.
But as much as my body fucking ached to hold hers, I restrained myself. Catching Jackson’s attention with a reply would easily make the situation a million times worse. On top of that, I knew Lara. She was smart and strong and everything I loved in a woman. If she wanted to speak to me at dinner, I’d respect her wishes and force myself to wait until then.
Of course, by the time I got there, a whole other drama was already waiting.
“Oh my God, did you hear?” Piper Rocha came running the second I walked in.
I flicked my eyes over toward the table. “What’s going on?” I was accustomed to walking into a room of raucous laughter and endless toasts but tonight, the guys were gravely quiet as they scrolled wildly through their phones.
“The news just came out. There’s a store behind Gabrielle’s townhouse that found surveillance video from their cameras. Someone broke into her apartment the night she went missing. A man. He was wearing a mask and he – ” Her voice broke off with a crack. I looked up to see Sawyer approaching.
“Doesn’t look good,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Sofie and Lyle were supposed to come tonight but with this shit… now we know she didn’t run off. Someone fucking took her.”
. I dragged my palm across my jaw. Gabrielle Winter was in middle school the last time I saw her. She had been skinny, loud and quirky. But apparently, since I’d left New York, she’d grown into the kind of vulnerable beauty that Jackson and his friends preyed upon. I’d always heard stories about the way the guys premeditated their infidelities. They went for women with something to lose – a reputation, a fiancé, anything that would keep them silent once the affair was over. Regardless of their side hobbies, these guys had a picture of how their lives needed to look. There was no way they’d ever let mistresses tear apart their carefully crafted images.
Looks were everything.
Which was why I felt a sudden, dark and sinking feeling about my brother. Jackson loved Lara. He was obsessed with her. And there was no way he’d ever let Gabrielle stand in between them. He’d rid himself of that problem no matter what he had to do.
My neck tensed when I suddenly heard Jackson’s familiar voice behind me.
You’re in public,
I reminded myself when I felt the urge to instantly slam my brother into the wall.
You’re in public and you’re not supposed to know that he threatened Lara, so try to act fucking normal for even a second.
Breathing deep, I finally turned to see Jackson staring at the table where everyone still sat in silence on their phones.
“What’s going on?” he frowned.
“Footage came out. Someone breaking into Gabrielle’s apartment the night she went missing.”
“Fucking shit, are you serious?” Jackson’s eyes went wide but I couldn’t bring myself to believe the shock in his voice.
“Where’s Lara?” I asked, unable to hold back.
“She’s in the car. Sloane called right as we were getting out. I guess about this.” Jackson shook his head. “Christ, man. It’s not looking good then.”
“Yeah, that’s what Sawyer said.”
He immediately sneered. “Fuck what Sawyer said. I’m positive that piece of shit is fucking Lara or actively trying to. You know anything about that, by the way?” he asked, easily changing the subject. I stared before giving a flat reply.
“Pretty certain that’s not happening.”
“Well, if it hasn’t yet I’m sure as hell not going to let it. Really would rather not pull a fucking Glock on Sawyer and put him in the fucking ground.”
A sneer formed on my lips. “Might be a little off-color to talk about killing someone right now. They’re all pretty sure at this point that Gabrielle’s gone.”
Jackson blinked at the sound of her name. “Yeah,” he mumbled, quiet for a second. “Yeah. That really sucks, man.”
My forearms flexed against my rolled sleeves as I clenched my fists. “I’d say that’s an understatement,” I muttered. He’d known the girl. Intimately. Her death deserved more than just a shrug.
Unless he was the sack of shit who’d killed her.
Swallowing hard, I tried to control my fury. But as I stood before Jackson, suspicion crawled like a sickness through my bones. I wanted to sink my fist in his jaw and tell him that I knew it was him – that he was in fact sick enough to get rid of Gabrielle for his own benefit. My knuckles twitched, desperate to swing.
I could end it here
. I indulged the irrational thoughts that crept in the back of my head.
Knock him out, explain to the guys and then see what the police can find
Though they could always end up finding nothing and sending Jackson back home to Lara. Enraged.
