ROYAL(87)

By: Winter Renshaw



“You’re pathetic.” I shake my head and rev my engine, popping it into reverse. She takes a step back, which his probably smart because I’m feeling like I could very easily run her over and probably feel very little remorse for it.

“What does she have that I don’t?” Pandora yells over the growl of the motor.

“Everything,” I huff. “Class. Grace. Dignity. A beautiful heart.”

Pandora rolls her eyes and pretends to stick a finger down her throat.

“You’ll get tired of her white bread, vanilla, boring ass eventually, and then you’ll come crawling back.” Pandora folds her arms across her chest.

“Ha. Never.” I offer a haughty laugh. “Don’t hold your breath.”

“Yeah, well, maybe it’s time I tell my father about all the freaky things you did to me in the back of the shop. You know, bending me over bumpers and fucking me with all these dirty, phallic tools lying around the shop . . .”

My stomach churns.

Sex with Pandora tops the list of stupid things I’ve done in the last few years. She had very particular tastes and a very abundant appetite. Pandora’s motto was the dirtier the sex, the better. And I always aimed to please.

Can’t take it back now.

“So you’re blackmailing me?” I slip a pair of aviator sunglasses over my nose and stare straight ahead, because looking at her does nothing but turn my blood into molten lava.

I think it’s time.

“Yeah, well, the joke’s on you,” I say. “Because I’m leaving, and I’m not coming back.”

“Where the hell are you gonna go, huh?”

“Anywhere I want.”

I’ve been saving money and living on the cheap for years now. And to tell the truth, I don’t even know what I’ve been saving for all this time. I just never needed a whole lot, and I never had anything worth wasting it on.

“You’re just staying that,” she says. “You’ll be back. You wouldn’t leave Daddy hanging like that. You know the shop’s three weeks behind.”

“Tell Rod I’m sorry. I’ll call him and explain later.” I take my foot off the brake and roll backward, glancing over my shoulder.

The soft crunching and pinging of gravel beneath my tires feels like freedom.

“Where are you going?” she calls out, like it’s any of her damn business.

I ignore Pandora for the last time, stopping for a second to unbutton my personalized shop shirt and toss it out the window, and then I drive away from South Fork for the last time.

With no destination in mind, I drive for an hour or two. Mostly down country roads and mostly so I can do some deep thinking. After a while, I call Demi and tell her I’m on my way to see her. She sounds surprised, but she doesn’t ask questions.

For now, I’m going to go take the woman I love on a lunch date. And after that, I’m going to look into getting that pre-law degree, and maybe someday I’ll get into law school and become an attorney like I’d always wanted.

Only I won’t follow the Rosewood prosecutor path.

I’ll be a defense attorney.

Because the good ones are few and far between, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to save an innocent man from the seven-year hell I experienced.





Chapter Forty-Seven




Demi



{two months later}



The handles of the grocery basket hanging from my arm leave indentations. I should’ve gotten a cart, but I’d only come here to grab a few staples and some items for dinner tonight. Royal requested lasagna. And not the frozen kind. Bliss’s recipe.

So that’s what he’s getting tonight. Lasagna. Salad. Breadsticks.

But of course, as I was getting lost on my way to grab a quart of ricotta, I happened by his favorite cookies and yogurt and those little candied raisins he loves.

God, he’s like a child.

That’s why I rarely take him to the store with me. He loads our cart with everything we don’t need, and he thinks it’s hilarious.

And sometimes it is.

Two weeks ago, he put a jar of pickled pig feet in the cart, and I didn’t see it until we were checking out.

I’m fourth in line now, and the lady three spots ahead has an overflowing cart. Pretty sure she could feed a small country with all of that.

The two spots ahead of me are occupied with two little old ladies in knit shawls and matching white perms cut short. One lady wears coordinating turquoise earrings and rings, and the other’s lips are slicked in a blinding shade of raspberry.

They’re mostly laughing, whispering here and there. After a minute, their expressions sober. I’m guessing their conversation took a more serious turn.

“It’s so sad, Betty,” Raspberry Lips says, placing her hand on her friend’s arm. “All those people, their retirements . . . poof. Gone.”

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