Ryan’s eyes popped open. For no apparent reason, his heart was racing and sweat coated his skin. Turning his head to the clock, he saw that it was nearly noon. With a groan, he turned over and cursed his body for hating the night shift.
But that feeling wouldn’t leave. Something was right. Felt…off. He’d been woken by something, but he knew he was alone. His dad was out playing golf with his buddies and Zack was at the hospital sitting with Maria while Charlie worked.
Tossing and turning, unable to go back to sleep, Ryan got out of bed. He showered and dressed. Can’t sleep? Might as well go visit Maria and see what plans Zack had for them tonight.
Before he left his room, he paused at the dresser. Opening the top drawer, he pulled out his 9mm Glock. He rarely carried it when he was off duty, but still, there was something nagging at his consciousness. Something that wouldn’t let go.
He strapped on his gun harness, strapped the weapon in the holster, and threw a light jacket on to conceal it. It was a little too hot for a jacket, but he couldn’t walk around with it showing like they do in the movies. People freak when they see a gun. Especially in small towns.
Rob pulled a gun from behind his back and pointed it at Maria. “Lunch will have to wait.”
“Holy shit, Rob. What are you doing?” She asked, struggling to sit up.
“Maria, don’t,” Zack said softly, his insides turning to jelly. This couldn’t be happening. It’s all a nightmare. A bad, evil, fucking terrible nightmare.
“I’d listen to him, Maria. I’m in no mood today for your self-righteous bullshit.”
Thankfully, Maria didn’t speak again.
“What do you want, Rob? Why are you here?”
Rob snorted. “As if you didn’t know. First off, grab that chair and prop it against the door. I don’t feel like being disturbed.”
Zack was careful to move slowly as he stood, hands at his side. He stared at his ex-lover, trying to see the man he’d fallen in love with at the beginning. But he wasn’t there. Probably never was. Just a mask.
Zack jumped, his heart doing a triple pitter-patter. His knees trembled and the terror he thought he’d finally overcome had returned. Every scar on his body throbbed. The memory of every one of them danced through his mind.
Forcing his body to move, grabbing the chair and placed it under the knob as Rob had instructed. He moved slowly, his eyes staying locked on Rob. Desperately, he wanted to look to Maria, make sure she was all right and reassure her, but he didn’t want to divert Rob’s attention or his gun to her.
He hated this feeling of helplessness. Despised himself for allowing this man to bring back all the emotions and memories of another person he loathed. The man that let Rob stomp all over him…figuratively and literally.
Zack thought about Ryan and how he felt and saw himself since they’d become a couple. Zack was stronger. Confident. And independent when he needed to be. He would be that person now. Had to be the better man.
“Let’s leave Maria out of this.” Zack held his hands slightly from his sides, palms out, showing the lack of resistance. “Let’s go for a walk. Talk. Remember when we…”
“Shut up!” Rob swung the gun and pointed it toward Maria, who gasped, but didn’t dare move.
Damn it all to hell. He was trying to keep the attention from her and he screwed that up. He just wanted out of there. Take her out of harms way.
“Over there.” Rob demanded, using the gun to show Zack to move back near the bed.
Zack didn’t hesitate. In fact, he made sure he was directly in the line of fire.
Rob laughed suddenly. The sound grated on Zack’s eardrums. It wasn’t the smooth, husky laugh of Ryan. Why hadn’t he ever noticed how annoying Rob’s voice was?
“You think to protect her? Shit, Zack. Don’t you see that she was the one who pitted you against me? The one who put all those ideas in your head. Made you want to leave me.” He glared at Maria and an icy shiver shimmied down Zack’s spine. That was a look of pure hatred and Maria wouldn’t bode well in the end if this continued.
“Rob, baby, please.” Bile rose in his throat as he spoke the words and had to force it back down. Rob’s gaze shifted to Zack.
“We were happy once. You and me. My beautiful artist.” His lips twitched as if wanting to smile, but his muscles didn’t quite create one. “My sexy, obedient lover.”
Zack’s teeth clenched until his jaw ached. Rob’s eyes glittered, darkening with lust. How many times had he seen that exact look right before Rob forced himself on him? Usually after a beating or when Rob had been drinking. The look that told Zack time and time again that he belonged to Rob and always would.
Zack was better than that. He deserved better. If anything came from his sessions with Dr. Parker, it’s that Zack realized that he could have love that was beautiful and comforting. Without violence.
But first he had to find a way to keep Maria safe.
“Yes, you’re right.” He dared to take a step forward. His gaze lowered slightly, hands hanging loosely by his side. “I want to be happy again.”
“Jesus, Zack. No.” Maria whispered as Zack took another step closer to Rob.