I hadn’t realized how loud my screams were until I heard a knock at the door and a voice calling my name from outside.

I scurried over to the door, keeping my towel tight around my chest, and opened it to see Sage standing on the other side like he was about to kick the door down, and in only a pair of tight black underwear. Had I not been on the verge of puking or fainting from the horrific sight of the flies, I would have ogled his fine body.

He placed his hands on my shoulders, looking me over in panic, his brows expressive and his pupils strangely dilated. “I heard you screaming, I’m sleeping right next door. Are you okay?”

I quickly shook my head and pointed at the window. “No. I don’t know. Look at all the flies. I woke up and took a shower and just noticed this.”

“Jesus,” he swore under his breath. He looked behind him at the door and quickly shut it. “Do the windows open? Better them leaving through there than through the hotel.”

I nodded and noticed my hand that was clutching my towel was shaking slightly. I then noticed I was just wearing a towel.

“It’ll be okay,” he said quickly, his hand moving up to my head, brushing my hair behind my ear in such an intimate gesture that I wanted to swim in it. “It’s gross as fuck, but it’s just flies. This happens sometimes.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked, my voice trembling.

He smiled and took off for the window, taking the warmth of his hand away. “Yup. Back on the farm, sometimes I’d head into the mudroom as a kid and flies would be everywhere. They’d just appear out of the blue, like this. Maybe the housecleaner—” he paused and then shook his head, “maybe there was rotten food or something that wasn’t cleaned up properly.”

Though he was talking quite fast and making a lot of sense, it wasn’t making me feel much better. The flies looked so inhuman, like bloated aliens made of tar and pulsing eyes. They made me feel sick to my core, no matter how Sage spun it. Their buzzing sound seemed to take over my whole head, something that would surely drive me mad if we didn’t do something.

But Sage did do something. He cautiously approached the window, the lazy flies barely moving out of the way, and pushed the windowsill up. That was another thing—I knew I had fallen asleep with the windows open. Although I suppose they could have fallen down if they weren’t secured properly, and I would have been too passed out to even hear it.

Once the window was up, he asked me to hand him a pillow. I did so, and he started swatting at the flies until they rose up in a black cloud and eventually flew out into the night.

I had a good view of his broad shoulders and muscular back as he did this, my eyes focusing on that small pleasure instead of the last flies that were making their way out of the room.

I zeroed in on long, red marks going from the shoulder blades down to midback.

Five marks on each side. There was no mistaking what those were, but I still hoped and prayed I was mistaken.

When all the flies were gone, he shut the window and turned around to face me, a satisfied look on his face. “Well, I think that will take care of that for now. In the morning I’ll speak with the manager. I’ve already had issues with his staff.”

I just stared at him, my mouth wet with a new kind of terror.

He raised his brows. “What is it?”

“Your back,” I croaked then cleared my throat. “Your back has scratch marks down the sides.”

I watched him closely, trying to pick up on every facial expression. His mouth came together firmly and he swallowed. His grey-green eyes flared, caught up in an internal debate.

“What happened?” I asked. My heart was racing so fast now.

“Oh, Dawn,” he said, shaking his head and taking a step toward me.

“No,” I said, stepping back. “You should probably call me Rusty in this instance. It makes more sense now.”

A wash of pain came across his brow and his jaw clenched. He sighed and looked down at his feet, still shaking his head subtly, his loose curls going in his eyes.

Shit. “Who is she? Those looked fresh.”

He exhaled again and said, “It doesn’t matter. It’s done.”

Oh God. Oh God, this hurt.

“I guess there are so many you can’t keep track.” I tried to keep my voice as monotone as possible. It was damn hard.

He looked at me sharply. “No. It’s…it was Angeline.”

Fuck. Fuck this. Fuck me.

“Fuck you,” I sneered, surprised at the ferocity with which the words left my mouth.

His head jerked back, but I could feel my face turning into an angry sneer.

“The girl from earlier, the French promoter,” I went on. “You fucked her? When did this happen?”

“Dawn,” Sage said again. “It’s not what you…I…I don’t know why I did it. I was fucked up. I am fucked up.”

“You sure fucking are!” I said. “When did it happen?”

He licked his lips and his gaze went to the carpet. I was not going to like this answer, no matter what.

“Last night,” he admitted.

I gasped, feeling like my chest was being chewed up from the inside out. I was being shredded to the bone. “You fucked her last night? You knew I was coming today,” I spat out incredulously.

“Hey, I didn’t know what we had,” he said, having the audacity to argue back. “I didn’t know where we stood with each other.”

“Well, you decided that pretty quickly, didn’t you?” I sneered. “My God, you fucked that…that…French…bitch.”

“She’s a promoter,” he said weakly.

