Candice looked like she wanted to argue, but she just nodded her head, dropped my phone on the bed, and gave me a hug before leaving the room. I waited until I heard the TV turn on before going to remove my clothes. I’d never had an issue with changing around Candice; we grew up with each other, it was normal for us. But if Candice was already acting weird anyway, seeing the scars her cousin had put on me was sure to make her start sobbing and apologizing to me over and over again. I didn’t want that. I had been upset when she didn’t believe me about Blake raping me, but I knew she had blinders on and thought Blake was perfect. None of what happened had been her fault; I didn’t blame her and hated when she blamed herself.

Taking a deep breath, I looked up at the mirror, and my chin trembled when I saw myself. It never got easier. In fact, I’m pretty sure it got harder. At least when the cuts had been fresh, I could make myself believe they would go away. But now that they’d all turned into scars, there was no way to keep telling myself that. But at least the haunting memories behind them were growing smaller each time.

For the first two months of therapy, I’d gone twice a week, and for the last month it’d only been once a week. I’d had my last session with Dr. Markowitz a few days ago, and I owed a lot to that woman. I’d never wanted to go to therapy after my parents’ death, and I wouldn’t have gone after what happened with Blake. But I was so glad Candice’s mom had all but forced me into a car and driven me there before they went back to California. Dr. Markowitz had helped me accept what had happened and learn to move on from it. I knew I couldn’t be afraid of something like this happening again, and most importantly, I knew I couldn’t blame myself for what had happened to Kash and Mason, Jenn, or the other three girls who were victims in the Carnation Murders.

Jason Ruiz was the man hired to follow Kash, and from what he said after he was arrested, the sentence Blake had said when he was supposed to be calling Ruiz off had been the signal to take Blake, Kash, and Mase out. Blake was disturbed, but he was smart. He made sure he would never go down for what he did. I just needed to be thankful for bulletproof vests, and for the fact that Kash had turned toward Mason at the last second so nothing major was hit.

After our apartment had been swept for cameras and bugs and the Jenkins family had gone back to California, Candice and I moved back in and I’d immediately looked up the Carnation Murders. I don’t know how I’d never heard of them, and I felt sick knowing every one of them was done by Blake and was because of me. I studied the pictures of the three women for hours, blown away by the similarities between them and me, and spent days grieving for their families and for the girls whose lives were cut too short all because they were unlucky enough to look like me. Getting past that guilt took five sessions with Dr. Markowitz and Candice hiding my phone and laptop from me for a few weeks so I couldn’t search anymore.

But I knew now that Blake was just a sick man. Always had been. I couldn’t blame myself for what he’d done to other women just like I couldn’t blame myself for what he’d done to me.

I looked down at the three-inch scars on each of my wrists and then glanced back up at the mirror as I traced the diagonal scars going across my torso before letting my fingers trail over the small scarred MINE on the left side of my chest. My breaths were shaky, but there were no tears. I wasn’t in danger of hyperventilating or passing out as I had many times after I first saw what Blake had done to me. This was part of my own therapy, facing the nightmare that was on my body until I was no longer hit with flashes of that early morning.

No flashes. No memories of Blake’s chilling words as I waited for someone to save me.

I smiled softly to myself and turned the shower on. Getting better all the time.


“COME ON IN, Ryan.”


I shut the door behind me and took a seat across from Chief. “Good afternoon, sir.”

“How are you holding up?”

I wanted to laugh out loud. I wasn’t. “Uh, I’m getting there.”

He nodded and tapped his pen against a stack of papers as he studied me. “Did your vacation help at all?”

“It gave me time to think, and that’s why I’m here.” Straightening in the chair, I took a deep breath and tried to hold his stare. “I think I should resign.”

The tapping pen stopped immediately. “Excuse me?”

“I didn’t do my job the way I should have. I let my relationship get in the way of what I was supposed to be doing, and because of that, someone got hurt.”

“Your fiancée.”

Ex. “Yes. If I had remained focused on what I was there for, none of that would have happened. We would have most likely caught West long before he could do anything.”

