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Authors: Carolyn Arnold

The Defenseless

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Prologue

Twenty-six years ago

He should be celebrating at home with a bottle of Cristal. Instead, he was outside of his neighbor’s house, frozen to the bone, his hands like ice.

He hadn’t had a moment of peace and quiet all day. His project was getting further behind, the deadline ever looming, but the new resident next door gave no consideration to those around him. First it was his barking dog, but when he came to complain, the sight of it whelmed up pity into his heart and fueled his rage toward its owner.

With the canine now tucked away back at his home, warm and secure, he trudged back out through the snow.

The heavy-metal music that had drowned out the howls of the animal, now vibrated the deck.

All he needed was silence. So he could think. So he could get what he needed to get done, done.

He pounded on the door, and it sent pain flashing through his knuckles—the combination of determination and the bitter temperatures against flesh and bone.

Wind howled between the two houses, gusting up the snow into miniature funnel clouds of ice crystals. They assaulted any bared skin—his neck and face taking the brunt of it. A quiver wracked his body and prompted a deep exhalation, which created a cloud of white in the night air.

“Open the fucking door!” He pushed through the discomfort and knocked again.

Still no evidence the man was even listening.

He surveyed, left and right, glancing over his shoulder, feeling eyes on him. Were the neighbors watching him?
Did they call the cops?

The light was on in an upstairs room, but otherwise the nearby house was enshrouded in darkness. The only other illumination were the streetlights that cast dull beacons amidst the blowing snow.

He went to bang again, but his hands refused. They had seized up from the cold.
He blew on them to warm them.
Surely, the occupant was drunk and would awaken from his stupor to—

The door opened and with it, the music got louder.

“What the fuck do you want?”
The man stood there, six feet tall, a few inches shy of his own height, and his face was unshaven. His suspicions were confirmed by the strong smell of whiskey that flushed out of the house, and exuded from the man.

But it wasn’t his neighbor’s appearance, or even the odor that burned his eyes and had his attention,
it was his identity.
He
would never forget that face. It had scarred his childhood, and it wasn’t until this moment, until this
reunion
that he realized how much. Ken Bailey was the man’s name.

A warmth encased his insides, his stomach lightened, and his vision grew clearer.

“Freak, what the fuck is up?” Ken leaned against the doorframe but lost his mark and stumbled to regain his balance.

This arrogant son of a bitch didn
’t recognize him. It provided him clarity—and strength. A shiver laced down his spine as he stepped inside the house.

“Hey!”
Ken slammed a hand against his shoulder.

It shuffled him back a few feet, but he never lost his balance. He was sober as a priest, thanks to Ken interrupting his evening’s plans.

He pushed past Ken into the house. He shut the door behind him and stood there, facing his opponent, breathing as if he’d run a marathon. His heart beat so fast, it pained in his chest. Whatever happened next, Ken would deserve it for
what he had done to her.

“Get out of my hou—”

He felt cartilage shift under the impact of his fist to Ken’s nose.

Ken instinctively cradled his nose and blood poured down his face. A red mist spewed from his mouth as he spoke. “What the—”

“It’s your past calling, asshole.”

He landed another blow. Ken’s nose was definitely broken.

Still, Ken
retaliated, coming at him with force, and pinned him against the back of the door. It knocked the wind out of him.

He doubled in half, clenching at his injured abdomen, his eyes only seeing one color—red.

In that moment, adrenaline fused through his system, cording his sinew into tight springs ready to pounce. He would make him pay, make him beg for his next breath. He would no longer be viewed as weak and puny, instead, as powerful and in control.

He thrust his fist toward Ken’s
jaw, but missed when he diverted to the side and dipped low.
He took aim again, but a blow to his face stopped all movement.

White, searing pain hindered his vision. A constant rhythm pumped in his head, the music now a deadened cacophony.

Ken stood across from him, winded, each exhale exuding alcohol blended with nicotine.

“You don’t even know who I am, do you?”

“I don’t need to know you to kill you.”
The man charged at him, the motive clear.

He had mere seconds, if not merely
a
second, to assess his surroundings and calculate the odds. They were in the kitchen. Dishes were piled on the counters and in the sink. Empty beer bottles covered the table. On the floor next to them were, easily, twenty to thirty alcohol magnums waiting to be returned for a refund.

He ducked just in time.

Ken
’s fist met with the wood door and had him howling in pain—but not for long. He came at him again, wrapped his hands around his middle and worked to pull him to a straight position. “You think you can come in here and attack me!”

The jab
met his cheek, sliding his jaw askew and sinking teeth into tongue. He tasted blood.

He glanced back to the bottles again. They were close enough that he could…

Ken yanked on his coat and pulled him upright. His opponent threw a punch and he returned one. They continued to come at each other, both men juking to avoid the other’s blows,
the odd one making purchase.

It was a misstep that had his foot twisting on a precarious angle, the move to divert, working to his detriment. He fell. Hard. He scrambled to regain equal footing.

It was too late. Ken came down on top of him with powerful force, straddling his mid-section and constricting his airflow.

The music came back into focus. The droning guitar and screaming singer.

The blows landed consecutively, meeting with his face, his shoulders, his gut, and his sides until Ken paused, panting, and looked down at him.

“Now I know who you are.” Still mounted over him,
his laughter shrilled above the noise disguised as music.
“I recognize your shriveling nature.” More mocking laughter. Ken was driven to tears with his amusement.

He saw the one color again. Did he have what it took to take a man
’s life? He used to be peaceful…until he was eight and this man stripped his innocence. Life
wasn’t
but a dream, sweetheart.

He bucked, trying to break his arm free, but Ken
applied more pressure.

It was time. He had a decision to make.
Would he continue to loll back and let the Bailey
s of the world overpower him forever? Or would he make it clear, once and for all time, that he wasn’t a man to be fucked with?

His insides warmed. His extremities cooled.

He assessed the bottles that were beside his head and he figured out what he had to do. But did he have the guts to do it? He had come over here prepared to fight, hadn
’t he? Well, he found one. He just hadn’t expected it to be with Ken Bailey.

But what real difference did it make? It only reinforced the direction and power of Fate. He had been brought to this point in his life for a reason. He was tired of letting everyone down—especially himself.

His fingertips grazed the edge of the closest bottle—a clear rum bottle. His fingers danced across the glass until he had a hold on it.

The hyena laughter stopped. Ken came to, realizing the intention in his eyes.

Ken drew his arm back to make a fatal blow—it was too late.

“For Molly, you asshole!” He let out a roar that challenged the music and ripped the bottle from the floor. He would be the last thing this man would see.

He wailed against him with the bottle until, finally, the glass weakened and shattered, raining down over him, to reveal jagged edges.

Minutes later, he hoisted the lifeless body of Ken Bailey, off of him and onto the floor.

His legs were rubbery when he went to stand, but he had proven himself. He had stood up to the bully and had come out the victor.

He gazed down and noticed Bailey’s chest still rose softly. Scanning the room, he found the perfect thing to fix that.

When he was finished, he decided he had something to celebrate after all.

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