Outside Charlottesville, Virginia
Camden Taylor coughed, choking on the black smoke roiling around him. Fire that only moments ago was licking at the cabin’s ceiling had now engulfed it, and the exposed beams above him crackled as they were consumed.
His heart raced, its beats pounding in his ears as he tried to calm himself and think. Time was running out. If the kidnapped boy his task force was searching for was being held here, he was probably in one of the bedrooms in the back of the house. The mountain cabin was small, so they were surely only a few feet away, but the smoke was so thick that Camden couldn’t see past his own hand, which was outstretched as he tried to feel his way through the living room.
Overhead, something snapped. His head whipped up just as the beam overhead collapsed on top of him, pinning him to the floor. Dazed from the blow, he lay facedown on the floor and shook his head as he tried to take a breath, and pushed back his panic when his lungs wouldn’t inflate. Heat scorched his face, and as flames licked at his back, he thrashed, trying to free himself from the crushing weight on his back so he could breathe.
His teammate’s hazy form came into focus as he stepped through the thick, rolling smoke. Grayson lifted the beam a few inches, allowing Camden to scramble out from underneath. He struggled to his feet, his lungs heaving with relief until Grayson shouted at him.
“Your back’s on fire!”
Camden’s federal academy training kicked in and he dropped to the floor, rolling back and forth to extinguish the flames as he yelled, “Try the bedrooms!”
Grayson nodded and disappeared into the smoke. A moment later, he hurried back to Camden’s side, his eyes bleak beneath the black Phoenix Task Force cap pulled low over his brow.
“He’s gone. Caleb didn’t make it.”
No! Gritting his teeth as he tried to ignore the pain searing his back, Camden took Grayson’s offered hand and stood up, using the momentum to stumble in the direction of the bedrooms.
Grayson coughed hard and moved to block his path. “He’s gone, Cam. And we need to get out of here!” When Camden shook his head and tried again to push forward, Grayson gripped his arm. “I’ll knock you out if I have to!”
As they staggered out of the blazing cabin into the bitter winter air, three SUVs emblazoned with the Phoenix logo screeched to a halt on the dirt road out front, blue lights flashing, with a couple of fire trucks and an ambulance in their wake. A few neighbors congregated in a small group in the yard of the cabin across the road, whispering amongst themselves as the leaden sky began to spit snow. Camden wondered which of them had made the call that had led to this raid, and wished they’d called just an hour earlier.
Camden’s eyes burned from the smoke as well as the emotion, and he pressed the heel of his hands against them as Grayson led him toward the ambulance that had just pulled up. He looked back at the house, now a roaring inferno, the acrid bite of smoke in his mouth and throat not nearly as bitter as the taste of failure.
A year later
Newburgh, New York
Autumn Mason sucked in a breath and dropped her gaze as Butch Cobb backed her into the wall, crowding her and using his size and bulk to intimidate her. When he pressed until they were practically nose to nose, she risked a glance upward. The rage in his eyes had eased, but not by much.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
It wouldn’t be unusual for Butch to raise a hand to her; he’d done so more than once. Despite what had happened outside, it was something she hoped to avoid.
Not fifteen minutes before, she’d checked on the chicken roasting in the oven before bundling up against the February chill to walk down the long gravel driveway to pick up the day’s mail. Butch normally picked it up on his way in, but she’d been a little antsy and had wanted a walk.
Along the way, she’d stopped to pet a barn cat that had trailed behind her, and had lost track of time. The cat had purred loudly at the attention, and she’d enjoyed playing with him for a few moments. Butch wouldn’t allow her to have a pet, so she pretended for a moment that the cat was hers, amused as it batted at her hand, wanting to lick at her fingers.
“You smell the chicken, don’t you?” she’d said with a laugh.
Their mail carrier pulled up just as she reached the mailbox. The balding, middle-aged gentleman had smiled and lifted a hand in greeting.
“How’re you doing, young lady?”
Autumn had ducked her head, knowing Butch wouldn’t be happy if he saw her talking to the man, despite the fact that the mailman was old enough to be her father. Muttering a quick hello, she’d reached out to accept the bundle of mail just as Butch had roared into the driveway on his bike. Her heart pounding, she had quickly said good-bye to the mailman and hurried back to the house, hugging the bundle of mail to her chest.
As she’d reached Butch, his eyes had narrowed into slits. He’d shut off his bike and slipped off of it. With a baleful glance in the direction of the mail truck puttering down the road, he’d taken her arm and steered her roughly inside.
