Three Months Later
I am in Denver, Colorado, far from Texas. My phone has been ringing off the hook ever since the night I left—Shaylin telling me she’s worried and Wilder asking if I am okay. It hurts that they are worried, but I can’t take a chance of my parents finding out where I am.
I turn my phone back off. I stare at the grimy wall in front of me, stained with God knows what. I am in another seedy hotel.
I have gone from hotel to hotel. Every new place I stay fills my heart with dread. Occasionally, I settle in one place for a longer stretch, but then I have to move again.
They always find me.
My mother has put me down my entire life, but it’s the stepbrother who truly makes me afraid. He’s ruthless when it comes to going after what he wants, and what he wants is me. I won’t allow him to have me.
All I want is to be happy, have peace, and live my life the way I want to. My mother will make sure that never happens; she thinks I owe her for giving me life and raising me. She may have raised me for the first couple of years, but the moment I was able to understand what was going on around me, I was left to take care of myself.
One of the biggest things I battle in my life is being hard on myself and focusing on my flaws, and a year ago I could not look someone in the eye—instead I’d hang my head. I am still self-conscious, and it kills me that I am that way, but it’s a habit that is not easily broken.
I am that person in the corner hiding from people. I am someone people pass without a second glance. I am mediocre at best, but one thing I want more than anything is for someone to love me. But I come with too much baggage. How can someone accept me when I can barely accept myself?
Stop it, Joslyn! Don’t go down this path. I am the product of my mother’s biting words.
“I will not let it define me,” I whisper to myself, closing my eyes tightly. This is something I have told myself over and over for the past year: I am more than her words. Then all of this keeps happening to me.
I let out a deep breath and push myself off the bed, which is hard as a rock with covers stiff as cardboard. I grab my bag and step out into the morning air. The door creaks as I shut it. I will be staying here for the next two days, allowing myself to rest. I am physically and emotionally drained.
I head toward a diner right down the road with my head to the ground, trying to blend in as much as possible. My hair is in my face, and I’m wearing a baggy shirt and even baggier pants. My stomach is growling. I haven’t eaten anything in two days besides a bag of chips, because I have been on a bus. I push my backpack higher on my shoulders and hurry to the diner.
I choose a seat facing the room. The menus are already sitting on the table. I open one and stare at it, my eyes becoming blurry with tears.
I feel so alone.
My nose burns as I attempt to choke back the tears.
“What can I get you to drink?”
I jump at the sudden voice next to me. The waitress’s eyebrow is arched at me, and her pen is poised on the pad.
I clear my throat. “I would like a water,” I say in almost a whisper. She studies my face, and I look down because that’s all I need: someone asking questions right now.
I let out a deep breath when she walks away. My breath hitches, and I clench my hands together trying to feel any emotion other than anxiety.
I will, once again, become accustomed to the sadness and loneliness, and I will thrive. I always do. Being alone is something that I am good at.
* * *
Later That Night
Oh my God. Why me? I take off running. Did I just see my stepbrother getting off a bus a block from my hotel?
All day long I was out getting necessities and scoping out the town, and I was just heading back to my room. How could he have found me? I don't understand! I rub my face roughly, and my body is shaking uncontrollably. I just got here yesterday. Does he have a tracking device on me? Is he hacking me somehow? My knees buckle and I hit the ground with a thud, making me bite my tongue. I sob and fall forward, my forehead hitting the carpet.
I sniff and rise, drying my eyes. Everything in me wants to call Shaylin. I want to go home, and I want to feel safe. I don’t want to be alone anymore. I want my bed, I want my job back, and I want to be surrounded by my friends. I want my life back.
Shaylin has tried and tried to get me to tell her where I am; she has begged me to let her help me. I told her that I was running from something, but maybe it’s time to let someone help me for once?
With shaky hands I take my phone out of my pocket. I power it on and call Shaylin, my former boss, who was also my best friend. She answers on the fourth ring. “Joslyn?” she says in shock, and a tear slides down my cheek.
“It’s me,” I whisper and lean back against the bed.
Her words come out in a rush. “Where have you been?”
“I have been running from my stepbrother, Robert. He found me in Texas, with the help of my mom and her new man. I am in Colorado and he has found me again. He wants me, and he won’t take no for an answer. He will kill me if he sees me again.” My words are rushing out so fast I am not sure she understands me.
