James Tate

HATE: A dark reverse harem romance (Madison Kate Book 1)

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    Believe in youhas quotedlast month
    The world was spinning faster than if I were on a Tilt-A-Whirl for real, and the last thing I saw as my head hit the concrete was Archer's gorgeous blue eyes as he crouched beside me.

    “Don’t worry, Princess. We’ve got you now.”
    Believe in youhas quotedlast month
    From there, I could see the west gate of the park. Maybe if I could make it that far... They surely couldn't have every exit covered. Even if they did, I had to try.

    There was no time for me to hesitate. If I stayed put, I'd likely bleed to death before they found me and killed me, so I sucked a deep breath and bolted.

    My feet were damn near silent on the hard concrete, and I’d made it halfway to the gate when a shadow moved under the moonlight near the fence. A scream tried to escape, but I clamped my lips shut and pasted myself to the wall of a toilet block. The shadows covered me, for the most part, and I just had to hope it was enough.

    I'd barely been there half a minute when a warm hand grabbed my wrist, yanking me backward into the restrooms while another hand sealed over my lips, stifling the noise of my screams.

    "Shhh," a familiar voice hissed in my ear. "MK, shush; stop screaming. It's me. It's Kody."

    Tension wracked my body and fear clouded my brain. He was in on it.

    "I'm going to let you go, okay?" he whispered directly into my ear, his grip on me all too reminiscent of the first time we'd met. What the fuck was he playing at? Was this all one, big hilarious game to them? Because I wasn't laughing.

    Far from it.

    "Holy shit," he exclaimed in a hushed whisper as he let me go, "Baby, you're bleeding. Where are you hurt?"

    I shook my head, my own terror holding my speechless. My hand still covered my side, but it was slippery with blood and my head was becoming increasingly hazy. Still, I backed away from Kody, watching him for any sign of a weapon.

    "Babe, why are you looking at me like that? You're hurt! We need to get you help." He seemed so genuinely concerned it fucking broke me. How could he do this? Wasn't it exciting enough to stalk and stab a girl anymore? They needed to play with my emotions too?

    "S-stay away," I managed to grit out, holding my free hand out like I could possibly ward off an attack from a guy Kody's size. "Stay away fr-from m-me, Kody."

    His eyes widened, and his lips parted in shock. I guess he hadn't realized I was onto them. Stupid Archer should have used a more nondescript blade, then maybe I would have fallen for this innocent, caring act.

    "MK, babe, I'm really worried. We need to get you help." He was speaking to me in low, hushed tones, but I wasn't listening. Stumbling over the lip of the restroom, I turned and found Steele standing some thirty feet away. Close to the exit gate where I'd just seen a black-clad killer.

    "No," I sobbed, my heart officially in shreds. "No, this can't be happening. This can't..." I broke off with a gut-wrenching sob, falling to my knees as the strength in my legs gave out.
    Believe in youhas quotedlast month
    Headlights lit up my car, and fear flooded through me. I was speeding, and the car behind was rapidly gaining on me.

    Could it be the guys? Maybe. I could imagine one of them probably had the necessary skills for hot-wiring a car, and there had been plenty to choose from parked outside the warehouse.

    Except the car following me had its high beams on, momentarily blinding me when I tried to look in the mirror. The heavy revving of an engine, audible thanks to the smashed-out passenger window of the G-Wagen, was the only warning I got before the car behind me hit my bumper.

    I screamed as my vehicle lurched forward, knowing I was about to lose control. I clung to the steering wheel, fighting to stay on the road as my back end started to fishtail. Another ram from the other car sealed the deal.

    The wheel wrenched out of my stiff fingers as my wheels caught on the rough surface of the shoulder, then the car hurtled out of control into the ditch.

    A deafening bang sounded, and my whole world went black.
    Believe in youhas quotedlast month
    But then darker images, too. Her leaving me in the car for ages while parked outside a shady bar in West Shadow Grove. Me sneaking around, peeking through the dirty windows, and witnessing a skinny, ink-covered gangbanger on his knees, a gun to his head.

