The Runaway (Barrett Boys #1) - Jordan Ford


Spiking Memories

I can’t do this anymore.

This life.

It’s not right.

“Ah! Please!” Jena begs, spittle lining her lips, mingling with the tears streaming from her eyes. “I’m just a little late. I’ll get the money, I promise. Please, Marlo. Please.”

Luis hits her again, his black eyes no doubt glinting with pleasure. The sound of knuckles pummeling flesh makes me flinch.

I look away from the woman who’s cowering on the ground before Luis, and our boss—Marlo Sloan.

He’s a big man. An offensive lineman type with beefy fists and a tree-trunk neck. His jet-black hair is shaved to nearly nonexistent. I’m guessing it’s to hide the spreading gray, but I wouldn’t dare say it to him. He’s always in a black suit no matter the weather or the occasion. He likes to think of himself as the kingpin of these grimy streets and garbage-smelling alleys.

Scratching the Viking tattoo on his neck, Sloan swipes a finger under his nose and sniffs. “You promised me that money last month. I did you a favor. I helped you out when you needed it, and now it’s time to pay up.”

“I don’t have the money on me right now.” She whimpers and starts crying into the back of her hand.

I stare down at her, seeing someone else—a small, skinny woman with mouse brown hair and large gray eyes. She used to whimper just the same. Plead with my old man to calm down between hits. It never worked. He was a rage monster, and she’d dive between me and my brothers when she could.

As Luis raises his fist again, I’m transported back to our small, three-bedroom house in Florida. The paper-thin walls, the roaches in the bathroom sink, the lumpy mattress I used to share with Deeks and Cooper.

It didn’t used to be that way. But Dad lost his job after a head injury at work. It took him months to recover, and then he couldn’t find another job.

His solution?

Let’s welcome Jack Daniels into the family.

Things were never the same again. He always had a little asshole in him, but Jack awakened the beast.

Mom tried to protect us, but I’d still crawl into bed with belt marks on my back while she sat curled on the floor, dabbing blood off her swollen lips.

And now I’m seeing it again. Watching a woman who looks scarily like my mother getting pelted for not paying back a debt in time. Part of me wants to step in and stop this, but I can’t. I’m nobody on Sloan’s crew.

I’m a twenty-year-old lackey who does what he’s told without question.

How the hell did I end up here?

Memories of a ranch in Montana flitter through the back of my brain. I shut them off. I can’t go there. Remembering only leads to pain.

This is my life now.

I’m Michael Adams.

Jena whimpers again, sucking in a sob and wailing when Luis yanks her head back so Sloan can bend down and spit in her face, “Three days, Jena. You better have that money, or Luis won’t be so kind next time.”

The fear on Jena’s face is so stark I can taste it. I know that fear. I’ve lived it.

I don’t want to be Michael Adams anymore.

I want to be a Barrett again.

It was a name I wore with pride for the best years of my life. A name I don’t currently deserve.

What kind of asshole stands there not doing anything to help a bleeding woman?

I turn away from the sight of blood trickling out of Jena’s mouth, clenching my jaw against the bile burning my throat.

“Let’s go.” Sloan flicks his head at me, and I follow my boss to the SUV parked at the end of the alley.

Unable to help myself, I glance over my shoulder and spot Jena. She’s still on the ground, dabbing her lip just the way Mom used to.

A vile taste fills my mouth. Slipping behind the wheel, I drive my boss back to the warehouse on the northern outskirts of Dallas. He likes to call it headquarters, like it’s some top-secret spy base, but really it’s just a storage warehouse that he uses as a front to launder money and peddle drugs.

“Stupid woman. Never take pity on ex-girlfriends,” Sloan mutters from the back seat, wiping his hands as though the act of watching someone get pummeled makes him dirty. Throwing the rag at Luis, he sniffs and looks out the window.

He usually doesn’t join his goons on a debt-collecting mission, but he dated Jena for nearly a year, which makes it personal.