The things he did to her? I slide my hand to the base of her neck. “What are you talking about? What things did he do to you?”

She squeezes her eyes shut and drops her head to my chest, then starts crying again. The answer she’s refusing to give me right now completely rips apart my heart. “No, Sky,” I whisper. “No.”


I’m overcome with several different emotions at once. I’ve never wanted to hurt someone like I want to hurt her bastard of a father, and if she didn’t need me here with her right now I’d be on my way back to his house.

I close my eyes and can’t get the thought of her as a little girl out of my head. Even when I was a little boy, I could tell she was broken, and she was the first thing I ever felt the urge to protect. And now, curled up against me, crying . . . the only thing I want to do is protect her from him, but I can’t. I can’t protect her from all the memories that are flooding her mind right now and I’d give anything if I could.

She clenches my shirt in her fists and the sobs continue. I hold her as tightly as I can, knowing there’s nothing I can do to make her pain go away, so I just hold her like I used to hold Les. I never want to let her go.

She continues to cry and I continue to hold her and I’m trying so hard to be strong for her right now but I’m breaking. Knowing what happened to her and all she’s had to live through is completely unhinging me and I have no idea how she’s even able to hold up at all.

After several minutes, her tears begin to soften but they never cease. She eventually lifts her face off my chest, then slides on top of me. She closes her eyes and brings her lips to mine, then she immediately tries to take off my shirt. I have no idea why she’s doing this, so I flip her onto her back. “What are you doing?”

She slides her hand behind my neck and pulls my mouth back to hers. As much as I love kissing her, this just doesn’t feel right. When her hands grab at my shirt again, I push them away. “Stop it,” I tell her. “Why are you doing this?”

She looks at me with desperation. “Have sex with me.”

What the fuck?

I immediately climb off the bed and pace the floor. I don’t even know how the hell to respond to that, especially after what she just remembered about her father. “Sky, I can’t do this,” I say, pausing to look at her. “I don’t know why you’re even asking for this right now.”

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She crawls to the edge of the bed where I’m standing and she pulls up onto her knees, grasping at my shirt. “Please,” she begs. “Please, Holder. I need this.”

I step away from her, out of her grasp. “I’m not doing this, Sky. We’re not doing this. You’re in shock or something . . . I don’t know. I don’t even know what to say right now.”

She falls back down onto the bed and begins to cry again.

Dammit. I don’t know how to help her. I’m completely unprepared for this.

“Please,” she says, looking me in the eyes. Her voice and the pain behind it is shattering me from the inside out. She drops her eyes to her hands, which are folded in her lap. “Holder . . . he’s the only one that’s ever done that to me.” She lifts her eyes to mine again. “I need you to take that away from him. Please.”

If I had a soul before those words, it just completely broke in half. Tears fill my eyes and I hurt for her. I hurt for her so much because I don’t want her to ever have to think about that bastard again. “Please, Holder,” she says again.


I don’t know what to do or how to deal with all of this. If I tell her no, I’ll hurt her even more. If I agree to help her by doing this; I don’t know if I’ll be able to forgive myself.

She’s looking up at me from the bed, completely broken. Her pleading eyes are waiting for my decision. And even though neither option is one I want to choose, I just go with whatever she thinks she needs right now. If I could trade lives with her I would do it in a heartbeat, just so she’d never have to feel whatever it is she’s feeling. I’ll do whatever it takes to ease her pain.

Whatever it takes.

I walk back to her and sink to my knees on the floor. I scoot her to the edge of the bed, then I remove both our shirts. I pick her up and walk her to the head of the bed and lay her down gently. I lower myself on top of her, then wipe her tears away again.

“Okay,” I say to her.

I know she more than likely just wants to get this over with. There’s no way this moment can be what it should be. I reach to my wallet and remove a condom, then take off my pants, watching her diligently the entire time. I don’t want her to panic during this like she did last night, so I watch for any signs that she’s changed her mind. She’s been through enough. I just want to do whatever I can to help her, and if this will help her, it’s what I’ll do.

I kiss her the whole time I’m taking off her clothes. I don’t even try to make it romantic. I just try to think whatever thoughts about her I can think that will help me get this over with faster.

Once her clothes are off, I put on the condom and ease myself against her. “Sky,” I say, praying she’ll ask me to stop. I don’t want it to be like this for her.

She opens her eyes and shakes her head. “No, don’t think about it. Just do it, Holder.”

Her voice is completely emotionless. I squeeze my eyes shut and bury my face in her neck. “I just don’t know how to deal with all of this. I don’t know if this is wrong or if it’s what you really need. I’m scared if I do this, I’ll make it even harder for you.”

