Halfling (Black Petals, #1)


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Chapter 1

“You must be my partner. I’m Blayk. Nice to meet you,” a deep, Australian-accented, male voice says from behind me, frightening me. I turn to meet the brown eyes of a dark-haired, tan-skinned man wearing dark wash jeans and a black V-neck t-shirt.

“Oh! Yeah, I am. I’m Megan,” I sputter quickly and extend my hand.

He shakes it and smiles kindly.

“I just got our map. We’re assigned to Madison Street West,” I inform him in a forced friendly tone. I honestly just want to get this over and done with, so I can go home and binge watch TV.

He raises his eyebrows. “Nice, it’s one of the shortest streets in the city. I guess we lucked out,” he approves gratefully. I toss him a couple of empty garbage bags and a pair of blue rubber gloves.

I’m not too sure about picking garbage all day with a random stranger, but my workplace has volunteered us all for the semi-annual city cleanup. Don’t get me wrong, I love helping out and volunteering, but I just wish I would’ve been paired with another girl or put in a group of more than two. Not that I have anything against guys. I just grew up in a family where they were nothing but unreliable pig heads. My dad was never around, and my mom brought more men home than eggs. None of them stuck around of course.

“Yeah, I guess we did. Do you want me to drive or..?” I trail off, getting distracted by the many people buzzing around us in the community centre. I rip down the paper sign from the wall with our group number on it and crumple it up. We’re all here. All two of us.

“I can drive,” he suggests hastily, as if he’s scared of my driving or something. I ama terrible driver, or so I’ve been told, but obviously he would have no way of knowing this. I toss the crumpled sign that’s in my hand into a nearby garbage can.

He nods towards the double doors on our left-hand side and begins walking towards themit.

I follow him. He’s tall. Probably nearly six feet, whereas I’m a mere five feet in height.

As we exit the community centre, I can’t help but gawk at some of the people around me. I’m new to the city. I was born and raised in a small town. It would be an understatement to say that moving to the city was a big change. There are people everywhere. All kindsof people too. Some with purple hair, others with piercings in their lips and eyebrows. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, because it’s definitely not. It’s the reason that I moved here. Diversity. Freedom.

In Manson, my hometown, there were no more than a thousand people. All of which, were Caucasian, and most of which, were prejudiced in some way, shape, or form. Here, no one careswhat you look like or who you are. It’s liberating, and I absolutely love it.

The loud hum of voices, created by the many people around me, fills my ears, as I struggle to keep up with Blayk. Why is he walking so darn fast? Hasn’t he noticed that I have short, little legs? I finally break into a sprint to catch up to him. In doing so, I nearly knock a woman and her toddler off of their feet, as I rush by them. I mutter a breathless apology, as I continue to zip through the crowd, careful not to lose sight of Blayk. When I finally reach the outside of the building, I’m huffing and puffing. He’s in a hurry apparently, and I’m obviously dangerously out of shape.

“Sorry, was I walking a little fast?” he apologizes as he takes in my condition. I have to struggle not to glare at him. He looks amused and clearly not sincerely apologetic. Men.

“Just a little,” I say exasperatedly and fix my ruffled hair.

“Sorry, I’ll slow down,” he promises, a grin lighting up his face. He finds this funny. I certainly don’t. Okay, maybe if I saw how I looked right now, it might be a little amusing, but he better not walk that fast while we’re picking garbage or he’ll leave me in the dust.

“So, uh, what company are you with?” I ask him, changing theo subject.

His grin disappears and he nods towards the left parking lot. I follow him, glad that he’s now slowed his pace to something manageable.

“I’m just volunteering myself,” he announces. “Just moved here a couple months ago from out of country with my younger brother, and I thought this would be an excellent way to meet people. What about you?” He fishes in his pocket for his keys.

I nod. “Cool. Uh, I work with seniors at a lodge on the west side,” I answer with a yawn. I had a long night last night. I spent it babysitting my elderly neighbour’s new puppy while she was out of town, and it cried and whined all night.

Blayk runs a hand through his thick, black hair and pulls out his car keys. “Oh, sounds like a blast.” He grins and stops in front of what looks to be a brand new, black Mercedes.

When he unlocks the doors and jumps in, I nearly have a heart attack. This is his? I robotically open the passenger door and jump in, careful not to track mud in.

“Wow, nice car,” I admire. I’m not much of a car person, but if I was, I know I’d be gushing about this ride for the rest of my life.

“Yeah, thanks. I just got it a few weeks ago,” he states blankly and starts the engine. Unlike my car, which sounds like an angry bear when starting, his car hardly makes a sound. Looking at him now, I can’t imagine that he is anything over twenty. How can someone so young own a Mercedes? Rich parents maybe?

“How old are you?” I ask, hoping that I don’t sound rude. I buckle my seatbelt and straighten my thin, black jacket.

“Twenty-five,” he tells me with a weak smile. “Yourself?” Twenty-five? He must be joking. I’d guess he was fifteen before twenty-five.


He raises his eyebrows. “You look younger.”

“So do you,” I agree.

He smirks but doesn’t say anything. We pull out onto the street and head west.

We’re both silent as we pass through the city. He reaches into the center console at a red light and pulls out a pair of sunglasses. He puts them on carefully. I should have brought mine. I didn’t think it was going to be so sunny today, as the weatherman called for rain. I guess sun is far better than rain for picking trash.

He turns up the radio just as his cell phone rings. He presses a button on the dash.

“Hello?” he answers sternly. “What do you want, Landon? I told you I’m busy volunteeringtoday.” He sounds downright annoyed with the caller.

An Australian-accented voice erupts through the speakers of the car. “Yeah, I know. I’m just letting you know that our father is on his way here from Iraq. He just called. He’ll be here tomorrow morning.”

I glance over at Blayk and see him swallow hard. “You must be joking. Now is not a good time,” he replies, sounding even more irritated.

“You know him, Blayk. He doesn’t care if it’s a good time.”

“Okay, thanks for the news, but I have to go. I’ll talk to you soon,” Blayk mutters through clenched teeth and ends the call. Apparently I’m not the only one in this car with daddy issues. “Sorry about that. Family drama.”

I smile reassuringly and look out the windshield, careful not to make awkward eye contact with anyone on the street. I hate making eye contact with people, especially strangers.

“Is your family here in Toronto?” he asks me while making a right and then pulling to the side of the road to park. This is not Madison Street. I swallow hard. Why are we stopping here? Should I be concerned? We’re parked in front of a large brick house in a neighborhood which I don’t recognize.

“No, my only family is my mom, and she lives in Alberta,” I admit. “She’s in jail. I haven’t talked to her in years. She killed a bunch of kids while drinking and driving a couple years ago.” Maybe that was a little too much information to give a stranger. I cringe at my own words. I talk a lot when I’m nervous.

He gets out of the car. “One second. I just have to grab something from my house.” Hishouse?Thisis his house?! I live in a boot compared to this mansion.

I exhale sharply, not realizing that I’ve been holding in a breath. He probably just wants to change his shoes or something. He is dressed a tad fancy for garbage picking, isn’t he? I’m dressed in a band t-shirt and sweatpants, topped off with a ripped jacket. I look like a total slob.

In all honesty, I tend to majorly over react around strangers, becoming fidgety and paranoid, because growing up in a small town, I was constantly warned how untrustworthy people are. I was basically told that people are crazy, especially city people. You could say that this, getting into a car with a total stranger, is a fair ways out of my comfort zone.

When Blayk returns a few seconds later, he has someone with him. I can see in the man’s features that the two of them share the same thick, bushy, black eyebrows and nearly the same sharp jawline. This must be the brother that he was speaking to over the phone. What was his name? Was it Landon? The two could be identical twins except for the difference in their hair styles. Where Blayk’s is short and tousled, Landon’s is short and spiky.

My car door swings open and Blayk grabs my wrist harshly. The other brother reaches in and unbuckles my seatbelt. My heart hammers in my chest, as I push and scratch at both of them. My instincts were right. I should never have gotten into a car with this man. I manage to bite one of the men. I’m not sure which. They don’t seem fazed. I attempt to scream, but a hand quickly covers my mouth, before I can let out any noise. A feeling of sickness washes over me, as I succumb to immense fright.

