“Leave her alone!” I yell, walking in their direction.
“And what do you think you’re going to do if we don’t?” Jacob asks, turning the handlebar grip in his hand.
I take another step. “I don’t think you want to find out.” I used to play with these guys almost every day, but when I started playing with Kate, I realized they weren’t as exciting to play with. She’s a lot more fun.
“Fine, we’ll let her go this time, but next time she might not be so lucky.” They let go of her bike, allowing it to fall to the ground. I watch them disappear down the sidewalk while I pick up Kate’s bike.
“Are you okay?” I ask, checking the bike over.
“Yeah, I’ll be okay.”
“I’ll always protect you,” I reassure her as I start walking the bike toward her garage.
I’ve taken care of that girl over and over again, but when she needed me the most, I wasn’t there. I never want to let her out of my sight again.
“Will you stay with me tonight?” I ask when her tears subside.
She sits up and looks at me. I wish I could see the green in her eyes. “I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t be very good company tonight.”
“Come on. I need you to help me take care of my hand,” I say, flexing my swollen hand between us. I wince; it hurts more than I thought it did. I’d be surprised if I didn’t break anything.
I watch her bite her lower lip. “Yeah, I’ll probably sleep better if I’m with you anyway.”
“It’s going to be okay,” I say, placing a gentle kiss on her forehead before tilting her lips up to mine. “I love you, Kate.”
“I love you, too.”
I lean in to kiss her, letting my lips linger on hers for a little longer than I usually do. As I pull back, I run my thumb over her bottom lip. “Let’s get you to bed then.”
At least temporarily, I’ve been able to take some of her pain away.
Later that Night – December 2012
HEARING DREW HESTON’S VOICE made me feel like someone had punctured my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. It was something I wasn’t expecting, but I was better equipped to handle it because of all the things Asher taught me. He took everything that was fragile about me and laid a foundation for me to grow and gain strength. I continue to build on it every day with Beau there to help me.
And this time, Beau was there to save me. I went in to get Cory in case Drew tried anything, but as Rachel and I waited in the kitchen, we could hear lots of shouting. We both ran outside to see Beau’s fist slamming into Drew’s face and the anger that was flowing out of him.
A part of me was pissed that Beau would take the risk of getting injured just to get back at Drew. Another part of me felt vindicated. I kept the secret of what Drew did to me for years, and he didn’t have to shoulder any of the guilt or regret.
But maybe Beau was able to beat some into him.
I think we all have those moments in our lives that define who we are and who we will become. I’ve had a few of those. I grew up without a father, but I adjusted to having one parent who had to work all the time. I survived rape and the horrible emotional storm that followed. I met my soul mate and lost him soon after. Each moment of sorrow, pain, and regret led to new strength.
I like to think I can make it through anything now.
“We’re here,” Beau announces as he shuts off his old truck.
I don’t know where I’d be without him. He’s been the one constant in my life. No matter what I do or say to him, he’s always there for me. “Let’s go then.”
As I step out of the truck, the cold night air hits me. All I want to do is put on some warm clothes and crawl into a nice warm bed. It will be ten times better because Beau is here with me.
He grabs my hand in his uninjured one and leads me to the front door of his apartment complex, careful to avoid the ice patches that have formed on the sidewalk. As he opens the door, he places his hand on my lower back to guide me through.
It’s obvious that Cory and Rachel haven’t made it home yet because the apartment is pitch black, the only noise being the sound of the old refrigerator. For the first time, I feel a little nervous. I’ve known Beau for fifteen years, but this will be the first time I spend a whole night with him.
“Do you want me to grab you something more comfortable to wear?” he asks, eyeing my tight jeans and black turtleneck.
“That sounds like a good idea,” I reply, glancing toward the kitchen. “I’ll get some ice for your hand.”
“Thank you,” he says, bending down to kiss my forehead again.
As he disappears down the hall, I open drawers to find something to put the ice in. It’s a true bachelor pad with most cupboards and drawers being empty.
“Look in the freezer,” I hear Beau say from behind me. By his voice, I can tell he’s only a few feet behind me.
