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I fell in love with Holden York when I was six years old.
Most of my youth came with spiral notebooks filled with doodles, wedding plans, and “Janelle York” looped in bubbly handwriting.
However, one night in Vegas changed everything.
I woke up to more than just a fantasy of my brother’s best friend.
Five years later, I’m standing on his doorstep confronting him about the secret he kept from me.
If you think this is the story of how we rode off into the sunset together…
But if you think this is the story of how Holden blackmailed me into living with him…
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A thunderous knock jolted me awake. I sat straight up and slapped my hand over my mouth to keep from losing the contents of my stomach all over the… Through squinted eyes, I tried to assess where I was, the entire room unfamiliar and cold. And messy. Tiny liquor bottles littered the carpet, along with clothes. The bra dangling off the dresser left me cognizant of the fact that the only thing covering me was a thin sheet.
I had not a stitch of clothing on.
The knock sounded again and reverberated through the room. It echoed in my head, causing everything to spin and tilt. I quickly closed my eyes and wrapped my arms around my midsection, praying everything would stay put.
“Jelly, sweetheart…open up,” my mother called from the other side, her saccharine voice already grating on my fried nerves. “We check out in an hour, which means you need to get up and pack.”
I whined inwardly, realizing exactly where I was…and why.
“I got it, Mom. I’m getting up.” I prayed she couldn’t hear the hoarseness of my voice and know the reason for it. She’d be so disappointed in me, which was worse than almost anything else. I was the baby, the youngest of five children. If she found out I’d been up most of the night getting drunk—at the tender age of eighteen—she’d lose her mind. “I’ll be downstairs in forty-five minutes.”
I flung the covers off my bare body, the chill in the air cooling my overheated and damp skin. The instant I slid off the mattress and stood on both feet, the floor seemed to give out beneath me. My thighs ached, the kind of soreness you’d expect to experience after running a marathon. Only, I wasn’t a runner. Never had been and, more than likely, never would be. I’d walked a lot over the last few days, which could’ve explained the aches, but intuitively, I was certain that hadn’t been the cause, either. The deep red marks forming bruises on my thighs and hips were enough to explain my soreness.
I closed my eyes and groaned. Fear, embarrassment, and regret shook my body, and I struggled to stand upright. But my brain hurt too much to even think about it, about who I’d given my virginity to. About why, how, when. Or if I’d given it willingly. I took a shaky breath and combed a hand through my tangled hair. I needed a distraction—anything. A very large glass of ice-cold Pepsi. And definitely a shower.
I didn’t quite make it to the bathroom when I heard the familiar clicks of a card sliding into the reader attached to the door. My stomach clenched when the lock disengaged. Panicked over my mother finding me buck-naked and severely hung over, I ran into the bathroom—which proved to be a horrible idea. The room instantly tilted, the floor curved beneath me, and a flood of sticky heat washed over my clammy body just as I made it to the sink and gripped the ledge of the vanity to hold myself upright.
Like a tidal wave, there was no stopping it. My stomach flipped, then flopped, and I threw myself to the tiled floor, not caring about the new set of bruises that would form on my knees from the harsh impact. Thankfully, the toilet lid was up; otherwise, I wouldn’t have made it in time. I hugged the porcelain and gave in to the rush of bile hurdling its way up my esophagus and into the bowl in front of me. Out of nowhere, someone knelt behind me and pulled my hair out of my face. Unfortunately, my stomach wouldn’t relent long enough for me to turn to see who it was, but based on the large, rough palms rubbing my bare back, I knew enough to assume it wasn’t my mother.
If I could’ve screamed, I would have.
But…this man had a key to my room.
By the time my gut finished wrenching itself like an overused washing machine, I was too drained and weak to turn around. I closed my eyes, rested my cheek in the crook of my arm, and said a silent prayer that this was just a horrible nightmare I’d soon wake up from. But I quickly learned that the likelihood of that wish coming true was about the same as willing my hymen to grow back.
While I sat as naked as a jailbird, on my knees, hugging a hotel toilet rim, my unknown hero dampened a washcloth and used it to cool me off. He wiped it along my brow, down the side of my overheated face, along the unnatural curve of my neck, and across my shoulder blades. Even though I currently resided in only my birthday suit, his gentleness was so soothing it almost put me to sleep. At least, it would have had he not opened his mouth and spoken.