He jerked, turning his face away. “Jesus, Kelsey.”

The cool air embraced me from the waist up, my skin tightening. “It’s not that big of a deal.”

“It is, though. I can’t take advantage of you like that. Not when you’re not sober enough to make decisions with a clear head.”

I groaned. “You’re not taking advantage of me. Been there. Done that. It felt nothing like this.”

His head snapped to mine.

“What did you say?”

I was so tired now that I could feel the tears gathering at the edge of my vision.

That’s all it was. Exhaustion.



“It doesn’t matter. Just help me. Please? Please.”


I hated the desperation in my voice, but I needed this to be over, and I needed to stop thinking.

After a heavy sigh and a few seconds of staring at the ceiling, he pulled the covers the rest of the way down, and started working on the other knot. When he started unwrapping the swimsuit, his eyes locked on my face.

He leaned down until only a half a dozen inches separated us. His face hovered over mine, and a slow burn stole past the fog in my head. He snuck a hand beneath my back and lifted up my midsection. I swallowed, and he yanked the fabric out from underneath me. He pulled hard enough that the bathing suit slipped off my shoulders and down to my elbows.

I arched my back a little bit more, and my belly grazed his chest. He made a noise low in his throat and closed his eyes. That sound bled through my skin and muscles and lodged itself deep in my bones.

Quickly, he finished unwrapping the fabric, and then pulled the suit free. I heard the wet slap of the fabric as it hit the ground, and though he wasn’t touching me, one of his hands was still under the T-shirt, his hand pressing down into the mattress an inch away from my bare skin.

His eyes opened, and the space between us crackled with energy. His eyes dropped to my lips, and his breath fanned across my mouth.

I whimpered, and he growled a four-letter word.


I closed my eyes and tilted my chin up. My muscles tightened in anticipation. His wrist grazed my ribs, and his lips dipped toward mine.

This felt more like being drugged than anything else.

At the last second, he swerved and pressed a kiss to my cheek instead. He stayed there, his lips and stubble brushing against my skin, and said, “I can’t. Not like this. If I’m going to cross this line, I sure as hell want you to remember it.”

“It’s not crossing a line if I want it.”

I held on to him as tightly as I could manage in my current state.

“I want you, too. But you have no idea how many lines I’d be crossing, even if you were sober.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means I’m getting you ready for bed, and then I’m saying good night.”

“Then get me ready for bed.” I took his hand and guided it down to the material at my hips. He hooked two fingers under the fabric, and then started to pull, down my legs and past my feet. When his gaze wasn’t on my face, it was directed up toward the ceiling.

He pulled the blankets all the way up to my chin, the smooth sheets sliding against my bare legs. I caught one of his hands at the top of the blankets, keeping it close.

“Don’t go.”

He ran a hand over the stubble across his jaw.

“I have to. This isn’t a good idea.”

“I don’t want to wake up alone. If I don’t remember . . . I’ll . . . it will kill me. You don’t know . . .”

He was doing it again . . . studying me, and whatever he found made his lips curve into a frown.

“Jackson, please.”

“Okay. Just . . . just give me a second.”

I relaxed, the panic in my gut loosening. I listened to him moving around the room and then the bathroom, too tired to lift my head to actually watch.

After a few minutes, he flipped off the lamp beside the bed, dousing the room in darkness. I waited for the bed to dip, to feel the electricity that I knew would come from having him close to me.

I waited and waited, but it never came.


I heard something creak in the direction of the chair I’d been in earlier, and then his voice came from the same side of the room.

“Are you okay? Do you need something?”

“No.” I relaxed back against the mattress. “I just . . . thank you.”

“Anytime, princess.”

I closed my eyes, and I gave into the weight in my limbs, the pressure behind my eyes.

I’d thought my memories of that night would overwhelm me, that I would see him. But against all odds, I felt . . . safe.

With Hunt only a few feet away, I slept.


Gentle light poured through window, but it felt more like a full-out assault to me. My limbs were slick with sweat and tangled in my sheets. Just turning my head away from the light felt like an earthquake was rattling through my skull.

“Fu . . .” I didn’t even have the energy to finish the curse.

I pulled the pillow over my head, and pressed my pounding forehead into the mattress, then forced my way back into oblivion for a few more hours.

When I woke next, the light was less severe, but my hangover was not. My stomach pitched and rolled like I was adrift at sea, and I barely had time to acknowledge that I was in an unfamiliar hotel and to find the bathroom before I was sick.

There were a few things in this world that I hated.



Close talkers.

Fran Drescher’s voice.

People who say fustrating instead of frustrating.

And throwing up. Which I had done twice this week.

With my throat burning, my eyes watering, and my neck sweating, I lay my head feebly against the toilet seat. I rested against the cold porcelain for a few seconds before hurling again.


Maybe I was doing it wrong.

Again and again my stomach contracted, pushing and pulling until my organs felt like rubber bands. Long after my stomach was empty, I stayed hunched over the toilet with tears streaming down my face, too tired to think or move unless my body forced me to.

