“Ryann, please open the door.” Pressing my ear against the bathroom door, I hear nothing, absolutely nothing. “Babydoll, if you don’t open the door, I’ll bust it down.” Again I hear nothing.
“Move,” Travis demands with small hook-like tools in his hands. It takes him ten seconds to unlock the door, and I immediately fall into the bathroom.
Ryann is curled up near the toilet in a fetal position. Her hands over her face, and I can hear her sobbing into the sleeves of my hoodie. Running to her, I slide on the cold stone floor and wrap her in my arms. Ryann claws into my arms as she buries her face and hides herself away from the world.
She’s broken. She’s retreated, and I’m not sure how I can get her back.
Rocking her, I just hold her in my arms. Letting her cry. Travis is standing against the door frame, and I can tell he’s ready to go on a murdering rampage. And so am I. I want another go at Max. I want to be able to keep punching him until he’s unrecognizable. I want a fucking fight where I won’t get pulled away.
I want.....I want.....I want to hold this strong and amazing woman crying in my arms. She needs me above everything else that is going on in our lives. She needs me just as much as I need her.
“Babydoll,” I whisper into the side of her head. “I love you. I love you so much. Val loves you, Xayla loves you, and Travis loves you. You are surrounded by people who love you.” People who loved her way before we knew anything about her past. Ryann’s past doesn’t define her, and the new family she has should be evidence of that. “I need you to remember that. To remember everything you’ve overcame. You’ve helped me so fucking much. You saved my life.”
Ryann draws in a ragged breath but keeps her face buried into my chest. My arms tighten around her with each shaky breath she takes in. Catching movement, I look up to see Travis watching closely, his face no longer impassive, and I can see the hurt and anger behind his eyes. I can tell he’s ready to leave this condo and make a further example of both Raymond and Max. And you know what? I’ll bail his ass out of jail and cover any legal fees.
Hell, who am I kidding? Travis wouldn’t get busted. If he wanted to make those two disappear, no one would be the wiser.
Rocking Ryann in my arms, “I’m sorry, Ryann. I’m so fucking sorry. I’m sorry about the fight we had, and I’m sorry you were sitting where I should have been. I’m sorry for what you were subjected to and that I couldn’t be there to protect you from assholes. And I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you or Sloane.”
Ryann pulls out of my hold, her face blotchy, and her eyes are red. Cupping her cheeks with my hand, I hold her face, not allowing her to turn away. Like always, I can’t see any judgment in her hooded hazel eyes. All I can see is pain and her need to protect me. Even when I’m at fault, Ryann is almost always trying to protect me.
Something she doesn’t need to do. Something she shouldn’t be doing.
“You...you....it’s not your fault.” She hiccups around her words. “You lost too.”
A lump starts to form in my throat, and I can’t swallow this one back. “None of this would have happened if....”
Ryann’s hand reaches up, resting atop my wrist, “Everything would have happened the same.” Her voice is broken as I watch her body vibrate again. “This is me, Thomas. I’m broken. I’m cursed, and nothing good can come out of......Sloane, we lost our child because of me because....”
Ryann collapses into my chest, and now I hold onto her for dear fucking life. Placing a kiss to the top of her head. I’m not sure what else to say. What words can I possibly construe that would make her feel better that would make anything that happened last month remotely okay.
“Oh, my sweet girl,” Teresa cries out as she squats down in front of us. Ryann pulls slightly from my chest, and I watch Teresa brush away Ryann’s hair away from her face. “What happened to you is and will never be your fault. What happened to you and Thomas in the car accident, unfortunately, it was out of your control.”
A lot of things lately have been out of our control.
“I’m so sorry, Ryann.... Thomas. Losing a child is never easy.” I watch Teresa reach for Ryann’s necklace before trailing her long slender fingers across the silver nameplate of my bracelet. “No matter what stage of life. But, Ry, sweetheart, you are in the arms of a man who loves you and will seriously do anything for you. Don’t let that mind of yours tell you otherwise and send you back into dark times.” Teresa says as she taps Ryann’s temple. “You remember, don’t you?”
Ryann meekly shakes her head. “It hurts, Teresa. So fucking much. Max sold me out. He betrayed me.”
Teresa’s lips thin into a straight line, “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry.”
“You were right,” Ryann cries. “I should have listened to you. And then I set Jen up with.....”
Teresa takes hold of Ryann’s shoulders, pulling out of my grasp and out of my arms. “Is not your fault, Ry. I’ve told you this over and over and over. You have got to learn to stop taking responsibility for others’ actions. Stop protecting those who don’t deserve your protection. Jen is an adult. She is fully capable of making her decisions, and she did that when Max proposed. Jennifer had every opportunity to back out before she said I do.”
