Dirty Money

By: Jessica Clare

The thought’s fucking depressing—both in that Natalie is disgusted by me, and that I’m still hung up on her after all these years. I must be an idiot. “You’re wrong,” I tell Knox. “I’m good.”

He ignores me, tilting his head. “So what is it you want out of life? Money? Success? You already have both.” He nods over to Ivy and Boone. Our brother has his hand on the small of Ivy’s back, and he’s gazing down at her as she speaks like pearls are dropping out of her damn mouth. Boone’s totally fucking besotted. It’d be funny if I wasn’t so fucking jealous. Not of him and Ivy—they’re perfect together. I just . . . I rub my jaw again, feeling the bristles of my beard. I haven’t looked at anyone like that since . . .

Goddamn it. That’s twice now I’ve thought of Natalie in the same day. Must be getting moody. “Dunno what I want. Ain’t this, that’s for sure.”

“No one wants this,” Knox says with a shrug of his shoulders. “But it comes for all of us in the end. Question is, you gonna end up in that box with regrets?”

The knot in my gut returns. “Maybe.”

“That’s your problem,” my wise little brother says. He wags a finger at me like he’s scolding a child. “You ain’t ruthless.”

“Huh?” I squint at him like he’s crazy.

“You’re the nice one, Clay.”

“I am?”

Knox nods sagely. “You’re the one everyone goes to when Boone needs softening up. You’re the one everyone looks to for a laugh, or to smooth things over. Everyone’s friend. You don’t know how to be ruthless. You’re so busy making sure everyone else is happy and smiling that you don’t go after what you want.”

Is that who I am? Just a happy go lucky piece of shit whose miserable on the inside? I don’t think that’s me, but then again, this ache in my belly might be telling me otherwise. I look over at Boone and Ivy. She’s got her head on his shoulder, and I know when they leave here, he’s probably gonna rub her feet or rub her belly or, hell, just rub her all over. And she’ll fuss over him and they’ll end up doing it on the sofa in foyer and someone will catch ’em. Again. And they’ll just laugh like it’s funny and Ivy will blush, and they both won’t be able to stop smiling.

They’re so goddamn happy.

I look over at the widow and her boys. She’s herding them out of the building, tears streaking her face. She’s sobbed through the entire ceremony. Loved Eddie to pieces.

And I think of Nat again. Nat, and the way she curled her lip at me the last time I saw her. Nat, and how she told me I wasn’t good enough for her. Nat, who chose her daddy and her family name over me, when I would have given her the moon if I’d have had two nickels to rub together.

Nat, who I still jerk off to, because I’m a sick son of a bitch with a massive hang-up.

“Gotta be ruthless,” Knox says. “That’s the only way you’re gonna get what you want.”

Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s time I nut up and use some of this ridiculous money and be ridiculous with it. I glance over at Boone again. He threw around all kinds of money to push Ivy into dating him. Maybe I need to throw my weight around and act like the big man. Buy my way into the heart of the girl I always wanted but I could never have.

And then, once I’ve bought her heart, I can hold it in my hand and decide if I want to crush it or keep it.

Gotta be ruthless, after all.

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