kelly favor - book 1 - naked (naked)

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Post on 07-Apr-2016




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She's broken because of something that was done to her--something she can't even bear to think about. So she does the only thing she can think of...she runs. Away from her Ivy League college, away from her perfect life, and away from the man who hurt her. Only she runs straight into...Elijah


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Book 1

Kelly Favor

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Caelyn Murphy was in trouble.

The car that she was driving down I-95 at just past three in the morning was starting to make strangenoises, and the check engine light had come on, a brilliant and panicky yellow.

“No, no, no,” she moaned, taking her foot off the gas and trying to let the car coast a little whilebefore pressing the gas pedal again. The car was shaking now, vibrating as if someone had decided toturn it into a washer and set the cycle on “spin.”

She heard grinding noises, too—and couldn’t imagine any way those noises could be just a passingthing. Something had gone very, very wrong.

Caelyn wasn’t big on praying, but she started to pray now. She wiped her blonde hair away from herface, glancing at herself in the rearview mirror and being met by a pair of wide, frightened blue eyesand a pale complexion.

There was nobody else on the road—she hadn’t seen a car in probably half an hour, when she’dpassed the Charlton Plaza some miles back. There had been a few trucks and a couple of other lonelydrivers then, but afterwards it was just her on this dark and lonely highway, her headlights sweepingout in front of her car as she tried desperately to outrun the pain and fear of what had happened to herjust a couple of hours ago.

Pressing the gas seemed to do nothing but create ever more violent sounds from her automobile, andso Caelyn was once more forced to take her foot off the gas. She’d kicked her heels off and wasdriving barefoot. She was wearing the same skirt she’d had on all evening—the one that was too shortand had made her uncomfortable with how much leg it revealed—and it was ripped now, just a littlebit.

Glimpsing the ripped skirt out of the corner of her eye brought back memories that she was trying toforget. Caelyn closed her eyes tightly for a moment and shook her head, trying to force her mind toclear, focus on the present.

One of her knees was scraped raw, and it hurt.

Her low-cut top was stretched and misshapen from being yanked and pulled. But none of those thingsbothered Caelyn as much as the ache in her stomach and the burning between her thighs.

She bit her lip, wanting to scream. Her eyes were starting to fill up with tears, causing the road infront of her to double and triple in her field of vision.

Why was this happening, now, on top of everything else? Why was her stupid car betraying her too?

She pounded the steering wheel with the palm of her hand.

The car was clunking and grinding worse than ever and she was forced to slowly pull off to the

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shoulder. As she did so, the sound of tires rolling over gravel and sticks was an eerie reminder that,other than the sounds from her self-destructing car, the highway was almost completely silent at thistime of night.

Caelyn put the car in park, killed the struggling engine and grabbed her purse. All she’d brought onher trip was one small overnight bag with some clothes and other necessities hastily thrown inside.

Sticking out of the top of her purse was the postcard that had given her the crazy idea for this trip.“Greetings from Florida” was still visible at the upper edge of the card.

She pulled the card out of her purse and tossed it on the passenger seat as she dug into the bag andgrabbed her cell phone. She needed to call for help—not Triple A, since she didn’t have it.

Maybe a cab…but that would be beyond expensive on her incredibly limited budget.

The truth was, she didn’t have anyone she wanted to call.

Certainly not her parents. How could she explain the fact that she’d left the dorms in the middle of thenight and was now en route to Florida?

Sorry, Mom, but can you send someone to pick me up? I broke down on my way out of state. Oh,and by the way, sorry about the fact that I’m planning on leaving and flunking my freshman yearof college. I just needed to get away from it all.

Sure, that would work.

But now she had a different problem to deal with, and that was the fact that she wasn’t getting anyreception on her phone. It literally said no service. It wasn’t a one bar situation—it was a no barsituation, which meant that she might as well not have a phone at all.

And it was very, very dark outside. On either side of the wide interstate were only woods and morewoods, as far as the eye could see.

Her heart was beating fast. Especially after the night she’d had. The terror she’d experienced merehours ago hadn’t even dimmed yet--she’d just managed to push the thoughts and memories out of herhead. But now that she’d stopped moving, flashes from earlier in the night were coming back to her.Invading her mind.

Jayson, smiling.

The smell of pepperoni pizza sitting on the coffee table.

Her own voice, as if from a distance, screaming.

Caelyn suddenly threw the car door open and stumbled out, falling into the breakdown lane, her pursehitting the pavement as her hands and knees struck the ground, sending bolts of pain into her palmsand up her legs.

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Now she was crying, sobbing. There was the sound of an engine approaching in the distance, and thenheadlights clearing the rise. They were coming towards her.

Caelyn stood, picking up her purse and phone and backing out of the street as the oncoming vehiclesped towards her. In moments, it would be passing by.

Did she want to be seen?

It depended by whom. Out here, she was a sitting duck, and as bad as things had been earlier in theevening—her jangling nerves told her that things could get far worse.

If the wrong person stopped and saw a lone girl dressed scantily, with no means of transportation andno cell service in the middle of the night, on a deserted road…

The headlights belonged to a large truck. As it got closer, the truck seemed to slow almostimperceptibly. Caelyn shrunk backwards, her buttocks hitting the car door as the truck blew past,sending a ripple of wind and exhaust outwards.

And then it was gone, and she saw the break lights come on briefly in the distance before itdisappeared over the next rise.

The night was dark and quiet again.

Caelyn glanced down at her cell. Still no service, and the battery was low as well.

She started to walk away from the car, just to see if she might get any bars a little further down theroad. But nothing changed.

She was stuck, not knowing who to call even if she did get service on her phone.

What was next? Sleeping by the side of the road until dawn and then hitchhiking to the next stop?Using her meager funds to get a train back to Boston, tucking her tail between her legs and returning toschool the next day as if nothing had happened?

An image of Jayson, grinning, appeared in her mind as if placed there by some dark magic. Shewilled it away.

No. She wouldn’t go back to school after what had happened tonight.

She was going to Florida, even if it meant walking the rest of the way.

Caelyn made her way back to the car and got inside. She grabbed the keys, determination written onher face as she grit her teeth. Sticking the key in the ignition and turning, she once more prayed forhelp. Just let me get a few miles to the next exit, she thought. I’ll get off and find a hotel—an all-night gas station. Something.

The engine turned over, but the moment she tried to drive again, the grinding and complaining from

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the engine was so loud Caelyn actually wondered if the car was about to explode. She knew nothingabout cars, so pretty much anything seemed possible at this point.

She turned the car off yet again and sighed deeply. It was over. She had to admit that her silly littleplan had failed before it had even really started. She would wait a few hours until the sun rose, flagdown a passing car and soon be headed back to Boston and all of the ugliness that came with it.

A sense of dread filled her stomach. She opened the car door and stepped out, walking hunched overto the grass of the shoulder and was violently sick.

It occurred to her that she’d rather be dead than go back.

She would never go back. Never.

A beam of light struck her eyes, and she squinted, as yet another pair of headlights climbed the riseand aimed for her. Once more, her heart started pounding as the headlights approached.

It wasn’t a truck this time, but an SUV, heading her way at an alarming speed.

For some reason, this time she actually wanted the car to stop. Well, that wasn’t quite true. Shewanted it to stop, but she was also terribly frightened. Maybe she would luck out and it would be anice older couple inside. Someone visibly safe and nonthreatening.

Or perhaps this SUV would pass by without a second glance, much the same way the trucker had goneby not long ago.

At first, it seemed that that was exactly what was about to happen. But then, surprisingly, just a yardor two beyond her car, the black SUV slowed down, break lights flashing and staying on. And then itpulled off the shoulder and stopped.

Caelyn walked forward a few steps. She was far enough away to make a run for it if need be. Shewasn’t sure how far she would get, but she’d try. She took out her non-working cell phone andpretended to be in the midst of making a call.

The front door of the car opened and then he stepped out.

Her stomach flipped and dropped, as the stranger stepped directly into the light from her car’sheadlights. The headlights illuminated him, briefly outlining a man who was probably around her age,perhaps a year or two older—standing a little over six feet tall, wearing dark track pants and a blackt-shirt. His face was like one of those teen idols from the vampire films that all the girls loved. Dark,strong features, dark hair tousled exactly the right way.

“Car trouble?” he asked, still at a distance. His voice was strong, confident and clear. It sent shiversdown her spine.

Caelyn gripped her cell phone tightly, tried to breathe. Why was she scared of him? Was he bad, didhe have evil intentions—or was it something else?

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“My car’s making a lot of noise,” she said, finally. Her voice sounded less scared than she felt. Buther legs were shaking.

The man walked to the door of her car, and now he was bathed in shadow, but closer. He moved withan easy, relaxed gait that indicated a familiarity with women—

which made sense, given his good looks. As traumatized as Caelyn was, it was impossible not toappreciate how gorgeous he was.

“Mind if I check it out?” the stranger asked.

“Sure,” she said. She liked that he wasn’t coming closer. He opened the driver side door all the wayand slid inside. A moment later, the engine was revving and the sounds were back in all their glory.From outside, it was somehow even worse. She knew that whatever it was, her car was in very, verybad shape.

The stranger got out a few seconds later, leaving the car running. “I’m just going to have a look underthe hood,” he explained. He had a small flashlight, she saw, and then the hood was up and he wasexamining something.

Caelyn was curious, but hung back, still ready to run. Her senses were on high alert and she didn’ttrust this guy with his eerie, relaxed vibe and charming way. She knew now how little any of that stuffmeant.

This guy could just be waiting for her to let down her guard and then he’d pounce.

How could she possibly trust him? What reason did he have for being out here this time of night?

He couldn’t have been under the hood more than a few minutes before he’d shut it and then gone backinside the driver’s side. The engine shut off with a trailing, snarling rattle.

When the stranger got out of the car this time, he did take a step in Caelyn’s direction. She took a stepback, tensing her whole body, ready to flee.

He smiled from the shadows. “Relax,” he said. “I was just going to give you your keys back.” He heldup his hands, showing the dangling key chain.

Caelyn folded her arms. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Can’t be sure, but I think your transmission’s shot,” he said.

“Great. I assume that’s pretty bad news.”

“It’s not good.”

“Well, thanks for trying,” she told him. She pretended to dial her phone, just to show him that she hadthe option to call for help if she chose.

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He looked at her. “I think reception’s pretty much nonexistent out here.” She could swear the cornersof his lips twitched as if to smile at her silly ruse. His eyes moved up her body, taking in her skirt, herruined shirt, the high heels that had seemed a good idea earlier in the night.

She jutted out her chin, refusing to wilt under his gaze. Surprisingly, it wasn’t making heruncomfortable. Caelyn didn’t get the sense he was checking her out – at least, not in a sexual way.Instead, he was probably wondering what the hell she was doing out here, by herself, late at night, onthe side of the road.

“Well, my phone’s getting reception,” she lied.

“Oh, that’s good.” He put his hands on his hips. “My name’s Elijah,” he told her.

“Cool. Thanks for taking a look at my car,” she said. “I appreciate it. Guess I’ll just call for a towtruck.”

“Listen, why don’t you let me drive you to the next exit, drop you somewhere safe, you can wait thereuntil they fix up your car?”

Relief started to flood through her. But then she caught herself.

Once she was in his car, anything could happen. Anything.

He seemed nice, though.

So did Jayson.

That brought back the tremors and the sick feeling. “I should probably stay with my car,” she said.

Elijah nodded slowly. He leaned back against her car, crossed his arms over his broad chest. Shecouldn’t help but notice the way his biceps flexed, even under the loose material of his t-shirt. “Youknow it’s probably going to cost you a couple thousand dollars to have it fixed, right?”

Caelyn’s jaw dropped. “A couple thousand dollars?”

“I’m sorry, but I thought you should know.” He sighed, then turned and placed her keys on the hood ofher car. “Anyway, good luck,” he said, and started to head back to his SUV.

He didn’t slow his pace, or even look back.

Caelyn abruptly realized that Elijah was definitely going to leave her there, and that it seemed as if hedidn’t have the intention of trying to kidnap and murder her after all.

And that’s when she realized how quiet and dark it still was. With Elijah nearby, the night hadn’tseemed nearly as frightening somehow. Which made no sense, because he was clearly not to betrusted.

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Just as he was about to get in his own car, she called out to him.

“Wait!” she said.

He turned and looked at her. “Yeah?” He sounded a little impatient.

“I think—I think I might need a ride after all,” she admitted.


Caelyn was sitting in the passenger seat of an exceedingly clean SUV. She had her purse on the seatbeside her and the small travel bag was sitting at her feet.

Elijah was driving the car, eyes straight ahead, one hand on the wheel, his free hand draped casuallyover one leg. He was chewing gum slowly, purposefully, his jaw tensing and relaxing.

Now that Caelyn was closer to him, she could see that he was even better looking than she’d firstthought. He was hot—movie star hot—not that she knew any. But Elijah must be what ChanningTatum or Taylor Lautner had been like before they were discovered. He had that effortless intensity—that chiseled body, and the strong masculine features.

She was surprised at her own curiosity, especially after what she’d been through earlier that night.But there was something reassuring about Elijah, something that was slowly allowing her to relax,one minute at a time.

It helped that he didn’t seem to have the least interest in her.

In fact, he’d barely uttered two words to her since she’d taken him up on his offer to drive her to thenext exit and see if they could find a place for her to wait until morning.

“You should probably call Triple A,” Elijah said, out of nowhere. It had been so long since he’dspoken that Caelyn was shocked by the sound of his voice breaking the silence of the drive. “It couldtake them a few hours to tow your car at this time of night,” he explained.

She felt her cheeks turning red. “I don’t have Triple A.”

He looked at her briefly. “What are you going to do, then?”

She sighed. “I’m not really sure.” She glanced at her purse, and saw the postcard tucked safely awayinside. She’d somehow remembered to put it in her bag as she was gathering her things up to bringwith her.

“Well, the exit’s coming up,” he said, nodding out at the road, and sure enough, the exit loomed at

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them out of the darkness. They got off to the right and slowly rounded a turn, coming out onto a mainroad that was still dark, with all the restaurants and gas stations shuttered for the night.

As they drove down the road, Elijah shook his head. “I don’t think anything’s open yet. Want to callaround to some hotels and see if you can book a room or something?”

Caelyn pointed to a McDonald’s on the right. “Why don’t you drop me there? It will be open in thenext couple of hours, and then…” her voice trailed off.

Elijah glanced at her. “And then what?” he asked. He slowly pulled the car into the McDonald’s lotand parked. When he turned to her, she instantly withdrew, shrinking back against the door. She putone hand on the car door handle, in case she needed to make a quick escape.

His brow crinkled in confusion. “What’s your damage, kid?”

She swallowed, regaining some composure. He wasn’t going to hurt her. She sat up a bit straighter. “Idon’t have any damage—I’m just nervous. It’s late at night and I don’t know you. Sorry.”

He smiled slightly. His eyes focused on her, as if seeing her for the first time.

She was unnerved by how sharp and perceptive those dark eyes were. It was as if he knew everythingin one instant of gazing at her. She looked away quickly.

“I didn’t mean to scare you. The thing is,” he continued, “I don’t feel right leaving you in the middleof nowhere with no car and no way home. Where are you headed, anyway? Can’t you just callsomeone to come and get you?”

She thought about lying and then, for some strange reason, opted to tell the truth.

“There’s no one I want to call.”

He nodded as if it made total sense. “Well where are you headed, then?”



“Yeah, Florida.” She glared at him, as if daring him to tell her she’d never make it.

He turned away, seemingly lost in thought. “I’m guessing you don’t have the money to fix that car weleft back there.”

“No, I don’t.” She didn’t go any further than that—she didn’t tell him that she currently had about ahundred dollars in cash in her purse, a credit card that had maybe another hundred bucks before itwas maxed out, and less than fifty dollars in her checking account.

