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I spend the rest of the day in my head. I know he’s giving me time to think and take in everything he said, because he hasn’t come out of his office since this morning. One thing I know for sure, if I’m going to do this, I need to let go of my past. That means that I need to finally have that conversation with my parents that I’ve been avoiding since I graduated high school. And I also need to have the one conversation with Izzy that I know might be the hardest one I need to face.

In order to give Beck all of me, I need to let go of the pain two men in my past have caused me. My father and Brandon.

With a new resolve and the clarity to make it happen, I call Izzy and make plans to meet tomorrow for lunch, and then I call my mother, only to leave a message with her staff requesting an appointment. She must have another new housekeeper because when I said my name she didn’t even know who I was. For the first time that I can remember, it doesn’t even hurt that my own parents have wiped my existence from their house.

I feel lighter than I have in years, and it feels liberating. When I look in the mirror and see my eyes shining with life, I feel hopeful that I might be able to face the past and win this time. Knowing that I have a one-man army standing at my back has me convinced that I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel I’ve been trapped in.

Later that night, when Beck finally comes out of the office for dinner, he takes one look at me, and I know he sees the change, because after he looks down at the floor for a few seconds, he looks back into my eyes with the biggest smile plastered on his face.

“Well… all right,” he says, giving me a hug just shy of painful.

Yeah, I can do this. For this man who has been fighting for us alone, I’m finally ready to start fighting with him.

Chapter 14

“I didn’t expect to see you actually come into work. I was half tempted to just send these bastards to your house for the meeting today.” Axel’s laughing voice carries all the way down the hall when I walk into the office the next day.

I knew when I came in today that I would have to deal with comments like this; hell, I’ve been gone for almost a month, so they’ve been a long time in coming.

“Very funny. I’m here now, so let’s get started.”

“Where’s Maddox?” Coop asks, coming into the conference room with a box full of donuts. I reach out to take one, but before I grab it he slaps me on the hand like an unruly child. “Mine,” he growls.

“You’re so fucked up.” I laugh. I turn back to the group when they all start laughing. Everyone’s here except Maddox, and I can tell by the look Axel’s giving me that he didn’t know about this. Dammit. “Uh, Maddox isn’t coming because he’s with Dee.”

“Jesus Christ, are you serious? I get it, you wanting to make sure she’s safe. I really do. I can understand you being worried about her, but this is getting ridiculous. You’re gone for weeks, and hey, I can’t get pissed because you’re keeping your cases current and shit gets done, but now you have Maddox babysitting her so you can pop in and say fuck you very much?” When Axel finishes, it takes all my strength to remain in my seat.

Why I thought these assholes would understand, when they haven’t seen shit going on right under their own noses for years is beyond me. Hell, they just see Dee being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They don’t know shit, and it is making me see red.

“You know what? I’m going to let that shit slide because you don’t know the whole story, but if you ever question my actions when it comes to Dee, I won’t hold back when I beat your fucking ass.” I look around and meet all three sets of eyes looking at me in shock. Hell, Coop still has a donut hanging out of his mouth, just looking at me like I’ve lost my damn mind. “Okay, I’m sorry, but just don’t go there.” I finally say after I calm myself down slightly.

“Yeah, I’m sensing that might be a sore subject.” Greg laughs, trying to lighten the mood.

“You think? This douchelord just had a PMS fit, and all you’re saying is it might be a sore subject. Ha! That’s some funny shit.” Coop finishes stuffing his food in his mouth and ignores the rest of us.

“Want to tell me why Maddox is with Dee instead of sitting in on this meeting? The meeting that was supposed to be a brief on all this shit we’ve been investigating for Dee?” Axel’s tone is less angry now and more confused.

I should just lay it all out but what goes on between Dee and myself isn’t their business. Not that stuff, not until she wants it known.

“He’s with Dee because you called me and said I needed to get my ass over here. You asked, and I’m here. Maddox is there because she trusts him, and right now, that’s all I need to ease my mind when I can’t be there. You’ve got Izzy, he’s got Melissa and Cohen, and this idiot has his insatiable dick to worry about. Are you telling me that one of you would’ve been there to make sure she’s safe?” I continue my sweep of the room. Axel’s earlier anger seems to be coming back, and Greg’s carefree attitude is gone. Yeah, might as well just keep pissing them off this morning. I look at Coop to see him searching under the table and not even paying attention.

Unwrapping my fingers from their white-knuckle grip on the chair arm gives me a few seconds to figure out just how I want this to play out. I can continue to let them think I’ve been following Dee around like a lost puppy, or I can give them enough to have them off my back without betraying her trust in me.

“Ha, found you, motherfucker!” My head snaps over to Coop who climbs back up from the floor, blowing on the donut he must have dropped. He finally notices how thick with tension the room has become, because he looks at all of us with one brow cocked for a few seconds before he shrugs his shoulders and stuffs his mouth with half of his rescued snack.

