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For the last several years only three of the chairs were usually occupied instead of the six it was designed for. It was a nice change to have had to pull up an extra chair so everyone could sit at the table. I cooked for the six of us while Gage cooked his meal that was specifically designed for him by his nutritionist/chef Luke. Luke’s wife was due anytime with their first born and Gage wasn’t about to put the man in bind with traveling down here.

Something that I found quite sweet actually.

I picked at my salad and glanced at Spencer. “So how’s my car coming?”

“There’s more wrong with it than I first anticipated. It’ll be a bit before it’s up and running.”

I smiled and pointed my fork at him. “Is that your way of telling me that I need a new car?”

Both Knox and Spencer scoffed.

“Darlin’ you have a brand new car.” Putting his elbow on the table, Spencer pointed over to Knox’s oversized garage. “You have a brand new Black Mercedes that Knox and I bought you for your birthday and it’s just been sitting there.”

I held my hands up. “I like my Land Cruiser, can you blame me?”

“When it looks and runs the way it does...Yeah, I can.” he laughed. He knew of its sentimental value, and how much it meant to me. Standing, he leaned over and nudged my arm. It surprised me that it didn’t make me uneasy. Had it something to do with the fact that Gage sat beside me? “You know I just like giving you a hard time about it.”

“I know.” I smiled and pushed him back. “Now let me finish my food.”

Knox kept his eyes on his plate, said. “You’re on your fourth bite. You’ve been picking at it for twenty minutes.”

“Now you’re counting how many bites I take?”

Spencer walked over and set his plate in the sink. “For as small as you are, you sure are a bossy bit of goods, Jayden.”

I pointed to myself. “I have to be. I’m around testosteroneville constantly. You know, it’s not easy being around you men all the time.”

“Testosteroneville?” Gage chuckled.

“You seem to handle it well enough.” Alex chimed in.

Tom scoffed with a nod.

“That’s because I was practically raised by them. It wasn’t until I bought a Vogue magazine for myself when I turned nine for me to see what I was exactly missing.”

“And it all turned south from there.” Knox added.

I leaned over the table and covered my mouth as I whispered to Knox, “You just be thankful I refused to pose nude.”

Knox frowned over my remark. Setting his elbow on the table, he pointed at me. “That shit’s not funny Jayden Marie de Luca.”

I smiled back.

Spencer chuckled, said, “Now you’ve gone and done it, Jayden. You just had to rile him didn’t you?”

“If it makes you feel any better Spencer, I forgot to get my refill on my pills, so I’ll drive the Mercedes tomorrow so I can pick them up.”

“No.” Knox’s voice was firm. “Spencer’s working tomorrow so I’ll have to drive you in. I don’t want you alone, period.”

I raised a single brow. “That’s being rather extreme don’t you think?”

“No.” It wasn’t just Knox and Spencer’s voice that was in sync. No. It was Gage and his coaches as well. Over the last few days, I had discovered that they had become every bit as protective as Knox and Spencer.

I should be grateful.

But I’m not.

I sighed. Getting up from my chair, I grabbed my plate, set it in the sink.

I needed time alone because I was feeling suffocated.

Walking over to the back door, I turned the handle.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Knox questioned with alarm.

“I’m going for a walk, and don’t either of you try following me. I’m pretty sure I won’t be snatched a hundred yards from here.”

Shutting the door behind me, I took to the old tracker tracks that led around the outskirts of the meadow; tall blades of grass gently swayed by the summer breeze. Stars blanketed the sky as the full moon lit my path. Crickets and frogs chanted at the nearby pond as the owl parched itself on a wooden post, making his presence known.

Reaching in my pocket, I pulled out a piece of peppermint gum and popped it in my mouth. I didn’t know how much more I could take. Knox and Spencer were trying their best to protect me and I appreciated it more than they knew. But they were suffocating me. I needed to break away, no matter how scared and terrified I may be. I was tired of living in fear. I wanted my old life back.

If only...

