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“Fuck you, Beck. What gives you the right to sit here and act like you’re better than any one of us?” Greg growls at me, but makes the mistake of grabbing my shoulder to get my attention back on him.

I turn quicker than he expected and grab him by the front of his tee, pushing him back into the wall hard enough that I swear I hear the wall crack. “I gained that right the first time I had to stop her from swallowing a bottle of pills.” I shove off, pissed at myself for giving into him when he clearly wanted to bait me. “I’ve got a lot of anger built up about this Greg, and it really would be wise if you shut the fuck up. Now.” I pace the length of the room, my hands on my hips, and my breathing still coming rapidly.

“I think it’s time you cleared the air, Brother,” Coop says from the table. I look over and meet his eyes; he gives me a small nod, and the tension in my shoulders drops.

“Fuck!” I kick over one of the chairs before turning back and walking over to my seat. Greg, still clearly pissed, rights his chair, and sits. Axel keeps his gaze on me for a few seconds before taking his seat next to Greg. I laugh at the irony of those two on one side and me, alone, on the other. Coop clears his throat from his seat at the head of the table, and I take that as my signal to talk.

“This isn’t my place to tell you, and I feel like I’m betraying Dee by even opening my mouth.” The fight, all that anger, leaves in seconds, and I just feel… alone.

“It sure would make it a lot easier if we understood what the fuck that shit was all about,” Axel says in frustration.

“I don’t like my loyalties being questioned, Beck. And I damn sure don’t like being punched in the face. Melissa’s going to kick your ass, pregnant or not.”

“Honestly, you deserved that and more, Greg. I’ve kept my mouth shut out of respect for Dee, but mainly because I had it covered. I was there when she needed me, and I will continue to be there for her.” I turn my attention to Axel, taking a deep breath before addressing him. “First, I mean no disrespect, Ax, for what I’m about to say, so understand that and keep your temper in check.” He gives me a tight nod. Looking back over at Greg I continue. “Right before that shit went down in Izzy and Dee’s old townhouse, Dee and I started dating. It was new, so new that we didn’t even get to announce shit to anyone before that all went down. Then with Greg in the hospital, almost dying and shit, there wasn’t a good time. Izzy needed Axel, and Greg was healing. So, Dee was alone.”

“What the hell do you mean she was alone? She lived in my damn house! Izzy was there. I was there. She wasn’t alone!” Axel’s growl pretty much confirms what I thought. Of course, he’s defensive.

“I told you I didn’t mean any disrespect, Axel, and I mean it. But, even though she was right under your nose, you were so busy with Izzy that you didn’t see a thing. Think back, and I mean, really think. How many times would she sit in that little corner in your office that you gave her to work? How many nights would you catch her roaming around downstairs? Really think about what you couldn’t see, because your whole focus was Izzy. I’m not even faulting you there because Izzy needed you, but Dee needed someone, too.” I look down and gather my thoughts. I hate thinking back to those months. “She would call me every night, and I listened to her cry herself to sleep. Every single noise in your house terrified her. Then, I finally talked her into getting the apartment in Maddox’s complex, thinking she would be better off. I spent another few months never leaving her side.” I have to stop and clear the lump in my throat. Jesus, this is harder than I thought it would be.

“The first time she almost took her own life, she called me first. It gave me enough time to get there, and it took me almost a week to calm her down enough to get help. She only tried once after that, but she had me there. That happened a month before she pushed me away. She started seeing a therapist, and I kept a close eye on her. It’s taken almost a year for me to see the signs of life coming back into her. She hid it, but if you all would’ve taken a good look at her, you would’ve seen just how broken she was.” I look up to meet their eyes.

Coop has a look of understanding on his face that makes me think he wasn’t as clueless as I thought he had been. Axel’s face is clear of emotion, but I can see the shock in his eyes. When I finally meet Greg’s eyes, the raw pain that is washed over his features shocks me.

“I had no idea.” His voice even sounds flat.

“Yeah, I know.” I offer him a small smile but no understanding. These people should’ve seen it, and knowing they’ve thought she was playing games just breaks my heart for her. “Those games you think she was playing, the guys she was dating, all of it. That was her way of acting like she’s fine so you all wouldn’t ask questions. She didn’t want you to know, and I still don’t even know why she was so determined that you all stay clueless.”

“What can we do?” Axel’s holding it in tight, but he looks like he’s about to start breaking things soon. He doesn’t like his family hurting, and he’s got to know that when Izzy finds this out, it’s going to be hard for her to know she’s been just as blind as the rest of them.

“You three don’t do shit. She trusts Maddox. I know she’s already talked to him about some of this, but I don’t know how much she’s told him. Plus, with him knowing everything that’s been going on, it all makes it easier for her to talk to him. She’s meeting with Izzy for lunch today, so Axel, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re needed not long after. Right now, Dee is mine, and I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing. We figure out who this motherfucker is, and he’s mine to deal with. Then we move on like the family we are.”