“Calm down, woman,” Landon says in a serene voice. Calm down? He must be joking. Calmdown? I’m being yanked out of a car against my will!

Suddenly, I’m over one of their shoulders, the car behind us. I kick and punch rapidly. Surely one of the neighbours will see me and call the police, right? Megan, you’ve really done it this time with your lack of thinking and common sense you idiot. This is so me, getting abducted by two men I’ve never met all because I didn’t think any of this through. Did the people running the cleanup not conduct background checks?

Against my will, I am carried into the large brick house and tossed onto the floor harshly.

“Who sent you?!” Blayk shouts at me angrily, his casual expression becoming hard and cold. He adjusts his sunglasses.

I look up at both men, confused. No one sent me. I mean my company sent me to do city cleanup, but I know that’s not what he’s talking about. I feel tears well up in my eyes and drip down my cheeks. I am completely and utterly terrified. I’ve never felt this kind of fear before. Is this seriously going to be how I die? If not, this is the last time I’m ever volunteering for city cleanup. I can tell you that much.

“Answer me!” Blayk shouts again. This time he sounds impossibly angrier. I glance to Landon. He looks just as pissed off as his brother, but there seems to be a touch more warmth in hisfacial expression.

I wince and attempt to stand up, only to be kicked in the ribs and sent back down to the hard tile floor again.

“No one sentme! I swear. I don’t know what you’re talking about. My boss just volunteered us all to help!” I rattle off in a rush. I feel myself sweating. Do I dare scream now that I’m in the house? What if they just decide to kill me to shut me up? Do I risk it? Maybe I’ve watched too many horror movies.

Landon sighs and his angry expression falters. Suddenly he’s looking at me with what looks to me like pity, and I’m not sure why. My heart skips a beat when I get a look at his eyes. The irises are totally black, like pitch black which makes them blend into the pupils entirely. I gasp. Why do people these days insist on wearing those dumb colored contacts? He looks like a freak which really doesn’t help my situation. For some reason, it actually makes me impossibly more freaked out and scared.

“She’s telling the truth. She’s not one of them,” Landon says calmly to Blayk.

“She wears their ring,” Blayk argues, pointing to my hand.

Who in the hell do they think I am? A drug dealer? Part of some gang? What do they want?

“Where did you get that ring on your finger?” Landon huffs and glances down at my right hand. I don’t have to look to know that he’s talking about the fraternity ring that my father left behind. Why I even wear it, I don’t know. I was so young when he left that I don’t even remember the guy at all.

“I-I got it from my father. Well, I mean, he left it when he left my mom when I was a baby,” I answer in a quick, confused rush. What if what my mom thought was a fraternity ring from college is actually some kind of gang related token?

“What was your father’s name?” Blayk thunders, having no patience whatsoever.

I wipe my tears from my cheeks and glance at the door. There is no way that I’m going to be able to make a run for it. Either one or both of these men will catch me in an instant. Why don’t I carry around pepper spray like they tell you to on those ads on TV?

“I don’t know. My mom would never tell me,” I answer through a shaky voice.

Blayk approaches me swiftly and lifts my hand up to his face. He pulls off my ring and looks it over while squatting in front of me. “It says Darius Ranchiller inside the ring.”

“Are you sure that this was his?” Landon asks after a moment, nodding to the ring in Blayk’s hand. Confusion fills both of their gazes.

I nod hastily. “That’s what my mom told me.”

“Impossible,” Landon breathes while looking to Blayk. He then moves his gaze back to me. “I wouldn’t be wearing that ring around in public, darling. It could get you in anawful lot of trouble.”

“Do you know the guy who goes by the name written in this ring?” Blayk asks grimly. He smiles at me darkly, causing me to cringe.

“No, I assumed that the name on the inside was the maker of the ring. The company who made it,” I spit quickly. I don’t know anything about jewelry.

“We need to let her go,” Landon mutters to his brother. “She’s innocent. Just a little, human girl.”

A little, human girl? What? What a weirdo. I am a full grown woman. I’m an adult. Something about him using the word ‘human’ to describe me, makes me look at Landon, to his funky contacts. Are these two some of those vampire fanatic weirdos? The people who pretend to be vampires and drink actual blood? I did a study on them in high school during the big vampire surge in pop culture a few years ago. Not cool. Creepy. Very creepy. If that is what they are trying to pull off, why me?

Blayk grabs my hand and presses the ring into my palm gently.

“What if I don’t want to let her go?” Blayk argues, a sickening grin playing at his lips. “What if I want something from her.”

“You owe me for bailing you out last weekend. This is what I want in return,” Landon persuades, glancing between Blayk and me. “You don't needher for anything, Blayk. You're only supposed to take what you need. Do you want to get yourself on Lucian’s hitlist?”

I take a deep breath before instinctually rambling, “I promise I won’t tell a soul. I won’t go to the cops or anything, I swear.” They must be drug dealers of some sort it's the only explanation. That, or serial killers, that might make sense too.

“See?” Landon purrs and runs his hand across his hairy chin as if it’s itchy.

“Not good enough. Father will know we’re hiding something, and he’ll get it out of us like he always does. Then she’ll be dead anyways. I honestly don’t care if she lives or dies she’s just a-”

Landon cuts his brother off. “Blayk! She knows nothing. I’m getting her out of here now. You owe me.”

Blayk runs the palm of his hand across the back of his neck and sighs deeply. “Fine, go, but I’m not keeping anything from him when he asks me what I’m not telling him. That’s not part of this deal. She may be just a human, but she must be working for them or something. Dad won't like us taking the chance.”

Landon and Blayk make eye contact for a long moment, before Landon grabs his wallet and car keys from the half table next to the door. “I don't care what dad will and won't like, Blayk,” he mutters in a low grumble. “You’re just like our father as much as you hate to admit it. You're both going to end up on a hitlist and murdered when the authorities find out how much you take from places you're not supposed to. We're supposed to stay under the radar, not stick flashing red lights on our heads.” Then Landon looks to me and motions with his free hand for me to stand. I’m trembling so intensely that I don’t know if I can.

Finally, after seeing that I’m not able to get up on my own, he grabs my hand and pulls me up in one swift movement. Wow, he’s strong. I test my legs before letting go of him.

“What’s your name?” Landon asks me, a hint of worry in his gaze.

“Megan,” I say in a quiet squeak. I’m not even sure if he’s heard me. Seriously, what are the chances that I get kidnapped by crazies?

“Alright, Megan, you’re coming with me.” Landon looks to me apologetically and nods to the door.

“Hell if I am!” I shout without even meaning to. Call it adrenalin kicking into gear, instincts, or both. Remind me again, why I didn’t take that self-defense class that was offered at my workplace last week.

Blayk rolls his eyes at me as if I’m some child throwing a tantrum, and he walks into another room.

“It’ll make it a lot easier for you if you listen to everything that I say. Now follow me unless you want to get yourself killed,” Landon suggests grimly and opens the front door. And here I thought that Blayk seemed like such a normal guy in the car on the way here. Now though, I’m aware that he was merely acting because he saw my father’s ring and thought I was someone else or something. I really don't even know.

I follow Landon outside, not because I want to, but because I have no choice. First of all, I’m not staying in this house with Blayk. He’s psychotic. Not that Landon isn’t, but he does seem to be the least psychotic of the two. Secondly, if I’m outside, maybe I can make a run for it or get a neighbor’s attention.

As if he can hear my thoughts, Landon warns, “Don’t try to run or scream. If you do, I’ll makeyou come with me, and you won’t like that.”

I cringe. His tone is menacing. I have to do something. I’m not going to get into a car with another complete stranger. I’ve been there, and look how that turned out.

I follow Landon across the front lawn to another beautiful car parked in front of Blayk’s. He opens the passenger door for me. I hesitate understandably. Iget into the passenger side and he shuts the door for me. Once Landon is about to take his seat on the driver’s side, I throw my door back open and spring out of the vehicle.

