I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the elevator door slid closed. He called for me to come back. I half-expected his goon to chase after me.
The elevator stopped at several floors on the way down, my heart pounding every time the doors opened. I hurried across the hospital lobby, shivering when I burst through the rotating doors to the sidewalk.
May was unpredictable. We’d been having a cool spring, and I definitely needed the jacket I left in the nursery. But there was no way I was going back. And that sucked. I really liked that coat, and I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. Maybe I could call the hospital and ask them to put it aside, and I would pick it up the next time I was downtown.
Why did I run away? I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Shelly gave me permission to be there with her babies. I was issued an access card the day they were born. She never came to see them once. Not even while she was still in the hospital recovering from her Cesarean. She never held them.
I descended the steps to the subway, reaching the platform just as my train pulled in. I found a seat and plunked down, holding back the tears burning behind my eyelids. I’d save the crying for later, when I was alone. I knew from the beginning this day would come. But I allowed myself to become attached anyway.
My sister had no interest in raising her kids. And she had to sign away her rights if she wanted to avoid jail time. But a small part of me had hoped Briggs Westinghouse wasn’t the father. Which was stupid, because he had enough evidence to send her to jail even if he wasn’t the father. And the boys would go into foster care. I couldn’t take care of them.
Briggs Westinghouse. One of the greatest hockey players of all time. And I ran away from him like a pathetic little chicken. He was the father of my nephews. But he’d made it very clear the boys would have no contact with anyone in our family. And my sister agreed to his terms.
Briggs Westinghouse had a reputation as a womanizer. He had at least one illegitimate kid somewhere. Probably lots more he didn’t even know about, or he’d kept a secret with his fat wallet and team of lawyers. The media portrayed him as a manwhore and all around pig, who had a different woman in his bed every night.
I cringed, recalling how he ogled my breasts before he even looked at my face. Men were disgusting. Every last one of them. My boobs weren’t huge, but on my thin build they looked enormous. It was a family trait. My sister wore a DD cup, making my D breasts look small next to hers.
It was starting to rain when I exited the subway. I ran the two blocks to the entrance of the park.
Sounds like a nice place to live, right?
There’s no meadow. Just a ten-foot high chain link fence, surrounding 112 rundown mobile homes. And our castle was at the back of the park. By the time I reached our double-wide, I was soaked.
I unlocked the door and stepped into the kitchen. Shelly wasn’t home. She received a small settlement from Briggs a couple days before. He didn’t have to give her a cent. There must’ve been some reason. But she would be broke again in no time. Then she’d be back.
I was just about to head into the shower when I heard heavy footsteps on the porch, followed by a loud knock on the door. My sister’s boyfriend glared at me through the glass.
I opened the door a crack. “Shelly isn’t here.”
“Where is she?”
“I have no idea, Frank. I’ll tell her you stopped by.”
“I think yer lyin’, Layla,” he growled. “How ’bout you let me in, and I’ll see fer myself.”
I tried to shut the door, but he was too fast and strong. He shoved the door open, sending me flying backwards. I regained my footing before I fell, backing up into the kitchen.
Frank stomped through the trailer, hollering for Shelly.
“I told you she wasn’t here,” I snapped when he returned to the kitchen.
“Where the fuck is she?!”
“I told you, I don’t know!”
“I know she got money. She promised to share it with me.”
I shook my head. “You don’t know my sister very well if you believed that.”
His bloodshot eyes raked over my body, stopping at my chest. My wet shirt was clinging to my breasts, my nipples like hard erasers.
“I’d like you to leave now,” I said.
“Why’s that, girlie?” he asked, licking his lips.
My spine prickled with fear. This wasn’t the first time I’d caught him looking at me like a piece of meat. But my sister was always there. I’d never been alone with Frank before. I swallowed past the lump forming in my throat as I backed toward the door.
“Where do ya think yer going?” he growled, grabbing me by the arm and yanking me up against his body. I gagged at the strong stench of booze and pot coming off him.
“Let me go, Frank!” I yelled.
“Nuh-uh, girlie,” he whispered, grabbing my ass. “I’ve been waitin’ fer my chance to spread these sexy thighs and fuck yer sweet cunt.”
I brought my knee up, but he caught it before I could make contact with his balls. “No!” I screamed when he dragged me to the couch. “Stop!”
He held my arms above my head with one hand while he tried to undo the button on my jeans with the other. I fought hard, gasping for air when his huge body pressed me into the couch.
