“J-just let me go, Greg,” I stammered. “The car is surrounded by cops and you know they aren’t going to just let you drive away.”

He snarled and his hand shot out, catching the side of my face with a vicious backhand. I bit my lips hard enough to draw blood to keep from crying out. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. As I slowly turned my head forward again, I saw him shift, reach behind his back and, to my chagrin, pulled another gun from the waistband of his jeans, pointing it in my direction.


“Greg,” I pleaded. “Don’t do this.”

The cops were ramping up their demands, the bullhorn echoing in the stillness surrounding us. It was like time had frozen; we were at a standoff and, at this point, I had no idea which way this would go. Regardless, I knew that it probably wouldn’t end well.

He cocked the gun just as I caught the glint of metal out of the corner of my eye. The gun that had been tucked under this leg was lying on the floor beside his foot, and he wasn’t paying any attention to it. In that split second, I made a decision. It was reckless, but by the time I thought it all out, it was too late.

It was over.

I forced myself to go limp like I had passed out, flopping sideways toward Greg in the driver seat. Caught off guard, the hand holding the gun jerked and I went deaf as the blast echoed around the enclosed car when his finger tightened on the trigger. I heard glass shatter and chaos outside the vehicle, but I tuned it out as I let my arm flop down, my finger brushing against and then closing over the gun on the floorboard. Greg’s hand fisted in my hair, sending sharp pain over my scalp.

Before I could do anything, another shot rang out and Greg yelled in rage. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears because all I could think is that I’d been shot. My whole body was numb with a combination of shock and adrenaline. I could feel hot, wet tears coursing down my face as I sat up, Greg’s fingers still tangled painfully in my hair. Without thinking, before the gun had even cleared the seat completely, I pulled the trigger, blindly aiming for his lap, just wanting some kind of distraction so I could get away.

Without waiting to see if I’d actually hit him, I wrenched my head out of his grasping fingers, my eyes watering at the searing sting of hair being ripped free. I scrambled for the door, my fingers scrabbling at the lock, finally pulling it up, but before I could open the door, it was pulled from my grasp. I tumbled out of the car into the waiting arms of an officer, who rushed me away from the car and straight into an ambulance.

It wasn’t until later that I realized it wasn’t tears running down my face. It was blood. And it wasn’t mine.

It all happened in the blink of an eye. Just a fraction of my life that I will never, ever forget. Because I shot Greg that day.

Because Greg died that day.

Chapter 21

“Chloe.”

I jerked my head around, snapped out of my reverie by the quiet by firm sound of my name being called. From the tone, it was apparent that it wasn’t the first time, either.

“Yeah. Sorry,” I said, contrite. I slammed the flash book closed on the counter, where it’d been laid out for the last client of the day.

“You ready?” Brandon asked.

I nodded and walked back into his studio, closing the door behind me. He gave me a second to change into a strapless shirt, just for the sake of the shop more than modesty. I mean, seriously. We live together, share a bed, and trust me…he’s seen me naked. Lots.

With a brisk knock, he peeked his head in and grinned, joking, “Damn! I missed the show!”

I heard grumbling behind him and laughed, knowing that Luke must have been passing by the door.

“Is it wrong that this has me a little excited?” Brandon quipped, coming fully into the studio. He left the door open; it was after closing time on a Saturday night, so there was no one else coming in, we were closed the next day, and Luke was getting ready to leave. T.J. had been really distant, almost jumpy for a few days and then called that morning to say he had something to take care of and wouldn’t be back for a couple weeks. Luke and Brandon were okay with him taking the time off, since they’d cut him into the business like they’d talked about, but I don’t think he’d been asking.

It’d been forty-two days since that fateful day when Greg walked into the shop and tried to kidnap me. Well, he did kidnap me, but…it wasn’t for long.

I’d ended up with six stitches in my head where it’d busted open against the window. Other than that, I had some bruising and small scrapes and cuts, mostly from him hitting me or from me flying around the car while he drove like a maniac.

They figured, from start to finish, the whole thing had taken about twenty minutes. I’d only been in the car with him at the park, during the stand-off, for about five minutes. It seemed so much longer when I was trapped in there. Turns out I hadn’t been shot; when I dropped down to reach for the gun, the wild shot from Greg’s gun that shattered the windshield had also almost hit an officer standing outside his car.

Since I was down and there was a clear shot, they’d fired back, hitting him in the chest, piercing his heart. He was already dying when I shot him. They did say that my shot made sure he’d never have kids if he’d survived; but I’d also nicked his femoral artery, so his survival wasn’t guaranteed, just by my hand alone.

The investigation was over, I was free. I felt guilt over the fact that I shot him; but at the same time, I was liberated by the fact that I would never have to watch over my shoulder again. Oddly enough, the nightmares had stopped completely about two weeks after the incident. Things were back to normal…well, as normal as could be with my group of family and friends.

I’d finally given in to Brandon and had been talking to a counselor about everything that happened. I’d been able to let go of the guilt I had harbored all those years, all the blame…and all the hurt, especially over what happened with my baby. Brandon had tattooed a small pink heart right above my hip bone for me, just as a little reminder of that little heart that had grown inside me, however so briefly.

But life was good.

And I was getting another tattoo.

“Well, you get excited about weird things, so no, I’d say it’s not wrong. At least not for you, anyway.”

He snorted and bent to kiss my lips sweetly. “Put your ass in my chair, woman!” he growled, playfully smacking me on my ass.

I wiggled it at him and laughed as he shook his head in mock resignation.

“So fuckin’ sassy…” he grumbled, making me laugh even more as I got comfortable in his chair. “Let’s do this,” he said, once I was settled. He pulled on rubber gloves with the whole ‘comedic doctor’ routine, snapping them around his wrists and waggling his eyebrows.

I just rolled my eyes and watched as he got down to business. He applied the transfer that he’d drawn up for me last week, checked to make sure it was placed correctly and evenly where I wanted it and then had me double check. That done, he raised a brow at me questioningly, and at my nod, went to work.

I bit my lip at the sharp sting of the needle as he plied it smoothly along my skin, beginning the outline. I settled into the pain, breathing evenly and sitting completely still. He worked steadily, sure in his movements; I loved watching him work.

About an hour later, he was done, the shop was cleaned up, we were on our way home, and I was the proud owner of a new tattoo. It was beautiful; artful swirls of ink linking star-shaped flower blooms, almost like the ones found on a cypress vine, that trailed down and over my shoulder.

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