She doesn’t trust me and I can’t blame her, but it still hurts. I really messed this up. That she’s in my apartment, willing to listen to what I have to say, is like a miracle.

“Everything okay?” she asks.

“Pilar just called.” It’s my intent to be completely honest with her from now on. Full disclosure. I don’t want to hide anything from her.

Lily makes a face. “Why? I thought you refunded her the money and you’re through with her.”

“I did. She’s hired someone else.” I start pacing back and forth, my usual mode when I’m trying to puzzle something out. “That someone else is already following you and saw the two of us together earlier this afternoon. Sent her photos of us, too.”

“What?” Lily leaps to her feet, her expression full of fury. “You’re kidding me! That no-good, scheming bitch …”

“What’s done is done—no need to get in a tizzy over it.” I continue to pace, mentally skimming through the possibilities. I can feel her glaring at me and I probably shouldn’t have used the word tizzy, but I’m too wrapped up in planning our next move to worry about it. “I’m going to give her your laptop.”

Her face falls and she blinks up at me. “What?” she rasps out. “I thought …”

I stop directly in front of her and grab her shoulders, giving her a little shake. “I’m going to clean it up first. Or load a fake one with different information. I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I need to call Levi.”

She stares up at me, sadness in her eyes. She looks … lost. I want to console her so damn bad but I can’t. I’m lucky she agreed to come to my place after we finished lunch. I said I wanted her here so we could discuss how we’re going to approach her family with the bad news.

The truth? I just want her close to me. I want to watch over her and know she’s safe. Leaving her alone is not an option, especially after Pilar just confirmed my worst fear: that she’s hired someone else to keep tabs on Lily.

Who knows what that guy will do to get what Pilar wants.

“Why are you helping me so much?” Lily asks. “I don’t understand.”

Yet again, time to be completely honest. “I—care for you, princess. I don’t want to see you get hurt. I don’t want your family to get hurt, either, not at the hands of some crazy bitch like Pilar.”

Lily blinks up at me as if she didn’t hear me correctly, but she doesn’t say a word. I feel the need to fill the silence.

“Now that she has someone else following you, we need to move. And I … I can’t leave you alone, princess. I know you’re pissed at me, I know I fucked this all up, but you’re not safe. I plan on keeping watch over you.”

When she continues to gape at me, I can’t stand it. “What?”

She blinks again and shakes her head. “You called me ‘princess.’ Twice.”

A smile tugs at my lips. “Sorry, habit.”

“I—I like it. No need to apologize.” She tears her gaze from mine and the moment is broken. “And you said you care for me.”

“I do,” I confirm softly. She turns to face me once more. “I meant every word I said.”

“We barely know each other.”

“I know enough. And I’m not going to let someone destroy you because that person was caught in her own dubious game.” I squeeze Lily’s shoulders, smooth my thumbs over them, and I feel the muscles loosen beneath my touch. “I won’t let anyone hurt you. I swear. I’m on your side.”

She’s quiet again and these long silences are gonna kill me, swear to God. I continue to massage her shoulders, wishing I could touch bare skin, but I’m pushing her limits already. I’m surprised she hasn’t shoved me away yet.

“No one’s ever really been on my side before,” she admits, breaking what I thought was my unbreakable heart.

“You have your sisters, don’t you?” When she nods I continue. “They love you. Look at the lengths you’ve gone to protect them.”

“Right,” she snorts. “I ran away when Pilar threatened me. I should’ve stayed here and gone to Violet. I should’ve told her what Pilar was planning and instead like the total coward that I am, I ran. That’s how I always handle my problems. I run away and hope they disappear on their own, you know?” Tears fill her eyes and she blinks against them, sending them streaming down her cheeks.

The sight of those fucking tears shreds my heart into ribbons and I pull her into me, burying her face in my chest as I slip my arms around her waist. “You don’t have to run any longer, baby. Like I said, I’m by your side. I’ll help you.”

She doesn’t reply, but I feel her shoulders shake and my T-shirt is getting wet from her tears. I run my hand over her silky, soft hair, thankful she took the band out earlier. Her hair is still damp and I thread my fingers through it, tuck a few strands behind her ear. “Why do you do it?”

“Do what?” she asks with a loud sniff.

“Run?”

Lily pulls away slightly to look up at me. “I don’t know. It’s easier. Everyone abandons me when I’m in trouble, so I figure it’s best to run away from the trouble I cause rather than face it.”

“Are you afraid of disappointing them?”

“Who?”

“Your family. Your friends. Whoever you’ve wronged.”

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