Trick rests his elbows on his knees and covers his mouth with his hands. He looks defeated. If there was any way I could help him, I would, but this isn’t something I can help with. Trick runs his hands down his face and responds quietly, “What if she leaves me?” I look around at the guys. No one says a thing so Trick continues, “This has been the hardest time of my life. Even worse than losing my dad. If I lose Lola, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
I reach out and grip his shoulder. “You’re gonna lose her if you don’t tell her, regardless. She already thinks you’re keeping secrets, bro.”
Nik tells him, “You know mom and the girls will help as much as they can. We’re family. We’ll do anything we can do to help out.”
My phone is on silent but it vibrates in my pocket. I check the display. My eyes widen in disbelief.
What the hell?
I check the text message and my blood runs cold.
Nat: Can you please come home?
We are sisters of the Kovac convent
“Who is it?” I ask hoarsely.
Holy crap! Is that my voice?
I sound like a fifty-year-old devoted smoker!
Ghost replies firmly, “Open the damn door, Nat.”
My stomach drops and my palms sweat. I really don’t want him to see me like this, but I don’t really have a choice. It’s either him or Tina, and there’s no way I’d let Tina see me like this.
With shaking hands, I unlock the front door and open it a few inches. Hiding most of my face, I say quietly, “You can’t freak out, okay?”
He rolls his eyes heavenward and sighs but nods his head. I turn my face away from him and open the door fully for him to follow me inside. I hear the door shut softly. Ghost asks, “What’s the problem, Nat?”
With my back still to him I whisper again, “You can’t freak out, okay?”
Silence. Then he answers softly, “Okay, pretty girl. I promise. Now tell me what’s wrong.”
I take a deep breath to steady myself, close my eyes and turn to face him. His eyes widen before flashing in anger and he steps away from me. His breathing intensifies and he balls his fists by his side. I understand his reaction. I saw myself in the bathroom mirror.
In the past half hour, my eye has swollen shut and my bottom lip has puffed to double its size. My cheeks have purple bruises from where Cole pinched my cheeks together to make me kiss him. My wrist has also swollen quite a bit and is too sore to move.
Ghost swallows hard before backing further away from me, jaw set and eyes full of hate. Through gritted teeth, he whispers, “Be right back.”
He walks backwards through the door leaving me feeling confused and so lonely. A muffled roar shakes me. “FUCK!”
When I hear the distinct sounds of things being thrown around hard and glass breaking next door, tension fills my chest, making it hard to breathe, and tears blur my vision. Blood roars through my ears. Lifting a hand to my chest, I walk backwards til I hit wall and slide my sore, tender body down to the floor. Overcome by immense sadness, I cover my face with my hands and sob silently.
Someone just put their hands on me in anger. I never thought I’d be one of those women. And that really fucking sucks.
Strong arms come under my knees and arms. I’m being carefully lifted into a hard body. I gasp, then moan as pain throbs throughout my entire body.
Even my nails are sore. I didn’t know a person could get sore nails.
“I’m sorry, pretty girl. I don’t really know how to do this without hurting you. I promise I’ll be as gentle as I can,” he says softly.
Ghost lays me down on my bed, careful to not touch me anywhere he doesn’t have to. He asks, “Can you open your good eye for me, pretty girl?” Every time I open it, it flutters closed. Ghost uses his fingertips to gently pry it open and gets enough of a look to make a judgment call. He quietly explains, “I don’t think you’re concussed. I’ve seen enough to know, but I’m not taking any chances with you. I don’t want to move you right now and cause you any unnecessary pain, so what I’ll do is sleep on the sofa and wake you every hour just to be sure.”
I want to sleep and just as I start dozing, Ghost props me up. I open my good eye up as much as possible. Ghost has a bottle of water and some Tylenol. Wearing an obvious expression of concern, he pops two of the pills into my mouth then lifts the water so I can drink. “I’m sorry, girl. I’d love to give you something stronger, but that’s all I can give you til I’m sure you’re not concussed. Try to stay awake for me, okay?”
I swallow the pill and even that’s hard. My head swims. My ears throb. There’s no way I can force myself to stay awake. On a weak whisper, I reply, “I don’t think I can, Ash. So tired.” I’m fading fast.
