“He would probably still have done something like that because he was a perv, always had been, just like Sean.” She sighed. “The way I always thought of it was that if I’d stayed with the Glennons then Matthew would have done what he did to me to little Annie. She was just five. I could never wish that on her or anyone else. As sad as it is, this kind of things happens a lot when you’re in care. And when you’re not in care. There are people who have been, who still are, going through way worse than me.”
“How can you not blame me?”
For a while she had been angry with him, but it was only last night that she realised why: not because he hadn’t helped her, because he hadn’t loved her like she loved him. “There are so many ‘ifs’, Connor. If the Glennons had done something about Nick I wouldn’t have had to be moved. If the social worker had sent me to a different foster home I’d never have met Matthew. If Matthew’s parents hadn’t been blind to what their son was like and ignored all the complaints made about him then he would’ve been prosecuted before I came along.”
He knew she was right, but still it was eating at him. He got out of bed and went to her. Squatting in front of her, he took her hands in his. “Whether you blame me or not, I’m still sorry. You’re such an amazing person to get through something like that and come out of it the person you are.” And he had every intention of twatting the life out of this Matthew if he could find him. “Thank you for telling me. It can’t have been easy for you to talk about. You’re a stronger and bigger person than I could ever hope to be, do you know that?”
The gentle contact was killing her. She would have preferred for him to be repelled by her and not want to touch her. It would make what was coming next so much easier. “Connor -”
“Shhhh.” He circled her with his arms and held her to him gently.
It wasn’t an embrace filled with sympathy or Jaxxon would have ended it. It wasn’t to comfort her either. It was as though he was holding her to reassure himself that she was okay, that she was away from all that. Her eyes closed when he started doodling circles on her back with his finger. Never before him had she liked gentle touches. And why? Because it meant relaxing into someone, letting down her guard enough to trust that that touch wouldn’t change into something else, to trust that they wouldn’t hurt her physically or emotionally. Connor had actually penetrated that shield she had erected around herself, and now she was about to leave him. Made no sense when you put it like that, but all she would be signing herself up for with Connor would be something that would forever be casual.
“You really don’t hate me?”
Her laugh was silent. “I don’t hate you.” It would be easier if she did. “I love you actually.” He pulled back and his eyes shot to hers. “I was angry that you never came back, but that was because I loved you and was missing you and was hurt that you didn’t feel the same.” She made sure she sounded reassuring. “I’m not expecting you to say you love me. I’m not expecting you to give me more. I’m just telling you so that you know why I’m ending this now. I can’t be involved with someone I love who doesn’t love me back, Connor.”
Speechless. Connor was actually speechless. It had been the last thing in the world he had expected her to say. He hadn’t believed that she could ever feel like that for him. Ever. He wasn’t exactly a lovable person or the type to give her the things she wanted from life, which was why she was leaving. He was losing her for good. He’d probably never see her again. And just like that he was panicking. She started to stand and he held her in place. “Jaxx.” He didn’t even know what to say. “Jaxx, you know I care about you.”
She did know that, she finally believed it. “It’s not enough, Connor. I’m not condemning you for that, alright, I’m not. I knew going into this that there could be nothing more, I wasn’t expecting anything more. God, I wasn’t expecting to want anything more.” With a half-smile she stood. “It had to end sometime, right? I’m just ending it sooner rather than later.”
Feeling like he was in some sort of daze, Connor followed her out of the room. She was leaving. Leaving. And he didn’t know what to do. He didn’t even know what he was feeling. Different conflicting emotions were swirling inside him and fogging his thoughts to the extent that he couldn’t tell what those emotions were. His chest ached and burned. All he knew for sure was that he didn’t want her to go. Everything inside him rebelled against it.
When he saw her suitcase and handbag positioned near the door he frowned. There was no way she could have packed without him hearing her fumbling around, which could only mean that she’d packed last night. “You knew last night you’d be ending this today,” he surmised. How had he not seen it in her eyes? “Where’re you going to be staying?”
Wanting to dodge that question she asked, “Oh would it be alright if I left Bronty with you and have Tony get him later?” Tony had moved her car and parked it outside his house to confuse whoever was following her. Connor had known, even gave Tony her keys, agreeing it was a good idea. “I won’t be allowed to put him in a taxi with me.” Ollie was outside right now waiting for her; they would be going straight to the airport from here.
“Yeah, sure.” His voice was low and rough. He watched as she made a fuss of Bronty and then went to her case and handbag. Panic welled up again inside him. “Jaxx.”
Jaxxon was surprised by the torment she saw on his face. She shouldn’t have told him about what had happened with Nick and Matthew; now he was feeling guilty and probably thinking that she was really leaving because she blamed him for everything. She went to where he stood – for once he was na**d in front of her without an erection – and looped her arms around his neck and rested her head on his shoulder. She wasn’t good at affectionate touches, but she wanted to give him a ‘bye hug’, wanted him to know there were no ill feelings. He crushed her to him and buried his face in her hair.
The whispered plea had her eyes snapping open. In spite of the fact that she didn’t want it to, hope was blossoming inside her.
“You’re not leaving for New York ’til Monday, stay ’til then.”
And just like that, the hope withered away. There was a spike of anger inside her. Here he was asking her to stay even though he knew she’d be hurting the entire time. And all just to feed his addiction. Taking a deep breath, she returned to her case and bag. She gave him one final look as she held open the front door. “Take care, Connor.”
The second the door clicked shut behind Jaxxon, her esophagus began to ache and a pressure began to build in her chest. With each step she made toward the lift the pressure became heavier; a pressure that had nowhere to go and was expanding inside her like a balloon. It was destined to burst and she knew it, and she found herself distantly wondering if it would manifest itself in tears. She was only ‘distantly wondering’ because it was so hard to care. She had just walked away from the bloke she loved, who cared if she cried?