I watch the rise and shaky fall of Ryann’s back as she cranes her head up towards the ceiling. I can’t hear her count, but I know it’s what she’s doing.
“We all make mistakes, sweetie. Most of them, we wish we could go back and talk to our younger selves and give us the words of wisdom we seek and know today. But we both know you were a stubborn ass teenager, and you would have never listened to your older self.” Ryann lets out a soft laugh. “And I know you’re feeling discouraged and broken. But sweetheart, you have to get back up because if you let that fucker and the game of life win.....then you’ll just prove all of those naysayers right.”
Ryann collides into Teresa. I watch her seek a comfort from a familiar friend—someone who has been with her from the beginning. Slowly, I get to my feet and make my way out of the bathroom. Looking over my shoulder, I hear the quiet sobs from Ryann, and Teresa gently rocks her on the bathroom floor.
As I make my way back into our bedroom, I run my hand through my hair before Travis suddenly stops me from leaving the room. “Are you okay?”
His voice is almost soft. Softer than I’ve ever heard it towards me. “Define okay.”
Travis gives me a knowing look, “Go and take a shower. Take some time for yourself. I’ll watch over Ryann and Teresa.”
But I don’t want to leave Ryann. Or be out of the same room as her. Not after seeing her break. But as I look down at my hands, I see the remnants of dried blood, and I know my face is a bruised fucking mess and covered in flakes of dried-up blood. Finding a pair of shorts and a discarded shirt on the floor, I snatch them up and make my way out of the master bedroom and down the hall to the guest bathroom.
As I approach the bathroom, I can hear Val and Jonathan out in the living room arguing.
“You are not going to the hospital or their hotel. It’s out of the question, Val.”
“Screw you. Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do? You saw her yesterday. You know what that fucking balless hick of man did to Ry. You heard what her father did. How are you standing there calm as fuck?” Val challenges.
“Because I know how to control my emotions. I suggest you do the same.....”
I can hear Val stomp her feet towards Jonathan as I imagine her standing on the balls of her feet to get into his face. “You want me to control my emotions? Well, fuck you. I’m not some monotonous person. She’s my best friend. Thomas is a brother to me. They are my family.”
Craning my head towards the ceiling, I take a deep breath in and out and count to fucking ten. All I wanted to do was take a damn shower. Not deal with Val or Jonathan bickering. And I know if I don’t interrupt what is going on, one of them will get hurt, and my money is on Jonathan. With my clothes clutched in my hands, I find myself standing in the living room. Watching the pair.
Val is in Jonathan’s face. Her finger is in his face as he stands tall. His hands are at his side, and I can tell by the restraint he is showing, he’s trying not to touch her. They are completely oblivious to my presence.
“I know they’re your family, Val. I get it. But you cannot run off and cause more mayhem. I have two bosses who got into altercations. Thomas is still bloody. His nose is broken.....”
Clearing my throat, I cause Val to jump in surprise as she comes running to me, and Jonathan takes a good twenty steps back. “Actually, it’s bruised. And could you two be any louder?”
“Sorry, sir. I was just trying to talk reason into Miss. Knox.”
I eye Val, who is now glaring at Jonathan, “Ohh....I was just....” I immediately tune her out as she begins to mock Jonathan. “No, you’re trying to control me. I can do whatever the hell I want to do.”
“Not under my watch,” Jonathan states evenly. “My job is to make sure you stay out of harm’s way. I can’t do my job if I allowed you to go off because we feel the need to fight someone. Who are you going to fight? Max is in the hospital, and Raymond is sporting a more than likely broken jaw. Betty? Jen?”
I can’t deal with this back-and-forth shit, “Enough.” I bark. “Jonathan, leave us.” Jonathan nods his head as he heads back into the security room. Once I hear the click of the door, “What are you thinking?” I scold. “I’ve already inflicted enough pain. What do you think will happened if you went off and did whatever the hell you were thinking of doing?”
“I....I was.....I just want to help.” Val finally spits out. “I guess it wouldn’t really be helping, would it?” Val grumbles as she flops down onto the couch and chucks a throw pillow across the room. “I’m pissed, Thomas. I should have been there at the dinner. Not off with Jonathan. He wasn’t accompanying me to my aunt’s house.” She confuses.
Really? Color me surprised. And here I thought Jonathan was doing his job without the added benefit.
