Understood, p.6
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       Understood, p.6
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         Part #1 of Unspoken series by Maya Banks
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  “I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”

  “Galleria and The Cheesecake Factory?” she asked hopefully.

  He sighed. “As long as you don’t plan to make my ass go ice skating, I’ll take you to the Galleria.”

  She grinned and leaned up to kiss him. “I have one more request.”

  He gave another exaggerated sigh. “And that is?”

  She stared intently at him. “Take me to bed and make love to me.”

  His green eyes glittered. “I thought you’d never ask.”

  Chapter Ten

  Ellie swept the last of the glass up from the floor into the dustbin then dumped it into the nearby trashcan. With a rueful smile, she examined the broken TV for any more loose pieces of glass before returning the broom to the kitchen.

  Though she wasn’t prone to fits of rage, that one had felt good. She’d been much too quiet and withdrawn until then. Maybe she should cut loose more often and allow the bottled emotions to burst out.

  Jake would be here soon, and she still had to finish doing her hair and brush her teeth. The afternoon away with him was a source of relief. She was being a coward, locked away ever since Ray’s interview more than twenty-four hours ago, but she wasn’t ready to face the open speculation of the small-town populace.

  As she ran the brush through her hair for the last time, the doorbell rang. She smiled at her reflection in the mirror, amused by the pink that had rushed to her cheeks.

  She hurried to the door, stopping only to collect her purse. She opened the door, a welcoming smile on her face.

  “Are you ready to—”

  The smile died as quickly as the words broke off. Her purse hit the floor beside her. A bolt of terror blew through her body with the speed of a bullet. Ray Hatcher stood on her doorstep, a bleak expression on his face.

  “Ellie, I need to talk to you,” he said.

  His voice shook her from the paralysis that had taken over her. She rammed the door shut, fumbling for the lock she couldn’t make work.

  “Ellie! I need to talk to you,” he said louder. His voice carried through the door, and she backed away from it.

  She stumbled over the rug and went sprawling onto the floor. Nausea welled in her stomach, and her pulse pounded in her head.

  The door opened, and she screamed in fear. She rolled to her feet and snatched the phone from the kitchen bar. The bathroom. If she could make it to the bathroom…she could lock the door and call 911.

  She ran into the bathroom and slammed the door behind her. She made sure it was locked then retreated to the most distant point from the door. The shower stall.

  She curled into a protective ball as her shaking fingers punched in the phone number.

  “Ellie?” Ray’s voice sounded closer. He was just outside the bathroom door. “Ellie, there’s something I need to say.”

  Oh, God.

  “911, what’s your emergency?” The dispatcher’s voice came over the line.

  “This is Ellie Matthews,” she blurted. “My husband is here. He’s not supposed to be here. He’s trying to hurt me.” The hysteria made her voice rise another octave. “Don’t let him hurt me again!”

  The dispatcher’s voice faded into the background as Ray’s voice got louder. The phone slipped from bloodless fingers as she heard the dispatcher assure her the police were on their way.

  “Ellie, please listen to me.”

  Ray’s voice had a pleading quality to it. She buried her head in her arms and rocked back and forth, praying the police would make it in time.

  There was a long silence on the other side of the door. She was frozen, her skin so cold, every muscle in her body tensed in the most awful of fears. Memories of the last time she’d tasted such fear seared a path through her mind like the sharpest blade.

  “Ellie, I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”

  Ray jiggled on the doorknob, and a fresh wave of terror assaulted her all over again. Her mouth opened to scream, but no sound came out. She wrapped her arms protectively around herself and curled into the tightest ball she could manage.

  “When I saw the playback of that interview…when I heard the things I said…Ellie, I’m sorry.”

  She heard a scuffle. Police officers identifying themselves. Bumps then a crash. The door jiggled again.

  “Ellie, open the door. You’re safe now.”

  She continued to rock. Sobs wracked her body. Sobs she hadn’t known were coming from her. She buried her face further into her arms.

  A few seconds later, the door flew open. The shower stall door opened, and a hand gripped her shoulder.

