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In a lull between conversation, the scrape of cutlery against crockery fills Bale Manor’s dining room. My new stepmother, Diana, cooked up a storm tonight—roast chicken, baked potatoes, and a Greek salad with Ciabatta in case anyone was still hungry.

“And you, munchkin?”

I look up at the sound of Diana’s voice. She sets her fork down, chewing as she turns her attention to my little sister. Emma’s head stays bowed—as it always does—but her movements become a little more erratic.

“Hmm, honey? Did you have a good day?”

Emma gives her a lopsided shrug. My sister’s eyes find mine but then dart away. She manages a slow nod and then makes a grab for one of the roast potatoes on her plate.

Diana grabs her wrist. “Use your fork,” she says.

I glare at my father, jaw bunching, but he’s watching the exchange like the proudest parent this side of the fucking equator.

Emma tries to pull her hand away, but my little sister’s never been a rebel like me. When one small tug doesn’t make Diana let go, Emma hangs her head even lower and tries to pick up her fork again.

“Why can’t you just let her eat?” I ask in a low voice. I grab my glass of wine and toss it down.

Father’s never been one to withhold things. He reckons, if we’re going to do it anyway, then we might as well do it as a family. He only lets us have one glass at the dinner table during the week, and on weekends, we get an extra beer after.

Candy thinks he’s God’s gift to bitches. At the moment, she’s fixated on Diana trying to coerce Emma into using a fork, watching the exchange under lowered lashes as she eats, but usually, her focus is reserved entirely for her new stepfather.

“So, Candace, are you up for a rematch?”

Yup, there it is. In an instant, Candy’s own mother could have burst into flame, and she wouldn’t have noticed—her big blue eyes are glued to my father. Instead of answering immediately, she takes a hasty sip of her wine. Hers is red; she thinks it makes her seem more grown-up than she is.

That’s Candy’s thing.

I guess it’s because she’s petite, small-breasted, narrow-shouldered. From what I gather, she couldn’t be more than two years younger than me, but where I inherited my father’s tall, broad-shouldered build and dark hair, she takes after her mother. When mother and daughter are in the same room, it becomes obvious that Diana Furey isn’t a natural blond. Candy’s blue eyes pop against her dark hair, but Diana’s same baby blues look watery paired with her platinum-dyed blond hair.

That’s not the only thing Diana’s faking. Unless Candy’s still developing—which I doubt—Diana’s D cups were made in China.

My father seems blind to the fact that he’s dating a fake. Just as Candy’s apparently too stupid to realize that my father is an asshole.

Having sipped theatrically at her drink, Candy gives my father a nonchalant shrug. “I don’t know, Wayne,” she says, “Can you handle another beating?”

I’m grinding my teeth and shove a piece of dry chicken into my mouth, so at least I’m not wasting energy.

Someone’s looking at me.

I glance up. Emma’s peeking at me. I smile at her and then move my gaze to her plate. She widens her eyes at me and shakes her head a little.


I look up, making it clear that I’m first staring at my father, then at Diana, before meeting Emma’s eyes again.

She takes after my real mom. Bonnie had fair hair, dark eyes, and the most infectious smile I’d ever seen.

No one’s looking.

Emma takes turns looking at everyone around the table, and then back at me. She bites her lip, ducks her head, and pops a potato into her mouth.

No one notices.

No one cares.

Emma grins at me around some mashed potatoes, and I smile back at her.

My father lets out a deep laugh. “You know I’ve been letting you win, right?” Instantly, Diana and Candy both start giggling.

I roll my eyes at Emma, and potato sprays out of her mouth at how hard she laughs at my expression.

The table goes silent.

Emma claps both hands over her mouth, her shoulders collapsing like she’s deflating from the inside.

“Wash up and go to bed, Emma,” my father says. “I’ll come to tuck you in a little later.”

Emma’s eyes widen. She keeps her hands over her mouth as she slips off the chair and scrambles up the stairs to her bedroom.

“She wasn’t done eating,” I say, sitting back in my seat and crossing my arms over my chest.

My father shrugs, leaning an elbow on the table as he makes eye contact with me. He grabs his wine glass, studying me with his head tilted to the side as he brings it to his mouth. “She could do to lose a few pounds,” he says.

Anger bursts open inside me like someone stepping on rotten fruit. I stand up so fast, my chair tumbles to the floor behind me.

Diana gasps, a hand fluttering to her chest as if I’ve just unveiled a fucking assault rifle. I bare my teeth, but all my father does is give me a cool, condescending smile.

“Time you went to bed too,” he says.

“I’m not a kid anymore.”

Wayne Bale takes a long sip of his wine, glances across at Candy—who’s watching me with an unreadable expression—and then hitches up one side of his mouth. “Sure acting like one, Josiah.”

Candy sniggers, hurriedly covering up the sound with a hand.

My father stands. He’s a head and shoulders taller than I am, and I’m already five-eight. “Come, Candy Cane. We’ll see who’s gonna whip who.”

Diana’s up in an instant, but instead of following, she just waves at my father as she passes him on her way to the kitchen. “Anyone need a refill?” From how unsteady her steps are, she doesn’t need another drink.

Candy doesn’t stop her.

Dad doesn’t stop her.

No one ever stops her.

My father holds out a crooked arm in Candy’s direction. “Shall we?”

Lips twisting into a disgusted sneer, I watch as Candy takes another small sip from her wine, dabs her lips, and takes my father’s arm as if they’re off to a fucking debutante ball.

She lifts her pretty little nose at me and says, “Good night, Josiah.”

As soon as their footsteps fade, all I hear is the ceramic squeak of my teeth grinding together. I sit back in my seat, poke at the food still left on my plate, and glance over at Candy’s half-full glass of wine.

Bitch acts like nothing will melt in her fucking mouth, but I know she has more than one glass of wine some nights. Some mornings she reeks like a goddamn brewery.

Guess it’s not just her blue eyes she gets from her mom.

I move around the table, snatch up her glass, and throw the bitter liquid down my throat with a grimace.

In the kitchen, glass shatters.

I rush inside but come up short as soon as I spot what made the noise.

Diana’s on her hands and knees, picking up pieces of her broken wine glass. I watch her for a few seconds before I turn around and head for my room.

As I push my bedroom door open, I pause for a moment to listen.

There’s a faint sound—perhaps my father’s bellow of a laugh—but it’s so dampened down by the thick doors in this house that it could just as easily have been my imagination.

Just another night at the fucking Bale house.

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