The phone was ringing.
Newton swallowed hard and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to catch his breath, trying to ignore the ringing. There was only one person who ever called him on that phone—the person who got the phone for him in the first place.
Newton had been dumb enough to believe him when he’d said the phone was for business, that he had just wanted Newton to have a way to get in touch with him if he needed to.
If he had only known then that Martin would use it as a tracking device, that he would use it to keep tabs on where Newton went and who he was with at all times.
Worse still, Newton was living with Martin now, so there was no escaping the questions, the yelling.
Just like there had been no escaping the occasional innocent touch that was anything but innocent.
Just like there had been no escaping the punches when Newton had dared to object to anything at all.
That had been his life for two long, hellish years.
But not anymore.
Newton opened his eyes and struggled to pick up the suitcase that was stuffed as full as he could get it before finally settling on dragging it across the tiled floor of the foyer and out the door to the rental car he had parked in the driveway.
Even without checking who had called, there was no doubt in his mind it had been Martin.
And there was also no doubt that Martin was nearby. He never went far, but there was a limited window of time every Wednesday that Newton could count on having a few hours to himself.
Normally, he spent those few hours crying, or huddled in bed, pretending the world outside his room didn’t exist.
Today, though, he was putting that time to better use.
Today was the day he would be free, one way or another.
But he knew his window of times would be closing soon if it hadn’t already, and now that he hadn’t answered the phone, he knew that Martin would be hurrying home as fast as he could, no doubt in a rage.
That wasn’t going to be Newton’s problem for much longer, though.
He had spent all of his money to move to San Francisco, to follow his dream of being a professional photographer.
When Martin Cunningham—the Martin Cunningham—had offered him an internship and a place to live, Newton thought his dreams might finally be coming true.
Instead, his dreams had turned into nightmares, and even the thing he loved the most in life—his photography—couldn’t ease the pain anymore.
If this was what he had to do to follow his dream, it just wasn’t worth it to him anymore. He would find a new dream. Or he would find another photographer to study under—one who wasn’t mean and disgusting and manipulative.
Whatever he did, it wouldn’t be here. It would be as far away from here as he could get.
Maybe someplace back in Ohio.
That part didn’t even matter.
Newton shoved the suitcase in the back seat and shut the door, leaning against it to catch his breath for a second before sliding into the driver’s seat and starting the car.
Wherever he ended up, maybe he’d check out a gym, because holy hell he was out of shape. Maybe if he had exercised more, maybe if he’d had bigger muscles or a more chiseled face, Martin would have thought twice about bullying him.
He looked at the clock on the dashboard. Martin would definitely be here soon, and Newton needed to be as far away as possible by then.
Otherwise, it was going to be bad.
Newton was pretty sure his life might depend on what happened in the next few minutes.
Trying to concentrate on driving—God, it had been so long since he’d driven anywhere, since he’d even had a car—he backed out of the long driveway and onto the quiet residential street.
Nobody would ever guess by looking at the tidy Spanish colonial on the corner that a madman lived there.
Nobody would ever guess the kind of pain Newton had endured at his hands.
And if Newton made it to wherever he was going, nobody would ever find out, either.
As far as he was concerned, Martin would be dead to him, along with the rest of Newton’s past. He had enough money hidden away after a few months of planning to really make a new start in a small town somewhere. It wouldn’t last long, by any means, but it would last a hell of a lot longer somewhere else than it would have in San Francisco.
Newton had made it to the stop sign at the end of the street.
So far, so good.
As he turned the corner onto the busy road, he took a second to look back at the personal hell he was leaving behind. Just as the end of the driveway was about to disappear from his view, he saw Martin’s silver Mercedes sedan pull into it.
Newton’s palms started sweating and his throat closed up. He couldn’t breathe, and for a moment he couldn’t think, either.
He was still driving, and he was going to have to pull it together if he didn’t want to crash. His brain knew there was no way Martin would catch up to him now. By the time he got inside the house and realized Newton was gone, it would already be way too late.
But it had been a close miss.
Three blocks later, Newton’s whole body was still shaking, the metallic taste of adrenaline still in the back of his throat.
He had made it out alive, though. Against all odds, he’d made it.
Newton didn’t know where he was going, and he didn’t care. There was really only one thing he knew for sure.
He was never, ever going back to San Francisco.