“Better Than Her Hating Herself” | Alternate Scene from A RISKY PROSPECT

While writing A Risky Prospect, I knew how I wanted to handle the scene. I just wasn’t sure if I should. To help me decide, I wrote an alternate version.

Spoiler Alert: This alternate scene contains spoilers from A Risky Prospect. Read at your own risk!

I stare after Olivia, frowning. The two shot glasses remain upside down on the bar, the remnants of tequila splattered across the wood. I’ve never known her to leave a mess behind, never mind run out without even grabbing someone to stand in for her. I’m even more shocked that she didn’t let Mark know personally.

What really trips me up, though, is the look on her face when she looked at her phone. I know technology has advanced a lot in the past twenty years, influencing the way people do almost everything, but I also know that if DCF needed her for something, they would’ve called. Not texted.

I tap a finger on the bar, torn. Do I follow her, or do I go get my brothers first?

“You’re late,” Beer Can says from beside me.

“We’ve got a problem,” I reply.

I explain as quickly as I can, then run after her, promising Beer Can I’ll text as soon as I know where she is. Just as I step outside, she flies out of the parking lot. I’ve heard the phrase “like a bat out of hell” a million times, but the people who spoke it never met Olivia.

Her hair flies out behind her, black coils highlighted by the glow from the street light. It’s an alive thing, a harbinger of revenge. She’s the embodiment of the Sludge Specter insignia on my cut and the hoodie she was wearing behind the bar. My hoodie. I watch her disappear, my bones growing colder. I feel sick to my stomach.

Something bad is going down.

I jump onto the Screamin’ Eagle, damn near flooding the thing in my rush to get it started. Thankfully I get it on the first kick, a small flash of luck in this cold, dark night.

It’ll probably never happen again.

I take off in the same direction she went, adrenaline flooding my system, flushing out the heaviness and ache in my limbs. Every muscle is coiled, my body warm as it gears up to fight.

Though light traffic crawls the streets, Olivia is nowhere in sight. It doesn’t matter, because I already know where she’s going. I head to the Mallane Lane address Vinny texted me weeks ago, my fist gripping the throttle, my head a scramble.

What will I find when I get there?

I pull up in front of the teal house. In the dim light, it looks more like mud. A single light floods one window. There isn’t even a porch light on. A Thunderbird sits in the garage, but Olivia’s Street Glide is absent.

I roll past, frowning. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe she really did have a work emergency. Everything else was all in my head, some sick need to concoct excuses to be near her.

Whether she wants me or not, she’s got her hooks in me, ensuring I’ll never let her go. The only way I’ll ever get her out of my system is if I get as far from her as possible. That’ll never happen. She’s poison floating in my veins, a toxic potion for which there is no antidote. Loving her is going to kill me, and I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

Clenching the throttle, I pull away from the teal house. Even as it fades from my mirror, adrenaline keeps pumping through me. I pull over several blocks away. If she’s handling a work emergency, she’ll answer her phone, exasperated. If she isn’t, well, I still have to figure out where she is.

With the bike rumbling between my thighs, I call her. I turn up the volume on the phone so I can hear each ring over the engine, can count how many pass. Either I’m wasting time or I’m getting fired.

Her voicemail picks up: “It’s Olivia. You know what to do.”

I end the call, torn. If she’s dealing with a work thing, she might not be able to pick up. I just can’t think of where else she might have gone, if she really is after Greg.

The phone rings in my hand. My heart stops, relief flooding me only for a second. It’s Vinny, not Olivia.

“Yeah?” I brace myself for the warning.

“You at Greg’s?” he asks, breathless.

“I rode by. What’s up?”

“I peeked at some court documents. I’ve been checking every so often, see if anything else involving our buddy pops up.”

“Okay,” I press. With no direction, the adrenaline turns to nausea.

“His wife filed for divorce,” Vinny says.


“This morning.”

My heart stops again, this time kickstarting with a fresh wave of adrenaline. This time, it’s accompanied by fear. “I’m circling back. Meet me there.” I hang up, wishing I’d thought to grab my piece.

I turn the Screamin’ Eagle around and blip the throttle, riding in the direction I came from. My pulse races with the single thought looping through my head: I hope I’m not too late, not too late, too late.

I roll to a stop in front of the teal house, right behind the Street Glide. The front door stands open, darkness spilling from the house into the street. It’s a quiet neighborhood, the kind where parents let their kids play in the street without worrying about them getting hit. The kind of street where people don’t shrug when they hear a gunshot—they call the police.

I shut off my bike and kick the stand into place. Then, without glancing around, I stroll up the front walk and onto the porch.

I creep inside, eyes straining to make out anything in the dark. The porch serves as a sort of mudroom, opening into a living room. At least, I think it’s a living room. I make out the silhouette of a couch, walk into a coffee table. Its edge bites into my shin, the whole thing sliding back, its feet scuffing against the floor with a whine like a long, drawn out Fuuuuuck.

Which is exactly what I think, standing here in the dark, ears strained for any sign that he knows I’m here. Then again, if I wanted to be stealthy, I should’ve left the bike around the corner.

Fuck it.

“Olivia?” I shout.

A thud responds.

“Olivia?” I glance around, still not accustomed to the dark, completely unfamiliar with the layout. Another thud answers, a strange game of Marco Polo. Pulse throbbing in my throat, I move in the direction I think it came from—toward a set of stairs. The toe of my boot nudges the bottom step. I climb them two at a time.

