“No good news?” I ask, crossing my arms across my chest.
Jay’s lips tighten, and he shakes his head. Francesca and Rocco Bellucci were nowhere to be found when my men arrived at their house. In fact, the entire house was vacant, except for a dead man in the living room with his throat slit open, and a couple men piled outside of the porch steps. Which means Rio and Rick fled, too. I suspect they all left the moment they found Addie missing, high-tailing it out of there before I could get to them.
The worms are slippery, but they won’t be able to hide from me for long. “How is Addie doing?” Jay asks, concern etched into the lines of his
face. He glances over my shoulder as if he can see her from the front door.
It’s the first time he’s been in Parsons Manor, and his body language suggests he’s ready to get the fuck out. He took one step in, and the front door shut on its own behind him. Since Addie’s been home, the activity has increased. Her energy has been dark, and the manor never had any warmth to begin with.
I wanted to take her back to my place, but Addie refused—stating she’s been holed up in one prison for long enough and doesn’t want to find herself in another. So I stationed heavy security around the property, using advanced—and illegal—technology to ensure nothing gets by without my knowledge. Whatever Claire has up her sleeve next, she knows there’s no chance of touching Parsons.
After I found her, I took her straight to trusted old friends of mine, Teddy Angler, and his son, Tanner. Teddy is a retired surgeon but has been working for Z since I built the organization, taking in any survivors that need care. His son is a nurse, and often assists Teddy now that he’s getting older.
We stayed with him for a week so he could treat the lacerations all over her body, the open wound on the back of her neck, and pump her with fluids. She was dehydrated, malnourished, and ravaged by the abuse.
I refused to turn away from what was done to her, though all I wanted to do was walk right back out of his door and shred anyone who inhabited that house with my bare fucking teeth.
I’m not sure if she even recalls much of her time with Teddy. She was catatonic the entire stay.
It’s been a month since she’s been home, and in the beginning, we were swarmed with police officers and media outlets. Law enforcement were requesting her statement, and wanted information on her kidnapping. And of course, because Addie’s a popular author, it got media attention. I’m not ashamed that I’ve lost count on how many paparazzi I’ve threatened bodily harm to due to them trying to sneak onto the property.
I would’ve loved to make a fucking example of one of them. String them up at the end of the driveway as a friendly reminder of what will happen if even their toe touches the goddamn property line.
The chaos has died down, but it sent Addie further into herself, and she’s been confined to her bedroom and cocooned under her black silk sheets as if she’s allergic to the outside air. For the first couple weeks after her rescue, she would hardly speak at all.
Addie often flipped between complete desolation, where she stared blankly and gave no reaction, to crying and inconsolable. I’ve had a therapist, Dr. Maybell, come in to talk to her a few times to help draw her out, and it has helped.
Seeing her like this breaks my fucking heart, and all I want is to hand her the pieces and give her something to hold on to.
But she won’t hold on to anything. Won’t even let me come near. If I get within a foot of her, she flips out. She absolutely refuses to let me touch her, and it’s fucking killing me because that’s all I want to do.
Daya and Serena have both visited frequently, as Addie is far more comfortable with their embrace than she is with mine.
“Alive,” I answer, though I’m not entirely sure that’s the truth. She’s breathing, but she’s not living. “And slowly getting better. She’s talking now and will smile and laugh sometimes. She’ll be up, down, and sideways for a long time.”
I glance down at the deep gouges in my hands, still bright red from last night.
Every night, she thrashes in the bed, screams tearing from her throat and body flailing. I’ve learned to be careful when I wake her. Some nights she goes into full attack mode. Sightless as she scratches at me, convinced I’m one of the demons haunting her nightmares.
During the day, she’s back to being a ghost. Though that doesn’t seem right, either—the ghosts in Parsons Manor are more active than she is.
And to be frank, I’m growing frustrated. Not because she’s lost in her trauma, but because I have no fucking idea how to bring her out of it.
Helplessness is a feeling I’ve become intimate with. I can’t save every girl, but I’ll be damned if I can’t save Addie, even if it’s from herself.
“She’s going to get through it, Z,” Jay assures, seeming to note the distress darkening the underside of my eyes.
“I know she will. She’s the strongest woman I know,” I agree.
Jay nods, and hands over a bouquet of red roses. “I don’t want to bother her right now, so give these to her for me, yeah?”
“Of course, thanks, man,” I say, grabbing the bundle from his hand. His nails are painted neon pink today, and they’re chipping already.
“Have you checked in on Katerina?”
Jay nods. “Yeah, she’s kind of like Addie right now. Doesn’t speak much and her emotions are unstable. She’s so young and has been through a lot.”
Once Addie had gotten in my car, she had given me two names, along with a plea to save one of them from a sunflower field. Rio’s sister, Katerina Sanchez, and her groomer, Lillian Berez.
I don’t know why Addie had asked me to rescue Rio’s sister, only that it was important to her that I do. Katerina is a fifteen-year-old girl who was enslaved to a wicked woman. Regardless of who her brother is—and how badly I want to kill him—she’s not responsible for her brother’s sins and needed saving.
