I didn’t know whether to cry or scream or collapse, and my body shook with the force of everything pent up inside me.

I scoffed. “Yeah, I can see how you just did this all by accident. You accidentally followed me all over Europe, and accidentally got paid for it. Shit like that happens all the time.”

“I was going to tell you.”

“I don’t care. It wouldn’t have mattered. I told you about my parents. I told you about everything.”

“I know. I know. And I haven’t talked to your father in weeks. You saw the voice mails. I’ve not told him anything important.”

I was moving to dart around him, but I stopped cold.

“When was the last time?”

He hesitated.

“Damn it, Hunt. When was the last time you played spy for my father?”


Oh, God. I was going to be sick.


Prague was everything, the beginning of it all. We’d met before then, but I couldn’t even remember half of that now. Prague was where he’d spun my cares away on that merry-go-round. Prague was where he convinced me that I could find another place that felt like home, or another person even. Prague was when I’d started falling.

Goddamn it.

He continued, “You used your card at the hotel in Florence, and he called then on the room phone.”

I knew something had been strange about that phone call with the concierge. He’d lied to me.

“But Kelsey, I swear I didn’t say anything. And I made sure we left the same day.”

That was why we’d left and gone to Cinque Terre.

Even when I thought I was free, I wasn’t. I was a bird with clipped wings.

When I thought I was having the adventure of a lifetime, I was a dog on a leash taking a stroll through the park.

And when I thought I was in love, it was a lie.

I’d wanted a story, and this was it.

And, boy, wouldn’t it make a great one when I was old and unhappy and bitter.

It unfolded just like the rest of my life so far. A smile to my face, and a knife in my back. A hug in public, and a thinly veiled disdain at home. A pretty face and a rotten soul.

I was a fool to think my reflection had changed.

“I checked in when we got to Prague, while you were in the bathroom looking for Jenny. I still knew so little about you, and the night with the roofie had scared me. I didn’t know what I was dealing with. But that was the last time. Once you and I started getting to know each other, I ignored his emails and his calls.”

“Did you tell him I’d been roofied? Did he even blink a fucking eye?”

“I didn’t tell him. I thought . . . I thought that would come better from you.”

“Too bad. You missed your shot to see just how much my family can suck.”

“I know you’re angry, and you have every right to be. But please . . . just listen. Just let me explain.”

“It doesn’t matter what your explanation is. Don’t you get that, Jackson?”

“No one’s called me Jackson since before I joined the military. No one but you.” “That’s supposed to make me feel better?”

“Jackson was the old me. The kid from a fucked-up family where money was more important than love and society more important than the individual.”

“If you’re trying to bond with me, it’s too damn late.”

“By age seventeen, I was having a glass of whiskey for breakfast. I had to be completely smashed just to get out of bed. I drank myself out of college. I hurt myself and my friends and everyone who cared about me. Even when I was trying not to, I hurt people. I guess I’m still doing that.”

I felt the tears gathering in my throat, and I tried to will them down.

Quiet and cold, I said, “I guess you are.”

“I joined the military mostly to piss off my father, not unlike your reasons for going on this trip.”

I hated that he thought he knew me. And hated even more that he did.

“At first, I was miserable there, too. I got in trouble. I pissed people off. I pissed myself off. But then I got transferred to a new unit, and . . . they got me. Don’t get me wrong, they called me out on my bullshit and beat me into place, but they understood and they helped. They were like family. My first real taste of what it was supposed to be like. I got sober. Slowly, and with a lot of missteps and failures. But I got there. And life started to look up. I started to believe that things could be better. That I could be better. You would have thought I was in paradise rather than Afghanistan for the way I felt. I couldn’t have been happier. Then one day we were following intelligence and checking out an old meetinghouse that was supposed to have been abandoned. Only it wasn’t. The thing blew with my unit inside. I was near a window, and managed to jump and avoid the brunt of the blast. But I separated my shoulder when I landed and had half a dozen bones broken by debris. In a flash, I lost everything I’d gained. I was medically discharged, and I spent the next six months going to five AA meetings a week just to keep from diving into a bottle of booze to forget that I’d ever known what it was like to be happy.”

“Did you forget?” I asked, my jaw clenched. Part of me wanted to rub salt in his wound, and the other part wanted to know if there was hope.

“Not for a second.”

“Good,” I ground out.

“My father is the one who brought me the job. Your father wanted someone to keep an eye on you and make sure you didn’t do anything stupid. Who better than a soldier to keep you safe? I said okay to get my dad off my back. I thought it would be an easy job. Good money, free traveling, and maybe the chance to take my mind off my problems. But then I watched you falling into my old patterns. I watched you heading down the same road, and I just wanted to save you from it. I wanted to keep you from going through what I went through.”

“So you pitied me? Fantastic. Please keep talking. You’re making me feel so much better.”

“I didn’t pity you. I hated you.”

“Keep it coming, Casanova.”

