That vein in his neck flexed as he stopped an arm’s length away. He blew out a breath. “I’m really over this tough girl act, Teagan. It doesn’t suit you.”
“I did everything you asked,” I said.
He furrowed his brow.
“The threats?” I pushed. “Pulling that block to intentionally hurt Roman—your own fucking teammate?” I shook my head. “I did what you said. I left him. I’ve stayed away. That means you don’t hurt him, and it means you leave me the hell alone.”
Rick chuckled. “Leaving you alone was never part of the agreement.” He nudged the box toward me. “This is a gift for doing what you’re told.”
I glared at him, rage sizzling beneath my skin. “These are my personal belongings,” I snapped. “Not a gift.”
“Why is this junk so damn important?” He asked, and I tried not to smile at the edge to his tone. Good, he was getting closer to showing the monster behind the mask.
I flipped the lid off the box, digging past notes and concert-ticket stubs until my fingers grazed a thin string of metal. I pulled out the necklace, biting back a cry at the sight of the tarnished old locket.
“That?” Rick asked. “That was more important than any of the jewelry I gave you?”
I unclasped the locket and secured it around my neck. “I’ve had this since I was ten years old,” I said, sighing as the old locket settled against the center of my chest. I flicked it open, sparing only a glance at the picture inside—Roman when he was ten, smiling that goofy grin that always made me laugh.
Rick’s eyes narrowed, but he only tilted his head.
“Roman,” I explained. “He gave it to me when we were kids because I was having nightmares.” I held up the locket. “I slept in this, and the monsters disappeared,” I said, allowing all my love for the man to swirl around the story. I fingered the piece on my chest, grinning up at Rick. “No piece of jewelry has ever meant more to me.”
“It’s worthless,” Rick snapped.
“It’s not,” I said, shifting my feet as he came closer. “It represents a life-long friendship. A timeless love.”
Rick’s jaw ticked as he stopped an inch away from me now. I held my ground despite the panic clawing at my heart. He was in the perfect position now, nothing to hide.
God, I hoped Roman had picked up when I’d dialed.
I hoped he could hear this.
Hoped he’d get the cops.
Well, fuck. Maybe this plan wasn’t as brilliant as I thought, but at least the truth would be out.
“That shit doesn’t matter,” he seethed. “And that piece of crap isn’t worth the gas money it took me to get here.”
“It’s worth more than anything you could ever buy,” I snapped, noting the fire in his eyes. The anger churning and boiling near the surface. It wouldn’t be long now.
“Because he is worth more,” I continued, knowing I was pushing him. Provoking him to show that monster, the one he’d kept behind closed doors and used to control me.
Not-so-fun side effect of being front row and center to the man behind the mask, I knew how to avoid a blow-up just as well as I knew how to incite one. I’d never had reason to before now.
“Don’t,” he warned, his fists curled at his sides as he towered over me.
I merely lifted my chin. “Roman is more of a man than you’ll ever be.”
I felt the crack of pain before I saw him move—a slice of heat across my left cheek that felt like the tip of a whip had split the skin.
“That’s one,” Rick spat, his hand still raised from the swing.
I cupped my cheek, my head zinging from the pain of the hit I’d intentionally not blocked. And I could’ve, now, thanks to Drew. Thanks to the personal lessons I’d continued to take even after I’d been forced to leave Roman. But tonight wasn’t about handing Rick his ass, even though I sure as fuck wanted to.
“Trust me when I say you won’t get another,” he continued.
My muscles trembled, but I knew how strong I was. I could survive this and in the end? The world would know the real Rick Baker.
“Coward,” I hissed, dropping my hand to reveal the blood I felt trickling down my skin. “You feel like a big man now? Hitting me?” I trailed my eyes below his waist and back up again, my lips a sneer. “Hitting me won’t lengthen your dick, you know?”
His eyes flared, his hands on my throat in an instant.
Fuck, why was it always the throat?
The strength in his hands was enough to draw a yelp from my lips as he squeezed. “Stupid, stupid girl,” he said, his spit spraying my face as his body shook with anger. “You’ll learn to keep your mouth shut, Teagan.” He nodded, tightening his grip for emphasis. “And you’ll remember what it’s like to love me. You’ll behave. You’ll be everything you were in the beginning. Everything you were supposed to be.”