The Edge of Everything (The Edge of Everything #1)(8)

Zoe raced down the steps and knelt over Uhura in the snow. The dog was shaken, but alive.

The man didn’t say a word. He certainly didn’t apologize. He just stood there, his eyes sliding over Zoe’s body and leaving slime trails like snails. Men had looked at her like this ever since she was 12. When she first talked to her mother about it, her mom had said, “Zoe, sit down for a second. It’s time I taught you the meaning of the phrase ‘horrible lowlife perv.’” Zoe had always loved her for that.

This particular lowlife was grinning, which made her veins twitch.

“You hit my dog,” she said. “Are you insane?”

He laughed, then his eyes got hard.

“That ain’t your dog,” he said. “Just ’cause a couple old folks get themselves dead don’t mean you can come along and snatch up their dogs.” He flicked his cigarette on the driveway, where it fizzled out in the snow. “And whereabouts is the other one—the chickenshit one?”

He knew Spock and Uhura.

“Who are you?” Zoe said.

“Who am I? I’m somebody who hates standing in the friggin’ cold. Also, I’m somebody who hates questions. Now where’s the other damn dog?”

“That’s a question,” said Zoe.

The man barked out a laugh.

“Well, look who’s got a mouth on her! Tell you what, girlie, you can call me Stan, how about that? As in, Stan the Man. I’ll call you … Zoe. How’s that grab you?”

And he knew her.

“Not so goddamn smart-alecky now, are you?” he said.

Uhura struggled to her feet. She shook the snow off her fur and started to growl again. Stan walked toward the dog with a look that Zoe didn’t like. Uhura growled louder, like a rocket about to take off. Zoe stepped between them. She had no plan whatsoever.

“Well, she knows you,” she said. “And she hates you.”

“Yeah, well, this bitch here and I got some history, don’t we,” he said. “And I’m more of a cat person.”

He stopped a couple of feet from Zoe, close enough that she could smell the cigarette smoke leaking out of his mouth, as well as the sour breath beneath it. Up close, his acne scars were so deep it looked like he’d been hit with buckshot.

“You gonna move out of my way?” he said. “I came here lookin’ for money, but apparently I gotta kick a little doggy ass first.”

Zoe was scared and had no idea what to do. He must have seen that, because he didn’t wait for an answer.

He sprang at her.

Everything happened at once. Stan shoved Zoe down onto the driveway. Uhura lunged at him and bit his hand so hard that he let loose a shriek. It turned out that Stan was pretty chickenshit himself.

Uhura refused to let go. Stan exploded with profanity and wheeled around in pain. The dog hung on to his hand by her teeth, even when her feet were dangling off the ground.

“Mother of god,” Stan screeched, “I am going to kill this thing dead.”

Then, from out of nowhere, something struck him in the head. A rock. Blood trickled down around his ear. He spat out a vivid streak of curses. He and Zoe both turned to the porch, where Jonah was standing with a fierce look on his face.

“It was me, Zoe!” he said proudly. “I got him! It was me!”

Stan lurched toward Jonah, but Uhura still wouldn’t let go. She was furious and wild. It was like watching someone wrestle an alligator.

Zoe ran up the steps to Jonah. He hugged her hard around the waist, then opened his fist: his pink palm was full of rocks.

“I’m gonna get him again,” he said.

“Don’t, Jonah,” she said. “He doesn’t fight fair, so we’re not going to fight. Okay? Say okay. I want to hear you say okay.”

“Okay, Zoe. I won’t get him again—but I could.”

Stan finally threw Uhura into his pickup and locked her in. The dog clawed at the window. Her breath fogged the glass. It was awful to watch. Jonah buried his face in Zoe’s coat.

Stan was sweating now. He was shaking with rage and rubbing his buzz cut to try to calm down. Blood ran down the right side of his face. What appeared to be mascara ran down the left—he’d apparently been using it to dye an eyebrow. As sweat washed it away, Zoe could see that the otherwise black brow had a creepy tuft of pure white.

Stan went to the back of his truck, lifted a tarp heavy with snow, and pulled out what looked, in the darkness, like a poker from a fireplace. He walked toward Jonah and Zoe.

He pointed the poker at them like a weapon.

“Now where,” he demanded, “is the other … motherfrickin’ … dog?”

Zoe didn’t answer, but Jonah flew toward the house, which gave it away. She raced after him and bolted the door the second they were inside. She could hear Stan leaping up the steps behind them.

Jonah was in the living room, pushing a coffee table in front of the doorway, like a barricade. Nobody made better forts than her brother. Well, nobody made more forts than her brother, anyway.

Within seconds, Stan was bashing at the front door.

Zoe tried to call the police. She couldn’t get a signal. The text to her mom was still unsent, like a plane that would never be cleared for takeoff. She wished her mom had known they were safe in those few moments when they actually were.

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