He sits with his back to my bed’s headboard, pulling me into his body. Wrapping his arms gently across my waist, he tells me, “The adrenaline has worn off, that’s why you feel so tired, girl. Stay with me. Tell me what you did today.”
I sink into his chest but wince when his chin touches the bump on the back of my head. Ghost stiffens before moving my body forward and gently touching the egg-shaped bump on the back of my head. Confused, he mutters to himself, “What the hell?”
He gently pulls me back into him, rubbing my upper arms with his large hands. His lips touch the outer shell of my ear and he whispers, “Tell me what happened, girl. From the start.”
So I do. I slowly and quietly tell him how I was pretty excited about Cole coming over tonight. How he came to see me at work today and everything was fine. How I spent hours getting myself ready for him and that he lost it when he found the note in my fruit bowl. I explain that he slapped me so hard I fell off the kitchen counter, banging my head on the floor and spraining my wrist. During the time I explain this, Ghost’s body has become strung so tight I’m afraid he’ll take off like a rocket.
Obviously confused, Ghost asks, “Why would he get upset about a note?”
Without thinking I tell him, “It was the note you left when you brought me coffee that morning. He thought I was fucking you.” My heart aches and I breathe in a shuddering breath. “He just wouldn’t listen to me. I told him over and over that it was all a misunderstanding. It was like he was possessed, Ash. He just lost it.” The tears I try to hold in escape, trailing down my cheeks. I whisper, “I was really scared, Ash. I thought I was a goner.”
Ghost rocks me gently and kisses my cheek softly. He states, “No one’s gonna hurt you ever again. I promise, pretty girl.” And even though I shouldn’t, I believe him. Some of the tension in me fades as I take in the warmth of his body.
I beg on a childlike whisper, “Don’t leave me, okay?”
Silence. Then, “I won’t leave you, baby.”
The next morning, I’m surprised as fuck when I actually don’t feel too bad.
I slide out of my empty bed to find Ghost on the sofa sound asleep. He looks angelic in a devilish way.
God, the man is a hottie. I’ll give him that.
Smiling, I walk over to the sofa, reach down to the ground and pick up the blanket. I unfold it and gently place it over him. My heart swells thinking about how gentle he was last night and how protective he was over me. Without thinking, I lower my face to his to place a gentle kiss on his forehead. Just as my lips are about to touch his forehead, he opens his eyes wide and lifts his head suddenly, head-butting me.
We both groan and I hold my forehead in my hands.
At the same time we both say through our groans, “What the fuck?”
Still groaning, I open my good eye and look over at him. He glances around my apartment looking so damn confused, his face holds a where am I expression. I can’t help it, I burst out laughing. His lips twitch as he says, “Well, good morning to you too.”
Still chuckling, I catch his cheeks in my hands and lower my face to his. Smacking his forehead, cheeks and nose with kisses, saying sarcastically, “Here’s your good morning!”
Ghost leans his head back and belly laughs. He catches my hands, careful of my sore wrist, and pulls me to sit on his belly. His eyes search me for a moment. His smiling face darkens a little. “Your face isn’t so swollen today. There’s a little bruising on your cheeks and your eye is still semi-closed over, but your lip isn’t puffy anymore. How are you feeling today?”
Sick of feeling like a victim, I smile big and joke, “Good enough to fuck your mother.”
He lifts his brow and stares at me. I roll my eyes and yell, “Oh, come on! You’ve never seen Super Troopers?” He doesn’t reply, just lifts his brow further. I tell him, “Now you’ve done it. That’s next on our to-watch list. You’ll laugh your ass off.”
Still holding my hands, he snaps, “Stop it. Tell me how you feel. It’s important.”
Biting my bottom lip, I nod and utter quietly, “You wanna know how I feel, Ash? I feel like some guy I was dating beat the shit outta me.” I look him right in the eye and see his face soften. He reaches up and brushes his thumb over my bruised cheek. “I won’t be a victim. If I let this run my life, I become a victim. Nuh uh. Not happening. My parents taught me and my sisters better than that.”
