I can’t see straight or think straight. I’m caught in the whirlwind that is Jase Cross.

Knock, knock, knock.

Startled by the first knock, feeling as if I’ve been spared by the second, I stop my thoughts in their track. Someone at the front door saves me from my hurried thoughts, but the moment I stand to go to the door, I hesitate.

I shouldn’t be scared to answer the door. I shouldn’t feel the claws of fear wrapping around my ankles and making me second-guess taking another step.

I will not live in fear. The singular thought propels me further, but it doesn’t stop me from grabbing the baseball bat I put in the corner of the foyer last night. The smooth wood slips in my palm until I grip it tighter and then quietly peek through the peephole.

Thump. Thump.

My heart stops racing the second I let out a breath, then put the baseball bat back to unlock the door and pull it open. “What the fuck is wrong with me,” I mutter to myself.

“Mrs. Walker,” I say and then shut the door only an inch more as the harsh wind blows in. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

The older woman purses her thin lips in a way that lets me know she’s uncomfortable. She has the same look every time she stands to speak at the HOA meetings. Which she’s done every time I’ve been there. I glance behind her to check my lawn, but the grass hasn’t even started to grow yet.

“Is there something I can help you with?”

Her hazel eyes reach past me, glancing inside my house and I close the door that much more until it’s open just enough for my frame, and nothing more.

“Is your grandson doing all right?” I ask her, reminding her about the last time we spoke. When she needed help and I came to her aid. Technically to her grandson’s aid, who’d been struggling with his parents’ divorce and needed someone to talk to.

“I was wondering if you were all right?” she clips back.

“Me?”

“There’s been some activity… some men around your house lately.” Her eyes narrow at me, assessing and I’m not sure what she’ll find. I close the door behind me to step outside on the porch.

“Men?” I question.

“A number of them. In cars that seem… expensive. Same with the clothes.”

“Are you suggesting I’m some sort of escort, Mrs. Walker?” I throw in a bit more contempt than I should, in an attempt to get her to back off.

“No. I think they’re drug dealers.” Her answer isn’t judgmental. Just matter of fact.

The tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I have to cross my arms a bit tighter.

“This is what happened to your sister. Isn’t it?”

Words escape me. The memory of my sister on the steps right in front of me causes the cold to seep into my skin, and then deeper within. I can see her there still. I can’t tear my eyes away from her. God help me, I’m losing it. She looks just as I saw her last. Except for her hair, she’s wearing it like our mom used to. Memories flood my thoughts. None of them good.

“Are you all right? You’re as white as the snow,” Mrs. Walker says as she grips my shoulder and I snap, pulling myself away from her.

“Please leave me alone,” I tell her and refuse to look back at my sister. I can feel Jenny’s gaze on me. It’s like she’s sitting right there on the porch steps. Watching us now, but not saying anything.

I don’t move until Mrs. Walker does, leaving in silence. It’s only when she’s walking down the stairs that I dare look at them.

My sister’s not there. Of course she’s not. She’s gone. My sister’s gone.

Whipping my door open, I pace in the hall.

What the fuck is wrong with me? I need to get the fuck out of here.

My keys jingle as I lift them from the hook in my foyer. I nearly leave just as I am: unshowered and in pajamas. I haven’t even brushed my hair yet today. With my hand on the doorknob, I settle my nerves.

Just take one breath at a time. One day at a time.

Shower. Dress. And then I’m heading to Laura’s.

She’ll help me. She has to know a way out.

If Jase loves me, he’ll give me space. I just need to breathe. He’ll understand if I go away for just a little while. I’ll do what Aiden said. I’ll go away. Somewhere no one knows. I have to get away from here. Somewhere in the back of my mind, my inner bitch is laughing at me for thinking Jase would ever let me leave. He doesn’t know what my mother told me though. I can’t fall for him. I can’t risk it and knowing that makes me want to run faster than I’ve ever run in my life.

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