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Healing comes in all shapes and sizes. Mine came in the form of Axel Wagner.
I met him at my darkest hour. He saved my life and reached out to me, offering a chance at a new beginning.
I took it and then ruined it all when I let him touch me.
He showed me compassion.
He taught me love.
He gave me hope.
He was no longer just an employer – he became my everything.
Chloe is Book 4 (5 if counting the prequel) in the Cheaters Series however it can also be read as a stand alone novel. It has a HFN ending, no cliffhangers and is intended for adult audience only.
“Chloe is a truly breathtaking and incredibly inspiring story of just how precious and life-changing hope can be to a lost and hurting soul. This story gutted my heart with its raw honesty and healed pieces back together that I didn’t realize had been broken. I couldn’t get over how utterly amazing this story is and how much it really needed to be told. The beauty and strength that lives within this astounding journey is something that everyone needs to feel and experience.” – Shadowplay, Amazon Reviewer
The twentieth floor of the high-rise didn’t appear as daunting when you looked at it from the ground up. Standing on the three-inch ledge of a balcony railing, however, softened my knees and sent my heart racing on pure adrenaline. I stretched my arms out to the sides. If I leaned over any further, the wind would steal my balance. The illuminated in-ground pool below looked like a blue drop — a distant glowing galaxy in a dark universe. People were barely visible, along with the rows of cars driving through traffic lights like an army of working ants. Behind me, the sounds of a party in full swing pulsed through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows, the music pushing the breaking limits of the balcony door.
What was I doing at a posh party anyway? With nothing but holes in my jean pockets and a rugged sweater on my back, I’d put on a pair of old black pants and a white shirt, and snuck up here as one of the catering staff hoping to grab a bite and stay off the street for as long as they’d let me. But the beautiful view of Manhattan beyond the window drew me out here. An hour had passed, probably the longest hour of my life, before I found the nerve to step up on the small glass table, then onto the railing. I was so good at balancing – not metaphorically speaking, but physically – that for the first time in my life, I felt like my mother’s persistence to polish my and my sister’s ballet skills was worth it.
Maybe I should have joined the circus.
Note to anyone who gets slammed with surprising news: don’t make life-changing decisions, the way I was about to. Damn the four years of top-dollar education that had gained me a degree in interior design. Because a week after receiving that precious paper in my hand, I was made to feel like the most useless piece of shit in the world. And the culprit of it all was none other than my boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend, at this moment. I brought my hand down to my lower belly, rubbing it gently. A lump formed in my throat, and I shut my eyes.
I shouldn’t be up here.
When I opened them, I lost my balance for a moment, but regained my composure and focused on the lit-up building ahead that illuminated the night skyline. Somewhere out there, beyond the cityscape, the hills and valleys, was my beautiful family, probably still worried because I’d left them behind without saying a word. But there was no way I’d bring shame to their names. Jack might have been my last boyfriend, but it definitely didn’t mean that he was the father. It was because of him that I didn’t even know who the father was. My attackers’ voices haunted me when I slept, and their words swirled in my head during the day when I was awake. I was afraid I’d hear them for the rest of my life. Every night since I’d left home, the memory of their gruesome comments sent me into crying mode. “Come on, bitch, you know you want it”; “Spread your legs wider for me”; “Flip her over on the table.” They’d passed me around like a rag doll for hours. Screaming didn’t help, and I stopped punching after one of them slapped me so hard that I passed out. When I came to, I wasn’t sure how many and which ones already had their way with me; and there were many more to come.
The contents of my purse scattered on the floor: my phone, my make-up, a couple of condoms. Before the party, I was sure Jack was planning on taking me back to his house to celebrate. Except he didn’t. He decided to lock lips with someone else. So I did the only thing a girl could do, and played tonsil hockey with his best friend, making sure that Jack saw us. He asked my sister to find me and bring me downstairs. When she left us, I expected an apology from him. Instead, I got a whole new appreciation for the word ‘asshole.’
I sighed, taking in a deep breath. I didn’t want to think about this any longer. I didn’t want to waste another second of my dwindling life on those bastards. That life was behind me now. “You will never touch me again,” I whispered. The pain would be over in about five seconds. My agony would end. The torture would be no more.
“Don’t do it,” someone whispered from behind me.
That alone made me want to take a step forward, but the soothing voice stilled my whole body.
“Come on. Life can’t be that bad, can it?” he asked.
I looked to the side, where a handsome man in a white shirt was leaning over the railing, looking down instead of at me. Scratch that – handsome was a definite understatement of his perfectly chiseled jaw line, broad muscular shoulders, and shoulder-length hair tied into a bun. Not the man-bun type right on top of the head, but one tied a bit lower, ponytail style, with the perfect tease all around to give his curls a puffier look.
