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Knox dropped his head back, looking up at the ceiling, and let out a short bark of laughter. “You want her for yourself.”

Brian lunged at Knox, pushing both hands against his chest in a hard shove. Knox staggered two steps back into our living room.

“Be sure you want this.” Knox’s hands curled into fists at his sides, and my insides twisted violently. “McKenna?” Knox’s narrowed eyes found mine. “Go to your room.”

No way was I going in my room just then. They weren’t actually going to fight over me, were they?

Brian rushed forward again and Knox sidestepped him, instinctively drawing him farther away from where I stood rooted in place, my jaw hanging open. Brian wasn’t violent; he wasn’t a fighter. Not even in high school when most boys had raging teenage hormones, he was calm and in control. But I’d also never seen that vein throbbing in his forehead.

“You know why she’s with you, don’t you?” Brian taunted. “She’s a fixer. Always has been. Adopting stray dogs from the shelter, stopping to help wildlife cross the road, befriending the new kids at school…that’s all this is. You’re a problem”—he poked a provoking finger into Knox’s chest—“that she wants to fix.”

Knox’s gaze flashed to mine and Brian took that split-second distraction to haul back and land a punch in the center of Knox’s cheek.

I winced as the contact threw Knox’s head back.

Not wasting a second, Knox rushed Brian, knocking him to the floor and landing several punishing hits to his face and body.

“Stop! You guys, stop it!” I clawed desperately at Knox’s shoulders, trying to dislodge him from where he held Brian captive. Brian landed a quick hit to Knox’s nose, sending blood pouring from both nostrils. Frightened, I cowered on the floor, scrambling backward on hands and knees as big soggy tears rolled down my cheeks.

Both men caught their breath, their fight seemingly over. Knox’s eyes met mine and I read his expression as clear as if he’d voiced the words. I’m sorry.

His shoulders down and his gaze fixed on the floor, Knox left, closing the door quietly behind him. There was something about the way he’d shut the door that stuck with me. Had he slammed it closed, I would have felt better. I would understand his anger. He was just attacked verbally and physically in my apartment by my roommate. His careful exit felt like defeat. Not a physical defeat—he could have taken Brian—I saw that in the power of his punches when he had Brian pinned down. No, it was more like he knew he’d lost me before we’d even started anything, and he was quietly walking away and letting Brian win.

The thought didn’t sit well with me. I wanted him to fight for me, to pull me from this corner and wipe my tears, tell me that no one and nothing would keep us apart. But he hadn’t. It was all a twisted little fantasy. Knox didn’t feel for me the way I did for him.

I remembered the way blood had erupted from his nose, and wondered if he was okay to drive home. Sheesh, I hadn’t even offered to help him, given him a tissue, apologized for the brutal way my roommate had behaved. Knox had been nothing but a gentleman all day, and he deserved none of what Brian delivered.

“McKenna.” Brian stood over me, hands on his hips. “I know you want me to apologize—”

“Save it, Brian.” I leaped to my feet and grabbed my purse from the counter, slamming the apartment door behind me.

When I arrived at Knox’s place, all was quiet and dark. The front door was unlocked and I let myself in, not wanting to wake anyone who might be asleep. A lamp glowed softly next to the couch, but no one was around, on the first floor at least. I crept up the creaking staircase, my fingers grazing the wooden banister as I headed to the attic.

It was dark and silent on the third floor too, and I wondered if Knox was asleep. It had been almost an hour since he’d left my apartment, thanks to the city bus schedule, and it was entirely possible he was already asleep in bed. The thought of finding him, shirtless and stretched out on the mattress, sent a little thrill through me. I promised myself I wouldn’t ogle him. Okay, maybe just for a second I’d allow myself to appreciate the view. Then I’d wake him and check on his injuries. See if he needed anything and apologize for my psycho roommate.

Tiptoeing across the creaky wooden floor, I felt like an intruder. I’d probably scare him half to death. “Knox,” I whispered loudly. “It’s me.” The room was so dark, I couldn’t even tell if there was movement from under the covers. “Knox?” I flipped on the lamp beside the small couch for light. Glancing up, I realized his bed was empty. Knox wasn’t here.

Realization struck like a whack to the side of the head. He’d gone out. After spending all day bonding with me, showing me a sweet side to him by working at the shelter, he’d still chosen to go out. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but really, what other possibilities were there? It was late and his brothers were asleep. He’d told me himself, this was how he operated. I just thought I’d be the one to get through to him, and it stung knowing that my efforts hadn’t made one bit of difference.

I sat down on his bed, hating myself for how betrayed I felt. It wasn’t fair to Knox. He was in treatment. He was bound to mess up now and then, and tonight with Brian had probably been a trigger for him. I knew he didn’t handle stress well—that he turned straight to sex. What had I really expected when he left my apartment looking broken and defeated?


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