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The Death of Me

The Death of Me



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Ariel black is a lethal and deadly assassin. The deranged seductress can make any man fall on his knees with one glance.... She is filled with vengeance, and will stop at nothing to destroy the man who killed her parents. Ricardo Romano. Ricardo is the merciless Italian don who Ariel vowed to kill, but always fails to carry out her mission. But what happens when her plans to kill Ricardo fail? Will she listen to her uncle's orders to stop this rampage? Or will her own vengeance destroy her?
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Chapter 1

Senior year high school, October Sunshine, Mississippi

Most stories start at the beginning. But not this one. This one starts at the end. Or, at least, what I thought was the end—of my life, my dreams, my future. I thought it was all over because of two words.

“It’s positive.”

Two words. Two little blue lines.

My stomach free falls and my knees lose their will. My green Sunshine High School football jersey clings to my torso, stained with dark sweat spots under the pits—and it’s got nothing to do with the Mississippi sun. I take the stick from Jenny’s hand and shake it, hoping one blue line will disappear.

It doesn’t. “Sonofabitch.”

But even at seventeen, my debate skills are sharp. I offer a counterargument—an explanation.

Reasonable doubt.

“Maybe you did it wrong? Or maybe it’s defective? We should get another one.”

Jenny sniffs as tears gather in her baby blues. “I’ve been gettin’ sick every mornin’ for the last week, Stanton. I haven’t had my period in two months. It’s positive.” She wipes at her cheeks and raises her chin. “I’m not stealin’ another test from Mr. Hawkin’s store to tell us what we already know.”

When you live in a small town—particularly a small southern town—everybody knows everybody. They know your granddaddy, your momma, your wild big brother and sweet baby sister; they know all about your uncle who got locked up in the federal penitentiary and the cousin who was never quite right after that unfortunate tractor incident. Small towns make it too awkward to get condoms, too hard to go on birth control pills, and impossible to buy a pregnancy test.

Unless you want your parents to hear all about it before your girl even has time to piss on the stick. Jenny wraps her arms around her waist with trembling hands. As scared shitless as I am, I know it’s nothing compared to what she’s feeling. And that’s on me. I did this—my eagerness, my horniness.

Fucking stupidity.

People can say what they want about feminism and equality and that’s all fine and good. But I was raised on the idea that men are protectors. Where the buck stops. The ones who go down with the ship. So the fact that my girl is “in trouble” is no one’s fault but mine.

“Hey, c’mere.” I pull her small body against my chest, holding her tight. “It’s gonna be okay.

Everything’s gonna be all right.”

Her shoulders shake as she weeps. “I’m so sorry, Stanton.”

I met Jenny Monroe in the first grade. I put a toad in her backpack because my brother dared me to. For two months she shot spitballs at the back of my head in retribution. In third grade I thought I was in love with her—by sixth grade I was sure of it. She was beautiful, funny, and she could throw a football better than any girl—and half the boys—I knew. We broke up in eighth grade when Tara-Mae Forrester offered to let me touch her boobs.

And I did.

We got back together that next summer, when I won her a bear at the county fair.

She’s more than just my first kiss—my first everything. Jenny’s my best friend. And I’m hers.

I rear back so I can look into her eyes. I touch her face and stroke her silky blond hair. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. You didn’t do this by yourself.” I wiggle my eyebrows and grin. “I was there too, remember?”

That makes her laugh. She swipes a finger under both eyes. “Yeah, it was a good night.” I cup her cheek. “Sure was.”

It wasn’t our first time—or our tenth—but it was one of the best. The kind of night you never forget—a full moon and a flannel blanket. Just a few feet from where we are right now—next to the river with a six-pack of beer kicked and music floating out of the open windows of my pickup. It was all soft kisses, hot whispers, sweaty bodies, and grasping hands. Joined so deep I couldn’t tell where I ended and she began. Pleasure so intense I wanted it to last forever—and prayed out loud that it would.

We would’ve thought about it—tried to relive it—years from now, even if we weren’t having a baby to commemorate it.

A baby.

Fuck me. As the reality truly starts to set in, my stomach drops all the way to China. Like a mind reader, Jenny asks, “What are we gonna do?”

My father always told me being scared was nothing to be ashamed of. It was how you reacted to that fear that mattered. Cowards run. Men step up.

And I’m no coward.

I swallow roughly, and all my aspirations, hopes, and plans for leaving this town get swallowed too. I look out over the river, watching the sun sparkle off the water, and make the only choice I can.

“We’re gettin’ married. We’ll stay with my parents at first. I’ll work on the farm, go to night school—we’ll save up. You’ll have to put off nursin’ school for a little while. Eventually we’ll get our own place. I’ll take care of you.” I put my hand on her still-flat stomach. “Both of you.”

Her reaction isn’t what I imagine.