“Help!” I screamed, earning me a hard slap across my mouth.
“Shut yer fuckin’ mouth, you little bitch!”
I tried to shove him off me, but it was a losing battle. “Frank, please don’t do this,” I begged, blood trickling into my mouth from my split lip.
I closed my eyes, willing my mind to block out what was about to happen. And then he was gone. I could breathe again. There were strange male voices in my trailer. I opened my eyes to find Briggs Westinghouse kneeling next to my couch.
“Are you okay, Layla?” he asked.
“I-I,” I gasped, trying to slow my breathing down.
“Take your time,” he whispered.
“He, I. Where’s Frank?”
“My bodyguard took him outside to have a little chat with him,” he replied, glancing at the door. “You know that guy?”
“He’s my sister’s boyfriend.”
“Where’s your sister?”
“I have no idea.”
“Do you want me to call the police?”
“No!” I bolted upright, shaking my head vehemently. “No cops.”
“Okay, okay,” he said, backing away with hands in the air. “But can I ask why?”
“Because they won’t keep him. And when he gets out, he’ll come after me.”
“I can protect you, Layla.”
“What are you even doing here?”
He held up my jacket. “You forgot this at the hospital.”
“So you drove all the way out to Scarborough to bring it back?”
He shrugged. “I thought you might need it.”
I gazed at my rescuer. He was very good-looking in a rugged, masculine sort of way. His nose was slightly crooked, but other than that, his face was perfectly symmetrical. Dark scruff covered his strong jaw. And he had the sexiest dimples when he smiled. Which he was doing right now, his deep brown eyes sparkling with amusement as he watched me check him out.
“Thank you,” I mumbled, jumping off the couch.
I scurried into the bathroom, groaning when I saw my fat lip in the mirror. Maybe if I stayed in there long enough, Briggs would just leave. That would be for the best. I’d lock the door. Frank wouldn’t bother me again. He was drunk. He probably wouldn’t even remember this in the morning.
When I returned to the kitchen, Briggs was leaning against the counter. How tall was he?! I was six foot, and he towered above me.
“You’re still here?”
“You can’t stay here tonight, Layla,” he said, folding his arms across his massive chest, his leather jacket stretching over his muscles. And man, did he have big ones.
“This is my home,” I said. “Of course, I’m going to stay here.”
“It’s not safe.”
“Look, Mr. Westinghouse. I really appreciate you bringing my coat all the way out here. And I’m very grateful you showed up when you did. I don’t know what would’ve happened if-.”
“He would’ve raped you,” he supplied bluntly. “And please call me Briggs.”
I shivered when he said rape. He was right, of course. But I didn’t like that word, and I didn’t want to spend one more second imagining what almost happened to me. My brain had different ideas though, shock making way for terror. I was almost raped. Another couple minutes, and that awful man would’ve taken something from me I could never get back. And probably beat the shit out of me.
My hands started trembling uncontrollably. I grabbed the edge of the table as my knees gave way. Strong arms caught me before I crashed to the floor. I burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably into his chest, leaving a trail of snot across his expensive leather jacket.
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” he murmured, rubbing my back in slow circles as he held me. “You’re safe now.”
“I’m so sorry,” I gasped, pulling away.
“You have nothing to be sorry for, Layla.”
“Thank you, again,” I said, putting some distance between us. I enjoyed the feel of being in his arms a little too much. “I’ll be fine.”
“You can’t stay here tonight.” The bodyguard ducked his head under the door when he entered the trailer. He was the tallest man I’d ever seen. His accent sounded Russian. “That piece of shit will be back.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“He told me,” he replied matter-of-factly. “Went into great detail about what he was going to do. Until I put my fist into his mouth to shut him up.”
Briggs ran his hands through his wavy, brown locks. “I can’t leave you here.”
“I have nowhere else to go,” I said softly. “And I’m not your responsibility.”
“You can come home with me.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Because I don’t even know you, for starters,” I said. “And what happens tomorrow? I can’t hide out at your house forever.”
“At least come for tonight,” he pleaded. “We’ll figure out tomorrow when it gets here.”
“I don’t know,” I sighed, staring down at the worn green linoleum.
“I have a guest suite at my condo. You can stay in there. I won’t bother you at all.”
“Are you sure you want me there?” I asked, glancing up at him with a shy smile. “You don’t even know me.”
“I want you to come.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “But just for tonight.”