Somehow, that money was supposed to last her all the way to Florida, and then continue to last while

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she found work and housing and fed herself.

As if Elijah knew all of these things, he suddenly put the car in gear and swung out of the McDonald’sparking lot, heading back the way they came on the main road.

“Where are you going?” she asked, her hand instinctively clutching her purse to her side.

“Back on the highway.”


He looked at her, just a glance, but she was again struck by how undeniably gorgeous he was. In othercircumstances, a different time in her life, she would have been happy to be in this situation with aguy like Elijah. But right now, after the night she’d had, she only felt nervous and exhausted.

“Look, I can take you as far as New York City,” he told her. “I’m going that way anyhow. I happen toknow for a fact that you can catch a bus from there that will take you to Orlando for eighty bucks.”

A thrill of excitement raced through Caelyn’s body. If he was telling the truth, then she could actuallydo it. Sure, Orlando wasn’t Sarasota, but it was damn close. Just a couple of hours away. For eightybucks, she could do it. It would hurt her pocketbook, but she could make it.

She couldn’t help but smile for the first time all night.

Elijah grinned in return, although his eyes were back on the road now. “So, which is it—that shittyold McDonalds or New York City, kid?”

“My name is Caelyn and I’m pretty sure I’m about your age,” she replied.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

She pursed her lips. “You think there will be a bus to Florida before night time?”

“Probably.” Elijah moved the SUV into the middle lane, hitting the gas until they were cruising alongat about 70 mph.

Caelyn sat back in her seat and tried to calm her racing pulse. She couldn’t quite understand it,because she was no longer afraid that he was going to try something on her.

But nonetheless, she was still riding an adrenaline rush.

A few times she glanced at him surreptitiously, pretending not to really be trying to look at him.Stealing glances, her entire body was creeping with warmth and her lower belly was tingling.

Slowly, it dawned on her that she was enamored of this strange boy. Maybe it was because he wasmysterious, or perhaps because he was helping her in a time of need.

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All Caelyn knew was that she wanted to look at him, she wanted to hear his voice.

But another part of her sensed that there was more to Elijah than he was letting on in his simpleinteractions and his casual demeanor. She knew that if she ever truly got to know him, she might wishshe’d never laid eyes on him in the first place.


Somehow, she’d fallen asleep in the car.

It was surprising, given how fearful she’d been and the fact that Elijah was a total stranger withunclear intentions. And yet, after they’d been on the highway for a while, Caelyn had found her eyesstarting to grow weary and heavy.

She’d begun drifting, startling awake, trying to keep alert and ready for anything.

But every time she looked over at Elijah, something about him made her feel relaxed.

He would never hurt me.

She didn’t understand how she could know such a thing. Why couldn’t he hurt her? She knew nothingabout the guy.

But her body had known, it seemed, even if her mind was suspicious. Eventually, Caelyn must havesimply given in to the weariness and exhaustion that were the result of everything that she’d gonethrough that evening.

When she first opened her eyes again, Caelyn could tell that Elijah hadn’t noticed she’d woken up. Hewas driving along, humming quietly to himself. The radio was playing softly, and she realized thathe’d probably put it on very low volume so as not to wake her.

It was touching in a way, she decided. He was trying to be careful, trying to be nice to her.

She kept her eyes half-closed so as to continue watching him without his knowledge. It wasvoyeuristic and perhaps a little bit wrong, but she couldn’t help herself.

Something about Elijah was mysterious and enigmatic, and she wanted to know more about him. Anyglimpse she could get would help her understand that extra little bit.

Caelyn continued to pretend to be asleep, letting her head loll a bit as the car jostled slightly on theroad.

Suddenly, Elijah’s eyes locked on the rearview mirror and his expression changed to one of alarm.

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There was a loud WHOOP! WHOOP! sound from behind them, and Caelyn snapped her eyes open,turned to look behind her and find a police car approaching quickly, its lights flashing.

“Shit,” Elijah whispered. His strong jaw settled into a tight line, and he put his blinker on and sloweddown, pulling over to the side of the road as the cop pulled up right behind him. The police car wasjust sitting there, and there wasn’t any movement at first.

“Were you speeding?” Caelyn asked Elijah.

“Nah,” he said. “Well, maybe just ten miles over the limit.”

“So you were speeding.”

He gave her an exasperated look, like he couldn’t believe anyone would consider ten miles over thelimit the same thing as speeding. “Just let me handle this,” he said.

His eyes went back to the rearview mirror. “I should just hit the gas and leave this douche in thedust,” he mused.

“You’re joking, right?” Caelyn asked, her stomach suddenly churning. He didn’t sound like he wasjoking. Visions of a high-speed chase danced through her head, along with a trip to the police station,where she’d be forced to call her mother and confess everything. Only this time she wouldn’t havejust run away from school. This time she’d have been arrested with a strange boy.

Elijah didn’t answer. His eyes were still glued on the rearview mirror. Finally, he turned to her.“Whatever I say, you just go along with me. Understand?”

“What does that even mean, go along with whatever you say?”

“Listen, Caelyn.” His dark eyes grew intense. “I’m not messing around. You go along with whatever Isay, no matter what. Got it?”

She didn’t like his tone of voice and she didn’t particularly understand his instructions either. “Noway. I’m not just going to do whatever you say because you say it. That’s crazy.”

There was the sound of a door opening, and when Caelyn craned her neck to look, the officer wasslowly getting out of his car.

Elijah looked at her and shook his head, then leaned across her and opened the glove compartment.He reached into the glove box, and she could see his heavily muscled forearm and a dark flash oftattoo ink on his upper bicep as the sleeve of his tshirt rode up.

Something about his proximity, the nearness of him—made her a little weak. She caught her breath,but inhaled just enough to smell the clean scent of shampoo and soap and maybe some cologne.

And then he’d gotten his registration and was rolling down his window as the police officerapproached the driver’s side door. “License and registration,” the cop drawled in a tone of voice that

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indicated an unpleasant mood.

Elijah was instantly a different person. His whole demeanor had changed. He had been scowling amoment ago, but now he was smiling. “Morning officer,” he said, as he handed over the registration,then dug into his pocket, took out his wallet, and fumbled briefly until he found his license. He handedthat over as well.

The cop glanced down at Elijah’s license. “Mister Daniels, do you realize how fast you were goingjust now?”

“I’m really sorry sir.” Elijah put his hand on Caelyn’s thigh. His hand was strong and warm, andinstantly her skin began tingling. “Me and my girlfriend got to chatting and I must not have noticed thatI was going too fast. We’ve been on the road for a bit, and she was trying to keep me alert.”

The officer nodded, but his mouth was pulled down into a frown. He looked into the window and sawCaelyn. They made eye contact and she tried a friendly smile, but the cop was having none of it.

“Where you two headed?”

“Florida, sir. Taking a little road trip, get some R&R.” Elijah flashed another smile and his handsoftly rubbed her leg.

Strangely, Caelyn found that she wasn’t at all bothered by the physical contact. In a bizarre way, shethought that she was actually enjoying this little charade—and that made absolutely no sense at all.

The officer glanced into the back seat. “You need to be careful around here. Lot of accidents on thisroad last year.”

Elijah nodded. “Yes sir. You’re right, sir.”

“Well, I’m going to have to give you a ticket,” the officer sighed. “Please stay put.” He left the carand walked slowly back to his cruiser, got inside.

Elijah watched him go in the rearview mirror.

The smile was gone from his face. His eyes were completely transfixed, and he absentmindedlywiped the back of his hand across his mouth.

Caelyn was wondering what on earth had gotten into him. Maybe he was worried about how much theticket would cost. Or maybe he was concerned because he had outstanding tickets for other things…

She decided not to say a word for now. The tension was so strong that she felt her stomach tighteningas if a cord was being wrapped slowly around her insides.

The time seemed to draw out. After what felt like nearly half an hour (but had to be much less), theofficer got out of his car and came back to the driver’s side door.

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Elijah’s smile and easy demeanor were back in evidence again. “Hope you took it easy on us, officer.We need that extra money to go parasailing.”

The policeman didn’t return the smile. He handed Elijah back his license and registration. And thenhe handed him a ticket. “I gave you a ticket for exceeding the speed limit. You can contest the ticket ifyou wish, or you can simply pay by mail or online. Please take it slow and be careful getting back onthe highway, okay, Jake?” He patted the hood of the car softly. “Oh, and have fun in Florida.Remember to wear sunscreen.”

“Yes, sir.”

Had the policeman just called Elijah by another name? Caelyn felt like maybe she’d misheard.

After the cop walked away, Elijah breathed a deep sigh of relief. He gave Caelyn the registration.“Would you mind putting this back in the glove compartment for me?”

he asked.

She took it and looked at the name on the form. It clearly said Jake Daniels.

She opened the glove box and put the registration inside. Of course, everything inside thecompartment was neat and stacked, totally orderly, just like the rest of the SUV. She closed the glovecompartment, her heart racing, as Elijah started his car and slowly pulled out into traffic.

“That was fun, huh?” he asked, glancing at her like nothing was amiss. That it was just every day thathe got pulled over by cops and lied to them about who he was.

She didn’t answer at first. Her mind was spinning, trying to make sense of how strangely Elijah hadbehaved about being pulled over for speeding.

“Why did he call you Jake?” she asked.


“That cop called you Jake. And your registration says Jake, too.”

Elijah didn’t answer for a long moment. Finally, he glanced at her. “Listen, I’m giving you a ride toNew York City. I’m not here to explain my life story to you.”

“Who said anything about your life story? You just lied to a cop about your name. Either that, oryou’re lying to me. Any way you look at it, it’s pretty messed up.”

He shook his head, then smirked. “Oh, that’s pretty rich coming from you, Caelyn.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Look at you,” he said, glancing at her again, his eyes raking up and down her body from head to toe.

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“You’re a mess. Your freaking skirt is ripped, your shirt’s all stretched out, makeup’s running downyour face. It’s pretty damn obvious you’re running away from something. But did I try and demand thatyou tell me about it?”

Her mouth opened and closed. She crossed her arms over her chest and shrank away from him. Theway he’d looked at her and spoken to her—it had been so brutal, so cruel in a way. She hadn’texpected that. Is that what he’d been thinking, is that why he hadn’t really looked at her since he’dpicked her up on the highway?

“You’re right,” she almost whispered. “I’m not going to ask you anything. Just pull over and let meout.”

“Caelyn,” he said, his voice apologetic now. “Look, I’m sorry, it’s just – ”


“I’m not putting you out on the highway,” he told her.

She pointed to a rest stop up ahead. “You won’t be letting me out on the highway. Look, there’s atravel plaza right there.”

“It’s only another hour to New York and the bus station.”

She looked at him and met his eyes. “Let me out, Elijah. I don’t want to go anywhere with you.Understand?”

His jaw set. “Fine,” he said, in a clipped tone.

A moment later, he was pulling into the rest stop and parking the SUV. “Let me just explain onething,” he started to say.

But Caelyn had already grabbed her purse and bag, opened the passenger door, and started getting outof the car. She was so done talking to him—she was furious, and she could feel the rage flowingthrough every crevice of her body.

How dare he look at her like that, talk to her like that, judge her like that?

She immediately began walking toward the entrance of the convenience store that was linked to therest stop. Caelyn was walking fast, not looking back, her hands clutching her purse and bag.

Once she got inside, she pretended to look at some snacks, just for something to do while sheregained her composure.

She wouldn’t look up to watch him drive away, either, she decided. She could already picture hisSUV pulling out and leaving the area. He would be gone and she’d never see him again. For somereason Caelyn couldn’t even fathom, the idea of him leaving hurt badly. It hit her in the chest andstomach like a vicious cramp.

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Why did she care? He clearly had a screw loose, and he was a liar, and he was mean on top of it all.

She grabbed a Slim Jim, even though she didn’t even like them, just so that nobody would think shewas crazy for standing in the aisle and doing nothing but staring at the snacks.

The door chimed as it opened, and she didn’t look up to see who was coming in.

She didn’t want to be disappointed when someone else’s face greeted her.

But why do you still want to see Elijah? Why did you make him drop you off if you still want to bewith him?

There was no good answer.

She looked down at the dirty floor of the convenience store as footsteps approached.

“I’m not going to leave you here,” the familiar voice said from just beside her.

His tone was gruff and commanding, and she almost gave in. Almost. But the wave of relief thatflooded her body was quickly countered by another wave of anger.

“Leave me alone,” she said, walking away from him again, even as a voice inside of her told her tostop pushing him away. If she kept it up, he really might listen.

But she couldn’t seem to stop herself. The door chimed again as she pushed her way out of the store.

“Caelyn!” Elijah yelled. She heard him coming after her, and she quickened her pace, not sure if shewanted him to catch her.

Then, suddenly, another voice pierced the air.

“Sir, your girlfriend is walking out of the store with unpaid for merchandise!

That’s our Slim Jim!” the voice of the cashier yelled.

Caelyn spun around and threw the Slim Jim, hitting Elijah in the chest with it. He fumbled it, buteventually held on.

“I don’t even like Slim Jims!” she yelled.

Elijah turned and gave the item back to the irate cashier, who said something inaudible to him. Andthen Elijah followed her outside, to the curb, where she was now sitting, head in her hands.

She was crying and shaking.

Everything was flooding through her -- the memories from the previous night, the things she’d tried topush away. It was all coming back.

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“Can I sit down?” Elijah asked softly.

She nodded, not really able to talk. But she found that she did in fact want him to sit next to her, andwhen he did, she enjoyed his closeness. He didn’t sit too close, either, just near enough for her to feelhis presence.

“Elijah’s my real name,” he said, after a bit.

She wiped some tears from her eyes and sniffed. She felt drained, completely drained, but in a weirdway, it didn’t feel horrible. She’d needed to release the anger and the fear and the upset. The truthwas, she’d been through hell and hadn’t yet really processed any of it.

She looked at Elijah, sitting there next to her, his profile strong as he stared out across the parking lot.The part of his hair that flopped over his forehead ruffled slightly in the breeze, and Caelyn resistedthe urge to reach up and push it off his face. “Why do you have another name you give to the police?”she asked, not really expecting an answer.

But he surprised her. “It’s a long story, and maybe someday I’ll have a chance to tell it to you. Butlet’s just say that you’re not the only one running away from something.” He turned to her, and theireyes met. And in that moment, Caelyn realized why it was she’d felt so safe with him. He was runningaway, too. They were the same, at least on some level.

“You don’t have to tell me,” she said. “It’s okay.” And it was. Sure, Elijah just admitted that he’d liedto the police. It probably meant that he had done other bad things as well. But in a strange way, whatwas more important was, at least at that moment, he was telling her the truth. And he didn’t have to dothat.

She could see the hurt and pain reflected in his eyes, and she wondered what kind of secrets he washiding. Whatever they were must have been painful and dark and raw.

It was almost too much to take, staring at him like that, and she had to look away.

“You’re right, I am a mess,” she admitted, pulling out her pocket mirror and seeing the mascararunning down her cheeks. She looked like someone had just taken a flamethrower to a statue in thewax museum. Why hadn’t she thought to at least wash her face?

“What do you say we go inside and grab something to eat?” Elijah asked her. He stood up andreached his hand out to her. She took it, and his grip was strong and comforting as he pulled her to herfeet.

“Shouldn’t we be getting back on the road?”

“I checked the times on the busses going to Florida, and we’ve got a couple of hours to spare.”

She smiled a little. He’d taken the time to check on the bus schedule, and he’d come after her eventhough she’d yelled and screamed and told him to leave her alone.

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Whatever else Elijah might be, he was certainly doing more than he needed to for a girl he’d just met.

