I was aware that there were people around me, jostling to get in a better position to see their princess, but I barely heard or felt them. Every ounce of my attention was focused on her.

On the finger-shaped bruises on her arm.

It didn’t feel real, like I was imagining things. Like my subconscious was making me see things that weren’t really there, trying to convince me that Nami’s marriage wasn’t just one of obligation, but one of violence.

She was Princess Namisa Carrmoni, the next queen of Saja. She had fucking bodyguards whose entire purpose was to put themselves in harm’s way for her. How the hell was her husband hurting her?

And I knew it had to be him. Tanek Nekane. The very thought of him made my already hot blood boil. I could picture the first time I’d seen him, sitting next to her, curling his hand around hers as if to tell me that she was his.

I couldn’t just stand here and let her walk by, let her go back to him.

I didn’t care that she had chosen him and that their marriage was none of my business. It didn’t matter that we were on a public beach or that Nami was surrounded by bodyguards. I had to get to her.

I hadn’t realized that I’d made the conscious decision to move until I was only a few feet away. I could see even more clearly how much she’d changed since the wedding. Her eyes, normally a warm, sparkling cyan, were dull and listless as they focused on the beach in front of her. Her skin was surprisingly pale under its normally golden shade. Pale except for the place on her arm where her make-up didn’t quite cover-up the bruises. I doubted anyone else could see them unless they were looking closely, and even then, they didn’t know her body the way I did.

I swallowed hard. She’d rejected me, married another man, but none of that changed how I felt about her. God help me, I loved her.

“Nami!” I called out her name as I took another step towards her, reaching out a hand.

I knew she heard me. I saw her body stiffen, her shoulders tense. She started to turn when one of the bodyguards said something sharply in their native language. I didn’t get the chance to say anything else, to ask her to talk to me, because another bodyguard had decided he didn’t like the American tourist being so friendly with his princess.

One large hand grabbed my arm, spinning me around so that I met the other hand as it was coming. The fist collided with the side of my face and pain exploded along my jaw. The blow made me spin around, tears welling up in my eyes. I shook my head to clear it, anger quickly overriding the pain.

I let myself complete the turn, let it give me extra momentum as I made a fist. He hadn’t expected me to fight back so my punch caught him off guard. Still, he was solid and possibly military. A fist to the stomach didn’t do more than make him double over for a moment before he rushed at me.

Maybe hitting him hadn’t been my best idea.

Before he tackled me, I caught a glimpse of Nami’s shocked expression before I landed on the hot sand. The bodyguard was shouting something, but it wasn’t English so it didn’t really matter. What did matter was keeping my arms up to cover my face and my knees up to my chest. I knew how to fight, in general at least, but I also knew how to protect myself when fighting back wasn’t an option.

I heard Nami’s voice, sharp and commanding. The man hitting me stopped and it didn’t take a genius to figure out it was because of what she’d said. I waited for her to come over to me, but she didn’t. I heard people talking, walking, but no one came near. After a moment, I opened my eyes. Nami was gone. A few people were staring at me, but there were no cops, no guards. Only my total embarrassment and the bruises I could feel already starting to form.

I winced as I straightened my legs and got to my feet. Sand stuck to my sweaty skin and my knuckles throbbed. I could feel the side of my face swelling. I needed to get out of here. I staggered back up to where I’d left my things, but left the beer in the sand. Someone would come along and claim it most likely. They were welcome to it. I’d had enough alcohol for today.

I made my way back to the hotel on foot. Air-conditioning and getting off my feet sounded good, but I preferred to get strange looks from people on the sidewalk rather than trying to explain my appearance to a cab driver. The desk clerk did a double-take as I came into the lobby. That, I supposed, proved more than anything else that while Saja did have its fair share of tourists taking advantage of the beautiful island, it wasn’t a typical tourism kind of place. Somewhere like Las Vegas, they wouldn’t have looked twice at someone stumbling in like me.

I made it up to my room without anyone else seeing me and headed straight for the bathroom. I didn’t wait for the water to warm or even bother to undress, but rather stepped inside still wearing my shorts. I sucked in a breath as the cold drops hit my skin. It wasn’t until the sand started to slough off that I remembered I’d taken a shirt down to the beach, but I didn’t remember carrying it up here. I sighed and reached for the shampoo. At least it hadn’t been a good shirt.

My overheated skin began to cool off just as the water warmed up. I didn’t linger long enough for it to get hot. I was sure a hot shower would feel good later tonight or tomorrow, but for now, I just wanted to be clean and get some ice on my face.