When they’d entered the kitchen, smoke had been billowing from the oven, and her heart had begun racing. The chicken she’d been roasting for their dinner was burning. Butch’s grip had tightened painfully on her arm before he’d whirled her around and pushed her against the wall.
Now Autumn gazed up at a face that was far too menacing to be handsome. Ignoring her roiling stomach, she struggled to keep her tone calm but not pleading as she said, “It’s not ruined. I can fix it.”
She hated the man, hated how he controlled her every move, much like her father had done as she was growing up. Over the years she’d learned how to control her expressions, knowing it was dangerous to reveal any anger. The smart thing to do was keep her head low and get along. Otherwise she’d be “corrected” or worse, knocked to the floor and kicked repeatedly. After all, it wouldn’t do to let people see her bruises.
A muscle in his jaw twitched as he glared at her for another beat before releasing her arm. Holding in a sigh of relief, Autumn ducked away from him and set down the mail on the counter and put away her coat before she headed for the oven.
By the time she and Butch sat down to eat, he seemed calmer. Dinner was quiet as he hunched over his plate, shoveling food into his mouth without speaking. Autumn was grateful for the silence. She’d take ambivalence over anger any day.
From beneath lowered lashes, she studied him as she ate. His wavy dark hair couldn’t be considered long, but it wasn’t short either. He had strong, symmetrical features enhanced by a clean-shaven square jaw and intense blue eyes. Butch was popular with his motorcycle club’s women, not just for his status as president, but for his looks. For Autumn, though, fear of his temper and his rough treatment of her destroyed any attraction she might have ever felt for him.
Butch swallowed the last of his meal and pushed back from the table without a word. Seconds after he walked into the living room and switched on the TV, sounds of a basketball game filled the house.
Autumn stood to clear their plates, noting the leather “cut” he’d draped on the back of a chair when he got home. The vest was adorned with various patches that signified Butch’s club, his road name, and his accomplishments.
She’d known nothing about motorcycle clubs when she first came to live with Butch, when she was seventeen and he was thirty-four. Five long years later, she knew more than she cared to about the outlaw motorcycle club world. The Wicked Disciples were a far cry from the mainstream motorcycle clubs whose members—usually average, everyday people—merely enjoyed riding motorcycles. No, MCs like the Wicked Disciples focused on business, the type of business that skated below the law.
Her gaze raked over the cut, familiar with the emblems sewn on it. The patch with the number twenty-two meant Butch had spent time in jail. Although she’d never gotten the full story, one of the brothers had let it slip that Butch had once assaulted a police officer.
But it was the patch with the number thirteen that always bumped up her heart rate. The number stood for the thirteenth letter of the alphabet, M, which could signify a number of things, including marijuana or meth, and murder.
There was no teardrop accompanying the letter, which would have been a sure sign that the patch signified murder. But in her heart of hearts, Autumn knew that’s what it was.
Over the years, she’d tried not to pay attention to what Butch did for a living, but she still heard bits and pieces. The Wicked Disciples motorcycle club sold drugs, heroin specifically. And as the president of the Newburgh chapter, Butch was in the center of the ring.
When his club had first started dealing heroin, Butch had ranted about a rival dealer, angry that Paxton had cut into his profits. Then not long ago, Butch had gone away one weekend. When he returned, he never again spoke the man’s name.
Autumn squeezed her eyes shut as she let out a slow breath. It wasn’t as if she could ask Butch if he’d killed Paxton. And calling the police was definitely out of the question. If she did, Butch would kill her. It was best to just get her mind off of it, but the thoughts continued to nag at her as she cleared the table and washed the dishes.
As she was putting the last of the plates in the cabinet, the basketball game ended with howls of delight from the home team’s fans. Butch muttered something under his breath and snapped off the television.
Knowing what was expected, Autumn hurried over to him and sat on his lap, straddling his legs as his large hands pushed her skirt up her thighs before squeezing her breasts. He unzipped his jeans, pushed her panties aside, and entered her roughly. Biting her lip to hold back a whimper of pain, she gripped his arms to maintain her balance and shut her eyes as he began thrusting.
Minutes later, he finished and pushed her aside.
“I’m going to take a shower.” Without another glance at her, he tugged his pants up before heading down the hallway.
Holding her breath, Autumn watched him walk away, unwilling to release it until the bathroom door slammed shut.
