Home > Tied (All Torn Up #2)(19)

Tied (All Torn Up #2)(19)
Author: Carian Cole

It makes me sick that a little stolen girl doesn’t seem to be getting that same kind of love.

Three weeks after the girl brought the dog back to me, I’m in my garage fabricating some new metal rings and belt buckles to sell at my brother’s bike shop when a whiff of vanilla and lavender tickles my senses.

I glance up from my work, my vision focusing on the gap where the side door is open a few inches, and there she is—walking toward the front door of my house with a paper bag in her hand and a backpack over her shoulder.

Squinting, I realize it’s the same backpack she had the day I found her.


When I don’t answer the door, her head turns, the wind blowing her long blond hair across her face. She scans the yard with a slightly worried look, notices the side door of the garage ajar, and heads this way.

“Shit,” I mutter, quickly untying my hair from its ponytail holder and letting it fall over the messed-up side of my face.

I’m wiping my dirty hands on my jeans just as she pokes her head around the door, and I wish I had closed it and locked it so she would have just gone away. Usually, I don’t have to worry about anyone springing an unwelcome visit on me, but this chick obviously hasn’t picked up on my anti-social rules yet.

She steps inside but stays right by the door, peering around at her surroundings. Her eyes flash with curiosity and a hint of fear as they rove over my massive collection of horror masks, which decorates one wall.

Finally, her eyes land on me. I suppose, compared to the masks, I might seem less scary. At least a little.

I hope.

“Hi.” Her shy, soft voice is so out of place in this space of dirt, noise, and horror. Like white lace being dragged through a puddle of sludge.

I say nothing.

“I hope you don’t mind…I bought some gifts for Poppy.” She holds up the paper bag as evidence. “For Christmas.”

I do mind. She’s not supposed to keep coming back here. Does she think I agreed to some kind of shared custody situation with the dog?

“I could never give him things before,” she continues. A strand of golden hair blown loose by the wind is stuck to her mouth, and I have an incredible urge to brush it away. “And…I was wondering, did you find him after he ran off…that day? Did my parents know you had him?”

I tear my eyes from the alluring and perfect heart shape of her lips and blink at her. She shouldn’t be here, with her bag of dog gifts, her expressive eyes, her perfume, and her pin-up girl lips. I can’t remember the last time a girl spoke to me like a regular person, without cringing or staring, and I don’t want or need reminders of the finer things in life I’m missing out on.

She’s looking at me today the same way she did the day I found her. Like she only sees me, not the ugly scars that are like a map imprinted on my flesh. It’s rattling. Back then, in the craziness of those moments, I didn’t attempt to cover my face or keep my head down like I usually do when I meet new people, and I’m surprised she didn’t scream when she saw me, going from one monster to another. But instead, she looked at me like I was some kind of hero or knight in shining armor. And the way she looked at me, a few weeks ago, when she brought the dog back reminded me of how the girls used to look at me in high school. I remember how they used to stare at me, smile, and giggle. All I had to do was flash my infamous smile at them, and they’d be blushing and slipping me their phone number. I reveled in the feeling of being wanted, accepted, and liked.

I steer my brain back to her question.

After the police let me go, I searched for her dog night and day—for a week, actually. Then one day he just strolled right into my yard. Much like she keeps doing. I fed and bathed him, took him to the vet that takes care of the dogs at the shelter to have him checked out, and hunted down Holly’s parents so I could return him. Instead of taking him from me as I stood in the dark on their doorstep, they sneered at me like I was yesterday’s trash, threw a few hundred dollars at me, and told me never to come back. They had no fucking idea how hard it was for me to go to their house and put myself in that position. To show up in the rich side of town in my old rusted truck, with my ripped jeans and dirty boots, scarred to hell, leaving myself wide open to judgment. So I shredded their cash, put it in a box with a fresh pile of the dog’s shit, and mailed it back to them.

Mature? No. Immensely satisfying? Hell fuckin’ yes.

She bites her bottom lip and looks down when I nod in response, sparing her the details of that day. “I thought so,” she mumbles softly then pushes the stray hair behind her ear. When her gaze rises again, there’s a glimmer of defiance and hope battling the disappointment. “Can I see him?” she asks. “Just for a few minutes?”