I sprint down the sidewalk towards the nearest house. It’s another huge mansion made of brick. I use the elaborate knocker on the door and begin screaming. I’m half surprised that Landon doesn’t catch up to me right away, I’m not the fastest runner in all truthfulness. Maybe he doesn’t want to make a scene and get caught. When no one answers immediately, I go at the knocker again and push the doorbell repeatedly.

A hand wraps around my wrist tightly and yanks me back. I gasp. Shit. I turn to face Landon, who still looks at me apologetically, or maybe it’s pity that I see in his expression, I’m not sure.

“Come with me,” he says in a pleading tone.

The front door of the mansion finally swings open, and I nearly burst into tears when Blayk stares back at me through the doorway. Did I somehow manage to run to the wrong house? I look to my left and see that no, this isthe neighbor’s house. What the hell?!

“Keep a handle on your pet,” Blayk sneers, before slamming the door in our faces.

Landon grabs my wrist a little harsher and leads me back to his bright yellow car. He shoves me inside and locks the door while he walks around the car to his side. How did that just happen? I know I ran to the right house. So many questions invade my mind, giving me a headache and making me want to scream.

“That was a nice try. Running, I mean. It would’ve worked if all six of the homes in this neighborhood weren’t adjoined by tunnels. We own all six,” Landon tells me, as if trying to keep my sanity intact.

I look around the gated neighborhood. This isn’t a rich subdivision of sorts, but a gated home fixed to look like a subdivision. I clench my teeth. What in the hell are the chances? How do two twenty something year olds own so much property? How do they have so much money? Drugs. It has to be drugs. It must be a gang.

“Are you chilly?” He asks, eyeing me carefully. I realize that I’m hugging myself, but it’s not because I’m cold, but rather, because I’m scared, and it comforts me.

I shake my head.

“I’m not trying to hurt you. I’m trying to save your life. You have no idea what you just walked into,” he mutters under his breath and begins driving.

“It’s drugs, isn’t it?” I wonder out loud.

He shakes his head. “I’m afraid it’s far worse than that.”

What could be worse than drugs? He sees my look of confusion and answers, “You don’t want to know, trust me. Do you have anywhere that you can stay? Outside of Toronto, I mean. Preferably, outside of Ontario.”

I shake my head.

He nods and appears to be thinking.

“Just take me home, I promise I won’t say a word to anyone,” I beg. This really can’t be happening. I must have the worst luck in the world. Leave it to me to get wrapped up in a mess like this. It’s just my luck. My mother always told me growing up that I was unlucky and all the terrible stuff that happened to her after my birth, was all because of me, maybe she was right and I am bad luck.

Landon grips the steering wheel tighter. “I can’t. You can’t stay in Toronto. There are people here who will track you down and kill you.”

“How? They don’t even know me. They don’t have any connection to me at all!” I argue sternly.

He grimaces. “I can’t tell you all that you need to know to understand this situation. I can only warn you about what willhappen. You willbe hunted down and killed, Megan. That is a promise.”

The way he says these words is harsh. I don’t understand how what he says is possible. He’s sure that I will be killed that much is clear, but I don’t think he’s thought this through entirely. Howwill they find me? They don’t even have my last name.

“Take me back to the community centre, where I left my car parked. I won’t tell anyone about you or Blayk, and you don’t tell anyone about me. If people somehow magically come after me, then that’s my fault for not listening to you,” I suggest.

He sighs and turns the music completely off. I know he’s done arguing with me. He doesn’t seem to have the energy or will to continue arguing about this. It’s as if he doesn’t care enough to continue with me. “Okay. If that’s what you want, but I think you’re making a mistake. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

I give him the address of the community centre gratefully. Maybe I will survive this day after all.

“You really should get rid of that ring, Megan. It’s dangerous to have in your possession,” Landon says after a moment of silence. I glance down at it in my palm. He’s not lying. This ring has already gotten me into more trouble than it’s worth. I roll down the window, and I am about to throw it out, when he grabs my wrist to stop me. “Don’t. If you throw it out, someone else could pick it up. Give it to me, and I’ll take care of it.”

I give the ring one last look before dropping it into his cup holder and rolling the window back up. “What’s so special about it anyway?”

He hesitates, as if trying to come up with an appropriate way to word his answer. “Rings like this one belong to a group of people who killa certain group of others I guess you could say.” So I was right, it’s a gang related ring. Lovely. Good to know I’ve been wearing that since it fit my finger. How could my mom not have known my dad was part of a gang? Then again, my mom doesn’t know much. I can’t believe I’ve been wearing a murderer ring my whole life.

We pull into the community centre parking lot, and Landon unlocks the doors. “Good luck.” He says this like he knows the words will be useless.

I nod before exiting the car and sprinting to my own car, jumping in and locking the doors as quickly as I can. So much for city clean up. What a morning. I wait until his car is out of sight, before I exit the parking lot and head home. I guess Madison Street West will have to stay uncleaned. I hold back tears the whole way home and drive in all sorts of directions in case he’s following me.

Once I get home, I break down into tears. I close all of the blinds and lock all of the windows and doors. Call me paranoid, but I amworried about Landon’s warning. Remembering that I told Blayk I work with seniors, I rashly call and quit my job, not wanting to risk him finding me at work.

What if I do go to the cops? Can’t they protect me somehow? Can they put me in witness protection? I promised I wouldn’t, but I only promised because I thought it would save my life.

Witness protection? Really, Megan? No, they wouldn’t do that. You aren’t even scratched. You have no proof of even being taken.

Calm down, no one is coming after you, you’re over reacting. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’m probably just shaken up, right? I walk into the bathroom and open up the medicine cupboard. I grab some cold medicine that has drowsy listed as a side effect and pop three into my mouth. I lean down and take a sip of water from the tap to wash them down. I need to sleep ever so badly right now.

While I’m waiting for them to kick in, I decide to jump into the shower. I don’t realize how terrible of an idea this is, until I’m already inside. How am I supposed to hear someone break into my house with the water running? I throw shampoo into my hair and lather it intensely, then I wash it out. When I close my eyes to keep soap from getting into them, my mind goes into panic mode, suddenly I’m opening my eyes expecting to see someone standing in my bathroom ready to kill me. Luckily, I manage to evade the soap. I’m left gasping for breath in the shower. I’m absolutely paranoid like a psycho, I know that.

I don’t have anyone to call. I don’t have anywhere else to go. I’m stuck here in this house, with my own thoughts. Every noise, no matter how little, makes me flinch for the rest of the evening. The pills do nothing to help me sleep, but eventually I do manage to get some shut eye. I sleep the rest of the day and all night.

When morning rolls around, I am startled awake by the sound of my neighbor’s dog barking. It takes me a moment to remember the events of the day before.

I turn on the morning news downstairs and fry some bacon for breakfast. When my doorbell rings around noon, I nearly shit myself. Who would be at my door right now? No one even knows where I live except my neighbors, and I don’t know any of them except Mrs. Lander who only comes over when she needs a dog sitter.

I instinctively grab a cleaver from my knife block and peer through the peephole of my front door. This wouldn’t be near as frightening if I didn’t live alone.

Surely if someone is going to attack me, they’ll do it in the middle of the night, right? Not at noon.

I see nobody outside of my front door, so I move to the window next to it and carefully look between the blinds. A man in a suit stands on the top step, out of the way of the peep hole. Is his position deliberate? I clench my teeth and take a deep breath. Do I open the door?

My hand rests on the lock for a moment in hesitation. Megan, you’re over reacting. You said it yourself, how would they ever find you? Chill the heck out. I slide it the lock and pull the door open, plastering on a smile. The man grins back, looks down at my hand clenching the knife tightly, and takes a short step back in surprise.

“Hello…” He moves his gaze up to mine. “I’m Crispen, your new neighbor next door. I just wanted to introduce myself,” he says wearily, pointing down the street with his thumb. Great, he thinks I’m nuts. My hand loosens its grip on the cleaver, and I let out a deep breath.