Over the years, she’d found the best way to deal with Butch was to do exactly what he wanted, when he wanted it. And that tactic worked—most of the time, anyway. Sure, he knocked her around from time to time, but in their world, it was to be expected.
Did she want more from her life? Of course she did. But Autumn had quickly learned that her options were limited. This would have to be enough.
If she ran away, Butch would find her. Not because he loved her, but because he considered her his property. And even if she did make her escape and could find a way to support herself, with no education and no skills, it would do her no good.
Butch Cobb had ties to a lot of people. He’d find her.
And he’d kill her.
Camden Taylor paced the floor, holding the phone to his ear as his boss filled him in.
“I could really use your help on this one,” Eli Sesay said. “It’s a very potent form of heroin they’re dealing. Did you notice those drug deaths in the news?”
“Based on information a street dealer provided, we think the deaths are related to a ring run by the Wicked Disciples. We need to find out where the drug is being produced and put a stop to the operation before anyone else dies.”
Camden gripped the phone as his boss, the director of Phoenix Task Force, continued to list more reasons why Camden was perfect for this undercover assignment. Although not a black ops unit, their team was largely unknown to the public and came under the purview of the Justice Department. Typically operating undercover, they assisted the FBI, DEA, and local law enforcement agencies across the country with particularly difficult cases, usually those involving kidnappings or narcotics.
Tension built in his shoulders. He rolled his head on his neck as he listened, knowing where the conversation was going.
“The chapter is right there in Pennsylvania, not far from you, and you know bikes better than anyone on the team.”
And there it was . . . the plea for him to return to work after nearly a year’s leave.
The burns he’d sustained in the rescue attempt had healed faster than anticipated, so it wasn’t his injuries that prevented him from rejoining the team . . . it was being responsible for another person’s life. The nightmares about Caleb still haunted him, as did the promise he’d made the boy’s mother that he’d bring him back alive. And Camden had other commitments now, projects for a software development business he’d established to help pay the bills until he decided whether to go back to the task force.
“Listen, Eli, I’m busy with my other work, so I—”
“Shouldn’t you take one more assignment before deciding whether to make your leave permanent?” When he didn’t answer, his boss lowered his voice. “You can’t let that last job make the determination for you, son. We all feel terrible about what happened to the boy, but it wasn’t your fault.”
Camden closed his eyes. “Can you give me some time to think about it?”
“I can give you until Monday.”
He sighed. “All right. I’ll let you know by Monday.”
Frustrated, he set aside his phone and gazed unseeingly out the window over the kitchen sink. If he took this assignment, there was no telling how long it would take. The director had estimated several months, but assignments always took longer than expected. He knew that from experience.
It took time to infiltrate an organization, time to gain trust. And despite what Eli had said, Camden wasn’t sure he was right for this—or any—assignment.
Turning from the window, he took a look around his grandmother’s kitchen. There was still a list of projects as long as his arm that he needed to complete on this place, repairs and maintenance that had been neglected since she’d died last year. Whether he sold the house or continued living there, those projects needed to get done.
Speaking of which . . .
He looked outside. There was still no sign of the storm that was expected that day. He could put off his coding work until the afternoon and finally get some of the dead leaves raked up. The yard had been neglected for much too long, and with no snow on the ground, this was a good time to see to it.
• • •
After Camden finished raking leaves and picking up dead branches, he headed to the kitchen for a cold beer. Just as he’d tipped it back, his cell phone buzzed on the kitchen counter. He smiled when the name Grayson Matthews flashed on the screen.
When he answered the call, his best friend dived right into the conversation without even a hello.
“Heard you talked to the boss this morning,” Grayson said.
“And are you going to take the job?”
“I’m not sure. I told him I needed some time to think about it.”
“How long did he give you?”
Grayson chuckled on the other end of the line. “It’s too bad the assignment’s not in DC. Then you could come home for a while. The place has been pretty quiet since you left for Pennsylvania. No one to watch the games with, no one to drink with, no one to carpool to work with . . .”
Camden laughed. “You’ll survive. Besides, it’s a good thing I’m here. This place needs a ton of work.”
He shrugged off his jacket and leaned back against the counter, sobering at the thought of the woman who’d been as instrumental in his life as his parents had been. His grandmother had left him this house in her will, wanting to help him get established.
“Gran wasn’t able to do much the last year or so before she died. I really wish I could have come up to Shavertown more often, for more reasons than one.”
