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My eyes slowly blinked open. What happened? I was sprawled on top of my made bed with a light blanket covering me. And my head was pounding.
He’d called. I don’t know how he’d gotten my new number, but he’d called and demanded to know where I was.
Soon followed the same old spiral that we always plummeted into when fighting. He demanded and I placated; he screamed and I begged; he insulted and threatened and I slowly caved in under the strain.
Reminding him of the restraining order I had out against him had only worsened his tirade.
Distance was the only thing that would allow me to reassemble myself. This morning I’d sucked in desperate breaths and fought back tears as he’d hurled his rage at me. No matter how much I’d pleaded I knew he’d never leave me alone.
So I’d hung up.
Then my phone had rung incessantly. I’d finally switched it off, but when I turned it back on almost an hour later, my voicemail inbox was full of hateful messages from him. I don’t know what happened after that.
Aiden. He’d seen me – outside, in the middle of a breakdown. I groaned into the pillow. My headache vibrated to every edge of my skull. I couldn’t imagine what he must think of me.
Well, better to face him sooner rather than later, to just deal with it. Let him laugh or ridicule me if he wanted. I checked the time; it was well after noon,
My stomach growled, so I believed it. Having missed breakfast, I decided to go build my strength before facing Aiden. He’d been busy lately and was probably out for the day anyway.
I heard the voices when I reached the top of the stairs. Surprisingly, Aiden was, in fact, home today. He sounded irritable and terse. Well, nothing unusual there.
I tiptoed down warily.
“I said he’s sleeping. He’s had a rough morning and I’m not going to disturb his rest.”
“That’s fine. I’ll wait.”
“Then feel free to make yourself comfortable in one of the lounges down in the Montgomery.”
I found them squared off in the foyer. Aiden was wearing beach shorts and a fitted Batman t-shirt. He looked gorgeous – and ready to pounce on poor Sam who was making a fair attempt at not backing down. Unfortunately for him Aiden was very tall and built like a warrior, which did not bide well for my good friend.
“Sam? What are you doing here?”
They both turned at the sound of my voice. I noticed a light redness come to Aiden’s cheeks, but did not get the chance to wonder about it. Sam was in Florence Nightingale mode.
“There you are! I’ve come to fetch you. I tried calling ahead so you could get packed but your phone’s been off.”
“Ethan’s not going anywhere.” Aiden snarled.
I was probably more surprised than Sam, but he was the one to snort derisively, “I’d say I’m in a better position to judge since I actually know him. It’s best that he comes with me so I can take care of him.”
“And I’m saying he’s in no condition to travel; you’ll have me to deal with if you try to take him from this house.”
“Who the hell are you to-“
I stepped between them. “Sam, have you met Aiden? He owns the Montgomery. Aiden, Sam – an old friend of mine.”
No handshake. Big surprise.
I forced a smile to my lips when I faced Sam, but I know every single dagger my eyes shot hit its mark.
“Wanna tell me why you aren’t hounding poolboys and working on your tan?”
“I told you that I’d prefer to have you close, where I can take care of you.”
“And I told you to let me do this my way.”
“Come on, sugar,” I didn’t miss the jump in Aiden’s eyebrows. “I’ve been at my wits end since you called me the other night. You’re not in a good frame of mind. You didn’t really expect me to go right back to sipping frozen daiquiris, did you? And when you wouldn’t take any of my calls…”
My sigh was a weary one. “My phone was off because He called again, same old rant. I couldn’t take it so I switched it off.”
Sam tensed. “Have you called the police?”
“Not yet, I… didn’t have the strength. He was so hateful, Sam.”
“Whoa, what’s this about? Who called again?” Aiden demanded.
Sam’s gaze narrowed. “This is the reason why I’m taking Ethan with me. His ex has been harassing him for the last month or two. He’d been a pest after their break-up a year ago, but had eventually left him alone. Now he’s back and-“
“-picking up where he left off?” Aiden directed the question at me.
I nodded. He inhaled deeply through his nose as if calming something within. I started swaying dizzily as he scrutinised my face. No man should be allowed eyes such as those.
“That is why you were so upset earlier?”
Again, I nodded. “Mark’s changed. He’s so much worse than before.”
