The memories hit me in the chest, over and over again—him screaming and hurtling dishes across the room, him calm and cold as he blamed himself for not being able to hold my attention, his pleas for me not to leave him because he’d be lost without me. His excuses of pressure from his position, his media presence, his team.
Each dark memory climbed higher and higher in my throat until I couldn’t breathe or think around them. Until everything he’d done choked the life from me. Until I saw nothing but red because of that damn fear clawing in my veins at the thought of him here, watching me. Watching us.
I jerked my arm down and the phone clattered against the sidewalk with a satisfying crunch.
“T,” Roman said as he put a hand on my shoulder.
I flinched out of instinct at the touch, my eyes flaring wide as I looked from him to the smashed phone and back again. “I’m sorry!” I blurted, hurrying to gather the broken pieces off of the sidewalk, cringing at the curious looks I got from shoppers passing by.
“Stop,” Roman whispered, on his knees beside me. He grabbed my shaking hands, a gentle touch, and I dropped the pieces.
“I didn’t mean to cause a scene,” I said, almost on autopilot. God, this would be on the social sites soon. Especially if someone had identified Roman. How embarrassing, how mortifying—
“Teagan Ray Hall.”
I focused clearly on Roman’s dark eyes, the use of my full name snapping me totally to the present. His face softened, not with pity but with understanding and just a hint of anger—not at me, but something deeper. “When have I ever given a shit about scenes?”
My bottom lip trembled, my entire body trembled, and I shook my head.
Not once had he ever chided me for doing anything in public or private or…ever.
“Come on,” he said, hauling me to my feet. We walked in silence to his car where I stowed the bags in his trunk. “There’s a Verizon over there,” he said, pointing down the sidewalk. “Let’s go get you a new phone.”
I followed him, more inside my head than the present. I kept waiting for Rick to pop up from around the corner, waiting for him to unleash that cold fury he usually reserved for behind closed doors. It would land on Roman, too, simply because he was here. Simply because he was my friend.
The thought twisted something dark and angry inside me.
“We’ll get you on my plan,” Roman said after we’d entered the phone store.
I parted my lips to protest, but he quieted me with his hands raised. “Only until you can get your own,” he said. “I’m not trying to control you or do things for you. I just want to do whatever I can to make it easier for you to get your life back. Your life.”
I swallowed the rock in my throat, nodding my thanks.
A half-hour later, I had a new phone and a new number.
Rick never showed himself. And something about his lack of appearance settled in my gut like an icy stone.
But the new phone felt like a weapon, almost like I had a new identity. A small rush of power stirred in my blood as Roman drove us back to his place.
Rick didn’t have this phone number.
And he sure as hell wouldn’t get it.
But what would he do when he found out he couldn’t get a hold of me? Couldn’t find me?
Ice coated my throat, chilling my bones.
He’d come after me, come after Roman. He’d find a way to—
Stop, stop, stop.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the cool window of Roman’s car as we drove.
No more giving him power he didn’t deserve.
I was stronger than this. I could survive this and come out smarter on the other side.
Part of me believed that—the part of me that had grown up running wild with Roman, believed it.
But the other part of me? The one twisted by fear and weighted by shame? That part of me whispered that I’d never lose the shackles Rick had taken years to secure me with.
The two pieces of me battled it out in a war of emotions I couldn’t control, and by the time we made it back to Roman’s, I didn’t even have the energy to put up my new clothes.
Instead, I sank onto his bed and shut out the world.
Because I couldn’t decide which was more terrifying—rediscovering myself or to search for a part of myself only to discover that girl no longer existed.
The sound of weights clinking all around me filled my ears as I pushed up another rep. My chest and arms burned, but it felt great to be back with the team.
“Thirty.” Hendrix stared down at me, spotting as I set the bar back in place. His usual, easy grin faded as his gaze darted across the room. “Shit,” he muttered as I sat up, my heart pounding with exertion.