When I mention my sisters, Ghost’s body stiffens and his face morphs into an expression of shock. He sits up and rubs his hands down his face saying, “Oh fuck! Fuck me! Oh shit! I forgot!”
I move to stand but he pulls his arms around my waist and looks me in the eye. His face is almost apologetic and he rambles, “I fucking forgot! And it’s today! Fuck, Nat! Oh God…”
Confused as hell, I look from Ghost to the front door then back to Ghost as he continues to ramble. “I did it because I thought you needed it! You missed ‘em! Just remember this came from a good place and- and don’t punch me!”
I stand, walk over to my front door and check the peephole. My mouth rounds in shock and I look over at Ghost giving him my best what the fuck expression. He stands, shrugs and shoots me a remorseful look.
Not given a choice, I open the door to my sisters. Helena and Nina stand there with open arms and matching wide smiles as they yell excitedly, “Surprise!”
When they both see my face they gasp in shock.
Just as I begin to explain what happened Helena runs past me over to Ghost yelling, “I’ll fucking kill you!” Before I have a chance to tell her to stop, Nina runs past me and Helena to a now wide-eyed Ghost. She pushes him so hard he falls back onto my coffee table with an Ooomph!
Wood splinters fly everywhere. Like watching an episode of WWE wrestling, the table breaks into small pieces with Ghost lying in the middle of it. Nina straddles his waist, punching his face and shrieking, “No one touches my sister!” Ghost does his best to cover his face, but she gets a few good ones in.
Well, this day just turned to shit. Surprise, indeed!
Helena, not being one to let Nina have all the fun, looks around for a weapon. She spots my purse on the kitchen counter, grabs it and walks around the pieces of coffee table to Ghost’s head. She lifts my large and heavy purse as high as she can and slams it into his face. Ghost’s arms fall to his sides and his legs stop moving. I gasp, and for a moment, I’m worried she killed him until he groans long and low.
Well, that escalated quickly.
This has gone too far. I screech, “Stop it! It wasn’t him! Stop it!”
Running around the pieces of my coffee table to Ghost, I push my older sister off him, kneel by his face and lift my purse off him. I cringe at the sight of his bleeding nose. I cup his cheek and ask quietly, “Are you okay?”
Ghost smiles, his teeth stained with blood, and chuckles, “That was fucking awesome.”
My shoulders slump in relief, and I puff out the breath I hadn’t even known I was holding. Unable to suppress my laughter, I chuckle with him. “I told you. My sisters are the bomb.”
I help him to his feet and admonish my awesome sisters. “What do you have to say for yourselves?”
They stand there like a couple of petulant kids. Looking to the floor and shuffling their feet, they mutter, “Sorry.”
Ghost chuckles some more, and limps over to my refrigerator and opens the freezer. He pulls out a bag of frozen peas and plops it on his face with a small wince.
Nina and Helena’s faces drop and Nina asks, “So, what the fuck happened?”
I roll my eyes and run my hands down my still-sore face.
Here we go again.
I spend about half hour explaining to my sisters what happened with Cole. And, not surprisingly, they went from hating Ghost to loving him in a matter of seconds. They both hugged his rigid body, completely ignoring his wide eyes and obvious discomfort, and then did what Croats do best.
They apologized with food.
I informed my two would-be bodyguards that beating the fuck out of my hero was somewhat of a faux pas and they needed to make it right. So they cooked and baked all day and told Ghost that morning that if he didn’t come to dinner, they would find him. Realizing this was not an empty threat, a wide-eyed Ghost told them he’d be back around six.
I sit on the sofa resting while they redecorate my kitchen in the worst kind of way and we chat.
Nina starts, “So this Cole guy just lost it over a goddamn note?”
I nod slowly. With a scrunched face she goes on, “Totally cuckoo bananas? Like, Boom! Shit flying everywhere psycho?”
I nod again and she shakes her head slowly, her blonde hair bobbing, and mutters, “Figures.”
Helena stills before jumping to my defense. “What the heck is that supposed to mean, ho?”
Nina turns to Helena with her hands raised and explains, “I’m just saying that Nat doesn’t have the best taste in men.”