“I’m sosorry,” I apologize and extend my free hand. “I’m Megan. I’m a little paranoid at the moment. I spent all morning watching horror movies,” I lie. “It really gets to a girl.”

He chuckles and his expression lightens. “Not a problem.” He shakes my hand tightly. “I saw you come home yesterday morning. I was starting to think I was the only one under eighty in the neighborhood.”

“Well, yeah actually, we are probably the only ones under eighty around here to be honest. It seems most young people prefer the other side of the city for whatever reason,” I agree with him.

He shrugs. “Oh well, I guess. It’s not like I’m home much. I work a lot.”

“What do you do?” I ask, making conversation and taking in his suit.

“I’m a doctor,” he explains kindly and takes a small step closer now that he’s sure I won’t take a chunk out of him with my weapon.

I gape. A doctor? “How old are you?”

“Old enough to be a doctor,” he answers with a devilish smile. To me, he only looks to be about twenty-five, but I’m terrible at guessing age. He’s blonde with spiky hair and bright blue eyes the colour of sapphires. He’s neither tall nor short, standing at just under six feet tall. He’s cute I guess. Not faint-worthy, but definitely swoon worthy at least.

“Would you like to come in?” I ask him when an awkward silence sets in for more than a few seconds.

“Uh, I have a meeting I need to get to actually. Rain check?” he suggests, and hands me a bag from his hand. “This is for you.”

“Isn’t it usually me that would give you a gift? You’re the one that’s new to the neighborhood, not me,” I joke and take the bag.

He chuckles lightly. “I made too many. Have them.”

I thank him and close the door, as he descends the steps. I lock the door, then I open up the bag. Inside, there is a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I do love a man who can bake, and I love chocolate chip cookies even more.

I pop one into my mouth, then I put the rest on the kitchen counter for later. Crispen distracted me for a few minutes, but now I’m back to fretting about my future like an idiot.

I sit on the couch with my laptop and job search. You know, because I rashly quit my job yesterday. I apply for a few that look alright, but nothing really catches my eye. I love working with the elderly, and I can’t believe that I have given up my dream job. Why is this happening to me?

When supper rolls around and I realize that I have no food in the house besides some leftover bacon from breakfast, I decide that I’ll have to call in a pizza. I don’t feel like leaving the house while it’s pouring rain to get groceries.

While I wait for my pizza, I type some searches into my favorite search engine. First, I try ‘Blayk Landon Toronto’.Nothing even close comes up. Next, I search ‘gangs Toronto’.Again, nothing too useful. I read up on a few suspected gang-related incidents, but nothing jumps out at me. Lastly, I search ‘gangs with rings’. There are plenty of gangs with a ring as some sort of symbol, but I can’t find a ring that matches mine or even comes close. I don’t know what I was hoping for exactly. I’m just about to put away my laptop, when I think of one more thing to search. The name on the inside of my father’s ring. I’ve always thought that it was just the name of the brand or maker of the ring.

When I type in the name, multiple results show up. I wade through them until something catches my eye. It’s a police report in a paper from about twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the police report is not actually on the web, it is only referenced. To read the article, I have to contact the library. I click the link and a contact form pops up. I type in fake information, not wanting anyone to know that I’m looking into what looks to be a possible murder by the looks of the key words linked to the webpage. The only thing that I put into the online form that is actually mine is my email address, so they can get back to me.

I snoop around the site a little longer to find out that the library, which I’ve just emailed, is stationed in Alberta, Canada. In Calgary to be exact. Coincidence? I think not.

When my phone vibrates a few minutes later, signifying that I’ve received an email, I jump in surprise. That was sure a quick reply.

A picture of the exact article that I was inquiring about is clipped to the email along with a short message thanking me for my interest in the libraries records. I browse the wording quickly and carefully. In a nutshell, this Darius Ranchiller guy was brutally murdered in an alley in Calgary around the same time that I was born. I’m interrupted by a knock on my door and a ring of my doorbell in unison. I jump up. My pizza must be here.

I grab some cash from the table and rush over to the door, swinging it open. “Sorry, I had to grab some money,” I apologize and begin counting it out loud quickly.

“I’m…not…selling…anything…” a deep, humored voice bellows in laughter. My heart jumps, and I look up. The one time I don’t check the peephole! I’m relieved to see that it’s only Crispen, my new neighbor.

“Oh, Jesus, Crispen!” I cry reluctantly and place my palm over my heart in shock. “I thought you were the pizza guy!”

Another chuckle. “Nope, I mean if that’s what you want me to be then sure,” he says in a flirty, but joking tone.

I scowl at him.

“I’m just joking,” he reassures me with a thunderous laugh. He’s in a good mood. “You’re still paranoid because of that horror movie, aren’t you?” he muses, taking in my expression of surprise.

I nod automatically and motion for him to come in. “Would you like to come in? I have pizza on the way,” I offer.

He shrugs and his amusement fades a touch. “Yeah, sure.”

“Did you come to take your cookies back?” I ask, making conversation.

He smirks. “No, you can keep them. They’re no good for these abs.” He lifts up his black t-shirt to reveal a finely sculpted torso. Damn him. If only I had enough ambition and willpower to stop eating things like bacon and pizza, and get back into shape. It’s not that I‘m fat or even overweight, but I’m far from being in shape.

“I bet you can’t turn down the pizza when it gets here,” I joke, lighting up a bit and flashing him a genuine smile. No one can turn down pizza. Well, not unless they have some sort of super will power.

He licks his lips and half smiles. “No, you’re right. I won’t go that far. That’s just insanity.”

I giggle as he steps into my home and kicks off his shoes. I lock the door behind him. I immediately feel better now that I’m not alone. He sets his shoes neatly in the corner and glances to the table beside the door.

“Do you always carry around a big, badass knife?”

I glance to where he’s looking. I forgot to put the knife back in the kitchen earlier.

“I must’ve forgot to put it away,” I admit and grab it. I walk it into the kitchen and place it back into the knife block. “Sorry about that by the way. I didn’t mean to frighten you earlier when I answered the door with it.”

“Not a problem. It isn’t the first time I’ve been threatened with a knife unfortunately.”

I can tell by his tone that he’s not joking. I decide not to ask him to elaborate. I’m sure that if he was threatened with a knife before, it’s not likely a pleasant memory, and he probably doesn’t want to talk about it. I’d hate to ruin his giddy mood, because I need it right now.

“How did you like the cookies?” he wonders, changing the subject.

I toss a few pillows which have fallen off of my couch back where they belong and straighten the cushions. I wasn’t expecting guests. “They’re great. You’re a good baker.”

“So I’ve been told. My mother taught me back in the day.”

“I wish my mother would’ve taught me some useful skills besides how to get drunk before ten o’clock in the morning,” I say under my breath to myself, not realizing that he can probably hear every word unless he’s deaf, which he’s definitely not.

He grimaces. “Rough childhood?”

I nod. “You could say that. My mom’s an alcoholic. My father left when I was a baby.”

It’s funny the things you can find yourself telling people that you’ve only just met. Am I really so lonely that I have to flood my neighbor with all of my drama? God, I need a friend.

Crispen nods and tilts his head to the side as he looks at a painting on my wall. “My parents both died when I was a teenager. They were murdered,” he says eerily. I watch as he swallows hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat.

Ouch. Both were murdered? What are the chances? “I’m sorry,” I mutter. Here I am complaining about my parents when his were flipping murdered.

“It’s fine. It was a long time ago. I’ve managed to move on. As much as possible anyhow,” his voice is dark, no longer joyful. Good one, Megan, way to go. “This is a pretty painting. I like the use of colour.”

“Do you paint?” I wonder. He doesn’t cross me as the type of guy to be an artist, but who am I to know?

“My sister used to paint. Years ago,” he tells me. He crosses his arms and turns to face me. “You?”

“No. I probably couldn’t draw a circle to save my life.” It’s not a joke. Even my penmanship is terrible. In school, I was always yelled at for my messy writing. Many times, I found myself having to rewrite things, because my teachers couldn’t read them.

I can tell by the slight raise of the right side of his mouth that he finds this amusing.