I didn’t bother with clothes or even wrapping a towel around my waist as I headed into the kitchenette. There was ice in the freezer and I dumped some into a couple paper towels before going into the bedroom. I was tempted to take some alcohol with me, but I didn’t. I was in pain, but my head was actually clearing and I needed that more than anything.

I stretched out on top of the covers, groaning at the pain in my arms and legs. I hissed as I put the ice pack on my face. I’d be lucky if I didn’t have a black eye tomorrow. I gingerly probed at my teeth on that side. Nothing felt either cracked or loose. That was good. My parents had paid a lot for this smile.

I stared up at the ceiling. Part of me wanted to turn on the tv, fill the room with meaningless noise. I could find something to watch, nurse my wounds and feel sorry for myself like I’d been doing for the past week. It was tempting. Losing myself in drink and whatever I could find to watch. I wanted it. Wanted oblivion.

But I couldn’t want it. Not now. Now that I knew the truth.

I’d hated the idea of Nami married to someone else, loving someone else. It had been agony to lose her, to lose a future I hadn’t even known I wanted until I’d met her. But I’d comforted myself with the thought that she’d have a good life, a husband she could love. Then, at the wedding, when I’d seen that she didn’t love him, but she was still willing to marry him, I’d told myself that she’d made her choice. If she wanted to live in a loveless marriage for the sake of her country, then that could keep her warm at night. I knew how miserable that kind of marriage was, but my sense of duty had been limited to family. Perhaps hers would be enough. Perhaps she could even grow to love him. It happened.

Now, though, I knew the truth. Tanek wasn’t just possessive of her. There was no way that glimpse of a bruise was the only one. If it had been an accident or the result of overly enthusiastic sex – I’d occasionally left bruises on a lovers’ hips or wrists when I was caught up in the heat of the moment – she might’ve tried to cover them up, but she wouldn’t have looked the way she had. Her pale skin, weight loss, the dark circles under her eyes, they were all physical signs of her body being under prolonged stress. But it was the look in her eyes that had convinced me. I’d only seen a quick glimpse of them, but it had been enough.

I’d seen eyes like that before. I’d pushed that memory down for years, boxed it up, but now I let it come forward. I needed it now to give myself the strength to decide where to go next.

I’d been twelve when my friend, Nick, had invited me over to his house for the weekend. We’d been planning on going camping with his family, but, at the last minute, his father had gotten angry at something and started fighting with his mom. Nick and I had gone to his room and listened to the arguing from below. It hadn’t been like when my parents had fought. A little bit of shouting, maybe a tearful complaint or hissed insult. No, I’d heard screaming and name-calling, the sound of things breaking. Nick’s face had been pale, but he hadn’t said a word. We’d played a video game that neither of us had really cared about and had waited for the noise to stop.

When it had stopped, Nick hadn’t wanted to go downstairs, but I had. I’d wanted to call my parents and go home. I’d known that my family wasn’t perfect, but they hadn’t been like Nick’s family. I’d crept downstairs and headed into the kitchen to use the phone.

And that was where I’d found her.

Nick’s mom hadn’t been dead yet, but known she wouldn’t make it. She’d had that same bleak look on her face that I’d seen on Nami’s face today. She hadn’t responded or even seemed to care when I’d told her I was calling for help.

I’d found out later that there’d been dozens domestic violence calls to Nick’s home, dozens of hospital visits for his mother. His father had been convicted of second degree murder and Nick had gone away to live with his grandmother in Texas. We’d stopped talking after that day. My parents had made me go to therapy, of course, and my psychiatrist had made me talk about my feelings for a while, and after a year, I’d stopped thinking about it.

Now, I needed the reminder. Every day Nami spent with Tanek was dangerous. He would kill her eventually. Maybe the same way Nick’s father had killed his mother, in a violent outburst that had gone too far. Maybe it would be the culmination of injuries over the years. Or maybe Nami would finally give up and end it herself. Intentionally or by drinking herself to death. It didn’t matter which scenario won out, they all ended the same way. With Nami dead.

No matter how hurt I was by her rejection, I still loved her, and even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have wished that life on anyone.

Well, maybe on the abuser, I thought grimly. I wouldn’t mind seeing Tanek getting a taste of his own medicine. I clenched my fist. I wouldn’t mind giving it to him.

That wasn’t what I needed to be thinking about though, I reminded myself. Tanek being punished had to be secondary to getting Nami out of that situation. I didn’t know yet how I would do it, but I’d made the decision not to sit around and feel sorry for myself anymore.

I was going to save Nami. Even if she didn’t want to be with me any longer, I would make sure no one ever hurt her again.




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