“How are you?” Grayson asked once Alexa was settled in next to him on the couch. She lay curled up at his side, her head on his shoulder, and his arms around her. It had been several days since their last phone conversation. Grayson had been true to his word and given her some time alone with Colton. Not that it mattered all that much since he worked from home and didn’t interact with her outside of meals. He was polite, but there was no more talk about kissing and making love.
“I’m much better, thank you,” she told him her voice a little sad. “My body seems to have recovered well. You can hardly see the bruises anymore.”
“Let me see,” he ordered looking down at her. She pulled away and looked up at him. She couldn’t help but smile when he grinned down at her. “Beautiful.”
Grayson chuckled when she blushed at his flattery. He hoped she never lost that naiveté when it came to receiving compliments. He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead and then on her cheeks.
As Colton passed by the living room area jealousy spiked in his chest when he saw Grayson kiss his woman. His steps faltered, and he almost stopped to rush over to pull Alexa out of the other man’s arms. He maintained his control and kept on walking to his home office.
He had been maintaining a distance from her physically until he could sort out his feelings for her, but the sight of her in another man’s arms almost made him lose it. Grayson was no threat to their relationship. He was gay. The thought of him comforting her when Colton couldn’t, irritated him.
Shaking his head, he entered his office, sat down at his desk and tried not to be distracted by the thought of Alexa with another man in his home. Easier said than done.
Her laugh carried like wind chimes through the house. It was so melodious he loved listening to it. However knowing another man was causing her to laugh made him angry. Why was she giving Grayson her laughter when she should only be sharing it with Colton?
“Because you told her you needed time to think about things,” he scolded himself. “You are the one who walked away. Why should she wait around for you?”
Fuck, he thought. She wasn’t going to wait around on him. Many other men were going to come into her life and take her away from Colton. He needed to speed up his “thinking” about their relationship.
While Colton brooded, Grayson and Alexa got caught up on each other’s lives. When she finally told Grayson what her parents had done to her, she had to sit on him to keep him from going to their home and confronting them. Seeing how livid he was, gave Alexa pause to consider her feelings about her parents having her beaten and raped.
She felt sadness, but there was also a bit of anger inside her too. How could they have done that to her? What had she ever done to deserve that kind of punishment? Moved out of their home? Take care of herself? Weren’t these things parents wanted their children to accomplish?
“God I hate your parents,” Grayson ground out. “I’m so glad you are in my life, but I hate that you had to come through them.”
“I am so glad that we found each other,” Alexa replied snuggling in closer to him. “I don’t think I could have made it these last ten years without you.”
“Me neither sweetheart,” he agreed holding her tighter to him.
They sat like that in comforting silence for quite a while, both lost in their thoughts about the last couple of years and how each made it bearable for the other.
“Well it’s almost time for my next class,” Grayson announced with a groan. “I could skip it and just stay here with you.”
“No, you need to go to class. You don’t know what you could miss that will be on the exam.”
“It’s only an elective. Economics.”
“You probably could ace it, but for my artist’s brain, numbers and such don’t compute so well.”
“I’m sure you will do well like you always do. But you do need to go to class to do well.”
Grayson groaned again. “Ok, ok. I’ll go. Only because I know how badly you would like to be going and would think I was wasting my scholarship by not going to class.”
“Exactly! I would – kill to be able to go to Belmont.”
“One of these days you are going. I’ll save up enough money for you to go.”
“That’s incredibly sweet of you, but you need your money to take care of yourself and your family.”
“You are my family.”
“You are mine too.”
“So one day, I’m sending you to college because a brain like yours deserves to be educated.”
“I don’t think Belmont would take me given my grades in high school.”
“That was because your parents kept pulling you out of class to take care of some minuscule thing for them. You are a smart woman.”
“Maybe,” she said reluctantly. “I don’t know if I can handle college-level courses.”
“You can. You scored high on your SAT.”
“But not high enough to get a scholarship.”
“But high enough to know that you would be good at college. You would thrive there. I know you. I’m just sick you can’t be going with me.”
“Me too. Maybe one day.”
Just then Colton walked into the living area, having caught the tail end of their conversation.
“Going where?” he asked with a tense smile. This bastard better not be taking Alexa away from him.
“To college,” Grayson answered. “Alexa needs to go to college and get ‘edumacated.’ Her brain is too valuable not to be.”
“I thought you didn’t want to go to college,” Colton questioned her. “In your interview, you said you wanted real life work experience.”