They nod their heads in understanding, but Greg pushes back from the table. He pulls the door open, walks out, and slams it behind him.

“Give him a second to get a handle on this. You can’t expect him to just brush off the fact that he’s basically ignored Dee when she needed him.” Axel’s right. At this point, it’s a tossup for who’s going to handle this better, Greg or Izzy.

It takes almost thirty minutes before Greg comes back in. He walks up to where I’m standing by the window and pulls me into a hug. I slap him on the back a few times and let him have this. As frustrated as I am with him, I know how seriously he takes his relationship with the females in his life. I knew it wouldn’t be easy for him to know that someone needed him, and he didn’t see it.

“Don’t beat yourself up, Greg. She’s on the other side of it now. Even after that shit at the office, she’s got this strength about her that makes me know she’s going to be okay.”

He pulls back and looks at me with pain clear in his eyes. “Thank you for being there for her when I couldn’t see it.”

I nod my head and we return to the table. I know this isn’t over. Dee’s going to have to finish this and forgive him before they can move on. And judging by the look on his face, he knows this too.

We spend the rest of the morning going over what we know about her attack. Which basically, is pretty much nothing. Adam Harris hasn’t been back to work since the Friday before the attack. Everything is still in his apartment, except it’s been trashed as though he had to leave in a hurry. His family doesn’t have one clue as to where he could be. Dee’s attacker had parked far enough from her office that his vehicle didn’t get caught on any of the security footage, and he never took his mask off when in range of the cameras.

We have nothing. And all I take away from this meeting is the feeling deep in my gut that this is going to get worse before it gets better.

Chapter 15

I’m more nervous for my lunch date with Izzy than I thought I would be. I know this isn’t going to be a fun catch up and gossip date. She’s going to be devastated when I tell her everything I’ve hidden from her.

Beck left this morning worried for me because he knew what would happen today. But he also left knowing that I needed to do this alone, and he never once questioned me.

I can only hope that when he gets home, and I tell him what I have to tell Izzy, that he’s still willing to stand by my side.

It’s time for me to free myself of all this pain.

****

I’ve just stepped out of the shower when I hear a knock on the door. I think about locking myself in the bathroom and hiding, but after a few seconds of calming my breathing, I’m able to fight the panic.

Dressing quickly in the sweats and tee that Beck had left on the floor this morning, I set off for the door with only a slight tremble in my limbs. As silently as I can I creep up to the door and look through the peephole. When I see Maddox glaring at the solid wood, I smile slightly, take a deep breath to calm my nerves, and open the door.

“Hey Mad.” I smile and stand back for him to enter.

“Hey.” He looks me over, his lips twitching just barely, before heading off in the direction of the kitchen.

“I’m going to get ready, okay?” I call after his retreating form.

“Yup.”

I shake my head and lock the door before heading back upstairs.

It takes me longer than normal to get ready. What does one wear to lunch, knowing that you’re about to rip your best friend’s heart to pieces? I settle for a pair of skinny jeans, a teal blouse, and my favorite teal four-inch heels. Light makeup and a few motivational pep talks later, I’m ready to take on the day.

“Izzy’s on her way.” I tell Maddox when I enter the kitchen. He’s standing next to the stove, eating some of the bacon left from breakfast. “Do you want a plate? Maybe let me make you something fresh?”

“I know and no.”

“Uh, okay? You know you don’t have to be here, right? I’ll be okay by myself.” I smile, letting him know that I really will be okay, but he doesn’t move.

He just looks at me with those scary eyes, finishes the last two pieces, and washes his hands. “You might think you’re okay to be alone, but I’m still going to be here. You and Izzy do your thing, and if you need me when you’re done until Beck gets home, then I’ll be here. If not, then I’ll still be here.” And with that, he turns and makes his way through the house. I hear him settling in the living room, the TV click on, and the low sounds of some sports crap fill the air.

Well… okay then.

I set about cleaning the kitchen, trying to keep my mind clear. Izzy comes bouncing in about an hour later with a wiggling Nate on her hip, and what looks like her whole house in the bag around her shoulder.

“Hey, you!” She drops the bag and sets Nate on his feet before coming over to give me a hug. “I missed you! Beck seems to only want to keep you all to himself.”

I try to smile but the butterflies in my gut are going crazy. She notices and gives me a weak smile. I look away from her when I hear Nate’s little feet take off and the sounds of his squealing.

Oh, wow.

“Oh, wow.” She echoes my thoughts. We both stand here, staring at Maddox who has Nate up in the air, and he has the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on his face. His whole demeanor changes right before us. The hard, unapproachable look that he normally wears is gone, and replaced with a man seriously too good looking for his own good.

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