Authors: Renna Peak
owe you an apology
I glanced up from my cup of coffee, my third that morning. My hands were shaking, and I wasn’t sure if it was from the caffeine or from anger. It’s likely it was a combination of the two. I couldn’t even make eye contact with her. I flicked my gaze back to my coffee cup.
“Jenna, I didn’t have a choice. Your father made it clear…”
I shook my head, effectively cutting her off. “I don’t want to hear it, Krystal.” She was only here to give me a ride to the airport. I didn’t need to hear her confessions or apologies. They didn’t matter now, anyway.
“Let me explain. Even if you just do it for me. I need to tell you why…”
“I said I don’t want to hear it.” I stood up from the stool. “You can go. I’ll call for a cab.” I wasn’t only angry with her. I was at least as angry with myself for trusting her, for believing that she was on my side. I should have known better. She had worked for my father for all these years—I had been an idiot for believing she was looking out for my best interests. A pathetic idiot who now had nothing but a new condo to go back to. I had no idea how a relationship with Brandon could have ever worked. Especially given his well-known desire for vengeance against the people he deemed responsible for his parents’ death. Considering my father was still at the top of his list, it seemed unlikely that a real relationship could have ever worked. It also seemed less likely every day that he wasn’t using me in some way to get to my father. No matter how much I wanted my father to have no power over me, the things he said made sense. I had known my father my entire life and had only known Brandon for a few months. Why did I suddenly trust him more than I did my own father?
Although I probably shouldn’t have directed my anger at her, Krystal was an easy target. She was Brandon’s older sister, after all. She was there in front of me trying to explain why she hadn’t bothered to tell me that the whole “engagement” thing had been some scam of Robin’s, probably to twist Brandon’s arm about something else. I tried my best not to care, not to think about it. But that was much easier said than done. I cared
much, so much that it probably did put my life in danger. I hated that my father was right, but I knew in my heart that I really couldn’t see him again. That I needed to keep whatever it was that we’d had exactly where it was—over, in the past. It would make it easier for everyone.
“You aren’t taking a cab. I’m driving you. Let’s go.”
I gulped down the rest of my coffee and picked up my suitcase. As much as I didn’t want to be alone in a car with this woman, I also knew it would take at least an hour for a cab to get to the house to pick me up, and I didn’t have time for it. I was getting the hell out of Virginia, away from D.C. and all the problems that this insane world brought with it. The memory of that morning with Brandon, the last one we had spent together, floated through my mind. He didn’t want me around politics. For as pissed off as I had been with him that morning—so angry at the mere suggestion that he knew better than I did—he had been right. Politics was not where I was supposed to be. I didn’t care about what the men in my life thought about my safety. I just didn’t want any part of the craziness anymore, the incredible stupidity that seemed to surround the entire political machine. It was a circus, and I didn’t want to be a performer.
We sat in silence for a long while after we started driving. The airport was a fairly long trip from my parents’ home and I dreaded sitting there with nothing to say. Actually, I had plenty to say, I just didn’t want to vent it on her. I knew that she wasn’t to blame for any of this.
“Jenna, I’m sorry. I should have told you as soon as I found out.” Her words came out on a single breath.
I closed my eyes. “I don’t blame you. Not really. I know you’re caught in the middle.” God, not just between two people, either. Between three. “How is he?”
She paused. “He asks about you. A lot. Telling him about you is the only way I can get him to do his physical therapy.”
I smiled, keeping my eyes closed. It was nice knowing that I was useful for something, even if it was only as a bribe.
She continued. “He’s a lot better. Driving me crazy, though, having him at my place.”
I nodded. “Does he know where you are now? Driving me, I mean?” I opened my eyes to turn to face her. My heart raced a little, mostly from fear, thinking he might follow her to see me. I didn’t want to endanger him like that.