“Have you lived in the neighborhood long?” I wonder. I haven’t seen him around, though I’m also fairly new to the neighborhood.

“Three days is all I’ve been here. I like it here. It’s quiet.” He runs his hand over his shirt as if to straighten it. He’s changed since the last time we spoke. Now he wears a plain black t-shirt and jeans.

“Yeah, it is. It’s nice. Especially after a long day.”

He then asks me what I do for a living, which is something I was hoping he wouldn’t ask, seeing as I am now unemployed.

“Nothing currently,” I admit sheepishly. “I quit my job yesterday.”

His eyebrows pull together in what I can only guess is confusion. Who in their right mind would quit their job when they have a mortgage to pay? Me, that’s who.

“Why is that?” he asks when I don’t elaborate.

Well, because I was scared some gang was going to use it to track me down and kill me. HA! Like I am going to tell him that. He already thinks I’m weird enough.

“Long story,” I answer, hoping that he doesn’t ask any further question. I’m sure to adjust my tone to make my words sound like they’re final.

“I like stories,” he pushes.

I sigh. Now what, Megan? Good one. I’m a terrible liar. As I attempt to string something together in my head, the doorbell rings. I nearly leap in relief. I’ll be tipping this pizza man well, even though he will have no idea what for, he islate after all, but it worked out.

I pay the man in the cash I have ready. In exchange, he hands me a warm, delicious-smelling pizza. My mouth immediately begins watering.

I set the box down on the counter in the kitchen and grab two plates from the cupboard. I hand one to my guest and take the other one for myself. I dish both of us up and nod to the couch. I hate other people watching me eat, so instead of eating at the table where distractions are limited, and we’ll have to face each other, I choose the living room as a better option.

“I hope you like onions,” I say to break the silence. “I meant to order it without, but I must’ve forgotten. They’re not my favorite, but I just pick them off.”

“They’re fine. I’m not too picky. A pizza is a pizza,” he teases. “So what terribly scary horror movie were you watching this morning?”

And here I go having to make another lie. “I don’t remember the name,” I say, pretending I’m trying to recall it.

“Ah, that was just an excuse wasn’t it? You’re actually extremely paranoid all the time,” he mutters through a full mouth.

I stop chewing and stare at him. Am I honestly that easy to read? I shrug, because I don’t know what else to do. I hate to lie again and dig myself a deeper hole. I also hate to lose a possible future friend. I need someone in my life right now more than anything, because right now I have no one.

To my surprise, instead of jumping up and running out the door, he looks at me sympathetically. It’s something that I don’t really understand. What is there to be sympathetic about? He can’t honestly feel sorry for me and my paranoia.

“What?” I question slowly.

“Nothing. I just find it weird that if you’re so paranoid that you have to answer the door with a knife, then why did you let me, a stranger, into your house without hesitation. “What if I was some serial killer or something?”

“Are you?” I ask doubtfully. “A serial killer I mean.” I can’t help the slight smile that arranges itself on my lips. I can’t see this handsome, friendly, doctoras being anything I should worry about, but then again, maybe that’s my small-town attitude crowding my vision. Technically, this guy could be a serial killer. In fact, only yesterday, did I not jump in a car with a friendly stranger and have that end verybadly? Here I am acting all paranoid then letting another stranger near me alone. Have I not learnt from yesterday’s events?

He eyes me carefully. I’m sure he’s watching a million expressions pass across my face at once. My expression must go from humor to terror in five seconds.

He raises his hands in surrender. “I promise I’m not, but I very well could’ve been. You shouldn’t let strangers into your home.”

A breath escapes my lips. I guess I’m just too eager to make friends. So eager, that I continue to sacrifice my well-being without even noticing.

“I can go if you want.” Now, he looks more worried than anything. He’s probably worried that he’s scared me. He has, but it’s not his fault. I’m the idiot once again.

“Uh…” I begin but nothing more comes out.

He grins reassuringly and stands up. “How about we arrange something more publicfor tomorrow night?”

Is he asking me on a date? When I don’t answer, his smile grows.

“If you’d like of course. Maybe since you bought pizza tonight, I can buy supper tomorrow night around six? We can meet at the place if you don’t feel comfortable in a car with me. I’ll text you the address if you give me your number,” he offers kindly.

I nod in agreement. A public date isn’t going to hurt anything, right? He seems smitten by this and reaches into his pocket. He pulls out something shiny and silver then hands it to me. I take it. It’s a key.

“My house key. You know, in case I lock myself out, or if I need to leave town, maybe you could water my flowers for me and check my cat.”

I can’t help but laugh. Here he is trusting me with a key to his house, and I’m freaking out about having him near me alone.

“You aren’t scared that Imight be a serial killer?” I ask, fondling the key in my hand.

He shakes his head. “Even if you were, and you decided to sneak into my house in the middle of the night, little, tiny you would have nothing on these.” He flexes one of his arms and points to his muscles. Wow, cocky.

I roll my eyes. “Yeah, okay. How do you know that I’m not a master in kung fu or something?”

“Are you?” he asks.

I shake my head.

“See, I know you’re not a master in kung fu, because you just told me that you aren’t.”

I sigh. He pulls a card from his pocket and hands it to me.

“I’m a doctor, these numbers aren’t listed anywhere, so don’t give them out.” He turns and walks to the door. “Text me sometime tomorrow, and I’ll send you the address.”

“Sure, where are we going? Should I wear something other than jeans and a t-shirt?”

“Wear whatever you want. It’s a free country. If you’re wondering if I’m taking you to a fast food joint or a fancy restaurant, it’s something in between.”

He leaves my house with a friendly smirk, and I shut and lock the door behind him. I set the key to his house on the counter along with his business card.

I turn on the television after I’m done eating pizza and attempt to drown out my thoughts with a simple romance movie. It must work, because I eventually drift off.

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Chapter 2

The next morning, I take out the garbage, and the beautiful day convinces me to go for a walk. I end up walking quite a ways from my house, as the fresh air seems to help clear my head, and before I know it, I’ve walked miles further than I initially intended to.

I walk by my favorite clothing store and slip inside. I don’t end up buying anything, but I notice that they have a sign up indicating that they’re hiring, and I make note to drop a resume off sometime. As I come out of the store, two things happen simultaneously. First, I dodge a guy on a bicycle going way too fast. In doing so, I trip and fall onto the street. Second, an old, grey car comes barreling towards me, also going way too fast, and I can’t get up off of the road quickly enough. The car drives right over top of my legs, and somehow, my head manages to make harsh contact with the asphalt. A splitting pain radiates in my legs, but I feel nothing in my head, which I know is wrong, because I hit my head so hard that it should be in agonizing pain.

A passerby on the sidewalk reaches for me and pulls me off of the road. It’s a woman who can’t be any older than eighteen.

“Are you alright, miss?” she demands, but all I can hear is a loud thudding. I assume that it’s my pulse. I watch as she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a phone. Another person who saw me get run over, rushes over to us and sticks her fingers to my neck. Is she checking for a pulse? I’m obviously alive; I’m just in too much pain to move.

“She’s breathing,” the older woman says. She looks old enough to be my mother.

“Ambulance is on its way,” the young girl reassures me a couple minutes later. This is somy fricken luck. What a week! First, I’m abducted, and now I’ve been run over. Great, just great. To top it all off, I’m going to miss my date tonight, the only thing that I possibly have going for me.

When the sounds of sirens fill my ears and flashing lights fill my vision, I am both relieved and unbelievably embarrassed. What kind of adult gets run over? I’m such a klutz.

I’m strapped to a stretcher and thrown into the back of the ambulance swiftly by paramedics. I notice that the young girl comes in the ambulance with me but not the older lady. The paramedics ask me a round of questions, and I find myself still unable to speak. The girl tells them what she saw.

When I look at my legs, I nearly faint. It looks like I’ve been trampled by a herd of elephants. It’s not just the disgusting colour, it’s the shape. Who knew such a little car could do such damage? I mean I’ve heard of people getting run over and not having a scratch of proof!

We pull into the hospital, and my brain begins to become foggy. I know I’m going to pass out at any moment. My body has had all it can handle. I’m rushed through rooms until I’m finally stopped and moved onto a different stretcher.