Caught up with Addie and getting her settled, I sent Michael and another one of my mercenaries to take care of it. If it wasn’t for Addie insisting Katerina was by a sunflower field, it might’ve taken a lot longer to find her, but they were able to track her down within a couple of days and get her out of there. Unlike Addie, they didn’t go through great lengths to keep her hidden.
Now, she’s in one of my safe houses, getting treatment for her extensive trauma.
“Her brother still attempting to hide?”
Jay gives me a look. “You know he is. He’s still in Arizona.” When I nod, he hikes a thumb over his shoulder and says, “I’m going to head out. Let her know I’m thinking about her.”
He casts another glance at the living room, sweeping his eyes over every nook and cranny as if a spirit is going to be standing there staring at him.
I can feel the eyes on my back, but whoever they are, they aren’t making themselves known. Jay turns and softly shuts the door behind him, while a cold draft brushes across the back of my neck.
Ignoring the phantom, I head upstairs to check on my girl. Her mother left only an hour ago, and she tends to take naps after those visits.
The first time meeting Serena Reilly was… interesting. Addie never told her about me—which I had expected, considering their relationship was in shambles long before I came along. And regardless of the fact that I found her daughter, her spidey senses are tingling, and she is sensing just how dangerous I am.
She’s not wrong.
Cracking open the door, I peer inside, finding Addie sitting up, balancing her journal on her knee as she scribbles in it like she can’t get the words out fast enough. A shot of relief floods my system. Today seems to be a good day for her—as good as it’s capable of being.
She doesn’t acknowledge me, so I lean against the doorframe, content with watching her write. The balcony doors are cracked open, letting in the cool, fresh air. It’s freezing in here, but it doesn’t seem like she notices.
Over the last few days, she’s been writing in that journal more often. I’m not sure where it came from, but it’s her lifeline, and it seems to be helping her. Dr. Maybell recommends journaling and shit all the time with the girls I rescue. Better than bottling up all those emotions and letting them fester and eat away at them slowly.
After a few more minutes, she grabs a tube of lipstick, blindly applies it to her plump lips, then smacks a kiss on the journal. Glancing at me, she snaps the journal shut, sets it on the nightstand, and grabs a tissue to wipe off the crimson stain on her mouth, finally meeting my eyes.
“I see you’re still creepy,” she comments dryly, crumbling the tissue up and tossing it on the table beside her.
I grin and slowly approach her. She visibly tenses, so I sit at the end of the bed and give her space.
I’m all for pushing Addie’s boundaries, but this isn’t one I’m willing to. Despite my less than honorable methods with her in the past, the last thing I want to do is worsen her trauma. She’s been through enough; she doesn’t need another self-serving man taking something from her that she’s not willing to give.
When she’s ready to accept me again, I can’t promise I won’t push her past her comfort zone and work to reawaken a part of her I’m sure she feels is lost.
But that takes time and trust. And I’m a very patient man.
“Forever and always, baby,” I murmur, shooting her a roguish grin. It feels like my heart explodes when she offers a small smile in return.
That small gesture feels like she just handed me the entire fucking world in her tiny palms.
“Jay got you roses,” I tell her, handing her the bouquet. Her hand curls around the stems, and she sniffs the petals.
“That was sweet of him. I probably should’ve met him… He’s your friend, and he helped save both of our lives. I need to thank him personally,” she says, her brows knitted with guilt.
I had given her a brief rundown of what happened the night of the ritual
—how Jay realized the Society set me up and came to warn me. He was stationed in a van a block away in case shit went awry and we needed a quick escape, but by the time he got to me, the bomb had already gone off. But I haven’t told her who the Society is yet, and she hasn’t seemed inclined to get into it.
I shrug. “Jay isn’t going anywhere, and he understands that you’re not ready for people yet.”
She snorts dryly. “People-ing sounds exhausting. And speaking of exhausting tasks… I need to shower,” she admits, wrinkling her nose.
“You do stink,” I say, my grin widening when she shoots me a glare.
More often, I’ve been seeing her old self poke through. Sometimes it’s a jab at something I said, other times it’s a little smile, and then there are moments like now—where she looks like she wants to give me the one-two to my eyeballs.
I eat it all up.
“You’re supposed to say I smell like flowers.”
“Baby, there are flowers out there that smell like straight ass. So sure, you smell like those flowers.”
She stares at me for a beat, and then her face cracks, and a full-blown grin stretches her lips.
I’m so in love with her.
“Fine, I guess I can’t really argue with that anyway.” She glances at the door leading to her personal bathroom. “There are no cameras in there, right?”
I arch a brow, enjoying the way her lips part. “I haven’t taken them out.” She glowers. “Why not?”
I hold her gaze, ensuring she can see how serious I am. “I’m not going to watch you, Addie. But the second you give me a reason to, I will.”
Her brow lowers, picking up on my meaning. “I’m not going to hurt myself.”
“Okay,” I say, taking her word for it. “I’ll change out the sheets, and they’ll be fresh by the time you’re done.”