“I am kind of hungry,” she admitted.

“Obviously. The way you took off out of there with that Slim Jim in hand?” He shook his head. “Youprobably could have won the Olympic gold medal for the fifty-yard dash.”

Caelyn laughed, her belly loosening, the laughter sounding and feeling more and more real—natural—like her old self. He was smiling, and she realized how close they were standing. His eyes werewarm and soft as he looked at her.

For a moment, she almost thought he was going to kiss her, and her heart sped up, but then he didn’t.She looked past him into the convenience store and saw the cashier still giving her the evil eye.“Yeah, we should probably avoid going back in that way.”

“You heard what he called you, right?” Elijah said, leading her toward the other entrance.

“No, what?”

“He thought you were my girlfriend,” Elijah said, glancing at her as if to see her reaction.

“Yeah, well, you seem to be encouraging people to think that about me,” she replied.

“Me? How is this my fault?” He opened the door and held it for her as she walked past him.

“You told that cop that I was your girlfriend. Now people are just assuming it.

You started a rumor,” she chided him. “And now we’ll never live it down.”

“Maybe we should play it up instead.” His voice was mischievous and flirty, and she rememberedhow his hand had felt against her leg when they’d gotten pulled over.

She didn’t say anything for a moment as they stood there and surveyed the interior of the rest stop.There was the convenience store on the left, and then the restrooms, and then to the right was a decentsized cafeteria, which was home to a half-dozen fast food restaurants.

“What do you mean play it up?” Caelyn asked. They were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, almosttouching but not quite.

“Like, if everyone is going to just assume we’re together…we could pretend to be together.”

“But we’re not,” she clarified.

“Oh, no, of course not.” He shook his head. “We’re totally not.”

She glanced at him, and was surprised to see he was looking at her. His eyes were intense, and oneside of his mouth was pulled up into playful grin, almost like he was daring her to say yes.

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“I wouldn’t mind pretending,” she said, mostly because she knew he wasn’t expecting her to. “Butyou have to promise not to do anything too crazy.”

“Oh, you can trust me,” he said. “I’m very trustworthy.” He moved a little closer, so that their armswere touching. Shivers ran up Caelyn’s arms, and goose bumps broke out on her skin.

She liked the way it felt, being close to him.

But a second later, she found herself stepping away.

“Don’t worry,” Elijah said, all traces of playfulness gone from his voice. “I would never do anythingto hurt you.” And then he reached his hand out—it didn’t have far to go—and took her hand in his.“But we can do this, right?”

An imperceptible shiver ran through her as he touched her. His hand felt strong and kind of soft.Butterflies were suddenly dancing in her belly, but she took a deep breath and let it out. “That’s fine,”she told him.

“Good,” he said, grinning. “Because otherwise you’re not leaving me with much.”

“Okay,” she said. “What now?”

“Now,” he said, “we eat.” He was still holding her hand.

They went to Burger King and grabbed a few breakfast sandwiches and coffee.

Caelyn was fully prepared to pay for herself, but Elijah stopped her. “No way,” he said.

“I got it. No way I’m letting my girl pay.”

She almost said, But I’m not your girl.

Except she didn’t want to ruin the fun they were having pretending that she was his girl. Of course,she didn’t feel right letting him pay. She decided that she would repay him once they were back in thecar and resuming their “real” roles again.

What are our real roles, though? Are we friends? Acquaintances? What?

Again, there was no good answer to be had.

Elijah pulled out an enormous billfold to pay for the meal. He peeled a twenty off the top and handedit to the cashier.

Caelyn’s eyes widened as she stared at the cash in his hand. He glanced at her as he put his moneyback in his pocket again. “Something wrong, babe?” he grinned.

“No. It’s just—most people usually keep that amount of money in the bank…or a safe,” she said.

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“I’m not most people.”

“I’m starting to figure that out.”

They got their breakfast on a tray, which Elijah picked up. “Where do you want to sit?” he asked her.

She gestured to a small table near a window. “How about over there?”

They walked to the table and then sat down together. Caelyn suddenly realized she was ravenous.

She unwrapped a greasy egg and bacon sandwich and started to eat, barely stopping to breathe. Shelooked up to find Elijah watching her with an amused expression.

“When was the last time you ate?” he asked.

She wiped her mouth with a napkin and swallowed. “I had a few bites of pizza yesterday,” she said.The thought made her lose her appetite, and she put the sandwich down, pushing it away from her as ifit were now infected by the memories.

The greasy pizza sitting on the table.

Jayson laughing.

And then, the screaming.

“Hey, hey—are you okay?” Elijah said. Now he was somewhat alarmed.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been caught in the nightmare of what had happened to her. It wasalmost as though she’d blanked out—but now she was swimming back to awareness again. Her entirebody was tense, like a coil of wire.

“I’m all right,” she whispered.

“Come on, let’s take this stuff to go,” he said, grabbing the food and putting it in a paper bag, pickingup the two cups of coffee.

Caelyn nodded, stood up and the two of them walked out together.


About an hour later, they were driving through New York City, and getting close to the bus station.

Neither of them had talked quite as much after the rest stop. Caelyn was still reeling from theexperience she’d had when Elijah had asked her that simple question about when she’d last eaten,which had elicited those awful memories and emotions.

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She wondered how long it would be before she’d be able to think back on last night with anythingless than pure terror. Maybe it would take her the rest of her life.

Rather than talk, Elijah had put the satellite radio on some kind of radio talk show. The name of theshow was Geeks and Gear or something like that. It was a couple of guys talking about computers andother techie stuff. She was surprised that Elijah listened to stuff like that—he seemed more like thekind of guy who would listen to sports radio or angry rap music.

Regardless, she found the voices on the show soothing, and even though she didn’t care what theywere talking about, it was sort of nice to just sit and not really focus on anything.

Elijah was content to do the same for a long while. She appreciated that he seemed to understand andrespect when she was too overwhelmed to have much interaction.

But finally, he did talk again. “We’re hitting Chinatown,” he said, pointing ahead at the street. Thesigns on the buildings were mostly in Chinese now, and of course many of the people were also ofChinese descent.

“Is that where the station is?” she asked.

He nodded. “They have the best, cheapest fares around here,” he told her.

“Oh.” She looked out the window and watched as they drove through the city streets. A feeling of losswas starting to creep up on her now. She realized that Elijah and this SUV had become a safe havenfor her over the last few hours. Somehow, she’d started to really trust him.

It didn’t make sense.

Nothing made sense anymore.

The minutes passed by a bit too quickly for Caelyn’s tastes. She suddenly wanted to hold onto hertime with Elijah, to slow it down, make it last somehow. But before she knew it, he was pulling into asmall parking lot and stopping, his face grim.

“Here we are,” he said softly.

She looked at him and smiled. “Here we are.”

“We can sit for a few minutes if you want. The bus won’t be leaving for a little bit still.”

“No, I don’t want to keep you,” she said, trying to smile. “You’ve already gone way above andbeyond for me, Elijah. I appreciate it.”

“I wanted to,” he said, his eyes locking on hers.

She wanted to say something then. She wanted to say that they should keep in touch, exchangenumbers, anything. But she couldn’t seem to find the words. Her throat locked up. “Thanks again,” she

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managed, and then opened her door and got out, making sure he didn’t see the wetness in her eyes.

Caelyn walked towards the door of the station, bag and purse in hand. She told herself not to lookback and was able to stick to her decision.

Once inside, she went to the window and said she wanted a one-way ticket to Orlando, Florida.

The ticket came to just over ninety dollars with tax. It was about a third of her money—gone in oneshot.

The teller pointed to a bus sitting out front, parked on the street, and told her that she could board itnow.

Caelyn walked to the bus outside and showed her ticket to the driver, who was standing beside thebus. “Go ahead,” he said, not smiling. His eyes were dull, his mustache gray and wilted.

As she went up the steps to get on the bus, she looked quickly over her shoulder at the parking lot anddidn’t see Elijah’s SUV. He was gone.

The bus was less than half empty, and Caelyn took a seat near the back, sitting by the window. Shestuffed her travel bag under the seat and put her purse on her lap. The seats weren’t exactly roomieand comfortable, but at least she’d be safe for the rest of the trip.

She wanted to think about Florida and be happy. Freedom was just a hop, skip and a jump away now.One very long car ride away, was the place that she’d been dreaming of—somewhere where shecould start over. There would be sun and beaches, and new starts.

But right at that very second, it felt like an empty promise.

She was thinking only of Elijah—his dark eyes, his wicked smile, the feel of his hand covering herhand, the way he’d called her babe in that sarcastic manner when she’d given him a hard time aboutcarrying so much cash with him.

She hadn’t wanted Elijah to go like that—she hadn’t wanted him to leave without so much as a phonenumber, an address. She’d felt like they’d somehow formed a connection in a very short time, andnow that connection could never become what it was meant to be.

And what was it meant to be, Caelyn? She asked herself. Do you really think that a guy who uses afake name with the police, carries hundreds and hundreds of dollars in cash around in his backpocket, and admits to running away from something bad—do you really think there’s a future witha person like that?

But despite all of her logic, she felt the loss of him acutely and painfully.

In some ways, losing him so soon was worse than what had happened to her last night.

Now that’s just stupid, she told herself.

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Maybe it was. But it was how she felt.

A few minutes later, the driver got on board and sat down, starting the engine.

She heard the hydraulics hiss and the engine roared dully as they got ready to move.

At the last moment, the driver stopped. He opened the doors to the bus and yelled out at someone.“Yeah, what is it? You got a ticket?”

There was the sound of footsteps and then Elijah climbed aboard the bus, looking around forsomething—someone. His gaze landed on her.

“Caelyn,” he said loudly, without a hint of embarrassment.

She swallowed. Her whole body was warm, and strangely tingly. Maybe she was dreaming. Maybeshe was going to pass out. “Elijah, what are you doing?”

He beckoned to her, waving her towards him. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“I can’t, I’m going to Florida—remember?”

“Let me take you,” he said.

She felt like she’d been blasted by a hurricane. The force of what he was saying nearly turned herlegs to jelly. Florida with Elijah?

Her mind was racing.

The driver turned towards her. “Excuse me, lady. We need to go, I have a schedule to keep.”

“I know, I’m just— ” she stumbled over her words. “I’m just—”

“If a man who looked like that asked me to go to Florida with him, I wouldn’t waste a damn second,”an older black woman said from across the aisle.

Caelyn grinned. “Screw it,” she said. She grabbed her travel bag, shouldered her purse and got up.

Elijah was laughing now and so was she.

“I guess I’m as crazy as you,” she told him, as they left the bus together.

“That’s why we need to make this trip together,” he said. “Now let’s go get you a refund on thatticket.”

Caelyn followed Elijah off the bus and towards the station. The bus promptly pulled away, and whenshe looked at the windows, she noticed that all of the people seemed to be staring at her as they left.

Well, she thought, who could really blame them after that scene?

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As embarrassing as it was, she was feeling happy. She was relieved that Elijah had come back forher. That meant he had felt it too—the connection between them. It meant something to him as well.

A minute later, she was standing across from the teller at the window, and sliding her ticket under theplexi-glass partition.

“I need a refund,” she said.

Elijah was standing just behind her, doing something on his phone. Maybe texting.

The teller looked at the ticket doubtfully, then looked up at her. “Refund?”

“Yeah. I just bought this ticket like five minutes ago, but I ended up not taking the trip. So, can I get arefund please?”

The teller shook his head. “Oh, no. Read the fine print. We don’t do refunds.”

“But it was only just a minute ago…”

The teller shook his head back and forth more furiously. “I don’t care if it was ten seconds ago or tendays ago—NO REFUNDS. Can you read? Read that ticket if you don’t believe me.” He slid the ticketback towards Caelyn.

Suddenly, Elijah was pressing against her, his face close the glass. “Do you just enjoy being rude topeople?” he said, his voice raising. “Huh?”

“Elijah,” Caelyn said, taken aback by his anger. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not okay. They’re taking advantage of you.”

“It’s the rules.”

“The rules are bullshit.” He pointed at the teller. “Where’s your manager, huh? I want to speak tosomeone with a brain in their damn head.”

“Elijah.” She touched his arm and he flinched away.

“Fuck it,” he said, slapping at a bunch of pamphlets on the countertop nearby.

They fanned out crazily and some of them fell on the floor.

Elijah walked out, not looking back.

Caelyn grabbed her bag and followed him as quickly as she could.


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Needless to say, Elijah hadn’t seemed much in the mood to talk for a few minutes after that.

His eyes had remained glued to the road, intensely focused as they drove out of New York and ontothe Jersey Turnpike.

She’d offered to pay the toll that came up, but Elijah had declined and paid himself.

Caelyn knew better than to say anything. He was clearly upset, perhaps because he felt he’d beenresponsible for her losing so much money.

But she wasn’t upset with him about it—she didn’t blame him. She didn’t even blame the bus line orthe cranky teller. It was just life. There were worse things that could happen than losing a hundredbucks.

After they stopped for gas off the turnpike and Elijah paid again, she had to say something.

As he pulled the SUV onto the highway, she cleared her throat. “Look, you can’t just pay foreverything the whole trip,” she told him.

He shrugged. “It’s fine. I have the money.”

“But I can’t let you do that.”

“Why not?” he said.

“Because, it’s not fair.”

“You getting stiffed for that stupid bus ticket wasn’t fair either.”

“It’s not the same and you know it.”

He glanced at her. “Whatever, Caelyn. Pay for gas next time if you really want to.”

“It’s not just about gas,” she said, still looking at him, trying to read his expression.

“What is it then?”

“Well…” she sighed, and then asked the question she’d been wondering ever since he’d stepped onthe bus. “Are you only going to Florida because of me?”

The question hung in the air and she immediately regretted asking it that way.

The truth was, she had almost hoped that he was only going to Florida because of her.

Even though it would have been beyond strange, she wanted to believe that Elijah might feel some ofwhat she was starting to feel for him.

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Maybe he just wanted more time together. She held her breath.

But he shook his head firmly. “I’m not going to Florida because of you, Caelyn.

I was always going to Florida.”

“Oh.” She tried to ignore the disappointment that moved through her belly.

“Then why didn’t you say so?”

He shrugged, his dark eyes never leaving the road. “Because I didn’t know a thing about you. For all Iknow, you were some crazy chick—I didn’t think I needed to tell you my whole travel itinerary.”

“Okay,” she said. She was starting to feel hurt and a little angry. He was acting as though he didn’tjust board the bus in Chinatown and practically beg her to come with him. “So then what changedyour mind?

“I don’t know.” He shrugged again. “You seem cool. We had a few laughs. I figured it was silly tomake you pay all that money to travel on some stuffy, cramped bus all the way to Florida when I wasgoing there anyhow.”

“Oh,” she said, softly.

“If I’d known they were going to charge you anyway—” He stopped himself.

“What?” she said. “Would you not have invited me?”

He didn’t say anything for a moment. “Look, it’s been a long drive so far,” he told her, not lookingaway from the road. “Let’s just chill with the Q&A for a few minutes, okay?”

“Sure,” she said. “Whatever you say.”

After that, Elijah turned the satellite radio on again and resumed listening to his Geek and Gearpodcasts.

Caelyn settled back in her seat and stared out at the passing scenery, wondering if she’d made amistake getting off the bus and into his car to go all the way to Florida. If this was the kind ofatmosphere that was going to exist the entire drive, then she definitely would regret her decision.

It was when they passed into Maryland that Caelyn’s phone rang for the first time.

She looked at her caller ID.


A thrill of anxiety raced through Caelyn’s body when she saw that her mother was calling. Sherejected the call, forcing it to voicemail.

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Elijah glanced over at her. “You all right?”

“Yes,” she said. Since when do you care? She wanted to reply, but that was a little too childish, evenfor the mood she was in right now.

