While the guys pant and heave on the floor of the workout room, Boo silently motions for me to come with her.
She leads me to the kitchen and when we enter, we look at each other and release the laughter we’ve been holding back from what we just witnessed. Wiping away tears of mirth, we start lunch.
“What do you feel like today?”
Opening the fridge, I search for something I haven’t had in a while. “I don’t know. I want something different today. Like an old favorite.”
Boo’s eyes widen. “Peanut butter and jelly?”
I feign disinterest. “Depends. What kind of jelly we got?”
Please say grape! Please say grape!
Spinning on her heel, she turns to the pantry and peers inside. “Hmmm. We have strawberry.”
“Put me down for two with grape jelly, me thinks.”
She nods in agreement. “Me too.” Looking around the kitchen, she utters, “This’ll only take a minute to get ready. You wanna let the guys know?”
I walk up the stairs and my calves ache and burn with every stiff step I take. A workout with Nox is hell, but I see my body changing. My muscle definition has started to show and I like it. When I reach the final step, I mentally pat myself on the back for not crawling.
Seeing Rock in the hall, I yell out, “PB and J for lunch. Boo says to come down asap.”
At hearing PB and J, he shakes his butt suggestively as if doing a touchdown victory dance, and I chuckle. No one ever accused Rock of being shy.
Shaking my head at his craziness, I walk past him when I hear, “You know, I haven’t seen him this happy in…well, ever.”
Turning, Rock leans on the wall wearing a sweet smile, “And I’ve never seen you glow like you do these days. So I’m gonna say this is a good thing. You won’t get trouble from me, but Boo…she worries. So don’t give her too much shit for trying to be sane, okay?”
Always looking out for his woman. I love that.
Nodding, I tell him, “I know, Rock. And I get why she’s wanting us to be cautious, but honestly, I’ve been cautious my whole life, and right now I just want to be with Nox.”
Seeming to like my answer, his eyes crinkle, then he turns and walks down the stairs.
I make my way into our bedroom and see clothes tossed onto the chair by the bathroom. I call out, “Nox?”
The shower turns on and he calls back, “In here.”
I walk into the open bathroom and freeze. I freeze because Nox is showering. He is showering naked. And I can see his pee-pee.
This is the first time I’ve seen his special ferret , and it’s got my brain frazzled.
Standing under the spray of the water, he runs his hands over his face to wipe the water off, opens his eyes, and sees me standing there. He asks, “You need something, princess?
But all my brain is interested in is staring openly at his junk.
He tries again. “Baby, what’s up?”
This snaps me out of it. Sort of. But not really. Swallowing hard, my eyes drift down past his stomach again and I murmur, “Boo asked me to tell you that lunch will be ready in a few.”
Soaping up and washing himself, he replies, “What’re we having?”
“Penis butter and jelly .”
Slapping a hand to my forehead, I cringe. “Peanut butter and jelly.”
I see him smirk, but he doesn’t say a thing.
“Sounds good. Gimme a sec,” he says.
And I’m good with waiting. The view is spectacular.
Still eyeing his long, thick semi-erect penis, I ask distractedly, “What do you want to dick?”
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
“What do you want to drink?” I quickly add.
Body shaking with silent laughter, he can’t hide his amusement. “A coke will do.”
Oh dear Lord, his dick is getting bigger! It’s inflating like a balloon.
How on earth does it fit?
My eyes widen at the show I’m getting. I feel like I should be in biology class or something.
I repeat his order. “Sure, babe. One cock. I mean cock. I mean coke!”
Flushing bright red, I exit the bathroom in a rush to the sound of Nox’s laughter.
Gettin’ real tired of your shit, Nox!
You know what’s beautiful?
I watch her get ready for bed, and the sight of her is heart stopping. But my mind wanders.
Mechanically undressing, I walk into the bathroom and splash ice-cold water onto my face. I shouldn’t do it. Really, I shouldn’t. But something pushes me.
I don’t like secrets.
