“Can’t or don’t want to?”
“Isn’t it the same thing?” She looked up and studied me with wide blue eyes.
“No. Can’t means you won’t jeopardize our professional relationship in group, and don’t want to means you’d be lying by saying you don’t feel this pull between us.”
McKenna looked down and sighed. “Knox, don’t do this.”
“I won’t push you. Not tonight. But we will talk about this.”
“I should go,” she murmured.
“Yeah, me too.” I blew out a heavy sigh.
“You’re leaving?” she asked, her voice wavering.
“Where are you going?” McKenna rose to her feet, concern etching a line between her brows.
“Out,” I said sharply.
“Don’t do something you’ll regret.” She stepped closer and placed her warm palm against my chest.
She could probably feel the steady knock of my heartbeat, the indecision in my posture. But none of that mattered. I couldn’t put myself in a position to get too close to McKenna. I wouldn’t trick her into thinking I was somebody I wasn’t. This was me. Rough around the edges and enough baggage to take down an airliner.
“Let me go, McKenna.” I shrugged away from her touch.
“You know what, Knox?” she bit out, turning to face me. “Don’t bother coming to group this week.”
She left a few moments later and I was too wound up to even offer to drive her home. I felt rejected and angry. I wanted to put my fist through the wall. Instead, I checked to be sure all three boys were safe in their rooms, then shoved on my boots, grabbed my keys and a handful of condoms, and was out the door.
I’d pushed McKenna the slightest bit—just to test the waters—and she’d done exactly what I’d known she’d do. She ran. Left me with a pounding heart and a hot anger burning inside me that needed to be squelched. She might have been good at acting like she cared, but that was all it was. Some do-gooder act to soothe her conscience for whatever it was she’d done to deserve to counsel dickheads like me for a living.
Although I hadn’t been here in weeks, I soon found myself pulling into the parking lot of the strip club, the neon signs bathing the dark interior of my Jeep in light, like a beacon pulling me forward.
I’d put myself out there, tried to go about things the legitimate way, and it had gotten me nowhere. McKenna was different, and I knew I had to do things her way if I wanted to be close to her. I was definitely willing to try.
But she’d turned me down without a second thought. It was always the same thing. Opening yourself up ended in rejection. Period. And tonight I needed a sure thing. The tension inside me evoked by being so near a beautiful woman and unable to do a damn thing about it had left me unsatisfied. I needed relief. At the same time, I knew that in the morning, whatever relief I felt would be marked with regret. But it was too late to turn back.
I entered the club and sank into the shadows, letting the bass-filled music drown out my own thoughts and reservations.
Realizing Knox was going out, that he was choosing his addiction over me, caused a stabbing sensation to pierce my chest. All I wanted was the safety and comfort of my own bed right now.
I’d thought we were making progress. He’d invited me in for pizza, included me in their little celebration. The way he’d looked at me tonight when we were all alone told me he did feel something for me. But then just as quickly, his eyes had gone blank and he pulled back, closing himself off once again.
When I arrived home, I shoved my key in the lock and pushed open the door.
Brian rose from the couch, turning to face me, his expression pinched and angry. “Where the hell have you been? I called your cell six times.”
Oops. I’d left my phone at the bottom of my purse all evening. There was no one I’d wanted to talk to when I was with the Bauer brothers. I smiled, remembering the way Tucker had curled himself against my side and Luke had opened up. Tonight had felt like something special. A tiny connection that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
Knowing I was terrible at lying, I took a deep breath, dropped my purse on the counter, and turned to face Brian. “I was over at Knox’s, having dinner.”
His eyes widened and his jaw dropped open. “Are you insane? You went to that—that animal’s house? Alone?” I’d made the mistake of mentioning Knox’s name after Brian had seen me talking to him after group. “Do you have any idea what could have happened—what does happen to girls like you? Watch the evening news more often, because that was stupid and reckless.”
“Girls like me?” My hand went defensively to my hip.
“Yes, girls like you—young, attractive, and sweet. What were you thinking, McKenna? Oh, let me guess, you thought you could get through to him, put him back together?” He huffed out an exasperated breath, like my helping someone was the most absurd thing he’d ever heard. I wanted to point out that I had a degree in counseling, but knew that wouldn’t help my cause.
“We weren’t alone. He lives with his brothers.”
“Oh, that makes me feel so much better.” His voice dripped in sarcasm.
“You’re overreacting, Brian. Everything was fine.” Was. Until the end when something in him snapped and he all but kicked me out.
“God, you’re naive. I know you’re trying to save the world and fix everyone and everything around you, but this is taking it too far. I’ve tolerated your running all over the city, playing Miss Martyr, but this isn’t healthy and you know it.”
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