“Why didn’t you come to me?” she asks softly.
I clench the phone in my hand, my eyes going to the ceiling. “When you have been alone your whole life, that’s all you know…to depend on yourself. I never thought to ask for help. I have been dealing with my problems myself since I was a kid.”
“I understand that, Joslyn, but we love you and we would have kept you safe. We are coming to get you.”
“Okay,” I say softly.
“Tell me what hotel you’re staying at and in what city.”
I rattle it off to her.
“Someone will be there soon.” She hangs up, and I put the phone down on the floor. My heart feels light for the first time in a long, long time. A lot of girls have problems that are a lot worse than mine, but fear controls my life. Fear is all I have known—anxiety is a part of my life every single day.
My whole life, my mom has put me down and filled our home with a steady parade of men who are not nice people. I have seen too much fighting and sex.
As I said fear controls my life. I fear what could happen to me. I crave security and safety. I crave safety like it’s my next breath.
God, what would that be like? To smile and be carefree, not worrying about my next meal or a million different things.
I am not a badass chick, by any means, or someone who can kick ass and take names. I am me, I am Joslyn. I am five feet three inches tall and one hundred and forty pounds, but one thing I know is I am not weak. Even when life has gotten me down, I have carried on—that is one thing I will always do, because I have hope for a better life.
The Next Day
After three months of being apart, I am so close to her.
Joslyn has tortured me from the moment I laid eyes on her. She is so fucking beautiful, and she doesn’t even know it. She is so fucking shy that she stares at the ground blushing when she is around me.
She left before I could take her ass out. I understand why she did it, but that doesn’t make me less angry. She has been alone her whole fucking life, and that’s all she knows.
And now I am standing outside her hotel room. After being away from her for three months, I am so close to seeing her again.
I bang on her door. “Jos, it’s me.” It’s complete silence for a few seconds, and the door cracks open, revealing Joslyn.
Her hair is hanging around her face, which is pale and filled with exhaustion. She is wearing baggy clothes that hide her figure, and she looks completely shocked to see me in front of her.
“Wilder? I didn’t know you were coming.” She says this softly and looks behind me into the hallway nervously.
I wish a motherfucker would pop around the corner. It would save me from tracking his ass down—I could go ahead and put a bullet between his eyes.
“Get your shit, Darlin’, I have another hotel booked.”
She backs away from the door as I push it open, and she picks up a backpack off the floor.
She nods and stands beside me in the hallway. Her head comes up to the middle of my chest. Fuck, she’s tiny.
She tucks a piece of hair behind her ear and looks at everything but me. I shut the door and put my hand on the small of her back, leading her down hallways and away from this hotel, which is filled with prostitutes and people higher than a fucking kite. She does not belong here.
She walks closely beside me. She moves her head side-to-side, and I can see a light tremor—her body is fucking shaking with fear.
I hold the door to the entrance of the hotel open and unlock my rental truck. She startles at the sound.
“It’s okay, Darlin,” I tell her and she ducks her head in embarrassment. As she climbs into the truck, she turns toward me. “Seriously, Wilder, thank you.”
“It’s no problem.” I wink and she looks away.
I shut the door and chuckle under my breath. When I get in the truck, she is sitting stiff as a board twisting the strap of her backpack.
“I am fucking starving, what do you want to eat, Darlin’?”
She startles once again, making me feel like shit. I hate the fact that people have made her fucking feel this way.
From the corner of my eye, I watch as she swallows and studies the seat, as if thinking about what to say.
She looks at me, her bottom lip between her teeth. “I am fine with anything,” she finally answers, and I pull up to a steakhouse. I need some real food after all of that airplane shit. I came straight to the motel after I got off the plane. When I turn off the ignition, she pushes the backpack off her lap and pulls out her wallet.
“Put that away, unless you need your ID to drink.” I catch her shocked look as I step out of the truck.
Close your mouth, Joslyn, you look like an idiot. You can’t even speak around him without making yourself look dumb. It’s just the little things that seem to shock me, like the way he speaks to me it’s like he cares and when he calls me Darlin’.