“Mark.” Aiden’s eyes darkened, his expression a tide-pool of fury and protectiveness.
Well, I suppose I had been a bit of a mess, no wonder he was upset. His jaw clenched, which sexily pressed his full lips together. Unbelievably, my nipples Mecidiyeköy Escort tingled while I watched his broad shoulders shift restlessly. He looked like he was controlling the urge to punch a wall.
He was like a confined beast. And I’m nothing but a horny dolt around this man.
Sam cleared his throat.
I turned to him, “Sam, I don’t know… I can’t go with you. I feel safe here, it’s secluded; and he doesn’t know where I am. He’s gonna contact you too, I know it. At least he won’t hound you if I’m not with you.”
Aiden growled from behind me, raising the hairs at the back of my neck. I didn’t need to turn to know that he was scowling down at my friend.
“I’ll take care of him. We’ll notify the local police; I know the captain. I’ll have a talk with him and find out what needs to be done to get this jerk picked up and tossed behind bars. I won’t let anything happen to Ethan.”
Sam pursed his lips defiantly, “Then I’m staying with him.”
Aiden didn’t blink. “No.”
“It’s peak season. My lodge is full.”
“Then I’ll share his room, you won’t notice I’m here. I’m not just leaving him all alone with that crazy baboon out there.”
“I said no.”
I sagged exhaustedly, “Sam, please. I love you for what you’re trying to do, but I’d really feel better if I weren’t around you when he contacts you. Besides, I’m not alone. The police will be protecting me and nobody knows about my little holiday detour which makes this the ideal safehouse.
“You can spend the night if Aiden agrees, but then I need you to just let me lay low. Besides, there is no way I’d survive sharing a room with you for however long it takes to sort this mess out.”
Aiden was amazing. He wasted no time in getting me to the police station and insisted on staying with me when I told him it was alright for him to go back to The Montgomery.
To be honest, it was a relief having him there. Sam’s fussing was only serving to agitate me further and thoughts of facing the police captain scared me. Unnecessarily, as it turned out.
Captain Anton Pretorius took one look at me as we shook hands and graciously suggested we conduct our interview in the lounge.
The ‘lounge’ turned out be a tiny room with faded couches; pictures of cricket and rugby players; and a coffee machine. It beat the linoleum and cold steel I’d been dreading by a mile. It was empty and reassuringly quiet.
“This is the best I can offer, I’m afraid. My office is a shambles right now. We’re doing some ‘spring-cleaning’, sorting out cold cases; and so far we’ve managed to make it look more like a ransacking than re-organisation.”
His easy smile almost made me forget where I was
“This is okay.” I murmured. “So, how do we do this?”
I expected him to pull out a notepad; a tape recorder; I don’t know, maybe even his gun – but he didn’t. He simply sipped his coffee and watched me with open interest.
“First, tell me everything from the beginning and I’ll just jump in afterwards with any questions I might have. Let’s just chat for now and I’ll handle the official stuff once I have the full picture.”
Sam started pacing from the moment I started talking; and I couldn’t help flicking my eyes his way every few minutes.
He was making me jumpy.
Eventually Captain Pretorius suggested that Sam take my cell phone through to an officer who would make a copy of the voicemail recordings to keep as evidence.
After he left, only Aiden remained by my side. He had a chair pulled up beside mine and, even though we weren’t touching at all, I felt comforted having him there.
I told the police captain about my relationship with Mark.
I had hired him as an admin and accounts assistant when keeping up with the success of my website and the workload of my third year at university became too arduous. It had taken me a full month to realise that the touches and ‘accidental’ topless run-ins were flirtations on Mark’s part.
Two months later we were lovers.
I was still a virgin and the pain I experienced our first time together made me beg him to stop. But he’d sweet-talked me through it, telling me I was forever his. It had been so long since I’d felt like I truly belonged anywhere, with anyone. His words had made me smile through my tears.
How he’d dazzled me in the beginning with his confidence and popularity. I hadn’t understood why someone as good-looking as he was wanted to spend any time with me.
We’d moved in together three months into the relationship. Mark moved in with me, to be precise, with no more than a suitcase and two boxes of personal effects. I’d been uncertain, but Mark assured me that we were meant to be together.
I bitterly recalled the excitement of going shopping together for a bigger bed.
