Home > Say You're Sorry (Romantic Suspense #22)(9)

Say You're Sorry (Romantic Suspense #22)(9)
Karen Rose

He liked that. He could say whatever he wanted to the dog and always got the final word. Mutt never tried to usurp him. The dog knew his place.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, the fourth time it had done so in the past thirty minutes. Gritting his teeth, he checked the caller ID.

Sydney. All four times.

“I hate you,” he hissed, not completely sure if he meant Sydney for being a complete and total asshole or himself for always answering the phone. Schooling his expression, he calmed his voice. He’d answer her call. He always did.

“Sydney,” he said levelly.

“Sonny. You were ignoring me.”

He could hear the pout she thought was cute. But it wasn’t. He hated the pout, too.

“I was running. I just got back.” And I hoped you’d give up and go to sleep.

But she never gave up. She considered it a strength.

He did not agree.

“What do you want?” he asked, more tersely than he’d intended.

“I’m calling to check on you,” she said. “I hear you got unsettling news today.”

He ground his teeth. “That the old man is selling the company out from under me?”

“You shouldn’t talk about your father that way, Sonny,” she said, her voice heavy with reproach.

Don’t call me Sonny! he wanted to scream, but did not. Because he didn’t scream at his stepmother, either.

Don’t call him my father! he wanted to shout. Because his “father” had never been anything more than a sperm donor. He’d never been there, working all the time, leaving the raising of his son to babysitters. And then to Sydney.

The old man hadn’t cared about anyone but himself. Because any real father would have realized that the sex-kitten trophy wife he’d married was really a monster who was destroying his son. Bit by bit. Year after year.

But he didn’t say any of those things, either. What he did say was what she’d trained him to say. Trained him like a little dog. “I’m sorry, Sydney.”

“That’s my sweet boy,” she cooed. “Are you worried about your job?”

Hell, yes. He leaned against his front door. “Shouldn’t I be?” Dammit. Do not engage with her. He wanted to yank the words back as soon as he’d said them, but it was too late.

“Of course not.”

He ground his teeth. “The old man’s trained dog said the new owners are cleaning house and we’re all going. He looked straight at me when he said those words. So yes, pardon me if I’m a little worried.”

She clucked her tongue. “Silly boy. I’ve got an in with the new owner.”

Which meant she was sleeping with the new owner, too. Sydney could have sex with anyone she pleased, while she expected him to have sex with only her.

And, despite his most determined attempts at any kind of sex with anyone else who wasn’t Sydney, that was exactly the way it was. He was so fucking broken that he couldn’t get it up for anyone else. And she knew it. The bitch. But he didn’t say that.

“That’s good,” he said lamely. “I’m glad.”

“You know that I’ve got your back, Sonny. Stick with me and you’ll be fine.”

Stick with me. In other words, obey her every command. Every single one. And he would, much to his own shame, even though it tore him up to do so.

“I know,” he said dully. “You’ll take care of me.” Which he’d never wanted her to do. Not even once.

“Of course I will, Sonny, dear. I should have been taking care of you tonight.”

He winced because he’d forgotten. Deliberately. “I’m sorry, Sydney. I just . . . I needed time to process what happened today.” He’d needed to grab a guest for his basement.

“And exactly where were you processing? A bar?”

Yes, dammit. He was twenty-eight years old. Not a child. He could go to any bar he chose. But he could never say such a thing to her. “No. Of course not. Look, I really need to go to sleep. I have an early morning.”

“I see.”

He clenched his free hand into a fist. That icy tone of hers never boded well. “G-g-good night, Sydney.”

“Good night, Sonny. Sweet dreams.”

He swallowed hard as he ended the call. Sweet dreams. How many times had she whispered those words into his ear as he was falling asleep, feeling so damn confused? He didn’t know. He’d stopped counting long ago.

