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I broke us.

I broke him.

And I just continue to break myself.

Chapter 8

My heart is still rapidly pounding from the sight of Maddox with his hands on Dee. The logical side of me knows that he would never make a move on her, but the jealous and possessive ex-lover only saw her in his arms.

Now, I’m still close to losing my mind, but not because of jealousy. This time, it’s because the woman I love is breaking down… again. I can’t even remember all the times that I’ve been in this position with her. Right after Brandon’s attack, she spent the better part of eight or so months like this. It might have been more, but she pushed me away and wouldn’t let me in for another two months following that.

The only reason that I know how bad it got was because I refused to leave. Before she closed me out completely, I was with her as much as I could be, as much as she would allow. She lived with Izzy and Axel for a while, but she still came over. It still amazes me that not one of these damn people in our lives noticed the pain she was dealing with. She was living under her best friend’s own roof, and even she didn’t notice. When it got to the point that I was more concerned about her doing something to harm herself, I knew it was time to get her more help than I could provide.

I know she is still seeing Dr. Maxwell. She’s slipped up a few times over the years and told me. We’ve had our handful of reunions, those times when I think I might just be getting my girl back, only to have the hopes die in the morning.

Everyone around us looks at our fucked up relationship and does nothing but judge. They see only the outside, the window dressing. They don’t see this side of Dee. They don’t see her when she hits her lowest points and calls me at two in the morning because she is terrified that someone is in her house. They haven’t gotten the call from her telling you that the world would be better without someone so damaged. No, everyone sees perfect Dee, happy Dee, and the Dee that never stops smiling, even when she’s dying on the inside.

I’ve watched this happen to plenty of my brothers when we would come back from a mission gone wrong. I’ve watched them completely crumble, and I’ve even watched a few of them lose the fight. It doesn’t take a doctor to tell me that she has been, and most likely still is, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve seen the signs that she’s getting stronger over the last few months, but she still isn’t the Dee that she was before that asshole violated her safety.

“Shh, I’ve got you Dee.” As I pull her into my arms, I press her head against my chest, and do the only thing I know how to do. Just be there. Regardless of how the people around us think I’m wasting my time, I refuse to believe it. I know the woman hiding under all of this pain. “Calm down. Everything’s okay.”

I know we can’t sit here in the hallway. It’s not going to be long before someone comes looking for a bathroom and walks into a very private moment. Without losing my hold on her, I bend and scoop her legs up into my arms. She curls even further into my body and presses her head tight against my neck.

I walk further away from the party noise and enter Greg’s office, shut the door, and walk over to the couch. When I sit down, she still doesn’t remove her face from my neck. Her arms are clamped tightly around my torso. I know there isn’t anything I can say right now to make it better, so I just hold her, offering her the one thing I wish she would take and never let go of. Me.

When the last tremor leaves her body, and the vice-like hold she has on me lets up slightly, I can finally breathe a little easier. I wait a few more minutes until she lifts her head from my neck. She looks around the room before finally making eye contact with me. Her beautiful, brown eyes are bloodshot and swollen with her mascara running down her face. Her cheeks are puffy and splotchy red. She looks terrible, but she’s never looked more beautiful to me. She’s stripped bare and vulnerable right now. This is Dee, my Dee, and not some fancy farce that she projects to the world around her.

“Are you better now?”

She nods, never looking away.

I press on. “Are you ready to knock some of those walls down?”

She nods again.

I want so badly to ask her if she’s ready to be mine again, but I know she isn’t ready for that. “Are you done running?”

Her eyes go wide, and I can see the wheels start to turn, trying to find a way out of this question.

“I don’t know, Beck. I know that isn’t what you want to hear, but I just don’t know.” Sighing, she drops her eyes to her lap where she rests her hands. I reach out and cover both of her hands with one of mine, stroking her soft skin with my thumb.

“That’s okay, Dee. You know I’m here when you’re ready. Are you still seeing Dr. Maxwell?” I hold my breath, waiting for her to answer, because if she tells me no, then this breakdown means that she is headed back to that dark place she lived in for a while.

“Yeah, I’m doing a lot better. I still have moments, obviously, but I haven’t had one in a few weeks.” She sounds so weak. All I want to do is fix this for her, but I know that I won’t be doing her any favors, and I know if I rush her healing just to make myself feel better, our relationship won’t be built on anything sturdy enough to stand on.

“I believe you. Now, what’s been happening that has you getting low again?” I keep my voice at a whisper so she knows I’m not mad, just trying to be here for her.

“It’s nothing, just had a moment.” She won’t look at me, so I know she’s full of shit, but I don’t press.

“Dee, you know you can talk to me. After everything you and I have been through, you have to know you can trust me with anything.”

