“Okay fine. But here’s how I see it.” I leaned onto the counter and mimicked his stance. “I am going to use the brand new fancy camera and…I’m going to love it.”

“Now we’re talking. Case closed.”

“No no no—not so fast. I am going to use it and love it, but I am going to pay you back for it. Every penny. As soon as I can save up enough.”

“Fuck no,” he said. “I’ll just burn the money.”

“I don’t care what you do with it. I’m still paying you.”

“Then, I’ll just use it to buy you something else.”

“Then, I’ll just pay you for that, too,” I said.

“You’re impossible, you know that?” Jake asked.

“Yes, I do know that.” I smiled. “Now, make me some food. I’m starving.”

“I believe we have some business to get out of the way first?”

“What business?”

He smiled back. “Secrets first, then dinner.”

“Oh yeah...secrets.” I was getting bolder around him, and I liked it. “Go!”

“Why don’t you like to be touched?”

“Pass,” I answered. “Why did you buy two throw-away cell phones today?”

“Pass,” he answered. “What’s your middle name?”

“Marie.” I already knew his was Francis. I’d seen it on the papers Miss Thornton had showed me. So, I didn’t bother asking. “Why do you carry a gun?”

“I’ve answered this one for you before. Because there are some dangerous people out there.”

“Yeah. But you’ve never said if you were one of them or not.”

“What if I am?” he asked. I had the feeling that he was completely serious. “Would it matter?”

Would it matter?

I wasn’t sure. “I’ll have to think about that one.”

Jake grabbed another beer from the fridge. “Now we can eat! What’ll it be—steak or pasta?”

“Steak,” I said. “The answer to that question is always steak.”

“Good answer. I love a girl with an appetite.” He went about prepping for dinner, but his words hung heavy in my mind. I love a girl with an appetite. Who did he see me as? A girl he was caring for, or a friend he was helping out?

Could I be something more to him?

Of course, I couldn’t be someone more. I was barely able to think about that kind of relationship, let alone be in one. Besides, Jake was the kind of guy that girls threw themselves at for a chance to be touched by him.

Why would he ever want one who was only capable of running from that?

While Jake cooked and plated the most beautiful steak and roasted asparagus I’d ever seen, I thought about the game of secrets we were playing.

As much as it was meant for us to learn about each other, it seemed as if the only thing it really did was expose which secrets we fully intended to keep.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

A LOUD CRASH WOKE ME. The little blue digital clock on the nightstand read two-fourteen a.m. I sat up straight, my heart racing.

What was that?

My eyes strained as I tried to see through the dark. The door knob slowly screeched as someone turned it from the kitchen side of the door. I pulled the covers up to my chin. I wanted to ask who was there, but when I opened my mouth the words caught in my throat. There was something too familiar about the entire situation. It stopped me in my tracks. The knob began to jiggle violently when whoever it was out there realized it was locked. They weren’t too happy about it.

Please be Jake. Please be Jake.

I froze. I felt like I was watching a movie when the bedroom door sprang open, and pieces of wood flew from the hinges. The dark outline of a man appeared in the shadows.

“There you are, you little shit!” The deep voice was slurred and filled with bitterness. “You think you can come back here and hide from me, do you? You think I wouldn’t know where you were?”

The smell of whiskey hit my nose right before the man lunged forward and wrapped his massive hand around my arm, squeezing tight enough to cut off circulation to my fingers. My entire arm burned at the sensation of his touch, like he had doused me with gasoline and set fire to it. I tried to pull away, but he was too strong. His powerful grip held me still. I tried to scream, but I couldn’t catch my breath. It was so dark I didn’t even see his fist flying toward my face. A shattering pain rippled across my right cheek, my jaw bone vibrated from the blow.

Just as quickly as the beating had started, it ended. The man flew off me like he was attached to a rope that had been yanked backward. He crashed into the closet, knocking both doors from their hinges. They snapped in half as he landed inside, a tangle in the clothes and hangers.

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