Chapter Two

McKenna

I hadn’t planned to go on this retreat with Belinda, but given the current state of my life, running away for the weekend sounded like the exact thing I needed. The retreat was for addiction counselors in the Chicago area. There would be panels and lectures over the course of two days. We’d learn about advanced treatment techniques and also take much needed time to rejuvenate with yoga classes and meditation. It sounded a little silly to me and I hadn’t wanted to go. I’d planned on staying home and throwing myself into my punishing routine of working and volunteering, but Belinda was my mentor and, well, basically I hated letting people down. So here I was, in the passenger seat of her minivan, watching the miles tick past while unease churned inside of me.

I regretted the way I’d broken down, sobbing, and fled from the group I was supposed to be leading last Saturday. I regretted how close I’d grown to Knox in such a short time, and that he’d been able to break me so easily. Ever since Knox Bauer had first walked into my sex addicts meeting, my life had been in one giant freefall. Despite his baggage, falling for him had been the easy part. Some of my best moments were the quiet ones shared alone with him. The times he’d made himself vulnerable and opened up to me had felt like something. Something real and important. And hanging out with him and his three younger brothers was a nice distraction from the guilt and pain of my everyday life.

But I’d been forced to see the harsh reality of the situation. Knox was a sex addict. Even if he was telling the truth and he hadn’t slept with the girl from our group, Amanda, like I’d thought, he still had an addiction. Which meant he was dangerous for me, not someone to give my heart to.

“What’s on your mind?” Belinda asked, peering over at me before letting her eyes drift back to the road.

I should have known she’d be perceptive. She was a counselor, trained in reading people and situations, just like me. And I had zero emotional energy left to try and act bubbly and personable, so there was no sense faking it. I’d been sitting here sulking for almost an hour. “Just some guy troubles,” I admitted.

“Is this about your roommate Brian?” She had a good memory. In a moment of over-sharing I’d once admitted how I didn’t think my long time best friend Brian was on the same page with our friends-only status.

“No. But Brian has complicated things a little.” Or a lot. He and Knox had gotten into a fist fight because he didn’t think Knox was good enough for me. “It doesn’t matter now anyhow, I called things off with the new guy.” I had to. Even though I hadn’t known him long, Knox had the ability to turn me inside out and destroy me. And it wouldn’t be fair to his brothers for me to parade through their lives and then disappear. Not to mention it’d be unfair to shred the broken fragments of my heart in the process.

“Hmmm,” Belinda purred, squinting as she concentrated on the highway. “Have you ever given thought to why Brian was so upset?”

“Of course. He didn’t like that there was suddenly another man in my life.”

“And why do you think that was?”

I fixed my mouth into a polite smile. I could see what she was doing. My degree was in counseling, too. But the last thing I wanted to talk about was my lonely roommate Brian.

“Have you ever considered that Brian may be the better choice for you?” she pushed on.

“Belinda….” I gave her a mocking look. She needed to cut out the typical therapist questions. Everything about my body language screamed that I didn’t want to talk. And no, Brian wasn’t the better choice. I hated how everyone saw his rumpled blond hair and blue eyes and thought we’d look great together. He was cute – so what?

She chuckled. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. I can just tell something’s bothering you.”

Knox had already stolen my heart, was I really willing to risk my job too by telling Belinda I’d been seeing a man who was supposed to be in treatment? I thought better of it and shook away the thoughts. “I’ll be fine. This weekend away came at just the right time.”

She nodded. “Let me know if I can help.”

Not unless she could go back in time and tell the old me not to get involved with a man so broken. But even as the thought filtered through my brain, I knew there’d be nothing she could have said that would have made me see reason. I’d been a goner right from the very beginning. His rugged beauty, masculine scent, those dark haunted eyes that spoke of his troubled past – all of it called to me. In his magnetic presence I felt fully alive. And I missed that feeling.

Those first two days were the hardest. I couldn’t convince Brian that I was okay, no matter how many times I said it. His worried stare followed me around our shared apartment. Somehow I suspected he knew my foul mood was about Knox, but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that was true. I didn’t want to hear, ‘I told you so.’ So I would go into the bathroom and turn on the shower to cry. The scalding hot water would steam up the bathroom and fog over the mirror so I didn’t have to see myself lose it. I cried for myself, for Knox, for everything we’d both lost. I cried over my parents like I hadn’t in years. I guess feeling brutally alone and lonely would do that to you.

Despite the messed up circumstances surrounding how we met, Knox and I shared a deep connection. I wasn’t ready to give that up. But since my heart didn’t know what was best for me, my head had to make that decision. I needed to keep my distance. And being two hundred miles away for the weekend was a start.

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