Princess - *Book One*

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After the happenings at the Avalon, Luke, Ben, and I sat down together and had a talk where everyone apologized. Ben and I promised not to let our relationship affect our work, and Luke has stopped his advances. Things were a little awkward at first, but after a few weeks, things are almost back to normal. Luke watches Ben and me closely, though, as if he was looking for a reason to admonish us for some kind of inappropriate behavior. But we are cautious at work – no kissing, hardly any touching, and definitely no more sex in the storeroom. As a result, we sometimes can’t get home fast enough because the sexual tension continuously built up throughout the day.

Unfortunately, the situation with Jenna hasn’t calmed down; on the contrary. Every time I look at her, I feel like I should spontaneously go up in flames. No day goes by without her pointing out some mistake on my part, be it my sloppy work or that I dress inappropriately. As soon as I talk to a colleague a little more intensively, she asks me whether one colleague isn’t enough for me.

Ben always tries to dissipate my worries, saying she’s just jealous, which must be true; I can’t explain her behavior otherwise, but it doesn’t make it easier to endure. Especially on a day like today when Jenna’s mood seems to be even worse than usual. I’m surprised she hasn’t threatened me with a written warning yet. But it’s Friday, and I try not to care as much. Because Ben and I did some extra hours during the week, we can finish work earlier than usual.

Ben suggests a walk through Central Park to enjoy the last bit of fall sunshine, so that’s where we are now. We sit down on a bench and watch the people passing by. I lean against Ben, and he puts his arm around my shoulder. I let out a satisfied and relaxed sigh. “What do you want to do this weekend? Do you want to go to Paul’s next gig?” I ask him.

“Definitely! Maybe we can combine that with a little day trip because it’s a bit out of town – a picnic in the woods or something.”

“You want to drag me into the woods? Should I be worried?”

Ben laughs and kisses me on the forehead. “Okay, I’ll admit it; I intend to kidnap you and do naughty things to you.”

I shake my head at him but laugh as well. As I think of Ben and me doing naughty things, I feel a pulling in my lower abdomen. I put my hand on my stomach and take a deep breath. Ouch. Maybe the feeling doesn’t come from the thoughts of Ben and me in the woods after all.

Ben gives me a worried look. “Everything okay?”

I nod. “I think I’ll get my period soon. So maybe no naughty things in the woods.”

“I can still think of enough other naughty things,” he murmurs into my ear.

I hit Ben against the chest and gasp. “You’re unbelievable.” I want to snuggle back into him when he suddenly pulls his arm away. I sit up and look at him with a heavy feeling in my stomach. His eyes are fixed on something in the distance. I look around and try to see what exactly he is looking at. “Ben, what’s wrong?”

With a sigh, he leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees. “Do you see that guy over there on the bench with the newspaper?”

I spot the guy Ben is referring to. But what about him? “Yes, and who is that?”

“That’s one of Jackson’s friends,” Ben says through clenched teeth.

I look at Ben wide-eyed as he gets his phone out and dials a number. Whoever he’s calling picks up right away. “Are you in trouble again?” Ben asks in an ice-cold tone that makes me shudder. “Just tell me, what have you done this time? – Aaron! – Because we are being watched. – Of course, I’m sure. I already suspected that a few days ago.”

While Ben listens to what Aaron has to say, I look over to the guy again. I wouldn’t have noticed him at all. I wonder what that means, and my heart starts racing. How will Ben react when he has to worry about my safety again? He’s been so good with this kind of thing lately. He is doing his best to keep his promise.

Ben sighs. “You can’t be serious! Where are you? – Stay there; I’m coming.” He ends the call, jumps up, and says, “Come on.”

I’m baffled, but I get up and follow him without hesitation. He walks hurriedly; I can hardly keep up. I want to take his hand, but he buries it in his pocket. He doesn’t say a word, not even to my questions.

When we finally stand in front of my door, he scowls at me. “Go to your apartment and stay there until you hear from me.”

“But Ben–”

“Did you hear me, Amy?” His gruff tone surprises and hurts me. A lump forms in my throat, and I can hardly suppress the tears.

“I’ll call you once I know what’s going on.” Ben looks at me, and for a moment, his eyes soften. “I’m sorry, Amy. Please, go now.”

I want to take a step towards him to kiss him, but he retreats, and I can’t stop a tear from running down my cheek any longer. Ben frowns and whispers, “I’m sorry, Princess.”

I wipe away the tear and turn to go into my building. I don’t look back; I run straight to my apartment, close the door, lean against it, and sink to the floor. And then I cry.

The next hours are more of a blur, and I’m not even sure how much time has passed since Ben left me like this. Whenever I close my eyes, I see his face – that cold and hard expression – and just when I thought I couldn’t cry anymore, new tears fill my eyes. At some point, I move over to the couch, where I curl up into a ball, trembling all over and staring into space.

My chest is tight and my throat burns. I get up to get a glass of water, but once I’m standing up, a wave of nausea hits me, and I have to run to the bathroom to throw up.

Unable to move, I collapse on the floor in front of the toilet with my head resting on my arms. I feel helpless and weak and desperate. What do I do now?

After a few minutes, I gain all my strength and get up. I’m dizzy and still feel sick. I rinse my mouth and wash my face with cold water. Then I drag myself back to the couch and drop down.