“Are you trying to get me to talk?”
“Obviously it’s working,” he smirked, finally meeting my gaze. Those eyes were so captivating that I wondered if he’d been sent here by my guardian angel to save me.
“So, you’re the smart-ass type?”
“I’d say it takes one to know one, but I don’t want to anger you. Come on, beautiful, take my hand.” He reached out.
Why did he call me beautiful? I fell for it before, and I wasn’t about to fall for it again. I shook my head and tiptoed further away.
Fear flashed across his face before the composed look of I can handle anything the world throws at me returned. “You won’t jump,” he said.
“This isn’t Titanic. And you’re not Jack. Even if you were, I hate the name Jack, so there.”
That was true. Although Jack had been the instigator of my troubles, they were now fueled by someone much more dangerous. It was a wonder how much trouble a girl could get into in less than a month away from home.
“Ok, well, do me a favor, then. Let me at least call your parents to tell them their daughter is a pancake.”
“I don’t have any family, and eeww, that’s gross.”
“What? You think once you hit that pavement your pretty face will remain that way? No way, honey. Every bone in your body will break. Did you know there are two hundred and six bones in a human body? And the tiny ones, like your fingers and toes, hurt like a bitch. Trust me, I know.”
He cracked his knuckles as he reached out his hand, and though I looked for a crooked finger, I couldn’t find one. Instead, I couldn’t help but stare at the fine lines of his digits, their length and strength.
“And yeah, you may say that it will last only a second. But heck, I wouldn’t want to experience the last second of my life as the most painful one. I’d rather get a heart attack from fucking too hard.”
“Death isn’t supposed to be easy.”
“Hah! Yet here you are, trying to get it over with as fast as possible. That’s one heck of a double standard, gorgeous.”
“Look, if you’re trying to be a hero, don’t be. I’ll make it easier on you. Go back inside and pretend you didn’t see me.”
“How about we both go back inside, have a drink, relax, get to know each other better?” He winked. Was he trying to flirt with me? Seriously?
“I know much more about the human anatomy than you think.” His brows waggled, and I had the urge to chuckle at his blatant come-on, but refrained.
“I’m not interested. Besides, this isn’t my kind of party.”
“And you’re not the kind of girl I usually talk to, yet here we are.”
He reached out toward me again, offering his hand for the third time that night. I sort of wanted to touch it, just to feel how strong it was. His long fingers looked soft, and when I met his gaze again, my heart started drumming out of control. It was as if all that adrenaline running through my veins was now concentrated in my chest.
I couldn’t stand that look of fear on his face. I didn’t want him disappointed in me. I never wanted to disappoint anyone again. If I jumped now, he’d have nightmares for the rest of his life, and I would never know the feel of his touch.
Slowly, I extended my hand toward him. A hungry gust of wind blew, knocking me off balance. My foot slipped and half my body leaned over the side.
This was it.
I could see the red blob on the sidewalk in my mind’s eye: it was gross, and my face was unrecognizable, just a clump of torn flesh and blood. I kept my eyes shut, waiting for the second-long pain to hit when I met the pavement… but instead, I felt the softness of another body. I opened my eyes to find myself in this man’s strong arms. He pulled me in so hard that we both ended up on the balcony floor. Well, it was more like him on the floor and me in his lap, straddling him as he held on tight. Our breathing was out of control. I stared into his gorgeous eyes, and his mouth was so close to mine, it was difficult not to want to taste it. It was similar to the lust-filled feelings I’d had with my ex-boyfriend, and that didn’t do me any good. Thank God I’d had a chance to shower the night before at the shelter; otherwise this gorgeous man would have gotten a nasty whiff of ‘girl living on the street,’ and I didn’t want to give him a worse impression than I already had.
I pulled away, but he was careful to stand between me and the railing.
“You caught me.”
“Nah, I think you just wanted to fall into my arms. Come on, let’s grab a drink.”
That’s it? No mention of how stupid I was to be standing on a twentieth-floor balcony ledge?
He took my hand. The feel of his skin was totally worth not jumping. While part of me wanted to tell him to leave me the hell alone and climb back up onto the railing, another part was so intrigued by this man that I couldn’t wait to spend more time with him and to get to know him. I slowly began imagining how the rest of his body would feel against mine. I grabbed my backpack with my few belongings from the corner with my free hand. It was so easy to follow him and to trust him — too easy, in fact.
Would I fall prey to male charm once again? I’d made two such mistakes in recent months, one of those earlier this evening when I’d almost gotten killed, and I didn’t want to make a third.
Maybe the third time is a charm.
I darned hoped so, because being disappointed by this man wasn’t an option.
Little did I know he would permanently change my life.