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“But they could come after you—”

“There’s nothing that ties me either,” I remind her, although I’m painfully aware that I have just as much motive as she does. If the police ever get wind of that, they are going to sniff very hard at me.

A knocking on my door jolts my senses and Sela and I both go utterly still, our eyes locked on each other. Twenty-four hours ago, the police were knocking on that same door to tell us about JT.

Sela slowly climbs off my lap, smoothing down nonexistent wrinkles in her jeans. I push up off the couch and touch my knuckles under her chin. I smile at her encouragingly and whisper, “It’s all going to be fine. I promise.”

She nods at me uncertainly but puts on a brave face. I walk to the door and hesitantly look through the peephole, expecting beyond doubt to see Detectives DeLatemer and Denning standing there.

Instead I see the pinched face of my mother, and for a brief moment, I almost wish it was the police coming to question me further.

I open the door, swing it wide because it would be rude not to invite her in, and say, “Mother…this is a surprise.”

Helen North is unequivocally a stunning woman, and she’s dressed impeccably in something that’s probably labeled Chanel or Halston. She cuts me a sharp look and walks in amid a swirl of designer perfume before whirling on me as I shut the door.

“I’m very worried about your father, Beck,” she says without any preamble. “I think you need to talk to him.”

With a sigh, I pinch the bridge of my nose while briefly squeezing my eyes shut. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” she says in a clipped formal tone. No warmth in her concern. “He’s been holed up in his office since we got the news about JT and won’t come out. He won’t talk to me. I’m extremely worried.”

She says all of this in a rush, and as she does so, I notice her leaning in toward me imperceptibly, her eyes flicking back and forth between my own.

As if she’s trying to gauge my reaction to her words?

And then it hits me…she knows about JT being my father’s son. I’m not sure how she knows, because fuck, I thought only my dad, JT’s mom, and I were in on the dirty secret. But seems like everyone knows, and I have to wonder if Colin Townsend does too.

It’s what I hate most about my family. The deceit and the lies and the cover-ups. Ironic that I’m perpetrating a cover-up myself, but that’s different.

Then again, it’s always different when it involves the one you love, right?

Because I don’t have the time, inclination or mental fortitude to even begin to get into this with my mother, I play dumb. “I’m sure he’s just upset over the shock of this. It’s been hard on all of us.”

She shakes her head almost violently to deny my denial of the truth she wants, and that’s when her attention is caught by Sela standing in the living room. My mother goes stock-still and I turn to see Sela looking back at her like a deer caught in the headlights. She swallows hard and says, “Hello, Mrs. North. It’s good to see you again, although I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances.”

My mother definitely has rude down to a science, particularly when she believes someone is beneath her. I tense up knowing she’s not going to be nice to Sela.

And she’s not, leveling her venom in a masterful way. She turns her back on Sela without even acknowledging her greeting. It speaks volumes that Sela’s wearing a V-neck T-shirt that doesn’t cover the vivid bruises at the bottom of her neck and my mother didn’t even notice. Piercing me with a commanding look, my mother says to me with a shooing motion with her hand, “You need to have her leave, Beck, so we can talk privately.”

I can’t help it. It’s inappropriate as hell, but I let out a bark of a laugh at the ludicrousness of this woman who birthed me. And then I can’t stop laughing.

I laugh so hard tears form in my eyes and I almost double over, my stomach hurts so much from the hilarity.

My mother doesn’t find it so funny and hisses at me, “Honestly, Beckett. You are being disrespectful.”

Straightening up, I swipe at the wetness from my eyes, wind down the full-belly laughs to a chuckle before turning it into a smirk. “Disrespectful, Mother? You’re seriously saying that when you just disrespected Sela in her own home?”

“We need to talk privately—”

“Or how about when you disrespected your own daughter by trying to keep her rape silent?” I growl at my mom, all humor over the situation having fled and replaced with scorching anger. Years of anger I’d let simmer.

My mother blinks in surprise, as I’ve never gone head-to-head with her before, not because I didn’t want to, but because I was being respectful of her role as my mother. It appears my own respect has seemed to have flown away as well.

“Beck,” Sela says quietly from the living room, but I hold a hand out, indicating for her to stay out of it. She closes her mouth, but out of my peripheral vision, I see her turn and walk down the hallway to our bedroom, giving my mother the privacy she requested.

But I don’t take my eyes off Mother. They are locked and I’m loaded, the past twenty-four hours having created such a stressful burden on my shoulders it didn’t take much for me to snap.

Just a quick little visit from Mommy Dearest.

“Or how about the disrespect you’ve shown to your granddaughter…your own flesh and blood?” I ask my mom quietly but with no less menace in my attitude. “Wanting her to be aborted.”

My mother pales slightly but sticks her chin out aggressively. “I stand by that advice; Caroline didn’t need—”

“You don’t get to talk about Caroline to me,” I say, cutting her off, and walk into her space. Leaning my head down, I come almost nose to nose with my mother, anger vibrating within me for all of the terrible ways my mother failed as a mother. “You don’t get to talk about Ally. You don’t get to talk about your worries about Dad, or the fact your house was once featured in Architectural Digest. You don’t get to talk about anything with me, Mother. I’m done with you.”

She gasps, bringing her hand to flutter at the gold necklace that sits at the base of her throat. “Beck…you don’t say things like that to your mother.”

I know I shouldn’t say it, but she opened the door too wide for me not to. Besides, she clearly doesn’t get what I’m saying or that she’s been a miserable failure.

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