She shook her head. “No. If he did, he would have insisted on being in the back seat. One of the home care nurses was coming this morning to take some blood and change his bandages, then the physical therapist. He’s distracted today, so it worked out perfectly.”
It ripped at my heart a little, thinking about him being reliant on other people like that. I wanted to be there for him, too. But now he wasn’t the one keeping me safe by staying away me—I was the one keeping
safe by staying away from
. I had no doubts at all that my father would keep his word if I so much as called him. He’d be taken care of alright—I was sure of that, but not in the way that I wanted to take care of him.
“I wanted to tell you. I did. I found out a few days after he woke up, after that bitch finally left.” She shook her head. “I should have told you, but your father insisted it was better that we keep you apart.”
“You don’t have to explain.” I couldn’t even imagine being in her position. She had worked for my father for longer than I had even been alive, practically raised her younger brother. And then she had the weird, almost motherly connection to me, too. Three competing interests.
She nodded and glanced over at me. “Well, I’m sorry. I’m not going to tell him anything for now. It’s… safer. Safer for both of you if I don’t.”
I just nodded. It still didn’t seem real that the tables had turned like this. That now I wasn’t the only one who had to worry about safety. That he was in at least as much danger as I ever had been.
“He’s too sick, anyway. He can still barely get across the room without a walker.”
I must have winced because she stopped talking. I didn’t want to think about him like that. I wanted to remember him the way I had always known him. I wanted to be able to think of him for the rest of my life as the hero he would always be in my mind, not as someone who was bloodied and weak. He was only that way because of me, because of what he had done for me, how he had saved me. How he had risked his own life for mine.
I turned to face her again, the memory of
I was even there in Virginia suddenly fresh in my mind again. “What about Daniel.”
Her face twitched and she stared straight ahead. She took in a deep breath. “No one has seen him.” She glanced over at me before turning back to the road. “You’re sure it was him?”
My brow furrowed. Of course I was sure. Wasn’t I? Who else could it have been? He was the last person I had any memory of seeing that night, him and that woman that had taken me to his table. Lexi. I was sure that had been her name. “I’m sure.”
She nodded. “It’s not that I doubt you. Brandon thinks it was him, too. Actually, he’s positive it was him, and Brandon…” She glanced over at me again. “When Brandon is sure, he’s
. He doesn’t make mistakes. But under the circumstances…”
“Because of the stabbing.”
She nodded. “It would help if you knew where you were. Where in Baltimore, I mean. Brandon won’t give that information up.” Her eyes darted over. “If you could remember where you were when Brandon found you. An address, anything…”
Why wouldn’t he tell her? I barely remembered anything about it. I had a vague recollection of pulling him into the car, but that was it. Nothing else. I barely even remembered the car ride to the hospital or what had happened once we arrived. Everything about that day seemed like it happened in a dream. Foggy. Disconnected.
She pulled a pill bottle from her purse. “Take one of these as soon as you sit down on the plane. You need to sleep.”
I took the bottle and glanced at the label. I was pretty sure I recognized the name of the drug as one of the many pharmaceuticals my mother used from time to time. I shoved the bottle in my bag and looked out the window.
“I made an appointment for you with a doctor. He makes house calls, so there won’t be any chance of someone snapping a picture of you going into his office.”
She let out a long sigh. “You need to talk to someone, Jenna. You can do it in your own home, so there won’t be any stigma. No one has to know.” She took my hand and gave it a squeeze. “I’m worried about you. You’ve been through a lot. You have a lot of things to talk about, to get out.”
I knew what she was talking about, but it was something I hadn’t even allowed myself to think about. My stomach felt queasy even letting the suggestion float through my mind. Daniel had raped me after he drugged me. I knew he had. I didn’t remember it, but I knew it. The fact that I had once been engaged to a man that was even capable of doing something like that to me… I couldn’t let myself even think about it.