When I get what I think is halfway up, the sound of thrashing crashes into my ears, a frenzied cacophony of elbows and feet hitting the floor—the symphony of a struggle. I fly up the remaining steps, not even thinking anymore, just moving. I burst into a spare room. Instead of a bed, there’s a desk and a dresser, closet doors standing open, half of the clothing removed. I take this all in even as my focus zeroes in on the floor, on Olivia, pinned under Greg. His fingers wrap around her neck, all of his weight forced on her throat.

“Was it like this?” he asks, over and over.

Her face is a mottled shade of purple and blue. She scratches at his hands, even as the rest of her flops underneath him.

I take two steps and hook my arm around his neck, yanking him back. He drags her with him, and she goes limp, eyes rolling in the back of her head. “Let her go!” I roar in his ear. He releases her, his gurgling nearly drowning out the thud as she hits the floor. She doesn’t move.

“Olivia!” I call, tightening my hold on him. She remains still. “Olivia!” I scream again. I shake him, punctuating each syllable. His eyes bulge, his flesh speckled with purple as I squeeze the air from him.

Her hand twitches.

“Olivia,” I beg. “Come on, babe.”

She sucks in air, head tipping back as she gulps, filling her lungs. I sigh in relief, some of the anger fading from my marrow.

“That’s it. Can you sit up?”

“Asshole,” she croaks, and I grin.

Greg thrashes, twisting out of my grip. He slips away and crouches, a barking cough exploding from his lungs.

“Slippery motherfucker,” I mutter. He lunges at me, catching me off guard and knocking me back. Most other men know when to stay down when fighting me. Not this one. There’s a strain in his eyes, his manic need to control Olivia overpowering all sense.

Because that’s what rape is about, when you boil it down: power.

His knuckles catch my cheekbone, blood spurting from a small cut in near slow motion. My shoulder blades press into the hardwood floor as his weight settles on me. He draws his fist back for another blow.

I was so busy worrying about Olivia, I didn’t even notice him slipping out of my grasp. He caught me by surprise again by recovering so quickly. It’s easy to forget what adrenaline can do, the strength that desire for control breeds.

All of this flies through my head in sync with his fist reconnecting with my face. Another catches me in the ribs. I grunt but keep still, drawing calm in with every breath. Anger won’t get me out of this hold.

“Don’t!” Olivia screams.

I crane my neck to see behind Greg. She kneels on the floor, her gun trained on Greg. Two bright red handprints encircle her neck, some of the bruise already turning purple. The sight sends an upsurge of anger through me, those red handprints encroaching my vision until they’re all I see.

I shove Greg off me, sending him careening into the dresser. This time, I don’t give him a chance to recover. I’m on him, gripping his head with one hand. I glance at the corner of the dresser, so like the coffee table downstairs that I smashed my shin into. I pull his head back, then slam it into the corner.

He cries out, hands flailing, fingers gripping my cut. They squeak against the leather.

I do it again.

His mouth opens, pleading eyes hooked on mine. But I still see those handprints, still see her marbled skin, her mouth wide and gasping but getting no air. It’s too easy to fall back in time, to imagine younger versions of them in a similar pose, my girl begging no.

So I do it again, and again, more times than I can count, but not enough, never enough for what he did to her. What he almost did tonight. His lips move in a “No” and I smile, because isn’t that what she told him? I smile and I smile and I smile.

Then I let him go. He crumples to the floor in a heap.

“Fuck,” Olivia explodes. “Is he dead?”

She rushes over and checks his pulse, her finger smearing the blood running down his neck.

I step back, chest heaving. I can’t catch my breath. I need a cigarette. My limbs shake as the adrenaline leaves my system. I lower myself to the floor, feeling utterly drained.

I should be panicking. I just killed a veteran—again. That’s a ticket straight back to the pen. I tip my head back. In a moment, I’ll make a few calls, get a cleanup crew going. Right now, I need my head and body to sync up.

“You fucking killed him,” Olivia scolds.

I look at her, gauging how angry she is. “Sorry,” I offer.

“That was my kill, Cliff. Fuck!” She turns, pacing the room, one hand curled into a fist, the other still clenched around her gun.

I wonder if she’s going to shoot me. I’m not sure which would be worse: Olivia blowing my brains out, or going back to the pen. At least I know she’s safe. What’s another federal offense?

“I’m sorry,” I say again. I gather my strength back and climb to my feet. My stomach growls, the sound cutting through the room.

She wheels on me. “So that’s it, huh? Let’s just go grab dinner. No big deal, right?” She scowls.

Part of her will always hate me for this, for taking her kill. But what was I supposed to do?

The same beast lives inside me, the one that can’t be controlled. I try to explain, to tell her how even now, all I can see are the handprints on her throat. Just like part of me will always see my father on Lucy.

Instead, I let her hate me. It’s better than her hating herself.

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Author: Elizabeth Barone

Elizabeth Barone is an American novelist who writes contemporary romance and suspense starring strong belles who chose a different path in life. Her debut novel Sade on the Wall was a quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. She is the author of the South of Forever series and several other books. When not writing, Elizabeth is very busy getting her latest fix of Yankee Candle, spicy Doritos chips, or whatever TV show she’s currently binging. Elizabeth lives in northwestern Connecticut with her husband, a feisty little cat, and too many books.

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