Jenny steps back out of my arms, eyes wide and head shaking. “What? No! No, you’re supposed to leave for New York right after graduation.”

“I know.”

“You gave up your Ole Miss football scholarship to go to Columbia. It’s Ivy League.” I shake my head. And lie.

“Jenn, none of that matters now.”

There’s not a single guy in this town who wouldn’t give his eye teeth to play ball at Ole Miss . . . but not me. I’ve always wanted different—bigger, brighter, farther.

Jenny’s flip-flopped feet kick up sand as she paces on the riverbank. Her white sundress flares as she turns a final time to me, finger pointing. “You’re goin’ and that’s all there is to it. Just like we planned. Nothin’s changed.”

My voice rails with resentment she doesn’t deserve. “What are you talkin’ about—everything’s changed! You can’t come visit me once a month with a baby! We can’t bring a baby to a dorm room.”

Resigned, she whispers, “I know.”

I take my own step back. “You expect me to leave you here? That was gonna be hard enough before, but now . . . I’m not gonna fucking walk away when you’re pregnant. What kinda man do you think I am?”

She grasps my hands and gives me a speech that rivals “win one for the Gipper.” “You’re the kind of man who’s gonna go to Columbia University and graduate with honors. A man who’s gonna be able to name his salary when he does. You’re not walkin’ away, you’re doin’ what’s best for us. For our family, our future.”

“I’m not goin’ anywhere.” “Oh yes you are.”

“And what about your future?”

“I’ll stay with my parents—they’ll help me with the baby. They’re practically raising the twins anyway.”

Jenny’s older sister, Ruby, is the proud mother of twins, with baby number three on the way. She attracts losers like cow shit attracts flies. The unemployed, the alcoholic, the lazy—she can’t get enough of them.

“Between them and your parents, I’ll still be able to go to nursin’ school.” Jenny wraps her slender arms around my neck.

And, God, she’s pretty.

“I don’t want to leave you,” I murmur.

But my girl’s mind is made up. “You’ll go and come home when you can. And when you can, it’ll get us through until the next time.”

I kiss her lips—they’re soft and full and taste like cherry. “I love you. I’ll never love anyone the way I love you.”

She smiles. “And I love you, Stanton Shaw—there’s only ever gonna be you.”

Young love is strong. First love is powerful. But what you don’t know when you’re young—what you can’t know—is how long life actually is. And the only dependable thing about it, besides death and taxes, is change.

Jenny and I had a whole lot of change headed our way.

She takes my hand and we walk to my truck. I open the door for her and she asks, “Who are we gonna tell first? Yours or mine?”

I blow out a breath. “Yours. Get the crazy side over with first.”

She’s not offended. “Let’s just hope Nana never finds the shells to that shotgun.”

? ? ?

Seven months later


This can’t be normal. Dr. Higgens keeps saying it is, but there’s no way.


I grew up on a farm. I’ve seen all types of births—cows, horses, sheep. None of them sounded like this.


This? This is like a horror movie. Like Saw . . . a massacre.


If this is what women go through to have a baby, why would they ever risk having sex at all?


I’m not sure I want to risk having sex again. Jerking off looks a lot better now than it did yesterday. Jenny screams so loud my ears ring. And I groan as her grip tightens on my already tender hand. The air is thick with sweat—and panic. But Dr. Higgens just sits there on a stool adjusting his glasses.

Then he braces his hands on his knees and peers between Jenny’s spread, stirrupped legs—the way my mother squints into the oven on Thanksgiving, trying to decide if the turkey’s done.

Gasping, Jenny collapses back against the pillows and moans, “I’m dyin’, Stanton! Promise me you’ll take care of the baby when I’m gone. Don’t let it grow up to be an idiot like your brother, or a slut like my sister.”

Her blond bangs are dark with sweat. I push them back from her forehead. “Oh, I don’t know.

Idiots are funny and sluts have their good points.” “Don’t patronize me, dammit! I’m dyin’!”

Fear and exhaustion put an extra snap in my voice. “Listen up—there is no way in hell you’re leavin’ me to do this on my own. You’re not dying.”

Then I turn to Dr. Higgens. “Isn’t there somethin’ you can do? Drugs you can give her?”

And me?

I’m not usually much of a stoner, but at this moment I’d sell my soul for a hit of pot.

Higgens shakes his head. “Won’t do any good. Contractions are comin’ too fast—you got an impatient one here.”

Fast? Fast? If five hours is fast, I don’t want to know what slow looks like.

What the hell are we doing?

This isn’t how our lives were supposed to go. I’m the quarterback. I’m the fucking valedictorian— the smart one. Jenny’s the homecoming queen and head cheerleader.

Or at least she was—until the baby bump got too big for her uniform.

We’re supposed to go to prom next month. We should be thinking about graduation parties and bonfires, screwing in the backseat of my truck and having as many good times with our friends as we can before college. Instead we’re having a baby.

