Home > Dead Against Her (Bree Taggert #5)

Dead Against Her (Bree Taggert #5)
Author: Melinda Leigh

 


CHAPTER ONE

Hate is a living thing, a seed to be planted and watered. If adequately nourished, it blooms and grows. When the conditions are just right, it acts like an invasive species and takes over, obliterating the original plants, blocking their sunlight and oxygen.

Starving them.

Until they die.

I consider my own hate, carefully tended, fertilized with years of imagining this very moment. The hand holding the gun feels disconnected from my brain. The hate is possessing me.

Controlling me.

I study the two people securely tied to chairs before me. Ironically, beneath the intensity of my hatred, I feel oddly detached.

The man tugs at his binds, but they don’t give. I know how to tie a fucking knot. His mouth quivers. He’s trying to play it cool, but he can’t pull it off. Sweat beads on his upper lip, and the wide whites of his eyes reveal his terror. Next to him, the old woman—his mother—is still. She’s too frail to fight back. Her end is near, and she knows it. She’s the smarter of the two.

I focus on him. After all, he’s the reason I’m here.

He opens his mouth but emits only a croak. Panic is constricting his throat. I know the feeling well.

He swallows hard, then speaks. He’s trying to conceal his fear, and his voice comes out too loud. “Don’t do this. You’re going to regret it.”

Will I, though?

Regret is a funny emotion. By definition, you can’t experience it until after the fact. So who knows?

What I’m doing is wrong. I know that. I enjoy his fear much more than I should. I breathe it in, like the scent of a meal I’ve been preparing for days and finally get to eat. Anticipation has whetted my appetite until I am ravenous. The pull of the trigger will be utterly satisfying. Deep in my bones, I suspect this could be the very deed that makes me whole again.

I cock my head. “I don’t think so.”

Tied to the chair next to him, the old woman whimpers. Tears pour down her cheeks. She’s spent too much time in the sun. Her skin is as wrinkled as a paper bag and mottled with spots. While she isn’t my primary target, she isn’t exactly an innocent either. She’s made selfish choices. She birthed and raised a monster. She enabled him. She knows what he is. She’s always known, even if she prefers to ignore his innate viciousness. But is this really her fault? Unconditional love is a natural part of parenthood, but it should have limits. You should be able to love someone without ignoring the damage they inflict upon others.

Vaguely, I register that I should feel some kind of pity for her. He’s put her in a tough position. Instead, I’m filled with a comfortable vacantness, as if my heart is as hollow as a dead tree.

“You can leave now, and we won’t tell anyone,” he begs.

I should have gagged him. I really don’t want to have a conversation. Or do I? I don’t need to explain my actions. He knows how we got to this place. He knows he’s at fault. But maybe I need to revel in his pain. Did he take pleasure in mine?

Probably.

That’s the kind of man he is. He’s caused plenty of people distress in his lifetime. He’s a bastard. A bully. A user.

A new thought pops into my head. Maybe he’s the parasite, feeding on other people’s suffering like a plant absorbs sunlight. He’s an invasive vine that needs to be pulled from the garden by the root. Like poison ivy, eliminating him will leave a mark, but it must be done.

He licks his lips. “You don’t know what you’re doing. You’ve never killed anyone. It’ll ruin you.”

“I guess I’ll find out.” Tormenting him sends a rush of pleasure through me. The tables are finally turned in my favor. “How does it feel to be helpless? To know you’re going to die?”

He clamps his mouth shut, and his face goes as pale as ice.

The old woman cries out, then begins mumbling a prayer. She repeats the words over and over. They prickle my nerves and stoke my hate higher. God didn’t answer my prayers. He let me suffer. How dare she ask for His intervention now, when she’s finally paying the price for her sins.

I point the gun at her. “Shut up.”

But she moans.

Fury rushes through me and words burst out. “I am in charge!”

Control slides further away, and I don’t bother to reach for it. I lunge forward, press the gun to her head, and pull the trigger. She slumps instantly. Her death is so fast, so abrupt, it’s almost anticlimactic. But then, her death isn’t my priority.

He flinches; then shock smooths all emotion from his face. His gaze shifts from his mother to me. His mouth opens, then closes again. He should cry out. He should be overwhelmed with grief and trauma. He isn’t. He’s calculating his next move. The bastard. But he is clearly speechless. Power floods me. I have waited a long time for my revenge.

I step back and compose myself, brush a stray hair off my forehead. “Didn’t think I was serious, did you?”

He says nothing. He turns his head and stares at his mother. The details sink in. His face morphs into a mask of disbelief and horror. But I can’t be sure if it’s an act. Anyway, I want more. I want acknowledgment for my suffering. Anger rides my skin like fire ants. He owes me a response, damn it.

“Answer me!” I shout.

When he doesn’t, I aim at his kneecap and fire. The gun bucks in my hand. Blood splatters. His body convulses, and he screams. He pulls hard at the binds around his wrists. The chair wobbles as he thrashes. He could overturn it if he keeps trying, but tipping over the chair won’t free him. Those knots are solid. He isn’t going anywhere.

I shoot him in the other knee. He screams again, the sound high-pitched, feral, and helpless. The smells of gunpowder and blood fill the air.

“Do you believe me now?” I yell.

He groans. Tears and snot run down his face. Pain makes his eyes wild.

“You’re going to bleed to death, but it will take a long time.” I think about this. I want to make him suffer. I want to watch him die. But I can’t afford to stay here too long. The farm is isolated, but mail and packages are delivered regularly. Did she have any nosy neighbors?

I can’t take the chance of being caught. I won’t ruin the rest of my life. He’s already taken too much time from me. I deserve a future. Also, I don’t want to be forced to kill anyone who is truly innocent. I need to end this soon, before we are discovered. I point the gun at his shoulder and fire another shot.

His body jerks again, but this time he doesn’t thrash. He’s too weak. His head lolls. Blood runs from his wounds, blooms on the fabric of his clothing, drips to the floor in spreading puddles beneath the chair. The noises he makes no longer sound human. I’ve reduced him to an animal. The thought brings me nothing but satisfaction.

Am I evil?

Maybe.

I get close, right in his face. “Are. You. Sorry?”

He is. I can see it in his eyes even before he nods. He’s given up. He’s surrendered. I’ve won. But I need to hear his admission.

“Say it!” I scream.

“I’m sorry,” he croaks, the words barely audible.

Finally.

I lean close to his ear. “So you’re the one full of regret.”

I straighten. His eyes roll back in his head. He’s blacking out with the pain and blood loss. I raise the gun again and press it hard into his forehead. His lids flutter. Our gazes meet. He knows I’ve won. I focus on the moment. I want to remember every detail. Killing him must be deliberate, and he needs to know it’s coming.

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