  “Ellie, it’s me, Wes Hoffman. We’ve got Ray in custody. He can’t hurt you, honey.”

  His soothing voice slid over her, but she was locked in her fear. She couldn’t make herself relax.

  His hand smoothed over her hair before he carefully pulled her into his arms. “We won’t let you down again, Ellie,” he said quietly. “We won’t let him hurt you.”

  Another man spoke a short distance away. The sound was muffled to Ellie’s ears.

  “Jeremy, get him the hell out of here before Jake shows up or Jake’ll kill him,” Wes directed.

  Wes’s hand tightened around her. “Ellie, honey, let me get you out of here. You’re safe now.”

  She tensed. She was slow to process what went on around her. Was Ray still out there? She began to shake uncontrollably as what had happened started to sink in. Ray. On her doorstep. Oh God.

  She heard the thump of heavy footsteps and then Jake burst into the bathroom. She felt him as much as she heard him.

  “Oh God, Ellie!”

  Wes pulled away from her and suddenly she was in Jake’s arms. She threw herself into his embrace and held on tight. Hot tears coursed down her cheeks, wetting his shirt.

  He stood up, picking her up with him. She clung to him, hoarse sobs ripping from her throat.

  Jake carried her into the living room and sat down on the couch, her body cradled against his chest.

  “Ellie, sweetheart, did he hurt you?”

  She shook her head against his chest. Her hands crept around his neck, and she tried to control her trembling.

  He caressed her hair over and over, and he smoothed kisses across her brow.

  “You’re all right now, Ellie. The bastard can’t hurt you. I’ve got you, sweetheart. I won’t let anyone hurt you again.”

  She finally relaxed against him, her eyes closing in relief. She lay limply in his arms, so worn out, so emotionally drained, she couldn’t have moved if she wanted.

  “Jake, I’ll need a statement from her so we can hold the bastard,” Wes said.

  “Not now,” Jake said harshly. “Can’t you see she’s scared out of her mind?”

  She raised her head, surprised at how weak she felt. “No,” she said softly. “I’ll answer his questions.”

  “Are you sure?” Jake asked. His eyes held such tenderness, such love. Her chest tightened, and tears welled in her eyes once more.

  She nodded and turned to Wes who sat across the living room in the armchair.

  “Did he threaten you? Did he hurt you in any way?” Wes asked.

  Jake tensed against her.

  “No. He kept saying he was sorry,” she mumbled. “I thought it was Jake at the door. I opened it and Ray was there. I lost it. It’s just that…”

  “You don’t have to defend your reaction,” Jake said gruffly. “Not after what he’s done to you.”

  “I grabbed the phone and hid in the bathroom,” she continued. “He came to the bathroom door, but you got here before anything happened.”

  Wes nodded. Then he sighed and ran an aggravated hand through his hair. He looked apologetically at her and Jake.

  “Best we can do is bust him on violating a restraining order. He’ll be out before the paperwork is dry.”

  Ellie stiffened and turned her face back into Jake’s chest.

  “Just make damn sure he stays the hell away from her,” J
ake growled. “Tell him to go back to New York where he belongs and to leave her the hell alone. Because if I ever see him back here, I’ll kill the son of a bitch.”

  “We’ll find out what he was up to and make damn sure he doesn’t pull a stunt like this again,” Wes assured them.

  “Thank you,” Ellie said in a low voice. “Thank you for getting here so fast.”

  Wes stood. “It won’t happen to you again, Ellie. Not on my watch. I’ll have a squad car come by here regularly to check in on you.”

  “She won’t be here,” Jake said bluntly. “I’m taking her home with me.”

  Wes nodded. “Take care, Ellie.” He turned and walked to the door.

  Ellie let out an exhausted sigh as the door closed behind Wes. Jake’s arms tightened around her.

  “Let’s get you some clothes and whatever else you need. You’re going to stay with me for a while.”

  She nodded. As he started to pull away from her, she wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly against her.

  “Thank you, Jake. Thank you for coming for me.”

  He kissed her temple and stroked her hair. “There should never be a doubt, Ellie. I’ll always come for you. Now let’s get you out of here. You’re about to fall over.”