A real one—not the hard-boiled-egg kind they make you carry around for a week in school. I cracked mine, by the way.

“I’m gonna throw up.”

“No!” Jenny screeches like a mad cow. “You’re not allowed to throw up while I’m bein’ ripped in half! You just suck it up! And if I survive and you touch me again, I’m gonna cut your pecker off and feed it into the wood chipper! Do you hear me?”

That’s something a man only needs to hear once. “Alright.”

I learned a few hours ago it’s best to agree with anything she says. Alright, alright, alright.

Lynn, the perky nurse, wipes Jenny’s brow. “Now, now, there’ll be no cutting off of things. You’ll forget all about this nasty business when your baby is here. Everyone loooves babies—they’re blessin’s from Jesus.”

Lynn’s way too happy to be real. I bet she took all the drugs—now there’s none left for the rest of


Another contraction hits. Jenny’s teeth grind as she pushes and grunts through it.

“Baby’s crownin’,” Higgens announces. He pats her knee. “A nice big push on the next one should

do it.”

I stand up and glance over Jenny’s leg, and I see the top of the head, pushing against my favorite place in the whole world. It’s bizarre and disgusting, but . . . but kind of incredible too.

Jenny falls back, pale and drained. Her sobs make my throat want to close. “I can’t. I thought I could do it, but I can’t. Please, no more. I’m so tired.”

Her momma wanted to be here in the delivery room—they argued about it. Because Jenny said she only wanted it to be us. Her and me—together.

Gently, I lift Jenn’s shoulders and slide behind her onto the bed, bracing my legs on either side of her. My arms encircle her stomach, my chest supports her back, and her head rests against my collarbone. I brush my lips against her temple, her cheek, murmuring soft nonsensical words, the same way I’d whisper to a skittish horse.

“Shh, don’t cry, darlin’. You’re doin’ so good. We’re almost there. Just one more push. I know you’re tired, and I’m sorry it hurts. One more and you can rest. I’m right here with you—we’ll do it together.”

Her head turns to me wearily. “One more?”

I give her a smile. “You’re the toughest girl I know. You always have been.” I wink. “You got this.”

She takes a few deep breaths, psyching herself up. “Okay.” She breathes. “Okay.” She sits up straighter, bending toward her raised knees. Her fingers clamp down on my hands when the next contraction comes. The room fills with long, guttural groans for a dozen seconds and then . . . a sharp cry pierces the air. A baby’s cry.

Our baby.

Jenny pants and gasps with sudden relief. And Dr. Higgens holds up our squirming, cheesy child and pronounces, “It’s a girl.”

My vision blurs and Jenny laughs. With her own tears streaming down her face she turns to me. “We have a baby girl, Stanton.”

“Ho-ly shit.”

And we laugh and cry and hold on to each other all at the same time. A few minutes later, Happy Nurse Lynn carries the pink bundle over and places her in Jenny’s arms.

“Oh my God, she’s perfect,” Jenny sighs. My awed silence must worry her, because she asks, “You’re not disappointed she’s not a boy, are you?”

“Nah . . . boys are useless . . . nothin’ but trouble. She’s . . . she’s everything I wanted.”

I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know it would feel like this. A tiny nose, two perfect lips, long lashes, a wisp of blond hair, and hands that I can already tell are miniature versions of my own. In an instant, my world shifts and I’m at her mercy. From this moment on, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for this beautiful little creature.

I brush my fingertip against her soft cheek, and even though men aren’t supposed to coo, I do. “Hey, baby girl.”

“Y’all got a name for her?” Nurse Lynn asks.

Jenny’s smiling eyes meet mine before turning back to Nurse Lynn. “Presley. Presley Evelynn Shaw.”

Evelynn is after Jenny’s nana. We figured it might go a long way if she ever finds those shotgun shells. She’s been searching particularly hard since Jenny and I announced we weren’t getting married


Too soon Nurse Lynn takes the baby back so she can get printed and poked. I climb off the bed while Dr. Higgens busies himself between Jenn’s legs. Then he suggests, “Why don’t you go outside and give your family the good news, son? They’ve been out there waitin’ all night.”

I look to Jenny, who nods her approval. I pick up her hand and kiss the back of it. “I love you.” She grins, weary but joyous. “I love you too.”

I walk down the hallway, through the security doors to the waiting area. There, I find a dozen of the closest people in our lives wearing varying masks of anticipation and impatience.

Before I can get a word out, my little brother, Marshall—the nonidiot one—demands, “Well? What is it?”

I crouch down eye level with him and I smile. “It . . . is a she.”

? ? ?

Two days later, I strapped the car seat into my pickup—checking it four times, to make sure it was in right—and I brought Jenny and Presley home.

Home to her parents’ house.

And just two months after that, I left them. Traveling twelve hundred miles away to Columbia University, New York.