I don’t blame her. I would’ve done the same thing if I was her.
Family above all.
Suddenly, the front door creaks, and I spin on my heels and look.
There she is, hazily walking through her apartment as though she’s lost in thought. But the minute she spots me from the corner of her eye, she stops in her tracks. Her pupils dilate as she turns her head. The shock on her face is exhilarating.
“Hello, Natalie,” I say with a grin. “I’m so glad I finally found you.”
My heart stops the moment my eyes land on Noah.
I never thought I’d see him again.
But here he is, in the living flesh … standing right here in my apartment, and in the room I tried so desperately to keep hidden. My sacred secrets have been laid bare.
A scowl forms on my face. “What are you doing here?”
I don’t know why I ask. Of course, I know why he’s here. But I’m not about to go with him willingly.
“How did you get in?” I ask, my body shaking as he takes a step toward me.
“We have your keys, remember?” He lifts them with a single finger and jingles them around as though it’s a bone and I’m a dog about to play fetch. Fuck no.
“You stole them from me the day you took me,” I growl back.
He makes a face. “To keep safe … for when it would be needed.”
“You mean for when I’d flee,” I hiss. “You knew I was going to run. You knew I’d never want to stay there.”
He clutches the keys tightly now and stuffs them back into his pocket. “Correct. But I didn’t take into account your ability to move people. Your mother … she created an opportunity for you, and you took it.”
The mere mention of my mother has me on edge. “Don’t you talk about her.”
“Gotten attached?” he muses. “Of course.”
“Shut up,” I hiss.
“She sacrificed everything for you,” he says.
I cover my ears with my hands. “I don’t want to hear it.”
“But you should,” he says. “Because of her you escaped, and now you’re here to do what? Live alone?”
“I had Emmy,” I bark back, unable to stop myself from engaging him. “But you stole her away too.”
“Are you saying you actually grew fond of her?” He raises a brow.
“Don’t change the subject,” I say, pointing at him. “You ordered that guy to take her, didn’t you?”
His nostrils flare. “No, the helper I enlisted acted on his own accord.”
I frown. “So he’s gone rogue?” I snort and laugh it off. “I can’t believe this.”
“Trust me when I say he will be punished for not following orders,” he says.
“I don’t care about your helper!” I yell. He doesn’t understand. “She was my friend. She came here willingly, knowing what the risk was, just to see my world. To live here and be happy. The smile on her face was everything.” Tears well up in my eyes. “And now she’s gone. She’ll never see this place again. She’ll never experience true freedom ever again.”
“She didn’t belong here, and you know that,” he says.
“Screw belonging! She loved it here!”
“Did she really? Or was she just in awe, like a child when they see things for the very first time?” he says, approaching me. “You of all people should know this world, beyond the community, isn’t always as happy as it seems.”
He eyes the pictures on the wall and the tiny shoes standing on the shelf, and then bores his eyes into my soul. Misery flows through my veins.
He knows about my child.
The baby that I lost.
“Don’t,” I hiss. The pain is too much to bear.
I don’t want to think about it anymore, about this scar on my belly, about that baby I never had … because there is a living human being growing inside me now. I have to make the smart choice and not succumb to my emotions. I don’t want to hurt the baby.
With his hands up, he steps even closer, and I back away until I’m up against the bathroom door.
“I’m not here to hurt you, Natalie,” he says.
I shake my head. “I don’t believe you.”
He’s so close that I can feel his breath on my skin. My pulse races. He leans in, his lips puckered, and he kisses me hard. I feel broken, powerless, yet the endorphins rush through my veins, clouding my mind.
No. I can’t let him do this.
I shove him away, and I slap him right across the face.
He stands there, momentarily frozen, while I stare at him in disbelief.
He kissed me, and I slapped him for it.
“I …” I can’t even say anything without stammering.
He touches his face where it’s turning slightly red. “I deserved that.”
My face scrunches up. “I don’t—”
“Yes, you did wanna slap me, and it’s fine. You don’t have to apologize. I can take it.” He places one hand on the door behind me as another reaches for my face. I flinch as he touches my cheek. “But I want to know. Do you really hate me so much?”