    A blue-eyed boy, older than me, yanking me away from the window and yelling at me to get out of there.

    Tears clouded my vision again, and my chest ached as I sobbed
    Believe in youhas quotedlast month
    "You were in that closet for hours, MK," Kody told me softly. "We've all seen the police reports. The time of death was some six hours before Zane found you there."

    I shook my head over and over, refusing to hear what they were saying. Because if what they were saying was true... if Zane wasn't the one who murdered my mom... then her killer was still out there.

    He was still out there and stalking me, and I had no clue who it might be.

    "You don't believe any of this, do you?" Archer scoffed at me, his eyes hard and cruel again. "Well, maybe this will help you gain some clarity, Princess Danvers." He sneered that nickname at me with something that smacked of hatred himself. "Deb was pregnant. That car crash you were in? She was running away. She'd just gotten the DNA results proving it was Zane's baby, and she was scared."

    That was the last straw.

    I laughed. It was a cold, bitter sound, but it helped me draw up my defenses again.

    "You almost had me," I told them, frigid fury dripping from my words. "You fucking almost had me." I shook my head and stalked back to the G-Wagen. Fuck this shit, I could push past my dislike of driving if it meant getting me the hell out of there.

    I yanked open the driver’s-side door before turning my derisive sneer back on the guys. "My mom wasn't pregnant. She couldn't get pregnant; she had her tubes tied right after I was born."

    "Madison Kate," Archer snapped, taking a few steps toward me, "what are you doing?"

    I slid into the driver's seat and slammed the door shut, so instead of replying, I just flipped him off through the windshield and turned the engine on.
    Believe in youhas quotedlast month
    "Oh, but of course the Reapers have enough cops in their fucking pockets that he was let go after just three weeks in holding. Now my mom's murderer is running around free to do whatever the hell he wants, like, oh I don't know, stalk me."

    Tears stung my eyes now, and to give myself something to do other than burst out crying, I ripped my mask from my hair and threw it at Archer's chest.

    "So, yeah, Archer," I sneered, "you fucking deserved a bit of steroid powder in your protein shakes. Be thankful that's all it was."

    I stooped down and swiped the key for the G-Wagen where it'd dropped out of Kody's hand earlier. I didn't know what my plan was. I hated driving, but I couldn't stay there.

    "Madison Kate," Steele said, his voice shocked, "Zane didn't kill your mom."

    His words were like a slap in the face, and I reeled back.

    "Excuse me?" Of all of them, I hadn’t expected Steele to be the one defending that psychopathic murderer. "What the fuck would you know? I was there. I saw it."

    "Did you, though?" My attention swung around to Kody, and I glared at him. He looked pained, but continued anyway. "I'm just saying, you were wrong about me planting that key on you last Halloween. Isn't it possible you're wrong about this?"

    My jaw dropped, betrayals hitting me from every side. "I'm not wrong. I saw it. He beat her unconscious, then shot her in the head." My body trembled as my mind dredged up those painful, long-suppressed memories.

    "You were locked in the closet, Madison Kate," Archer said, his tone low and cold. "You didn't see."

    I shook my head, denying what they were saying as the dark memories crashed through my brain. Pain and terror clawed at my throat, as fresh as it had been that night exactly seven years ago. Yet another reason for me to hate this stupid holiday... it was the anniversary of my mother's murder. A fact I'd managed to steadfastly ignore every year since then.

    Until now.

    "I saw," I insisted, ignoring the dampness on my cheeks as my eyes streamed. I was past the point of holding back the tears anymore. "Through the slats of the closet door, I saw everything he fucking did to her. I heard every scream of pain and plea for mercy. I heard her bones breaking and—" My voice hitched with a sob, and I swallowed past the bitter pain.
    Believe in youhas quotedlast month
    My jaw dropped in outrage. "So why the hell is he throwing a goddamn toddler tantrum?" I demanded. Now I was pissed. He wasn't actually getting disqualified? How?

