He stayed silent.

“You think a hug is going to heal me? You can’t help me. Nobody can help me! I help myself. I’m okay, because I fucking want to be okay! I don’t want to be touched, because I don’t want all the shit that comes with it.” The next part spilled out of me before I could reconsider. “It burns, okay? Is that what you want to hear? It burns down into my bones, and it physically fucking hurts me to be touched!”

I sank from the bed onto the floor so I didn’t have to see his reaction to my confession.

“Are you going to make them love me, Jake?” I pulled my knees up to my chest. “You say you want to help me, but how can you when you keep so much from me? You won’t even tell me why this ‘business’ of yours is such a secret.”

“You want to know what I do? Do you really want to know? Because once I tell you, I can’t just take it back.” Jake rounded the bed and crouched on the floor in front of me. “I’m fucking afraid that I’m going to look at your perfect face and you’ll see me for the first time as the monster I am. I haven’t told you because I can’t stand to think of you looking at me like that. I don’t want you to judge me for what I’ve done…for what I do.”

He did reach out then, trying to brush a strand of hair out of my eyes.

I jerked my head away. “Don’t fucking touch me!”

I leapt up and bolted for the door, but Jake’s massive frame cut me off. He grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me into him, wrapping his arms around my back, locking his fingers together. My arms were pinned to my sides. My swollen cheek was pressed against his hard chest. I tried to knee him. I kicked and struggled. I even bit at his chest in hopes of forcing him to release me. The heat of his touch felt like I was lying against the surface of the sun.

“Let me go,” I cried out, “it burns. It fucking burns!” The tears prickled at the edges of my eyes. I couldn’t let them come because once they did, I didn’t know if I’d be able to make them stop.

“No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t burn. It’s just me and you here. It doesn’t really hurt, I promise. It’s all in your head, baby.” He kissed the top of my head, but he might as well have lit a fucking match and held it to my scalp.

“Let me fucking go!” I wailed.

The intense fiery pain spread down into my feet until I could no longer stand from the torture. My legs gave out from under me, but Jake held me firm against him, keeping me from falling to the floor. I continued to fight and buck in his grip with everything I had left. The sobs I’d kept in for so long burst out from deep within me. Hot tears raced down my face and pooled in the line separating my top and bottom lip. I tasted the salt with each ragged intake of breath. Jake ignored my cries and tightened his grip on me.

“I kill people, Bee,” he whispered. For a moment, I wondered if he'd really said it, or if it was in my imagination.

I continued to fight him until the fighting was only in my head, and my body gave out and went limp against him. Jake backed us up until his legs were against the dresser drawers. He slid down to the floor, pulling me into his lap as my head fell against his chest.

“I kill people for money, mostly bad people. But, I work for bad people, too—Mafia types, big corporations.” He was quiet and matter-of-fact. “To be honest, I don’t check which direction my targets’ moral compasses point before taking them out. They could be anyone.”

There were too many emotions I didn’t want to feel, all of them assaulting me at the same time. I didn’t know which feeling was which. The burning in my body had started to die down to a simmer, but my sobbing was so fierce I couldn't find the power to rein it in. I wanted to know so much more. I wanted to ask him a million questions, but I couldn’t find a place within me calm enough to form the words.

“I enjoy it,” he continued. “I know that sounds sick, but you know what’s worse than being a sick son of a bitch?” I didn't even try to answer. My skin and bones had melted into his body, and I was a mute lump of flesh piled on his lap. “Knowing you’re a sick son of a bitch.” He laughed softly into my hair, relaxed his grip on me and started mindlessly tracing circles on my back with his fingertips. “I know that how I feel inside isn’t always right. But, right or wrong, I can’t change it. I’m not going to make apologies for it either. I refuse to pretend to be someone I’m not. I allow myself to feel all of the things that I am, the things that make me me, even if they’re not what ordinary people would deem right or good. I’ve learned to feed off of those emotions instead of letting them hold me down by condemning myself for the way I am.”