“I hated you because you made me face my past. But once I did that . . . once I acknowledged it, I started to notice the ways you were different from me. I meant what I said in Germany, Kelsey. You burn so brightly and beautifully. You light up a room when you walk into it. I watched people flock to you city after city, bar after bar. You just . . . even at your most miserable, you had more life in your pinky than I had in my whole body. And when I stopped hating you, I started wanting you. And then I didn’t stand a chance. I tried to stay away, but I just . . . I couldn’t.”

He looked at me with such longing that my heart seemed to turn, like his eyes were a magnet, trying to pull it from my chest.

I believed him. There was too much pain in his voice and shame in his body to not believe that he hadn’t meant for this to happen. But that didn’t take my pain away or my shame at being fooled.

I waited to make sure he was done talking, and then I said, “Okay.”

I turned to walk away and he yelled at my back, “Okay? That’s it?”

“Yes, okay. I understand. Thank you for explaining. Goodbye Hunt.”

“Don’t go, Kelsey. Please. I’m sorry. I’ve never been more sorry. I was going to tell you everything as soon as I thought you were strong enough to handle it.”

I stopped, but didn’t turn around as I said, “Of course, I can handle it. It’s nothing, really. Just another thing that wasn’t real.” I could feel myself falling back into that familiar pit, that place where I’d wasted so many years. “It was just another thing that doesn’t count.”


A month later, and I still couldn’t run fast enough to get away.

I tried Greece.

The ruins reminded me of Rome.

The islands reminded me of Capri.

It all reminded me of Hunt.

So, I moved on.

Germany had too many castles.

Austria, too.

Every river bisecting a city sent me running.

Every playground played my heart, and I lost.

You don’t realize how many bridges there are until the sight of one collapses something inside of you.

I came close to giving up hope, to believing that I would never find a place that could ever feel like home. I couldn’t return to the place I grew up. That house was a graveyard, a memorial to things lost and problems gained. And some part of me ached in every new place, like old wounds that protested at every shift in the weather.

But then I realized when no place felt like home, I had one other option. In Madrid, I found a quiet spot in my hostel, which translated to a maintenance closet full of cleaning supplies that itself probably hadn’t been cleaned in decades.

I settled my laptop on my knees, and Bliss answered my Skype call in seconds with a banshee scream.

“Oh my God. Never wait that long to call me again. My crazy has reached embarrassingly new heights in your absence.”

My voice choked over the words, “You? Crazier than you were? Impossible.”

“Kelsey? Are you there? It sounds like you’re breaking up.”

Breaking apart was more like it.

I pressed my fist against my lips, hard. Bones pushed against teeth, both as strong as I wanted to be.

“I’m here,” I said. “Can you hear me now?”

“Now I can. Loud and clear, love.”

“Oh, honey. Stop talking like your boyfriend. It’s just creepy without the accent.”

“Jetting around the world made you judgmental.”

“All that sex you’re having must have damaged your brain because I’ve always been judgmental.”

Bliss laughed and then sighed on the other line, and I wondered if I would have sounded like that if I’d ever gotten around to telling her about Jackson before all this.

“Oh my God, Kels. I can’t even. I think I might actually be addicted to him.”

I made a sound that fell somewhere between a laugh and a groan because I knew what that felt like. And withdrawals were a bitch.

“Just enjoy it,” I said. While it lasts.

“What’s the matter?” Bliss asked.

“What do you mean?”

I thought I’d been hiding it well. God, was I such a mess that it just seeped out of me and across international phone connections?

“You’ve got that sound,” she said. “Your acting voice.”

“I don’t have an acting voice.”

“Oh, honey. You do. You know . . . it’s that thing where your voice gets deeper, and you suddenly have very good enunciation. You get louder too, projecting like having a deafening volume makes you more believable. It’s an actor tick. We all have one. Now fess up and tell me what’s wrong.”

I thumped my head back against the wall and sighed. “Everything. It’s all wrong.”

“Well . . . start at the beginning. Tell me what went wrong first.”

That much was easy. “Me.”

Telling Bliss about my childhood was both shockingly easy and incredibly difficult.

Over the years, I’d learned how to twist the truth about my past, so that I could participate when friends told childhood stories without giving up my secrets. Like any other role I played, I took liberties. I painted a picture of the cool, rebellious girl with an appetite for adventure. Now I had to break that illusion to reveal the real girl, not cool or rebellious . . . just lost.

And though it was a hard story to start, it was easy to keep going. I told her about Mr. Ames and my parents. And I told her about how I’d learned to cope and that that only ruined me more in the end.

I told her everything.

Except for Hunt.

I opened my mouth to say something, but the words just wouldn’t come. I didn’t know how to talk about him without disintegrating into despair. I couldn’t explain what he’d done to me without explaining how different he’d been, how different I’d been with him. I wasn’t a relationship kind of girl. And maybe Hunt and I hadn’t had a real relationship, but it was the realest thing I’d ever had. Which only served to make me realize even more how twisted I’d let myself get. If I tried to talk about him . . . I’m not sure what would happen, but the clenching in my stomach told me that I was scared. Scared of falling for him all over again in my mind, only to have to relive hitting bottom.

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