I missed the way she would snort when she would laugh and then instantly curse herself for it. I missed the way she would curl up in the corner of my couch and hold her knees to her chest, looking at me with wonder filling those big blue eyes of hers. Then there was the way she would relax her body into mine. Her every worry would slip from her and she would instantly calm. Ava Monroe had been made for me, but now she was gone.
Two words had ended my chance at happiness. My chance to live a life full of love. To start a family and be the man I wanted to be. The moment, “He’s gone,” had slipped from Dawson’s lips, I knew it was over before it truly had a chance to begin.
I’d met Ava a few months ago at The Devil’s Playground, a nightclub nearby. The moment she walked past me, I knew I had to have her. Her beauty and grace made me crave her attention. She carried a secret in her heart, but she bore it on her shoulders. She was beaten down and lonely while surrounded by others. Meeting Ava had been my fate. She’d been thrown into my path for a reason, though I wasn’t sure if that reason was to save her or me. My guess was both, because in the end, we saved each other. She was the other half I hadn’t believed I’d ever find.
The brother I hadn’t known I had swooped in and stole her from me, stole her from everything she gave a damn about. He’d ruined her before I’d even known she existed. James crushed her spirit and buried her inside her own fucked-up guilt. He crushed her over and over again with his words and his actions. Killing her parents wasn’t enough for the son of a bitch. He stole her virtue, her life. He beat her down until there was nothing left to take from her. He roamed free while she suffered alone in fear. Life was a bitch.
I could hardly believe that a week ago we’d spent a brief moment believing that this nightmare of hers was over. That we could finally move on and start fresh together. I held her as she released all the pain she bottled up. Then Dawson spoke those two fucking words and she completely broke in my arms. Her freedom was short-lived.
Even after the discovery of James’s relationship to me, Ava still wanted us. She still loved me. She never once looked at me differently. My father, Richard, had confirmed that her stalker over the past six years was actually my half brother who was conceived from an affair. Ever since I was little, I’d believed that James was just gone. I hadn’t known that Richard had shipped him off to a wretched foster family that completely ruined him. They’d turned him into the monster Ava feared. Ava.
I missed her more and more each day. I knew how these things worked. I had been a state’s attorney long enough to figure out the police aspect of these situations. Ava’s location and safety had been compromised. James had stalked her down to Florida from St. Louis, threatened her, and then made her leave with him to save the ones she loved. He attempted to run away with her and spend an eternity torturing her. Ava was strong though, and she fought him to escape.
There was no doubt in my mind that Dawson had put Ava in witness protection to keep her safe. Nothing, other than ending James’s game, would truly save her though. He would haunt her memories and torture her soul so long as he was free. He had to be stopped if I had any hope of seeing Ava again. Nothing I did could end this. Richard was dead at the hands of the bastard child, Dawson was ignoring my calls, and Ava was gone. Even Carissa was missing—most likely with Ava.
I had to admit that part of me wondered why I’d been left out. I had become a part of Ava’s tortured past. James knew who I was and how to find me. I hated being angry at the fact that I’d been left out because deep down I knew the anger stemmed from jealousy and longing. I longed to be with Ava and they had taken her from me. They’d left me to fend for myself and suffer from a broken heart. I wasn’t whole without her.
I couldn’t help but think about the night James had shown up again. Ava feared him. She shook with terror the moment she saw the message on my Mustang. I found you, Ava. Her body collapsed onto the concrete when she realized what the message meant. I carried her into my living room and gently placed her on the couch. Her body shook beneath my touch before she stilled again. I caressed her back and she relaxed with each stroke. My touch soothed her, and I couldn’t bring myself to leave her there to wake up alone and scared. I realized then that I never wanted to be with anyone else. If this was all it would take to calm her, it had to be fate. She had to be my future.
I hadn’t seen her as a charity case or as someone who needed saving. I hadn’t planned on being some knight in shining armor for her. I just wanted to be there. I wanted to take away any amount of pain I could and discover a life with her. I wanted to grow and create memories together. I wanted her to save me, not the other way around. She was my savior, and I had to find my way back to her one way or another. I refused to believe that this was how our story ended.