Slowly, she drags herself out of bed, and the burst of pride is uncontainable. I’m pulling up the corner of the silk sheet when she pauses at the door leading to her bathroom, peeking over her shoulder at me.
“Yeah, baby?” “Thank you.”
“Your mom is coming here tomorrow, just to remind you.”
It’s only been a few days since Serena visited last, but she’s been trying hard to reconnect with her daughter. Something I’m actually glad for, despite how exhausting she can be.
Addie rolls over to face me, once more a little burrito in her bed. She’s intent on wasting away for now, but I plan on channeling her trauma into
better, more healthy avenues when she’s ready.
Her sweet caramel pools peer up at me, a slight frown on her face. Shadows stain the underside of her eyes, so dark that some of her freckles are lost.
“Does she have to?”
I shrug a shoulder. “No. Say the word, and I’ll lock the doors.”
She drops her gaze, but not quick enough to hide the guilt. “That was rude of me to say,” she admits. “She’s still my mom.”
I settle in deeper next to her, slumping against the stone wall, careful not to touch her, though my body is vibrating with the need to.
We haven’t touched since I found her in the train, and each second feels like a stab in the chest. Fiending for Adeline Reilly is a feeling I’m old friends with, but this is the first time I refuse to act on it.
“Tell me about her,” I say. “Tell me everything about you.”
She raises an eyebrow, and I smile because it’s cute. “You mean you don’t know everything about me already?”
“Of course, I don’t, baby. Not the things that matter. I may know what high school you graduated from or where you went to college before you dropped out, but that doesn’t mean I know how happy you were. If you were lonely or sad. Or if a boy cornered you in a library and made you scared.” I pause, that particular scenario angering me. “If that happened, I just need a name, that’s all.”
She snorts, rolling her eyes.
Addie resisted pillow talk before she was abducted, intent on hating me. And when she stopped hating me, we only had a couple of nights together before she was taken.
She wiggles deeper into the sheets, glancing at me through thick lashes. My heart clenches painfully, and I have an uncontrollable urge to kiss every single freckle dotting her cheeks and nose.
“My mom hates me,” she starts. “Or maybe she doesn’t hate me, but she’s never liked me. I think it’s because she never understood me. My mom is all about being prim, proper, and classy. Enter beauty pageants, marry a rich man, and live lavishly. I think she just wanted me to have the life she couldn’t have, and when I did the opposite, she resented me for it.”
“At least you’ll end up marrying a rich man,” I comment. She pins me with a dry look.
“Now I can never marry you. It’s my life’s purpose to disappoint her in every decision I make.”
I arch a brow. “Don’t underestimate me, Addie. I’ll become a poor man for you.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t even know your last name. Or your birthday.”
I grin. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize those things were so important.”
She glares at me, conjuring all the sass from the fellow women around the world and inserting it into that single look. It only makes me smile wider.
“Aren’t we having a heart-to-heart? Plus, you keep threatening me with marriage. Shouldn’t I know your last name?”
“Does this mean you’re actually going to take my threats seriously and marry me?”
She sighs, waltzing right into that one. She knows it, too.
“It’s a simple question. The kind of question anyone would ask on the first date. Or even before the first date just in case the man ends up being an obsessive stalker who murders people.”
I tip my head back, a deep laugh pouring from my throat. “My birthday is September 7th,” I tell her.
“Doesn’t surprise me that you’re a Virgo. Next,” she prompts sassily, waiting for my next answer. I bite my lip, tempted to spank her ass and give her a reason to be sassy.
“Meadows, baby. Our last name is Meadows.”
“Yours. Don’t get ahead of yourself. You’ll be expected to beg.”
There’s no stopping the savage grin from gracing my lips. “I love to beg.”
“Whatever, creep. We were talking about my mom, not marriage.”
I get comfortable, fully facing her and propping my head on my hand. Her eyes flutter when I notch my finger under her chin, demanding her full attention. Gently, she pulls away, but I don’t let it bother me. It’s a start.
“Your mom doesn’t hate you, Addie. She hates herself. And she doesn’t resent you because you’re not living the life she wanted for herself, she resents you because you were living the life you wanted, and she wasn’t.”
She stares at me, seeming to contemplate that.
“The best thing you can do is keep living that life, little mouse. Continue being a successful author who loves horror movies and haunted fairs. Who loves her Nana and the gothic mansion she inherited and finds a thrill out of the ghosts that walk the halls. You’ve always been unapologetically you.”
She wrinkles her nose as if she’s disgusted. “So, you’re wise and shit, too?” She scoffs, a sound of abhorrence, though there’s a faint glimmer in her eye. “Despicable. What are you bad at?”
My smile turns salacious, enjoying the way red tints her cheeks. “I’m very bad at lots of things. And I hear that practice makes perfect.”
She groans and shoves me, and I laugh when she flips over, turning her back to me. We both know she’s laughing, too, but she just isn’t ready to admit it yet.
That’s okay. I’ve got nothing but time.