A moment later, her cell was ringing again, and once again, it was her mother’s number. Maybe thatmeant it was an emergency. Caelyn tried to think if someone would have already known she’d takenoff, and contacted the school, the police, her parents.

She didn’t think so. The only people who could possibly have noticed she was gone by now wouldhave been one of her roommates. But Alicia had been staying over Ben’s last night and Nellie wouldprobably assume that Caelyn had stayed over Jayson’s apartment.

Her phone was still ringing. She really didn’t want to answer, but another part of her thought it wasuseless to just ignore her mother’s call. She would just keep calling and calling.

Sighing, Caelyn answered. “Hi, Mom.” She forced her voice to sound cheerful.

“I thought you might be sleeping in,” her mother said, in a tone of voice that indicated she didn’treally approve of the reasons that might cause Caelyn to sleep in, but she understood it was part ofcollege life to stay up late partying.

“Oh, no, I’m awake,” Caelyn told her. “I’ve been awake for awhile.” That was an understatement.

Elijah smirked.

Caelyn looked away from him, out the passenger window.

“Well, whatever,” her mother said, like Caelyn’s sleeping habits weren’t any of her business. “Thereason I’m calling is because I’ve got a work conference next week in Boston.”

Caelyn’s stomach dropped faster than an elevator with the cables cut. “Oh,” was all she couldmanage.

“That wasn’t exactly the reaction I was hoping for, Caelyn Mary.”

“Sorry, Mom, I’m just—I’ve got a lot of work to do. Classes are harder than I expected and it’soverwhelming.”

“I’m sure you’re going to do just fine, Caelyn. You always worry about grades and you always dowonderfully.”

“Yeah, well, this is different, Mom. Cambridge University is a lot harder than high school.”

“I’m sure it is,” her mother said, sounding relatively unconvinced. “But I still think you can find timeto see your mother for dinner one night!”

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Caelyn didn’t respond. She couldn’t allow her mother to expect that they would see one another nextweek. Caelyn wasn’t even going to be in Massachusetts.

Maybe now was the time to just get it out—tell her mother the truth. Admit that she was leavingschool for the semester, dropping out and running to Florida. What could her mom really do? Caelynwas eighteen, an adult, and perfectly capable of making her own decisions.

But the mere thought of saying those words struck terror into Caelyn’s very soul.

Her mother would be crushed, devastated. Caelyn was the first person in her family to attend an IvyLeague college and her parents were totally proud of her for getting into Cambridge on a fullscholarship.

To throw that all away would be madness.

And Caelyn could never tell her mother why she was running away, either.

There was a long silence on the phone as Caelyn’s mind spun through the myriad possibilities, theramifications of her actions finally starting to hit home.

“Are you still there?” her mother demanded.

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“What’s wrong? You sound… different.”

“I told you, I’m just really overwhelmed with school work right now.”

Her mother sighed. “Okay, I see. Maybe I should try you another time—or better yet, you try me backwhen you feel more like talking.”

“Okay, I’ll do that,” she said softly.

“I’m still planning on seeing you when I come in for my conference. Plan for either Thursday orFriday night—dinner. On me. Okay?”

Now it was Caelyn’s turn to sigh into the phone. “I’ll call you later,” was all she said.

“Okay. Love you,” her mother replied.

And then the line went dead. Caelyn put her cell phone back in her purse. When she looked over atElijah again, he was still smirking.

“What?” she asked, glaring at him. “What’s so funny?”


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“You’ve got a smug look on your face.”

“Me?” he asked, feigning innocence.

“Yes, you.”

“I just couldn’t help but notice that little miss perfect was lying to her mommy.”

“I’m not little miss perfect.”

He snorted. “Come on. You go to Cambridge? That means you’re one of those rich kids with perfectgrades. Probably lived in Newton or Weston or one of those snobby towns. I know girls like you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Girls like me?”

“I thought maybe you were running away from something serious,” he told her.

“I thought maybe you were like me…” his voice trailed off but he didn’t finish.

“How do you know it’s not serious? Just because I go to a good college?”

“You probably think you have it rough. School’s harder than you thought it would be, you’re not thesmartest kid in class anymore, and you freaked out. Maybe you and some other spoiled girl got intoone of those fights where you pull each other’s hair.”

Caelyn felt suddenly calm as she watched him talking. She knew she was angry, but in a way, hisfantasy of who she was and what she was running from had brought her back to earth. There was areason for what she was doing—a real reason.

“You’re so wrong,” she told him. “But I have nothing to prove to you.”

“Why don’t you tell your mother where you really are?” he said. “What are you so scared of?”

“It’s none of your business.”

He laughed. “Sure. Because you know that I’m right.”

“Believe it if it makes you feel better about yourself.”

“I believe it because I’ve seen enough kids like you.”

“You know nothing about me, Elijah. Nothing.”

He glanced at her. “I know more than you think. I grew up seeing kids like you around Boston—beingjealous as hell because I didn’t have shit. I wished that I had parents who weren’t always drunk,throwing shit, hitting each other and hitting me and my brother. I would have loved to live in a nicehouse with a nice yard, get a decent car for my sixteenth birthday—or even just have enough food in

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the house so I wasn’t going to bed hungry most nights.”

She swallowed. Maybe he’d gotten some things wrong—they weren’t that rich, for one thing. But he’dgotten a few things right. Her family did live in Avon, Connecticut, which was a very nice town andwith a great school system and most of her friends had been quite wealthy. She’d never had to worryabout having nice clothes, or spending money, or having enough food in the house.

“I’m sorry you didn’t have those things,” she told him, and meant it. “But you don’t know anythingabout me or my life.”

“I know enough. I know that you left an ivy-league school that most people would kill to attend, andyou’re lying to your parents about it. I know that you’re running away to Florida with hardly anymoney, and you don’t have the first clue what it’s going to take to survive on your own.”

Caelyn licked her lips. “I have my reasons.”

“Sure. Sure you do.”

Her stomach was on fire now. He was painting her as some spoiled rich kid with a silver spoon inher mouth—some stupid, selfish girl being immature and silly. And he had no right to do so.

“What makes you so great that you can sit there and judge me?” she said.

“You’re lying to the police about your name. You’re running away too.”

He nodded. “That’s right. Because I have no choice. I don’t have an education, I don’t have parentsthat give a shit. All I had was baggage that was going to drag me down.”

“Those are just lame excuses,” she said, firing back, trying to hurt him the way that he’d hurt her.“Plenty of people come from poor homes and have parents that are alcoholics and they still do well inschool and end up very successful.”

“Sure they do. That’s what they tell people like you, so you don’t have to feel bad when you step oversome drunk bum on your way to your cushy corporate job. Or when you see some guy getting cuffedand stuffed in a police cruiser, you can just feel superior because he didn’t pull himself up by hisbootstraps.”

“Maybe he should have. Maybe he could have. Maybe it’s the truth,” she replied.

“But it’s not. If I had the same breaks that you’ve gotten, I’d be going to Cambridge University too.Only I wouldn’t cut and run.”

She stared at him. He looked at her for a long moment and then turned his attention back to the road.

“You don’t know anything,” was all she said. But she was starting to wonder if maybe he didn’t havea point after all.

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When they crossed into Washington D.C. later that day, she noticed that Elijah was starting to fade.

Traffic had begun building up on the highway, and the slow driving was getting to him. He wasrestless, moving in his seat, shifting his weight, fidgeting with the radio.

She could see it all over his face, plain as day. He was exhausted.

Despite the fact that they hadn’t spoken much since the argument, she was worried about him. He’dbeen up driving for hours and hours. They hadn’t had very many breaks, and it was clearly starting towear on him.

And even though she’d had a brief nap or two, she was completely strung out as well. Her mind andher body had been taxed to their limits.

“Maybe we should stop soon,” Caelyn said, as the traffic slowed further. “It’s getting to be rush hourand the traffic’s only going to get worse.”

“That’s not a very positive attitude.”

“You’ve been driving for hours and hours. At least let me take a turn.”

He gave her a look like she was crazy. “I’m not letting you drive. I saw what you did to your car,remember?”

“I didn’t do anything. It just broke down.”

“Sure it did.”

She rolled her eyes. “Do you plan on just driving straight through to Florida?”

“Sure.” He checked the time. “It’s only…what…another fourteen or fifteen hours. I can do thatstanding on my head.”

“You’re practically falling asleep at the wheel, Elijah.”

“I just need to stop for coffee. I’m fine.”

They continued on for another hour or so. Traffic was slowing to a crawl. Caelyn found her own eyesclosing, opening and closing, and she was dozing. She’d snap awake periodically to find Elijahstaring out at the endless line of cars in front of them.

She opened her mouth to say something a couple of times and then thought better of it.

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Traffic broke up as they got deeper into Virginia. Elijah stopped at a gas station to fill up and grabbedthem both coffees.

As they were leaving, Caelyn tried to give him twenty dollars.

“Get that away from me,” he said, refusing to take her money.

“Fine, I’ll just put it in your glove compartment.”

“I’ve got plenty of money,” he told her, “and I’m pretty sure you don’t. You should save it forFlorida.”

“I can’t let you keep paying for me.”

“What were you studying?” he said, as they left the gas station. He handed her a coffee and stretched,his shirt pulling up and revealing a flat, washboard stomach with six-pack abs.

She tried to avert her gaze but couldn’t help but stare.

“Hello?” he asked.


“What were you studying at Cambridge? Were you going to be a doctor or something?”

“I was studying sociology.”

“What’s the good for?” he said.

“What does that mean?”

“Like, what would you do for a job after college?”

She shrugged and took a small sip of her coffee. It was hot and good. “I don’t know. Supposedly theFBI likes hiring people from that field. Maybe I’ll track serial killers or something.” She smiled toshow she was joking.

“Well, when you get a job with the FBI someday, you can pay me back. But for now, just think of it asa long-term loan.”

“I can’t—”

“Hey,” he said softly, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I know I’m not always the easiest person to getalong with. Just let me pay for the trip, okay?”

She nodded slowly, relishing the way his hand felt on her shoulder, glad that they weren’t fightinganymore. She wanted him to stay that way for just a little while longer—and she’d probably have

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agreed to anything to make him do so. “Okay.”

“You can always pay it forward,” he said. “Help somebody else out who needs it sometime.”

A moment later, he pulled his hand away.

Once they were back in the SUV, Elijah was about to pull out of the parking lot when his cell beganbuzzing. He impatiently grabbed it from his pant’s pocket and stared at it. He had a look of concern,or maybe anger, on his face. “Damn it,” he muttered. He started furiously texting.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

He didn’t respond. He finished texting and then his phone started ringing.

Elijah’s expression darkened. Finally, after waiting for a few rings, he answered.

“Yeah.” His tone of voice was different than what she was used to hearing from him—

deeper, more aggressive. He listened to whatever the person was saying on the other end of thephone. “You know I can’t do that,” he said. “Because.” Pause. “Because I’m done, that’s why.”Another long pause. He was staring down, his eyes distant as he listened to whatever was being said.His jaw flexed and the muscle twitched, like a pulse. “Listen to me,” he said, his voice an intensewhisper. “No, listen to me. If I see you again, it’s not going to be pretty. Understand? Just go on backto the rest of the boys and tell them my message. I’m done. Stop calling me, stop texting me, don’tlook for me. If you find me, I can guarantee you’ll wish you didn’t.” And then he took the phone awayfrom his ear and hit the end button.

As they pulled back onto the highway, Caelyn could feel the tension radiating off of Elijah like heat.His whole body gave off a kind of dark, violent energy—and yet it didn’t scare her for some reason.

She knew that what he was feeling had nothing at all to do with her. Still. She knew better than to askhim what that call had been about.

After they’d been driving again for a few minutes, his shoulders visibly relaxed.

He glanced over at her. “I didn’t want you to have to hear that,” he said.

“It’s okay, I don’t mind,” she told him.

He smiled. “I doubt the kind of guys you’re used to hanging around have those kinds ofconversations.”

She thought of Jayson and winced inwardly. That conversation was nothing compared to what she’dhad to deal with from the guy she’d been hanging around with.

“I think you have a strange idea about people that I spend time with. You seem to think that everyonewho goes to a preppy school is just sheltered and rich and happy. It’s not really like that.”

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“It’s not?” he smirked.

“A lot of them are, sure,” she admitted, “but some of them are depressed and miserable. Some of themare mean. Some of them are worse than that.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Elijah said. “But believe me, you would take the nastiest of your bunchand put them in my neck of the woods—they don’t last twenty-four hours.”

“Maybe not. But you’re not as bad as you seem to think you are, Elijah.”

“You don’t know me.”

“I’m starting to know you.”

That quieted him. He seemed to be thinking awhile. “I told you I was running away from somethingtoo,” he said.

She nodded. “That person on the phone just now—is that who you’re running away from?”

“Partly. Let’s just say that I fell in with a bad crowd.” He laughed, like this amused him.

“What’s so funny?”

“That’s just total bullshit. I didn’t fall in with them. I grew up with them. They were my best friends.One of them is my kid brother.”

She could see the hurt in his eyes now. It was obvious that he was struggling with his decision asmuch as she was struggling with her own. “Maybe you and me aren’t as different as you think,” shesaid.

“How so?”

“Everyone you know thinks you’re being a traitor, right?” she asked him.

He nodded. “Yeah, pretty much.”

“Well, that’s what everyone’s going to think about me when they realize that I took off, left college togo to Florida. They’re going to think I’m crazy, ungrateful, entitled, whatever.” She looked at Elijah.“But I had to go. It was either leave Boston and give myself a chance to actually live for myself, orstay and just completely lose myself.”

“Yeah, I suppose that’s how I felt too,” he said. “You know, I can see why you got into Cambridge,”he said. “That’s pretty damn smart.”

“Thanks,” she smiled.

Over the next couple of hours, they mostly listened to music. Elijah seemed to prefer stuff like the Foo

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Fighters and Death Cab for Cutie, whereas Caelyn was pretty much into Usher and Rihanna andmainstream pop music. Surprisingly, Elijah wasn’t jerky about it like some boys had been in the past.

He didn’t make fun of her for her musical tastes. In fact, he happily tuned the radio to a hits station forthe better part of an hour.

As evening started to fall, however, and the sky slowly darkened, Elijah was tiring again and thistime, even he couldn’t deny it.

“I’m not going to make it all the way to Florida,” he said softly, after a long period of relativesilence.

“I didn’t expect you to,” she replied.

“My eyes are burning, my back is killing me. I need to get out of this car and stretch my legs and…”

“We need to stop at a hotel for the night,” Caelyn said. She was looking forward to it, actually. Sure,it would have been nice to get to Florida in one straight shot, but it wasn’t worth dying to try andmake it. They had continued way past what she thought was reasonable, and it was time to acceptdefeat.

Besides, she was still wearing the same outfit from the previous night, and her same old caked onmakeup and she felt gross. A bath would be very nice, too.

“All right, let’s pull off at the next exit,” Elijah said. “Sound good?”

“Sounds amazing.”

“I’m just going to stop at the first halfway decent place we see,” he said, “since I don’t really knowwhat’s nearby.”

“I can check my phone,” she offered.

But minutes later, they were taking the next off ramp and soon off the exit, they spotted a Holiday InnExpress that looked like a beautiful oasis after everything she’d been through recently.

“Hopefully, they have some rooms open,” Elijah said, as they pulled in. “The lot doesn’t seem toofull.”

“Should I come in with you?” she asked, as he pulled the car over beside the front entrance.

“No, let me just run in really quick and see what’s available.”

“You sure?”

“Yup.” He hopped out of the SUV, suddenly energetic, and she watched him go inside. She could seehis broad back as he walked, and the wind ruffled his hair slightly.

