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Taylor's Time!


And we're back to Safe Now!

I don't know if I can keep up! I'm going to have to go back and compile all the posts and see what I have, if it's the entire story.

Boy oh boy!


- Kendra




Chapter Sixteen


I probably should've listened, should've run away like the coward that I was. But I stayed. If I had run, I wouldn't have been forced to face the next round of lashes. I would've been spared the devastation of watching Avan deteriorate. I wouldn't have said the things I said, done the things I'd done, things that would save Avan's life and threaten mine. And maybe, just maybe, I wouldn't have had to cope with the horrifying secret that spilled from Avan's mouth.


A memory:


"What is this called again?" I asked, suffering under the weight of my headgear and gloves.


Avan smirked at my frown.


"Sparring," he answered.


He stood a distance away from me dressed in red shorts and a white muscle shirt, his feet bare. I wore my white shorts and my red sports bra, my hair tied hack. Around me, I heard the grunts of men and women, lifting and sparring, running and jumping in the gym.


"Okay, " I said, voice trembling.


I had no reason to be nervous. Avan was careful to explain every rule to me, making sure I knew when to tap out, even placing me into a chokehold, pressing and squeezing hard enough for me to tap the moment I felt faint. I'd felt so vulnerable with his legs around my waist, his arm over my throat, my life in his hands. I had been completely under his controll.


"Are ya scared?"


Something struck me in the stomach. A fist? A bat? No. I realized it was grief that hit me. The last time I heard this phrase was eleven years ago, from my dead brother's mouth. I couldn't cry in front of Avan and ruin the day he'd been looking forward to all week. The excitement was written all over his face now. I couldn't take that away from him.


I swallowed my pain and attempted to mirror Avan's smirk.


"I'm not scared of anything."


"Oh come on," Avan insisted. "You're scared of everything!"


He didn't say this in a cruel way. It was a challenge. I shot him the same look I'd given to my brother all those years ago. He adjusted his stance, feet slightly apart, knees bent, fists up.


"Remember," he said, all playfulness aside. "If you feel any pain, just say our safe word and I'll-"


I charged. I tackled him, slamming him onto the mat. His face was shocked, his light eyes wide. I smiled down at him, raising my eyebrows.


"Oops, my foot slipped," I said, unsympathetically.


He smiled his crooked smile, trying to sound both hurt and threatening, and failing miserably.


"Oh, you are so gonna get it."


I lowered myself over him, my lips just inches from his face. I kept my voice low, seductive, taunting.


"You'll have to pin me first."


He leaned in and kissed me, his lips brushing the skin beneath my ear. His hands, so gentle, slid down to my waist. When he spoke, his voice mirrored my own.


"Number one rule,"


He breathed in sharply and I was flipped onto my back before I could process what happened. He pinned my arms down onto the mat, flashing a cheeky grin.


"Never lose focus."


I wrapped my legs around him and twisted my hips to no avail.


"Stop laughing!" I said.


Before I knew it, we were wrestling, our bodies tangled into each other in a mess of sweat and skin. As usual, Avan had the upper hand. I struggled to get out from under him, both of us laughing the entire time. Suddenly. I was eight years old again, wrestling on the stained twin mattress with my brother. The memory came and went, Gabe's face flashing over Avan's. Only then did I notice the similarities between my brother and the man I now shared my life with, his playfulness, the way he teased and tricked me, his drive to be perfect, his unwavering determination and will. I'd lost it all after Gabe had taken his own life. And I'd gained it all back on the day I met Avan. In that moment, the piece of me that had died along with Gabe, was reborn. At that moment, I felt whole again.


When Avan's face came into view, it was just him again. Just Avan. He sat up on his knees, still on top of me and I gazed up at him with admiring eyes. My hands found his legs. Slowly, I let my fingers slide up his thighs, my nails teasing the warm skin beneath his shorts. He inhaled, shuddering with hunger, with lust, with wanting. I seized my chance, sitting up swiftly and pinning his arms to the mat.


