I managed to stay on my feet somehow, but I couldn’t control my scream as he punched me in the face. It was enough to make my nose bleed, the warm wetness trailing over my lips and dripping off my chin, but somehow I knew that he hadn’t broken it. Not yet, at least.

I tried to contain my sobs as I sank to my knees, unable to stand the pain rolling through my ankle any longer, though the pain in my face was a close second. And then…Oh, God. No…

Immediately, I realized my mistake.

The sound of a belt being loosened and then whipped through belt loops made me whimper, the sound lost in the hateful words spewing from Greg’s lips.

“Since you’re down there, whore, open wide. I’m gonna enjoy seeing you bleed while I fuck that nasty little mouth of yours.”

I felt his fingers tangle viciously in my hair, jerking my head back. I screamed and he thrust forward with his hips…

“CHLOE! Jesus, sunshine, please open your eyes, wake up!”

I could hear Brandon, his words loud and tinged with fear and desperation as I fought to free myself from my dream. I could feel the bitterness of remembered pain echoing along my body, every inch of me shaking and shuddering, my chests heaving as I gasped for breath.

I sat up, my eyes clashing with his stormy gaze, realizing that he had me by the shoulders, his grip almost edging on bruising. As soon as our eyes met he jerked me forward into his arms, crushing me to his chest and holding me tight, murmuring into my hair, “It’s okay, it’s just a nightmare, baby, alright? You’re safe, sunshine, I’m here…”

I shivered again, shaking off the vestiges of the dream…the memories…and snuggled deeper into him, letting him soothe me, soaking the heat of him into my chilled flesh.

We stayed like that for a while, Brandon rocking me gently as he murmured reassurances and smoothed his hand down my back.

When my breathing had calmed and the tears I hadn’t realized were coursing down my face had dried, he asked softly, “Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?”

I sighed and settled even closer before I answered. “I’m okay. It’s just…just a nightmare. Like before.”

I felt him shake his head, his chin brushing the top of my head as he did so. “No, Chloe, that wasn’t a nightmare like before. This one was worse than any I’ve ever heard you have before. You were screaming like someone was…like you were being hurt. Badly.” His voice shook as he forced the words out.

I squeezed my eyes shut, not wanting to have this conversation, but knowing he wasn’t going to let me off so easily.

“I…just…remember when I came here?” I asked, quietly.

He nodded.

“Let’s just leave it at that. Okay?”

He nodded again, though I could tell he wasn’t satisfied with my answer when he tensed against me.

Without thinking, seeking only to soothe him like he did me, I pressed my lips to his chest, kissing the words inked across his heart. The firm, heated feel of his skin against my lips sent a thrill through me, settling in my stomach as the butterflies awoke once again.

He made a rough sound in his throat and I moved, pressing my lips to his bare skin again, this time tasting him with the tip of my tongue, earning another throaty growl. Lust rushed through me and I shifted, pressing myself against him as I worked small, nipping kisses up his throat and across his jaw until I reached the corner of his mouth. A soft, breathy sigh left my lips as he turned and our mouths met in a gentle, hesitant kiss.

His hand came up to cup my shoulder before sliding down my back until it gripped my hip, his fingers sinking into the soft, bare flesh there.

Just like that, clarity hit. And it hit both of us like a white hot bolt of lightning.

“Fuck!” Brandon growled as he pushed away from me, jumping off the bed as I scrambled to grab my blanket. “You’re naked!” he yelled, accusingly.

“I’m in my room, in my bed!” I yelled back. “I didn’t invite you in and you weren’t complaining just a minute ago!”

“I know!” he yelled back.

“And it’s not like you’re wearing much either, Goddamnit!” I yelled even louder.

He glanced down at himself, shouting another heartfelt ‘FUCK’ as he realized he didn’t have anything on but a pair of tight, dark grey boxer briefs that did nothing to hide the hard length of his erection.

“I can’t help what he does!” he roared at me, palming himself through his shorts to try and adjust things so it wasn’t so noticeable. Not that it helped. At all.

We glared at each other silently for a minute before the absurdity of the situation struck me and I started giggling. I giggled louder as he scowled even harder at me, and then outright belly laughed when his lips twitched and his scowl started to slip.

He finally gave up trying to hold onto his glare and laughed with me until we were both breathless, grinning at each other like lunatics. No doubt, anyone who saw us at that moment would seriously question our sanity, especially with him standing in nothing but boxer briefs and a raging erection (no, it hadn’t gone down at all) and me naked in the bed clutching a blanket to my chest.

As we continued to stare at each other, our grins started to fade. Brandon shifted and turned away from me, trying for belated modesty, as he cleared his throat and asked gruffly, “You gonna be okay?”

“Yeah,” I answered softly.

He nodded once and gave me an appraising look before he turned and left the room, gently closing the door behind him.

Sighing, I slid back down in my bed and willed myself to find sleep again…preferably without the nightmares this time.

Chapter 5

The rest of my weekend was unimpressive. I called Leah to check on her but got no response other than a text letting me know that she was alright and would call me soon. I called my brother, but he and Allie sounded preoccupied, and I didn’t even bother calling Emma. I hadn’t heard from Brandon, either, so all in all, it was a pretty boring Sunday. Monday and Tuesday were more of the same, although I did stay pretty busy at work with Allie.

The beeping of my phone woke me up on Wednesday morning. I rolled over and grabbed for it, yawning as I noted a text from Allie.

Hey, woman! I know you aren’t supposed to come into the store until noon today, but I forgot about my doctor’s appointment at 10:00. Could you come in early? Please? You love me!

I chuckled at her perkiness; no way in hell could I be that perky in the morning. I needed coffee first. I got up and shuffled into the kitchen to make a cup, texting her back as I went: Sure. No prob. Just let me pink my coffee and I’ll be on my way.

My phone beeped again just as my coffee got done brewing. I took a sip as I looked at it, immediately spraying the scalding hot fluid all over the counter as I read her reply and double checked what I had texted her.

Pink your coffee? What is that, tea-bagging for women?

I groaned as I replied: Damn autocorrect! I meant DRINK my coffee. But good one!

Her reply was immediate. I know, right? Can you imagine what that would look like, though? I mean, it’s bad enough when you think of a man tea-bagging, but…

Oh, Lord. Mental image I so did not need. I shook my head as I typed: Yeah, thanks. That’s an image I didn’t want stuck in my head this early in the morning.

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