Page 36

I ring the doorbell, wait an acceptable amount of time for him to answer. When he doesn’t, I ring it a second time. A third time. Then I start pounding on the front door.

“Ethan! It’s me. Open the door. Please, Ethan. Open the door.”

I feel like a stalker standing out here, like a crazy person who just won’t get the hint. But damn it, this isn’t fair. He’s the one who came after me. He’s the one who made me fall in love with him. He’s the one who did all of this. And if he wants out now, that’s fine. But he doesn’t get to just ignore me. He’s going to have to tell me to my face that he’s no longer interested. I’m still covered in fading hickeys from the man, for God’s sake. Surely I deserve that much consideration.

So I keep knocking, determined to keep it up until he answers. If nothing else, I want to know that he’s all right. That this is just about breaking up, not about something terrible having happened to him.

After what feels like forever but is probably no more than four or five minutes, I hear the lock turn, and then the door swings open to reveal a bruised and battered Ethan standing in front of me.

“Oh my God! What happened to you?” All my relationship worries take a backseat to my concern for him. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine.” I push my way past him, off the dark porch and into the bright light of the foyer. And nearly have a heart attack when I do. He looks a million times worse illuminated by the chandelier.

His left eye is black, the cheekbone below it cut and swollen. His jaw is bruised, his lip is split, and there are long gouges down his neck, like someone dug their fingernails in and scratched as hard as they could. The blood still looks fresh.

“Baby, you need to get to the hospital, get looked at. You could have a concussion or internal injuries.”

“I’m fine.”

“Did you call the police? Did somebody jump you? Where did this happen?”

There’s no emotion in his voice, no inflection at all for me to draw a conclusion from when he says, “In Vegas.”

“Vegas?” That doesn’t make sense. “I thought you were in New York.”

“I was. I flew to Vegas this morning because there was someone there I wanted to talk to.”

“Is he the one who did this to you? Did you at least call the police when you were there?”

The look Ethan shoots me is pure affronted male. “It didn’t seem like a good idea considering he’s in much worse shape than I am.”

I stare at him incredulously as the truth sinks in. “So this was a fight, not a mugging?”

He doesn’t answer, which—of course—is an answer all on its own. “Ethan! What were you thinking?”

“You should probably go.”

“Go? Someone needs to check you over and make sure you’re okay. Do you hurt anywhere but your face?” I reach for him, start to lift his shirt up and check his ribs, but he moves away so fast that I’m left grasping at air.

“I’m fine. Just leave, Chloe.” He turns and walks deeper into the house, leaving me to show myself out. As if that’s really going to happen.

Not knowing what else to do, I follow him down the winding hallway to the kitchen. “Look, Ethan, if you want me to go, I’ll go. I just need to know that you’re really all right.”

“I’m fine. And I do want you to go.”

“Okay, then.” On the inside, I’m freaking out by this point. But I manage to keep my cool as I walk to the fridge, open the freezer door, and rummage until I find a bag of frozen peas. “Here. You should put this on your eye and cheek. It will help with the swelling, so maybe you can actually see out of that eye tomorrow.”

When he doesn’t take the bag from me, I leave it on the counter next to where he’s standing. “I’ll come check on you in the morning—”


The dread I’ve been feeling all day turns to ice in an instant. “Excuse me?”

“Don’t come back tomorrow. Don’t come back at all.”

“Seriously?” I say after one long, stunned second. “That’s how you want to play this?”

He shrugs. “I guess so.”

“That’s not actually good enough. If you want me to walk away from you, you’re going to have to spell it out for me. What’s going on?”

He fixes me with a blank stare that’s so different from the way he usually looks at me that I have trouble reconciling the fact that it’s really him. That this stranger is the same man who held me so tenderly just a few days ago.

“Do I really need to say it, Chloe?” he finally asks.

“Yes, Ethan, I think you do. Because I obviously missed something somewhere along the line.” I know he wants me to give it up, to just walk away. But I’m not going to. I know how it felt to be held by him. To be made love to by him. A guy doesn’t do the things he did with me, for me, and then just walk away with no explanation. Not unless he’s a total jerk, and Ethan isn’t.

He isn’t.

But already the doubts are creeping in. He looks so remote, so untouchable, and so untouched that I feel exposed. Laid bare. On the brink of total humiliation.

Please, God, don’t let me have made another huge mistake. I don’t think I could take it.

But God isn’t listening, and neither is Ethan. Or if he is, he doesn’t like what I’m saying. He runs a hand through his hair, starts to turn away from me. Like he’s done with this conversation—and me.

I’m not having it. I snag his gaze with my own and refuse to let him lock me out. If he’s going to break my heart, he’s going to do it looking straight at me. He owes me that much.

Silence stretches between us, cold and lonely and empty, but I’ll give him credit. Once I’ve snagged his attention, he doesn’t look away from me. Doesn’t try to pretend that I’m not standing there in front of him with my chest ripped open and my heart bleeding. Ethan Frost may be a lot of things, but he isn’t a coward.

“Fine,” he says. “This thing between us isn’t going to work out. It was fun. You’re a great person but I think we should—”

“It was fun?” I ask him incredulously. “Letting me pour my heart out to you was fun? Listening to me talk about how I was raped? How I blame myself for it? That was fun for you? Really?”

“I didn’t mean that.” He sounds sick, but I’m not falling for it. Not now, not ever again.