I see a white coat pass through my vision, but I don’t catch a face. There are nurses too. I cringe at the long needle that is seconds away from plunging into me. I hate needles, but I think that a needle is the least of my worries right now.

“Do you have your health care card?” a woman asks.

“In my wallet. In my pocket. I think,” I mutter through clenched teeth. I’m pretty sure my pants aren’t even on anymore, though my head hurts too much for me to lift it and look.

The lady rushes around me then disappears from sight.

“I’m going to check your vitals. I need to know if you have a concussion. Follow the light with your eyes,” a deep, rough voice instructs me. I do as he says, the light blocking my vision and burning my eyes.

“On the plus side, I don’t think you have a concussion. Your legs, on the other hand, they’re going to need x-rayed as soon as possible. I’m going to send you upstairs to have that done right away,” the man, the doctor I assume, tells me calmly.

As another needle enters my forearm, the pain starts to numb. I manage to sit up slightly and readjust myself on the stretcher.

“Careful, please,” a nurse warns while dancing around me taking tests.

I can’t believe I’m in the fricken hospital. You have to be joking.

After my x-ray, I learn that one leg is broken in two spots below the knee, and the other is just bruised up pretty good. A cast is thrown onto my leg, and I am given crutches to my dismay. Holy, flipping cupcake shit crap. Ugh. This is nothappening.

I wait patiently for the news from my other tests. Can I go home, or am I doomed to spend a night here, maybe longer? I’m relieved when I see a white coat make its way down the hall towards me. That is, I’m relieved for a few seconds, and then I recognize the owner of the white coat. It’s Crispen, my neighbor. The one I am supposed to go on a date with tonight. As he approaches my room, I hope that he walks right by it and doesn’t notice me. If only. He walks specifically into my room, a smile lighting up his face.

“No wonder you’re so paranoid. You’re accident prone,” he mutters jokingly while looking over the clipboard hanging by the entrance to my room. I assume it’s my patient chart. “You were hit by a car. May I ask how?” Confusion fills his features.

“I went out for a walk, and I tripped trying to get out of the way of a bicycler and fell into oncoming traffic,” I explain embarrassedly.

“A broken leg and no concussion. I’d say you got off pretty lucky,” he assures me calmly. He places the clipboard back and approaches me.

“How did you know I was in here? You don’t even know my last name and this is a pretty big hospital.” He probably seen me in the halls being rushed around half naked and completely out of it.

“I was working in the ER this morning and an ambulance brought you in. Do you not remember me shining a bright light into your eyes?” he asks, concerned. Oh my god. I didn’t even look at the doctor’s face when I was first brought into the hospital, but thinking back now, hearing his voice should’ve been enough. “Is your head okay, Megan?”

I nod. “Whatever they gave me is helping.” I’m completely mortified.

“Good. Have you had any confusion or memory loss?” he asks me next. I know this question stems from me not remembering seeing him when I first came in.

“No, I just didn’t bother to look at your face while I was in extreme pain.”

“Okay. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to a patient’s head,” he explains professionally. Then his routine expression slips, and a casual, sexy smirk crosses his face.

I swallow hard and pray to god he doesn’t decide to take my blood pressure. Calm down, Megan, he’s just a guy. A cocky guy that you don’t need to get involved with. You have other shit to worry about right now.

“I think I’m going to have to cancel our dinner tonight,” I tell him, trying not to sound too upset by it.

His smirk doesn’t falter. “How about we don’t cancel it, but we postponeit instead?” He still wants to take me out for dinner after he’s seen me the way he’s seen me today? “Actually, I have an idea. I’ll make you a deal. Instead of making you stay here tonight, I will send you home on one condition. I am allowed to come check up on you every two hours. I want your head watched for any signs of trauma over the next twenty-four hours. I know your paranoia thing is a little off the charts, but surely you can see that I’m no serial killer. I’m just a doctor.”

Just a doctor? Ha! The hottest doctor I’ve ever had.

I nod in agreement. I am notstaying overnight in the hospital. Plus, he isa doctor. Should I really be freaking out about letting someone who saveslives into my house? Probably not. It’s unlikely that he’s going to kill me. I’m probably just being a paranoid freak again. Plus, it might be nice to have someone check up on me after what Landon said about people coming after me.

“Okay, cool. My shift ends in half an hour. I’ll drive you home then,” he promises and hands me my crutches. He helps me off of my bed, then he scribbles something down on a small notepad and shoves it into his white jacket pocket. I’ve never used crutches before, and it proves to be quite the challenge. I’m normally not a very graceful person, so I’m sure that on crutches I look like a clumsy idiot.

I follow him down the hall in silence. He stops at a room and motions for me to wait outside. He’s back in a few moments, then he moves on to the next room. When he emerges from that one, he smiles at me softly, probably trying not to laugh at how silly I look.

“So you work in the ER, then you come up here and check on these patients?” I ask him confused.

“I was just covering in the ER this morning. The doctor scheduled in the ER had other things to attend to for a couple hours. It was actually supposed to be my day off today. Then you came in, and I decided to stay at work. We’re short on doctors anyhow right now, so the hospital can use all the help it can get.”

“You stayed at work on your day off, because I broke my stupid leg?” I ask dumbfounded.

He shrugs and changes the subject. “What are we ordering for supper tonight, or would you like me to cook something?”

When I don’t answer, he rubs my back between my shoulder blades and steps in front of me, so I have to stop. “Megan, are you alright? You seem very…frightened? I know it’s more than paranoia. What is it that has you shaking in your boots?”

His words catch me off guard. Is it that obvious? “Are you asking me as my doctor or my friend?” I ask him without even meaning to.

“Either one. Whichever you prefer,” he decides quickly.

I promised that I wouldn’t tell anyone about what happened the other day. I promised. I’m not one to break my promises.

“You can tell me anything,” he tries again when he realizes I’m not about to say anything.

Do I know this guy well enough to tell him what happened to me the other day? No.

“When you’re ready to talk, I’ll be here to listen,” he says sternly, then he leads me through some double doors. He discharges me at one of the nursing desks, then I follow him out of the hospital to his car. A sense of déjà vu hits me when I realize that he has a car sort of like my kidnappers did. It’s a different colour and even brand than theirs, but it still makes me a little woozy. It’s blue and fancy. I hesitate before getting in. Am I going to let history repeat itself by getting into this car?

Okay, he’s a damn doctor there’s no way he’s a murderer, Megan, chill the hell out. I get in, shaking.

Crispen pulls the car from the parking lot and begins heading in the opposite direction of our houses. I clench my teeth, and my breathing quickens. Not again. No. You have to be joking me. This isn’t happening. Jesus, Moses, banana, shit on a cracker. I begin to panic.

“Megan? Are you alright?” he asks, sounding worried. I can’t look at him. I hold back the tears in my eyes.

“Where are you taking me, Crispen?” I ask in a choked voice. He must sense the worry in it, because he looks at me strangely and then pulls over.

He digs into his pocket and pulls out the notepad he was writing on earlier. “I wrote you a prescription for some painkillers. I was going to take you to the pharmacy to have it filled.”

Pure relief flushes over me, and my heart calms its rapid racing. Tears of overwhelm escape my eyes without my permission. My view of him is blurred, but I can imagine he’s looking at me as if I’m psychotic. I ampsychotic.

“Megan, you’re going to be alright,” he soothes me gently. I’m so utterly embarrassed that I nearly can’t take it. I finally have a chance to make a friend, and I blow it. I wipe my tears away with my sleeve.

“I hope so,” I say quietly, not meaning for him to hear.

“You will. Do you suffer from anxiety? Have you ever seen anyone professionally about this?” he wonders, and to my surprise, in his voice is worry and concern, not rejection or whatever I was expecting.

“No, I don’t have anxiety issues,” I promise him. “Something happened a couple days ago that’s causing me worry and paranoia, and I guess anxiety. I can’t talk about it. I’m sorry. I know you probably think I’m nuts.”