She hesitates slightly, looking me in the eyes again before she drops her gaze back to our hands. The pain in her eyes is almost too much to take.

“I want to tell you. I do, and I will. I just need to do this on my own. I need to be strong enough alone.” For the first time in almost a year, I feel the first spark of hope. She isn’t falling again; this is just a speed bump in her healing. I want to jump off the couch and shout. This is the first time she’s admitted to me that she wants to let me in.

“All right, Dee. I understand, but you know I’m here. I want to be here, and when you’re ready, all you have to do is say the word.”

“You really get it, don’t you? That I’m trying?”

“Yeah, I really do. I know you’re hurting. I’ve watched you hurt for so long and, Baby, you know I would take that from you in a second. But right now? Right now, I can see the fight coming back, and I couldn’t be happier. We’ve been through so much together, Dee, and right now, I couldn’t be more proud of you.”

Reaching out, I pull her into my arms and just hold her tight. In my gut, I know that something is going on, but I have to let her do this. I have to let her fight for herself before she’ll be ready for someone to fight with her.

Chapter 9

After I calmed down, Beck left the room to grab my purse so I could clean myself up before returning to the party. He walked back in the door with his too handsome for words smirk in place.

It seems like whatever that was that happened between us lightened some of the weight off his back. If I’m honest with myself, I feel lighter too.

Right before he opens the door to leave me alone to get ready, I speak the words I should have told him a year ago. “Thank you for being there, for always being there, and not letting me fall.”

His body gets tight, and I see his knuckles turning white from how hard he is gripping the doorknob. His head drops for a second before he turns and stalks over to where I’m standing in the middle of Greg’s office. Without giving me a second to guess his intentions, he grabs my head with gentle strength and crushes his lips against mine.

It feels as if every single inch of my body is on fire. He doesn’t make a move to deepen the kiss, but it still feels like one of the most intimate kisses we’ve ever shared. My hands resting against his sides dig in when he brings his body closer until he has me pressed against the wall. He keeps his lips pressed tightly to mine, before lifting off and giving me a few smaller pecks. He pulls his face away, but keeping his hold on me, he smiles; all the love he wants me to believe in shines so bright that I feel physically warmed by it.

“Don’t you know by now? You couldn’t keep me away if you tried.” He winks and presses his lips once more to mine. Then he’s out the door, and even though he closes it softly, the click as it shuts echoes throughout the room like a shot. I can still feel his delicious kiss for minutes after he’s gone. I stand here in the same spot, with my fingertips pressed to my lips, and for the first time in a while, I smile a true smile of pure happiness.

Maybe things are starting to look up.

****

It takes me a good thirty minutes before I look normal enough to return to the madness erupting inside of the Cage household. The second I round the corner and enter the kitchen, I run right into the birthday boy himself.

“What are you doing in here all alone? Looking to steal some ice cream when your mom isn’t looking?” I smile, but like always this kid can see right through me. He crosses his little arms over his chest and tilts his head to the side, studying me with an intensity that makes me nervous.

“Aunt Dee, your face looks funny.” Leave it to Cohen; I swear that kid has no filter.

“Thanks, little dude. Your cape looks funny.” I stick my tongue out at him, and when his adorable face breaks out into a huge smile, I know he’s forgotten all about my ‘funny face’.

“My cape is awesome. It gives me magic, and makes everyone love me.” He plants his hands on his hips and looks at me as if all this should be common knowledge, which it is, but it’s still cute to listen to him explain it. His tiny brows are crunched together, and his lips are pulled into an adorable little pout.

“Uh huh, and I bet that magical cape keeps you out of trouble, too?” Bending down and kneeling in front of him, I look into his brown eyes that are so full of innocence that uncomfortable longing shoots through my heart. “You really are the coolest four-year-old I know.”

“I know.” He smiles big.

“And how many times since you put it on this morning have you gotten in trouble?” I ask with a smile.

His grin gets even larger, to the point where it looks like the creepy is coming out of him. “Two times!” he screams in my face, holding up his fingers. “Two times, but it was Mommy’s fault the first time. Daddy’s wiener was out, and I was just trying to keep her from seeing it.” He leans into my face, so close that our noses touch. “Girls aren’t supposed to see wieners, Aunt Dee. And Daddy’s wiener was mad that Mommy saw. It was so mad, it was pointing at her!”

Oh. My. God. How the hell I’m able to keep from busting out a laugh is beyond me. When I look over his head, and see Greg shaking his head with a slight blush on his cheeks. I lose it, laughing so hard that I fall onto my ass. Cohen, completely oblivious to the fact that he just let me know he busted Greg and Melissa, just starts laughing with me. I try to stop, but the laughter just keeps coming. Maybe some of the tension from earlier is still trying to escape, but hell, this kid could make the worst of days better.

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