It was a bad idea. I knew it was. But in that moment, there was nothing in the world that I wanted more than to drag Jackson outside and pin him to the wall by the throat. I was going to end it. I’d handle the consequences as they came.
I stepped toward him.
But the second I did, a flurry of light hair and tanned skin came rushing in. My eyes flew instantly to her. Lara in a white lace dress – a reminder of what I truly wanted most in this world. Our gaze locked like magnets as she slipped her phone into her purse. Right away, I checked mine to find her latest text.
Meet me around the left corner.
Excusing myself, I waited in the small corridor for probably a minute, though it felt like an eternity before she finally came. My heart raced when she instantly reached for me. “
.” My name gasped from her perfect lips like she hadn’t breathed in ages. The sound lit fire to every nerve in my body. I pulled her in, breathing hard as I rested my forehead against hers.
Thank you, God
I had never in my life been so grateful to merely touch someone.
“Lara, what happened last night?” I finally asked her. But with voices coming our way, she shuffled me into the bathroom. Once the door closed behind us, I couldn’t hold back. Cupping her cheeks, I kissed her hard against the wall, pressing every inch of my body against hers to remind myself that I had her now. That she was safe.
“I’m so sorry. I was scared. He has all these things that make it look like I killed Gabrielle but I just saw the surveillance tape from the news,” she revealed all in one breath. “And I know this sounds crazy, and I know he was wearing a mask, but I recognize the man who broke into her apartment that night.”
“Was it Jackson?”
“No. I think it was the man he hired to break into our house.”
“Lara, what are you talking about?”
“The guy who broke into our house at the beginning of the summer – the one who attacked me and cut Jackson. Jackson hired him. Off Dane McNulty. Sawyer told me at brunch the other day, while you were outside with Sloane. He hired that guy to be there when I came home that night, so he could save the day and win me back.” She closed her eyes for a second. “Which he did because I was an idiot – ”
“Lara – ”
“I was, Jake. I really was. But I swear to God I’m not anymore.” She curled her arms around my neck desperately and I breathed her in, my blood rushing as I watched a fire blaze in her eyes. “I’m not going to let Jackson hold me hostage forever,” she exhaled, the sound of her adrenaline spiking my pulse. “I’m going to prove to the cops that he killed Gabrielle.”
I pulled back with surprise.
“I know you think it too,” she breathed before I could say a word. “So please help me do this. I didn’t think I’d find a way out so fast but this is it. One way or another, I have to stay with him so in the meantime, I might as well find something. Something to prove that he hired the man who killed Gabrielle. I have to, or I’m never going to escape him, Jake – I won’t.”
My jaw was tight. “If you think he killed someone, Lara, your first instinct should be to get away. I left you alone with Jackson for a night but I don’t know if I can do it again. We’ve established that he’s dangerous.”
“For me,” she whispered intensely. “He’s dangerous for
. He killed for
. If there’s one thing I know about Jackson, it’s that he will never hurt me because all the disgusting, despicable things he does are
“Lara, anyone who’s capable of what he’s done isn’t completely there in the head,” I argued. “You can’t say with complete certainty that he’ll never crack and turn on you.”
“Which is why I’m not going to give him any reason to. I’m going be his perfect little fiancé again. I’ll give him no reason to be suspicious. What other choice do we have?”
I brushed the hair from her face, studying her beautiful, bright eyes. “Leaving,” I replied. But I barely finished the word before she was adamantly shaking her head.
“No,” she whispered. “No. If I leave with you now, he’ll make it look like I fled the country and eventually, they’ll find us, and I’ll never get to relax even a minute with you. I’ll never know what it’s like to just lay on a beach with you all day or make you dinner and sit on the couch in front of the TV.” She laughed, her eyes wet with tears that refused to fall. “I know it’s stupid but that’s all I want, Jake. When it’s all over, I want it to be over. Truly over. Or I’ll never know what peace is like with you and right now, the thought of that is the only thing that gets me up in the morning so please, do this with me. For me. Please.”
I stared at her – at her flushed cheeks and swollen lips and the radiating beauty that made me for once consider something besides my own way. A million doubts raced through my mind but as I breathed her energy, I found myself nodding and pressing my lips to hers in agreement. “Of course. We’ll do it. Together.”