Page 27

“If he had known you recognized him, he might have fled. But I’m confident he’ll be picked up fairly quickly and charged. His case had already been flagged by the mayor,” Lance said, looking at me. I felt gratitude to Gavin for helping me in that small way, when he didn’t even have to.

“As long as you’re willing to identify him in a lineup?” Lance asked.

“Of course,” Bennett said.

“How do we know he won’t run now?” Mom asked, her eyes laced with fear.

“I guess there’s still that possibility,” I said finally. “But I made it seem like we didn’t want any more trouble. Just hope he bought it.”

Mom knelt in front of me and grabbed my hands. “I’m so sorry, baby. About everything.”

I had finally gotten my apology, on a street corner, in the middle of all of this chaos. The relief I felt overwhelmed my senses, and I couldn’t control the tears leaking from my eyes. Or stop my hands from shaking as my mother grasped them in hers. “I know you are, Mom.”

Lance accompanied us to file the reports and used his contacts to expedite the order. The detective on the case said they had Tim’s home and work addresses and that he was bound to show up one place or the other today. Mom also provided the names of some local bars he frequented, which was helpful, but made me roll my eyes.

After all was said and done, Bennett drove us home. Blood was still caked to his hair and shirt. But other than the bruise forming above his cheekbone, he only admitted to feeling sore. He wouldn’t even let me drive.

I was so thankful that he wasn’t more hurt. And I prayed the whole way home that Tim would be picked up soon. Lance assured us that our local police department was on alert and would increase security on our street.

I was pretty sure I’d only feel safe if I moved out of my building, but in the meantime, I needed to take one day at a time. One hour at a time.

It felt like I’d never rid Tim from my life. And now Bennett was undeniably involved. What a huge-ass mess.

Bennett parked in the back lot and we headed inside. “Let’s get your stuff. You’re staying with me tonight, and every night, until I know it’s safe,”

Bennett said. I didn’t argue the point. I knew he was right. He’d also called our landlord on the way home and alerted him of the situation.

While I was in my room gathering clean clothes, I avoided looking at that same window that Tim had attempted to break through. I figured my life would look starkly different right then had Bennett not come home when he did that night.

I shut off my bedroom light and was headed toward the living room when I got a call from Lance. I put him on speakerphone.

“They’ve got him,” he said, out of breath. I sank down on the edge of the couch. “Snatched him at his job. Boss said he had gotten there late because of some fractured ribs.”

Bennett kissed my forehead, and I couldn’t help allowing a small smile.

“Oh my God.” I laid my head back against the cushions, relief coursing through me. “Thank you for all of your help, Lance.”

“Wait, Avery, there’s more.”

Bennett stopped pacing and looked at me, concern in his eyes.

“O . . . kay.” I braced my fist to my knee.

“There was a warrant out for his arrest in another county . . . for attempted rape.”

Bennett was immediately next to me, rubbing my shoulders while I inhaled a sharp lungful of air.

“You . . . you’re kidding.”

I guess I had always known in the back of my mind that I couldn’t have been the only one.

Someone else out there had told. They were braver than I was. And in that moment I said a silent thank you to whoever that girl was.

I hoped against hope that she had had the support and trust and love that I had never had.

Until now.

“There’s still a chance he could get out on bail,” Lance said as reality slammed back into me. “But if these charges stick, he’ll be going away for a long time.”

I couldn’t stop the fat trails of tears coursing down my face. “Thank you again for everything, Lance.”

“You’re very welcome. If we got another bastard off the street, then I’ve done my job.”

I sat up and took a deep breath. “Is Mom there with you?”

“Um, yeah,” he said, awkwardly. I pictured him at our kitchen table, mom already whipping up dinner, like she’d done for him a couple years ago. “Yeah, she is.”

“Can you put her on the phone for a minute?”

“Of course.”

“Oh, and Lance? One more thing.” I stood up and stared out the window at the street lamps flashing on. “Treat my momma right.”

I looked back at Bennett, shocked by my own declaration.

But he got it. He understood why I’d said it. A ghost of a smile touched his lips, and he winked.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

After I chatted with my mom for five minutes more and asked her to have Adam call me, Bennett and I went up to the fifth floor.

He wanted me with him, and I needed to be there, too. My apartment just didn’t feel right, for tonight. It was filled with coiled shadows, whispered threats, and murky recollections.

