“He was telling me about wanting you two to make peace.”
His nostrils flared. “There’ll never be peace between us until one of us is dead.”
Hatred played out on the hard lines of his features. I reached up and traced the tight muscle at his jaw. He released it, turning into my touch. He pressed a soft kiss against my fingertips. The sweet gesture began to unravel the horror I’d woken with. Blake was here. We were together, both safe. I reminded myself of these truths over and over, even when my mind grappled with the broken memories of what Max had done.
“Are you sure he didn’t…”
His eyes widened, sadness lingering there. “I’m positive. I came looking for you before anyone else was there. His intentions were pretty clear, but he didn’t get far.” As if gentling a frightened child, he skimmed my arm, circling his thumb over my shoulder. “I would have killed him. No one could have stopped me, then or now. His heart would have stopped beating if he’d gone an inch farther than he had.”
A strange kind of relief washed over me, as if I’d narrowly escaped death. If Max had raped me, I couldn’t begin to grasp what it would have done to me. It would be a kind of death all its own, the same way Mark had killed a part of me when he took my innocence years ago. I pushed down the lingering nausea, all the feelings new and fresh washing over me. A fine mist swept over my skin. He hadn’t taken what he wanted, but the threat that he could have haunted me.
I outstretched a shaky hand to Blake’s chest. Bringing myself closer to him physically was like pushing through a wall. All my instincts told me stay back where it was safe. He let me come to him, unhurried, his touch a whisper on my skin. Trembling from head to toe, I finally found a place on his lap. He caressed me slowly, carefully, up and down my back until I relaxed fully against him.
“Everything’s going to be okay. You’re safe now. I’ve got you, baby.”
He hushed me quietly while I broke down in his arms. This new violation compounded with the weight of the old until I thought I’d cried all the tears my body could produce. Through my sobs, he murmured reassurances. Promises of his love, that he’d always protect me and keep me safe, filled the air around us until I believed it, with every ounce of my soul.
* * *
The relentless fatigue that had weighed me down for days had finally lifted. For the first time since the party, I had energy, but at Blake’s insistence, I stayed home from work another day. Unable to be alone with my rambling thoughts, I wasted an afternoon watching movies. Comedies with no emotional depth that couldn’t threaten the mental peace I’d been trying like hell to achieve.
I shrieked when the door to the apartment opened. Jumping up from the couch, I beheld Alli’s worried face.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I brought you lunch.” She held up a paper bag.
I lowered my hand from my racing heart. “Okay. Thanks.”
She joined me on the couch, setting the bag down on the coffee table. “Sorry,” she said again. “How are you doing? I wanted to see you sooner, but Blake insisted that you needed your rest. Heath told me he was at the office today, so I thought I’d sneak in and see you.”
“I’m okay. Better. Whatever Max put in that drink completely took over my system for a while. But I’m finally starting to feel human again. I’m looking forward to getting back to work tomorrow though. Sitting around gives me too much time to overthink everything.”
She chewed her lip, her eyes glazing. Before I could say anything she pulled me into a tight hug. I held her back as I too fought tears. She knew. Everyone knew. I couldn’t hide from my best friend and pretend that I wasn’t hurting.
“I don’t even know what to say,” she whispered. “I’m still in disbelief. I just can’t believe it.”
“It’s okay, Alli. I’m okay,” I reassured her, wanting to believe it too, even as my voice wavered. Maybe I wasn’t okay today, but I would be. I would get through this, the same way I got through it before. Except the more I thought about what Max did and the party, the more I questioned if I’d ever really gotten over what Mark had done to me.
“It’s not okay. He can’t get away with this, Erica.”
I sat back and brushed my tears away. I didn’t want to be breaking down right now. I didn’t want to stir it all up again when I’d spent all day trying to forget. In addition to bombarding my brain with mindless television, I had been busy shoving down the memories of the other night that kept popping up, back down to the dark place I kept Mark’s memories. I didn’t want to think about any of it.
I looked up.
“You’re going to police, aren’t you? They’ll need you to cooperate with them if they are going to prosecute.”
“I think so,” I said, betraying the fact that I still wasn’t really convinced that I could go through with it.
“You have to. I can’t believe he’s got the audacity to press charges against Blake after what he did to you. His vengeance seriously has no bounds. The whole thing is so backwards and wrong.”
I sat up straighter, making sure I’d heard her right. “He’s doing what?”
“Blake didn’t tell you? Max is pressing charges against Blake for assault. Obviously he was acting in your behalf. The bastard deserved everything he got.”
I let out a breath I’d been holding. I let my forehead fall into my palm. “I can’t believe he didn’t tell me that. He told me he messed Max up, but I didn’t even put it together that he could be in trouble over this. Shit, I can’t even think straight. This isn’t good.”
Alli touched my shoulder gently. “He never wants to worry you. He knows this isn’t easy for you, especially with what you went through with Mark. I’m sure Heath would have probably done the same thing in Blake’s shoes. Thankfully, the Landons have good lawyers.”
“I’m sure the Popes do too. God, he doesn’t need to be dealing with this shit too. Now I’m upset all over again.”
She sighed quietly. “Are you going to talk to the police? Promise me you will.”
I nodded quickly.
I’d been wrestling with the prospect of going to the police. Blake had told me that they’d left cards and would want to speak with me. Something about it scared the hell out of me. Maybe it was the same thing that had kept me from going to the police when Mark raped me. Deep down I’d blamed myself. The blame and the shame of sharing the experience with someone else had kept me silent. I buried it all, so far down that I didn’t care about finding my attacker, about having a voice.