    "He's angry because you almost ruined his whole fight career before it even got started," Steele told me. His arms were folded over his chest and his glare accusing. "Not to mention what it would’ve done to Kody’s future as a trainer. You had no way to know that we could fix the drug test results. You wanted Arch disqualified from the fight."

    I tipped my chin up once more, defiant to the end despite the stab of guilt I felt for dragging Kody down too. "You're damn right, I did. Now that I know it hasn't worked, I'll just try harder next time."

    Archer's scowl turned venomous. "Why? Why would you do this when I've done nothing but protect you since you arrived back into Shadow Grove?" He was furious, no doubt. But there was a thread of something else that tugged uncomfortably at my heart.

    "You must be joking," I scoffed, ignoring the twinge of guilt at that other emotion in his voice. "You had some random chick dump juice on me because you didn't like my outfit."

    His glare darkened. "How is this remotely on the same scale of seriousness? Juice on your slutty outfit, versus the attempted destruction of my entire future?"

    My own stare turned acidic. "Oh, you mean like when you framed me a year ago? How I was arrested for a crime I had nothing to do with, then charged and sent to goddamn, fucking court to prove my own innocence? Like that? How about how you three came forward to corroborate my story and provide the evidence I needed to get out in maybe three days instead of three months? Oh wait. You didn't. You left me there to fucking rot and didn't look back twice."

    I was screaming this at him. At all of them. My chest heaved and the familiar burn of hatred seared through my veins. It was about damn time.

    "How about the way you deliberately handed me over to the police that night? How about the way every fucking Ivy League university I had early acceptance to withdrew their offers the same day my arrest was aired on the news? Or how my job prospects are fucking shot now because all anyone sees when they look at Madison Kate Danvers is a criminal? An acquittal doesn't count for shit when you've been publicly branded as guilty."

    I was on a roll now. The floodgates had been opened, and this wasn't going to be over until I got it all off my chest. So, fuck it. Why not go the whole way?

    "Or maybe this was justified payback for the fact that your brother stalked and murdered my mom?" I shoved him in the chest as I said that and must have caught him off guard because he stumbled back a step. But I wasn't done, yet.
    Believe in youhas quotedlast month
    "What's your fucking damage, D'Ath?" I spat at him, furious as I tugged my bra back into place and tried to calm my raging hormones. Apparently I wasn't getting any D in my V just yet. Fucking cunt-blocker.

    "My damage?" he roared, his face a scary shade of red that suggested he really might blow his top any second now. His own mask was pushed up to his hair, like mine, but it still gave him a demonic sort of appearance with the full moon behind him. "You want to know what my fucking damage is, Danvers?"

    He was next-level pissed, and I was growing more suspicious that this wasn't about me making out with Kody.

    "Arch," Steele called out, reaching us. "Calm down. We can discuss this at home."

    "Discuss what?" Kody demanded, picking himself up and buckling his belt, a move that Steele took in with a scowl. "What the hell is going on?"

    "No!" Archer barked. His enraged glare didn't shift from me for even a second. "No, I've had enough, we're dealing with this now."

    "Dealing with what?" I shouted back, sick of his intimidation routine. It was hot when it was likely to turn into sex, but I was getting clear vibes that this was not heading in that direction.

    The vein in his temple throbbed, and his eye twitched slightly. "Did you fucking drug me, Madison Kate?"

    I froze.

    Oh shit.

    That.

    "My manager just called me," Archer continued, his voice threaded with pure violence, and a shiver of fear passed through me. "As a courtesy, to let me know that tomorrow I'd be getting disqualified from my fucking debut UFC fight. You want to take a wild stab at why that might be happening, Madison Kate?"

    A flicker of guilt lit up inside me, but I smothered it quickly. He deserved it.

    Own your choices, MK. Back yourself.

    Folding my arms, I tilted my chin up defiantly.

    "If I were a betting woman, I'd say you tested positive for anabolic steroid use. Sure does explain your short temper and bulging muscles. Not to mention those shriveled balls I'm sure you're hiding." I gave him an unkind, sarcastic smile. "Sucks to see your goals get flushed down the toilet, doesn't it, D'Ath?"

