WARNING: THIS CHAPTER CONTAINS SEVERAL THEMES THAT MAY NOT BE APPROPRIATE FOR SOME AUDIENCES.
“Ryan you might want to take a nap before I start; Lizzie told me you’ve been up all this time.”
“I’m fine if you are baby. If you want to rest though--”
“No, no I’m fine,” Gabi sighed. “Just procrastinating. I’d better just get on with it.”
The night before
“Michael? What are you doing here?” Gabi wrapped her arms around herself in an attempt to get warm. She readjusted to the top of her dress while he stared at her.
“Getting my revenge of course.”
“Revenge? Revenge for what? I haven’t done anything to you.”
“Haven’t you though?” He stepped closer to her, a maniacal glint in his eye. “Ever since we broke up I’ve just had a string of bad luck--”
“That’s called karma you asshole!” Gabi sneered at him.
Michael slapped her in the face. “Shut up you dumb bitch! Like I was saying, I’ve had a string of bad luck until I got this job. And you somehow managed to fuck this up for me too!”
Gabi clutched her stinging cheek and fought back tears as she glared at him. “Did you ever stop to think that maybe it was your fault?” she questioned.
“No.” He grabbed her wrist and her phone fell out of her hand. “And now you’re going to pay.”
Michael dragged Gabi down the hallway with her fighting and screaming the entire way. He turned around and hit her again. “If you don’t shut the hell up, I swear I’m going to beat you within an inch of your life.”
“So original of you Michael,” Gabi said sarcastically. “Considering you’ve already done that to me once! I don’t know how I ever thought that I loved you.”
“I said shut up!” He opened a door near the elevator and shoved Gabi inside.
She stumbled into the room and tripped over her dress, tearing it in the process. Michael laughed and closed the door behind him, darkness enveloping the room. Gabi stood up quickly and blinked rapidly, trying to adjust her eyes to the darkened room. Michael came over to her and grabbed her by her hair causing her to let out a shriek as he threw her carelessly onto the bed.
“I’m going to take my time and enjoy this,” he said sitting on the edge of the bed and turning on the lamp. “If you try to run, you’ll just make it worse.”
Gabi heard her name being called in the hallway and turned toward the door hopefully. She opened her mouth to scream but Michael clamped his hand down over her mouth.
“Aw, how sweet. Your meal ticket is looking for you,” Michael drawled.
Gabi bit down hard on his hand causing him to recoil. He glared at her and slapped her again. “You’ll pay for that.”
He climbed onto the bed and hovered over her. Gabi held her breath and waited until he was directly above her before she sprung into action. She wrapped her legs around his waist and used all of her strength to throw him off of the bed. He hit the wall with a thud. Gabi used the moment he was on the ground to reach under her dress and pull her pocket knife from her garter holster. She had started carrying it after her encounter with Michael back in college.
She jumped off of the bed and flipped the knife open, pointing it in Michael’s direction. He was on his feet by this time grinning at her.
“So you’re going to be difficult?” he laughed. “This is going to be such fun.”
He lunged at her and punched her, barely avoiding her knife. He threw another hit but she ducked to avoid it and her knife pierced his leg. He yelled in pain, stumbling backward a bit. Gabi quickly got back into her defensive stance, planning her next move.
Michael’s eye darkened as he reached for Gabi again. He successfully got his arms wrapped around her but she was fast with her knife. She jabbed it behind her and it plunged into his side. He grunted and his hold on her loosened a bit but he wouldn’t let go of her.
Gabi twisted the knife and Michael finally released her, falling to the floor as he wailed in agony. She fled the room as fast as she could opting to take the stairs rather than risk waiting for the elevator. She burst out onto a random floor and took the elevator down from there.
“That’s why I was covered in blood when I came running to you in the lobby,” Gabi said, wiping the tears from her face as she finished recounting her story to Ryan. “It was Michael’s blood. The doctor said I fainted from shock but that I’m physically okay aside from a few bumps and bruises. I should be able to go home in the morning.”
The silence in Gabi’s hospital room was deafening. She looked over at Ryan who was wearing an unreadable expression.
“Ryan? Say something,” Gabi said quietly.
“I, I don’t know what to say,” he confessed, meeting her gaze as he blinked back tears.
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking I want to kill that guy,” he replied angrily.
“He will get what he deserves without you having to go all vigilante on him,” Gabi said confidently. “Don’t you worry about that.”
“How can you know that for sure?” Ryan said, taking her hand in his. “What if they don’t have enough evidence to convict him? What if he walks free? What if--”
“Ryan, baby, calm down. I promise you, he’s going to be locked up for a very long time. There’s plenty of evidence because I recorded the entire thing.”
“What?! How? You dropped your phone on the balcony.”
“I dropped my work phone,” she clarified. “My personal phone was tucked into my bra. I hit record the minute I realized I was alone with him. I emailed the recording to myself when I woke up here just in case they ‘lose the evidence’.”
Ryan sat back and shook his head blowing out a deep breath. “How are you so strong? It’s incredibly admirable but I’m over here losing my shit and it didn’t even happen to me. I should be comforting you but all I can think of is what could have happened if you weren’t prepared.”
“But I was,” she said with a small smile, squeezing his hand. “I conquered my biggest demon last night. I’m finally free.”
Ryan returned her smile with a sad one of his own. He didn’t think that she could be over the trauma so quickly but she looked so serene and he didn’t want to ruin that. When the grief came, and it would come, he would be there for her in whatever way she wanted him to be.
He glanced back over at her and saw that she had fallen asleep. He stood and leaned down to kiss her forehead. “Sweet dreams Gabriella. I love you,” he whispered softly.
