Too much was unsaid, but I couldn’t tell him the truth. He’d go after Daniel, and we’d be in an even bigger mess. Jesus, maybe none of us would survive it. Like a Quentin Tarantino movie where you can’t begin to count the bloody bodies on the floor. We’d be among them, no one winning. Just one big bloody fucking mess.

“I will always love you,” I whispered, afraid of saying the words with the passion I really felt. Once I’d said them, I relaxed a little. The truth felt right, and he needed to know that, if nothing else. “I know you’re angry. You have every right to be, but please don’t doubt that.”

He came close, bringing his arm up to rest on the door. I flinched back. Like an abused animal, I’d been hit, and in that split second I expected it. He lowered his hand and stared hard at me. He shoved his hands through his hair. I took a deep breath, wishing I could tell him who’d planted that fear in me, to take that pain away from him.

This is going to hurt. I was here to deliver the blow, not soften it.

I fumbled with the clasps on my bracelets and lifted the two sparkling bangles to give to him. I hoped for a second that he might take them, accept them, but he stood motionless before me, boring into me with those beautiful hazel eyes. I looked away, hating how they pleaded with me, fearful he’d see right into me. When he wouldn’t take them, I stepped past him and set them on the counter with his key.

I turned back to leave.


I faced the door, my hand on the knob, ready to bolt.

He was close. His ragged breath caressed my skin.

“You’re doing it again. You’re running.”

“I’m not running. I’m leaving.”

“What if I don’t let you come back this time? How many times am I going to let you do this to us, for fuck’s sake?”

I clenched my jaw, hating the thought that this might be the last chance he’d give me.

“Look at me, goddamnit.” He slammed his palm on the door.

I jumped at the sound and the edge in his voice. I took a deep breath and turned slowly to face him.

“Tell me why you’re really doing this, and I’ll tell you why it’s wrong.”

“I told you, I need time.”


“I should go.”

“No, you should stay here, with me. This is where you belong.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head. I couldn’t believe I’d found the strength to come this far, but inside I was unraveling. My love for Blake fought for control over the very real threat that I needed to protect him from.

I needed to leave before I lost my resolve. Before I could, I turned and left him without another word.

I tried to move quickly, but the albatross of emotion slowed my movements, numbing me. I went through the motions of packing in this dazed and detached state as tears blurred my vision. How I managed it I’ll never know, but I’d stuffed most everything I might need for a few weeks away from the apartment into my large suitcase.

Sid was hidden away in his room, so thankfully I didn’t have to face him again. I stepped outside, and out of pure habit I scanned the street for the black Escalade and Clay. The threat of Mark was gone, and Blake was back in town. We weren’t together anymore, so there was no need for a babysitter. Despite the fact that I disagreed with the whole concept of a security detail, Clay had grown on me a bit.

My gaze shot down the street, and I noticed a less welcome presence. Connor leaned against the town car. He tipped his hat toward me. A mere gesture I assumed, since he was likely tasked with reporting my every move back to Daniel. He’d keep it up until Daniel believed that things were done between Blake and me.

I walked toward him, my suitcase rolling loudly behind me. “You can tell him it’s done. Now leave me the fuck alone.”

His face was as stark and emotionless as it had been the last time I’d seen him. “I’ll give him the message.”

I walked past him and hailed a cab, starting the journey to Marie’s on the outskirts of the city. As we turned off Comm Ave, I checked behind me to make sure Connor wasn’t following. Thankfully, he wasn’t. Marie was the last person I wanted Daniel checking in on. He had no idea we were still in contact, and she was one of the only people who knew what he really was to me.

The cab navigated through light traffic. Throngs of people went about their days. Happy, normal people with easy problems. I was leaving the only home I’d ever really known, and Blake was right. I was running away. This was an aimless and desperate escape from a world I’d created, one I truly loved.


Marie didn’t question me when I arrived. She just held me so tight it almost hurt. I sobbed into her, letting all the misery pour from me.

“Whatever it is, we’ll get through it, baby girl,” she promised.

I needed that, for someone who loved me and didn’t know a damn thing about anything to promise me that everything was going to be all right. I wanted so badly to believe it.

I spent the day watching mindless television while she went out to run some errands. I wanted to fill my brain with nonsense, anything to drown out the misery.

After I enjoyed an amazing home-cooked dinner and a few glasses of wine, my tension had started to ease slightly. I didn’t feel so numb, and I’d finally stopped crying, which seemed like progress.

Marie and I had settled in her den, jazz playing quietly in the background as we curled up on her two large couches. I covered up with a blanket and held a big wine glass between my palms. A comfortable silence had settled between us.

“I’m sorry for just dropping in on you like this.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. You can always come here. Day or night. This is your home too.”

“Thank you. That means a lot.” I didn’t have many other places to run to, sadly.

“Do you want to talk about it?” She canted her head to the side.

The past couple days’ events flashed through my mind. First Mark, and now this. As soon as one burden had been lifted, another replaced it. Despite my complete and utter breakdown since arriving, I’d avoided telling her anything. She assumed something had gone terribly wrong with Blake, and for now, that was enough.

“Not really,” I finally said.

“Maybe you should. I’ve never seen you like this, honey.”

I was a mess, true. I looked like hell but I was grateful that I didn’t have to put on a happy face, or makeup for that matter, when I was with Marie. I could just be, even if I wasn’t planning to tell her the whole truth.