I watch her closely. My mind tries to capture her. An image that I can take with me when this is all over.
Looking at Lily is like looking into a flame. There’s a glow surrounding her, and it burns so bright that it hurts to look at her for a long while.
But that while?
It’s worth the hurt.
Dressed in a black tank and panties, she smiles up at me and try as I fucking might, I can’t return it. I can’t return it because I’ve got to do something really shitty right now. Something that will change her, yet again.
Climbing into bed, I sit facing her. Her face searches mine before I see worry seep into her eyes.
I have to tell her.
“Lily, there’s something I have to tell you…”
The calm before the storm
Nox telling me that Jamie Harrison organized the hit was a breaking point for me.
The brother of my heart. My friend and comrade in stupidity.
Once the tears start, I can’t stop them. I cry for a long time. Such a long time that Nox has to get up, bring me some water, and change our bed sheets, which are covered in tears.
They just won’t stop.
That’s what I feel. Complete and utter betrayal.
Through my tears, I ask, “Is there any chance you got it wrong?”
Nox shakes his head, wiping away my tears. “I’m sorry, baby. No. His apartment had everything we needed to rule out anyone else. We found the laptop the emails were sent from. In the search history, we found internet searches for websites linked to kidnapping and extortion.” His jaw steels. “There was a wall in his bedroom that was filled with pictures of you, Lily. Hundreds of pictures. And what’s worse is that one of those pictures was taken the day I came to get you.”
My stomach lurches. I don’t believe it. I can’t believe it.
It has to be a mistake. Jamie wouldn’t do this to me. He and Jett are my friends! We lived in the same house for almost a year, for Christ’s sake. He taught me how to swear in Gaeilge (Irish Gaelic) and even went as far as to take me places that my dad wouldn’t let me by playing the ‘she’ll be fine with me’ card.
My tears come harder knowing his friendship was all an act.
Betrayed and deceived, I don’t know how I’ll ever get past this.
Knowing I shouldn’t ask, but having to, I beg, “Tell me what happened the first time I was taken.”
Nox shakes his head. “Lily-”
I cut him off with, “Please. I need to know. Maybe then I’ll understand all this. Please help me understand.”
Nox rubs a hand over his face and sighs, “Okay, baby. I don’t know all the details, but I’ll tell you what I know.” Clearing his throat, he starts, “Your dad mentioned it when we first spoke over the phone, and when I couldn’t find a link with the information he’d given me, I thought he was just being paranoid.”
Sounds like my dad.
“He said that you were thirteen and you were at the warehouse on a Saturday. You climbed a tree because, apparently, that was your thing back then.” Smiling at me, he pushed my now-damp hair away from my face. “And you fell. Only you didn’t.”
I remember that! I broke my arm and passed out.
Nox explained, “You were pushed, Lily. When you fell, you fell hard, and passed out. Your dad said he never let you go far and always said for you to-”
We both said, “Stay close.”
My dad said that to me daily.
He nods. “He saw the whole thing, baby. And I heard it in his voice. The fear. It’s likely something he’ll never get over. Watching your kid be drugged and stuffed into the back of a van; I can’t even imagine what that would be like.”
My voice shudders, “No. No, that’s not what happened. I fell. I broke my arm and passed out. I woke up in the hospital.”
Nox takes my hand as he gently utters, “Baby. Yeah, you woke up in hospital. A week later.”
My stomach dips and my mouth parts, expelling a quick breath with a whoosh.
Feeling the color drain out of me, I ask, “Who was it?”
Nox shrugs. “Not anyone known to your father. An employee and his wife. Your dad got a lead early on from another employee who’d overheard something shady, and you were found the next morning in a cabin not far out. The wife was hysterical because you wouldn’t wake. She all but threw you to the medics that arrived, begging for them to help. A bit ironic that the person putting you in harm’s way didn’t want you harmed at all.”
