I nodded slowly, my stomach knotting up instantly again at the thought of having to reveal the depravity I lived with for longer than I should have, for letting them see that I was stupid and weak for not getting out and stopping it until it was almost too late.

I peered up at him and asked quietly, “Can we do it tomorrow with everyone? I don’t want to have to go through it more than once.”

Brandon kissed my head once more and nodded his assent. He pulled me into his arms and moved us so we were laying in the bed, wrapped up in each other. We fell asleep that way and, blessedly, it was a deep, dreamless sleep.

When morning came, we got ready and checked out without speaking. I was on edge, knowing that I was about to lay bare all the sordid details I’d kept hidden for a long time. It wasn’t going to be easy…it was going to be hell.

Chapter 10

Three hours later found me surrounded by friends and family, each of them waiting patiently to find out just what was going on.

Emma must have called Leah because she was on one side of me on the couch at Luke and Emma’s house, which is where everyone just naturally congregated, and surprisingly, my mom was on the other side.

She’d managed to get a flight before Jackson had even told her that I was going to tell them everything, which is why she’d sent just that short text letting me know about Greg; she’d already been on her way to the airport. Our mom is good like that, willing to fly across the country in a hot second because one of her babies just might need her.

I just hated that she had done it to deal with my shit.

I cleared my throat and glanced over at Brandon, who was sitting on the arm of the love seat beside Allie. Jackson was sharing the loveseat with her, and she was leaning back against his chest. Luke and Emma were squeezed into the armchair that is usually Doug’s favorite seat, Emma on Luke’s lap, cradled in his arms, his hands splayed protectively, yet lovingly, across the girth of her pregnant belly.

Brandon gave me a small, encouraging nod so I started talking. I began with the beginning; how sweet and loving Greg was—but it was all an act.

He hit me for the first time six months into our relationship. He convinced me it was an accident, that I’d just happened to turn into his hand while he had it raised during an argument. It was believable at the time. Now I know I was just stupid and naïve.

It all poured out from there. I ignored the tears streaking down my face silently, just stoically kept talking, letting it all out. I wasn’t holding back any details and I could see it was taking its toll on everyone else, too.

My mom was sobbing quietly beside me, trying to stay strong for me. Leah looked like she could kill someone, all the while tears were tracking down her cheeks, as well. Allie and Emma were both crying, trying to muffle their sobs on the shoulders of Jacks and Luke.

And all three of the guys? I’d swear I saw death in their eyes.

Brandon was almost vibrating in anger and shock; his face was dark with fury, jaw tight, fists clenched on his thighs. Jackson and Luke looked about the same, but they were controlling it just a bit better because their arms were full of crying women.

I got to the womanizing, all the times he fucked women right in front of me…the drug use…and the beatings.

I was wrung out—a complete wreck by the time I got to the final fight that sent me running for my life, knowing that if I didn’t get out this time, he’d kill me for sure. My voice a whisper, I sank into the memory, ice-cold numbness washing over me as I spoke…

For what I swore was the last time, I opened my eyes and I promised myself, right there staring in the mirror, that this was it. This was the time I was going to walk away, be the strong woman I always prided myself on being. Until I met him. Greg.

I was working as a bartender in a popular club, and late one night, he showed up. He was perfect, blonde haired, blue-eyed…the All-American boy that every girl wanted, dreamed about. He was sweet, charming, and respectful and I thought I’d hit the good-guy lottery. Little did I know that I’d only been duped…that I was dancing with the devil.

But I knew now…and I was done being his punching bag. I had to get out and I had to do it soon. I leaned back over the sink and carefully dabbed some powder along the fading edge of the black eye I still had from last week. Glancing at my watch, I swore under my breath and fled to the kitchen to get dinner laid out on the table like he expected.

Everything was fine until after dinner when I was cleaning the kitchen. I had managed to keep him calm and not set him off. But…

A wine glass. A single, simple, fucking wine glass. That’s what did it. I can’t help the fact that he bumped into me while I was putting it away in the cabinet and dropped it, causing it to shatter all over the counter and the floor.

I cleaned it up quickly after he smacked me across the face, vile words burning my ears as he swore at me while I worked. I winced as a small shard of glass sliced into my finger when I went to pick it up, pulling it out and then staring absently at the drop of blood welling to the surface.

“Stupid fucking cunt, can’t even clean anything up without fucking shit up more! Get up and get a bandaid on it now before you get blood all over my kitchen!” Greg screamed at me.

Tossing the small sliver of glass onto the pile, I swept it all up and deposited in the trash can, putting the broom and dustpan back away before I started to leave the kitchen for the bathroom to get a bandaid.

“Where the fuck you think you’re going?” he yelled behind me from his seat at the table.

“To—to get a bandaid-” I stuttered.

He shook his head vehemently at me and pointed to my purse, sitting on the counter by the back door. “I know you have a bandaid in there, you prissy little bitch. You don’t need to the leave the room. I want you here where I can see you so you don’t destroy any more of my shit.”

I closed my eyes and walked to my purse, pulse pounding. He never got in my purse. Ever. I don’t know why, but that’s something he’s never checked, never thought about until now. But today, there was something in my purse that I was hiding, something that had to be kept a secret at all costs. That secret was what prompted me to finally make the decision I made standing in the bathroom earlier that day.

I unzipped my purse and fumbled carefully inside for the small first aid kit I’d always kept in there, holding my breath as pure, unadulterated fear shot through every cell of my body. I pulled it out and zipped my purse back up, letting out my breath slowly in relief as I turned away from it, moving to the table to pull the bandaid out and wrap it securely around my finger.

I glanced at Greg surreptitiously from the corner of my eye and flinched reflexively when I saw him watching me carefully, suspicion beginning to crawl across his features.

“You’re being very pleasant this evening, bitch. Other than that glass your clumsy ass broke, you’ve been on your best behavior like you’re supposed to be. Should I be worried?”

I shook my head at him, knowing that he was gearing up to explode and wanting to avoid it at all costs. I knew that it didn’t matter if I was the perfect little robot for him every second of every day, he was never going to be happy anymore, he was always going to look for the excuse to punish me.

He nodded and breathed, “Ahhh…I know what it is. Greg hasn’t given you any good lovin’ lately, has he?”

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