The very moment she stepped into the empty lift, her eyes began to sting and her throat felt swollen. Yep, she was going to cry alright and it seemed that her body was fighting it as her jaw hardened and her lungs were insisting on steady breaths. The feeling of descending as the lift began to lower only made the whole thing worse – the distance between her and Connor was increasing too quickly for her to deal with.
A part of her regretted ever letting him back into her life, but another part of her couldn’t bring herself to wish away the good laughs they’d had. Of course the infatuated teenager in her couldn’t understand why she was leaving him, believed that wherever he was she should be, and was heading for a breakdown. But the mature side of her who had moved passed what Nick and his gang and Matthew had done was resolute that she would get passed this too, was reminding her that sure it was painful but pain was part of life.
She hadn’t taken more than four steps out of the lift when her mobile phone began chiming. She dug it out of her bag and frowned at the screen. Tony. She really didn’t want to speak to anyone right now. She wasn’t even sure that any words would come out, at least not without sounding like she had a frog jammed in her throat. The tears were so close. But this was Tony – the bloke who had done so much for her and rented out his annexe to her and was even going to take care of her dog for her…She’d phone him back in a minute when she was feeling more composed.
Cancelling the call, she switched off her phone and flung it into her bag and made her way to the Emergency Exit. Chino was there as usual and gave her a nod and then a curious look as he spotted the suitcase. Still he politely held open the door and did his usual ‘bye’ salute. Only this time, almost as if he knew it was a permanent goodbye, he added a smile and a wave. She returned the smile and then continued through the alleyway, striving to ignore that the ache in her esophagus was now amazingly more prominent and that the pressure in her chest was so heavy she could hardly breathe. It just felt so wrong to walk away from him. Her brain told her it was the smart thing to do, her soul was crying out for her to retrace her steps until she was back in Connor’s apartment.
Shaking her head at herself, she picked up her pace and swerved sharply around the corner, passed the bins. Then she abruptly stopped dead at the sight in front of her.
A curved blade.
“Sorry to interrupt your quick getaway but it sort of clashes with my agenda,” said the scratchy, pitiless voice that belonged to the twat holding a blade to Ant’s throat.
“Yes, you really should have guessed it was me. I can see by your face that you didn’t. What, you thought I wouldn’t be clever enough to go around undetected like that? I’m offended.”
Seething, she had to grind her teeth to stop herself from barking a load of curses. She spared a few fleeting glimpses at Ant, not wanting to take her eyes off her stalker for very long. The poor kid was sweating and shaking and biting on his trembling lower lip. Yeah, she could well relate to the fear of having the decision of whether you live or die in the hands of someone else – this wasn’t a first time for her, but if her stalker’s expression was anything to go by, the plan was that this would be her last. She wanted to tell Ant it was going to be alright, that she wouldn’t let him be hurt, but she couldn’t show too much concern for him in front of the twat.
“Nice kid,” said the stalker. “Bugging his house helped a lot with keeping track of what you were up to. As soon as I heard his dad talking about you leaving early I knew I’d have to make my move. I predicted that you wouldn’t cooperate so I brought along a damsel for you to save – you never could resist them, could you? You know, I was hoping that you’d go back to his annexe after I’d strafed your place; that would have made it a lot easier to get to you and there wouldn’t have been any nice CCTV footage of me hurling you out. Not like with your apartment building. But…you went and stayed with him – at least you’ve been so kind as to use the side exit where no one’s around, the camera’s no longer functional in case you were wondering. You know, I don’t get why women flock round that bastard. Is it the danger vibe that you like?” The malicious smile widened. “I’ve got a danger vibe myself, and you’re about to find out just how bad it is. First, I need you to make your way to that navy Ford Escort car just behind the other set of bins. Bring your stuff with you. Don’t worry, me and Ant will be right behind you.”
Jaxxon shook her head. “Not a chance. I’ve seen this film: the victim does as she’s told but the hostage still gets hurt once his role’s up. I’ll go with you, but only if you let him go first. Before you ask, no I’m not expecting you to just let him run crying for help. Tie him up or knock him unconscious if you must, but his role ends now.” She knew she was taking a chance here but she could see how eager the stalker was to get hold of her; she was the objective in all this and she was so close – the thing that the stalker had been building up to was so close to fruition.
Her stalker laughed. “How is it that you’re the one making demands when I’m the one with the knife?”
“Anyone can pick up a knife – that doesn’t make you terrifying to me. Having said that, I want to live, so for as long as you’re pointing it at me I’ll have to do as I’m told. But you’re not pointing it at me, are you?”
The stalker hissed. She had a point – the bitch. Besides, placing this knife against her throat was the fantasy. It wasn’t so surprising that she’d guessed that the plan hadn’t been for the kid to run along home unharmed. In fact, the plan had been for the hostage to stick around a lot longer just to ensure she was a good girl.
Seeing how torn the stalker was over the idea of giving up a tool in the plan, she asked, “Do you want me to do as I’m told because he’s in danger? That’ll only mean that most of my attention is on him. I would’ve thought you’d want my full attention.” She shrugged. “Up to you.”
“Yes, it is up to me. And you’ll do as you’re told because I’m the one in control.”
“Then control me. Or do you need to use a teenage boy to have that dominance over me?”
Knowing time was of the essence, the stalker made a quick decision. “You try to run and I’ll slit his throat.”
So abruptly that she almost jumped, the stalker used the butt of the knife to whack Ant over his head. He fell in an unconscious heap on the floor. She resisted the urge to sigh in relief. A bad headache and a lump would beat a slit throat any day of the week. Knowing better than to test her stalkers, she didn’t run nor did she fight when she was roughly grabbed and the knife was then put to her own throat.