    Rage built within him until he was fucking shaking, his muscles so tense I worried he might tear out of his shirt like the Hulk. His fists were clenched, but I wasn't afraid of him. Not really. Okay, maybe a tiny bit.

    "You fucking bitch!" he shouted, then slammed his fist through the passenger-side window of the G-Wagen, shattering the safety glass and sending rock-salt-sized chunks scattering everywhere. My skin stung where the exploding pieces had hit me, but I knew from experience those scratches would be light. Archer's knuckles would be another matter.

    Still, I hadn't moved. I hadn't run screaming in fear, and I sure as shit hadn't groveled for forgiveness.
    Believe in youhas quotedlast month
    "What the fuck?" Archer bellowed, and I needed to blink about sixteen times to catch the fuck up on what’d just happened. Kody was on his ass in the gravel, a murderous scowl on his face and his belt undone. Archer must have just ripped him off me and tossed him on the ground.

    But why?

    Steele was still some distance away, only just emerging from the party warehouse as I looked for him, but he was running to catch up with us.

    Surely Archer wasn't reacting like this because he was jealous.

    Then again, he did have that extreme alpha-male bullshit going on. So maybe he was.

    Pity I wouldn't stand for being treated like a piece of meat for dogs to chew over.

    I'd teach him.

    He'd learn.
    Believe in youhas quotedlast month
    His hands were on my waist, his own body moving with mine, but there was a hungry, predatory gleam in his eyes that made my whole body tight with excitement. I reached up, pushing his mask off his face to rest on his blond hair, then grinned.

    "You're not a bad dancer," I told him, having to yell to be heard over the deafening music. My arms looped around his neck, and he pulled me in closer still until every inch of my front touched some part of him.

    He didn't reply, or not anything I could hear at any rate, instead pressing his lips to the bend of my neck as we danced. I groaned. Maybe dancing had been a bad idea.

    Kody's lips trailed up my neck, then in the blink of an eye, his lips found mine.

    On second thought, dancing had been a fucking excellent idea.

    He kissed me, hard and demanding, forcing my lips to part so he could devour my mouth like a starving man with his favorite meal. Our bodies still writhed together, grinding in sync to the music, even as I desperately wished our clothes would disappear. Judging by the hard length crushed against my stomach, I figured it was a safe bet to think Kody was on the same wavelength there.

    "Fuck," he groaned in my ear as our kiss broke off, and his hands roamed my body. "Can we get out of here? I need to touch you."

    My belly fluttered, and I grinned into his sweaty neck. "Where?" We still needed to wait for Archer and Steele to do whatever the fuck they were doing, and I was pretty sure I'd seen porta potties set up in place of actual bathrooms.

    Kody released me long enough to reach into his back pocket, then showed me an electronic car-key fob marked with the Mercedes logo. "Car?"

    "Sold," I replied with a wide, excited grin.

    Kody linked our fingers together and quickly led the way out of the warehouse. Once we emerged into the frigid night air, we all but ran back to the parking lot. The G-Wagen unlocked on proximity, its indicators flashing, but we didn't make it inside. Instead, I found my back pressed against the passenger door while Kody and I damn near mauled one another. His hands were inside my tank top, cupping my breasts and teasing my already hard nipples through my bra. My arms were around his neck, my fingers clawing at the back of his hair as I kissed him with raw hunger.

    I needed more. I really, badly, desperately needed Kody to scratch the itch deep inside me. Preferably with his cock. So I skated my hands down his hard front and frantically unbuckled his belt.

    Kody released my breasts, instead sliding a hand up my bare thigh and under my short skirt. The cool air pebbled my skin, but it only made me so much more aware of how scorching hot my core had grown.

    Then all of a sudden, his mouth was wrenched away from mine. His hands left my body, and a cool blast of air took his place.
    Believe in youhas quoted2 months ago
    "Your turn," he said, ignoring my protest at his shitty answer. "Are you and Steele a thing now?"

    My mouth went dry. "A thing?" I repeated, like some kind of pink parrot. "Why would you think that?"

