Ravaged River(3)

By: Lindsey Cross



“Open the damn door or I’ll kick it in.” Hunter’s voice rose over the pulsing music.

Open your mouth and answer him. “Give me a minute.”

Hoyt set the bottle down long enough to rip a shirt from the drawer and yank it over his head. He glanced down at the Grateful Dead logo on the front of the tee. At least it fit him.

He picked up the bottle and stalked to the wood door, the rustic hardwood floor creaking beneath his bare feet, and jerked it open. “What do you want?”

“Jesus.” Hunter towered over Hoyt by at least three inches, and his black hair was cut short, military style. “You stink of alcohol.”

Hoyt lifted the bottle in salute and took another chug. “Maybe this is why.”

“What are you doing? Your house is packed full of people waiting to see you.”

“I didn’t want them to come.”

Hunter crowded into Hoyt’s room and shut the door behind him. The dark look on his face suited his nickname—the Grim Reaper—but Hoyt wasn’t afraid of him. No, his fears were all wrapped around that cabin in Crowe Mountain.

“Why are you here? My big brother send you to pull me out of my cave? He can’t stomach looking at me anymore.” Hoyt let his face fall into the sneer that had become his signature look, the one that always sent Jared away. It could make milk curdle.

“Your brother would kick my ass if he knew I was back here. He’s got some misconceived notion that he has to protect you.” Hunter crossed his arms, veins popping across his massive muscles. “But I’ve got the feeling he might need protection from you, not for you.”

Hoyt snarled and bared his teeth, feeling every inch the feral animal he’d become. “I’d never hurt my brother.”

“Just like you’d never hurt my sister? Look at yourself.” Hunter advanced, prowling closer and closer, menace pouring off him in waves.

“I look at myself every damn day.” Heat radiated outward from his chest, but his hands were shaking. He took another slug of the cheap rotgut, needing the numbness only oblivion could bring.

Hayden. Hadn’t he done right by her? He’d broken it off, or had Jared to do it for him. Hoyt couldn’t lie to her face and tell her he didn’t want her any more. Not without revealing his true feelings. It’d been two months since that day he’d sat on his bed, listening to her cry from the next room while what was left of his soul bled out.

Hunter stopped pacing, and Hoyt watched the anger slowly slide from his features until the only thing left was pity. Fucking pity.

“Don’t look at me like that.” He wanted to shout the words, but all he could manage was a strangled whisper.

“I’m sorry, man, I shouldn’t have gone at you like that.”

“No. Don’t you back off now. Finish what you came here to do.” Hoyt was the one getting up in Hunter’s face this time, like mouth-to-mouth close.

“I’m done.” Hunter didn’t move.

“Fucking. Finish.”

“Fine. You need help. You went through a lot. If you don’t get help on your own, I’ll take care of it for you.” Hunter hit the deadpan look he’d perfected, everything about him locking into a concrete wall.

“That’s not why you’re here, is it?” Hoyt got up on the balls of his feet, bringing him to eye level with his team leader.

Hunter growled but didn’t breach the invisible centimeter-wide wall separating them.

“Why don’t I just say it for you? You came to tell me to stay away from your sister.” Hoyt barely held back from launching a punch into Hunter’s spleen to punctuate the words.

But Hunter took a step back, breaking the tension, getting his shit under control, and said, “Promise me you’ll continue to leave her alone. She’s out there right now, in your living room, and she’s not ready to give up on you yet. She deserves better than you can give her right now. You know it. I know it.”

Hoyt lowered down from the balls of his feet, needing to feel the solid floor beneath him. He knew he didn’t deserve her.

He didn’t deserve any woman, let alone one as perfect as Hayden.

But he wanted her like he wanted to breathe.

Hoyt took in a deep breath, accepted his fate and got comfortable with the heavy pit of emptiness in his chest.

He couldn’t be mad at Hunter. They all knew Hoyt’s body wasn’t the only thing that had been ruined in that cabin, but Hunter was the only one with the guts to say it. The rest of the crew had been treating him like he was a china doll with a crack in its head. Yes, he appreciated the truth, but it hurt to lose what little of his hope that remained. “I promise. I will never lay a hand on her again.”

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