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What?! He wasn’t?

Panic crashed over me, pressing me down.

He was supposed to be given five years. At least five. He was released a week ago. One week ago.

I’d been walking back and forth from the Quail during that time. I worried about local dangers, never considering he could’ve… I choked out a sob. This was too much. One week? Really?

He was coming.

I just knew it.

I didn’t care about the time, I grabbed my phone and pulled up the detective’s cell. Officer Henry. He’d been the one who ‘handled’ me the most during the case. Hitting call, I pressed the phone next to my ear and I focused on not passing out.

“It better be a goddamn emer—”


That word gutted me. I was stripped, vulnerable, and all the underlayers of trauma and baggage, it was all hanging out. Anyone could see. I had no problem with him hearing.

He was quiet a second. I heard rustling, a sigh, and a soft, “Shit.”

“Shit, indeed.”

“You heard, huh?”

“An article is out. An article! Why am I learning about this through the media?”

“Look.” His voice was calm now, more alert. As if he’d pulled on his armor and he was prepared to handle a difficult client. Client. What a funny word. Maybe a difficult victim? If that phrase could even be put together. How could a victim be difficult? Strip away what made them a victim, and there’d be no reason for them to be ‘difficult.’ He said further, “I didn’t let you know because he’s not going to find you or harm you.”

“How do you know? He was obsessed!” Shoving out of my chair, I began to pace my room. Back and forth. To the door, the dresser, to the other door, back again. A sweep by my chair. I was going in a clipped, tight circle and I couldn’t stop myself.

“He’s dead.”

I stopped. Everything stopped. My heart stopped.

Had I heard that right? “What?”

“It’s not been released, so I’m not surprised the article didn’t report it, but he was killed tonight. Bar fight.” A sad chuckle. “He went to Rick’s, mouthed off about Stone Reeves, and it was his luck that members of a nearby charter of Red Demons were passing through. They stopped for a drink, took offense to what he was saying. Guess they’re Reeves’ fans. He got hit too hard in the parking lot, and he’s gone. We’re waiting to notify his aunt before saying anything, but to be honest, no one up here will care.”

East River Falls was a small community. A stalking case didn’t get much attention. The two-day court case got even less attention, but every moment of that event changed everything for me.

I almost fell down on my bed, my hands shaking. My legs were trembling. I was sweating profusely. “Oh my God.” I breathed out, making my nostrils flare. I drew in oxygen, focusing on that, remembering my breathing exercises. “He’s really gone?”

Another sad chuckle. “He’s gone, Dusty. You can come back if you wanted. He had no family here. No friends. By the end, you were his only obsession. It’s done.”

It wasn’t done.

I pressed my palm to my forehead, as if trying to ward off the impending headache before it even started. “A classmate found me tonight and said she was sorry. She read the article. Stone’s name was attached. It’s not going to be ignored. It’s going to get traction.”

A swift curse from him.

But it was done. Everything was done.

We were quiet a beat.

“I heard about your parents. I’m real sorry. I know you’ve already lost so much.”

“Yeah.” There was nothing else to say, just…yeah.

“Listen, we can try to put a cork on any leaks coming out from here, but you know how it is. Now that a celebrity’s name is attached, press will be calling. There’s always someone needing money, but I’ll have a talk with the lead on your case. Maybe we can shift things around to make sure nothing of yours gets out there any more than it already has been.”

Another shuddering breath released from me. “Okay. Thank you. That’d be helpful.”

“Not right what you’ve gone through. Not for someone so young, someone just starting out, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”


“If you need anything, give me a call, but as for him, that’s all done. He’s dead. You can draw comfort from knowing that.”

We hung up.

I couldn’t remember if there’d been conversation after that. He’s dead. Those words were echoing in my head. This time, this loss was welcomed. I slid down to the floor, my back to my bed and I rested my elbows on my knees. I bent forward. The phone fell to the ground. The party was still going on upstairs. I could hear the muted bass, the sounds of footsteps over my ceiling. Doors opening, closing. People outside. People inside. But in my room, in that basement, I had been given a sanctuary that I hadn’t expected to be granted.

