I’d done a lot of difficult things in my life, some by force, some by choice, but this had been the hardest. I’d survived thirteen years of abuse so horrific that it made some of the most hardened members of law enforcement blanch. I’d practically raised myself after being passed from one foster home to another. I’d testified before grand juries, reliving my abuse. I’d nearly been raped and killed again not too long ago, then I’d given up justice to protect the innocent.

None of that compared to walking out of that house.

The cab driver didn’t say a word after I told him to take me to a hotel, and I was grateful. I was sure he had his suspicions about why I’d had him pick me up by the road, but I didn’t feel the need to explain myself. I really didn’t care what the man thought of me. It was clear where I was coming from. Ever since that magazine article declared twenty-eight year-old Rylan Archer, billionaire CEO of Archer Enterprises, one of the country’s most eligible bachelors, his house outside Fort Collins, Colorado, wasn’t exactly a secret. A young woman coming out of the house early in the morning, well, it didn’t take a genius to figure out what I’d been doing there.

I smothered a half-laugh. No, it didn’t take a genius because even a genius would never have guessed why I was really there. Sure, I looked a lot more normal than I had when Rylan and I first met, but it was still clear that I was so far from Rylan’s league I shouldn’t have even been able to see his dog house let along his mansion. My hair was back to my natural ebony color rather than the bright blue it had been a few weeks ago, and I’d taken out my eyebrow and bellybutton piercings, but I still had scars, tattoos and multiple ear piercings. I continued to dress in the clothes I liked, ones that didn’t exactly fit in with Rylan’s rich world or his social-climbing parents.

But he’d chosen me despite my appearance. He’d loved me before I’d told him the truth about my past and he still loved me after. He’d heard disgusting details that had made seasoned cops turn away from me, and he loved me anyway. Wanted me. He’d protected me, shared his life with me. His home.

Our home.

I choked back a sob.

It had been our home for a day. Not even that. We were supposed to have spent today unpacking the few things I was bringing from my apartment. He’d promised to make love to me in every room, making new memories that would be just the beginning of our new life together. It was a new year, a year that he’d thought we’d be spending together. Up until last night, I’d thought it too.

Last night.

I crossed my arms tighter across my chest. I could feel the crack in my heart and knew that it was going to shatter soon. I’d heard people talk about the pain of a broken heart after a break-up and I’d always thought they were being melodramatic. Surely the loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend, especially someone who hadn’t been around long, couldn’t be that bad. Especially when compared to what I’d already gone through in my life.

I hadn’t known shit.

I could barely breathe and every beat of my heart felt like glass being shoved through my ribcage. I’d endured physical pain so bad that I’d thrown up, passed out…this was worse. Not because what I had gone through wasn’t bad, but because I’d been hurt so much that I knew physical pain eventually ended. When my mother had poured hot grease on my side, it had been excruciating. But I had healed. I had healed from it all. Some things had taken surgeries and some things would never be the same, but my physical injuries had disappeared with the passage of time.

I didn’t believe my heart would ever recover.

I’d never been in love before, never even had a crush before, and when I’d fallen, I’d fallen hard. I’d tried not to. Really, I had. I’d told myself that I couldn’t trust him. That men only lied and hurt. That he would use me and leave me. I’d told myself that he was too good for me and he’d eventually see it. Once I’d known I loved him, I’d still tried to guard my heart, reminding myself that it wouldn’t last.

Except it wasn’t Rylan who’d walked away this morning. It was me. I’d been the one who’d taken those steps. The one who was now going to hide, torn between wanting him to come after me and wanting him to forget.

All because of that damned Suzette.

I took a slow breath to keep myself from crying. It wasn’t Suzette’s fault, not really. Certainly, she could have been more tactful about it, but she’d spoken the truth. I supposed, if I wanted to be angry at someone for not being truthful, Rylan should’ve been my first choice. He’d said it didn’t matter.

I couldn’t be mad at Rylan though. He’d only ever wanted to protect me, take care of me. I was sure he’d meant it when he said he didn’t care that I couldn’t have children. That the people who’d abused me had hurt me so badly that I’d never be able to get pregnant, let alone carry a child.

But as soon as Suzette had told me how all Rylan had ever wanted was a family, I’d known the truth. He hadn’t wanted to hurt me, so he’d convinced himself he was okay with it. Maybe he’d stay that way for a while. A year, maybe two. But then he’d start to see his friends with families, if they didn’t have them already. He’d find himself watching commercials for baby things, listening to his parents when they started making comments to his sister about being grandparents.

He’d leave me, and if I was lucky, he wouldn’t resent me first. We could part on good enough terms that I could keep my job.

Instead, I’d decided that I wouldn’t put him through that. I’d given myself a final night. And then I’d woken this morning, written a note and left it with my Christmas present. I’d not go home…

Home.

Once, that word had meant fear and pain. Then it hadn’t existed. As an adult on my own, I’d worked hard and made a place of my own. A home that had been, if not perfect, good enough for me to sleep at night without fear.

I blow out a breath. That home had been taken away from me too, the night Christophe Constantine had broken in. I shudder at the memory… the fear, the loss of hope I’d felt in those terrible moments.

But I’d survived that too, and I hadn’t had to survive it alone. Rylan had been there for me and had offered me a home. A real one. With someone I not only loved, but trusted and made me feel safe.

Now I had nothing.

I did, however, have enough money to stay at a hotel for a while. Rylan would come to my apartment, but he wouldn’t stay long. I’d be able to go back in a while, finish out my lease.

I closed my eyes and slowly counted to ten. I didn’t want to think about what was to come. It was hard enough to think about the next second, the next minute. The future had returned to what it had been all those years ago, before I’d been rescued. Bleak darkness. Black. Nothingness.

“Miss?”

The cab driver’s voice came through before the hole I was digging for myself could get too bad.

“Will this do?”

I opened my eyes and looked out the window. It was a nice hotel, well within my budget, and not the kind of place that rented by the hour. It would do. I thanked him, paid him and headed inside with the little I’d brought with me.

Ten minutes later, I was checked in and curled up on the bed, finally giving in to my tears and my pain.

 

 

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