“Megan, I’m a doctor. I see all sorts of things, all sorts of people. I know you’re not nuts.” He turns the music coming from the stereo down so it’s silent. “In school, I took a lot of psychology. At first, I wanted to become a psychiatrist, not a medical doctor. Your actions are showing signs of trauma that I’m having trouble understanding. I’m not talking about you getting run over. I’m talking about something that has strongly affected you mentally. Something that is hauntingyou.”

So I really am that easy to read. I’m an open book. Lovely.

“You’re not totally wrong,” I admit, not expanding.

“From the way that you have trouble trusting people, I would say you’ve suffered from some sort of betrayal. At first I thought it might be your father leaving you when you were young, then I thought maybe it was your mother’s alcoholism, and then something occurred to me. It’s not that you are afraid to make friends or speak to others. It’s that you worry about letting them alone near you. For instance, getting into a car with someone you barely know. Most people also have this anxiety and rationally so, but not to this extent, this goes beyond simple anxiety. Megan, just now, when I started going in a different direction than our houses, you nearly had a mental breakdown which leads me to think that this has happened to you before with bad results. Have you been in a car with a stranger before? One that maybe took you somewhere that you didn’t want to go?”

I blink away my tears. He got all that from only spending mere minuteswith me?

“Yes,” I whisper.

“Have you been hurt by a stranger? Maybe even kidnapped?” he asks me softly, like I’m cracked glass about to fall apart at any moment.

It takes me a moment to respond because I don’t know how to answer. I mean the obvious answer is to say yes, but I made a promise not to tell a soul about what happened.

Apparently my silence counts as a yes anyways, because he sighs and grunts, “Who and when?”

I remain silent.

“Megan, tell me what happened. If you don’t want me to tell anyone, that’s fine. I won’t, but you can’t just keep something this big to yourself. That’s ridiculous, and it’s unhealthy.”

“Are you demanding I tell you as my doctor or my friend?” I ask him. It doesmake a difference, because the event that I suffered through the other day has affected my mentality, and he, being a doctor, might have to report this if I tell him everything. If he’s asking as a friend though, the secret is safe. The promise has already been broken if Crispen already knows the majority of what happened, even if he doesn’t know every detail. Since it’s already been broken, I may as well just let the rest out.

“A friend,” he answers to my relief.

I swallow hard and gather my thoughts before explaining everything. “I was volunteering with my company to pick garbage and I got into a car with the man I was partnered with. Instead of him taking me to the street we were assigned to, he took me to his home, and he and his brother asked me all these weird questions that I didn’t really understand. I think they were going to kill me, but one of the brothers wanted to let me go if I kept my mouth shut. He wanted me to leave the city and stay with someone else. He said that if I didn’t, people would come after me and kill me. I quit my job because I told one of them where I worked and I didn’t want them showing up at my workplace.”

“You think he might have been telling you the truth? Like there might actually be people after you, wanting to kill you?” Crispen investigates, brows furrowed.

I nod. “It was a promise. He promised that there would be people after me. I know it sounds dumb, because they have no way of knowing where I live, but I’m still freaked out.”

Crispen contemplates this new information for a minute. “You quit your job, how else would they find you? Did you give them any other information?”

“The one guy might have saw my license plate, but my car is parked in the garage now,” I explain.

“Well, I don’t think you have much to worry about. It sounds like he was just trying to scare you.”

“They took me, because I was wearing a ring. It’s green, and my dad left it when he left us years ago. My mom told me that it was a fraternity ring or whatever. These guys seemed to know something more about the ring, and I’m pretty sure they have nothing to do with a fraternity. They knew that there would be a name on the inside. I don’t know how. I always thought the name was the maker of the ring or something. I searched the name on the internet and a guy with the same name was murdered brutally in Calgary, near where I lived with my mother and father before he left, and at around the same time I was born.”

Crispen swallows hard and his eyebrows merge together. I can’t tell if it’s in worry or confusion.

“Do you still have the ring?” he inquires, rubbing his clean-shaven jaw.

“No, I left it with him. It didn’t mean enough for me to keep. I thought he may as well take it and do what he pleases with it and just leave me alone. Even if he sells it, I don’t care. Do you think that maybe they’re part of a gang or something?”

“No—well, I don’t know. I have no idea. Maybe,” he stammers strangely. I brush away the last of my tears and look up to him.

“Oh, I didn’t tell you the strangest part. I tried to get away when the one brother was going to take me back to my car, and I ran to the neighbor’s house. Guess who opened the door? First brother. Second brother, Landon, said that all the houses in the neighborhood were interconnected with tunnels. They own the whole neighborhood. It’s all theirs!” Okay, if he didn’t think I was crazy before, he does now. I’m talking about interconnecting tunnels between houses. I’m aware that I sound insane.

“Do you remember where this neighborhood was?” He cocks an eyebrow and starts the car. “I have tinted windows, they won’t recognize my car, why don’t we just drive through it?”

Is he insane? I shake my head rapidly. “I think I remember where it is, but I’m not going over there again. What would be the point anyway?”

“I want to get a look at the assholes so I can kick their asses,” Crispen says with a straight face. He’s entirely serious.

“You’re a doctor. You went to school for how many years? Maybe try to not get a criminal record. I can’t imagine that would be good for your career. Plus, there’s two of them and only one of you.”

He rolls his eyes and smiles. “Okay, yeah, you’re right, but it makes me beyondangry to hear that someone has done this to you.”

“So do you think I should go to the cops?”

He shakes his head to my surprise. “I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. If they said not to, then don’t. I mean, what are the cops going to do? All you have is your word, and it sounds like they have a lot of money to pay off a lawyer.”

I’m glad we’re on the same page. I feel better already having someone else’s opinion.

“Shall we go pick up your prescription?” Crispen asks, changing the subject and starting the car. “I will stay with you as much as you want if that’s what you want. I can call into work or whatever you need. You shouldn’t be alone. What happened to you is enough to knock someone off their feet for a while.”

“I’ll be fine,” I attempt to reassure him to no avail. He sees right through my lie and tilts his head at me.

“Thank you for confidingin me, but now we’re both in this together, and I’m not about to let anything happen to you. Let me stay with you for a while,” he nearly begs. “If you don’t, I will sit on your lawn and patrol your yard all day and all night to reassure you that you’re safe.”

Unexpectedly, I laugh a short laugh.

Telling him everything has made me feel far better than I assumed it would. It’s like a breath of fresh air, and I find myself trusting him much more.

“We’ll see,” I answer vaguely. It’s not a no, but it’s also not a yes. This seems to satisfy him though, as he grins and nods.

We pull into the pharmacy and I grab my medication before we turn and begin heading back to my place.

“You should take one of those now,” he instructs in his doctor voice and points to the smaller bottle of pain medication. “I guess you can take one of those too.” He gestures to bottle of anti-inflammatory.

“I can’t without water. I will when we get home,” I promise. I’m one of those people who needs water to swallow pills.

“You know what?” he asks me suddenly, interrupting my favorite song on the radio.

I look at him and shake my head. “What?”

“You’re accident prone,” he teases.

“No, I think I’m just having a streak of bad luck,” I say hopefully. “If this bad luck lasts any longer though, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve been kidnapped and hit by a car all in a matter of three days.”

He laughs lightly. “Yeah, that’s pretty shitty.” His blue eyes glisten in the setting sun, and I can’t help but be in awe. For the rest of the ride home, I stare out the window at the passing streets.

When we get back to my place, Crispen decides to cook me dinner while I lie down and rest. I’m fine with this, because my medication begins to kick in soon after I take it, and I can’t help but start to doze off.

He makes me lasagna which is simple enough and also one of my favorites. I haven’t eaten today, so I’m borderline starving and scarf down nearly a quarter of the pan.

Later that night, he runs over to his house to fetch his doctor bag so he can give me a small checkup. I’m sograteful that I ended up not having to stay overnight in the hospital. I hate hospitals. I used to have to stay in them all the time when my mom overdosed after mixing pills with alcohol. At least she kicked the drug habit a few years ago.

