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I can’t keep my eyes off of Axel. He sits there on the floor with his head resting against the wall, eyes closed, but body so tightly wound that there isn’t a possibility he is relaxed. I want to hate him. I want to think he is this heartless bastard that just up and left Izzy and ignored her letters. I want to blame him for the series of events that followed. The ones that have had her thinking he has been dead and gone for the last decade plus. I want nothing more than to walk up to this man and kick him in the nuts for all that it’s worth.

But… but something is holding me back from automatically condemning him to hell. Maybe it’s the presence of these strong men silently offering what I think is support, or the fact that when he realized who Izzy was, the first thing that flashed in those green eyes of his was shock, and if I’m not mistaken… love.

Whatever is happening here is larger than any of us realize. So with the knowledge that I’m just going to have to watch it play out like the rest of them, I go to settle in for a long wait. Just when I’m about to get comfortable against the wall, the door clicks open, and out walks the other man who arrived with the group. I think Greg called him Locke. Every single fiber of this man is laced with a strong warning. He appears unapproachable or at least that’s just the vibe he wants to project. His eyes, so dark they appear black, take in the crowded hallway but zoom in on Axel when he stands from his position on the floor.

Bottom line, that man scares the ever living shit out of me.

“What the fuck are you glaring at, Locke?” Axel growls, stepping a little closer to the big, scary dude.

“I’m looking right at you, Motherfucker. It shouldn’t take a big leap of ‘clue the fuck in’ for you to realize I’m looking right at your dumb, fucking ass.” His deep baritone snarls out the words. Eyes hard as coal, his large frame is puffed up and ready for a fight. I back up slightly, just from his strong presence. Even though his words are spoken in a low tone, the sheer power behind them has every instinct in my body telling me to run from the predator.

Obviously, Axel doesn’t seem to have the same issues concerning this man as I do. He walks, calm as you please, right into Locke’s space. “What the hell? Is there a reason you seem to think I pissed all over your shit?”

I watch them having their heated debate. Each time Axel opens his mouth to throw some excuse back to Locke, or Locke explains what is going on with Izzy in the other room, I feel my heart pick up speed. Each word that comes out of their mouths makes my world slowly rock and rumble, knowing that the things Izzy has believed for so long are so far from reality.

It’s like when you see a car accident and you just can’t look away. Or when you’re watching a horror movie that you know will keep you up at night for years to come. You know you shouldn’t watch, you know there is something coming, but for the life of you, you can’t look away. This is one of those moments for me. I know in my gut that I need to stop listening, but I can’t look away. I can’t plug my ears as a toddler would, and then drop to the floor, throwing a fit that demands these men to shut the hell up.

So I stand here and take it all in. Then, Axel does the only thing that can break me out of my shocked induced stupor. He mentions the one man that not only ruined Izzy’s life, but mine as well. The one man that still has the power to ruin hers, and the one man that I would do anything to see wiped off this planet.

Brandon Hunter, Izzy’s ex-husband.

At my gasp, his face turns to me. I flinch again at the hard look that’s come over his otherwise handsome features. “Are you fucking okay?” he spits with a tone that lacks all sympathy. I’m the annoying one here? I don’t fucking think so!

How in the hell can he turn this around, and make it everyone else’s fault? Any sympathy that I’ve felt for him over the last hour or so vanishes instantly. I feel the adrenaline starting to fire through my veins. He has the misfortune of pissing off the mama bear inside of me. I have years and years of being Izzy’s rock and strength on my side to fuel my anger. You do not piss off the one person who would go to battle to make sure that the woman in the other room doesn’t turn into that powerless blob again. Especially when, in all reality, all of this is in a way his fault. Even if he doesn’t know it, HE is the reason she is so screwed up.

And, just like a man, he can’t keep his mouth shut when he pisses off a woman. You would think that he would know better. But his words prove otherwise. “Seriously, do you need something? Water, a chair, a fucking Midol?”

All that adrenaline, fire, and pent up, stone cold fury rushes to the surface, and all I want to do is charge this man. I walk right up to him, step into the middle of the small space between him and Locke, and do my best to meet his angry glare with one of my own. “Listen here you… you big asshole, you will not sit here and be a little shit. You have no clue what’s going on, but I promise you this, it’s bigger than your need to ‘chat’. Do you understand me?” I jam my finger into his rock hard chest a few times just to make sure my point is clear.

He looks down at my finger, still pressed hard between his pecs, before wrapping his fingers around my wrist and removing it. “No, little girl, I do not fucking understand you, not one little bit. So maybe your ass can clue a bastard in?” Just as quickly, that burst of anger seems to vanish, and he looks like the same confused man that he was earlier when he realized the woman standing before him was his long, lost lover.

“I can’t, Axel. This isn’t my story to tell.” I smile weakly, but drop my lips the second his confusion turns a little darker.

