Brighter Than the Sun Page 19

Without giving her the opportunity to get in the last dig, Sean turned and stalked away, Rusty glaring holes through his back the entire time. Joe almost chuckled and would have had it not likely resulted in him having his balls rearranged—he liked them just fine the way they were.

After Sean disappeared from sight, she turned to Joe, her head cocked to the side as her gaze probed him inquisitively.

“What’s up, Joe? Everything okay?”

And then she went pale and looked at her watch. “Shit! Shit, shit, shit! Fuck but that man makes me crazy. I can’t believe I left Zoe to fend for herself this long. I had no idea I’d been over here with the caveman for half an hour. God, she has to think I’m the worst friend in the world when I swore to her I wouldn’t leave her side the entire time.”

He put his hand on her arm before she took off running back to where everyone was milling around on the deck, eating, talking, reminiscing about old times and cracking jokes.

“Zoe’s fine, honey. I promise. I kept her company until Ma showed up to take over. No one is upset with you, and that includes Zoe.”

She fidgeted uneasily. “Still, she’s my responsibility and I should probably get back to her.”

Since all the Kelly brothers were blunt and Rusty had been around them long enough to adopt the same characteristics, he saw no reason to pussyfoot around the subject of Zoe forever when he wanted information and he wanted it now.

“What’s her damage?” he said, crossing his arms over his chest so Rusty would know just how serious he was and that he wasn’t in the mood for her to dodge his questions or pretend to misunderstand.

To her credit, she did none of those things. Her expression became troubled and she let out a long sigh, her eyes filling with sorrow. And anger.

“Look, Joe, I don’t know everything. I don’t even know a whole lot yet. I’m hoping that by bringing her here and making her feel comfortable and at home that she’ll eventually confide everything in me. What I do know is that she got burned. Bad. I’m not talking about a boyfriend breaking up with her and her needing time to lick her wounds and feel sorry for herself until anger kicks in and then she wants his balls served up on a platter.”

He had to force his jaw to relax because it was clenched so tightly that he worried he might break his teeth.

“What are you talking about then?” he asked in a dangerously soft voice.

She huffed out a breath. “Look, as I already said, I don’t have all the details. If I did I would have already gone after the son of a bitch myself. But he did a real number on her. He fucked her over, pretended to have feelings he didn’t so he could get close to her. It was almost as if he had access to her childhood and knew exactly what to do and say and how to act and how to give her the things she never had but always desperately wanted. He played her, and she fell for it because she had no basis for comparison. Not enough experience to be able to see through his act or the strange way he was with her or the fact that he was shrouded in secrecy. He had an excuse for everything, and he was convincing. And the only reason she discovered what a complete bastard he is was pure luck. Being in the right place at the right time and overhearing him on the phone talking about what an easy mark she was and how stupid, gullible and naïve she was.”

Rusty broke off, tears shimmering in her eyes. Joe palmed her shoulders and gave her a comforting squeeze, waiting for her to look up at him again. He sensed that he hadn’t even heard the worst of it yet and he was already ready to hunt the motherfucker down and beat the ever-loving shit out of the shithead.

“What else?” he asked quietly. “What else did he do to her, Rusty?”

“He humiliated her,” she said painfully. “Not that he hadn’t already done enough, but he devastated her. He destroyed her and stripped her of her self-confidence, her sense of worth. He made her feel expendable. Like she was dirt. Worthless. Unlovable. Not worthy of being loved. I’ve been her, Joe. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. You can’t imagine how defeated and hopeless it makes you feel. And that no one will ever see inside you—her—and the beautiful, selfless, generous and loving woman she is. She didn’t deserve that. She of all people didn’t deserve what happened to her. He made her question everything about herself. He made her doubt herself as a beautiful, desirable woman. And I hate him for that, Joe. I hate him. I wish I could kill him myself. God help me, if I came face-to-face with him tomorrow, I’d kill him in cold blood and never regret it or feel remorse.”

“What. Did. He. Do?” Joe growled. “Physically, Rusty. Did he put his hands on her? Did he hurt her? Did the son of a bitch rape her?”

She emitted a weary sigh. “He raped her emotionally. He pretended to be in love with her. Treated her like a queen. But then she overheard him talking to someone on the phone, and he was laughing at how pathetic she was in bed. How she was inept and clumsy and that sticking his . . .” She broke off, color rising in her cheeks. Then, defiantly, she continued as if pissed that she’d allowed herself to be embarrassed. “He said having to stick his dick in her frigid cunt was like fucking an iceberg and he’d be lucky if it didn’t freeze off before it was over with.”

Joe’s brow furrowed. Part of the story he could absolutely see, having met more than his share of assholes who treated women like second-rate citizens. Hell, some of them didn’t even afford women that much of an “honor.” They were chattel, possessions, slaves whose only purpose was to please the man in any manner he deemed necessary.

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