"Never lose focus," I said. "Number one rule, remember?"


This time, he didn't look shocked. He looked pleased, joyful, proud.


"I've taught you well."


I was aware of the other people in the gym, grunting and wrestling, but they seemed very far away. So, when I leaned in and kissed the man I loved, the man I was certain I would spend the rest of my life with, it was easy to believe that the rest of the world had melted away.


I woke up to find Avan's fingers knotted in my own, our legs tangled, our noses nearly touching. We had buried our heads against one another in our half sleep. As I lay there, watching Avan's breathing move the dark flyaway hairs by his face, I imagined a baby between us, a gorgeous little life, the perfect combination of Avan and me. My eyes teared up at the thought.


The tub, which had felt so cold before, was stuffy and hot. Even the blanket beneath us felt warm. I don't know how long I wondered before noticing how tightly Avan's eyes were closed, how badly his body shook, no, quaked.


"Avan," I said, alarmed. "What's wrong?"


His voice broke, his breathing choppy and fast.


"Co-ld."


It was all he said, "Cold.". But his body was boiling. He was spiking a fever!


I practically leapt out of the bathtub, and hurriedly wrapped the blanket around him as best I could. His jaw tightened. His shivering only became worse as he broke into a sweat. Now that I wasn't beside him, I could feel just how cold and unforgiving the basement had become. Kaine had left the air conditioner on again.


Damn you, Kaine. Damn you!


Avan needed to be warmer. I needed to do something now if I wanted to break his fever, but what could I do? The only blanket we had was wrapped around Avan and we had no access to any other heat source.


Normally, I couldn't wait for winter. I had looked forward to watching the snow fall in beautiful, delicate flakes from my bedroom window since childhood, a blanket wrapped around me, a hot drink in my hands. I loved the cold. Now, for the first time in my life, I wanted to taste the heat of summer more than anything.


I sat at the edge of the tub, feeling sorry for myself, watching Avan continue to shiver. Unlike me, he preferred warmth, often standing in the shower until the water became so hot the bathroom grew muggy and unbearable.


The shower!


I jumped from the edge of the tub and helped Avan out, sitting him on the floor. As soon as I turned the knob, felt the heat of the water spraying from the grimy showerhead, I knew it was the solution. I sat behind Avan, hugging his shoulders, praying that steam would accumulate soon. With the bathroom door closed and the space small, the comforting warmth quickly rose into a suffocating heat that made the air sticky and heavy. Within minutes, Avan let out a breath.


"You're a genius," he said with a light laugh.


I pressed my cheek against his back, trying to lend him as much of my body heat as I could. When he finally stopped shivering, I sighed with relief. The beat of his heart, so faint, carried through his back to my cheek. Greedily, I took it in, his heartbeat, his breathing, the evidence he was still alive.


Avan and I jerked when the bathroom door opened. The men stood in the doorway, hoods and zip-ties in hand. My words slipped out before I had the chance to stop them.


"Don't you dare touch him!"


I tightened my grip around Avan. Kaine laughed and stepped further into the bathroom. He crouched before us.


"He's got a fight tonight."


Tonight?


In all of this misery, in all my efforts to keep Avan alive, I'd completely forgotten about the deal.


"He can't walk!" I snapped. "What makes you think he can fight?"


Looking at Avan instead of at me, Kaine reached into his pocket, pulling out his knife. He placed the end of the blade to my elbow. I didn't flinch.


"I'll do it," Avan said, panicked. "I'll fight!"


He straightened himself and began to rise, bracing one hand on the edge of the tub to steady himself. My words came ahead of my thoughts again.


"Avan, no! You can't!"


But he limped forward, gripping the corner of the counter to keep himself from falling, to convince me he could do this. The men grabbed him, threw the hood over his head and forced him out of the bathroom, causing him to stumble and fall on the way. They jerked him up and began climbing the stairs. Kaine looked at me with his dead black eyes. He smirked, and something snapped inside me.


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