“That’s disgusting, Coop,” Axel grumbles from across the table.

“Whatever,” he mumbles around a mouthful. “What the hell has all you fuckers getting all twitchy? Greg looks like he just shit his pants.” He laughs but continues eating without care. Pretty typical Coop, he hates getting into our shit, always has. He’s always preferred to be the lover of the group. It’s just turned into a different kind of loving as of late.

“Do you maybe want to explain to me why I feel like I just got in trouble with daddy?” Axel asks sarcastically.

“Not really.” I cross my arms over my chest and pray that I have the strength to stay in my seat if they continue with this conversation.

“Fuck that! Maybe let’s go with why you would think I wouldn’t be worried about Dee when I’ve been around a lot longer than you have. You’re acting like you have some claim to her, and we all know she moved on from whatever fun y’all had early on.”

Just like that, I jump up from my seat and slam my palms down on the table with a loud pop. Axel looks on as if he is bored with the conversation. I don’t have to look at Coop to see that he’s stopped eating and has finally given us his attention.

But, Greg? This motherfucker has the balls to actually look smug. He stands up, and with the table between us, moves in so he’s right in my face before he continues running his mouth. “What? Hit a little too close to home there, Beck? Maybe it’s time to just stop trying to get her to notice you. Stop feeding into her games. I held my tongue when you told me not to drive up when she was in the hospital, but I’m getting sick and fucking tired of watching you two play your little, high school bullshit.”

I don’t even give him a second to take a breath after he delivers that pile of shit. I reach back and clock him right in the jaw with enough power to have him on his ass. I palm the table again and swing my legs over, landing right next to his fallen form.

“What the fuck!” Axel stands and moves to pull me away from Greg, but stops in his tracks when I look up and meet his eyes.

“Don’t you even think about touching me right now. You might have me in size but right now, I’ve got anger on my side, and I’ll level you on the goddamn ground if you take one more step.”

I turn back to where Greg is leaning against the conference room wall, wiping the blood from his lip. I can see the anger in his eyes, but he looks more confused as to why I just laid him out. We’ve fought before, all of us have, but never have I laid my hands on one of my brothers in anger.

Leaning in close enough that he knows I’m serious, I keep my voice low and level. “Do not sit here and pretend to even have a clue what’s been going on between Dee and me. I’m going to say this once, and only once, because it still makes me so fucking mad to even think about it.” I take a deep breath, not once breaking eye contact with Greg. I want him to understand why I’m livid.

“Months, Greg, hell, close to a year and a half, that woman has needed you, and you couldn’t even fucking see it. You have no idea what the hell she’s been going through, and I’ll tell you right now, if you want to know that’s up to you, but you won’t hear it from me. What I will clue you the fuck in on is that these games you think I’ve been feeding into? These games kept the woman I love alive. They helped her heal, and more importantly, these games you think I’m playing give me more claim on her than you ever had. Do not ever question my relationship with Dee when you have no clue what the hell you’re talking about.”

He keeps staring at me, his jaw hard, and his eyes spitting fire. Right when I think he’s decided to pout in the corner instead of responding, he opens his mouth. “You’re really going to stand there and act like you haven’t been so pussy whipped for two stupid fucking years? Hell, you have it so bad you can’t even see it.”

“Don’t keep running your mouth because you’re pissed I laid your ass out.”

He climbs to his feet and moves forward so that we’re toe-to-toe. I keep flexing my fist, trying to purge the violence from my body.

“Not running my mouth, Beck. Can’t handle a little truth? We’ve all seen her running around, dating, laughing, and having fun. You can’t sit here and act like she’s been living two lives! I would have noticed if she needed me.”

My jaw drops after that load of shit, and then I laugh. I laugh so hard that I have to step away from him and hold my sides.

It takes me a few minutes because the anger is still very much present. Holding my hand up to tell him to wait, gives me a few seconds to compose myself. I just stand here hunched over, trying to get my breathing under control. Now that the hilarity of just how blind he is to someone he claims to know and love like a sister has passed, and I sober quickly.

“You know, I don’t know who I feel more sorry for right now. Dee for hiding behind all that false happiness because she didn’t think you could be bothered to be there, or you! You’re the one who claims to love her like family, but you’re so fucking stupid that you couldn’t see it.” I throw my hands up and walk away from him before I knock his ass back on the ground. “I can even overlook the time that you met Melissa, and the shit storm that followed. You had your own heavy issues, and believe me, Brother, I get they were as heavy as it gets, but before that, there was almost a year that you couldn’t see shit. Hell, maybe you did and just didn’t care, because hey, she was still smiling, right?” I throw his words back at him and turn to Axel. He’s just standing there, but now, he’s looking at me with all the questions I knew he would have if I opened this can of worms.

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