She wraps her arms tightly around my neck and she begins to cry again. Rather than release me, she just pulls me tighter and lifts her hips in a silent plea for me to keep going.

I kiss her on the side of her head and give her what she needs. The moment I push into her, tears escape my eyes. She never makes a sound. She just keeps herself wrapped tightly around me and I go through the motions, trying desperately not to think about how different I wanted this to be.

I try not to think about how I feel like I’m taking advantage of her with every movement against her.

I try not to think about how doing this makes me feel like I’m no better than her father.

That thought freezes me. I’m still inside her, but I can’t move. I can’t do this to her for another second.

I pull away from her neck and look down at her, then roll off her completely. I sit on the edge of the bed and fist my hands in my hair.

“I can’t do it,” I say to her. “It feels wrong, Sky. It feels wrong because you feel so good but I’m regretting every single fucking second of it.” I stand up and toss the empty condom into the trashcan, pull my clothes back on, then walk to the door, knowing I’m letting her down again.

I make my way outside and, as soon as I’m alone in the parking lot, I scream out of frustration. I pace the sidewalk for a while, trying to figure out what to do. I turn and hit the building, over and over, then fall against the brick wall and wonder how the hell I’ve let her end up here. How the hell did I allow it to ever get to this point? The last twenty-four hours of my life have been one huge, colossal fuck-up.

And here I am, walking away from her again. Doing what I do best. Leaving her completely alone.

Wanting to rectify at least one of my bad decisions, I immediately walk back into the hotel, back into the hotel room. When I make it inside, she’s in the bathroom, so I sit on the bed and pick up my shirt, then wrap it around my now-bleeding hand.

The bathroom door opens and she pauses midstep, just as I look up at her. Her eyes drop to my hand and she immediately rushes to me, unwrapping the shirt to inspect my hand.

“Holder, what’d you do?” she says, twisting my hand back and forth.

“I’m fine,” I say, wrapping my hand back up. I stand up and look down at her, wondering how the hell she could possibly be worried about me right now.

“I’m so sorry,” she says quietly. “I shouldn’t have asked you to do that. I just needed . . .”

Jesus. She’s apologizing to me? “Shut up,” I say, taking her face in my hands. “You have absolutely nothing to apologize for. I didn’t leave earlier because I was mad at you. I left because I was mad at myself.”

She nods, then pulls away from me and walks to the bed. “It’s okay,” she says, lifting the covers. “I can’t expect you to want me in that way right now. It was wrong and selfish and way out of line for me to ask you to do that and I’m really sorry. Let’s just go to sleep, okay?” She climbs into the bed and pulls the covers over her.

I’m trying to process her words, but they aren’t making any sense. I don’t feel that way about what she asked me to do at all. How the hell did she ever get these crazy thoughts in her head to begin with?

“You think I’m having a hard time with this because I don’t want you?” I walk to the bed and kneel next to her. “Sky, I’m having a hard time with this because everything that’s happened to you is breaking my fucking heart and I have no idea how to help you.” I climb onto the bed with her and pull her to a sitting position with me. “I want to be there for you and help you through this but every word that comes out of my mouth feels like the wrong one. Every time I touch you or kiss you, I’m afraid you don’t want me to. Now you’re asking me to have sex with you because you want to take that from him, and I get it. I absolutely get where you’re coming from, but it doesn’t make it easier to make love to you when you can’t even look me in the eyes. It hurts so much because you don’t deserve for it to be like this. You don’t deserve this life and there isn’t a fucking thing I can do to make it better for you. I want to make it better but I can’t and I feel so helpless.”

I take her in my arms and she wraps her legs around me, hanging on to every word I’m saying.

“And even though I stopped, I should have never even started without telling you first how much I love you. I love you so much. I don’t deserve to touch you until you know for a fact that I’m touching you because I love you and for no other reason.”

I press my lips to hers desperately, needing her to know that I’m speaking nothing but truth now. Every word I speak and every time I touch her, there’s nothing there but honesty.

She pulls away and kisses my chin and my forehead and my cheek, then my lips again. “I love you, too,” she says, proving to me that words are yet another characteristic someone can fall in love with. But I’m not falling in love with her piece by piece anymore. I’m in love with the whole girl. Every single piece of her.

“I don’t know what I’d do right now if I didn’t have you, Holder. I love you so much and I’m so sorry. I wanted you to be my first, and I’m sorry he took that from you.”

“Don’t you ever say that again,” I tell her. “Don’t you ever think that again. Your father took that first from you in an unthinkable way, but I can guarantee you that’s all he took. Because you are so strong, Sky. You’re amazing and funny and smart and beautiful and so full of strength and courage. What he did to you doesn’t take away from any of the best parts of you. You survived him once and you’ll survive him again. I know you will.”

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