“Your grandmother knew how busy we were in DC with the task force. I think she understood.” Changing the subject, Grayson asked, “How’s the software project going?”
“Maybe it’s a sign you should take the assignment.”
“I’m signed up for another project after this one.”
“Can’t you get out of it?”
Camden didn’t immediately answer. The thing was, he could refer it someone else. And a part of him did want to take this assignment. But what if it resulted in the same kind of tragedy as the last one?
It was hard to see past the grief and guilt Caleb’s death had created. The boy had been only sixteen when he’d died. The kidnappers had never planned to release him. Once they’d confirmed the ransom had been wired, they’d shot the boy and set the cabin they’d been holding him in on fire to destroy evidence. Despite the director and Gray telling him differently, the boy’s death had been preventable. If only they’d found him sooner . . .
“Someday you’re going to realize there was nothing you could have done.”
Camden sighed. Maybe Eli and Grayson were right. Maybe he did need to get back in the field again before making a decision about his career.
He cleared his throat. “I’m going to take a little more time to think about it. I’ll let you know as soon as I decide.”
Once he’d hung up with Grayson, Camden logged on to his laptop to check his e-mails, grateful that he’d decided to minor in computer programming in college while getting his degree in criminal justice. Months ago, he’d put up a profile on a site that connected businesses with software developers. Several days later, he’d been awarded his first project. And since then, the work had come fast and steady.
Granted, software development wasn’t as exciting as being undercover, but it was still meaningful. For one assignment, he’d created a system to track a company’s travel expenses. For another, he’d improved the way his client’s insurance claims were reported. Both companies had offered him additional work, which provided him an opportunity to make a significant career change.
Making a customer’s vision come to life had its rewards. And it didn’t hurt that no lives were put in danger in the process.
Lame excuse, man. Grayson’s voice sounded inside his head, but Camden forced his thoughts back to his work.
Although Camden didn’t regret the decision to take the assignment, anticipation still made him jittery. A week after he’d accepted the assignment, he bounced one foot nervously as the van he rode in pulled through the gates of Edgewater Correctional Facility, north of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and not far from the New York border.
Shifting forward in his seat, he took a good look at the huge concrete structure looming ahead. In an effort to make this transport look as real as possible, Camden sat cuffed hand and foot, wearing a green jumpsuit like any other inmate. Eli was beside him, his nearly ebony skin contrasting against the light gray of a prison guard’s uniform.
Although Camden had never given much thought to what went on inside a prison, he had thought of little else since he’d agreed to take this assignment a week ago. How easy would it be to gain the trust of Colton Phillips, aka Slider, a member of the Wicked Disciples?
When the van stopped in front of the building, Eli gave Camden a nod. The driver opened the van door and Eli helped Camden down the steps.
Legs shackled, he began the slow trudge up the walkway to the prison’s intake entrance, trying not to shiver in the chilly air. For the next few weeks he would be known as Cameron Shea, which was the name listed on the dummied-up transfer papers Eli had prepared for the operation, and was now carrying inside a large envelope tucked under his arm.
A few minutes later, he and Eli were seated in the visitors’ chairs in the warden’s office.
Edgewater’s warden, a rail-thin middle-aged man named Silas Frake, glanced through the papers before he leaned back in his chair. “We’ve never had a request like this before.”
“It’s new for us too,” Eli said.
Frake narrowed his gaze on Camden. “Let me make sure I have everything straight. You’re trying to establish a relationship with Phillips?”
Camden nodded. “That’s right. He’s a member of the motorcycle club I’m trying to infiltrate.”
“And you’re estimating being here for three weeks?”
Hopefully it would be enough time. He’d have his work cut out for him trying to gain Phillips’s trust in that short time frame. The goal was to walk out of here with an “in” to the club.
“What can I do to help?” the warden asked.
“I’d like to be put on the same job detail as Phillips.”
Frake turned toward his computer. As a tropical screensaver disappeared, a primitive-looking DOS-based system came onto the screen, and he put on his reading glasses before pecking at a few keys.
“Phillips is working in the gym. I’ll assign you there too.”
Eli nodded. “We’ll need a signal Camden can use with the guards.”
The three men came up with a plan where Camden would run a hand through his hair and bring it to a rest on the back of his head if he needed to be brought in to see the warden.
“I’ll make sure your yard schedule matches Phillips’s.” The warden finished typing and then asked, “Do you want an overview of the prison?”
He brought a map out of a drawer, laid it across his desk, and pointed out the different areas of the prison.
