Riley looked up. She actually almost smiled before she caught a good look at Amy’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Since when were her feelings that visible? How had that happened? Once upon a time, she’d been so good at hiding them that no one had ever been able to gauge her moods.
Riley wasn’t fooled. “Something’s wrong.”
“Long day,” Amy said. “Come on, I’m parked out front.”
Riley shrugged and tossed the trash into the Dumpster, and a minute later, they’d walked around and gotten in Amy’s car.
“You going to tell me now?” Riley asked.
“Tell you what?”
“Why you’re pissed at me.”
Amy blew out a breath and studied the pier ahead of them, shame filling her that she’d let Riley think she could be mad at her, even for a second. “It’s not you. I’m sorry if I made you think that.” It was late, and everything was quiet and dark. Even the Ferris wheel was still, as still as her heart. “I had a fight with someone.”
“Yeah? You kick their ass?”
“Not that kind of fight.”
“Oh.” Riley sounded disappointed. “Was it with Matt?”
Without warning, Amy’s throat tightened. Not wanting to speak, she simply nodded.
Riley sucked in a breath. “He hurt you?”
“No.” She turned to Riley and saw the worry in her expression. “No, he’d never hurt me.”
Riley relaxed slightly. “But he made you sad.”
“Well… a little, yeah. Forget it. It’s not your problem.”
Riley rustled around in her ratty backpack and came up with two lollipops, clearly pilfered from the small can at the hostess station from the diner. She very sweetly offered out the stolen loot.
Reminded of just how young Riley was, Amy took one. Under normal circumstances, Riley would probably be having her first relationship with a boy about now, writing his name on her notebook, dreaming of proms and football games instead of figuring out where to find her next meal or who was going to try to hurt her next.
“You’ll make up,” Riley said. “Because he’s totally into you. I can tell by the way he’s always looking at you. Not like pervy looking,” she said quickly, “but like… like he loves you.”
Amy doubted that very much. She knew Matt loved being in bed with her, and as it turned out, she loved that, too. And maybe deep, deep down, she’d told herself she might have eventually let it turn into more, but she’d been fooling herself. He didn’t know her well enough to even think about loving her.
And if he had, he’d have run from her even sooner. “Where’s the sweatshirt I gave you?” she asked Riley. “It’s cold tonight.”
“Crap,” Riley said, smacking her own forehead. “I forgot it in the kitchen. Wait here, I’ll try to catch Jan before she locks the back.” She dashed out of the car and vanished around the corner of the diner.
Amy sighed and set her head down on her steering wheel. Her mind was going too fast.
Or not fast enough.
She didn’t understand how it had gone so badly with Matt. And if she was admitting not understanding that, she also didn’t understand something else.
He’d walked away from her. Actually, not walked.
If it had truly been just physical chemistry between them, then why? There’d been no reason for him to go, though she understood the concept well enough. After all, she’d spent her life making sure she was always the one to go. Now it was second nature.
And yet somehow, this time, this one time with Matt, she’d felt different. Like maybe she’d thought that this time there’d be no walking away.
She’d been wrong.
She lifted her head, wondering what was taking Riley so long. Too long. She got out of the car and retraced her steps to the back door of the diner.
Riley was there, pinned up against the alley wall by a guy in a hoodie and homeboy jeans. “You owe me, you greedy little bitch,” he was saying, hand at Riley’s throat, the other one on her breast. “You know you do.”
“Hey!” Amy yelled, white-hot fury taking over. And something else just as white-hot: Fear. And a terrible sense of déjà vu. “Let her go!”
Mistake number one. Because the guy dropped Riley and turned toward Amy.
Swamped with the memories of another time and place, of a different man who’d wanted Amy to pay what she’d owed, she took a step backward. She tripped over her own feet and went down. Mistake number two.
Because then the guy was on her.
Man cannot live by chocolate alone, but it sure is fun trying.
Panicked and driven by horror, Amy scooted back on her butt, but the guy was fast and already towering over her. She reacted with instinct, swinging out with her foot. He hit his knees on the cement steps, and she flung her keys as hard as she could into his face.