“Oh, and that makes it better?” I stared at him, at this man I had put so much stock into and felt nothing but shame and remorse for doing so. “My God,” I said to myself and put my hand to my forehead. “My God, I am such a fucking idiot.”

He came over to me, his eyes blazing in a mix of sadness and fury. “No, you’re not, Dawn, you’re not. I told you I’m fucked. I…I can’t help it…I…” He made a reach for my arm, but I jerked myself out of the way.

“Don’t touch me. Fuck…” I sat down on the bed and had the urge to do some bodily harm to him, perhaps pull a total rock star maneuver and beat him over the head with a chair before tossing it at the mirror. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. Jesus. Sage, why did you even invite me here then? What were you thinking?” I raised my hand. “You know what…don’t answer that. It doesn’t matter.”

He was absolutely crestfallen, standing there in front of me in his underwear. If I didn’t feel a million shades of anger, sorrow, and utter humiliation, I might have laughed.

“Dawn, I’m sorry,” he said softly, staring down at me. His apology meant nothing to me. “It was stupid. It didn’t mean a thing. I thought you and I were on a professional level here, or even friends. I just…wanted to see you. But it had been so long since everything happened. We didn’t really keep in touch. I thought about you, all the time, but…life got in the way. And I assumed you were busy. Or didn’t care. I wasn’t going to stay…single and hope I’d see you again.”

“That’s funny,” I seethed. “Because that’s exactly what I did. And now I just learned you probably fucked half the phone book in every town you were in.”

I said that in an exaggerated way to get a rise out of him, but he only nodded—nodded, the fucking bastard—and said, “I’m sorry. They were meaningless anyway.”

And the knife was driven in deeper.

I stared straight ahead, feeling everything there was to feel and finding it was turning me numb. “Get out,” I spat, angrily.

“What?”

I snapped my head up and pointed to the door. “I said get out. Leave. Just go. Obviously I looked too deeply into things, into what you and I had gone through. I thought we had a bond. I thought I meant something to you.”

“You do!” he cried out.

I pointed again. “Just go.”

To his credit, he didn’t argue anymore. He went for the door, and as he opened it, Jacob appeared on the other side, wearing the ugliest red-and-green pajamas I’d ever seen. He was obviously eavesdropping but didn’t seem to care about what had transpired between us. He did care about Sage, though, and his yellowy eyes bore into him as he slinked away.

“Can I talk to you?” Jacob asked me once I heard the door to Sage’s room close.

I put my face in my hands and sighed painfully. My own door shut, and I felt Jacob walk in. I guess he took that as a yes.

“I’m sorry about Sage,” Jacob said. “He’s seen better days.”

I couldn’t bring my heart to feel sorry for him. Maybe I was overreacting. I mean, Sage was right: we weren’t a couple, and it wasn’t like he had cheated on me, but it still burned. I felt flames licking me all over, wanting to smother me. Ugh, I felt like I’d lost everything when I never had anything to begin with.

“This was a mistake,” I mumbled.

Jacob hovered close by, coming close to the bed and then backing away. I guess the sight of me in a towel made him nervous.

“I don’t know what to say, love,” he said. “But Sage really does care for you.” I snorted, but he went on. “He’s just not well. He’s letting the grief—the guilt—over Hybrid destroy him. He’s drunk half the time, and when he’s not drunk, he’s snorting who-knows-what up his nose. This isn’t the casual fun he had in Hybrid; this is something much worse.”

“I doubt he had any fun in Hybrid,” I said, feeling everything drain out of me. I stared blankly at the cotton loops in the towel.

“You might be right,” he said. “But I’m definitely worried now.” His voice was so oddly melancholic that I had to look at him. He was staring out the window, at the darkness. “To be honest with you, Dawn, I told Sage to invite you. I know he wanted to, but sometimes you need that manager’s touch. You’re good for him, you know that.”

I frowned. “I’m not here to straighten him out. That’s not my job.”

“You’re right.” He sighed. “That’s not why you’re here.”

I swallowed, my throat feeling painfully dry. “I think I should go home.”

Jacob turned his head slightly, looking at me from the corner of his eye. The pockmarks on his cheek seemed deeper in the light. “It’s better if you stay.”

“Better for Sage?”

“Better for you,” he said, an edge to his tone. He looked back at the window and clasped his hands behind his back. “So what happened here?”

With a sorry little sigh, I explained what happened with the flies. He nodded, taking it in, and strolled back to the door like he was taking a walk through the park, not through a half-naked twenty-two-year-old’s Parisian hotel room at three in the morning.

“I’m glad you got it sorted out then,” he said, reaching for the doorknob. “Call me if anything else…like that happens. Or Max. He’s good for that.”

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