Hearing footsteps behind me, I looked to the sky. Although my heart picked its own alarmed pace, I refused to turn around. “I told you not to follow me!”

“I just thought I’d give you some company.” Gage replied and started to turn back.

“No wait.” I turned around the same time he did. We were face to face. “I thought you were Knox.”

With his thumb, Gage motioned over his shoulder towards the house. “Right now his face is plastered to the window along with Spencer’s.” he shoved his hands in his pockets. “Look, if you want to be alone I can respect that.”

“Walk with me.”

“Alright.” As he reached my side, I fell in step with him.

He looked up. “I can’t remember the last time when I saw stars like this. In the city you’re lucky to catch the North.”

“Isn’t that the truth? Look, I’m really sorry for what happened back there.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. Family’s family and sometimes can really get to you after a while.”

“Are you at the point where you’re wishing you just stayed in a hotel in town?” I laughed.


For a moment we walked in silence.

“Knox is having a Sheriff come by the house tomorrow to go over the text I got.” I knew my words came quiet but for a moment I thought Gage hadn’t heard me because he didn’t say anything. I stole a glance at him. His jaw was firmly set and his eyes were hard, indicating he had. “I don’t want them to come.” I admitted.

“They need to know.” His words were hard.

“They’re going to want to see the video.”


When I stopped walking he did too. I turned to him.

“I don’t want them to see it.” Tears gathered in my eyes.


I hesitated. It wasn’t because I was afraid to tell him. It was because if I said it out loud it made it all more real. I wanted to forget it happened. All of it.

“He took it when I was in the shower.” I choked out. “And every time I set foot in there that’s all I can think about.”

Gage cupped my cheeks. His hands were incredibly gentle and yet I could sense the strength that he was holding back. His eyes bore into mine with such determination it made my body break out with goosebumps. He rubbed the pad of his thumb beneath my eye, catching the single tear that escaped. “I can fix that.”

His words touched me in places I didn’t even know I had. They seemed to have rooted in. I only had known him for a few days and yet I know that he was more than capable of following through with his oath. Our eyes never deterred from one another and I absorbed the energy that radiated off him. He didn’t look at me like I was fragile; like I was about to break any moment. He looked at me like...

Like he cared.

I never had anyone look at me like Gage did now. Not like this.

A heavy horn sounded out from a distance, yet neither of us looked away.

Not caring if my brother or Spencer’s face was still plastered against the kitchen window or whether we had another set of eyes from the car just pulling up, he leaned down and touched hips to mine; sealing the promise that he was more than capable of burning all my hurt and fears until they were nothing but ashes to the wind. “Do you want to stay out here or head back?” He dropped his hands but made no attempt to move.

I took one of his hands and wove my fingers through his. I notched my head towards the red Carola parked in Knox’s driveway. “My friend Lily just showed up. And if I don’t start heading back, she’ll break out the flashlights and hunt me down. Regardless of what I was doing.”

“Or whom!” he added.

My cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Touching my brow with my free hand, I took a step back.

By the time Gage and I made it to the house, I opened the door to find Eagan with his hand out to Lily demanding, “Hand over the damn flashlight.”

“No.” Lily replied

Gage leaned down whispering, “You weren’t kidding about the flashlight.”

“I would not kid about that.” I said with raised brows.

As if now just noticing me, Lily looked at me with, “There you are.”

“Hello Lily.”

“See?” Eagan waved a hand in my direction. “She’s just fine.”

Ignoring her husband, Lily held up the flashlight. “I was just coming to find you.”

“Why do you think I’m here?” I replied. “Getting caught by you once in eighth grade in Max’s barn was humiliating enough.”

“What the fuck happened in Max’s barn?” Had I known that Knox entered the room behind me I wouldn’t have replied to Lily in such detail.

“Nothing.” Lily and I said in unison.

“Do I need to go over to Max’s and beat his ass for trying to fuck around with you?” He may have sounded tough, but we both knew he’d never do it. Even if he had found out back then, he would have made Max piss his pants. But he wouldn’t have hurt him. He valued his friendship too much to do such a thing.