He continues, “But I guess desperate times call for desperate measures. See, they had a son who was ill and needed money for an organ donation. They tried to get the money from other sources, but they just couldn’t get enough. They ran church fundraisers, appealed for help on television, even asked your father for money, which I’ll add, that he gave twenty-thousand dollars to. It just wasn’t enough. So, they tried for a ransom.”
Not caring about my story any longer, I ask softly, “What happened to him? The son.”
Nox shakes his head slowly and I’m suddenly overcome with emotion for this family I don’t know. Lowering my face into my hands, my body shakes with silent sobs.
He adds, “The husband and wife got jail time, but the husband took most of the wrap, so the wife got a suspended sentence with the help of your father. Not long after the husband was jailed, the son took a turn for the worst and didn’t make it in time for surgery. The wife killed herself a week later, and a week after that, the husband was also found dead in his cell.”
I can’t listen anymore. I choke out through shuddering breaths, “Stop. No more. I can’t. No more, please.”
That is a tragedy. A goddamn tragedy.
I’m overwhelmed by this information. And suddenly, nothing in my life seems all that bad anymore. Still sobbing, I whisper, “Why wouldn’t anyone help them?”
Nox’s face turns soft. “People tried to help, baby, but sometimes it’s not enough.”
Anger surges through me and I shout, “My dad could’ve helped them! He could’ve given them the money! The whole amount! We’re fucking rich, Nox!”
He looks me in the eye. He doesn’t respond. He can’t argue. He knows what I just said is accurate.
He holds me while I quietly cry myself to sleep.
“Baby, wake up.” This is whispered into my ear. I groan quietly and swat at the face by my ear, clipping his cheek. Nox chuckles, “C’mon, princess. Get up.”
My puffed and gritty eyes open and the room is completely dark.
As in, no sunshine dark. I look to the clock on the nightstand and it reads 5:47 am.
What the effing eff?
Pushing Nox away, I mumble, “Go away. Sleepy.”
His arms come around my waist, and he chuckles huskily, “Good morning, baby.”
I scoff, “This is not morning, Nox! This is the ass-crack of dawn.”
Pulling me close, he says, “Now you’re up, you can kiss me.”
Although that sounds mighty fine, reality reminds me to remind him, “You know, I have cotton mouth so bad, that my morning breath would make you pass out. So, no. And I’m pretty sure I have drool dried around my mouth from crying all night, too.”
Pulling my head into his chest, his body shakes with silent laughter. And I smile, wrapping my arms around him. Still thoroughly amused, he agrees, “Point taken. But once you brush your teeth, I get a kiss. Now get up and get dressed. We don’t have a lot of time.”
At this point, my confusion is such a constant state that people would have to start classifying me as special. “Where are we going?”
Getting out of bed, he states, “It’s a surprise. So get your shit together. And make it quick.”
Rolling out of bed, I put on my best sultry voice, “Oooh, baby. I love when you get mean.”
“Lily.” A firm warning.
We both shower and dress in a jiff. I put on a pair of sweats and a tank, but Nox takes one of his jackets and throws it over my shoulders. He dresses in his usual black cargo pants and a black tee, but adds a jacket and baseball cap. And, sigh, he looks like he just stepped out of a fitness magazine.
Reaching forward, I link our fingers. He whispers on a squeeze of my hand, “Gotta be quiet.”
We creep through the house, and as we reach the front door, I narrow my eyes as Nox picks up a pre-prepared bag left in the hall. Out through the front door, he walks us to a creepy-black stalker van, and my heart skips a beat.
We’re going out. As in, out! I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.
I all but skip to the van and Nox smiles big, shaking his head at me like I’m a dork. I even get to sit in the front seat. Sans blindfold!
Just as I buckle up, Nox pulls something out of his pocket and my face falls. “No!”
Nox gently pulls me to him, kisses my lips softly, and places the blindfold over my eyes.
Shit. And I thought we were past that.
Pouting with my arms crossed over my chest, Nox says, “You can pout all you want now, but as soon as we get out the car, you better lay one on me.” He adds, “You have no idea what I’m risking by sneaking you out.”