It was going to take time. A lot of time.
She thought wistfully of the small artist set she’d bought in an art store over the weekend. She’d been too embarrassed to ask for help, as if she were doing something elicit, so she’d bought a kit that promised it contained all the paints and brushes she needed to get started.
She had yet to open it. It was tucked away in her guest room, her own guilty little secret.
Tonight. Tonight she would open it. She might not remember how to paint a tree or a flower, but she would try. At least she would try.
Art and work could coexist. Malik had been right that she needed to do something for her. That she needed to put herself first sometimes.
She’d done that when she’d left Jahfar, though it was the hardest thing she’d ever done.
She’d had no idea how quickly it would happen, but as soon as their rescuers had arrived in the desert, Malik had put her in one of the four cars and told the driver to take her to his home in Al Na’ir. She could still see his dark eyes, the way he’d looked at her when she’d climbed into the car that would take her away from him. He’d seemed resigned.
A second car had followed, but Malik stayed behind with the others. It was the last time she’d seen him. She’d bathed and changed in Al Na’ir, and then she was on a plane to Port Jahfar. Once there, Malik’s private jet had whisked her out of the country before she could even catch her breath.
Her doorbell rang. The sound made her jump, her heart leaping into her throat.
Was it possible? Had he come for her this time? She pushed her hair from her face, straightened her skirt and hurried to the door, her heart pounding a million miles a minute.
But when she looked through the peephole, it wasn’t Malik. Her sister stood on the other side, her head down so that Sydney couldn’t see her face. Sydney undid the locks, disappointment spiraling inside her. She didn’t really want to talk to anyone just now, especially not someone in a happy relationship.
But she couldn’t pretend she wasn’t home when it was her sister standing there. It wouldn’t be right.
“Thank God you’re here,” Alicia said when Sydney pulled the door open.
Sydney blinked. Alicia was a mess. Her mascara ran down her face, her hair uncharacteristically mussed. Her entire body trembled, from the roots of her hair to the tips of her fingers. “Oh, my God, what happened?” Sydney exclaimed.
Alicia’s lip quivered. “I—I just need to come in for a while. Can I?”
“Of course!” Sydney stepped back and let her sister in, then slotted the locks back into place. She hadn’t been thinking straight since the moment she’d thought it might be Malik.
And seeing Alicia looking so upset had temporarily stunned her. Alicia was never anything less than poised.
Alicia went and sat on the couch. Then she doubled over and began to sob. Alarm raised the hairs on the back of Sydney’s neck. She rushed to her sister’s side and hugged her close.
“My God, Alicia, what is it? Did something happen to Jeffrey?”
That only made Alicia sob harder. Then she looked up and Sydney noticed it for the first time: Alicia’s eye was red, as if someone had hit her. Soon, it would turn black and blue, but for now it was a blazing, ugly red.
A sharp feeling of panic sliced into her, turned her into a babbling idiot. “Honey, were you attacked? Should we call the police? Where’s Jeffrey?”
Stop, a little voice said. She needs you to be calm.
It was shocking to think that Alicia needed her. But she did. Somehow Sydney managed to stop gibbering and simply hugged her tighter. “Just tell me when you’re ready, okay?”
“It’s Jeffrey,” Alicia whispered a few moments later, her lip trembling. “He hit me.”
The bottom fell out of Sydney’s stomach. “He hit you? But he loves you so much!”
Alicia flinched. “He doesn’t, Syd. He really doesn’t. Jeffrey only loves himself.” She stood and began to pace the room, shredding the tissue she’d dragged from her purse.
Sydney was having trouble processing everything—Alicia’s eye, the ugly things her sister was saying—but she knew one thing for certain. “We need to call the police,” she said firmly. Because no way in hell was that bastard getting away with this.
No way in hell!
“I can’t,” Alicia said, halting. Her eyes were wide, her lip trembling anew. “I can’t. Everyone will think I’m so stupid. Mom and Dad will be so disappointed in me—”
Sydney shot to her feet and went to put an arm around her sister. “It’s okay, Alicia. No one will think that. Everyone knows how smart you are.”