Victor raised his hand and swung, catching Victoria in a ringing slap across her cheek. He raised his hand again, but didn’t connect, because Ian stepped forward and grabbed his wrist, halting the movement.

“Stop, Victor. She may well deserve it, but I will not abide a man beating a woman, even if she is his child,” Ian warned, releasing his arm and stepping back again.

“Thank you, Ian,” Victoria simpered, batting her eyelashes, her hand cradling the reddened mark on her cheek.

Ian whirled on her in an instant. “Don’t you thank me, you devious little witch.”

She gasped and tears filled her eyes, but Ian kept going.

“I wasn’t doing it for you. They know what you’ve done today, Victoria. They’ve seen the proof,” he paused, delivering the final words on a growl, “in pictures.”

“No…no, no, no, no, no…” Victoria began chanting, shaking her head from side to side almost maniacally.

“Yes,” Ian hissed, nodding his head just as vigorously. “That’s it, Victoria. Stay the fuck away from me, stay the fuck away from Leah, stay the fuck away from my family, and that includes all my friends, Leah’s friends, anyone that I love. And for the record? That list DOES NOT include you!”

Ian glanced at Victor and CeeCee, lifting his chin as he asked, “Are we clear in what we discussed?”

Victor jerked his chin upwards once in a sharp nod, but CeeCee just stood there beside him, hand still clamped around her mouth, her face sickened.

Ian nodded once back at him, took my hand, and we walked out of the door.

And…umm…I may have shoulder checked Victoria as I walked by. Hard enough to make her stumble.

“Are you okay?” I called sweetly. “Gee, be careful where you step. It’s so easy to stumble in heels that high…” I said, shooting her my best butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth smile as I closed the door behind me.

Once we were safely ensconced in the car and on the road, Ian sent me a sideways glance, the corner of his mouth tipped up in a wryly amused half-smile.

“Was that necessary?” he asked, dryly.

“What?” I asked in reply. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I spent the rest of the ride staring out the window…but I couldn’t help the sly ghost of a smile on my face.

We finally got home after taking a quick side trip to Ian’s parents’ house, but I stayed in the car for that one. It didn’t take long, anyway, as they met him at the door. I saw a lot of head shaking on Ian’s Mom’s part, while his Dad just looked sick to his stomach. Thankfully, Ian didn’t have to pull out his phone to drive his point home, but I think it had more to do with the fact that Victor had called them before we pulled up, hence the reason they met Ian at the door.

Brandon’s Expedition was sitting in our driveway as we pulled past it and parked in the garage, and Chloe and Brandon were sitting at the kitchen table when we walked in, eating pizza directly from an opened delivery box on the table between them.

“Pizza?” Brandon asked, taking another big bite of the slice he was holding.

“Yes!” I cried, practically running for the table to grab up a slice, biting into the piping hot, mouth-watering blend of pizza sauce, pepperoni, and cheese. “God, I’m starving,” I mumbled, my voice muffled by a mouthful of food…and very bad manners, but I couldn’t bring myself to care at the moment. Any dinner plans we may have had were completely ruined by Victoria, and we hadn’t stopped to eat in between delivering our cease and desist messages.

Ian wasn’t far behind me, grabbing his own slice and I swear he inhaled it without chewing.

I swallowed the last bite and moaned, grabbing a paper towel and wiping my fingers. “Thank you for sharing with us,” I told Chloe and Brandon, smiling at them gratefully. “And thank you, seriously, for coming over here and cleaning up the mess while we were gone. You didn’t have to do that; I could have handled it when we got back.”

Chloe shook her head. “Stop. I don’t want to hear that. As soon as Brandon told me something was going on, did you really think I’d just let you deal with it on your own? No. You’re my best friend.”

Brandon and Chloe had shown up at Luke and Emma’s house as we were about to leave. Luke had mentioned what happened to Brandon before he left to go home, so naturally, Brandon had told Chloe, and they’d told us in no uncertain terms that they’d be going to our house to clean up the mess so we wouldn’t have to deal with it.

And they’d gone the extra mile and provided much needed sustenance for us…so needless to say, I have the best friends. Ever.

Ian and I sat down at the table to eat pizza with Chloe and Brandon. I’d barely gotten seated when Chloe started questioning us about what had happened. We filled them in, starting with the note that they hadn’t gotten to read.

When I was finished reading, Chloe looked ready to commit murder on my behalf.

“Calm down, killer,” I soothed, jokingly. “Remember? I get dibs on doling out bodily harm, and I need you to be on hand to bail me out.”

She laughed and we grinned at each other; the guys just shook their heads, but still, Ian warned, “There will be no bodily harm done to anyone that will cause either one of you to end up needing bail money. Yes?”

Like we’d rehearsed it (which we hadn’t, obviously-great mind just think alike!), Chloe and I both saluted Ian smartly, yelling, “Sir, yes sir!” But then we couldn’t contain our giggles when Ian just rolled his eyes and muttered, “Smart asses,” at the same time Brandon did.

We were brought back down when Ian suddenly asked, “We never really looked to see or anything before we left, but how the fuck did she get in? Did you see anything?”

Brandon grimaced. “Yeah, she broke the glass out of the window in the spare bedroom and crawled through, using a chair from the back porch to stand on. Bold, but, since the window faces the back, she had no worries about anyone seeing her. And since the gate on your privacy fence doesn’t have a lock…”

He trailed off, shrugging regretfully, but he didn’t have to finish what he was saying. I knew. I hadn’t put a lock on the gate because, honestly, it was a good neighborhood in the country, my sister never had any problems when she lived there, and I hadn’t either, until now. But I also wasn’t counting on my boyfriend having a stalker. Though, maybe I should have…he is pretty damn sexy. (Wink wink!)

“I know,” I sighed. “I guess I’ll be going out tomorrow after work and getting lock for it. I wish I would have known about the window…it’s just gonna be open all night because it’s too late to get something to board it up or whatever. I’ll have to call and get a new one priced, too.”

Ian cleared his throat. “Did you forget what I do, baby?”

“Oh. Yeah.” I smiled sheepishly at him. “Wasn’t thinking. You can do the window then, but what are we gonna do tonight? We don’t have any plywood or anything…I don’t think…” I wracked my brain, inventorying the contents of my garage mentally, but coming up empty.

“It’s taken care of,” Brandon interrupted. “Jackson had some extra plywood pieces in his garage. I swung by and grabbed one, and Luke and I boarded up the window earlier.”