It was ten in the morning on a damn Sunday and I was still in bed. All I could think about was the last time I’d seen Ava. The unbearable pain that moment brought tore through me. I’d held her in my arms in the back of the van as Dawson took us away from her demon. We believed the fear of her past had finally ended. Ava had beaten James bloody with a leg from a nightstand, and when she ran from him, he was limp and soaked in red on the floor. It was over. His threatening messages, the stalker photos… She ended it all—or so we thought. Then Dawson received a phone call telling him that James was nowhere to be found. He had somehow managed to not only get up, but get off the boat without being seen.
Those two simple words sent all the fear right back to Ava’s core. Those two words crushed the hope that had grown inside me. James was free to come after Ava again. He was free to torture her from a distance. Knowing he was out there broke her spirits. Her body stiffened in my arms and I knew I’d lost her. Nothing I could do or say would keep her fears at bay.
After the realization that James was still out there, the rest of the ride back to my house stayed silent. I all but carried Ava to the living room while Dawson made a phone call. We sat down on the couch, and she let me hold her shaking body against mine. It was the first time she wasn’t still under my touch. I could still remember the conversation as if it had happened yesterday.
“Oh my God, Ava!” Carissa’s voice came from the other end of the room.
I had forgotten that she’d stayed here while the rest of us had gone to find Ava. Their home had been compromised when James decided to break in and trash it, leaving pictures of them behind for Ava. So the two of them had packed up and stayed at my house along with Dawson and a few of his men.
“Carissa,” Ava wept when she saw her.
I remember seeing a tear fall to her chin, her pain filling me with more emotions than I cared to admit. A woman like Ava should never cry tears of sadness or fear—only tears of happiness.
“What the hell is wrong with you? What the fuck were you thinking?” Anger poured from Carissa’s words.
“Stop it. She’s been through enough. Let’s be grateful she’s home rather than angry she left,” I said in an attempt to calm her.
“Fuck that. You have a lot of explaining to do.”
Before I had a chance to say another word, Ava spoke up. “I’m sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I just made it worse.”
Tears glistened off her cheeks, making my anger surface. She never should have had to feel that kind of pain. It was my job to keep her safe and happy, and I realized then that I’d failed. I hadn’t stopped her from leaving.
“Damn it, Ava. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be yelling at you. You did this for me, for us.” Carissa sounded defeated as she sat down next to her on the couch.
Ava pulled her body away from mine, causing me to wrap my arms around her a little tighter. I couldn’t bring myself to let her go—I wished I never had.
“It’s okay, Seth. I’m right here.” She kissed me softly, and I forced myself to relax my hold on her. She positioned her body toward Carissa and leaned against mine. “Carissa, James is missing. I thought I killed him but he’s…he’s gone.”
“Wait, what?” Carissa asked.
“Let’s just say I finally found my courage to fight back. I left with every intention of ending this nightmare. I never thought I would come out of it alive. Then he opened his mouth and I found the strength to fight. I didn’t want to play the victim anymore.” Ava went on to tell Carissa what she had done to James to get away.
I knew she wasn’t telling us everything yet—it was too soon for her. I’d never forget the way her demeanor and her voice had changed that day. The way she spoke about fighting back and not wanting to give up made me realize that she had changed in the last forty-eight hours. She’d found her strength and lost the ability to feel. I didn’t hear any remorse as she spoke about beating James. All I heard was bile and revenge-stricken words. The thing I loved most about her, the heart too big for her shoulders, had been destroyed.
“I can’t live like this anymore. I can’t let the fear control every aspect of my life. I have to find a way to live.”
I watched her stand up and walk out of the room right then. She didn’t look at anyone; she just left. Carissa looked over at me, and I’d never forget the look of defeat on her face. She knew as well as I did that something was wrong, that Ava had changed.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t expected her to change. Who wouldn’t after all the shit she’d been through? Ava was the strongest woman I had ever met. She’d gone through hell and back and still found the courage to fight. Life kept fucking her over and she kept bouncing back stronger than ever.