I wondered if Knox would ever get over his big brother little sister complex. “I was in the eighth grade, Knox.” I said point blank.

“My fucking point, Jayden Marie.” Knox sounded disappointed. “He’s three years older than you.”

Knox was disciplining me like he was my father. Annoying as it was, I did find the humor in it.

Just as I thought things were about to die down, Eagan decided to clarify the situation. “Oh, I remember that. That’s when we were playing seven minutes in heaven on Sam’s birthday.”

With my back pressed against Gage’s front, I felt his laughter deep in his chest. “I know what I can accomplish in four minutes, let alone seven.”

Knox now looked shocked. “What else aren’t you telling me?”

I shrugged my shoulder along with pursed lips. “All I’m going to say is that I did a lot of things you didn’t know about.”

“Oh!” Eagan scoffed. “That’s for damn sure.”

“You’re going to have to fill me in on that.” Gage whispered in my ear.

As Knox shook his head with disbelief, the room lit up as everyone chimed in with their personal passed memories. “Well, I’m just going to have to get Eagan drunk so he can spill my little sister’s darkest secrets.”

“I don’t need to be drunk to do that.” Eagan chuckled. He then tossed me a wink.

“Thanks a lot.” I muttered.

“You never called and told me you were back in town.” Lily chastised, gaining my attention.

“I know. I’m sorry. Something rather important came up.”

Gage leaned down and whispered, “Stop apologizing,” in my ear.

“You mean that,” she pointed to Gage who was in his own conversation with Knox, “important someone?”

I was rather glad that Eagan interrupted our conversation. Though I wasn’t too thrilled when he tapped me on the arm. “How are you holding up?”

On que, Gage placed his hand where Eagan touched, immediately easing my nerves. “I’m doing well actually.”

Eagan motioned between Gage and I. “This is...Surprising.”

I didn’t reply. I didn’t know what to say. I was probably more surprised and confused than anyone else. Besides, we weren’t official or anything. Not even sure what we were.

Gage’s arm stretched out passed by my side as he offered it to Eagan. “I’m Gage.”

“Eagan.” Eagan took the offered hand before he motioned to Lily. “This little thing here is my wife, Lily.”

“Lily.” Gage shook her hand.

“Hello.” Lily smiled.

Eagan shoved his hands in his pockets. “So, where are you from?”

“Seattle. Spencer invited me to train.”

“You’re a fighter too?”

“I am.”

“Oh man, I’m sorry. You know I really only watch when Knox or Spencer fight.”

“Don’t stress it.” Gage replied nonchalantly.

“My wife and I are meeting up with a few friends in an hour for some drinks. You’re welcome to join us if you want. Spencer’s going.”

“You’re going?” I overheard Knox ask Spencer. I could hear the disappointment in his tone. Even though I’m sure Knox wanted nothing more than to get Eagan drunk so he could gain intel on me...I knew it was because he wasn’t one to sit idle and twiddle his thumbs.

As much as he wanted to keep an eye it was bound to get old for him. My life was turned upside down that night. And I know he was too. I didn’t want his life to be affected anymore than it was.

Before Gage could reply I chimed in. “I’ll go.” My hands became sweaty at the near thought of going.

Knox, Spencer, Lily and Eagan all had their eyes nearly popping from their skulls. Each of them looked at one another and glanced back at me.

They were clearly as shocked as I was.

And equally unsure.

Considering that a few days ago I’ve been fighting my hardest to not take Xanax, now my anxiety seemed to be under control when Gage was around, I was beginning to have more questions than I had answers to.

I don’t regret saying I’d go.

I want to move forward in my life. I’m tired of living in fear. What was it about Gage that brought my wall down? What was it that made me feel safe around him? I felt protected. Which in theory was down right silly considering my brother was a fighter and so was his best friend.

“I’m not sure that’d be a good idea, Jayden.” Knox’s words came quiet. Almost mathematical.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea either.” Lily whispered. “Not yet.”