It must have been an hour before I felt the chill from the bathroom tile against my bare legs and realized I wore nothing but a man’s T-shirt. I thought back to the night before, but the last thing I remembered clearly was arguing with Hunt. Things after that went gray and then black, and even the things before it were fuzzy. I looked back down at my bare skin and around me at the unfamiliar bathroom. Had I gone home with Hunt? I’d certainly been hoping for that. At least, I think I had been. And perhaps the better question . . . if I had, where was he now? I stretched, searching for the telltale soreness of a night spent not sleeping, but my whole body was aching.

There had been another guy, the one before Hunt had showed up, but I couldn’t remember his name. Jesus, how much had I had to drink?

I’d worked long and hard in college to have gold-medal worthy tolerance, but for the life of me, I could only remember taking a few sips of alcohol the night before. I’d had hangovers from hell in the past, but none of my nights out had ever been so bad that I blacked out. This made absolutely no sense, especially considering I’d been determined to take it easy last night.

Despite my hollow insides, my stomach began to sink.

What if this wasn’t because I’d had too much to drink?

I remembered being frustrated with Hunt and going up to the bar. I closed my eyes, straining to remember. I recalled a snippet or two of conversation, and . . . one drink. I remembered having one drink. Maybe two, tops. I gripped the toilet and slowly pulled myself up to my feet. My legs shook like a newborn deer. I was fucking Bambi, hoping the story would take an unusual twist, and I’d be the one facing a shotgun. Put me out of my misery.

Maybe then the pounding in my head would stop.

I dragged myself to the bathroom door and surveyed the hotel room.

“Hello?” I called out. “Anyone here?”

As if my stomach gymnastics in there wouldn’t have alerted them to my presence already.

The bed was a mess, sheets and blankets twisted, falling off the mattress. A pillow lay on the floor. But I was alone . . . definitely. And there were no other things but mine in the room. But I couldn’t remember how I got here, and that made my headache seem like a soothing massage.

I pressed a hand to my stomach, and for a reason I felt, but couldn’t articulate, my heart beat faster and my hands shook.

I had done plenty of stupid things in my life.

I’d slept with people I regretted. I’d done things because everyone else was doing it. I’d made the worst possible choices.

But I owned my mistakes. Because they were mine. They’d been my choice.

Except for once. There’d been only once in my life where I’d had no control. That was the moment when I realized that beneath everything beautiful, everything rich . . . there lived an ugly pit that would pull and plunge and smother you if you let it. And once you’ve been there in that pit, it never quite leaves you. You can try to scrub it off or cover it up, but it lives under your skin, unreachable.

My stomach pitched, and I lurched for the toilet again. I dug my fingers into the porcelain until they hurt. I told myself the tears were just a natural by-product of being sick.

Nothing happened. Not last night. Not back then. Nothing happened. So, stop it. Just stop. You’re being dramatic. It was nothing. Nothing.

I wanted to hit something or run or scream. I just needed to do something. But the only thing I could get my body to do was to curl up on the cold tile floor.

You’re being overdramatic.

God, I’d heard those words so many times, they just happened, like muscle memory. I shivered and pressed my cheek into the tile, hard.

It had taken me so long to stop feeling guilty, to ignore the shame. And now I could feel the ugly emotion curling and winding through my gut like weeds.

I didn’t know what happened last night, but whatever it was, it hadn’t been my choice. And I had promised that would never happen again. While trying to stay still for my nausea’s sake, I slid my hands across and down my body, looking for a clue or hint of what might have happened to me last night. I was scared to even think the word that hung unsaid on the tip of my tongue.

You weren’t raped. You’ve never been raped.

I thought it again. I thought it half a dozen times.

It was a familiar mantra, and it helped about as much now as it had then . . .not at all.

No matter how many times I thought it, no matter that there was nothing torn or painful, I couldn’t stop the tears choking at the back of my throat.

If someone was going to drug and rape me, they wouldn’t have left me in this nice hotel room. There were no marks or bruises that I could find. I was making a big deal out of nothing.

I always made a big deal out of nothing.

So, I pushed it away. I forced myself off the floor. I willed myself into the shower stall and turned the water as hot as I could stand it.

I kept chanting, You’re fine. Nothing happened. You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re always fine.

And I was fine . . . until I wasn’t.

Until the warm water hit my face, and a sob wrenched from my lungs. Until my legs gave out, and my knees slammed into the tile. Until I could no longer pretend that this epic failure was the trip of a lifetime and was going to miraculously show me whatever path my life was supposed to take. That it was going to fix me.

If I couldn’t manage to be happy here in this gorgeous, exotic city, how could there be any hope for the rest of my life? I had everything I could want, but it never stopped—the ache, the emptiness. Nothing ever satisfied it.

I sat on the shower floor and pulled my knees up to my chest. I leaned my head on my knees and let the water pelt my back.

I hated myself for the weakness, for my inability to just deal, but there comes a point when you’re so far down in the pit that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, not a pinprick or a soft glow. There is black and more black pressing into you, choking out the world. And asking how you got there and why you can’t get out is a pointless exercise because you’re too deep to do anything about it.

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