“It doesn’t have to be forever. Just for a little while, until you get your feet back underneath you…”
I interrupted. “Fine. I’ll see him.” If I had learned nothing else from my past dealings with mental health professionals, it was that it was best to just not argue about it. If Krystal hadn’t been the one to bring it up, it would have been my father. Or even worse, my mother.
She gave my hand another squeeze before dropping it. “Good. He’ll be at your place Thursday at five. I’m sure he can work with you once you know your work schedule.”
“I don’t really want to work there. In Sacramento, I mean.” I watched out the window as rural Virginia became suburban Alexandria. “I haven’t decided what I want to do yet.” I could only think about how much Brandon hadn’t wanted me there. Regardless of what my father thought of him or wondered why I trusted him, I knew he hadn’t steered me wrong. There had to have been a reason Brandon didn’t want me working in that office.
“That’s fine. I’ll let them know. Maybe in a few weeks, you’ll feel better about things. You’ll be ready to go back to work. Be productive.”
I rolled my eyes, glad I was still staring out the window.
. Because a woman with a trust fund needed to go to work so that she wasn’t in danger of become something horrible like a socialite. As if I could
be one of those types of women.
We rode in silence for the rest of the trip to the airport. A security guard met us there and escorted me through security to the first class lounge, where he waited for me near the door. He must have been one of the ones Melissa referred to as a rental cop, because I didn’t recognize him. Not that it made a bit of difference—I was just tired of having to be escorted everywhere by these guys. I needed to learn how to take care of myself, and having someone constantly following me around didn’t help.
Krystal was right—I needed sleep. My brain was turning to mush from a lack of decent sleep over the past three weeks. I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept decently. Probably the last night I had spent with Brandon. My chest ached at that thought. I would never sleep in his arms again. He would never hold me again. I would never hold him again. And I knew I would never be the same.
hree weeks later
when his fist crashed against the keys of the piano again. “Okay, buddy, I think that’s enough for today.” I tried to reach for his hand, but he had already jumped up from the piano bench and was running down the hall.
“I will never, ever be as good as you!”
I flinched again when I heard the crash of his bedroom door slamming. I spoke under my breath. “And there’s the reason Mel calls him a brat.”
I still hadn’t seen Amanda, even after the past two weeks of trying to give her son piano lessons. The nanny also seemed to be missing. As far as I could tell, Mason and I were all alone in the house. Well, except for Cade, my body guard who was probably off somewhere looking for food. Cade hadn’t left my side since I had come home from Virginia, not even to take a day off. I thought he might still feel a little guilty about not having been there that night, the night Daniel decided to kidnap me.
I pulled my phone out of my purse and dialed Mel’s number. “Hey, where’s the nanny?”
“Shit.” I heard some shuffling on her end. Her voice lowered to almost a whisper. “God, I’m sorry, Jenna. I totally forgot. Can you keep him for a little while?”
She let out a long sigh. “Amanda fired her yesterday. I was supposed to interview someone today and keep the brat with me. I totally forgot.”
I returned her sigh. She had been forgetting a lot of things lately, not that I didn’t understand. She was in love, and it hadn’t been that long since I had acted that way myself. “Mel, I would any other day, but I have an appointment this afternoon. And traffic is a bitch…”
“Shit. Shit.” I heard some more shuffling. “Can you keep him if I reschedule your appointment? Can you do the appointment tomorrow?”
Another sigh escaped my lips. “He’s booked solid. I’ll just call and cancel for today. It isn’t like I did my homework, anyway.”
“You are the best friend a girl could have, Jenna Davis. And I’m not just saying that. I’ll be there to get him in an hour. Two, tops.”
I rolled my eyes. “You had better get him before dinner time. He’ll starve if you don’t.”
“Oh, shit. It’s Tuesday, isn’t it? Lunch is quinoa and vegetables today. Can you handle that?”
“I burn water, Mel. You’ve seen me try to cook.”
“Shit. Okay, just don’t feed him any carbs, okay? Whatever you do, please. Just no carbs, no sugar. Amanda will kill me—fire me probably.”