Camden took one last look at the map before shaking his head. “No.”
“I’ll cover everything with my guards, then. They’ll all be aware of you and that signal.”
“We appreciate it,” Eli said, and pushed up from his seat.
Camden and the director shook hands with the warden. A prison guard escorted Eli and Camden to a processing area, where he had to part ways with the director.
“Make sure you don’t go cutting your hair in here,” Eli said.
“That wouldn’t do much for the biker look, would it?”
“No. Good thing it’s on the long side already.”
Camden raised a hand to hair that now reached the bottom of his collar. “I’ve been so focused on my software projects that I haven’t had a chance to get it cut.”
His boss nodded. “Don’t shave either, if you can help it. And don’t let anyone get to you. Given your size, though, the inmates should know better than to mess with you.”
Like most of his teammates, Camden stood at just over six feet tall. The regular workouts he and Grayson had stuck with since college had turned what was once boyhood scrawniness into rippling muscles.
Eli said good-bye to Camden and headed for the exit.
On his own now, Camden steeled himself as he changed from the green jumpsuit into the orange one worn by Edgewater’s inmates. He put on his game face as the guard handed him a set of sheets.
“Follow me. I’ll show you where your cell is.”
Camden and the guard were buzzed through two security doors before entering the west cell block. As they walked down a long corridor, Camden’s nose was assaulted with the stench of human waste. He did his best to ignore it.
The guard stopped in front of an open cell and gestured with his hand. “This is you. Yard time is ending, so your cell mate should be back soon.”
Stepping into the cell only made the smell worse. Camden set his sheets onto the empty bottom bunk after the guard walked off. Then he turned around and studied the tight space.
Even with the door open, the cell felt confined. Reminding himself he didn’t suffer from claustrophobia, he paced the narrow walkway between the bunk beds and the wall. If it felt tight now, how would it feel with another man inside and the cell door closed?
His gaze went to the small metal sink attached to the wall. A matching metal toilet sat beside it. The lack of privacy wasn’t something he was looking forward to either.
Get your mind on something else.
Camden looked up to his cell mate’s bunk. With the exception of a picture of a middle-aged couple taped on the wall above the mattress, his roommate didn’t seem big on personal effects. Maybe he hadn’t been there long.
Camden turned around to a man about his own age, twenty-eight, well-built with close-cropped brown hair a little long on the top. Closing the short distance between them, Camden stuck out a hand.
“I’m Cameron. Cam.”
The man frowned down at Camden’s hand for a moment before accepting it. “Brian.”
“How long have you been here?” Camden asked.
“Too long,” Brian muttered. “How about you? Just got convicted?”
“No. I was transferred from Fayette. Something about overcrowding.”
“What are you in for?”
Camden folded his arms across his chest. “It’s drug related. You?”
Brian scoffed. “You haven’t heard? You’re bunking with a murderer.” When Camden didn’t respond, Brian added, “I’m innocent, though.”
“You are?” Camden schooled his features, not wanting to reveal his doubts. Every convict claimed he was innocent. Why should Brian be any different?
“You doing anything about that?”
“Been writing nonstop to innocence projects.”
“Only one. They don’t take a case unless there’s new evidence, clothing or something else that can be tested for DNA.”
“Do you have that?”
“Shit, man, I was framed. The evidence they have already belongs to me.”
Camden frowned. “You were framed?”
“I don’t expect you to believe me.”
Holding up his hands in mock surrender, Camden kept his tone light. “It doesn’t matter what I believe.”
“You got that right.” Brian climbed onto his bunk, effectively ending the conversation.
Camden gazed at him for a few seconds before taking a seat on his own mattress, thin and lumpy, and . . . What the hell are these stains?
Whether his cell mate was innocent or not, he wasn’t the friendliest person Camden had ever met.
It’s going to be a long few weeks in here.
Newburgh, New York
“You never talk.”
The bite of toast Autumn had just taken lodged inside her throat. She swallowed hard against it. “What?”
Butch had finished his omelet and was now staring at her. “You never say anything.”
She studied him. His voice was level and he didn’t appear angry, but what in the world was this? The eggs she’d eaten churned inside her stomach.
“Do you want me to talk?”
“Definitely,” he said with a smirk. “I want to hear all those intelligent things you have to say.”
Autumn blinked. He was making fun of her; that’s what this was. Why, she had no idea, but it didn’t take much for Butch. He was probably bored. Unfortunately, today was a Saturday, so he’d be around most of the day.
