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by J.A. Huss

Chapter One

#TakeThePlunge

THREE days in the hospital. Three hours on the plane. And with LA traffic, three hours to get back to Vaughn’s house in the hills.

Three is my unlucky number.

The limo pulls into the driveway and comes to a stop at an angle, trying to cut the distance from the car to the front door. But it doesn’t matter. Standing makes me dizzy. Walking is out of the question. I have to wait for Vaughn and the driver to get the wheelchair out of the trunk.

“Here, sweets,” Vaughn says as he positions the chair up to the car.

“I hate this.”

“I know, baby. Later you can try to put some pressure on it. There’s no broken bones, so it’s just a matter of good old-fashioned healing.”

But I don’t want to try to walk, either. I stepped on it accidentally when I got in the chair earlier and the pain was sharp and immediate. “I don’t want to,” I say.

Vaughn ignores me. I’ve been doing nothing but bitching since I started talking earlier today and I’m sure everyone around me is wishing I’d go back to my self-imposed silence.

I scoot myself to the edge of the car, then brace all my weight on my good leg and flop down in the wheelchair.

“See,” Vaughn says cheerfully. “Not so bad.”

Not so bad if you’re the one pushing. There are only three steps leading up to the front porch of the rambling one-story house, but even so, the effort required to get me up those three steps makes me want to curl up in a corner and die.

I’m so high-maintenance.

“Where to first, huh? Movie room? You can relax on the couch and I’ll wait on you. Delivery service is complimentary.”

He’s still smiling when I look up at him but it falters. That makes me feel bad. “Bed,” I say. “I’m so tired.” It’s not a lie, but I was tired on the plane too. And on the way home. In fact, tired is starting to be my new favorite phrase, because when you’re injured and you say you’re tired, people say you need to get some rest. And that means they leave you alone.

“You just woke up, Grace. You’re not going back to sleep. In fact, let’s go outside. How about a trip down the lazy river?”

“Hmmm.”

He chuckles as he pushes me through the messy living room where Felicity has hoodies and shoes lying all over the place, and then stops at the wall of glass that leads out to the pool area. The doors are swept open and the heat rolls over me like a blanket.

Yeah. Maybe that feels good.

“Put your arms around me, Grace. And hold tight.”

I do as I’m told and he lifts me out of the chair and cradles me in his arms as he walks over to the little foliage-covered archway that leads to the part of the backyard where the lazy river is. He turns sideways so we can fit through and then stands on the edge of the plunge pool. The lazy river is only about four and a half feet deep, but the plunge pool is exactly what it sounds like. A place to drop straight in, kick off, and shoot back up. “Trust me?”

I tilt my head up as my heart races. “It might—”

“Do you trust me, Grace? Never mind the rest.”

I look him in the eye as I nod. “Yes.”

He squeezes me harder and then steps off the edge.

We drop together. My mouth opens to scream, but then the cold water rushes in and shocks me silent. We drop swiftly. My wound stings from the impact or the chlorine or both and I’m just about to start flailing in protest when the soothing coolness takes over. Vaughn’s feet touch bottom and there’s a moment where we feel weightless. His knees bend and he laughs underwater. His joy fills my heart as we spring up and burst through the water.

We bob there. Vaughn’s feet are treading water trying to keep us afloat, and I start to wiggle again.

“Shhh,” he chastises me with a whisper in my ear. “Be still, sweets. I’ve got you. Relax. I will never let anything happen to you again. Never.”

I spit some water out of my mouth and do as I’m told for once. I relax. I rest my head against his chest and the second I do that, the arm supporting the weight of my legs drops away and they float downward. He adjusts me, slipping his hands under my ass so he can pull me close.

I adjust as well, wrapping my arms around his neck and resting my head on his shoulder. “I love you,” I say.

He squeezes me hard and places his mouth against my ear. “It’s about time you remembered, sweets.”

“I’ve loved you for years.”

“But that was the fantasy me. The good guy. This is the reality me.”

“Still a good guy,” I cut him off before he can say the rest. “You’re my prince. Thank you for coming to find me.”

He holds me one-handed now so he can swim us a few feet over to the edge of the pool where the steps are, and then sits down so we’re still immersed in water. “I was too late.”

“It was the perfect time.”

“You could’ve been killed.”

“Yeah,” I say softly. “I could’ve. But I think there was more of a chance of me getting killed if you showed up sooner. It happened the way it did because…”

He turns me around in his lap. My leg feels weightless in the water. I’m not in pain. The cold rush is still there, numbing it. Soothing it. “Because why, Grace?” He looks me in the eyes for that question and I know one thing about us right now.

Thing have changed.

Yes, we’re married and there’s a whole lot of new things that come with that territory. But his expectations of me have changed as well.

He expects the truth.

“Tell me why it needed to happen that way.”

I know why, but it’s private stuff I’ve been holding in for a decade.

“Just say it, sweets. It’s only a few words. And once you say it, you can accept it. And once you accept it, we can move forward.”

I take in a deep breath. “Because…” This is therapy stuff. I know that. It’s a trick. That thought almost makes me laugh. It’s not a trick, Grace. It’s a technique to wrap your head around things. “Because… I needed to save myself.”

He hugs me so tight I think I might suffocate. “Yes,” he whispers in my ear. “That’s it. That’s all you need to say about it.”

“Why am I not affected by this, Vaughn? Why doesn’t it bother me that three days ago I shot a man? I killed a man. I think that makes me sick. I’m a sick, sick person.”

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