MONTHS AGO, I gave a part of my soul to a complete and total stranger in order to save the woman I loved. Days and weeks went by, but no matter how much counseling I had, those forty-eight hours took over my nightmares. They forced me to feel shit I never thought a man of my stature would feel.
Pain. Heartache. Fear.
It made me weak, but those two days also made me irreparable.
Some days I woke up, expecting to be back in that dungeon. I could still taste the dampness in the air. I could still feel the leather of the cross I was strapped to. I still could feel her—
A small hand gripped mine, pulling me from the daily nightmare that threatened to take over my whole damn life.
Rough, calloused fingers matching my own, poured so much strength into me, I didn’t know what to do with it.
Brogan Tapp smiled up at me but it never reached her eyes. Her beautiful face shone with love for a man who was broken and forced to his knees by the very demons on his back, but she never gave up on me. Her face radiated with adoration, but also held so much sadness at the same time, it tore at my heart.
“How are you doing today, Coby?” Dr. Matteo Santos sat across from us. He kept his face impassive like every other time I visited the psychologist. I wished these meetings could be over and done with but talking to him, even if I didn’t say much, became a habit I had no intention of breaking any time soon.
“I keep coming back so that should answer your question,” I told him, keeping my eyes locked on the small freckle just beneath Brogan’s palm. It was such a small part of the woman I loved, it amazed me how even something that little could give me so much strength.
“It doesn’t,” Dr. Santos said. “You could keep coming back just to see my smiling face.”
My eyes snapped to his. “Was that a joke?”
The doctor shrugged.
The sound was foreign to my ears. She hadn’t laughed much lately. Well I was going to change that. No matter what I had to do to make that happen, she would laugh again.
“Tell me what happened this week.” Dr. Santos crossed his ankle over the opposite knee, the gold wedding band on his left ring finger flashing in the dim lighting of his office.
What didn’t happen? I had a nightmare. Fucked the shit out of my girlfriend. Went to work. Had a nightmare. Fucked her harder. Same shit, different fucking pile.
“You would do anything for the woman you love,” I said, nodding towards his hand instead of answering his question.
“Yes,” he shifted his weight in the chair. “I would, and I have.”
“And you already know what I’ve done for mine, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.” I hated talking about this shit. It was done. It was over. But almost six months later, I still couldn’t stop the nightmares or the guilt from taking over my mind.
Brogan stiffened beside me.
I placed my hand on her inner thigh, gripping it tightly.
Her small body relaxed against me.
“I think, no matter what I tell you, you’re still going to feel guilty,” Matteo pointed his pen in my direction. “You can be the strongest person ever, and still break. You’re human.”
I grunted. He was right, but it didn’t mean I had to agree with him.
“Brogan, I know you feel guilty as well.” Matteo’s face softened. “Are you finally going to tell me why?”
I knew. God did I ever know. Brogan may not have thought I did, but when her whimpering at night woke me, the guilt I had been feeling intensified.
“I…I’m fine,” she mumbled, covering my hand with hers.
Which was what she always said, but she wasn’t. Neither of us were fine. We were broken. Destroyed. Forced to our knees to please others. It fucking sucked.
“Life’s biggest lie,” Dr. Santos stated. “I know you don’t like talking about this. Coby doesn’t either, but he’s opened up. I need you to as well.”
“I don’t know what to say. I feel guilty, but I don’t know why.” She shrugged. “I can’t help but feeling like I should have done more. Like it shouldn’t have happened so fast.”
My heart stuttered, memories of that dungeon slithering into my mind like a viper waiting to strike its prey.
“That’s good,” Matteo said. “That’s progress right there. You know what you say stays here, right? It’s been almost six months since you first started seeing me, but neither of you will tell me what happened to Tina Birtch.”
“She’s gone,” Brogan said matter of factly. “That’s all that counts.”
“But you feel guilty that she was gone as you put it, too quickly. Why?”
Brogan gripped my hand even tighter.
“Tell him,” I insisted. For whatever reason, I trusted the guy.
“I…” She took a deep breath. “I killed her.”
Matteo only nodded. “Are you sleeping at night?”
“No,” she sighed. “I’m not.”
“How’s the relationship between you two?” he asked, writing something down on his pad of paper.
Brogan looked up at me before glancing back at the doctor. “I love Coby. I love him so damn hard, but neither of us like talking about what happened. With you, it’s different, but with each other, we can’t.”
The guilt resting on my shoulders became heavier as each word left her mouth.
“How do you two communicate?” Matteo jotted something down on the paper and looked up when neither of us said anything. “Problem?”
I rubbed the back of my neck. “I’m not one for talking so we use sex as an out.”
Brogan’s gaze burned into the side of my head but I refused to meet her stare. We were there, we might as well talk about it.
“I know we need to talk,” she added. “But no matter what I say to him…no matter what I say to you, you don’t believe me.”
I looked down at her and cupped her cheek. “Just like you believe me when I tell you that you did all you could.”
She huffed, chewing her bottom lip and looked away.
“No,” I pinched her chin, forcing her to meet my eyes. “Do not look away. Not this time. I don’t give a fuck if we’re not alone, you need to speak. You need to tell me how you feel. I’m good, but I’m not a fucking mind reader, Brogan.”
“I don’t know what to say to you,” she replied, her voice wavering. “You expect me to talk to you when you don’t even talk to me.”
“Brogan,” I said gently.
“No,” she shoved her head out of my grip. “You want to do this now? Fine.” She turned her body towards me.
As inappropriate as it was, her sass turned me the fuck on.
“I feel guilty that I didn’t take longer to kill Tina. I should have forced her to submit like she did to you. And it sickens me, knowing what she did.” Brogan crossed her arms under her chest. “There. Happy now?”
My jaw clenched but I didn’t say anything. How the hell could I be happy? Tina Birtch had come into our lives and destroyed what little trust we had for humanity. With her being part of a human trafficking ring, I was taken, and forced to do things to keep Brogan safe, and myself alive.
“Now you’re not going to say anything at all,” Brogan scoffed. “Of course not.”
If we had been alone, I would have had her over my knee for giving me attitude, but we weren’t. So instead, I sat there like a damn idiot.
“Alright,” Matteo interjected. “Coby, I have a question for you. What would convince you that Brogan is yours?”
My mouth opened and closed. I looked between Brogan and the doctor. “She is mine,” I told him.
“Are you sure? Because it sounds like you’re asking me.” Matteo sat forward. “So tell me, what are you going to do to make Brogan yours?”
“Coby?” Brogan squeezed my hand when I didn’t answer. “I am yours.”
“I…” Fuck, why the hell hadn’t I thought of that before? With everything that had happened, that was still going on, I went through our relationship like a damn zombie.
“I want you to think on that,” Matteo wrote something else on that fucking pad of paper of his. “But your time is up. I’m happy with the progress you’ve both made today. We’ll pick up where we left off at your next session. Until then, take care of each other. You’re allowed to feel the guilt that you’re feeling. I understand that emotions over what happened, are still running high. Maybe you need some time alone and out of the city. Take a little trip. Doesn’t matter. But whatever you decide to do, just be there for each other.”
We said our grumbled goodbyes to the doctor and left his office.
We didn’t touch. We didn’t talk. We drove home in silence. Part of me wondered if this was the beginning of the end. Could we come back from this? Could we rebuild what Tina destroyed? Until then, I wasn’t sure what the hell I was going to do.