“Bitch,” he snarled, and slapped a hand over his eyes. “Goddammit, bitch.”
“No, Troy, you’re the bitch,” Riley yelled from behind him and clobbered him over the head with what looked like an empty beer bottle.
The guy’s eyes went blank, then rolled up in his head, and he slowly fell over.
“Oh my God.” Amy lunged over him and grabbed Riley’s arms. “Are you okay?”
“F-fine,” Riley said, clearly not fine, shaking like a leaf. Amy knew the feeling since she was shaking, too. She pulled Riley over the crumpled body, and they both tumbled inside the kitchen.
Jan, sitting alone at the island, counting receipts, looked up in surprise. “What—”
“Police,” Amy managed, slamming and locking the door. “We need to call—”
“No,” Riley gasped. “Please don’t. I’m fine. He’ll go.”
Amy looked through the back door window, mouth gaping in surprise. The back stoop was empty. “You’re right, he’s gone.”
“Told you,” Riley whispered.
“Who’s gone?” Jan asked.
Amy ripped open the back door and stared in shock at the spot where there’d been a body only a moment before. She whipped around and looked at Riley.
Riley lifted a shoulder.
“You knew him,” Amy said, once again shutting and locking the door.
“He was just some guy.”
“No, you knew him. You called him Troy. He said you owed him.”
“Just a misunderstanding,” Riley said, staring out the window into the night. She’d gathered her wits quickly.
Amy supposed she’d learned how to do that the hard way. “Riley—”
“Don’t sweat it.”
“Don’t sweat it? He was attacking you.”
“It’s nothing I can’t handle,” Riley insisted, then paused. “He’s my stepbrother.”
“Yeah, um, thanks for the help back there but I’ve gotta go.”
But Riley had unlocked and unbolted the door and hightailed it into the night. Amy swore and helped herself to Jan’s purse hanging on a hook.
“Hey,” Jan said.
Amy pulled out the pepper spray she’d known that Jan carried, waving it. “Borrowing this!” she said, then went outside after Riley, pepper spray at the ready in her hand in case Troy showed up again. She had a pounding headache and a nagging side ache to boot, which made no sense, but there was no Troy.
And no Riley either. She was gone.
Hoping she’d show up at home, Amy went there first.
No Riley. Teeth gritted, she grabbed her flashlight and went back out into the night, heading to the forest.
No Riley there either.
Tired, hurting, terrified for Riley, Amy finally gave up and went back to her apartment, hoping against hope the girl had miraculously shown up.
But it wasn’t Riley she found on her doorstep. When the unexpected shadow rose, tall and built, moving toward her, she gasped in terror.
“Just me,” Matt said, stepping under the light. His gaze was steady and his expression solemn, not so much as a glimmer of a smile on his usually good-humored, affable face.
Amy drew a deep breath to deal, but suddenly her vision swam, then shrank to a pinpoint. From what seemed like a great distance, she heard Matt call her name. She opened her mouth to answer, but couldn’t.
Odder still was that her bones seemed to dissolve. Matt grabbed her just as she would have fallen. She blinked and then pushed at him, but he completely ignored her struggles and held on.
“I’m okay,” she said.
“You just about passed out.”
“I’m fine now.” She shook her head to clear it. “It was nothing. Why are you here?”
“Because I’m an ass,” he said. “And bullshit, it was nothing. Something scared you nearly into a faint.”
“I don’t faint. But you almost got a face full of pepper spray.” She tugged free, and this time he let her go, reluctantly.
“Why are you wet?” he asked, looking at his hand before going utterly still. “Amy, you’re bleeding.”
“What? No, I’m—” She stared down at her sweater, which had a growing dark patch, making it cling to her side. “Huh.” She gulped in a panicked breath and nearly passed out again, but Matt’s hands were back on her, utter steel.
“I’ve got you,” he said, nudging her down to the step, lifting her sweater. They both looked at the two-inch-long gash on her side.
“Look at that,” she said weakly. “He got me.”
Matt yanked his own shirt over his head and turned it inside out before gently pressing it against her side. “He who?”
“Actually, I think it was the bottle,” she said. “It broke, and I must have rolled on it.”