Ignoring the needling, she stood to pick up their breakfast plates. “I saw a pot roast recipe I’d like to try. Do you think we can make it to the store today?”
“Not if you’re just going to burn it like you did the chicken last week.”
Autumn bristled but somehow managed to hold his gaze. “I won’t burn anything.” Despite her fear of him, keeping her voice level when he was provoking her was a challenge. “I’ll just get dressed.”
As she started away from the table, Butch grabbed her arm and yanked her back in front of him. Her heart raced as his lip turned up into a sneer.
“See that you don’t. I was nice to you about it the last time.”
“Right,” she whispered.
His gaze lingered on her hair and she held her breath. Was he going to order her to bleach it out again? The platinum bleach job he’d insisted on last year had finally grown out and her hair was back to its normal honey-colored shade of blond. In her opinion, her hair had looked trashy bleached. It wasn’t something she wished to return to.
Butch didn’t make any further demands. He let her go and she made her way down the hallway. Her heart was still pounding against her rib cage as she stepped inside the bathroom and turned on the shower.
As she waited for the water to warm, her thoughts drifted to her older brother as they often did when she had a quiet moment alone. Five years later and she still couldn’t believe Wade had left her with Butch. She’d been stunned the day he’d brought her to a club in Chicago, introduced her to Butch, handed over her bag, and walked back to his bike.
She’d never even met Butch before, had no idea he was one of Wade’s friends. She wasn’t even sure what his real first name was, just knew that his road name, his nickname at the club, was “Butch.”
Before her brother had ridden away, she’d begged him to tell her what was going on. All Wade had said was that he wasn’t going to be able to take care of her any longer, and that Butch would be helping her instead.
One look at Butch’s leering face after Wade had roared off told her all she’d needed to know. Despite her shock and confusion, the hunger in his eyes had registered. She might have only been seventeen at the time—and a virgin—but it had quickly become clear what he expected in exchange for a roof over her head and food in her belly.
Shuddering, she remembered their first night together. Butch had groped her until he’d finally taken her virginity. She’d cried herself to sleep. The next day, Butch put her on the back of his bike and headed for Newburgh.
Throughout those first days, she’d constantly asked him about Wade, but Butch had ignored her until he finally told her to forget him. A few days later when she’d mentioned Wade again, Butch had become enraged. He’d slapped her hard and told her she’d better shut up about him. Autumn had slumped against a wall, clutching her bruised cheek. She’d never again spoken her brother’s name.
She had, however, tried to contact Wade. One day when Butch was out, she’d taken the risk of calling. Trying not to think of what would happen when Butch saw the phone bill, she’d quickly dialed their old apartment’s phone number, but the number had been disconnected. Because of their financial troubles, Wade had never owned a cell phone, so he couldn’t be reached that way either.
All these years later, the betrayal and disappointment still hurt, but Autumn had never given up hope that her brother might return for her, might help her escape from Butch. He’d left her at the club in Chicago, so he didn’t know where Butch lived, but he could have asked someone, could have tracked her down.
A year after she was left with Butch, he decided to move to another house. He’d said he’d wanted something bigger and this property was large, with an old barn he used to store and work on his bikes.
Maybe in the years since, Wade had gone to Butch’s old address to try to find her. But he had never made it here.
• • •
When Autumn and Butch returned from their shopping trip, she unpacked some cans and went into the garage to put them away.
While trying to place them on the top of the garage’s storage shelf, she lost her balance. She was able to right herself, but her motions toppled the already unstable shelf, sending its contents crashing to the floor.
Butch burst into the garage, scowling. “What the hell is going on?”
“The shelf fell.”
In a huff, he pushed past her. “Can’t you do anything without fucking it up?”
Autumn stiffened when he muttered the word stupid under his breath. Butch was a miserable person, and she should know better than to let what he said affect her. But the word still stung. Maybe it was because he hadn’t completely missed the mark.
He looked over his shoulder as he took hold of the shelf. “Well?”
Her stomach contracted painfully. There was only one thing she could say at this point. “I’m sorry.”
Hopefully that would be the end of his rant. It wasn’t. Autumn’s head began to pound as he continued.
“You’re sorry,” he mimicked. He cursed her as he turned back to the shelf, found the support peg that had fallen, and set it back into place.
It was exactly what she’d been about to do, but she wasn’t about to say that to Butch. You didn’t stand up to Butch Cobb.
Not unless you actually were stupid.