“Could have fooled me,” I say dryly. “I mean, don’t you think you two are outed after arriving at the restaurant in the time you did?”
Val frowns with realization, “Are you going to tell Travis?”
Eyeing her, “And why in the hell would I tell Travis?”
She shrugs, “He doesn’t like me as is. He’ll fire Jonathan and send him back to California. Then he’ll be assigned to a new job.”
Taking a seat on the opposite side of the couch, I rest my head back against the cushion and find that I could easily fall asleep. I can’t remember the last time I slept for a full eight hours. Anymore, I’m going to bed late or waking up because of a fucking dream or because I just couldn’t get to sleep.
Sighing, “I control the pay.”
“So, Travis can’t fire Jonathan?”
Turning my head to the side, “Never said he couldn’t. Just that I control the pay.” I watch her face fall. “What do you want me to say, Val? That Travis is going to be fine with you and Jonathan doing the dirty deed?” Val scrunches her nose, “He won’t. He has strict rules for a reason, and anyone who breaks them will be fired.”
“Argh, Thomas. Why are you fine with this? Jonathan is good at his job.” I watch Val pull her hair over her shoulder as she starts to comb her fingers through the blonde strands nervously. “He didn’t do anything wrong.”
Arching a brow, “Except for sleeping with the person he’s supposed to be guarding. He has now been emotionally compromised. If a situation approaches involving you, I can’t be guaranteed that he won’t react inappropriately.”
Val’s eyes narrow, “You slept with Ryann. She is your employee; what’s the difference.”
“I’m the boss,” I state evenly as I look at a vacant spot on the grey wall, “I can do whatever the hell I want.”
“Clearly. And being a fucking ass is one.” Val grinds out as she gets to her feet.
Hitting the couch palm down, “Sit down.” I catch Val ready to challenge, “Don’t argue, sit down.”
She flops down, one of her legs crossing over the other as her arms crossed across her chest. She’s refusing to look at me. Instead, Val is glaring at our reflections in the television.
“Travis thinks you were a couple of blocks over.”
Val snaps her head back to me, “Wha...what?”
“I checked on you and Ryann when I got back to the condo, and I caught Travis grilling Jonathan. He had his suspicions. He still does.” I say.
“You lied. Why?”
I shrug a shoulder, “Why not? Believe it or not, I have a heart. And watching Jonathan being a punching bag for a pissed-off Travis wasn’t on my list of things to see.”
“So, you lied because you didn’t want to deal with the fallout, then. You didn’t care....” Val’s tone is starting to become defensive again, and she’s ready to fight.
Urgh, seriously, “No, I did it for you.” I snipe out. “You’re welcome.”
Val smiles before it falls into a frown, “Well, you don’t have to say it like that.”
Running a hand through my hair, “I’m tired. I’m covered in blood, and I have no clue who’s it is. I was just slapped across the face....”
“Whoa...wait! What? She actually slapped you?” Val crawls across the couch as she takes my face in her hands again. Immediately, I shoo her away. I swear if another person takes my face in their hands, I may explode. “I’m gonna slap her.”
Rolling my eyes, “Slap her, and I think you may have Ryann to contend with. Right now, Teresa is who she needs. And I deserved it. You know Ryann has talked to Teresa about everything.”
I watch Val twist her lips off to the side as she folds her legs in front of her, “I know. Teresa knows everything from you dumping the whisky on Ry’s head to the party. The only thing Ry kept from her for a hot minute was when she ran away to New York.”
Great, I never had a chance in winning Teresa over. She’s probably hated me from the start and immediately regretted helping Ryann get the job with me.
“Scratch that,” Val suddenly says. “Ryann kept her feelings about you from Teresa until she ran away to New York. She told her the night before you surprised her. She said Teresa wasn’t exactly thrilled about the idea. Apparently, if Teresa would have known you were the mystery man in the alleyway, she wouldn’t have assisted Ry in getting the assistant gig.”
Great, just fucking great. Running a hand over my face, I immediately wince out in pain. I feel the couch dip before I hear feet padding across the room and into the kitchen. I don’t bother to peek to see what Val is up to because with my eyes close, I have no interest in opening them.
“Here, take these.”
Groaning out, I manage to open one eye and find Val handing a couple of pain relievers with a bottle of water. In her other hand is another bag of peas from the freezer. Taking the pills, I swig them back with a large gulp of water.
Val smiles as she takes the water bottle from my hand and hands me the ice pack. Placing it over my face, I close my eyes once again and find myself counting. But I don’t even make it to ten before sleep overtakes my body.