Shattered King(9)

By: Sherilee Gray

Sara frowned. “I don’t think I have those.”

Great, the kid was outing me. I mean, we didn’t live on Pop Tarts, but we indulged from time to time.

Josh scrunched up his face, not impressed. “He’ll eat whatever he’s given,” I piped up.

We walked in the front door. “How about a piece of chocolate cake?” Sara tried again.

“Joe’s cake.” His face was serious as he said this, like a little old man, brows scrunched low. When he frowned, I was sure he looked like Hunter, or maybe it was wishful thinking. Either way, it was a sucker punch every time.

My aunt looked at me puzzled. “Joe’s?”

My face heated. “Trader Joe’s. We get cake there sometimes.” Try every week. I roughed up Josh’s shaggy locks and grinned down at him. “You’re giving away all our secrets, kid.”

Face still serious, he turned to my aunt. “Joe’s cake?” Now he knew there was cake on offer there would be no going back.

Sara stared at him for a second, blinking rapidly, then pulled me into her, hugging me so tight I could barely breathe, and laughed, soft and husky. “Oh, bunny, I’m so glad you’re home.”

I buried my face in her neck and worked very hard at not falling apart.

Josh devoured a PB and J followed by a small piece of cake and a glass of milk, while I showered and changed. I ignored his sleepy protests, and changed him into his PJs, tucking him up in the double bed in the spare room at the back of the house. He handed me his favorite book, Roscoe the Wonder Dog, and I got down to the serious business of reading him a bedtime story. Something I had to do every night without fail. I ran my fingers softly over his hair, hair that never seemed to want to sit flat, and vowed, like I did every day, that I would never let anyone hurt him, that I would protect him with my life if I had to. I stayed until he was out cold a few minutes later.

I kissed his cheek and headed to the kitchen. When I walked in, Sara was filling two coffee cups. She looked up at me when I joined her, eyes warm, but concerned.

She bit her lip. “Are you sure about this?”

I took a seat and she took the one across from me, sliding over my mug. “I have to go to her.”

Her slender fingers tightened around her mug. “I know, baby.”

God, sometimes Sara sounded so much like my mother it hurt to listen to her voice. And sometimes when she’d call, I’d let myself believe it. Just for a few seconds. Until my heart felt like it would explode in my chest, until the guilt over leaving her became too much.

I’m so sorry, Mom.

As we sipped our coffee, Sara explained where I would meet her friend. “She’ll take you to Elizabeth, but then you’re on your own. If you get caught . . .”

I reached out and grabbed her hand. “I won’t.” Hospice patients were allowed visitors twenty-four hours a day, but if you wanted to visit after 8:30 p.m., you had to call ahead. No way I could do that. If any of the nurses told Pierce, I was screwed. “But if I do . . .” This had to be said. “I need you to promise me you won’t call the police. At least, not right away.”

She paled. “Lucinda . . .”

“I have my reasons, but it’s important. Please, I need you to promise.” If the cops got involved, Josh’s existence would be out in the open. I couldn’t have that. If Pierce got hold of me, I was in serious trouble, but I didn’t think he’d kill me. What he could do was threaten Josh, hurt him, use him to control me.

“This has to do with Pierce and why you left, this request?”

I swallowed the lump forming in my throat. “Yes.”

Her hands shook slightly, but she nodded. “Okay,” she whispered, but there was no hiding the fact she was worried.

Hell, I was worried. But I didn’t have any other choice. What else could I do? This was my one and only chance. “I’ll be fine.”

“I wish you’d stay,” she said softly.

My heart squeezed. “I wish it was that easy, but you know we can’t do that.”

“Maybe . . . maybe it’s time to tell Hunter about Josh.”

“No!” The word exploded past my lips, but Sara wasn’t having any of it and talked right over me.

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