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The butterflies had started up again, and she put a hand on her stomach. What was she feeling,exactly? She wasn’t certain. Elijah was absolutely handsome—was it that simple? Was shephysically attracted to him, or was it something else?

She waited in the car, hoping they wouldn’t tell him the hotel was booked up. But as the minutes wentby, she imagined he must be getting rooms for them. She wondered how much it would cost, and ifhe’d try to once again pay for her.

When he finally returned to the car and got inside, she looked at him expectantly.

“Well?” she asked.

“Well, what?” he replied, driving away from the curb.

“Did they have any rooms available?”

“Yeah.” He pulled into a parking spot not far away.

“So…” she waited for him to explain. “How much do I owe you, Elijah?”

“Don’t start this mess again,” he said. “Come on, I’m freaking beat. Let’s get up to the room before Icollapse and you have to drag me up.”

His words hit her fully as the got out of the car and started toward the entrance together. “Wait asecond,” she said, pulling up short.

He looked at her. “What?”

“You said ‘room.’ As in, you got just one room for both of us?”

He started to smile. “Yeah, I got just one room. Don’t worry, kid—I’m not going to put the moves onyou or anything like that. I’ll sleep on the floor if it makes you feel better.”

She felt her cheeks blushing. “I’m not saying…that….” she stuttered. “I just figured we’d get separaterooms. I mean, we hardly even know each other.”

He put his duffel bag down and folded his arms across his muscular chest. “Well, let me break themath down for you, Caelyn. It cost me a hundred and thirty bucks for that one room. Do you reallywant to spend that much, just so you don’t have to worry about me leaving the toilet seat up?”

“No, I guess not.” She sighed, wiping the hair from her face. “It’s just kind of weird, that’s all. And Ineed to know that you’ll respect my space and my privacy.”

He repressed a smile. “Of course I will.”

“I’m serious, Elijah. I’ve had a rough couple of days.” Suddenly, out of nowhere, tears werethreatening.

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As if he sensed that she really was serious, Elijah’s smile softened. His eyes were now much warmerthan the previous second. “Hey, I’m serious too,” he said. “I’m not going to mess with you. I’ll sleepon the floor, I really don’t mind. I’ve slept in worse places, I assure you.”

She nodded. “Thank you.”

“Come on, let’s get up to the room. I think we’re both wiped at this point,” he said.

They walked through the warm, well-lit lobby together. The concierge at the front desk smiled andwaved at them. “Enjoy your stay,” he said.

Caelyn waved in return, wondering if that man assumed the two of them were boyfriend and girlfriendlike everyone else seemed to be doing.

Of course he assumes that—it would be strange to think otherwise.

And what if I actually wanted something to happened between us tonight? Caelyn wondered. WouldElijah still want to sleep on the floor? Does he think of me as just a silly young girl—a kid—or afriend, or something more?

As usual, she had no answers, only questions and butterflies.

They were on the second floor of the hotel. He pulled out the keycard for the door, and the little lighton the door handle went from red to green and flashed. The door clicked and Elijah opened it,revealing a decent-sized room with two queen beds. “Guess I won’t have to sleep on the floor afterall,” he winked, flipping on the lights as he went into the room ahead of her.

It was cool inside, with the air freshened scent common to a new room that had just been cleanedrecently.

The moment she’d gotten inside, Caelyn dropped her purse and bag to the floor.

She felt like she’d just come home from war. The bed was already calling her name, but first sheneeded a nice hot shower.

Elijah turned on the television and began flipping channels. Now that they were in the hotel roomtogether, alone, it felt suddenly very intimate and real.

It felt like they were really together.

She looked at Elijah as the light from the television illuminated his face. He was focused on the TVscreen, not noticing her for the time being, and she was able to just look at him.

Okay, so he’s fucking hot.

She’d known he was good-looking, clearly, but now that they had stepped out of the car and into ahotel room, something in her awareness had shifted. Elijah was the type of guy that girls would fight

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to make their boyfriend, compete and scratch and claw to sleep with. He was seriously that hot.

She was alone in a room with him. And there was a bed in this room. They could lie on the bedtogether and nobody would ever know.

Suddenly, she was imagining them on the bed together—his hard body pushed close to her, his strong,muscular arms encircling her, as he leaned in and began softly kissing her.

She forced herself to break out of the ridiculous fantasy and stop staring.

How can you even think about kissing Elijah after what Jayson did to you last night? Are youinsane?

Now, the butterflies were going and she felt anxious, like her heart was racing.

“I’m taking a shower,” she announced, her voice a little too loud.

He took his gaze off the TV and looked at her quizzically. “Okay. Have fun.”

She went into the bathroom, shut the door behind her and turned the water on full blast in the tub. Herheart was still beating too fast and she could hardly catch her breath.

Looking at herself in the bathroom mirror, her face was too pale and she looked like a tired old clownwith all the dried makeup and the mascara that had run down her cheeks when she’d been crying.

She felt a strong need to tear off her clothes. They stink, she thought. She’d been wearing them for aday and a half and she’d gone over Jayson’s wearing the outfit. She’d been dumb enough to want todress sexy for him, never realizing what that might mean.

Never considering that it might lead where it led.

Caelyn pulled off her top and then stepped out of her skirt as the steam started to fill the room. Theheat was good. The heat was cleansing. She wasn’t wearing panties because Jayson had ripped themoff during the struggle.

Now, looking at her own naked body, she was forced to see the bruises on her upper arm from wherehe’d grabbed her, the scratch on her belly, another large yellowing bruise on her thigh, the rawness onher knee.

There were other bruises and scrapes, too. Some smaller, some larger.

He beat me up, she realized. He beat me up and raped me.

The thought was loud in her head—almost a scream. Caelyn felt her self-control slipping away.Images from last night were flooding back in now, as if stripping off her clothes had also strippedaway the final layers of armor that had protected her from the worst of the memories.

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She saw Jason’s face close up, leering at her as he forced her down on the couch.

“Don’t fight it,” he warned, his voice hot in her ear.

Caelyn stepped into the scalding shower and began furiously lathering a washcloth with soap, andthen scrubbing her body from head to toe. She spent a lot of time on her face because of the makeup,but she spent even more time on her breasts and between her legs.

It only occurred to her that she was sobbing when she came out of the fog of memory and heardherself, as if from a distance.

I’m crying, she thought, and stopped instantly.

The memories faded, like a signal going dead. Somehow, she pushed it back.

Pushed everything down again.

The water had begun cooling, as she’d been standing in the shower scrubbing for quite awhile. Shewasn’t even sure how long she’d been in there, but it must have been long enough to concern Elijah.

There was a knock on the bathroom door and then his voice, muffled, speaking.

“…okay in there…?”

She turned away from the cooling spray of water from the showerhead. “I’m fine, I’ll be out in a sec!”

“…making sure…”

She couldn’t hear the rest of what he said.

Smiling a little at his concern, Caelyn turned off the shower and stood dripping into the tub. Some ofthe worst of the anxiety and panic had passed. She felt a little better now that she had cleaned herbody entirely. Her skin was red and raw, as though she’d scraped the top layer off.

She liked that idea. Shedding her old skin.

It was only when she put the towel around her torso and stepped out of the tub that she realized, in herhaste, she’d forgotten to bring her little travel bag with her clothes into the bathroom.

“Elijah?” she called. He didn’t respond. The television was on out there, and he’d turned up thevolume loud enough to not be able to hear her very easily.

Screw it, she thought. I’ll just run out there in my towel, grab my bag really quickly, and run back in.

Somehow, the idea of running out in her towel in front of Elijah didn’t really scare her the way itshould have. After what had happened with Jayson, she’d have assumed that the mere idea of showinga flash of skin to Elijah would have totally freaked her out. But it didn’t.

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Elijah could be trusted. Somehow, he was safe. Of course, she knew that he wasn’t really safe at all—in fact, she sensed that in many ways Elijah was more dangerous than Jayson—just not to her.Elijah wouldn’t ever hurt her. She knew it in a deep way, a sense that she couldn’t even begin toexplain.

So she opened the bathroom door and ran to get her bag—and bumped directly into Elijah, and hertowel started to fall off, so she grabbed it to keep it from exposing everything.

Elijah caught her as she stumbled forward, his strong hands around her waist as she held up the top ofher towel.

“Hey, hey, easy there,” he laughed. “It’s not the Indie 500. Chill.”

“I just needed to get my bag,” she said, her cheeks aflame.

“Why didn’t you just open the door and ask me to get it for you?”

“Will you just let me go so I can get it already?” she asked, flustered by his nearness and hisquestions.

He was still looking at her though, not moving away. His expression had changed from good-naturedand amused to one of worry. “What the hell…” he said, as he looked down at her legs and then herarms and shoulders. “You’re all fucking bruised and shit.”

“Don’t look at me like that,” she said. Her voice was raspy and choked. She pushed past him andquickly grabbed her bag.

“Caelyn—” he started.

“Stop looking at me!” she said, and then ran into the bathroom, shutting the door.

She was breathing heavily. Why hadn’t she realized that he might see her and the bruises and scrapes?Of course he would wonder what had happened to her.

She opened her bag and looked for the most non-revealing outfit she could find.

Granted, there wasn’t much to choose from, because she’d been frantic at the time that she’d packedit.

There were mostly shorts, some panties and bras, t-shirts, one sweatshirt and one pair of jeans. Shereally didn’t want to have to wear jeans right then, so Caelyn put on a pair of shorts a t-shirt and thenthe sweatshirt on top of it. Most of the bruises and scrapes on her body were now covered up.

After another few seconds trying to compose herself, Caelyn walked out of the bathroom again.

Elijah was sitting on the edge of one of the beds, watching TV. He glanced at her.

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“You okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said, not really feeling fine at all. She climbed into the opposite bed and got under thecovers. She was too hot in her sweatshirt but didn’t feel comfortable taking it off.

“Listen, you don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to,” he said softly.

“I’m aware of that.”

“What’s your problem?” he said. “Why are you treating me like the enemy?”

“Because, you should mind your own business.”

Elijah looked straight at her. “Hey, I’m not the guy who gave you those bruises.

And if I ever meet that guy, I’m going to rip his fucking head off.”

Caelyn stared back at him, feeling a surge of conflicting emotions. She was angry at him for makingassumptions and talking so bluntly about what had happened to her.

But she was also grateful to him. He actually cared enough to be enraged on her behalf.

And then, without warning, the tears came.

Once they came, she couldn’t stop them so she buried her face in her hands and just let herself cry.She was totally embarrassed, feeling like a complete psycho.

She wondered if Elijah was starting to regret his decision to travel with her after all the hysterics anddramatics.

He wasn’t saying a word. He was probably just sitting there and wondering what the hell he did todeserve this crazy girl in his life.

But then, surprisingly, she felt his hand on her back. “It’s all right,” he said, and she felt the weight ofhis body sinking into the mattress next to her. His hand slowly rubbed her back, and she was amazedthat Elijah’s touch wasn’t threatening.

Instead, he was soothing. The warmth from his hand as he softly rubbed her back seemed to relax allthe muscles in her shoulders. Caelyn slowly lifted her face from her hands.

He was sitting on the edge of the bed, right next to her. He was looking at her with softness andcaring. His eyes, she realized, were incredibly kind. How was it that she’d never noticed that before?

“I don’t want you to feel like you have to take care of me,” she told him. “I’m going to be fine.”

“I know that,” he said.

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“I just need time to figure out what the hell happened to me.”

“You don’t know?” Elijah said.

She sighed. “I do know. But…it’s confusing. You’re not a girl so you can’t possibly understand whatI mean.”

“You think because I’m not a girl, I can’t imagine being confused about my life?”

he laughed. “Shit, I’m confused every fucking day, Caelyn.”

“This is different, though.”

“How so?”

And then, for some reason, she just blurted it out. The truth.

“Because I was raped by my boyfriend, okay?”

Elijah was staring at her as if she’d slapped him. He licked his lips. “Okay,” he said, slowly. “Whatpart of it’s confusing?”

She ran her hands through her still wet, tangled hair. “All of it. Jayson—that’s his name…he was sonice to me the whole time up until last night.” She thought about everything and shook her head, stillcompletely stunned at how quickly it had all changed. “I was a freshman and Jayson is a junior. Heapproached me in the cafeteria on my second day of school and was just…nice. A total gentleman. Hewas sweet and funny and totally mature, and I was kind of in awe of him.”

Elijah looked sick. “Yeah, I know the type.”

“I know, I know—you think he’s that typical rich kid that you hate.”

“That’s not what I meant, Caelyn.”

“Well, maybe that’s what I meant. Because, looking back on it, I suppose I’m mad at myself forfalling for his act. And it was an act. He was from a good family, a rich family and people on campusknew their names. When I was seen with him, I have to admit that I liked feeling important. I got offon feeling special, like I’d gotten into some exclusive club.”

Elijah smiled a little. “There’s nothing wrong with that. We all want to be special.”

“Maybe.” She sighed. “He took everything slow. We didn’t go out on our first real date for a coupleof weeks, and then he asked me to dinner. And he took me to a really nice restaurant in the South Endof Boston, and I felt like a princess. At the end of the night, he just dropped me back at the dorms witha little kiss. Nothing crazy, he didn’t even ask me to go back to his place—although I would have if hehad.”

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“The guy knew what he was doing, Caelyn. He was grooming you.”

“Grooming me?”

Elijah’s eyes turned hard and flinty. She could tell he wasn’t angry with her, though. But she couldfeel his rage, could feel the tension coming off him in waves as he sat there, looking into the distance.“This is a pattern that he set up, and he was just playing out the script with you. I’m sorry to say it, butthere’s no way this is the first time he did this to a girl.”

That put things in a new light. But Caelyn didn’t know what to make of Elijah’s theory, or what shewould do if it was true. All she knew was what had happened to her.

“Anyway, we had a few more dates. Each time, he took me somewhere nice, treated me wonderfully,was a total gentleman.”

“And then?”

“And then it changed. I wasn’t even supposed to have a date with him last night,”

she said, remembering how she’d been planning on staying in and studying. “But then, at like nineo’clock, I get a text from Jayson asking me if I want to come over his apartment.

I hadn’t even been there yet. At the time, I thought it was pretty strange. He’d said he was going to aparty with some of his friends from the debate team—“

“Debate team?” Elijah scoffed. He seemed to catch himself. “Forget I said anything.”

She glared at him, but she wasn’t really mad. It almost made her smile, how Elijah could so easily lethis prejudice against rich kids get to him.

He was still rubbing her back as she spoke, and their hips were touching. She knew that it shouldbother her, but it didn’t. Somehow, his closeness was actually helping her feel safe enough to tell thestory.

“I wasn’t expecting to hear from him or see him,” she continued. “We hadn’t gotten that serious yet.So when he texted me, I almost—almost said no.” She closed her eyes tightly. “God, I wish I’dlistened to my instinct.”

Elijah was watching her intently. “It’s not your fault,” he said.

It might have been cliché, Caelyn thought, but the conviction in his voice made it feel real and truthful.

“You’re right,” she said. “But I still wish I’d listened to myself.” She took a deep breath and let it out.Now she was getting to the scary part, and her stomach was getting tight, burning a little as she gearedup to remember the worst. “Obviously, I said yes. I got dressed up in my very cutest, sexiest outfit andI went to his apartment. I don’t know what I was expecting. I was ready to hook up with him,” shesaid. “But I don’t think I had any intention of going all the way. I mean, he was only the second person

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I slept with—”

“You didn’t sleep with him,” Elijah interrupted. “He assaulted you.”

She nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I know.” She wiped at her eyes. “Anyway, when I got inside his apartment,I was surprised by how it looked. It was a nice, big place, off-campus. But it was messy. There werebeer bottles and beer cans all over the place, a pizza box open on the coffee table in the living room.It kind of smelled.”