    Kody gave a dry laugh. "Maybe because you guys fucked after Bree's party and you've been totally ignoring all of my attempts to flirt with you ever since."

    My face heated, and I was suddenly thankful for the mask. "I haven't..." My words trailed off, so I tried again. "I was sick. I've barely even spoken to Steele since that night."

    "You had a fucking cold, MK, not exactly the black plague. You were also probably a bit shell-shocked after your stalker's last gift, which is totally understandable. I just wasn't sure if you wanted me to back off." There was an edge of uncertainty in his tone that surprised me. In a good way, I think.
    Believe in youhas quoted2 months ago
    "I know you won't tell me anything important," I started to say, and Kody shot me a suspicious look. I think. It was hard to read facial expressions when someone wore a mask that covered half their face. "But can you tell me anything?"

    He didn't immediately deny my request, which was a step in the right direction. "I shouldn't," he said slowly, "but..."

    When he didn't immediately complete his statement, I took a sip of my drink. The alcohol warmed my stomach, but I had no intention of getting drunk. So, I'd take it slow.

    "But what?"

    "I could play you for answers," he suggested, sipping his own drink, then setting it down on the hood beside him. "Truth or Dare? Seems like the perfect night for it." He leaned back on the rusty car, looking up at the full moon.

    I snickered a short laugh. "Truth or Dare? What are we, thirteen? No."

    He tucked his arms behind his head, drawing way too much attention to those impressive biceps of his. He'd put on a black long sleeved T-shirt, but it was tight enough around the arms that it wasn't hiding shit.

    "You scared, MK?"

    "Not even close," I replied, lying my ass off. "I've just read enough romance novels to know how this scenario goes. You give me some half-assed, cryptic answers to my questions, then dare me to do something sexual in return. Talk about predictable."

    He pouted, and I laughed.

    "Well shit, babe, give me a better idea. Arch could be a while yet, and you don't really look like you want to go dance with the creepy clowns in there." He nodded back to the party, and I cringed.
    Believe in youhas quoted2 months ago
    "Let's find somewhere less intense." He took my hand, linking our fingers together and leading the way as we wove through the costumed party-goers once more. He glanced back at me a couple of times as we crossed the room, the flashing strobes catching on his devil mask and sending spikes of irrational fear shooting through me.
    Believe in youhas quoted2 months ago
    The mask Archer handed me before we got out of the G-Wagen was made of red leather with small devil horns attached. Kody and Steele both slipped identical masks over their own faces, while Archer's was black.

    I smiled, wondering if this was just a coincidence or...

    "Cute," I commented as we got out of the car, "these remind me of Bree's favorite book."

    Steele and Kody didn't react at all, but Archer—the one who'd chosen the masks and kept the black one for himself—allowed the corner of his lips to pull up in a sly half grin.

    "I find time loops fascinating," he murmured, confirming my suspicions about the masks being a deliberate nod to a romance novel. He brushed past me without another word on the subject and led the way toward the old warehouse where lights and music indicated the party was happening.

    I bit back my own smile, having no clue what to make of that statement. For one, I'd never even seen Archer crack so much as a magazine, let alone a chunky-ass book. For another, the book in question was a reverse harem romance. Meaning the main character—Karma—had more than one love interest and they never made her choose.

    Did that mean Archer would be okay with that lifestyle?
    Believe in youhas quoted2 months ago
    A door slammed somewhere in the house, and Kody glanced at the time on his chunky black watch. "I better go try on that lace crop top of yours," he said, sitting up with a delicious crunch of his abs. "See you downstairs, gorgeous." Casual as fucking anything, he smacked a quick kiss on my mouth, then left the room.

    I pressed my fingers to my lips, feeling the print of his touch there like a ghost kiss for way too long after he was gone
    Believe in youhas quoted2 months ago
    Bree let out a screech from my phone, and I looked down at the screen in a panic.

    "What?" I asked, worried something bad had happened.

    Instead she was gaping at me, her mouth open. "Um, MK, did you forget to mention the half-naked Adonis lying in your bed?"