“How do you know my name? I haven’t gone by Axel in a long fucking time, Sweetheart, so if anyone knows what’s going on, my guess would be you.”

“Of course I know what’s happening, but like I said, this isn’t my story to tell.” I point towards the door, the door that is protecting Izzy from having to have this conversation. “It’s hers. It always has been. I just never thought I would see the day it would need to be told.”

His eyes squint, glaring down at me when I refuse to open up and clue him in, “All right, fine, don’t fucking tell me, but let me ask you this, does her fucking husband know she’s out, dressed like that, flirting with anything that speaks to her?”

“You son of a bitch…” I don’t even think before my hand flies up and cracks against his cheek. It’s hard to tell who is more shocked that I slapped him, and slapped him hard enough to cock his head to the side.

“What the fuck was that for?” he rumbles. Behind me, I can hear one of the three other men in the hall laughing, and heat rushes to my face. As embarrassed as I might be for letting my temper get the best of me, there is no way in hell that I feel bad about giving him that hit.

“Oh shit, shit… I am not sorry for that. Get that straight, right now, but you need to watch your mouth, and what you say about Iz. Until you know what’s going on, you have no room to say anything. Not one damn thing.” I cross my arms over my chest and hold my ground. If he isn’t going to listen to anyone, then I’ll take him out by myself if I have to.

He sighs deeply before reaching into his pocket to retrieve his wallet, slipping out a white card, and holding it out to me. “Here, give her this, and have her call me.”

“I’ll tell her, but I won’t make any promises to you. If you understood what you are asking of me, well, you would just understand where I’m coming from.”

He starts to respond, but the door next to us opens up, and Greg walks through the door with Izzy curled protectively in his arms. The scene reminds me of so many of her ‘breaks’ in the past that I sway slightly with the enormity of emotions weighing me down. I want to scream and punch something.

What I really want to do is find Brandon-fucking-Hunter and kill him with my bare hands. How dare he take such a perfectly happy woman and turn her into this hot mess. The truth is, not even I am immune to him. Not after that night, not too long after he and Izzy were married when he showed me firsthand what she had been living through, and then some. When the memory filters through my mind, I find myself almost on my ass, but Beck steps over and loops his arm around my shoulders, holding me steady.

“I got you,” he mumbles in my ear.

“Thanks,” I offer, weakly.

Greg walks out a second later and stands in front of me. I know he’s just as worried about her as I am. It’s written all over his face. “She finally calmed down about ten minutes ago. Let’s get her home, yeah?” He addresses me softly so that he doesn’t disturb her.

“Sure, G. Let me go get the bouncer to open the side door. They already have your truck parked back there so we don’t have to take her through the front.” Seeing her like this, and the worry that Greg has, just confirms my thought that this isn’t going to be good at all.

I turn and almost crash into the man standing behind me, catching myself just in time.

“Come on, I’ll make sure you don’t need any more help.” Beck reaches over and laces his fingers through mine. He’s offering a whole hell of a lot more with that show of support than what his words suggest.

I try not to like the warm feeling that gives me, but I would be lying if I said I don’t enjoy and entertain the thought. But right now, I can’t even let myself go there. Izzy needs me and just like all the times before, and any time she will need me in the future, I’ll be there. I know, all too well, what it feels like when there isn’t anyone there, and I will never allow someone I love to feel that kind of pain.

Chapter 2

It’s been a week.

One week of hell.

My best friend has completely lost her shit. She doesn’t want me to know it, and I’ll give her some credit, she does a decent job of hiding it. I can see it in her eyes, and I can hear it through the walls when she cries herself to sleep every night. She’s been ‘busy’ avoiding the huge six-foot-six elephant that dropped into her life all week, and all the while, I’ve been running damage control with Greg. She won’t speak to him. He knows this and won’t even fight her on it. We both know that if he tries to make her talk before she’s ready, it will only end badly. I know it’s hurting Greg, but like I told him last night, we have to let her work this out herself.

Hell, at this point, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a good way for this to end. Regardless of how Greg and I feel, we both know that Izzy has to talk to him. She has to hash this out so she can heal and move on. Whether it’s with Axel, someone else, or alone. One thing’s for sure, I’m done letting her hide. It kills me to see her suffering, but if I don’t put my foot down, she won’t ever wake up.

Last weekend wasn’t easy. I sent Beck a text letting him know that we had made it home and things were… challenging. Since I haven’t heard anything else from him, I just figure he’s one of those guys that just wants a cheap run of things, then things got muddy, and he doesn’t want the drama now. I’m okay with that, and honestly, I had a feeling that it would happen. Sure does makes it a lot easier for me that way, anyhow. I don’t want or need a man right now, and as promising as he seemed in the pleasure department, I can easily see myself getting deep with him.

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