Elijah laughed at that. “Figures.”

“Jayson asked me if I wanted to hang out and watch a movie. I said sure, even though little alarmbells had started going off in my head. They were distant alarm bells, but something just felt—off. Icould tell he’d been drinking, for one thing. He smelled like beer, and his hair was kind of messedup.” She thought about it. “But it was more than that. His whole vibe was just wrong. He was lookingat me differently—looking at me like I was his prey or something.”

Elijah’s jaw was flexing again, which she knew was something he did when he was getting upset. Ittouched her a little that he was so worked up on account of her.

“You don’t have to tell me it all if you don’t want to,” Elijah said.

“No, I want to. Maybe I need to, even. If I don’t tell someone, I think I might go crazy.”

“I’m listening.”

“We were just sitting and watching some dumb movie. Transformers or something—maybe it was thesecond one. I couldn’t focus. I ate some pizza and tried to make small talk, but Jayson was beingstrange. Quiet. He started telling me how good I looked, how much he liked my skirt. I said thanks,tried to make a joke. I ate more pizza, thinking it would keep him from trying to kiss me. I was startingto plan excuses for leaving. And then, he put his arm over my shoulder and hugged me really, reallytightly to him. I could feel how strong he was. Jayson is a big guy, and I was surprised at how hard hewas holding me. I told him he was hurting me and he just laughed and said that he just liked me a lot.And then it really started. He wouldn’t let me go, and he was just holding me, kissing me a little. Ididn’t want to kiss him back, but I was afraid.

So at first, I did kiss him a little bit, thinking it might slow him down. Only the exact oppositehappened. He put his weight on me and pushed me back onto the couch, and then he started gropingme, putting his hands all over me. Finally, I got scared and said I wanted to stop. He ignored me. Isaid it louder and then he got really rough. He ripped my panties off and put his fingers right into me. Iwas crying, telling him to stop, and he told me not to fight it…and then he eventually just stoppedresponding.”

She realized she was shaking violently now, as if it was happening again, this very instant.

Elijah looked slightly alarmed. “Caelyn, relax,” he said. “Relax. No one’s going to hurt you again.”

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“How do you know?” she said, her voice almost a whisper.

“Because, I’ll kill anyone who tries.”

She nodded, still shaking violently. “Thank you for saying that.”

“Is it bothering you that I’m sitting so close right now?”

She looked into his eyes and shook her head. “No. I know you wouldn’t ever hurt me.”

He smiled a little, but then his smile faded. “Tell me the rest. I can take it.”

Caelyn looked away, drawing her knees up to her chest and putting her cheek against her knees. Sheclosed her eyes. “From there, things just progressed fast. I think I might have blacked out a little bit. Itcrossed my mind that I might die—that Jayson was totally insane and he might kill me. His eyesweren’t normal, they were dead. He wasn’t seeing me, he didn’t care that I was crying and begginghim to stop. He just kept going.

He raped me. I don’t know how long it lasted. I just know that afterward, he acted like nothing hadhappened. He got up and went to the bathroom and then he came back and started watching the movieagain. I told him I was going and he said he would text me tomorrow. I just said fine, because Iwanted more than anything to get out of that apartment and away from him.”

She heaved a deep sigh, opening her eyes again, as if coming out of a trance.

“Once I got back to my dorm room, I realized that I couldn’t stay there anymore. I didn’t want to seeJayson ever again, or even the school itself. I wanted out of Boston.”

“Why Florida?” Elijah asked.

She smiled then. “I’ll show you.” She climbed off the bed and fished the postcard out of her purse.She got back on the bed and handed it to Elijah, who saw it and grinned.

“This is cute,” he said. “But I still don’t get why you decided to go here.”

The card was a picture of a sandy white beach with a beautiful sunset. Palm trees waved in thedistance. At the top edge of the card, in colorful letters, it said GREETINGS FROM BEAUTIFULSARASOTA. She turned it over and showed him the flip side.

Hey, Alicia! Wish you were here—maybe Spring Break? Love, Mom.

“My roommate, Alicia, got this from her mother a couple of weeks ago. She couldn’t care less aboutit. She actually tossed it in the trash and I found it.”

“I guess her and her mother aren’t that close,” Elijah said.

“I guess not. Ever since I found this card, I couldn’t help but look at it. I ended it putting it in my room

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on my dresser, and every night, I looked at it and pictured myself away from everything, walking onthat beach.” Caelyn laughed to herself. “When I got back to the room last night, I knew I was leaving.But I wasn’t sure exactly where to go until I was in the middle of packing and that post card caught myeye again. That’s when I realized.”

Elijah raised his eyebrows. “That’s quite a story you got there.”

“Yup.” She nodded, pushing a few strands of hair out of her face.

“Why not go to the police?”

She flinched. “I just can’t. His family is wealthy, very connected. I know he mentioned somethingabout relatives who are judges and lawyers. He’s a legacy at Cambridge. I would get torn apart.”

“He can’t just get away with it,” Elijah said. “I won’t let him.”

She turned her head and stared at him, shocked. “You won’t let him? What does that mean?”

He just shrugged. “Don’t worry about what it means.”

“Elijah, you don’t even know the guy.”

“I’m pretty sure I know what I need to know.”

“Please, that’s not going to help anything.”

Elijah got off the bed and started pacing. “What’s his last name?” he said. He turned and faced her.

She laughed. “I’m not telling you.”

“Caelyn, tell me. Seriously.”

“No, Elijah. You’re starting to freak me out.”

His whole body looked puffed up, like he was ready to fight there and then. The energy coming offhim was incredible. Of course, in some bizarre way, she had to admit it was sexy, too. But she didn’twant Elijah knowing who Jayson was and trying to defend her honor or whatever he had in mind.

“It’s not fair, what he did to you. The guy is scum, Caelyn.”

“I know that. But I made my decision. I could have gone to the police and I chose not to. I’m not goingto try and let you and your friends take matters into your own hands.”

“Who said anything about my friends? I’m perfectly capable of tearing that clown apart with my owntwo hands.”

She saw in his eyes that he was totally serious. He wasn’t just trying to be a big shot. “Please, you’re

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not helping me right now. I just told you something that I haven’t told to anyone else on this planet.Can you calm down before I regret saying anything?”

Slowly, slowly, she saw Elijah regain control over his emotions. It took a visible effort. Hisshoulders dropped a little, and some of the blood left his face. He took a deep breath and released it.“Fine,” he said. “I guess I have to respect your choice.”

“Yeah, you do.”

He sighed. “Well, we’ve got a long day of driving tomorrow and we should get to bed.”

She nodded. Part of her wanted more. She didn’t even know exactly what that meant, but only that shewas unsatisfied in some profound way. He went to the bathroom and took a quick shower, reemergingwith damp hair, wearing shorts and a white t-shirt that clung to his still wet body.

She had turned off the lights, and now there was just the flickering of the TV.

Caelyn watched as he climbed into the other bed. His muscles flexed and moved as he got under thecovers.

Imagining him climbing into bed with her instead, Caelyn felt a rush of adrenaline and realized thatshe desperately wanted him to be close to her. Maybe it was her instinct, wanting to feel protected.She didn’t know what it was. She just knew that she needed something more from him.

But soon, she drifted to sleep.

Her dreams were something straight from hell. In one nightmare after another, she ran from Jayson,and he was always too fast and too strong and too evil for her. He looked like an alternate version ofhimself—more demonic than anything. His mouth was always twisted into a grin that was wider thanit should have been, and his eyes were maniacal, white and huge, the dark pupils dancing with glee ashe chased her down darkened, twisted corridors.

In the final nightmare before she woke up, he had caught her and taken her, hogtied, to some dingybasement littered with empty pizza boxes that were crawling with maggots and roaches. And thenhe’d taken out a huge knife and begun stabbing her as she screamed and screamed…

“Hey, hey, Caelyn, wake up,” Elijah said, shaking her shoulder softly.

Her eyes snapped open and she gave a whimper, hands flying to her face. “Oh, God. Oh, God,” shesaid. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.

“It’s just a nightmare. You’re fine. You’re safe.”

The room was dark and for a moment, the shadows in the corner had almost seemed to resemble aperson.

Caelyn’s heart hammered against her chest. “I think…I think I’m having a panic attack.”

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“Slide over,” he told her.

She slid over and he sat on the bed again. “Look at me,” he said.

She looked at him, her eyes wide, breathing still labored. She felt like she was underwater, choking.

“Slow down,” he said, his voice calm. “Breathe with me, Caelyn.” He made an exaggerated breath,lifting his chest and then slowly exhaling. “Come on, do it with me.”

“I can’t. I don’t know how.”

“Here, can I take your hand?” he asked.

She nodded. “Yeah.”

Gently he took her hand and placed it on his chest. She could feel that he was even more muscularthan she’d realized. His pectorals were dense and chiseled, like stone. “Feel how I breathe,” he said,“and match your breathing to mine. You’re hyperventilating.”

He started to breathe, and she kept her hand on his chest, noting the rise and fall.

It was hard to concentrate, though, when she couldn’t stop thinking about how strong and muscular hewas.

Maybe the distraction of being close and touching him was what did the trick. Or maybe it wasslowing her breathing to try and match Elijah’s. All she knew was that, within a few minutes, she hadregained her equilibrium and no longer felt like she was choking.

“Better?” he asked.

“Better,” she agreed.

“Good.” He touched her hair, then, looking into her eyes, and smiled. “Think you can go back tosleep? We need to get up in a couple of hours.”

“I hope so.” She bit her lower lip. “It might help if you stayed in this bed, though. With me.”

His eyebrows rose again. “Are you sure?”

“Nothing can happen between us, though. I can’t…I’m not ready…”

“I wouldn’t expect anything to happen,” he said. “I’m not Jayson. I would never do that to you.”

She nodded. “I know, I just needed to say it.”

“Do you trust me?”

“I trust you completely.” She didn’t even know why, but it was true.

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He got under the covers with her, and they faced one another in the bed, just inches apart from oneanother. He stroked her hair softly and looked in her eyes. “I’ve never met anyone like you,” he said.

“I’ve never met anyone like you,” she replied, softly.

It was dark, and warm, and it seemed like they were the only two people in the world right then.Caelyn felt safe again, really safe, for the first time since what had happened with Jayson. But in away, she felt safer than she had going back before the assault, going back a long way.

The touch of Elijah’s fingers as he caressed her hair was like magic. His eyes were staring into hers,telling her without words that she didn’t ever have to worry, that he would take care of her.

I think I might be falling for him, she realized, as she fell away into a peaceful, deep, dreamless sleep.


When Caelyn awoke, she was lying with her face pressed into Elijah’s chest, and one of his arms wasdraped over her shoulder. She could hear him breathing deeply, still asleep.

The room was quiet, but the television set was still flickering, as she lifted her head and checked theclock on the nightstand.

Everything was still, peaceful and warm. She was tired, but her adrenaline was flowing from beingso close to Elijah.

She looked at his face, the skin smooth and completely unblemished. He looked like someone hadpainted him.

Suddenly, his eyelids snapped open and his big brown eyes were looking back at her. “Hey,” he said,his voice froggy.

“Oh, hey,” she said, jumping out of bed like she’d been given a high-voltage shock.

“You’re up early,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “We don’t need to leave for like half an hour yet.”

“Well, I’m just awake—ready to hit the road I guess,” she laughed nervously.

Then she went into the bathroom. Her heart was beating rapidly and she felt totally humiliated, havingbeen caught staring at him like that.

He must think I’m a total freak.

Caelyn washed her face, brushed her teeth and then came out of the bathroom.

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When she opened the door, she was greeted by the sight of Elijah, stripped to the waist, as he bentover his bag and searched for a new shirt. Finally, he stood up, holding the new t-shirt in his hands.He smiled at her, but all she could see was his incredible body.

He was like a fitness model. He could have been on one of those infomercials, showing how to usesome ridiculous machine that would give you ripped abs for five payments of $19.99.

She averted her gaze, pretending to look out the window. “It’s still dark,” she said, by way ofconversation.

He was taking an awfully long time to put his shirt back on. “Yeah, I like driving early in the morninglike this. You grab a coffee, put on the radio, there’s hardly any traffic and you just go. It’s kind ofbeautiful in a way.”

She made eye contact with him and they both smiled.

“That’s poetic,” she said.

He shook his head. “I must be tired still, talking that shit.” He pulled his shirt on.

She almost wished he hadn’t.

A few minutes later, they were back in the SUV and on the road again, having gassed up once moreand gotten fresh coffee for the drive.

It was much as Elijah had said. There were still very few cars on the highway, and the sky was juststarting to turn purple and pink, and lighten a bit above the trees on the horizon.

He turned the radio on low, and there was just the soothing sounds of voices talking about safesubjects, and the taste of coffee and the presence of Elijah beside her, driving, and occasionallylooking over and giving her a cute little smile.

They didn’t talk much for the next few hours, it was enough to drive and look forward to Florida—where they would arrive that evening.

The peacefulness wasn’t disturbed again until the text came in.

She looked at her phone, hoping it was anyone but him, anyone at all.

When she looked, though, his name was staring at her in stark black and white.


And then his texts, one after the other: Hey, haven’t heard from u lately. U

around tonite? Hit me back.

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She turned her phone off and threw it in her purse. She thought briefly of tossing the phone out thewindow, but ultimately decided not to. He wasn’t going to control her actions from a distance. Shewouldn’t destroy something of value just because he was using it to contact her.

Once again, Caelyn could barely breathe. Elijah glanced at her. “Who was that?”

he asked, suspicious.

“No one,” she lied.

“Seemed like someone, based on the way you threw your phone and the look on your face.”

“It’s nothing.” For some reason, she didn’t want to tell him. Part of her was afraid he would try toreply or respond to Jayson in some way.

Another part of her simply didn’t want to deal with it at all, wanted to pretend that everything wouldbe automatically fine once they reached Florida.

But she was starting to suspect that reality was more complicated than that.

Jayson texted her again and again that day.

She knew because she checked her phone once more when she was in the bathroom at a rest stopsome time later, when they’d crossed into South Carolina and were bearing down on Georgia.

There were three more texts, sent about an hour apart from each other.

Are u ignoring me?

We should talk.

Call me ASAP. I want to see u again.

Caelyn promptly turned her phone off again. She felt almost faint, her stomach lurching as she wentoutside and saw Elijah topping off the gas tank at the nearby gas pumps.

He knew something was wrong. She could tell by the way he watched her, as though he was waitingfor her to break down and tell him the truth.

And she wanted to tell him. Hell, she was starting to think that maybe having Elijah send a couple of“friends” around to tell Jayson to stop contacting her might not be such a bad thing after all.

But then she brushed it off once more. Jayson would get the hint eventually.

She just needed to keep ignoring him.

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It all started to feel real sometime outside of Savannah, Georgia.

That was when she first saw the palm trees.

“Oh my God,” she practically yelled.

“What? What is it?” Elijah asked, looking around, as if expecting to see a rattlesnake in the car.

She pointed out the window. “Palm trees. Look!”

He shook his head. “You really are nuts, Caelyn. I thought we were about to be attacked by terroristsor something.”

“I didn’t realize we’d be seeing them so soon,” she marveled. They swayed gently in the breeze asthey passed them, and she rolled down her window and sniffed the air. It smelled like summer andfreedom. She yelled out the window. “Florida!” she said, laughing. “We’re coming!”

Elijah glanced at her again. “Are you losing it or what?”

“We’ve been in this car for forever. I think I’m allowed to have a moment.”

“Let me know when it’s my turn.”

“Go on, have a moment,” she told him.

“Fine.” He rolled down the window and stuck his head out. “Woo-hoo!

Florida!” The car swerved and he abruptly straightened, blinking as he got control of the wheel.“Oops.”

