Chapter Sixteen


The events of last night had me reeling and the harsh light of morning did nothing to bring clarity. When I’d told Knox about Brian’s advances and that I needed to go home, he’d been so indifferent. But then he’d taken me to his bed – our lovemaking rough and passionate. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was his way of letting me go.

Last night had been so intense, so unexpected. Feeling him mark me with his hot se**n made me crave him even more. Everything about Knox was addicting – from the way he took charge of my body and my pleasure to the way he commanded my heart.

I climbed from bed while he slept, hauling my backpack to the bathroom to wash up and change. When I returned to his bedroom, I wondered how I would wake him, how I could possibly say goodbye, but the bed was now empty. The messy blankets were the only evidence of our night spent together. But finding him missing wasn’t what stopped me dead in my tracks. On the window beside his bed I saw three little words written with a fingertip on the frosty pane of glass. I love you.

Knox has left me a message, something he wasn’t capable of telling me out loud.

I sunk down on the mattress, trying to process what this meant – why he’d left this for me to see and then fled the room. I wanted to run down the stairs, find him, and throw myself into his arms. But as I sat there staring at the words fading into the glass, I started to become angry.

I’d given him my virginity, my complete trust, I’d told him I loved him. I’d cared for him and his brothers when they were sick and I’d risked my entire career. And for what? A man who seemed so indifferent to me leaving? Who didn’t even possess the courage to say back to me what I’d already told him weeks ago?

Feeling crushed, I glanced up one last time, and saw the words had faded into nothing. They were gone. Not even a trace remained. If Knox had really wanted me to see this…why would he have written it somewhere so fleeting?

I grabbed my backpack and headed downstairs. All four of the Bauer boys were in the kitchen, fixing breakfast while Knox fiddled with the coffee pot. He took his time, adding the filter and coffee to the machine, then crossing the room to add water to the carafe. Was he avoiding me?

“I’m gonna head out. Have a good day at school, boys.” Three sets of warm brown eyes turned to mine while Knox focused on his task with a deep crease etched across his forehead. “Bye, Knox.” I forced the words from my mouth when all I wanted to do was go to him.

“Bye, McKenna,” he said softly, refusing to even glance my way.

Okay, then. I wouldn’t build up our relationship in my mind into something it wasn’t. He wasn’t ready and only time would tell if he ever would be.

Chapter Seventeen


“You about ready, McKenna?” Brian called from the living room several days later.

“Just about. My suitcase weighs a metric ton!” I tugged the unwieldy thing unsuccessfully across my room. I knew he wanted to be on the road early this morning and the main hold up was me.

“Here. Let me get it.” Brian easily lifted the suitcase from the floor and towed it to the foyer. “Geez, you pack enough?” He chuckled.

Seriously, that bag had to weigh fifty pounds. But I didn’t know how long I’d be gone. This time I was going to take care of my parents’ matters once and for all. No more having my past hanging over my head. When I came back to Chicago, it would be with all the skeletons in my closet cleared out so I could finally move forward. At least that was my goal.


Being back in my small home town and back in the guest room at Brian’s parents’ house felt strange. I expected it to feel safe and comfortable, but it was anything but. I felt oddly out of place, like I was trying to squeeze myself into a spot I no longer fit. And if I had to hear Brian’s mom Patty ask me one more time how I was doing or tell me that I’d gotten too thin, I was going to scream. But it was Christmas Eve, so I was trying to be calm and put on my happy face for the sake of the holidays.

I was getting ready for the annual Christmas party Brian’s family threw every year when I heard a knock at the bedroom door. Glancing down at my robe covered body, I quickly made sure all the important stuff was covered, then answered the door. “Hi, Bri.”

He was dressed in khakis and the God-awful Christmas sweater his mom had made for him when he was in high school. It looked itchy and uncomfortable – not to mention hilarious. He was a grown man with red and green reindeer dancing across his chest and stomach.

“Don’t say anything,” he warned me, fighting off a smile.

I patted his shoulder. “You’re a good son.”

“Consider yourself lucky she didn’t make you one of these things. When I told her you were coming home, there was talk of patchwork poinsettias in gold and red.”

“Wow, I guess I dodged a bullet.” It was nice – whatever this was – happening between Brian and me. It felt like old times.

“You sure you’re okay with tonight?”

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”

He shrugged. “There’ll be a lot of people you haven’t seen in a while. If that’s going to make you uncomfortable, you don’t have to come.”

Releasing a heavy sigh, I considered my options. Though I wasn’t particularly excited about the party, sitting alone in my room sounded even more miserable. “And what would I do instead, hide out up here?”


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