When Gabi woke up, Ryan was gone. Her mother was pacing the room praying and Lizzie was seated in the chair Ryan had been in.
“Mami?” Gabi said as she tried to sit up.
Isabella rushed to her daughter’s side. “Ay mija! You’re okay! The doctors told me you are fine but I wouldn’t believe until I saw for myself,” she exclaimed in rapid Spanish.
Gabi laughed lightly as her mother kissed her repeatedly as she continued to pray. “I really am fine Mami. A little sore but other than that I’m okay.”
“Oh thank goodness! I was so afraid when Lizzie called and I didn’t know how I was going to get to you.”
“When did you get here?”
“Yesterday. Ryan’s father flew me and Angela out on a private plane,” she said with a smile.
“Wait. Yesterday? What day is it? How long have I been asleep?”
The door opened and Angela and Ryan strode in with lunch. “Eighteen hours,” Ryan said casually, placing the food on the table and greeting Isabella with a kiss on the cheek. He was freshly showered and had changed into a new suit. “It’s Monday morning.”
“Monday?” Gabi asked in disbelief. “Why didn’t anyone wake me up?”
Lizzie shrugged. “You were clearly tired and the doctor said you needed your rest.”
Ryan made his way over to Gabi. “How are you feeling now babe?”
“I’m okay. A little hungry but I really just want to go home. Home, home. Not back to the hotel.”
“Of course mija,” Isabella interjected, wrapping her arms around Gabi. “I will take you back home and you can stay with me until you’re all better.”
Gabi shot Ryan and her friends a panicked look and they all had to fight back their laughter.
Angela came to the rescue. “That’s not necessary suegra. Ryan has everything arranged for Gabi when she gets back to Houston. He’s hired a nurse to look after her just until she’s healed up a bit.”
Isabella looked a bit taken aback but nodded. “I guess you will want to be in your own home. And besides, all of your nieces and nephews might overwhelm you at my house,” she conceded. “But I will still check on you every day!”
Gabi smiled. “Thank you, Mami. What would I do without you?”
There was a knock at the door and Alicia poked her head in. “Can I come in yet Ry-Ry?”
Ryan laughed. “If it’s okay with Gabriella.”
“Of course it is!” Gabi exclaimed.
“Oh goody!” Alicia replied, opening the door all the way. She looked effortlessly stunning per usual. Gabi was surprised to see Luke come in behind her carrying a bouquet of flowers.
Alicia embraced Gabi and then nudged Luke forward. He glared at his little sister before thrusting the bouquet toward Gabi. “On behalf of my father and our entire family, we’re very glad that you’re okay and hope you get well soon.”
“Someone pinch me; I must still be asleep,” Gabi said, rubbing her eyes to make sure she wasn’t imagining things.
Everyone but Luke laughed. “May I have a moment alone with Miss Perez?” he asked, shocking everyone into silence.
They were all hesitant to leave, especially Ryan, but Gabi shooed them all away, curious to see what he could possibly have to say to her.
Once everyone was gone, Luke sat down in the chair next to Gabi’s bed. He looked out of place in his pristine business suit.
“I owe you an apology Miss Perez,” he started.
“Gabi is just fine,” she said with a hesitant smile.
“Right. Gabi. Anyway, I apologize for the way that I have treated you since we met. I’m a stern businessman but I was especially mean to you.”
“I accept your apology. But can I ask why?”
Luke sighed and ran his hands through his hair reminding her of Ryan. “I know it may be hard to believe from the stories you’ve undoubtedly heard about me from my brother and sister, but I really do care about Ryan and Alicia.”
“That’s not hard for me to believe.”
Luke looked up in surprise. “It’s not?”
Gabi shook her head. “Everyone has a reason behind the things that they do.”
“I don’t or at least I didn’t at first. At first, I was malicious toward Ryan because I was jealous of his freedom. Jealous of how easily he got along with people, how much Alicia adored him, how he got over our mother’s death so easily,” he said quietly.
“After the Suzette incident, I swore to myself that I would be the best big brother I could be, not out of guilt or obligation but because he’s most decent human being I know and he deserves nothing but the best life has to offer. He’s been hurt so many times and I didn’t want you to hurt him. I thought if I could prove you weren’t good enough for him, I could protect him.”
“So because you and Suzette hurt him, you automatically assumed that I would too? I’m not following you on this one.”
“You seemed so unsure of everything and despite how hard he tries to be tough, Ryan wears his heart on his sleeve.”
Gabi frowned. “What are you getting at Luke?”
“What I did to him was unforgivable, I know that. And Ryan has wanted nothing to do with me since. It was easier for him to continue to see me as the villain; I think he needed that. So I continued to be that.”
Gabi stared at him in disbelief. “That is the dumbest shit I have ever heard.”
Luke looked startled at Gabi’s declaration.
“You mean to tell me, that you have been an asshole to your brother for the last few years because you thought you were doing him a favor?”
Luke chuckled. “No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that he and Alicia saw me as the bad guy and that’s what I started to see in myself. I went all the way to the dark side if you will. Until I met Elizabeth. She challenges me in ways I think you challenge Ryan.”
“So she tests your patience?”
Luke actually laughed aloud at this and Gabi found herself smiling.
“I like you, Gabi,” Luke said. “I think you’re good for Ryan. You’re good for all of us really and I’m sorry it took a tragedy for me to see that.”
Gabi shrugged. “I just want what’s best for Ryan. I care for him very deeply.”
“You mean to say you love him,” Luke said matter of factly.
Gabi flushed scarlet. “I haven’t told him that yet.”
Luke smiled and patted the back of her hand. “I think he knows.”