This girl is getting on my nerves because, seriously, how the hell can I say no? She’s a major block to my usual assholism.

I let out a sigh to let her know exactly how much she’s bothering me and push roughly by her through the doorway on the way to the house. She doesn’t follow me, so I let Poppy out, and he runs directly to her in my workshop like he already knew she was there with his doggy radar.

Ignoring her while she sits with the dog on my garage floor, I go back to my workbench, hoping she’ll just play with the dog for a few minutes and then leave so I can go back to my day in peace. She talks absently to the dog and occasionally to me, but I stay focused on my work, throwing her glances every now and then from behind the curtain of my hair, wondering when she’s going to figure out that I don’t do conversation.

“Is this what you do for work? You make this stuff?” she asks, pointing to the finished rings, bracelets, and belt buckles lined up on one of the workbenches.

I nod, not moving my hair out of my face, afraid she’ll finally come to her senses and see the ugliness that is me and run for the hills.

She stands and takes a closer look at the items. “I really like them. The skulls are a little scary, though.”

When I don’t respond, she resumes her one-sided conversation.

“Last week I started working part time at that frozen yogurt and ice cream place in town. It’s one of the few places close enough for me to walk to. It’s my first job, and even though it’s only two days a week, it’s kind of scary.” Her eyes squint a little like it hurts her to think about it, to have to feel it. “I guess I’m just not used to being around people yet. I love the bubble tea, though. I drink one every day when I walk back home after work. The lady that owns the shop lets me have one for free.”

My head snaps up. “What the fuck is bubble tea?”

She jumps at the sound of my voice, and I’m equally surprised because usually I have to force words out of my mouth. This time, they just slipped out without any effort. Her eyes twinkle. “Wow, is that really going to be the first thing you say to me?” she asks. I wait for her expression to change to one of disgust, fear, or nosy curiosity about the oddness of my voice, but it doesn’t. Instead, a smile crosses her lips, and now my ability to speak has been whisked away by how incredibly beautiful she is when her demons loosen their grip on her. When was the last time a woman genuinely smiled at me? Years.

“Bubble tea is a creamy, cold, sweet drink that has these little things called tapioca bubbles at the bottom of the cup, and you chew on them. They’re squishy. Some are different, and they pop. It’s one of the best things I’ve had since I…” Her voice trails off uneasily. “Since I got back home.”

Strange shit like bubble tea and lattes with fucked-up words for sizes make me believe hiding away is actually a good choice. What happened to root beer floats and a coffee with extra cream and sugar? And why the hell is she walking to and from town every day? If my memory’s right, that’s how she got kidnapped in the first place.

“Sounds weird,” I reply, but even stranger is how relaxed my throat muscles feel. The words are flowing out naturally, without effort, like they used to before my life went to hell.

“It is,” she agrees. “But it’s such a good weird.” A wistful look settles on her face as she stares off, thinking about her favorite drink. It’s sweet and sad, how something so simple makes her happy, and it almost makes me feel guilty for being drawn to such a bittersweet smile.

I give her ten more minutes, and then I light up a smoke and point to the door.

“What?” She looks back at the door behind her. “You want me to leave?”

I flick off the lights, and she practically runs outside with the dog at her heels, stopping a few feet away to turn back as I lock the door behind us. I didn’t mean to scare her, but at least it got her out.

“Okay.” Her voice is laced with disappointment. “I’ll go. Thank you for letting me see Poppy again.”

I chuckle a little. Before she started dropping by, I was calling him Buddy. I was close. I take a drag on my cigarette and whistle for the dog to follow me into the house. He hesitates halfway between us—looking from her to me, his loyalty torn—then runs back to her.

Little traitor.

She picks him up and carries him to me, her eyes brimming with tears as she places him gently in my arms like a baby, her perfume invading my personal space. She smells of everything soft, feminine, and delicious, but the dark mascara-stained tears tracking down her cheeks tell a far different story. Fuck. The allure of tainted beauty is not a delicacy I can indulge in. No matter how tempting it is.

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