“Your head is fine. That bump is pretty big though. I can imagine it hurts.” He has that right. It feels like it has its own pulse.

I hear a can open and glance to the side. He’s opening a can of beer, which he must have brought from his house when he went to get the doctor bag.

“You can sleep you know…” I say confused.

“I know, but I’m not going to. I’m going to wake you up every couple of hours to check your head and watch to make sure no crazy murderers come barging into the house,” he explains, as if this is completely normal.

“Uh, and you’re going to do both of those things while intoxicated? That doesn’t sound smart,” I point out.

“There’s no alcohol in this beer. I just like the taste. I buy it for nights I’m on call at the hospital. I like to have a beer with my supper.”

“It’s like that stuff pregnant ladies can drink?” I ask. I don’t get what the point of non-alcoholic beer is.

He looks at me as if I’m making a joke and laughs. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“What’s the point? If you’re going to drink, don’t you want to feel the effects?” I roll over onto my side so I can face him better.

“Some people, believe it or not, drink because they like the taste and not just to get drunk. I take it you’re not one of those people.” His expression is amused.

“I drink when I’ve had a bad day,” I admit sheepishly. “My mom’s an alcoholic, so I guess some of that must’ve rubbed off on me.”

“As long as you don’t let it run your life or ruin your health, I see nothing wrong with a few beers on the odd ‘bad day’,” he agrees lightly. “As for me, I like one with my supper. I’d think that being around your mom’s alcoholism would turn you away from alcohol, though. Aren’t you scared to end up like her?”

“A beer a day probably doesn’t keep the doctor away,” I tease him with a small giggle. “And no, because I would neverlet myself become like her. She’s in jail right now. She was drunk driving and killed some kids.”

He winces at my words.

“Yeah, anyways, isn’t drinking a beer a day pretty unhealthy?”

“Well, the way I see it, we only have so long to live anyway, right? Why not enjoy the time we have, instead of wasting it doing things we don’t really like? Like eating cabbage and broccoli.”

“How can you say that? You’re a doctor.”

He bites his cheek for a moment in thought. “Well, I’d rather live a short, happy life than a long, unhappy one, wouldn’t you?”

“I guess so,” I decide after a moment of contemplation.


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Chapter 3

“Rise and shine, time to check your head again,” Crispen shouts in a voice far too enthusiastic for the time of day. I open my eyes to the dim light of the sunrise and Crispen’s face right in the middle of it.

“Ugh,” I groan, “Do I have to get up?”

“Yes, unfortunately,” he murmurs through a smile.

I notice that he’s wearing new clothes. He must’ve changed sometime during the night. He asks me a few questions and shines that stupid light in my eyes again before concluding that I’m stillfine.

“I’m fine. I’m starting to think that you just used checking on me as an excuse to stay overnight at my house,” I pry, taking a sip of water from the glass on the coffee table and swallowing my pills.

When he doesn’t answer right away, I turn and look at him kneeling on the floor in front of me and smirking wickedly.

“You’re joking?” I ask, but it sounds more like a statement than a question.

When his smirk doesn’t falter, I grab a pillow from the end of the couch and whack him across the head with it using all of my might. We spent the entire night talking and watching stupid comedy movies that I don’t think either of us enjoyed all that much. I slept for only a few hours, and only because my medication finally knocked me out around three in the morning. Take it from me, it’s pretty tough to sleep when you know someone is going to be watching you all night. I guess it’s better than getting watched by someone else though, and maybe even murdered. Not even the medication was enough to make me pass out for the majority of the night and morning. I hate people watching me sleep as much as I hate them watching me eat.

“Are you serious?!” I demand. I should probably be angry, but for some reason, I’m not. I’m actually relieved, thankful and maybe even enamored. I don’t think anyone in my entire life has shown me such care, including my own mother.

“Maybe it was a little of both. I wanted to get to know you better, and you do need to be under supervision, but as for the deal I made you about not having to stay overnight in the hospital, it wouldn’t have hurt to send you home,.” he tries slowly and cautiously. His smirk turns into a careful smile, as he gages my reaction. “Plus, from what you tell me, you shouldn’t be alone right now anyway. Not with a possible crazy brother duo after you.”

He’s right. For the first time in days, I wasn’t constantly worrying about every little noise I heard. I shake my head slowly. “I guess you’re forgiven.”

This seems to please him. He stands up quickly and nods to the door. “The hospital called. They need me to come in this morning. Just for a couple hours though to assist with a surgery.”

“I thought you were a doctor not a surgeon,” I point out. It’s quite possible that he’s both, and I just don’t understand how the whole thing works.

“I’m a little of both honestly,” he explains, “Would you like me to come over here again when I’m done, or are you sick of me?”

I try not to make my nod too anxious. “Sure. If you want.”

“I would love to.” He escapes through the door, and I lock it behind him. Last night was one of the best nights I’ve had in a very long time. I’ve found a friend in Crispen, and a friend is something that I desperately need, especially now. I like him a lot, and maybe that’s crazy, because I’ve only just met him, but it’s honest.

While he’s gone, I decide it’s a good time to take a shower. I’d hate for him to return and see me in the same hospital clothes as yesterday. I sneak up the stairs and pop into the shower quickly. I never would’ve imagined climbing stairs and showering would be so hard with a cast and crutches. My cast ends up getting a little wet but not enough to do any harm.

I put on a touch of makeup, so I don’t look quite like the zombie I looked like yesterday, then I have an apple for breakfast and lie back on the couch. I may as well have a nap while I’m waiting for him to return seeing as I only got a few hours of sleep anyhow.

Just as I close my eyes, a loud crash comes from the back of the house. Its sounds like breaking glass. I immediately start to panic and envision all of the most terrible, possible solutions. I bring myself up onto my crutches and clutch a knife on my way to the back porch on the opposite side of the living room. I peak through the patio doors while staying out of sight. I see nothing at first, then I notice the broken flower pot on the deck. I debate calling the police.

A movement startles me from behind the barbeque. I’m relieved to see that it’s only a bird. Could the bird have knocked the pot over? I glance at the trees. It’s not windy, it wasn’t the wind. Still shaking with fright, I don’t know what to do. I nearly jump out of my skin when the doorbell rings. I very quickly hurdle myself towards the door and glance through the peephole. Crispen. I swing the door open, and he rushes inside when he sees my expression of fright.

“What?!” he demands in a rough voice. “What’s wrong?”

I point to the back deck and lock the door behind him. “A flower pot fell and broke. I don’t know if it was a bird, or if it was something else. I know that’s silly, but I’m seriously freaking out!”

He stares at me a moment longer and then appears to be listening for any noises. I’m not sure what he hopes to hear with all of the doors and windows closed. Unless he thinks that my possible intruder could be inside of the house…

Crispen, still dressed in his hospital attire, walks swiftly over to the patio door and stands right in front of it. He looks around, pulls the lock up, opens the door, motions for me to stay put, and walks outside. He must be crazy, that or he doesn’t understand the severity of this situation. What if the people that Landon told me about have finally come for me? What if they have guns? What if they kill Crispen while trying to kill me? My gut ties itself in a knot, as a wave of anxiety greater than the one already washing over me overwhelms me. I feel like fainting, but I do my best to hold it together.

Crispen returns a moment later to my relief, locking the patio door behind him. “There’s nothing to worry about out there,” he says, but his normal smile isn’t there. Something immediately tells me he’s lying, but what reason would he have to lie? I nod in relief and slump down on the couch. “It was probably a bird or a cat or something.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. It was just a stupid animal, Megan, nothing to worry about,” he promises and hands me a package he holds in his hand. I take it from him.

“What is it?”

“A get better gift if you will.”

I tear the box open. Inside is a miniature cake with the words ‘Get Better Soon’ iced across it. My mouth begins watering.

“You didn’t have to.” I rush it to the kitchen, trying not to wipe out. I don’t think I’ll ever get the hang of crutches. I probably would’ve been better off in a wheelchair honestly.

He takes it from me and cuts a couple pieces while I grab some plates and forks.

“I wanted to get you something. You’ve had a bad few days.” That he has right. “Here’s to a better next few days.”

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