Smoke on the Water Episode 26

Smoke on the water header

Chapter 26: Caroline

Terror chilled my skin despite the steaming bathwater. I was achingly aware of my vulnerability, naked, with no weapon and my only route of escape blocked by a man who’d made my life a misery.

I hadn’t been truly alone with him for years. Rios had seen to that.

Once, I’d put all my energy into being what he wanted. Tiptoeing around his temper, never doing anything that could set him off, because I was the one who looked most like our mother, and he hated her for leaving him. He’d used his fists on me to remind me of it often enough until Rios had gotten big enough to fight back.

I’d thought I was free. That I’d finally broken loose of his hold. But as my father watched me with glittering, hate-filled eyes, I understood that I’d only delayed the inevitable. That he was determined not to let me go. In the back of my brain, I’d known it had been too quiet. I’d known he’d accepted the situation without nearly enough fight. But I’d let myself fall into the fantasy that I could actually have this new life I was building with Hoyt. I’d deluded myself into believing he wasn’t a threat.

Now, I was going to pay for that foolishness.

But I’d be damned if I’d let him see my fear. “Get the fuck out of my house.”

Hector shook his head. “It’s not your house. You’re spreading your legs for that McNamara boy rather than taking the home I gave you. A whore, just like your mother.”

I hadn’t thought I could feel more naked than I already was, but at his words, I curled in on myself. Not out of shame for giving myself to Hoyt, but because everything about this was inappropriate. Hector had never sexually assaulted me, never shown any signs of crossing that line, but he was looking at me in a way that made my skin crawl.

Desperate to cover myself, I surged up and grabbed the robe I’d left on a chair, dragging it on. It was the only thing within reach. Why the hell had I tossed my phone away? I could see it on the rag rug in front of the sink, where it had landed. If I could manage to get to it, somehow dial 911…

Hector didn’t move, only shook his head. “I knew you were planning to leave. Ungrateful bitch. After everything I’ve done for you. A daughter should honor her father.”

At the outrageous declaration, I almost laughed. But I didn’t dare antagonize him further by pointing out all the ways in which he’d failed as a father.

“But no. You forced me to sneak around rather than obeying as you should. I tried to block you, but nothing worked. Foster didn’t can you for the fire. And that bastard McNamara apparently didn’t clue in that you were more trouble than you were worth. Guess you’re just that good a lay. I gave you one last chance, and you ignored it. So I’m done with you and your lack of respect. Your lack of gratitude.”

All the spit in my mouth dried up as he dragged his gaze over me. The wet robe was no real barrier to the perusal, but I clutched the lapels tight together over my breasts. This man had committed arson in the name of trying to get me back under his thumb. He’d tried to take out my means of income and the emotional support system I’d found in Hoyt.

Had he somehow been behind the tavern fire, too?

“What do you want?” I hated that my voice trembled, hated that he noticed.

“I want you to pay for leaving me, just like your mother did.”

The words struck me almost as hard as a physical blow. “What are you talking about?”

Mom had left him. Left all of us. She’d been so afraid of him, she hadn’t risked taking us with her when she ran. And she’d never looked back. Never even tried to contact us again.

His lips curved in a cruel, satisfied smile. “You didn’t think I actually let her make it off the island, did you?”

I was shaking now with more than fear, as all his terrible implications sank in. “What did you do?”

“I gave her a choice. She chose wrong, so she learned what you’re going to—No woman leaves me.”

“You killed Mom,” I whispered in horror. That was what he was saying. He’d murdered her rather than allow her to live a life without him.

Hector inclined his head. “It was pitifully easy. She was weak. And she thought she’d be able to sneak all of you away without my knowing?”

The emotional hits just kept on coming. Mom had intended to take us with her?

“I couldn’t allow her to do that. You’re my children. My family.”

In another man, the words might have felt good. To be claimed. Wanted. But this wasn’t that. This was some twisted form of possession. Not love.

“Where… where is she?”

He jerked a shoulder. “At the bottom of the Atlantic. Or maybe in the belly of a shark. It was kind of a letdown, really.”

A letdown. As if murdering his wife, the mother of his children, and disposing of her body in the ocean was akin to throwing back a fish that wasn’t up to standards.

His eyes hardened. “I had more interesting things planned for you, but you got lucky. Your little hero showed up and went running in after you. But he won’t be saving you this time. He and the police are all chasing their tails, thinking it was that rich white guy. I knew that lighter was going to come in handy.”

My father was behind the tavern fire. He was the one who’d shoved me into that closet and barred the way out. He’d already actively tried to kill me once, and now he was here, determined to finish the job. No way would he be running his mouth this freely if he intended for me to live.

Frantic, I scanned the room, desperate for anything I could use as a weapon. But there was nothing more dangerous than a half-full shampoo bottle to throw. Maybe I could somehow get him tangled in the shower curtain?

The ringing of my cell phone interrupted the weighted silence. Glancing toward the screen where it lay on the floor, I spotted Hoyt’s name.

If I could manage to answer it, let him know I was in trouble…

Fueled by desperate hope, I lunged. But my wet feet slid on the bathroom tile. I flailed, trying to regain my balance, even as Hector rushed me. Flinching away from him, I was already falling when he struck with a vicious backhand that set my cheek on fire and sent me careening back toward the tub.

Time seemed to slow down, stretched like taffy. I saw the edge of the tub, the floor, and knew I wouldn’t make it out of this alive. For a moment, grief overtook everything else. That I hadn’t escaped. That I wouldn’t have the chance to see if Hoyt really was The One. That I’d be leaving my siblings alone.

Then everything went black.