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“Oh my God! Did we do this?” He pulls me off the floor and before answering, he pulls off the condom. Turning to look where I assume the trash can used to be, he lets out another laugh. I forget, for a second, the mess around us when he bends forward, and picks up the can and small amount of trash that spilled when it toppled over. My palms itch to take his firm globes in my hand and squeeze. He is head-to-toe tan, hard, and full of deliciously bulging muscles.

Shaking my head a few times before he catches me mentally molesting him, I take the room in again. The kitchen table is toppled over with at least one broken leg. Three of his four chairs are broken and in pieces around the table. There are a few pieces of what looks like a broken plate scattered around. Two bar stools are on their side. A house phone ripped out of the wall, mail on the floor, a hole in the wall near the floor, and peanut butter covers most of the floor around us.

What the hell?

“I had a feeling that you would be a wildcat.” He laughs softly, taking my hand in his and pulling me towards the stairs. And me? I just follow him, even with my mind still screaming to run, trapped completely under his spell and not ready to find the cure.

Chapter 3

It’s been two months since I first took Dee home with me. Two months of the best sex I’ve ever had in my life. Two months, and I still don’t feel like she’s opened up once. I can see the war behind her eyes. She wants to want me, to want us, but it’s almost as if she’s afraid to let go of whatever fear I still see dancing behind her eyes. It’s not as strong as it was when I first met her, but it’s still there, and I don’t know what to do about it.

I’ve given into her whole ‘this will only be sex’ bullshit, because honestly, I never thought she would be so bullheaded about it. I think I’m an okay guy. I still call my mom every Sunday to check in, and my little sisters say I would make the best boyfriend. Some crap about how being raised by women means that there is no way I can screw a relationship up.

Never, not once, in my thirty-two years have I craved a woman the way I crave Denise Roberts. She gets under my skin like no other. She walks into the room, and I want to be near her. If one of the guys talks to her, I want to gut them, skin them, and maybe even behead them. She laughs, not one of those fake as hell ones she always gives Izzy and Greg, but the soul expressing belly laugh that she only gives me when we are alone. I’m near her, and the only thing I want is to claim her, make her mine, and let everyone around us know.

It’s not for lack of trying that I haven’t been able to break down her walls. I can see past it all. The happiness that doesn’t touch her eyes. Those moments when we’re out as a group and she looks like her world has crashed. The times that she sees a happy couple strolling down the street, and immediately, her face is full of deep longing. I just don’t understand why. I can tell, deep down, that she wants someone to hold her hand through life, but damn if she’ll let anyone do it.

There isn’t even any doubt in my mind. She’s worth sticking this out for and finding the diamond hidden beneath all the dirt.

Now, here we are after two months of constant companionship, almost nightly sex, and just about everything else a ‘couple’ does without the label. I’ve tried. She knows where I stand, but she is firm. She wants all the exclusiveness without the title. To her, there will never be an ‘us’, and if I’m not happy sharing her bed, then I can take a hike.

It’s those moments when I want to wring her fucking neck.

“Still chasing after the uncatchable, huh?” I look away from where Dee is standing with Izzy, her head thrown back in laughter, and her rich brown hair falling in curls down her back. Her jeans tightly hug her ass, begging for my hands, and her tits are about to burst through the thin material of her tee. Jesus, how pathetic am I?

“I’m not chasing.”

Maddox raises his brow. Yeah, I’m pretty sure he knows I’m full of shit. Even to my own ears, it sounds like a lie, because chasing is exactly what I’m doing.

“Right. And how’s that working out for you?” He takes a pull of his beer, glancing around the room before his dark eyes return to me.

I don’t say anything because really, what is there to say? I look around the room, trying to find a distraction. “What do you think about that?” I point my beer towards where Axel is sitting on the couch.

“Don’t know. Shit doesn’t make sense, though.” And with that, he gets up and moves over to the couch, turning his attention back to the game.

At least I’m not the only one in relationship limbo. Fuck, I sound like a damn chick. Relationship limbo? My sisters would have a field day with that one. Dee saunters back into the room and drops her fine ass right in my lap. It takes everything in me not to throw her down on the floor and claim what’s mine. Rip her clothes off and ram my dick so far into her warm, wet body that she won’t be able to walk for weeks. I grunt and try to adjust my erection, only to get a giggle from Dee when she realizes what she’s done to me.

“Need some help there, Big Boy?”

Her warm breath against my ear only causes me to get even harder. Painfully hard.

“Don’t tease me unless you want an audience when I fuck you.” My words come out harsher than I meant, and her eyes widen before filling with the same desire that’s coursing through my veins.

“Later, I promise.” She leans in and whispers, her lips against mine before laying her head against my shoulder, and turning her attention to the football game.

