My eyes are still closed when he asks, “They just left? How long ago?”

The irritation that flows from my words is unjustified, but it’s there nonetheless. “Yes, that’s what I just said. They just left.” My voice cracks as I raise it and pull the hair away from my hot face. “Minutes ago. They could come back.” I lie and say, “That’s why I couldn’t answer you when you first came in. I wasn’t sure if they were really gone yet.”

He sees right through my lie; I can tell with the hint of a tilt of his head.

The realization leaves me just as it comes. Jase is here. Relief is hesitant to console me when he says, “No one’s going to hurt you,” instead of calling me out on the lie.

“You sound so sure of that,” I speak just under my breath and finally look into his eyes. Into the eyes of a man I was falling for. A man I trusted and slept with. A man who makes me question everything now.

I have to break his gaze and let out an uneasy breath as I stare past him and see the destruction. “Oh my God.” The words fall from my lips. “What the hell did they do?”

He follows me silently as I walk without thinking into the living room. The sofa is moved away from the wall, the cushions scattered on the floor. Maybe they did that when they were searching for me, but the lamp is busted, the light bulb shattered on the floor where it fell, the coffee table is overturned and that’s when I realize the book is gone.

The Coverless Book. Disbelief runs through me in a wave as I fall to the floor searching for it, but knowing it’s not here.

These were my mother’s things and the first pieces of furniture I bought on my own. Pieces I picked out with my sister. Each and every thing in this house comes with a memory. They violated it. I’ve never felt like this before.

“A robbery,” Jase says behind me and I shake my head. Denying the lie he speaks.

“They wanted it to look like that.” I’m barely conscious of my response as I take in the place. “That’s why they did it,” I add as the thought hits me and I stand up, looking toward the door. “They broke the window after they left to make it look like a robbery. Like they broke the glass to unlock the door.”

I feel sickened more than angered.

Pushing the hair out of my face, I try to think about what they could have been after, but it’s obvious. “They came here for me, but they thought I ran, so they made it look like a break-in.” I whip around to face Jase and tell him, “They knew I was here… or maybe they thought I took off. So they staged it…” My gaze falls as I swallow the lump in my throat. “They thought I took off when I heard them so they staged it as a robbery.”

“It’s a setup,” Jase agrees, searching through things and telling me Seth is nearby watching the entrance to the neighborhood and that everything’s okay now. He promises me he’ll fix it, he says he’ll find whoever it was and make them pay. He tells me he’s happy I’m okay and tries to comfort me with his touch, but I pull away. I don’t listen to his promises. I’m not in the habit of relying on promises. The seconds pass as I give myself a moment to actually process what happened.

It makes sense. All of it makes sense.

But why take the book? Every hair on the back of my neck stands up when the question echoes in my head.

My phone’s on the floor, as is a stack of envelopes from the pile of opened mail, but the mail itself, is missing. They were only bills, nothing of importance. But my laptop is gone too. Fuck! I need that for work. As I halfheartedly lean forward searching through my things, I take everything into account, but the one thing that matters… It really isn’t here.

“The book.” I can’t help but to say it out loud and when I do, my lips feel chapped and the sentence comes out raw. “They took it?” Denial is apparent. “Why take the book?” I shove everything out of the way, searching all over the living room until I get to the hallway only to see it’s trashed too. My mother’s vase sits perfectly where it is, thank God, but the light in the hall is broken. All the lights are broken.

They upturned the furniture, then busted the lights and stole meaningless items with no worth. Meaningless to them, but to me… “I want my book back.” I’m surprised that after all this time, the back of my eyes prick and my hands ball into fists at the thought of someone coming in here and taking The Coverless Book.

W. Winters Books | Romance Books | Irresistible Attraction Series Books