Inked Armor

Clipped Wings - 2

Helena Hunting

Kato, this one’s for you.


Brooks, you really are solidly solid.

Micki, Tatiana, and the rest of my S&S team, it’s been a whirlwind, but an awesome one. Thank you!

Alex, Anne, and Kris, big hugs for helping me tame the beast. I’m so fortunate to know all of you.

Filets, you make me proud to be one of you.

Enn, you’re the woman and you’re made of awesome.

Deb, you are the most amazing person. If not for you, I never would have started on this crazy journey in the first place.

Thank you to my friends and family who have been such staunch supporters through this entire process, from inception to publication and all the steps in between.

To those of you who have been on this journey with me from the very beginning until now, I am indebted to you. Thank you for believing in my words.



At 6:23 in the morning, the front door opened downstairs and the security system let out a chirp, signaling Trey’s arrival. I held my breath as I listened for the sound of the code being punched in, then a warning beep, followed by Trey’s irate curse.

Last night I’d changed the security code for the seventh time in as many days. I started doing it after I woke up to him standing over my bed, screaming bloody murder about the tattoo on my back. Verbal abuse from my almost brother-in-law was not a good way to wake up. Since he’d thwarted my attempts to have the lock changed, I made the alarm system the bane of his existence.

Trey strung together creative new phrases describing exactly what he thought of me; he knew the alarm would start shrieking at any moment. I reached for my iPhone, jammed in the earbuds, and scrolled to the playlist I’d created for this freak show. Hard rock filled my ears as the alarm went into full panic mode.

Before long he started pounding on my door. Nabbing the remote from my night table, I turned on the surround sound hooked up to the flat-screen and blasted techno beats, then went into my bathroom to shower. Trey hated techno.

The pounding had ended by the time I’d showered and dressed. With practiced stealth, I silently turned the dead bolt on my bedroom door. Opening it a crack, I peeked out. No Trey, but that didn’t mean he was gone. He’d waited for hours before; his persistence knew no bounds.

Just outside the door was a pile of papers and a pen for me to sign over the property. He’d shown up each morning without fail, but in the past week his tactics had changed slightly. Occasionally he left the papers and ambushed me later in the day or the evening. The past couple of days, he’d gone back to waiting me out.

My response never changed. I always tore up the papers and watched them scatter like fat snowflakes on the floor. Their destruction had become a ritual I enjoyed.

I was about to shred the ones left for me this morning when I noticed they weren’t the usual documents. The stack was thinner. I leafed through the pages, frowning as I absorbed the content. The back page held my sloppy signature. Based on what I was reading, I’d signed over power of attorney to Trey.

I had absolutely no recollection of reading this document, never mind signing it. According to the date, it was drafted and made legal two months after the accident. I’d been released from the hospital at that point, but I hadn’t been in any state to care for myself, and Trey had put himself in charge of my medication. Now I understood why.

“Trey!” I crushed the documents in my fist and rushed down the stairs.

He was sitting at the kitchen island, typing away on his laptop with a coffee at his side. As if it were his house and not mine. I slammed the laptop shut on his hands.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” He stood, his chair toppling backward. The metallic clatter echoed in the open space.

“What’s wrong with me?” I shoved the papers into his chest. “What’s wrong with you? Do you think you can bully me into signing the house over?”

He seized my wrists to stop me from attacking him. His lip curled. “I have power of attorney. I can take everything if I want to.”

“Have you lost your mind? Do you honestly think this is going to hold? I wasn’t even lucid when I signed this.” I struggled against him, the bones in my wrists grinding painfully as his grip tightened.

“Sign over the house and it won’t be a problem.”

“Not to you, and especially not now!” I spat.

“Sign over the fucking house, goddamnit!” he roared.

“Why are you so intent on making me do this?” I screamed back.

“Because the estate is useless to me until I have possession of this house!”

He released my wrists and turned away to lurch around the kitchen, his wiry body jerking as he tried to get a handle on himself. Trey had never before lost control. I rubbed my wrists, red marks marring the skin where he’d held me too hard. His nostrils flared, eyes burning with hatred. He took a deep breath and adjusted his tie.

“There are five houses on the property; why do you need this one?” I asked, his motivation lost on me. Although, with him, logic need not apply.

“Are you really that stupid? I can’t sell the estate unless I own all the houses.”

“But in your parents’ will—”

“The will doesn’t matter anymore! My parents are dead, no thanks to your brilliant wedding plans, so what they wanted is irrelevant.”

The shot of guilt hit me like a bullet to the heart. “That’s not fair.”

“You don’t like the truth? Is it too much for you to handle? Should I get you a pill?”

“Enough.” I held up my hand.

I could never live in this house—not when it symbolized everything that might have been, but would never be. I couldn’t stand the thought of it leaving his family. Especially when he had so many close relatives who would jump at the opportunity to call the estate home if they could afford it. The property had been in his family for generations.

“Even if I signed over this house, your uncles still own the summer home, don’t they?” I asked.

“My uncles will sell.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because everyone has a price. I’m just not sure what yours is. I mean, you stayed with Connor even after he fucked his way through half the female population of Cornell while you were on your little break, or whatever you called it,” Trey sneered. “And then you jumped all over that fucking proposal. So maybe the money is more important than you’re letting on. You’ve been more than willing to relinquish your self-respect these days, from what I witnessed in Chicago. What if I doubled the offer? Would you take it then?”

Any shred of empathy I may have had for Trey dissolved. Connor hadn’t been perfect, and neither had our relationship, but Trey’s allegation sounded like another of his ploys to hurt me. True or not, I didn’t need that stain on Connor’s memory.

“Why do you have to be so cruel?”

Trey’s smile was malicious. “You are the only thing standing in my way, and I will do anything in my power to get what I need. If you don’t sign it over, I will take it. The request was a courtesy, but I see you’re too self-absorbed to understand that. As usual.”

I held up the crumpled papers, my resolve hardening. “This will never hold.”

“We’ll see about that.”

He righted the toppled chair and picked up his suit jacket. He tucked the laptop into his briefcase, but before he closed the case he withdrew yet another set of papers. These I recognized.

“I’ll just leave these for you, shall I? In case you change that little mind of yours.” With that, he turned and walked out the door.

As soon as Trey’s car disappeared around the bend in the drive, I sank down in one of the chairs. His words were like slivers working deep into my skin.

My relationship with Connor had always been tricky. He was older by several years, and he’d had some unrealistic expectations, mostly old-fashioned notions of propriety. In hindsight, it had been all about keeping up appearances. If we’d gotten married, I would have had to balance that my entire life. All my “little quirks,” as Connor called them, would have been shelved or channeled into more acceptable things. Or hidden under clothing or hair, as my tiny tattoo and ear piercings had been.

Connor had been halfway across the country for years, only coming back to Minnesota during the summer months and holidays. When we started dating, he flew back more often. But the distance strained the relationship, and in my final semester of college it became too much to juggle. I needed to focus on school, not pine for a boyfriend so far away. So I gave him a reprieve. It lasted eight weeks. I’d never asked him about that span of time. It hadn’t seemed necessary to know, because shortly thereafter he proposed.

Unfortunately, that little barb from Trey brought up other concerns that had nothing to do with Connor. An image of Hayden with Sienna all over him popped into my head. The thought made my stomach turn. I couldn’t stand the idea of him with anyone but me. Which wasn’t fair because I left him, not the other way around.

If he went back to her in my absence, I had no one to blame but myself. Two weeks was long enough for her to find a way to sink her claws back into him, especially with how I’d left things. It made the urgency of tying up loose ends even more pressing. I missed him so much it was a constant, painful distraction.