“Then tell her I did it. Then she can fire me. The kid doesn’t like me anyway. I think he really hates playing the piano.”
She groaned. “She’s determined to have him play. You can’t quit.”
I frowned. “I’m sure there are plenty of fine piano teachers in Palo Alto. It’s not like she’s doing me a favor by making me come down here.” I glanced around the room. It didn’t even look like people lived there, and certainly not a little boy. The white carpet was just a little
white, the white furniture a little
perfect. The kid probably never had any fun, ever.
“She only wants you. Hell if I know why, I’m just glad I still have a job.” There was more shuffling. “Shit, she’s coming. She has a fit if she sees me on my phone. I’ll meet you there in two hours. Three, tops.”
“Mel, you said two, tops…” It was too late. She had already hung up. Great, what was I supposed to do to entertain a four-year-old boy for three hours? I went into the kitchen and found Cade looking through the cupboards. “Cade, what did you like to do when you were four?”
He shrugged and flicked his head to get his graying hair out of his eyes. “I don’t know. Play in the mud?”
I nodded, figuring that was probably what most four-year-old boys liked to do, too. “What are you looking for?”
“Food. You wouldn’t believe the rabbit food in this house. Everything is vegan and low-carb. What are they trying to do to me?”
“I guess I’m taking you boys to lunch. Just let me make a call.” I dialed the number for the psychiatrist and canceled my appointment for that afternoon. I was doing fine, anyway. I was sleeping a little better, at least for a short time each night. And I wouldn’t admit to anyone that I was feeling depressed, even if I was. My stomach sank thinking about what he had asked me to do last week. After Krystal called to tell me Brandon was back in town and I almost had a panic attack thinking he would come looking for me. I forgot that he didn’t know where I lived anymore. That I had a new phone number that he wouldn’t have been able to find, not unless Krystal gave it to him, anyway. Just thinking about the “homework” assignment for the week was enough to turn my stomach. At least I wouldn’t have to explain why I hadn’t done it. It was too soon, anyway. It hadn’t even been two months since everything happened—it had only barely been six weeks. I waited over a year before I tried to move on from Daniel, and look where that had landed me.
I blew out a long sigh and went to look for Mason. I found him in his room, curled up on his bed with one of his
books. I still couldn’t believe a four-year-old kid was reading something that difficult. “Hey, buddy, want to go to lunch with me?”
He rolled over and looked up at me with his big blue eyes.
His eyes reminded me of Brandon every time I looked at them. I tried to shake it off—the memories of his blue eyes, anyway. “Melissa is going to come back in a little while, but it’ll be after lunch time. You feel like going out?”
“It’s Tuesday. I have to have quinoa and vegetables for lunch on Tuesdays.”
I nodded. “Okay. We can try to find a restaurant that has that. I don’t know how to cook quinoa.” I cocked my head at him. “Or vegetables.”
He sat up on the bed. “What do you know how to make?”
I shrugged. “Coffee? I can probably make you some if you want. Actually, I probably don’t know how to use your mom’s fancy coffee machine, so I could probably just get you a glass of water. From the tap.” I grinned down at him.
He giggled. “Kids aren’t supposed to drink coffee.”
“I know. That’s why we have to go out to get something to eat. What do you like?”
He shrugged. “Quinoa on Tuesdays.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, I hate quinoa. I like hamburgers, though. What’s your favorite thing to eat?”
He looked up at the ceiling, deep in thought. “I had a hamburger at my friend Sophie’s house once. My mom was really mad and wouldn’t let me play with her anymore after that.”
That sealed it for me. This kid was getting carbs and I was going to get fired. Hallelujah. “If you could have anything to eat in the whole, wide world, what would it be?”
“Ice cream. I ate that the same day as I ate the hamburger. It was at Sophie’s birthday party.”
My grin took over my whole face. “Mason, you are a man after my own heart.”