“I want to try.” I felt Gage’s hand grip my hip. Was he aware of how comforting that was?

Lily stole a nervous glance to Gage then back at me. She lightly gripped my forearm. With Lily, at times I didn’t mind. Now was one of those times. “Are you sure? You don’t have to know.”

“I want to.” I said firmly. “I want to move forward and— I think this is one way that will help with that.”

“Maybe let’s hit a bar in Spokane.” Eagan suggested.

“No.” I shook my head. “It’s time I faced it.”

* * *

Pushing aside the pile of dirty clothes collecting in front of his closet, he opened the door, reached up and grabbed the shoebox full of recorded videos from atop the shelf. Setting it upon his bed, he skimmed his finger over each, looking for one in particular.

It wasn’t there.

On the verge of hysterics, he repeated the procedure.

You can’t find it, can you? He asked Beak

“Where is it?” Beak’s hardened voice carried throughout the house. Lifting the box, he turned it over, pouring them out on his solid black bed cover.

It isn’t there. He was the Moral Assessor of the two.

“Tell me where it is.” Beak placed his knee on the bed and braced his weight as he frantically searched through the tapes.

I will not.

“Now! I want you to tell me where it is right now.”

With a tape in each hand, he froze, awaited for the annoying and defying voice to come back.

Had he tuned out? Before allowing himself to reach a jovial state, he took to his full height, questioned, “Are you there?”

Still there was no answer…he had vanished as quickly as he had arrived.

Tonight, he would no longer be persecuted. His lips crept into a smile. And like a light switch, he remembered where he’d left it. Carefully setting the videos back into order, he tucked it back into its place on the shelf and closed the door. Marching down the darkened hallway, he went to the living room, drew the shades, and killed the lights.

He itched to be united with her once again. And he had given her enough time to crawl to him. To his upset, she hadn’t latched onto him as he had hoped. No, instead she clung onto a perfect stranger she’d just met. The very thought of the man touching and caressing her in any way made him irate. She was his and his alone, if he had to prove his love for her once more than so be it.

Flipping on the television and VHS player, he grabbed the remote from the coffee table as he parked himself on the couch. His anticipation to see her as she fell into a stupor was nearly overwhelming.

He pushed play.

The camera angle was just right. He couldn’t have been more proud of himself over his creativity. The air vent near the ceiling at the foot of her bed was the prime position. He could see all he wanted to see from there. He remembered waiting for her to leave town, so he could install it. And that plan had played out perfectly.

The color took some time getting used to. If only it could have been in color instead of a greenish tint from the night vision.

His eyes fixed on her as she entered her room. With her hair down, wet, her arms pinned the towel in place as it wrapped tightly around her. Moving to the nightstand beside her bed, she removed a device from the drawer, dropped her towel and slid in bed. The covers and sheets bunched about her feet. His hardness nearly became painful. Sliding down so his head rested on the back of the couch, he unfastened his pants, shoved them about his ankles and spread his legs. Wrapping his hand around the base of his rigid cock, he took a solid grip, began moving his hand towards the tip and back down. The continuous motion made his breath quicken.

She lay on her back, her hair tumbling across her pillow as she spread her legs. Her one hand trailed down the flat of her stomach as the other held the penetrated tool that mimicked his very motion. There was no sound, but by her squirms and movements she was coming undone. He clenched harder, his movements became faster. Tucking his hand between his thighs, he grasped his balls, tugged until the point of pain. Pain was good; one needed it, it was an aphrodisiac all in itself. As the overwhelming pleasure rushed through him, his muscles tensed, his cock jerked. His eyes heavy, a low groan escaped him as he surrendered to the tantalizing bliss.

Peeling his hands away, he removed his shirt, wiped away his proof of satisfaction. Tossing the shirt aside, he pulled up his pants as he took to his feet, stepped around the coffee table. Standing in front of the T.V., he continued to watch her, as she now lay beneath the covers, eyes closed. Placing his hand on her hair, he trailed two fingers down the length of her covered form.

“Soon.” He whispered.

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