I’d rather work through all of those emotions in the daytime, when I could recall all the brighter and sweeter memories I’d created in my first-floor apartment.

I placed my overnight bag in his room while he thirstily guzzled a tall glass of water in his kitchen.

He looked exhausted and worn, and I had the strong urge to take care of him.

“Let’s go,” I said. “I’m putting you in the shower.”

We both undressed and stood beneath the stream of hot water. I carefully shampooed the blood out of Bennett’s hair, checking for any other injuries. Then I washed his body, delicately stroking the washcloth around the bruise that had formed on his rib cage.

“I can’t believe you did that for me,” I said.

I was talking about several things at once. The potential break-in. The fight with Tim. Driving to court with me in the first place that morning.

“Nobody’s going to harm one hair on your precious head, if I have anything to do with it,” he said.

“Although you certainly kicked the shit out of Tim. He didn’t know what hit him.”

I smiled and leaned my head into his chest, feeling the water wash down my back as he rinsed shampoo from my hair.

“I want you in my life for a very long time,” Bennett said, lifting my face with his hands. “Avery, I lo—”

I sealed my mouth over his before he could get the words out. He hadn’t told me he loved me since that note with the flowers. Maybe he’d been waiting for me to say it back. Maybe he didn’t want to overwhelm or rush me.

But I didn’t need to hear the words fall from his lips right then. I already knew how he felt. He had already showed me plenty today.

Our kiss turned passionate—all lips and tongue and slick bodies. His hardness bumped against my stomach, sending a shock wave through me.

I reached down, stroked him lightly, and felt him throb between my fingers.

“Let me take care of you.” I knelt down and flicked my tongue against his skin.

“God, Avery,” he groaned.

Just as my lips were sealing around his tip, he reached for my arms and pulled me up. His eyes were dark—so dark—with need.

“I want to feel connected to you,” he growled against my lips. “I need to be inside you. Right now.”

His gruff voice sent a path of gooseflesh between my thighs. I reached for one of the condoms that he now stored in his bathroom drawer and helped wrap it over his taut skin.

He lifted me up as if I weighed nothing at all. Like he didn’t have any bruised ribs. I wrapped my legs around his waist, and he pinned me against the shower wall.

He thrust into me, whipping all lucid thought out of my head. It was just him and me in our own little perfect bubble.

And it felt so amazingly right, when everything that had happened that day felt so infuriatingly wrong.

His grip tightened on my thighs as he nestled himself deeper. My head fell back against the cool tiles, and I moaned out his name.

“Baby,” he whispered, and then gave me a slow and molten kiss that stole my breath away. All of my muscles went liquid, and I was thankful that he was holding me up.

When he moved against me, it wasn’t with the hungry need I’d anticipated, given his haste to make love. It was with a maddening fluidity that made me shudder against him.

A yearning flickered inside my chest and radiated outward. Nothing in the world mattered except the drugging rhythm of his body and the soothing murmur of his voice.

A cry wrenched from my throat and my muscles jerked as he pushed me higher against the wall and drove himself in more deeply.

My pleasure turned into a raging inferno as my breath caught and my mouth fell open. “Oh God, Bennett. Yes.”

We both came fast and hard, like we had poured all of the turmoil and chaos of the day into each other.

Afterward, we lay on his bed kissing, wrapped in nothing more than his soft and warm sheets.

I didn’t know what was going to happen after today. There was uncertainty and confusion and a good amount of fear.

But at that moment I was so glad to be enveloped in the arms of this beautiful man who I cared for unfathomably.

Who would never make me feel unsafe or invisible.

Who would protect my heart and my body.

If only I’d let him.

I broke out of a kiss to catch my breath and traced my fingers over his swollen cheek.

Then my lips found his ear. “Ask me what I’m feeling right now.”

“In five words or less?” he said, a smile quirking his lips.

I kissed his forehead. “Of course.”

He cleared his throat. “Ms. Michaels, please tell me what you’re feeling this very instant in five words or less. And no cheating.” I sat up and straddled him, my lips close to his, our eyes locked in one long unblinking look.

“Fierce . . . intense . . . toe-curling . . . love.”

And then I poured all of those words into a kiss, leaving him panting and breathless.

Making sure he felt all of my truths to the very depths of his heart.

And in all the spaces between.