Mark had taken me to Sun City for my twenty-first birthday. I’d footed all the bills, but didn’t mind. Being with him was so much fun. Besides, the beginnings of my subsequent Mecidiyeköy Escort Bayan wealth had just started streaming in around that time, so it wasn’t like I couldn’t afford it.
By the end of our first year I was seeing my family and friends less and less. My father didn’t care much; the only reason we’d maintained the fragile contact we had was due to my efforts. I couldn’t let go of memories together from when I was younger. I had a hard time turning away from the man who’d taken me sailing in summer and whale-watching every spring when I was a boy.
It never bothered him when I stopped calling.
My handful of friends and classmates did protest a little when I withdrew from them, but eventually only Sam remained.
My world became my courses, my work and Mark.
Looking back, I recognised that the subtle abuse had slipped in way before the slaps and name-calling had begun.
I’d never had a proper boyfriend before Mark, so I knew that I was unattractive. I never spoke up unless I was in a study group and I didn’t like drinking or loud music. So that would be a big, fat zero for social skills.
I was intelligent but uninteresting. I knew this.
So it came as no real surprise when Mark started telling me the same. I thought he must really love me to put up with all my flaws the way he did.
Our second year together was rough.
At first I believed him when he told me all the men I kept seeing him with were just friends. Then I’d caught him with his dick in some blond guy’s mouth. It took me nearly a year and countless similar encounters for me to work up the nerve to throw him out.
Fear of never finding another man willing to tolerate my shortcomings had kept me in the relationship for much longer than was good for me. Then the degree to which I hated the person I’d become with him had eventually given me the strength to end the whole mess.
I told Captain Pretorius about the fights; if you could call them that, considering I was always on the receiving end of the attacks. I dared not lift my eyes as I listed the names Mark had called me in bed.
Aiden shifted angrily every few minutes and each time I expected him to get up and leave the room. He had to be appalled by this pathetic tale; and with me. I could feel him watching me intently as I spoke of the weeks leading up to that frightening night at the club, a year after we’d broken up.
“I was so surprised when he showed up again. He brought me small gifts and told me he’d missed me. It was like when we’d first met.”
Aiden did leave his seat at that point, but he only went as far as the window and stood frowning down at the sunlit parking lot.
I was hesitant to continue, but Captain Pretorius’ nod urged me on.
“I considered taking him back, I couldn’t help it. He seemed to have changed; and I’d been alone since our break-up.”
“You were lonely and vulnerable – and that swine knew that!” Aiden was beside me again, towering over me. He gripped the back of my chair tensely, then seemed to realise that he was unsettling me. I watched him sit down beside me again.
“It was more than that, Aiden,” my tone begged for understanding. “Mark was the first person ever who’d taken the time to get to know me. We’d shared a lot. He knew me and still-“
“He knew how to play on your insecurities, Ethan. You were young and shy and you crossed paths with a selfish parasite who’d disguised himself as your friend.”
I watched him as his green eyes blazed into mine.
/How often do people look at each other like this? Has anyone I know ever sat through the worst story I had to tell, seen all of me, and still held eye contact? Have the people who only know my best stories ever made me feel like I could run to them and their arms would always be open?/
Aiden’s eyes, the way they gave all and took all made me want to say… something.
Fortunately Captain Pretorius spoke up just as my lips parted to make the biggest mistake I possibly could.
“What happened the night you took out the restraining order?”
I blinked in disorientation, remembering again where I was and why.
“We were at a club. Sam and a few other friends were worried about me and wanted me to relax for a few hours. I don’t know how Mark knew we were there but he did. I saw him come in and head straight for our table.”
I could sense Aiden’s restless shifting again. My gaze instinctively leapt to him; only to find his expression reassuring. I’d expected far worse. What amazed me more was the way he took my hand in that moment.
I turned back to the captain. My voice sounded detached but I didn’t know any other way of keeping it from trembling. “He was civil for all of ten minutes. He said he wanted me to go somewhere quiet with him, where we could talk. He looked like he’d been drinking so I didn’t think it was a good idea.
“When I told him as much he flipped. The names, he started calling me all those names he used to call me before we broke Escort Mecidiyeköy up. I couldn’t respond. When his shouting didn’t work, he resorted to threats and punches. Threats on my friends, punches on me.”