When my phone suddenly vibrates in my pocket, I frantically try to get it out, but instead, it falls to the ground. Before it goes to voicemail, I grab it and answer without looking at the caller ID. “Hello? Ben?”

“Amy? What’s happening?”

It’s not Ben, but Lauren. “Oh, hey.” My throat is sore from crying and throwing up, and I can hardly speak.

“Amy, what’s going on? You sound weird. Are you all right? Did something happen to Ben?”

I sob. “I don’t know. Oh, Lauren, Ben was so angry, and I’ve been waiting for his call.”

“Oh, sweetie, wait; I’ll come over. Are you at home? I can be there in fifteen minutes.”

“O – okay – yes, I’m home,” I croak.

And fifteen minutes later, Lauren is at my door. When she sees me, she gasps and hugs me tight. “Fuck, Amy, what happened?”

I still can’t speak. Instead, I cling to her and sob. After a few minutes of standing by my front door and crying onto her shoulder, Lauren leads me over to the couch. She takes my hand and frowns.

“Thanks for coming,” I whisper as I wipe the tears from my face.

“Of Course! What’s going on?”

I take a deep breath. I look up to the ceiling to stop more tears from falling. I draw my legs close to my body and wrap my arms around them. With a deep sigh, I can finally tell Lauren what happened. “Ben and I were in Central Park, and there was a guy Ben recognized as one of this guys friends – you know, the one that threatened me? Ben said he had noticed him before. So he called Aaron. I couldn’t hear what he said. But suddenly, Ben was in a great hurry to get me home. He didn’t want to touch me or even look at me. He told me to go to my apartment and wait here until he called. He wanted to go to Aaron’s.” When I’m done talking, I let out a long, slow breath. I’m surprised I was able to tell the story in one go without having to interrupt to cry some more.

Lauren scoots closer to me and wraps her arm around my shoulder. “Damn,” she mutters. “Do you think you are being followed again and in danger?”

“I have no idea. But I think that’s what Ben suspects. He freaked out; he was so dismissive. It was all so horrible. And now I don’t know what’s going on.” I turn to her and grab her hands. “I’m scared, Lauren,” I whisper. “I’m afraid I’ll lose him.”

She squeezes my hands. “Oh, honey; why would you lose him? He’ll probably call soon and explain everything.”

I bury my face in my hands and wince when my lungs hurt from the deep breath I take in. Both the emotional and the physical pain have a firm hold on me, and I’m having a hard time believing that Lauren is right.

With a sigh, she gets up and walks over to my kitchen. “I’ll make us some tea. Maybe that’ll calm down your nerves.”

All I manage is a weak nod before I wrap my arms around my tugged up legs and try to hold myself together. I’m so thankful that Lauren is here to give me comfort; I wouldn’t know what to do without her.

When she comes back with two cups of tea, we sit in silence for a while. My mind is racing, and the desperate need to know what’s happening grows unbearable. The tightness in my chest gets worse, and the nausea makes it even harder to think straight. And to top it all, after I finish my tea, my stomach suddenly cramps up, and I have to run to the bathroom to throw up yet again. Dammit! I feel like shit. How can Ben do this to me?

I look up when Lauren knocks on the door. “Everything okay?” she asks softly.

I shake my head with more tears in my eyes. Lauren holds out my phone to me. “It rang, and when I saw that it was Ben, I answered.”

I quickly take the phone from her. “Ben? Are you okay?”

“Amy,” he says in a low, strained voice. “I wanted to ask you the same question. I’m sorry it took so long.”

“What’s going on?”

Ben sighs. “I don’t know yet... Amy, I’m so sorry I’m dragging you into something like this again.”

I rub my aching chest. I get a terrible feeling about this. “Nothing has happened yet. What are we going to do now?”

Ben doesn’t answer.

“Ben! Say something!”

He takes a deep breath. “I’m not good for you, Amy...”

“Excuse me?” I gasp. It takes a moment to understand what he just said. I grab the edge of the sink when my head starts spinning. “Are you crazy? Why would you say something like that?”

“I’m putting you in danger again, and that will probably never change.”

“I’ll repeat it: nothing has happened yet! How do you know that you are putting me in danger?”

“Amy, listen – it’s better if we don’t see each other anymore.”

“ARE YOU BREAKING UP WITH ME?” I scream. Shit, breathing gets even harder, and my heart is about to explode in my chest. No, he surely doesn’t mean it like that.

“I – no – I don’t know–”

I shake my head vigorously. “You can’t do that. We work together. We see each other all the time.”

“I will ask for a transfer...”

My heart breaks into a thousand pieces when I hear his words. Am I sleeping? Is this just a dream? Yeah, that must be it – it’s a nightmare, and I just have to wake up, and everything will be fine.

But Ben’s voice brings me back to reality. “Amy, please; try to understand. I want to protect you.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? No, Ben, I don’t understand!” Without waiting for an answer, I end the call. I stare at my phone as if it might have some answers to the many questions that are running through my head. But there’s nothing – only hurt and despair, and when Lauren wraps her arms around me, I bury my face in her neck and let my tears run free.

Lauren doesn’t leave my side over the next few days. I’m hardly capable of doing anything. I sit on my couch or lie in my bed not caring about anything while Lauren tries her best to distract me.

Ben called a few times, but Lauren wouldn’t let him talk to me as long as he didn’t take back the break-up. She also called him an idiot – and worse.

So, in the end, he stopped calling, leaving me alone in my misery.

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