“You know, I spoke with Gates before I told you to take your vacation. He said you were blaming yourself for this, and I’ve got to tell you, I disagree with your assessment of the situation.” I started to argue but he continued. “I spoke with Detective Ryder in Austin, and from what he said, both you and Gates went above and beyond what was asked of you. You were supposed to be there looking for the killer at the bars, and I was told you would go in early and look through all the cameras, checking even the people who paid cash. That’s hours of extra work every week you weren’t asked to do and that weren’t expected of you. Ryder said he didn’t have a clue you were even dating someone, let alone engaged, until the meeting setting up the takedown of Blake West. That doesn’t sound like someone who lost focus on his job.”

“But, Chief—”

“And when I spoke with Gates, he told me about how your fiancée was being stalked by this same guy, and while you were doing your job, you were trying to take care of that without her knowing she was being stalked and without giving away your position. Both Ryder and Gates agree that if it had not been for you, Rachel Masters wouldn’t have been found in time. And Blake West would more than likely be a ghost to us. So I’m sure you can understand why I do not agree with you.”

Why didn’t anyone else understand this? “I let her—”

“Ryan, tell me something.” He waited until I was looking at him again before speaking. “Do you enjoy what you do?”

I sighed. “Of course I do.”

“And you like working in the gang division now?”

“I do.” To be honest, it was perfect.

“Then I’m not letting you quit. I can’t imagine how hard it must be that your fiancée went through that, but you’re being too hard on yourself. You’re good at what you do, I’m proud to have you and Gates working for me. Until you decide you hate it here or you find something better, I’m not going to let you leave.”

I ground my jaw and nodded once.

“Anything else?”

“No, Chief.”

“Then get your ass out of my office. You still have two days of vacation left.”

WHEN I GOT back to the apartment late that night, Mason was being more awkward than usual. I slammed the beer down on the coffee table and glared at him. “Can I help you? You’ve been staring at me for five minutes straight.”

“Did your dad say anything . . . about . . .”

“Jesus, Mase. About Rachel? Did he say anything about Rachel? Yeah, he did. So did Mom, and I know you probably put them up to it. But you have got to let it go; she wanted me gone.” Grabbing my beer again, I stood and headed for my room.

Three and a half months later, and I was worse now than when we’d moved back here. I snapped at everyone, I was in a constant state of being pissed off, and I spent hours each day thinking about everything I wished I could do over again. For the first couple months, I told myself I just had to give her time . . . wait for her to come back to me. But even Mason had stopped saying she would come around. Now he just kept trying to get me to go to her.

I froze and glared at the new addition to my bed for almost an entire minute before setting my beer on the dresser and walking over. I knew what would be in the black velvet box even though I hadn’t given Mason the box too. Picking it up in my left hand, I flipped the top open and snapped it shut again when I saw Rachel’s engagement ring nestled in the satin. Fisting my hand over the box, I put the hand to my mouth and grabbed the picture that had been lying underneath the box.

I don’t remember what had been happening; I don’t think we’d even realized someone had taken the picture. But we were in the girls’ apartment, Rachel was grabbing my shirt like she’d been pulling me toward her, and I had her cheeks cupped in my hands and was kissing her hard. Pain radiated through my body and I had to force my hand not to crumple up the picture.

My breaths came hard and fast through my nose as I turned and stormed back into the living room. “The fuck is this? Where did you get this?”

Mason leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms. “Candice sent the picture.”


“Kash, you can’t keep doing this to each other.”

I scoffed and turned back toward my room before spinning right back around and pointing the picture at myself. “I’m only doing exactly what she asked me to!”

“You’re both too damn stubborn to get over your own problems with the situation, but you both want each other. This is so fucking stupid! Grow a pair and go get her!”

Crumpling up the picture, I dropped it and the box on the sofa. “Mase, this ends. Now.”


I STOOD UNSTEADILY and waited for the feeling to come back into my legs before bending over and pressing my fingers to my lips and then the headstones. “Bye, Mom and Dad,” I whispered, and wiped the tears from my cheeks as I made my way back to Candice’s car, which I’d borrowed.

It’d taken me almost four and a half years to finally visit my parents’ graves, but I’d done it. I was happy I had gone and spent hours talking to them instead of writing today; it almost felt like I’d just gotten closure that I hadn’t realized I’d needed. I let my right hand trail over my worn journal sitting in the passenger seat next to me and smiled. I would always be glad I had finally gone, but my journals were all I needed. They helped me feel connected to my parents in a way those headstones never could.

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