Aiden’s fingers tightened painfully between mine, but I didn’t mind. The pain drew me out of the awful memory. Our fingers laced together were such a foreign sight all I could do was stare for a moment.
Captain Pretorius didn’t have many more questions after that and we finished off a short while later. Not once did his eyes hold the accusations I’d been expecting. When we were done he took us to the officer who had my phone and was keeping Sam busy. The officer confirmed that my restraining order against Mark was still effective for another four years.
Captain Pretorius assured me that they’d remain in constant contact with the Sea Point police department in Cape Town; and that Mark would be arrested the moment he dared to show his face. I turned to Aiden when I felt the tension ease out of him; and he gave me a slight smile.
“One last thing,” the captain said. “How much longer will you be in town?”
I shrugged. “Just a couple more days. I’m staying at The Montgomery, but I only have a few days’ stay left.”
For the first time the captain’s brow creased as he looked from me to Aiden and back again.
“Is there no way you could take some time off work? The rest of the festive season at least?”
“I work from home,” I stated. “The website, um, the advertising… My work, I take it with me wherever I go most of the time.”
“Good. The best thing would be for you to find a safe place to stay for the next few weeks. The police tend to be busier during the summer vacation months and I don’t want to take any chances with your safety.
“Reynolds has broken the law by contacting and threatening you the way he did. It’s only a matter of time before he’s found and locked up; but until then I’d prefer the extra precaution of knowing you’re somewhere safe. A place he knows nothing about.”
“He’ll stay with me.”
My question, Sam’s voice. His wide eyes noticed my hand in Aiden’s for a second before lifting to mine, blatantly questioning. I pulled my hand away. Aiden gave me a long look but let me free myself.
“Ethan will stay with me for as long as he needs. It’s the safest place for him right now.”
He was smiling slightly, but I’d gotten really good at reading him in our time together. He was using his body to shield me a little from the others and his head was lowered almost challengingly. I was pretty sure he was unaware of the silent threat he presented.
Sam’s face was a furious red.
“Sam, I’m tired,” I murmured. “Could we skip the fun and games until next time? We’ve been through all this and, quite frankly, I don’t have a better plan right now. Do you?”
He came up empty. We both knew that Mark would be able to find either of us within a matter of days if we went back to the city. He knew our friends, our families and all our hangouts. He knew workplaces, seaside cottages, and emergency contacts. He knew every person and place that I knew.
And there was no way we’d be finding any vacant accommodation in the middle of December.
“I just wanna go home, Sam. Can we just go?”
Aiden took my hand again and led the way to his car when we were through. I was touched by his concern and too drained to get nervous at his proximity. So I just enjoyed it. I sat in the passenger seat of the Mercedes-Benz, staring out at the passing shops and restaurants.
I had most of my fury under control by the time we reached the house.
Listening to Ethan describe the hell that bastard had put him through had driven me to the point of irrationality. I had to repeatedly curb the yen to storm out on a blind hunt for his head on a stick.
And then Ethan had said the words that had swept all the fury aside.
‘I just wanna go home.’
Hearing him say that made me feel so… I stopped raging at Reynolds and decided to leave any head-hunting in Anton’s capable hands.
‘I just wanna go home.’
I unlocked the front door and sent Ethan straight upstairs. I think Edwards and I had an unspoken agreement going because we entered the kitchen together and he searched the cupboards for dishes and cutlery while I called Rachel and ordered supper.
The three of us sat in the dining room watching the setting sun. The strawberry and gold reminded me of the night Ethan and I had met.
Sam and Ethan were chatting easily, occasionally telling me old highschool stories. Most of them made Ethan blush, but once in a while he’d break out in open laughter.
“Remember the time Red professed his undying love?” Sam grinned.
“He did not.” Ethan protested.
“He did too.” Sam teased. He turned to me. “So, one day, one of the hottest boys in high school decided to make his move on our Ethan here. Invited him over to his house and read him poetry he’d written.”
“Sam…” Ethan’s tone was warning, but he was also smiling sheepishly.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Ethan listened to the poetry then offered poor Red critique when he was done.”
Ethan’s face was now a deep red colour. “I didn’t know… He’d just said he had some stuff he wanted me to listen to.”
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