It’s moments like this that remind me why I’m fighting so hard to make this girl mine. She’s close; I can see it in her eyes when she looks at me. She looks at me like I’m sure I look at her. As if just being around each other makes the world a little easier. I sigh and pull her tighter against my arms, just enjoying the moment.

I’m not sure how much time has passed when the doorbell chimes. Dee and I have been so wrapped in our bubble with the lust turned up high that we’ve been pretty much ignoring everyone. Dee goes to get off my lap and answer the door but Izzy waves her off.

The events that follow will forever replay in my mind. Izzy had been gone for a few minutes before all hell breaks loose and complete chaos erupts around us. When we all make it to the porch, and see the state that Izzy is in it is like living a nightmare. Having someone attack her right under our noses doesn’t sit well with any of us, but amidst the insanity that follows, I can’t do anything but watch as my girl slips a little further away. By the time the ambulance arrives she has crawled so far into herself that I doubt I’ll ever get her to turn it back around.

I hold her while she tries her hardest to keep it together for Izzy, and it breaks a little piece of me. I would give anything to take this from her, but I know she won’t let me.

“It’s okay, Dee. We’ll leave now and meet them at the hospital. Axel won’t let anything happen to her.” She doesn’t move for the longest time, so I repeat myself. Once my words finally filter through her haze, she jumps.

“I need to be with her, Beck. She needs me.” Her eyes are frantic, but her tone is deadly calm. It’s almost as if she’s trained herself how to act. I narrow my eyes at her, watching her take in everything. Her eyes keep sweeping around the room as if waiting for another threat. What the hell is going on here?

“All right, Wildcat. Let’s get the truck, and we can drive them.” She doesn’t seem to hear me so I try again. “Come on, Dee. Axel has Izzy, see? He told the EMT that he was taking her, so let’s go get in the truck, and we can drive them. Okay?” She nods but continues to look around in her manic way. I keep my arm tight around her, and call out to Axel to follow us to the truck, and just like that, Dee seems to relax. Not much, but it’s something.

****

We make it to the hospital in record time. Axel still refuses to leave Izzy’s side, and Dee is in no shape to take over care, so after telling the staff he’s her fiancé they don’t give us any issues about him staying with her. Coop and Maddox sit silently in the waiting room while Greg paces in tight rotations around the room. Doesn’t take a leap to see how upset he is.

I’m more worried about Dee. She hasn’t stopped shaking since we left her house. Her hands are literally vibrating with nervous energy. Her eyes are still crazy, and every few minutes, she lifts her head up from where she’s been staring at her lap and takes in every single square inch of the room. She then drops her chin back to her chest and watches her hands fidget once again. She’s shutting down, and I have no clue how to stop it from happening.

“Let’s go get something to eat, all right?” I speak softly, but she practically jumps out of her seat. Her hands fly up to her mouth, and her eyes do another sweep of the room. “I’ve got you, Dee. I’m right here. I won’t let anything happen to you.” She still won’t stop her worried gaze around the room. I try to calm her down by whispering reassuring words, but she can’t calm herself down. I’m about to open my mouth to try again when Maddox steps in front of where she’s sitting. I raise my head and give him a questioning look, waiting to see what he’s up to.

“Let’s go. Now.” Even though I knew he was about to speak, Maddox’s biting tone has me instantly on edge. Who the hell does he think he is, talking to my woman like that? But to my dismay, Dee stops her crazy eyes and takes his outstretched hand. I sit here in disbelief as a man close enough to be my brother, and the woman I’m close to falling in love with, just walk right out the door.

What the hell just happened here?

I can’t stop the chills. This fear that Brandon’s attack on Izzy has brought on. That he was even able to get that close to Izzy. That close to me. My whole body feels like a jackhammer, violently shaking. I’ve never known fear like the kind that Brandon-fucking-Hunter can induce in me. And the worst part, I can’t talk about it. Izzy has no clue, and Greg is so worried about Izzy’s mental stability that he remains pretty blinded to the rest of the world around him. I’m trapped in my own personal hell with no chance of escaping. It’s been so long since I felt this darkness closing in on me that I can’t figure out how to push it back.

It’s better this way. I remind myself. Izzy has too much going on right now, and even before now, there has never been a good time to tell her what he did to me. I’ve kept it locked inside, and hidden it behind my mask.

Goddammit. I’m so sick of this. I thought all this Brandon shit was behind us, and then bam, he’s right back in our faces like some bad venereal disease. Just when I’m ready to tell Beck that I’m ready to try. For the first time in my life, I’m ready to trust a man, and then like a reminder from hell, stone-cold reality smacks me in the face.

Now, it doesn’t matter what I do. I can’t separate all the bad runs I’ve had in the past with men, and most importantly, what Brandon did to me when I was just a fresh-faced, college student trying to make Izzy’s life a better place. All the amazing moments that Beck and I have shared over the last few months seem to vanish when the shadows pull me back under water.

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