When she walked away from me that night, I knew it was only a matter of time before she walked away for good. She was determined to move on with her life and not let James having slipped away—again—get in her way. She was full of newfound courage that radiated from her body and spewed with each word she spoke. Any fear she’d held on to was gone after her time with that psycho.
Who knew that the next time I saw her would be the last time. Ava Monroe was emotionless; now, she was gone.
You should know what a truly wonderful man you are. You chose to stay by my side when no one else would. In a few short months, we went to hell and back together. We faced all of our demons and still managed to walk out of this with our heads held high. Your decision to stay by my side and love me and fight for me will forever hold a special place in my heart. That makes this letter even harder to write.
I’m leaving, Seth. I can’t tell you where I’m going nor can I keep in contact with you. Never doubt what you meant to me, still mean to me. You are strong, courageous, and too good for my life. Too good for my past. I am not running from you, nor am I running from the pain we share. I don’t have a choice here. It’s not safe for me, for anyone anymore. I thought this was over. I was ready to spend my life devoted to you and making this work, making us work. You were my savior.
I will never forget our time together and I will always keep you in my heart. Maybe one day, when the past stays in the past, we can try again. For now, goodbye.
I love you always,
For a week now, I’d woken up, read her note, pushed the anger aside, and taken my frustrations out on the sand. Today was no different. I got myself ready to head to the beach to clear my head, making sure not to forget water today.
The drive to my father’s beach terrified me. Today, I parked, took a deep breath, and slipped off my shoes before heading to the dry sand. This beach held a special place in my heart.
I’d taken Ava here shortly after we’d met and we’d spent the night cozied up, talking about memories that were filled with happiness instead of pain. She had confided in me how peaceful she felt here, how safe.
I feel at peace here for the first time in a long time.
This beach had meant nothing to me after my relationship with my father had become strained. I wasn’t sure why I’d brought Ava here in the first place. I hadn’t visited it since my mom had passed seven years ago. After the night we spent together here, I always hoped this would be our spot. That we would make our own memories here. Now? Now I just came here to torture myself.
My feet hit the sand and I took off sprinting. The sand inched its way between my toes and somehow managed to give me strength to push myself today. I ran along the water’s edge, and as the ocean soaked my feet, I pictured Ava here only a few short weeks ago. Her eyes were closed as she stood close enough for the tide to reach her. The light glistened off her body as she released the pain and frustration she’d held. The rise and fall of her chest as she breathed in the ocean air left me in awe of her strength. I had no idea then about the mess that would come of being with me.
I had to wonder what her fate would have been had I not pursued her. Would James have made his reappearance? Would she still be living her life, clueless to the truth? Would my father still be alive?
I knew I would still be the same jackass attorney with the same jackass routine. I’d been nothing before Ava. I’d lived a bullshit life with no purpose. I’d gotten up each day, gone to work, and come home only to wake up and do it all over again. Finding out my family’s secret? That had been new. It had changed everything. I knew Ava deserved the truth about James, and as painful as it was, it was the only good that came out of his decision to come back.
One thing I was sure of—I wasn’t sorry I’d met her. I didn’t regret the time we had together, no matter how brief it was. She was the other half to my whole. Regardless of the guilt I felt, I knew it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Things happen for reasons no one will ever know or understand completely. Ava’s situation was no different. Everything that had happened had been fate, in my opinion.
I’d asked her once if she believed in fate. If she believed that our meeting had been fate. After she told me a little about James and about how he had killed Dawson’s daughter Emma, I told her that I believed it had been fate that had brought us together. When I asked if she believed in it, she told me that she was starting to. I had to hold on to that belief if I ever had the chance of being with her again, at ending this nightmare for good.
I made it back to my car, realizing that I had been running for an hour and a half. I was drenched in sweat and out of breath. Each time I ran, I hoped it would clear my head of Ava, free my thoughts of her. If only it were that simple. If anything, it made me think about her more. I was determined to find my way back to her, no matter the cost. She was worth losing everything. It was time to get out of my funk and get back the one person who meant the most to me. It was time I found that bastard and gave her what she had desired long before she met me—freedom.