    I shot a look at Kody, and he just grinned like a smug fucking cat. "No, I didn't forget. He just lost his shirt and wanted to borrow one of mine. I think he wants that baby-blue lace crop top."
    Believe in youhas quoted2 months ago
    Emerging from my bathroom still wrapped in my pink towel, I found a gift on my bed.

    "What are you doing here?" I asked Kody, biting back the smile that wanted to play across my lips. The whole process of showering, doing my hair, putting on makeup... it had grounded me, cleared my head and helped me gain a bit of clarity on the situation. If they truly felt I was unsafe here at the house alone, then I wasn't going to be a dumb shit and force the issue. That's the kind of crap those too-stupid-to-live heroines of slasher flicks tended to do.

    "Came to check on you," he replied, rolling onto his side and propping his head up on his hand. He'd done that a lot in the last two weeks. Checked in on me. It was sweet as hell, but I could tell from the hungry way he watched me that he was biding his time to finish our... conversation.

    I gave him a knowing grin. "Uh-huh. And you just happened to lose your shirt on the way to my room?" He was all stretched out on my floral-pink comforter in nothing but a pair of dark denim jeans, slung low on his hips as if to deliberately highlight that delicious V that ripped men had.

    Kody's smile was all male satisfaction, and my lower belly fluttered in response. "Is the sight of me shirtless distracting for you, MK?"

    I narrowed my eyes at him, then continued across the room to my walk-in closet. I needed to find something... Halloween-y.

    "This isn't a costume party or anything, right?" I called out to Kody while I flipped through the clothes hanging on my racks. Ninety percent of them I hadn't purchased, so I wasn't even totally sure what options I had to pick from.
    Believe in youhas quoted2 months ago
    Riot Night was a fucking nightmare for me, and I sure as hell don't want to be reminded of it all night. Just go to your party. I'm not leaving the house, so I'll be totally safe here alone."

    Steele's shoulders tensed, and he ducked his eyes away from mine.

    Shit.

    "Steele," I growled, my tone warning. "Why won't I be safe here? If the perimeter alarms are all on, no one is getting in without triggering them."

    Steele's jaw clenched, and his lips twisted in a grimace. "Another letter was sent, implying... that something might happen tonight. Arch—no, we all would feel a hell of a lot better if we could keep eyes on you."
    Believe in youhas quoted2 months ago
    "Go and get yourself cleaned up," he ordered me, like I was a dog and he was my master. "We're going to a party."

    My brows shot up. "What? No. No way."

    Archer just gave me a bored look. "This isn't up for negotiation, Madison Kate. Go upstairs, shower, and get dressed. We leave at eight."

    I slammed my can of soda down on the counter. "No."

    His brows raised. "No?"

    Curling my lip, I gave him a poisonous glare. "I understand this isn't a word you hear often, Archer, but it means the opposite of yes. Here, let me put it in a sentence for you. No, I'm not going to a party with you on the anniversary of the second-worst night of my life. Understood?" I made to stomp out of the kitchen, but he shot out of his seat and blocked my exit with his huge body.

    "We're going. You can either get showered and changed or you can go like this." He flickered a disgusted look over my outfit. "But I wouldn't advise it. You'll stand out a bit."

    Fury built inside me again, burning away some of the sulking haze that'd settled over me since discovering the stalker’s pictures of Steele and I fucking.

    "Listen, you overgrown bully," I snarled, poking Archer in his chest and kinda hurting my index finger, "you don't fucking own me; I'm my own damn person. You can't tell me what to do." I punctuated those last words with more chest jabs, regardless of the pain in my finger for it.
    Believe in youhas quoted2 months ago
    Kody shook his head, a frown creasing his brow. “No. Not a chance. You can’t get rid of us that easily, babe. Besides, we will keep you safe from this freak, I swear to you.”

    He couldn’t change my mind, though. Not when it was all so raw on my frayed nerves. I didn’t argue, but the way he sighed and scrubbed a hand through his platinum hair made me think he knew. He knew I was going to distance myself, and he wasn’t going to force the issue.

    Yet.
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