Tears rolled down my face, but I let them. I didn’t fight them. They were tears of relief, just complete and utter relief, because the fear I hadn’t given energy to, had ignored since coming to Texas, was gone and it’d been so compressing that I hadn’t even known it was there. An invisible elephant on my chest and poof, it was gone.

This time, I actually smiled.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I jerked. My heart lurched in my chest, too.

Someone was pounding on my exit door.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

“Let me in, Dust! Now.”

I had nothing in me to keep him away. Shoving to my feet, I was through the door, then to the door that separated us, and I unlocked it. He was pushing his way inside. I shut the door behind him, and he locked it.

He stood there. A black hood pulled over his head, and I knew he would’ve walked past the party, hunched forward. He would’ve kept to the sidelines, trying to merge with everything else so he didn’t draw attention.

We took each other in.

He saw the tears on my face, cursing softly.

“Is it true?”

I frowned. “You know?”

“You have a stalker?”

I shook my head. “No. Not anymore.” I whispered, “He’s dead.”

He frowned. “What?”

But my God. Stone was here. I felt as if I’d just been given life back. I was trying to remember the reason I wasn’t touching him, why I wasn’t kissing him, and then I stopped thinking.

I went to him.

I couldn’t fight anymore.

He straightened, another curse falling from his mouth before he reached for me. His hands came to my face and he surged for me at the same time I went to him. We met in the middle, lips on each other, and nothing but a blur. A long and blessed and sensual and pleasurable blur happened after that.

Clothes were shredded.

I was being lifted up.

My legs were around his hips.

He turned a fan on in the background. Noise to drown out our noise, drown out the party above.

We were on my bed.

Hands were clawing for the other, raking, digging in.

I tasted him, his tongue inside my mouth and mine was rubbing against his, exploring him.

He was over me, pressing me down.

Then, I opened my legs and he was inside of me.

And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember why he hadn’t been there this whole time?

“I was lonely when I went to school.”

I didn’t wait for him to ask. It wasn’t long after we finished, after we both rose to wash up, pulling on some clothes, and without talking about it, we got back in bed. He started to pull me against him to rest on his chest, but I held back. This was going to be difficult, and I needed to be able to think clearly or I wouldn’t say it all.

“I’d already been lonely, and when I went away to East River Falls, I didn’t have good standards to measure people by. A cute boy flirted with me in orientation. My heart started fluttering. When he sat by me in our first class together, I was already crushing on him. When I found out he was a football player, I was gone.”

Stone moved on the bed, and because I worried he was about to touch me, I hurried, my voice only a rasp, “He flirted with me a lot the first two weeks of school. It was nice. It was less lonely. I didn’t have a lot of female friends. There were girls there and a few of us tried to get together, but we were all in the same boat. We were there because we didn’t have money for a better school. All of us were working. Most had full-time jobs. Most didn’t even live there. They commuted. That was the one thing I felt guilty about. I could’ve commuted, but honest to God, I couldn’t handle being in that apartment with my dad anymore. He never talked. He worked and he existed and so did I. The place was so empty and cold after she died. He met Gail the week I left for school, so I think we were both trying to move on, to fill the void, just in our own separate ways.”


I closed my eyes. A tear leaked out.

He couldn’t say my name like that. I wouldn’t be able to keep going if he did.

“His name was Mark Ranger, and I thought he had the coolest name ever. He was a Ranger. He came from the Rangers up north.”

“The trucking company?”

My heart sank as I remembered. “That’s what I thought. That’s what he let me think, but he wasn’t from that family. It was just a coincidence. He was the big man on campus, or that’s what he wanted. He thought it, so he made it happen like that. Mark was the starting quarterback. I swear, his head, his ego, they just got bigger and bigger and bigger. We were a couple by Thanksgiving. I loved going to his games. I felt important.” Not how I felt at home. “People knew me. People saw me.” I wasn’t invisible there. “I thought I was in love with him by Christmas, and that’s when it turned. Everything turned.”