Rough and Ready (More Than A Cowboy Book 2) by Vanessa Vale


1





HARPER



“You owe me,” Cam snapped.

Hearing my brother’s voice made me shudder. Bile rose in my throat. He'd started calling me two weeks ago, prompting me to his release date. I hadn't needed any reminder. The date was etched in my brain, and every time I looked at the calendar, I saw it creep closer.

Owe him? Owe him money for what he did? My hand shook as I held my cell to my ear. It didn't surprise me that he'd found me. Again. Even after a new cell number. I was stupid to think that would have worked to keep him away.

“For what?” I asked, my voice shrill. I tried to sound calm because he thrived on making me upset. He'd use it, prey on it, just like he was preying on me, even from behind bars.

“All that money you have is because of me.”

I paced to the windows that overlooked the busy street. I’d just moved into the apartment, so there were only basic white blinds for privacy, but I kept them up to let in the weak December sunshine. With darkness falling fast and knowing Cam was out there, even in jail, I tugged at the cord, pulled one down. Then the next and next down the length of the wall until I couldn’t see out, until I was in my little cocoon where nothing could get me. Yeah, right. I wrapped my arm about my waist, suddenly cold. Alone.

“You gave me to two thugs in trade for erasing your gambling debts,” I countered, running a hand over my face, through my hair. I’d pulled it back this morning into a reasonably artful twist for work, but with one swipe of my palm, I’d messed it all up.

I didn't want to rehash what he'd done because he was well aware of it, but he didn't think it mattered. Antsy, I spun on my heel and went to an open moving box sitting on my desk. A plant was stacked haphazardly on top of a bunch of office supplies, and I set it down with a hard thunk on the bare surface. It needed water after sitting neglected for over a week.

“Yeah, and nothing happened to you except getting a fuck-ton of Mommy and Daddy's cash.”

Nothing happened? I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it. My palms were sweating, and a dull ache took up residence at the back of my head.

“They attacked me in an elevator.”

“They didn't rape you or anything.”

Rape was his baseline for whether something happened, and that made me sick. Everything about Cameron made me sick. As my older brother, he was supposed to be my protector, watching out for things like handsy boyfriends. He’d been a little shit since maybe the terrible twos and never grew out of it. We’d never once played together as kids, hadn’t even gone to the same prep school. We’d never bonded over video games or hours of sitting in the back seat on a road trip.

Instead, he considered me as more of a thing. A thing he'd given to two men. I'd escaped them physically unharmed, but they'd never been caught. The case was still open, and they were still out there. My brother wouldn't reveal their names, knowing he'd be dead if he snitched. I should've had Cam arrested, too, for his involvement, but no.

My parents had only thought of Cam and their reputation—which only enabled his drug-fueled habits. They'd forced me to keep quiet about his whole “sisterly sell-off,” and I had a huge stash of hush money in the bank as extra incentive to prove it.

I'd been too traumatized at the time to fight them. I would have given Cam up to the police once I stopped having constant nightmares and wasn’t too afraid to go outside, but he'd been dumb enough to be caught a few weeks later as a first time drug offender and went to jail anyway. All on his own. Nothing dear old Mom and Dad could do about that one.

“Leave me alone,” I said, my voice flat.

His upcoming release was the reason I'd moved. Again. He'd known where I’d lived, and with him getting out, I hadn't felt safe. Soon enough, he’d be able to show up with anyone. Anytime.

No, this place was safer than my old house closer to campus. I looked around. A modern, high-end building. Three floors, only three apartments with tight security. Not only did my landlord, Grayson Green—one of the most famous and successful MMA fighters—live on the top floor, but another guy who he trained had the unit across from mine on the second. On the ground floor, a whole gym full of guys who wouldn't hesitate to even the score for me. At least that was what my friend, Emory, had told me. I'd lived on the same block as her before she moved in with Gray, her fiancé.

“Leave you alone? Wire me the money, and I will,” Cam snapped. “And Harper—”