“Oh, no? Well, what exactly did you mean, then? Because it sounds to me like you let me fall apart for your own amusement.”

“That isn’t true.”

The goddamned tears are back, and it only makes me angrier at him. And myself. “Then tell me why.”

“This isn’t about you, Chloe. It’s about me.”

“Fuck you. You can do better than that.”

His jaw is clenched, his hands squeezed into fists so tight that I can see his knuckles turning white, even through the bruises and the cuts. For a second, just a second, he looks like the Ethan I thought I knew. “It is me. It is. It has nothing to do with you.”

“Except it has everything to do with me. You can try to assuage your guilt by saying it doesn’t, but it does. It really does. Because I’m the one whose heart is being broken here. I’m the one who was stupid enough to let you in. To trust you. To fall in love with you even though I knew better. And now I’m the one who’s going to suffer for it.” The tears are falling now and I can’t stop them, and that only makes me angrier. I swipe at them with my hand, furious that I can’t keep it together. That he gets to see me breaking down when all I want to do is be strong.

“Just tell me why you did it. Did you think I was too cocky in the cafeteria that day? Or maybe I wasn’t nice enough? Is it because I didn’t like your stupid blueberry smoothie?”

“Chloe, baby.” His eyes are damp now and he sounds almost as bad as I do. Then again, his jaw is swollen to twice its normal size. “You’re talking crazy—”

“Don’t call me baby! Don’t you fucking call me that. And don’t you dare tell me when I’m being crazy. I was fine before you came into my life. I was fine before you charmed me with your fucking strawberries and your fucking blender and your fucking ridiculous care packages. I was fine. And now I’m not. Now I’m fucking broken all over again. And I hate you for it.”

I start to cry in earnest now, and I hate myself for that. I hate being such a mess, such a fucking goddamned basket case. Hate even more that I’m doing all this in front of him. I want to be cool, want to be collected, but it just hurts too bad.

Goddammit. I really am ruined. It’s not a bad joke this time, not a measuring stick I hold myself against. This time it’s really true. There are just too many pieces missing and broken, too many pieces that I’ve stupidly given away for me to ever be able to put them back together again. To put me back together again. And even if I could, it hurts too much for me to even think about trying.

“No, Chloe. No. You’re not broken. Can’t you see? I am.”

He walks toward me, arms outstretched, but I back away. Wrap my arms around my waist in a pitiful attempt at protection. If he touches me, it’s over. Any small dignity I have left, anything I have left, will crumble right along with the rest of me.

I grab on to myself, dig my fingers into my waist in an effort to ground myself. As I do, my fingers slip beneath my sweater and I feel it. The chain he gave me to bind us together. To prove to me that this was for real. That he wasn’t just messing with me.

That I really, truly, belonged to him.

My stomach revolts, and for a moment I think I’m going to be sick right here in the middle of Ethan’s pristine kitchen.

Panic sets in. Real, live panic, and all I can think is that I want it off.

Want it away from me.

Can’t stand it touching me.

Not now, not when everything he told me—everything he did for me and to me—was a lie.

Desperate, damaged, determined, I shove my shirt up over my stomach. Fumble with the clasp. But I’m too panicked, too heartsick, and I can’t make it work. Can’t get it to release.

“Chloe, no.” Ethan’s voice sounds panicked now, too, but I’m not paying attention. I’m not listening to him, will never listen to him again.

“Chloe, don’t.”

Nearly hysterical now, I yank as hard as I can. So hard that I can feel the chain digging into my back, feel the blood start to run. And still I pull. Again and again—

The clasp finally breaks and the chain falls off into my hand. I stare at it for long seconds, at the diamonds glowing in the bright, kitchen lights. At the drops of blood glistening on the links.

Ethan’s right in front of me now, his face only inches from my own. I freak out. I can’t let him touch me, not now. Not if I have any chance of ever being okay again.

I hold my hand out, open my fingers, and let the chain fall to the floor between us.

And then I run.

Chapter Twenty-seven

I don’t even make it to the front door before he catches me. I lash out at him, clawing, scratching, desperate to get away. Muttering a curse, he turns me away from him, wraps his arms around me. Then pulls me in close, my back to his front.

“Let me go!” I scream through the tears. The words are garbled, a mess—like me—and Ethan ignores them.

“Just listen!”

“I’ve heard enough! You wanted me to walk, so goddammit, let me walk.”

“Not yet.” The belly chain is in his hand and he tries to push it back into mine. “Take this.”

“I don’t want it.” I refuse to open my clenched fingers. “I never want to see it—or you—again.”

“Please, Chloe. I know I don’t deserve anything from you, but please. Take it.” He pries my fingertips from my palm, presses the cold chain into my grasp before once again closing my fingers around it.

“I’m sorry, baby.” He presses a kiss against my temple. “I’m so sorry I did this to you.”

I don’t answer. I can’t. The fact that he’s suddenly being tender, sweet, only makes this whole thing a million times harder. Not to mention more confusing and more infuriating.

I can’t take it anymore, so I bring my arm up and hurl the chain away from me as hard as I can. It slams against the foyer wall before sliding to the floor.

“Goddammit.” He growls the word into my ear, his arms tightening around me like a vise. For the first time it registers that he’s as messed up, as out of control, as I am. For the first time a sliver of fear works its way through the pain.

I know that Ethan would never physically harm me, but if you’d asked me twenty-four hours ago I would have said that he would never treat me like this, either. That he would never dump me so callously, never throw me away like I’m nothing.