I have never had a guy tell me to put my wallet away because he was buying. On the rare occasions I’ve gone out with someone, I have always paid for everything myself. And these relationships have always epically failed, reaching a point where I dreaded even being in the guy’s presence.
I squeak in shock when he opens my door. I was lost in thought and didn’t notice him. He raises his hand, and I place my hand in his as I slide down from the seat. My hand stays in his for a second too long, causing my stomach to flip, and I slowly move it away, my cheeks flushing.
“Come on, Honey.”
My stomach flutters at the sound of his deep voice. I lick my bottom lip. He touches the small of my back, and my breath hitches. I am not used to being touched, so I usually cringe and find a way to avoid it. It makes me uncomfortable. But with Wilder touching my back? I feel safe. He looms next to me like a sentinel, and I find that so comforting. I have been scared for so long—but right now I’m not, and it’s hard to wrap my head around that.
I barely notice us walking through the restaurant entrance.
“Two,” he grumbles. The room is semi-empty because it’s three o’clock and usually everyone is at work right now.
As we follow the waitress, we pass a booth filled with guys, and I sense their eyes on me. I look at the ground. Wilder rubs my back soothingly and pulls me closer.
My nose burns with tears. I don’t know how he knows, but the thought of someone noticing what I’m feeling is almost too much. Anxiety is a crippling thing.
“Here you are.” The waitress places two menus on the table, and we slide into a booth facing each other. She takes out her pad, her pen poised. “What can I get you to drink?” Her eyes are on me.
“Water, please.” I tuck my hair behind my ear, opening my menu. My mouth waters at the thought of a steak, baked potato, and veggies. I have been living off junk food these past months. I don't want to spend his money like that though, so I will just get a salad, which is the cheapest thing on the menu.
The waitress comes back a few minutes later. “Are you guys ready to order?”
I look at Wilder and he nods. “I will take a salad.”
“Joslyn.” I give him a sheepish look. “Order more, Babe, you’re too little.”
I snort with laughter. “I will take a six-ounce ribeye steak with a loaded baked potato with a side of grilled veggies.”
He winks and orders almost the exact same thing, but a much bigger steak and double the sides.
“Your food will be done shortly.” She walks away, leaving me and Wilder alone. He stares at me, and I don’t know what to do or say. I place my hands in my lap, twiddling my thumbs.
“Why didn’t you tell us before you left?” he asks and I sigh deeply. Well, he didn’t beat around the bush, did he?
I shrug. “I am so used to handling everything myself the thought never crossed my mind. I have always done everything alone, and I don’t want to be a burden to anyone.”
His face softens, and he leans over the table so his face is much closer to mine. “That is an honorable trait, Baby, but you will never have to handle anything alone again. You have friends, Joslyn.”
What do I say to that? How do I react? “Wilder—”
His hand in the air halts me. “Don’t argue.” He leans back in his seat. I arch an eyebrow at his bossiness. He looks so gruff and tough sitting there with tattoos covering his arms and parts of his neck. Don’t forget that beautiful beard and the cut on his back, making him look badass and intimidating.
He leans forward again, and one of his arms, which is resting on the table, brushes against mine. His eyes darken in thought, and I hold my breath waiting for what he’s about to say next because, whatever he’s thinking, it’s got him furious.
His head tilts to the side before he grins evilly. I gulp and twist my fingers in my lap. “Also, don’t worry about the fucker harassing you. He is good as fucking dead.”
Did he really just say that? He sits back in his seat and stares me down. He means it alright.
I lick my parched lips, and I shakily reach forward to touch his arm. “I don’t want you to do that.” I close my eyes because that’s a lie; Robert being dead means he can’t bother me anymore. “I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
He laughs loudly, startling me. “Baby, I won’t get in trouble. I am the VP of the Grim Sinners.”
“Oh.” I don’t know what else to say.
He asks me a few questions, which I answer with a simple “yes” or “no.” I wish to God that I didn’t analyze my every word. I feel like if I say one little thing wrong everything will come crumbling down around me, leaving me all alone once again.
“Here you are.” The waitress interrupts my thoughts by putting my food in front of me.
“Our plane leaves at ten o’clock in the morning,” Wilder informs me.
“Okay.” I nod, smiling slightly. Going back means I am far, far away from Robert.