  Chapter Eleven

  Ellie slept most of the afternoon. Jake had tucked her into his bed then climbed in beside her, covering every inch of her body with his. She knew it was his way of reassuring her, and she was glad for it. She had fallen asleep with her face snuggled against his shoulder.

  The sun was setting when she awoke. She blinked a few times, trying to make sense of the events of the day. Had Ray really shown up on her door after all this time? Just a day after publicly accusing her of infidelity?

  The phone rang, jarring her from her dream-like state. Beside her Jake cursed and rolled slightly so he could yank up the phone.

  “Hello?”

  There was a long pause as she listened intently.

  “Fuck, no. I don’t want her any more upset than she already is. Is he leaving, at least?”

  Another long pause.

  “Good. Maybe he’ll stay away for good now.”

  Jake hung up and tossed the phone away from the bed.

  “Jake?”

  He turned back to her, curling his arms around her. “Sorry to wake you, sweetheart.”

  “I was already awake. What was that about?”

  He stiffened. “It’s nothing for you to worry about.”

  “Tell me.”

  He sighed. “Apparently Ray isn’t leaving quietly. He’s holding a press conference from the airport. He’s flying out to Houston and then back to New York in an hour.”

  A tingle of dread snaked up her spine. “And when is the press conference?”

  “In five minutes.”

  She paused for a long time, uncertainty rocketing through her veins. Finally, she took a deep breath. “Turn on the TV, Jake.”

  “Ellie, no,” he said vehemently. “He’s not worth it.”

  She slid a hand up his chest and touched his cheek. “You’re here, Jake. Nothing can hurt me. I believe that. If he’s going to cause more trouble, we need to be prepared. We need to know what he’s saying if we’re going to deal with it.”

  He blew out his breath in a long whoosh. “Are you sure?”

  “As long as you’re here with me, yeah, I’m sure.”

  He reached over to the nightstand and picked up the remote. He turned on the TV then flipped through the channels until he reached the local affiliate.

  She sucked in her breath when she saw Ray standing in front of a crowd of reporters. He looked tired and haggard, a far cry from the smooth, polished man she’d seen on television just the day before. He resembled someone with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

  Her brow crinkled in consternation as the cameras zoomed in closer and he began to speak. Jake’s arms tightened around her in support.

  “A few hours ago, I was arrested outside the home of my ex-wife Ellie Matthews.”

  A flash of something like regret glimmered in his eyes.

  “I didn’t go there to cause trouble,” Ray continued. “I went there to apologize. I handled it all wrong. I shouldn’t have just shown up like I did. I ended up scaring her, which was not my intention. Though, she has every right to fear me.”

  Ellie’s mouth opened in shock. She remembered him saying over and over how sorry he was, but all she’d focused on was the fact that the monster who’d hurt her so many times was in striking distance again.

  “You see, I lied in my interview with Marty Stevens yesterday. Ellie wasn’t the problem in our marriage. I was. It took me watching the playback of that interview to see just how far I had sunk. You’ll never know how hard it hit me to see the man I had become.”

  Her hand flew to her mouth, and she began to shake in Jake’s arms.

  Ray paused and looked down, no longer staring straight into the cameras. When he raised his head again, his eyes were moist with a sheen of tears.

  “I-I abused my wife during our three-year marriage.” He broke off again and ran a hand through his hair. “I took a beautiful, trusting woman, and I hurt her in unimaginable ways. I can’t live with that knowledge any longer. I can no longer live a lie. She is innocent of the things I’ve accused her of. I am the monster here. I know she will never forgive me. What I did was unforgivable. I can only pray she finds happiness and peace and that maybe one day I can forgive myself.”

  As he paused again, the reporters, who had stood in stunned silence, surged forward, shouting a multitude of questions. Ray held his hand up, and they fell silent.

  “I’ve spoken to my coach and to the team owner. I’ll fulfill the terms of my contract, but I’m seeking out counseling. At the end of the two years, I’m retiring from the NFL.”