Stomach churning, he stumbled to his bedroom and sank to his knees in front of his stereo. It had been his mother’s. His real mother’s. The mother who’d loved him and rocked him to sleep and who’d never said Sweet dreams in that oily whisper.

The stereo was one of the few things of his mother’s he’d been allowed to hold on to. The turntable, the speakers, and a stack of old LPs. Her favorite was on the spindle, ready to be played. It always soothed him, especially when he had an empty basement and for whatever reason needed to wait to fill it. Like tonight.

Carefully he lifted the arm, setting the needle at the beginning, then twisted until he was sitting with his back to his bed, his legs crossed. He lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. Sydney didn’t like it when he smoked. So of course he did it. Just not where she could see.

He frowned at the pack in his hand, now empty. He’d had half a pack this morning. Yeah, he’d smoked a few while waiting outside the community center, but he hadn’t thought he’d smoked nine. He usually only allowed himself one per day. He wondered where he’d left the butts. Great. More of my DNA out there.

But he wasn’t here to worry. He was here to relax. Closing his eyes, he listened to the opening drums of “Copacabana” and remembered his mother dancing with him, her smile wide and just for him as Manilow sang about a showgirl named Lola. He never realized that the song was really about a murder until much later, long after his mother was gone. Not until Sydney had pointed it out, deriding his mother for allowing him to listen to it.

Right before she’d slipped from his bed and whispered, Sweet dreams.

He’d known Sydney’s ways by then. She would have destroyed the albums while he slept, so he’d hidden them where she’d never find them, not daring to listen to them again until he’d bought this place of his own.

Mine. My home. A place where Sydney had never been welcomed.

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 11:10 P.M.

Why is the locket so important?

Gideon had almost answered Daisy’s question. Almost. Luckily that little dog had broken the moment. Broken the spell. Which sounded ridiculously dramatic when Gideon was normally anything but.

He forced himself to relax, shifting his gaze away from her face to the ball of fur in her arms. The dog was tiny, possibly ten pounds, if that. And named Brutus. Under other circumstances that would have made him smile. When few things did.

Brutus had the coloring of a collie and the ears of a bat, huge and pointy and covered with fringy hair that stuck straight out. He couldn’t decide if the dog was ugly or cute.

Didn’t really matter. What did matter was that the dog had intervened, stopping him from blurting out a truth that was not appropriate to share.

Isn’t it, though? Hasn’t she earned it?

No, he told himself firmly. Yes, she’d fought bravely. Shockingly capably, even. Yes, she’d shared everything with them openly, more even than she had strictly needed to. But that did not entitle her to know more. Not about this. Not about me.

“I have a few more questions about the man who attacked you,” he said instead.

The flash of disappointment in her blue eyes was unmistakable. As was the glint of determination that followed. She wouldn’t be letting the subject of the locket go without a fight. “Okay.” She was back to stroking the little dog. “Go ahead.”

“Did he have any physical characteristics that stand out in your mind? Any scars that were visible through the nylon, perhaps?”

She shook her head. “No. None that I could see.”

“What about on his body? Any markings? Tattoos?”

Her brow arched. “Tattoos? Not that I saw. I didn’t see any of his skin. He wore a padded jacket. Like a ski jacket. It must have been open at the throat because I was able to reach the chain around his neck.” She stared at the hand that petted the dog and frowned, running her thumb over the pads of her fingers. “I didn’t feel any chest hair when I touched him. When I scratched him.”

Gideon hoped she’d hurt him. Badly. He hoped the skin they’d scraped from under her nails led to a DNA match. He hoped that the man’s balls still ached all these hours later.

“Did your father teach you to fight like that?” he asked, startling himself because it wasn’t the question he’d intended to ask.

She looked up at him, blinked once, then nodded. “He’ll be annoyed that I didn’t take the bastard to his knees. When he finds out.” She looked at Rafe. “I don’t suppose your mother can keep that secret from him. Can she?” she added hopefully.

Rafe ruefully shook his head. “I think she called him on her way to the ER.”

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