Caelyn was giggling. And then she started laughing hysterically. Something about the look on his faceas he’d lost control of the car for that one instant was just too much to take.

Maybe it was that she’d never seen Elijah look out of control before.

She kind of liked it.

They crossed over into Florida late that afternoon.

When she’d seen the sign that said Welcome To Florida, The Sunshine State, she’d whooped andhollered and exchanged high fives with Elijah.

But the celebrations had been short-lived. Firstly, because they still had hours left to drive. It was along way from the border of the state down to Sarasota and Siesta Key.

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She was getting tired, and so was Elijah.

Worse yet, she was compulsively checking her cell phone. The texts from Jayson had stopped for thetime being, but then she’d received some from her roommates.

Now, she was getting worried, because the texts had changed from hey, what’s going on? ToWHERE R U GIRL????

It was only a matter of time before someone called the police, or the school, or her parents werenotified. She needed to do some damage control.

Finally, she opted to call Alicia rather than wait for the inevitable freak out from friends and familywhen they discovered she was gone.

Alicia answered on the first ring, as if she’d been waiting by her phone. “Caelyn, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said.

Elijah looked at her, curious. She hadn’t told him she was going to call anyone back home.

“We thought you’d decided to stay at Jayson’s, but then Nellie said she saw Jayson at the union andhe hadn’t seen you since the other night. I was starting to freak out.”

“I’m fine,” Caelyn told her again.

“Oh. Where are you?”

There was a long pause as Caelyn debated how to answer that question. Finally, she opted for thetruth. “I’m in Florida,” she said.

“Wait—what? I didn’t hear you. I thought for a second you said Florida.”

“I did say Florida.”

“I don’t get it.”

Caelyn sighed. “I left. I’m not coming back to school, Alicia.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense. The semester’s not even over. If you just take off, you’re going toflunk everything.”

“I know it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s what I had to do.”


“I can’t…I don’t want to talk about it. I just needed to leave.”

“Come on, Caelyn. This is totally crazy. You can’t just leave and go to Florida.

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What are you going to do there?”

“I don’t know,” Caelyn said. “I’m hoping to get a job waitressing.”

“Why Florida?” Alicia said. And then she moaned. “Oh my God, is this because of that stupidpostcard my mom sent? You’ve been obsessed with Siesta Key ever since.

I should never have let you keep that thing. It’s cursed. That’s why I threw it out.”

“It’s not cursed,” Caelyn said, almost laughing.

“Everything my mother touches is cursed.”

“Listen, I’m fine. I’ll talk more about it in a few days.”

“You need to seriously think about what you’re doing. You could screw up your whole life, doingthis. Are you alone?”

Caelyn looked over at Elijah and smiled. “Not exactly…but look, Alicia. I called because I didn’twant you to worry.”

“Well mission not accomplished. I’m more worried than ever.”

“I have to go. I’m sorry. I’ll call you tomorrow or the day after.”

“Caelyn, seriously. Don’t do this!”

“I’ll call you later,” she repeated. And then she hung up.


By the time they reached Sarasota, neither of them were quite as jubilant as they’d been previously.The weather was almost stiflingly hot, and they’d also passed through a couple of brief torrentialshowers that hadn’t lasted long, but had made it difficult for Elijah to drive.

Florida was beautiful, and Caelyn was excited that they’d finally arrived safe and sound. At the sametime, there were a few big question marks floating around, now that they were getting close to theirdestination.

Elijah had asked Caelyn to call around to the various hotels and motels in the area and try to booksomething cheap. “For both of us?” she’d said.

He’d just looked at her. “You tell me.”

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She’d shrugged in return. “I…I guess. I’m not sure what’s going on.”

She’d hoped that perhaps he would tell her what he wanted to do. After all, they’d only just met and ithardly made sense for them to try and live together out in Florida.

“Are you going to be working out here?” she’d asked him.

“I’ll figure something out.”

And that had been that.

After calling a dozen places and starting to lose hope, she’d finally found them a relatively cheaproom at a place called The Seaside Motel, which apparently was close to the main drag on SiestaKey. The cost was just over one hundred dollars a night, which Elijah had said was acceptable—andbesides, there weren’t many other places available in the area.

Caelyn’s spirits momentarily lifted as they crossed the bridge taking them over to Siesta Key. Therewas beautiful blue water on either side of the bridge, and palm trees, and boats in the distance. Therewere brightly colored houses and buildings, and for a second, she really thought they’d foundparadise.

“Just like the postcard,” Elijah had mused.

“It is, isn’t it? Maybe even better than the postcard,” she’d smiled.

“We’ll need to check out that beach before long.”

They pulled into The Seaside Motel as the sun was starting to dip in the sky. The motel looked likesomething out of the nineteen seventies. Everything was wooden, and old, and the paint on the signagelooked as though it had needed repainting…probably for the last decade or so.

Neither of them really cared at this point. They both just wanted out of the car, and maybe to have aplace to dump their bags and stretch their legs.

Elijah checked in and then they climbed some rickety steps to the second floor of the motel. Their feetslapped and echoed on the catwalk as they made their way to the room.

Inside, it smelled vaguely musty, but Elijah forced a window open and some nice, breezy ocean airhelped to clean out the room.

It was small, with only one bed, a tiny TV, ancient wallpaper and even more ancient, stainedcarpeting. The bathroom had painful florescent lighting that turned Caelyn’s skin green when shelooked in the mirror.

“Home sweet home,” she said to Elijah, as she came out.

He was sitting on the bed, looking glum.

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“Everything okay?” she asked.

“Yeah.” But he looked not okay. He glanced around the room. “Maybe we should get out of here,check out the beach. Want to?”

“Sure, why not?” she said. In actuality, she wanted a shower and a nap, but Caelyn could tell thatElijah needed to get out and move, and she didn’t want to say no to his idea.

They left the room and walked out of the parking lot, onto the main road. “I think the beach is only ahalf mile down,” Elijah said, pointing.

There were other people on the road, some walking, others with their dogs, or riding bicycles.“Everyone looks happy here,” Caelyn said, “don’t you think?”

“More so than Boston,” he agreed. “But other than New York, I don’t think any place on earth hasmoodier, crankier people.”

She laughed. “True. Everyone I see around here is smiling.” Then she looked at Elijah. He wasn’tsmiling at all.

The two of them fell silent and walked for a while more. Soon, they reached the beach parking lot. Itwas less than half full. “It’s getting dark,” Elijah said, “so most people probably took off already.We’ll get the place to ourselves, right?”

They crossed the street and then found the pathway down to the beach. She could hear the ocean asthey walked, and then she could see it—a powdered sugar beach with palm trees waving, and bluewater crashing against the sand.

It took her breath away. The sun was setting over the water, casting brilliant flashes of color acrossthe sky.

“It’s amazing,” she said, coming to a stop at the very edge of the beach.

Elijah stood with her and took in the scene. “Yeah, it really is. Makes the drive worth it.”

She took off her shoes and let the sand squelch in between her toes. “Oh, wow, this sand feelsamazing. It’s soft and cool, like a velvet glove.”

“You sound poetic,” he said, throwing back her earlier remark to him. Then he took his shoes off, too.

They started walking towards the water.

There were other couples walking down by the water, Caelyn noticed. And then she checked herself.Other couples, Caelyn? You and Elijah are not a couple. You’ve never even kissed. Sure, he’stotally gorgeous, and he’s been sweet and caring, but he hasn’t shown an ounce of interest intaking this beyond a friendship.

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Her thoughts were spinning as they walked together by the water. It was magical, romantic—it waseverything she could have asked for.

But part of her couldn’t totally enjoy it. She kept glancing at Elijah and wondering what he wasthinking. He seemed pensive and quiet, not as happy as she’d expected him to be.

Maybe it was because he understood that something had to change now that they’d finally arrived inSiesta Key, or maybe it was because he also felt something for her.

She almost made a joke about holding hands, since almost everyone else was doing it—but themoment passed. She lost her nerve.

After they’d walked for a long stretch, Elijah declared himself hungry. “Want to grab some food? Ithink there’s a bunch of places on the main drag,” he said.

“Sure.” And truth be told, she also wanted to check out the bars and restaurants because she washoping to scrounge up some work. She needed to make money fast or she would be out of options.

They found the strip easily enough. It was just down the road from the beach, not even a mile fromwhere their hotel was located. It was getting busy now that they were hitting dinnertime.

There were fewer restaurants and bars than she’d imagined, just a handful really.

It made her wonder if finding work out here would be as easy as she’d assumed.

And it wasn’t as if she had an incredible resume, either, just a couple years of waiting tables atFriendly’s in high school.

They walked past an ice cream shop with a line out the door, and a cute little breakfast place with abroken egg on the sign—an oyster bar, another bar with live music floating into the street.

“How about this place?” Elijah asked.

It was called Mean Margaritas, and it was big, with a lot of outdoor seating.

Plenty of people were eating and drinking, but there seemed to be room for more.

“Sounds good,” she said. “Let’s eat.”

They went inside and a girl who looked no older then eighteen sat them at a small table looking outonto the strip. A moment later, their waitress stopped by and asked if they wanted drinks.

Elijah ordered a Coke and she ordered a diet Coke. The waitress left, and then they were quiet again.Elijah was looking out on the street. Tourists strolled past—some with children in tow, others inrowdy groups, looking for action.

“So, what’s your plan now?” she said, finally. “I mean, you must have had a reason to come to

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Florida, right?”

Elijah nodded, but didn’t meet her gaze. “Of course.”

She wanted to ask him what exactly that reason was. After all, he knew a lot more about her than sheknew about him at this point.

But he seemed to be putting a wall up—she sensed that he didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t wantto talk about anything, apparently.

The waitress brought them their drinks, as Elijah and Caelyn studied the menus.

“I think I’m going to get the Mean Burger,” she said.

“Same,” Elijah replied.

“Great. And how would you like that burger cooked?” she asked.

“I’d like mine medium well,” he said.

“Same for me,” Caelyn added.

“Oh, you two are cute. I love when couples get the same meal—me and my boyfriend have totallydifferent tastes,” the waitress laughed, before taking their menus and walking off.

Elijah grinned at her. “Here we go again,” he said. The moment seemed to have loosened him up. Hetook a big swig of his soda and leaned back in his chair. “I could get used to this,” he said.

Caelyn nodded agreement.

The food was really good, but by the end of dinner she was ready to call it a night.

Everything was catching up to her now, and she felt heavy with food—and most of all, tired.

The waitress brought the check and Caelyn went to pick it up.

“No way,” Elijah said.

“Let me pay just this once,” Caelyn cried, trying to take the check.

The waitress laughed, watching them argue over it.

Elijah grabbed it out of her hands. “Listen, I got this. You can pay me back when you get a job.”

“Oh, come on—you don’t have a job either,” she said.

“Well, I don’t need one right now.”

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The waitress looked at Caelyn. “You’re looking for work?” she said.

Caelyn waved her hand at Elijah, shaking her head. “Yes, I’m currently looking,”

she said.

“What kind of work?”

“Anything. I thought maybe waitressing,” she said, grimacing as she said it. She was half-expectingthe waitress to laugh and tell her how impossible it was to find waitressing jobs around the area.

“Well, you might just be in luck then,” the woman told her. “We’re actually hiring right now. We losta couple of girls last week and Kenzie is looking to replace them right away.”

Caelyn straightened up, feeling suddenly more awake. “Really?”

“Yeah. If you want, I’ll introduce you to her before you go.”

“Oh, wow, that would be awesome.”

The waitress grinned. “Well, I am pretty awesome.” She nodded to the check.

“I’ll come back for that in a minute,” she said, and then turned and left.

Caelyn turned to Elijah. “Wow, wasn’t that so cool?” she said.

He nodded. “Yeah,” he said, but not very enthusiastically. “Very cool.”

“Is something wrong?”

He took a final sip of his soda. “Nope.” And then he took out his billfold, counted out the money, andput it with the tab. “We’re good.” He stood up. “I’m gonna hit the bathroom,” he said.

She watched him go, puzzled by his behavior. Maybe he’s just tired, she thought.

But she knew that couldn’t explain all of it. He’d been acting strangely ever since they’d gotten totown.

While he was away, the waitress came back to pick up the bill, and she brought Kenzie with her.Kenzie was short, with dirty blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was pretty, but her face wassort of weathered, and she had a look in her eye that said she didn’t want to be messed with. “I hearyou’re looking for a waitressing gig,” Kenzie said, sticking out her hand.

Caelyn took it and the woman’s grip was like a vice. “Yeah,” she squeaked, as Kenzie squeezed andthen released.

“Well, I’m the owner of this little establishment, so you’re talking to the right person.”

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“Oh,” Caelyn said, gulping nervously.

“Any experience? It’s okay if you don’t have any.”

Caelyn explained how she’d waitressed at Friendly’s in high school.

Kenzie asked her why she didn’t have a job at the moment, and Caelyn hesitated to answer.

“Listen,” Kenzie said, her blue eyes penetrating. “The only thing I expect is the truth. Don’t lie to me.”

Caelyn decided to be honest. “I left college,” she said. “I drove here and just arrived today. So that’swhy I’m not currently employed.”

“You left college? Where did you go to school?”

“Cambridge, in Boston.”

Kenzie laughed. “Come on, you’re serious?”

Caelyn nodded. “You wanted the truth.”

“And where are you planning to live?”

“I don’t know. We’re in a hotel right now.”

“You and your boyfriend?”

“We’re just friends,” she said. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do next.”

Kenzie looked pained. She sighed, kneeling down. “Look, Caelyn. I’m not sure what your story is. Butyou seem nice and you must be a hard worker if you got into Cambridge. So I’ll tell you what. Youcan work here for as long as you want—“

“Really?” she said, her eyes widening.

“I’m not done yet,” Kenzie said. “I even have a room you can stay in, it’s got its own door, like alittle unit off the side of my house that nobody’s using right now.”

“I can’t ask you to do that for me,” Caelyn said, blown away by the offer.

Kenzie stood up. “You’ll find I’m fair but I expect my girls to work hard,” she said. “If you workhard, you’ve got a job here for life. Okay? And if you decide to go back to school, I won’t be mad.”She grinned.

Elijah was returning to the table as the conversation ended. He eyed Kenzie warily, and she him.“This must be your friend?” Kenzie said, and her voice carried an odd tone, as if she immediatelyfound him wanting in some way.

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“I’m just a guy,” he replied. “No big deal.”

Kenzie nodded. “Sure. Just a guy. Well, okay, guy. Can’t say I have a job for you—“

“I wasn’t asking for one.”

“But you,” she said, turning to Caelyn, “are good to start tomorrow. Eleven a.m.

sharp for orientation and training.”

“Absolutely,” Caelyn said. “Thanks again. Thanks so much.”

“After work tomorrow, I’ll show you that room I was telling you about.”

“Okay,” Caelyn smiled.

Kenzie waved, walked off to another part of the restaurant.

As they left Mean Margarita’s, Elijah was walking slightly ahead of her. He was heading toward themotel, but going at a quick pace. Caelyn struggled to stay with him.

“Hey, slow down,” she said.

“I’m tired, I want to get back to the room.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing. I just told you, I’m tired.”

Caelyn grabbed his forearm, and he finally slowed. His eyes met hers and now she could see the hurtin them. “Elijah, something’s wrong. Why won’t you just tell me?”

He stopped walking. “So you got a job, that’s cool.”

“I thought so,” she replied, wiping a strand of hair that had blown into her eyes.

“But what was that stuff about her showing you a room?”

“She mentioned that she has a spare room in her house—“

He interrupted with harsh laughter. “Of course she does.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

He just shook his head and started walking again, albeit a little slower this time.

“Elijah, she said. “What’s wrong with her showing me a room?”

