Brighter Than the Sun

Page 69

She fisted her hands at her sides and exploded with rage and grief, lashing out at the people who considered her family and who she considered to be her family.

“I was only doing what any one of you would do—what you always do—for complete strangers, much less someone you love and consider family or a close friend. If all of you would stop viewing me as a fuckup without brains, responsibility or regard for anyone but myself, you’d realize that everything I’ve done has been to overcome the stigma of my past so Mom and Dad could be proud of me. So all of you could be proud of me. So I could be worthy of being a Kelly. So I could be part of something I never had before. A family.

“You’re such fucking hypocrites,” she raged in a voice that sounded like she was precariously close to tears. “Donovan lets all the wives help with his charitable foundation, which often necessitates one or more of them to be in contact with the person or persons who need help, and all of the victims they aid, that they help get out of shit situations, help move after getting new aliases, papers, money, housing and a new life in a new city, are involved in dangerous, often life-threatening situations. Have you ever stopped to consider the danger you’re putting your wives in? Your children? Your entire family?

“What if one of these victims was found by the assholes they’re running from? The ones your wives help them hide from? Don’t you think that asshole might be a little interested in knowing how the victim was able to pull off something that elaborate? Where they got the money, the job, the new name and everything else you give them? If their lives were threatened, don’t you think those victims would throw every single person under the bus if it was the only way they’d survive? The only way their children would survive?

“And don’t you ever stop to consider the possibility that one of these abusive bastards would want revenge against the people who helped their property, particularly other women who’d stuck their noses into his goddamn business and given his woman the idea that she was better off without him? Are you seriously going to stand there and lecture me in such a hypocritical manner when one of your wives could be seriously injured, raped or even killed in retaliation?

“And if you don’t think it can happen then you’re fucking naïve, and men who do what you do and who’ve seen the shit y’all have seen shouldn’t damn well be surprised by anything.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this family, it’s that you’re all about doing the right thing and you’re all about family, and yet you don’t spare any opportunity to remind me that I’m not family, and furthermore you all lash out at me for doing exactly what you all do on a daily basis, but I suppose it’s different because apparently in this organization it’s do as we say, not as we do.”

Tears coursed down her cheeks as she broke into sobs. The room was stunned into complete silence as the brothers exchanged remorseful looks. Oddly, Sean looked . . . pissed. Rusty wiped angrily at the tears and her blotchy face and then started toward the door.

“Rusty,” Joe called.

She stopped only long enough to look back, more tears escaping from her swollen eyes. “Don’t worry about me. Your focus needs to be on finding Zoe. I’m going home—to Frank and Marlene’s,” she amended. “Provided I’m still welcome,” she finished bitterly.

A round of curses echoed in the room as she hurried away. When Donovan and Garrett would have followed, Sean, who had been standing silently in the back, held up his hand to stop them.

“I’ll make sure she gets home safely,” he said quietly. “I’ll be back shortly. It goes without saying that you’ll have the full resources of the sheriff’s department to help in any way we can.”

Sean stomped out of Joe’s cabin and then ran to catch up to Rusty, who was walking down the winding highway that led to the compound.

“Rusty, goddamn it, hold up,” he shouted.

She visibly stiffened, her spine going ramrod straight as she stood rigidly while he strode up. When she turned, he winced at the coldness in her eyes, but his anger was hot enough to melt any ice she managed to erect.

“Were you just trying to get yourself killed?” he seethed. “You endangered not only yourself and Zoe but your entire family by not telling them the truth from the very start. Grow the hell up, Rusty, and stop acting like the world is still out to get you. That chip you’ve got on your shoulder has gotten so heavy that you’re staggering under its weight.”

“I just have two words for you, copper,” she said in a voice so quiet and defeated that it sent chills down his spine. “Fuck off.”

“Damn it, Rusty! Haven’t you figured out yet that there are people who love and care about you? You’re so convinced the world’s out to get you that you can’t see what’s right under your nose.”

“Oh, I see what’s under my nose,” she said softly. “I see it very well. I’m sure you have better things to do than taunt me with my childish, adolescent whims, so why don’t you go make yourself useful and help clean up my fuckup while I see myself the rest of the way to Marlene’s.”

“It’s home, Rusty,” he said in frustration. “Your home. And whether you choose to believe it or not, there are a hell of a lot of people who love you if you’d just let them.”

She shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter what I call it now, does it? I believe the saying goes ‘home is where the heart is,’ and let’s just say my heart isn’t here anymore. And if the one you love doesn’t love you back, there isn’t much point, is there?”

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