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73

Ransom leered, one side of his mouth curling up, then he licked his lips, making a loud smacking sound.

Even though he was across the room, I instinctively took a step back. He laughed a gurgling laugh and moved slowly toward me.

Get away from her, Charlie said. Or I will fucking kill you.

He sounded fairly tough, and I appreciated the effort. But Charlie didnt know how to fight. Oh, God, what should I do?

Ransom took another step, a low growl emanating from his throat.

I glanced at my mom. She wore an expression of terror. That expression, coupled with the trauma I knew shed suffered over the last twenty-four hours, made me violently angry. In that instant, I thought of what shed been through-hearing that her son was abducted, getting lured and being abducted herself, finding out that her first husband and the father of her kids had been alive all this time.

Thinking of all that, seeing her, made me put my hand on my hip and look at Ransom with a resigned expression. Lets do this somewhere else.

That stopped Ransom in his tracks. He frowned a little with confusion.

Lets go in another room. I made my voice sound like someone defeated.

Ransoms face brightened, but the dude wasnt stupid. He shook his head and kept moving toward me.

Im not kidding, I said, my face growing more stern. You want at me, Ill let you, but only if we go in another room. So lets go. I took a step toward him. Lets just go.

His eyes dodged to Charlie and then my mom to see if he could read their expressions, and I took that moment to do something, thinking, Please dont let this be the most stupid thing Ive ever done. Instead of walking slowly toward Ransom, I shot forward and dove at him. He must have been caught off guard, because he stumbled and fell backward, the two of us crumpling to the ground.

But then he was on top of me, easily pinning my arms. I could smell him-a stale, sweet sort of smell, as if something had rotted deep inside him. I struggled against him, but it was impossible. He raised his fist, and I knew he was going to hit me. Hard. I glued my eyes shut, but before I felt the punch I heard a crack of a gunshot.

Ransom jumped off me and spun around. He hadnt been hit.

But my mother-my mother!-was holding his gun. And then Charlie, maybe motivated by his female family members, charged at Ransom, and the two of them dropped to the ground.

The door banged open and my father rushed inside. His gray hair pushed every which way, his shirt was un-tucked and ripped, his eyes wild.

He paused for a minute, as if struck dumb by the sight of his son and Ransom tussling on the floor. Ransom was on his knees first, and he drew his fist back, ready to pound my brother, but before I knew it, my dad was at Ransoms side, throwing him off. Ransom managed to jump to his feet. He spun around, launching his arm in a swift arc toward my father, who dodged the punch so that it landed on his shoulder.

I grabbed Charlies arm and pulled him away as my dad stepped back toward Ransom, hitting the big guy with the base of his hand, ramming that hand up into Ransoms nose. Ransom reacted momentarily with one hand to his face, and my father took the moment to hit him in the eye with a left, then into his ribs with a right. Something snapped. It sounded like a tree splitting. Ransom grabbed at his ribs. My father jacked him in the side of the head and Ransom went limp, crumpling to the floor, his head lolling.

My father leaned over him, panting like an animal and snarling for more.

Christopher, my mother said, her voice sharp.

He turned and saw my mother standing there with a gun. And with that the fight drained out of him, as if another presence had inhabited him for a moment and was now quickly leaving.

He looked down at Ransom. Charlie, he said. Hold him down.

Charlie tentatively walked toward my father and Ransoms bulky, unmoving form.

Its okay, my dad said in a voice you might use when coaxing a child to pet a horse. Here you go. He took Charlies hands and guided him into a kneel. Put your forearm here. He positioned Charlies forearm over Ransoms throat. Now kneel on his chest in case he starts to move.

Charlie followed his instructions.

Good, good. My father slowly reached into Ransoms front jeans pocket and withdrew a pair of tiny keys, using them to unlock the cuff on his one hand. Okay, he said, letting the cuff fall to the floor, as if hed barely noticed.

Victoria, he said, standing. Do you want me to take that? He pointed toward the gun.

She looked down at it, unsure. Then she looked at me as if to say, Can we trust him? It was so sad, that look.

I nodded. Its okay, Mom. But here, let me take it.

She glanced again at the gun in her hands and held it out to me, but before I could reach it, I heard the sound of the door opening behind me and a voice saying my name.

Ee-sabel, it sounded like.

I turned. Had I heard that right?

Elena? my mom said.


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