I pretend he’s not standing there and grab a towel that hangs from the refrigerator door and open the freezer. As I grab for the ice cube tray, I hear Beau clearing his throat. “You’re not going to wrap the ice in that towel are you?”
I look down at the towel, confused. “Is there something special about this towel?”
He laughs. “No, but I’d rather not have cold water everywhere.”
I put my hand on my hip, letting him know I’m not in the mood to be tested. “Beau?”
“Kate?” He wraps his good hand around my waist with a crooked grin on his face.
“Do you have a Ziploc bag or something?”
“All you had to do was ask,” he says, kissing the top of my head. “The drawer to the left of the fridge.”
He lets go of me, and I busy myself getting some ice ready for him while he watches my every move. He’s trying to read me even while I’m doing the simplest of tasks. What he doesn’t know is that taking care of him is keeping all of my demons away.
“I put some clothes on my bed for you,” he says before disappearing around the corner.
Wrapping the ice-filled bag into the towel, I go in search of Beau. When I don’t see him in the living room, I walk to his bedroom, finding him seated on the edge of his bed with his head in his hands. I approach, thinking he’ll look up as I move closer, but he remains still.
“Beau,” I whisper, placing my hand on his shoulder.
He doesn’t look up at me, but I feel his body trembling. I crouch down in front of him and try to get a glimpse of his face. “Beau.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asks suddenly. In his voice I can hear tears, and all I can think about is wiping them away.
“I’m okay. I promise.”
“I don’t know how you do it.” He pauses, glancing up at me for the first time, his cheeks stained with tears. “I’ve been struggling with it since you told me. I blame myself because I should have been there that night. I should have done more to help you after that night instead of trying to push you back to who you were before.”
A thousand nails shoot through my heart. It’s not his fault that Drew’s an asshole. He shouldn’t carry any of this guilt. He needs to let it go so we can move on.
“Beau, listen to me. There’s nothing we can do to change the past.” I stop, grabbing his face in my hands. “All we can do is move forward. Together.”
His hands wrap around my wrists as he looks into my eyes with one of the most pained expressions I’ve ever seen. “Do you remember when I told you I thought you’d be my last love?”
I nod, not blinking once.
“Even when I walked away from the trampoline that night, I knew you always would be,” he says, running his hands down my forearms. “I thought I’d lost you forever. Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe you’re really here … that you’re mine.”
“A part of me has always been yours,” I say honestly as his hands move up to my shoulders and run along the bottom of my neck. I wonder if he can feel how fast my heart beats as his fingers brush against my throat. When his hands cup my face, I close my eyes and wait to feel his warm breath against my lips. When it happens, my heart beats even faster, making it hard to hold back. I want him to kiss me. I want to kiss him.
“You’re beautiful,” he breathes as his lips lightly brush against mine. “You’re the one who makes me a better person. I want to be the best for you.”
He continues to place feather-like kisses on my lips, my chin between his thumb and forefinger. I’m waiting for more; my whole body wants to take this to the next level.
I stand slowly, out of reach for his lips, and gently push against his shoulders until the top of his body rests on the bed. A shocked look appears on his face as I lie next to him and pull his shirt up to run my hand across his toned stomach.
“Beau, I’m ready, and I want this. Please,” I beg, pressing my lips to the skin above his abs.
He gasps. “You don’t know how badly I want this, but after what happened tonight, I’m not sure if it’s a good idea. I don’t want you to regret it.”
I replace my lips with my fingertips and lie my head down next to his. “I could never regret you.”
Our eyes connect as he turns his head and something passes between us. I hope he feels it, too.
My hope shatters on the ground when he stands up from the bed and starts walking toward the door. I just offered myself to him, and he’s just going to walk away without saying a word? Closing my eyes tightly, I wait to hear the door open, but instead I hear the lock click. I slowly bring myself to open them again and see him standing over me.
I don’t even know if I’m still breathing as I watch him watching me. I’m not nervous or anxious … just waiting.
“Stand up,” he demands, using his index finger to summon me forward.