“Yeah that is what I said,” she replied guiltily. “I couldn’t tell you it was because my grades weren’t good enough or that my parents wouldn’t allow me to apply.”
“Her grades weren’t stellar,” Grayson interjected. “But her entrance exam scores were high.”
“Your parents wouldn’t let you apply?”
“Yeah. They didn’t want me away from them.”
“But they let you get a job?”
“After a bitter fight. And it wasn’t until they found out how much I would be making working for you that they finally capitulated.”
“So when you left home this time, they were missing more than your presence.”
“Yes, I guess so. I hadn’t thought about the money. I do pay all the bills, but they paid for everything while I was a child.”
“Do they still work?”
“No, they retired right after I started … working.”
“Shit Alexa,” Grayson cursed. “Why didn’t it occur to us that they were using you financially? Of course! No wonder they are fighting you leaving. They’ll have to go back to work!”
“They are too old to do that,” Alexa argued weakly.
“No, they aren’t. They aren’t even old enough for social security,” Grayson shot back. “No wonder they went to extremes to get you back. Doesn’t excuse their behavior but now we know why they are even bigger dicks than usual.”
“Oh my God Grayson,” Alexa exclaimed. “You’re right. They don’t want me to leave so they don’t have to go to work. I can’t believe they would have me beaten and raped to scare me into coming back to them.”
“Shitheads! That’s the last thing you’ll consider doing,” Grayson proclaimed. “Now that we know the truth.”
“Alexa?” Colton asked bending down on one knee to put him at eye level with her. She was crying, sobbing. He contained a growl when Grayson pulled her onto his lap. Colton sat down next to them and put his hand on her back trying to soothe her.
Suddenly, Alexa shot to her feet and screamed. She turned to face the two men. With tears still streaming down her face, she yelled, “How could they do this to me? They beat and raped me. For what? Money?! I can’t believe my parents …”
She covered her face with her hands and then sunk to the floor, weeping. Colton was the first to reach her. He sat down and pulled her into his lap. Murmuring consoling words, he held her and rocked her back and forth gently as she cried.
Grayson remained on the couch and watched the new man in Alexa’s life take care of her. He was happy that she had found someone who was willing to be there for her but a part of him didn’t like the change in their relationship that would occur because of Colton.
Alexa clung to Colton’s hard, warm body, gathering from him, strength. His calming presence brought her back from the brink and let her see clearly what she needed to do.
She had shitty parents, but she didn’t need them anymore in her life. They had ruined enough of her existence already. It was time now to live for herself and Grayson, Colton too if he wanted to be in her life. She was done serving her parents. They didn’t deserve her love. She would be better off without them.
After a long while, her sobs turned to hiccups, and the tears stopped. Colton pushed her hair out of her face and loosened his grip on her. She turned around until she was facing Grayson from Colton’s lap. Holding onto Colton’s arm around her, she reached out for Grayson who took her hand clasping it tightly.
“Grayson thank you for your love and loyalty,” she managed to get out. “You’ve have put up with a lot for me. I truly appreciate all you’ve done for me.”
“We’ve put up with a lot for each other.”
She nodded her head in agreement and then looked at Colton. Those big brown eyes of hers were luring him into her. They looked fathomless, but he wouldn’t mind falling into them to take a rest in her sweet presence.
“Thank you, Colton, for keeping me safe,” she whispered. “Other than Grayson no one has ever made me feel safe in their presence. But I know I am with you.”
“Yes you are,” he agreed. “You are welcome to stay here as long as you need to.”
“Thank you, but I think it’s time for me to live my life.”
“Very good sweetheart,” Grayson encouraged. “It is about time to kick those bastards to the curb.”
“You need to go to class,” she pointed out to him. She gave him a tremulous smile. “I’m ok. You can go but can you come back afterward?”
“Of course I can! I’ll be back in two hours.”
Grayson reached down and hugged Alexa. He glanced over at Colton. “Keep her safe,” he said menacingly. “Don’t let her go home alone.”
“I will,” Colton agreed. “I think she needs to stay here a little bit longer.”
“As do I,” she piped up sarcastically.
Both men smiled at her. “We just want to keep you safe,” Colton explained.
“You can include me in those discussions.”
“Definitely. Sorry,” Grayson said humbly. “You’re right.”
“Thank you. Now get to class. You’re already late.”
“Yes, ma’am! I’ll be back in a bit.”