  He leaned forward, staring earnestly into the cameras. “I am truly sorry for all the pain I’ve caused you, Ellie.” Tears fell freely down his face now. “I will never forgive myself for betraying your love and trust in me.”

  He turned into the shelter of his bodyguards and hustled away from the cameras toward the waiting prop jet in the background.

  “Holy fuck,” Jake muttered as he flipped the TV off.

  Ellie sat there, her eyes wide with shock. She felt like a solid block of ice, no feeling except the cold.

  Jake put his hand on her arm, his touch enquiring. “Ellie? Sweetheart, talk to me. Are you all right?”

  Her breath escaped in a stuttering hiccup, her body shaking with the effort it took. Jake took her gently in his arms, tenderly sliding his hands over her.

  To say she was stunned was an understatement. She should be thrilled, though how could someone be thrilled when all the dirty secrets from her marriage had been spilled for the world to witness?

  Shouldn’t she feel vindicated? Exonerated? In a fit of conscience, Ray had admitted to the horrors he’d put her through.

  Instead of feeling relieved, she wanted to crawl under a rock and die.

  Jake rocked her back and forth. He kissed her on top of the head and murmured sweet words into her ear. She flinched away from him, suddenly feeling unworthy of his undying support.

  “Ellie, don’t,” he protested. “Don’t push me away. Not now. Not when you need me more than ever.”

  She couldn’t meet his gaze.

  “What is it?” he asked. “Ellie, this is good. Now the world will see him for the bastard he is. He’ll never fool anyone again.”

  She raised her gaze to his. He recoiled for a brief moment. Was what he’d seen in her eyes so horrible?

  “I thought people believing lies was the worst thing,” she whispered. “I thought nothing could be worse than them believing I was the problem, that I had been unfaithful, a slut, a tramp. But I was wrong. Them knowing the truth is much, much worse.”

  “Ellie, no…”

  She hugged her arms around herself, determined not to shed any more tears. Not over Ray.
He wasn’t worth it. Not even his sincere apology had changed the hatred that burned so deeply within her. In a situation like this, she was supposed to be the bigger person and offer her forgiveness, but it wasn’t going to happen. She would never forgive him for nearly destroying her.

  Jake sat next to her, bristling with all sorts of disagreement. He was preparing to launch into a whole host of reasons why he was right and she was wrong, and she was just too emotionally exhausted to listen.

  “Not now, Jake,” she said tiredly. “Please. I just need…” Hell, she didn’t know what she needed. She closed her eyes. “I just need some time to think. Or not think. I just want to close my eyes for a while.”

  Jake leaned in and pressed a kiss to her forehead. His face was creased in concern. She knew he was worried, but she didn’t have the fortitude to offer him any reassurances. Not when she couldn’t even offer them to herself.

  “Rest, sweetheart. This will be over soon. I promise.”

  Chapter Twelve

  Ellie quietly disentangled herself from Jake’s arms and eased out of the bed. It was still dark outside. The sun wouldn’t rise for another half hour.

  She’d lain awake most of the night, her mind in turmoil. Ray’s announcement had shaken her badly. Brought years of shame rushing to the forefront. Suddenly her private life had been thrust into the national spotlight. But more importantly, it would be all over the small town she’d grown up in like wildfire.

  All that bunk about facing the music and not hiding flew out of her mind as soon as Ray had opened his mouth and spilled their dirty secrets.

  She couldn’t live this way. Couldn’t continue in a place where every time she looked in someone’s eyes she saw pity or disapproval shining in the depths.

  On silent feet, she went into the living room. She wasn’t just going to walk out on Jake without a word. She wasn’t a petulant child throwing a tantrum, and God knew, she didn’t want to worry him.

  She scribbled a note and left it in a spot she knew he’d find. She told the truth. Simply that she needed some time away. Alone. To think. To come to terms with the fact that once again, Ray had upended her life.

  As she walked toward the door, she was overcome by sadness. She glanced back toward the bedroom where Jake lay sleeping. She missed him already, but she also knew she couldn’t stay. Humiliation curled in her stomach, unsettling her, making a mess of her emotions.

  She turned around and walked out the door.

 
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