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“For free?” he said.

“She didn’t say. But at least it’s something.”

“And what do you have now? Are you sleeping on the street?”

“No. You paid for a room, but—”

“Oh, I guess it’s nothing, though.” He waved her off.

“Elijah, I’m totally confused.”

“That lady is a creep,” he said. “The minute I saw her, I got a bad vibe. I don’t know what her deal is,but I don’t trust her.”

“I don’t see what’s so bad about her offering to let me stay somewhere for awhile.

Maybe she’s used that for other waitresses in the past.”

“I’m sure she has,” he laughed.

“I don’t get it.”

“Of course you don’t.” He didn’t elaborate.

They walked in silence until they got back to the room. Once inside, the room felt small and almostclaustrophobic. Elijah spread out on the bed and turned the TV on, while Caelyn sat in a small,rickety chair nearby.

She looked at him, her leg bouncing up and down nervously. “I don’t understand what I did to get youso upset.”

He wouldn’t look at her. “I guess you’re happy with how everything played out.

You don’t have to try and smooth it over now, Caelyn.”

She took in his words and then a flood of anger jolted her to her feet. “Happy with how things playedout? Do you think I chose any of this? I’m just trying to survive.”

His eyes met hers briefly, then went back to the TV. “That’s the thing. You don’t have to try andsurvive, because if things go bad here, you’ll always be able to call Mom and Dad to help you out ofit.”

“I’m sorry I don’t have enough street cred for your liking, Elijah. And I’m really sorry that ever sincewe got here, you’ve been acting like a total baby. But please—

please don’t try and convince me that these are all my problems. Because I know that you’ve got

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plenty of your own.”

His eyes hardened and his jaw set in the way she’d become accustomed to seeing when he was angry.“You just keep telling yourself that, Caelyn.”

“No, Elijah.” She was going to continue, but she knew it was useless. He wasn’t listening anymore.He was lost in his own world, and she didn’t really understand how it had happened—but everythingbetween them seemed to have come apart in an instant.


That night, Elijah slept on the floor.

She’d told him not to be silly, that she didn’t mind sharing the bed—but he’d refused, and then she’dgiven up.

In the end, Caelyn was too tired to keep fighting, especially when she had no idea what they wereeven fighting about.

Before bed, she’d gotten another text from Alicia.

I’m still worried about u.

Sighing, she texted back hastily: Don’t worry I got a job waitressing on the island. It’s all good.

But was it all good? She didn’t know anymore.

She’d fallen asleep sometime later out of sheer exhaustion, sleeping through until the next morning,when she was woken up by Elijah talking on the phone.

He was standing just outside the motel room, but she could still hear him through the paper-thin walls.

“I’m coming back, that’s all you need to know,” he was saying, as Caelyn blearily opened her eyes.

She saw that she had to get ready for work anyway, so she sat up and tried to piece her thoughtstogether.

Elijah’s pillow and blanket were lying in a messy pile on the floor. She felt sadness well up insideher at the sight of it. She’d wanted him next to her last night. She wanted to be talking and crackingjokes with him right now, instead of this.

Hearing him say he was ‘coming back’ sent a chill down her spine. Did he mean back to Boston, backto those bad friends he’d been alluding to?

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“Give me a couple of days,” Elijah said. “Don’t worry about it. Just tell them what I told you. No,this last part.” He laughed, but it wasn’t the same laugh she was used to—it was bitter. “Yeah. I justgot caught up in some stupid shit, brother. I’ll hit you up later when I’m on the road.”

A moment later, the doorknob turned and he re-entered the room, slowing down when he saw she wasawake.

“Hey,” she said, softly.

“Hey.” He looked at her. “You sleep well?”

“I guess. You?”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll be okay.”

What did that even mean? What did any of it mean? She was so frustrated, she wanted to scream athim. But somehow, she couldn’t find the words.

She was scared that he was leaving Florida and going back to Boston. She was scared that she’dnever see him smile again, hear him laugh, feel his fingers stroking her hair.

But she was also scared to tell him any of those things, because ever since last night he’d beenunreachable. He seemed angry and distant, like he was finished with her for some reason.

“I guess I’m going to shower and get ready for my first day at the restaurant,” she said, smiling. “Whatabout you?”

He bent down and picked up the pillow and blanket, tossed them on the bed.

“Guess I’m going to hit the road.”

Her stomach dropped. “Where to?”

“Don’t know just yet.”


He glanced at her. “Maybe.”

“I thought you said you needed to get away from…bad influences.”

“Maybe I did. Maybe I’m going back anyway.” His eyes met her as if challenging her to saysomething to sway him.

She wanted to tell him that he should stay, that she wanted to see him again. But she got afraid oncemore. The truth was, he didn’t want to stay and she couldn’t bear to hear him say it to her face.

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So she just smiled again. “Will I see you when I get out of the shower or are you just going to—“

“Nah, I should get an early start,” he said, cutting her off. “You take care, though.”

She felt tears spring to her eyes and turned away, moving toward the bathroom.

“Have a nice trip, Elijah,” she muttered, as she closed the bathroom door and heard him readying histhings.

She didn’t shower for long—maybe five or ten minutes. And then she got out of the bathroom fast,hoping to catch him before he left. But he must have been more intent to get out of there without seeingher.

She stepped out of the bathroom and found the room key sitting alone on the table with a handwrittennote next to it.

I paid for an extra night in case that other room doesn’t work out.


She sat on the chair and read it, feeling the ink on her fingertips. Tears were rolling down her face.She wished she could have at least gotten his phone number or something.

Now she knew she’d never see him again.


Something strange happened when she got into work.

The waitress who had introduced her to Kenzie was working behind the bar, setting out freshly driedglasses. When she saw Caelyn walk into the restaurant, she grinned widely. “Hey, you.”

“Hey,” Caelyn said.

“Ready for your first day?”

“As ready as I can be. A little nervous.” And sad, she thought, but saw no reason to mention that.

“Your name’s Caelyn, right?”

“Yeah. What’s your name again?”

“Rosemary, but everyone just calls me Ro.” Ro smiled again as she set another glass on the bar.“Well, Caelyn you must be popular, because someone already called for you.”

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“Really?” Caelyn frowned. “Who?”

Ro shook her head. “I don’t know. He didn’t say. He just asked if you were waitressing here today,and I said I thought so. I told him you weren’t in yet and asked if he wanted to leave a message. Hesaid no thanks and hung up.”

“Weird.” Caelyn felt an odd thrill run through her body.

It had to have been Elijah looking for her. Maybe he wanted to apologize for the way he’d left things.Perhaps this meant that she was going to speak to him again after all.

The thought picked her mood up and she was able to start her day of training with renewedenthusiasm.

Before Kenzie arrived, Ro showed her some of the ropes—showed her the schedule and gave her aquick tour of the restaurant. They only had a skeleton crew on until about noon, when more of the staffbegan arriving.

But everyone was incredibly friendly and made her feel welcomed. Once Kenzie and the rest of thestaff showed up, everything kicked into overdrive. Customers were beginning to appear and beseated, food was being prepared, a few folks sat down at the bar.

Caelyn’s duties were mainly to follow Ro around and help her as she watched her do her job, learnedthe menu and the procedures of the restaurant. Even though she wasn’t waitressing, it was still hectic,as she was running food to tables, getting drink orders, and dealing with customers the whole time.

She was breaking a sweat, but basically enjoying herself.

It was a lot different than sitting in class all day, but she wasn’t sure it was a bad thing.

The hard part was when she occasionally allowed herself to envision what it would be like at night,going back to a room with nobody waiting for her.

And it wasn’t even that she missed her roommates in the dorms.

She missed him.


He’d left so suddenly, and she was still hung up on wondering why.

It wasn’t until the evening, just a few hours before her shift ended, that everything turned completelyupside down.

Up until then, she’d been doing her job, hustling, learning everything as fast as possible. Ro seemedhappy with her, and Kenzie was happy if Ro was happy.

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At around eight o’clock, Caelyn took a break. She grabbed a Diet Coke and stood out back with someof the other servers and kitchen staff, most of whom smoked. They all talked while smoking, and shedrank her soda.

Then she went inside, dumped her drink at the bar, and went to the bathroom.

The woman’s bathroom was towards the back of the restaurant, and there was a long hallway leadingup to it, that hooked around a corner.

Caelyn was coming out of the bathroom when someone familiar rounded the corner. It took her amoment to place who it was, because she had no way of imagining that this person could show upthere.

When she saw him, it was as if her entire mind just shut down.

She almost seemed to go deaf, and her vision narrowed. She stumbled a little.

He smiled at her. “I’ve been looking for you,” he said.

She tried to swallow but it was like there was a boulder in her throat. “What are you doing here?” sheasked, but it barely came out of her mouth.

Jayson smiled wider. “I came to find you, babe.” He reached out to touch her and she steppedbackwards.

“How did you know where I was?”

“Lucky for you, your friends really care about you. Alicia told me you got a waitressing job out here,and it didn’t exactly take a genius to track you down.”

“Why would you track me down? Obviously I left for a reason.”

He cocked his head as if it had never occurred to him that she was trying to get away from himspecifically. “Because I couldn’t figure out why you just stopped responding to me. I thought we weretogether. I thought there was really something between us.”

She looked around, but the hallway was empty. She thought about screaming, but didn’t know whatshe’d say if people came running to help.

Say that he raped you.

No, she couldn’t do that. She couldn’t open that can of worms. She’d run to Florida to avoid this verymoment, and here it was, happening anyway.

“I need to get back to work,” she said, trying to walk by him.

Jayson blocked her path. He was a very large guy. He wasn’t as cut and muscular as Elijah, but he

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was bulkier and taller. And he was much, much stronger than her—she knew that already. “Come on,I flew all the way out here to see you. Doesn’t that get me some brownie points?” he chuckled.

“I can’t do this right now.”

His smile disappeared and he reached out and grabbed her wrist. “Listen,” he told her, his voicedropping to a lower register. “I want you to come home with me.” His hand tightened. “I like you.And I want you in Boston with me.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere with you,” she said, finally meeting his gaze.

But his eyes were the same as the other night—there was nothing in them but coldness and blackness.“I get what I want,” he said. “I think you saw that firsthand, didn’t you?”

“Fuck off.”

His hand tightened, and now her wrist hurt. There was a searing pain. “Listen, I can make thingsworse than you could ever imagine if you try and mess with me,” he told her. “Don’t go down thisroad, baby. I’m warning you.”


The voice that called out was from behind them. Jayson turned around and looked at the person. “Whoare you?” Jayson said.

And that’s when Caelyn saw who had spoken. Relief flooded her instantly.

Elijah was standing there, as if he’d somehow known that she needed him right at this moment, as ifhe’d heard her and come running. His expression was strangely calm.

“I’m a friend of Caelyn’s,” he said simply. “Who are you?”

“Oh, that’s funny—you’re her friend. Well, she’s my girlfriend.”

“You must be Jayson,” Elijah smiled. “I’ve heard a lot about you.” He walked towards them casually.

“Good things, I hope?” Jayson turned and looked at her with his dead eyes.

Suddenly, Elijah sprang forward. Within fractions of a second, he’d grabbed Jayson by his shirt andthrown him into the wall. Jayson’s head collided with a vicious thud, and as he came bouncing off,Elijah hit him in the belly with a hard punch, doubling him over.

Caelyn let out a startled yell.

Elijah was like a man possessed. He smashed Jayson in the face with a series of uppercuts and then,when Jayson fell to the floor, he jumped on top of him and started punching him over and over again.

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There was blood everywhere. So much blood, Caelyn had never seen anything like it. She tried todrag Elijah off.

A group of people had formed in the hallway, but they were too frightened of the violence to step in.

“Stop,” Caelyn cried. “That’s enough. Please, Elijah.”

Finally, Elijah got up. Then he looked at her. “I’ll never let anybody hurt you again. I told you that,”he said.

She nodded, unable to even speak after what had just happened.

Moments later, two policemen were pushing through the crowd. One of them immediately grabbedElijah while the other knelt down to check Jayson, who was moaning and kicking his legs slowly,trying to get up.

“Stay down, we need to check you over,” the cop said.

Elijah was being arrested.

“Put your hands behind your back, son,” the cop told him. Elijah complied obediently. He looked atCaelyn and sort of shrugged, as if to say, what can you do?

The cop on the ground grabbed the radio off his lapel. “We need an ambulance at Mean Margaritas.Repeat, we need an ambulance as soon as possible, over.”

Caelyn stumbled out of the way, as they led Elijah out of the restaurant in handcuffs.


Hours later, she was sitting in the police station. She’d already given a verbal report to three or fourdifferent officers. She’d had to tell them the truth—that she’d been raped by Jayson and that Elijahknew about it.

She explained that Elijah had been defending her, thinking she was in danger when he saw Jaysoncornering her in the restaurant. And in fact, she had felt threatened by Jayson at the time.

What was going to come of her statements, she didn’t know.

She was sitting in a small room, feeling like she was guilty of something. She’d been waiting for overan hour when one of the detectives she’d spoken with knocked and came back inside the room.

“Are you okay? Do you need some water?” he asked.

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“I’m okay,” she said. “I just want to go home.”

“And where is home?”

She didn’t answer. “I’m not sure right now.”

The detective sat down. “How well do you know Elijah?” he asked.

She thought about it. “I guess not very well.”

“He’s been traveling under a fake identity,” he said. “Calling himself Jake Daniels, which is actuallyhis brother’s name. Were you aware of that?”

She shook her head almost imperceptibly. She had known a part of that story, just not all of it.

“And were you aware that he’s been incarcerated previously?”

“No,” she said, her insides feeling as though they were filling with ice water.

“Well, he has been. A few times, starting at a very young age. This last time, he went to jail for over ayear for grand larceny. Leaving Massachusetts, he is also now in violation of his parole.”

“I didn’t know any of that. All I know is that he picked me up when my car was broken down, and hedrove me to Florida. He never hurt me or did anything inappropriate.”

“Until he beat that man a few hours ago,” the detective said.

She looked down at the table. “That’s right.”

“Well, you’re free to go, ma’am. You haven’t done anything wrong, that I can see. We’ve alerted theBoston police about your claims against Jayson Reynolds, and you can take the matter up with them ifand when you return.”

“Okay,” she said. “And what about Elijah?”

The detective glared at her, his eyes narrowing. “You’re very concerned about him, I see.” Hebreathed out heavily through his nostrils and flipped open his manila folder. “As of tomorrow, he’llbe shipped back to Massachusetts to deal with his parole violation, and likely they’ll handle thecharges against Mister Reynolds as well.”

“Thank you for telling me,” she said.

“Mister Reynolds, just so you know, has been released from the hospital already, having sustainedonly superficial injuries. As far as I know, he’s now returning to Boston as well.”

Caelyn’s mouth was dry and she was shaking. “I understand,” she whispered.

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“Good luck, ma’am,” he said, rising from his chair and opening the door for her to leave.

When she left the police station, there was nobody waiting for her. Nowhere to go. Although, sheremembered she still had her room at the Seaside Motel. She would have to stay there tonight, as shecertainly wasn’t going to be welcome at Kenzie’s home after what had happened at the restaurant.

And then what? Caelyn thought.

They were bringing Elijah back to Massachusetts because of what he’d done to protect her.

And she realized that she wanted to be there for Elijah. Whatever that meant.

There was only one way to get home. She had no money for a flight. She had no options left.

Without bothering to debate it internally, Caelyn pulled out her cell phone and dialed the one numbershe didn’t want to dial.

“Hello, Mom?” she said into the phone. “It’s me. I have something I need to tell you.”

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Book 2 will be coming soon. If you enjoyed this book, please leave a review and let us know.You can find Kelly Favor on Twitter @kellyfavorbooks.