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Bring Me Back: Chapter 10

PHOENIX

Daily Affirmation: I am continuously working on myself and my inner peace.


An axe splitting through my skull wakes me out of a dead sleep.

I groan, clutching my forehead as I push to sit up.

“Easy, tiger.” James’s low voice startles me. “You can’t move so quickly.”

I crack one eye open. “Why do I smell bacon?”

“Is that a cop joke, or do you actually smell bacon?”

“As much as I’d love to take credit for a joke like that, I’m not that quick first thing in the morning.”

He chuckles, and it’s raspy with the sound of the morning still wrapped around his voice. “I’ve got your bacon right here. Just take it easy.”

I blink, looking around the room to clear my vision. My eyes fall on James’s smooth broad shoulders and sculpted arms. “You still don’t have a shirt on.”

He shrugs and sets a plate on my lap.

Realization sets in. “Did you not go home?”

He holds out two pills in his palm. “Once you eat, you can take these for the pain.”

“You didn’t have to stay all night.”

His bloodshot eyes flick up to mine, dark-purple crescents staining his under-eye skin. “Google said to watch for signs of a seizure in your sleep.”

My heart skips a beat. He was worried about me. “I’m fine. Go home and get some rest.”

He digs the heels of his hands into his eyes. “I actually have to go get ready for work.”

I balk. “But you were up all night.”

He waves me off and rises from the bed. “Leo will be over to check on you when he wakes up. Make sure you take those pills.”

“Wait.” I grab his hand as he turns to leave. “James.”

He stops and looks down at me.

“Thank you. That was scary last night, and I’m glad you were here with me.”

The corners of his lips turn up, and I make a mental note to figure out how to make him smile more.

He leans down and presses his soft lips against my cheek. “I’ll be back to check on you later.”

Butterflies go wild in my stomach. I watch him leave my bedroom, the low-slung sweatpants that mold perfectly to his muscular ass, accentuated by the wide span of his smooth, bare back.

But more than his physical appeal is the fact that he cared for me last night. He handled me with care, as if I’m this valuable thing. The way he made me feel in the bathtub wrapped in his arms as he washed my wounds, and again in the safety of his embrace in the bed after—I’ve never felt that secure, that important, that… good. I’ve never been able to give my pain to someone else and let him help me through it.

And it makes me want to be that for him, when he needs it. Because we all need it. We all need someone we can let our guards down with.

Maybe James and I can be that for each other.

The doubtful voice in my head whispers, He would’ve done it for anybody. He was just being nice. But my stupid, hopeful heart doesn’t want to believe a single word.

I stab the omelet with my fork and shove a huge bite into my mouth. My hand shoots up to my jaw as an aching pain slices through my face as I try to chew. What the hell do I even look like? I slide the plate off my lap and scoot in slow movements to the corner of the mattress. I grit my teeth and breathe through the pain in my ribs until I’m standing, and hobble over to the mirror above my dresser.

Jesus. Puffy purple skin surrounds one eye, and a bandage covers what must be a gash above my eyebrow. There’s a decent cut in my bottom lip too, and some bruising along my jawline. I guess it could be worse.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see James walk into his bedroom. I avert my gaze from the window on instinct, but then it slowly travels back as curiosity takes over.

If he can look, then so can I, right?

He slips on the shirt to his uniform, his large fingers working the buttons one by one. He shucks his sweatpants, and I’m reminded of how good he looked in his boxer briefs last night. Strong, thick thighs, big calves, large feet. Everything about him is large. A massive fortress of a man. He combs through his hair, styling it just so, and he even takes his time tying his shoelaces in perfect, even bows. He’s so careful and cautious in everything he does, but the memory of him losing control when he beat up his brother flashes through my mind. James holds it all together until it explodes, and I wonder just how much he’s suppressing under the surface.

Just before he leaves his room, he stops by the tall chest of drawers by his door. I lean closer and watch as he picks up a small square picture frame and stares at it.

My phone rings and my shoulders jump as I cry out and clutch my ribs. Serves me right for spying on my neighbor. “Ow, hello?”

“Ow?” Alarm fills Drew’s voice. “What’s wrong?”

I breathe and wait for the throbbing to pass. “I’m fine.”

“Clearly. What happened to you?”

“Would you believe me if I told you I went to an underground fight club and got my ass kicked by the female version of Thor?”

“I… I don’t even know where to start.”

I chuckle. “Well, it’s true. She beat me pretty good.”

“Of course she did. You don’t have any fighting skills.”

“I think I held my own in there considering who I was up against. I got in a few punches too.”

“What the hell were you doing at an underground fighting club?”

I chomp on a burned piece of bacon. “Leo took me. I thought it would be exciting to get out of the house and watch a fight. I didn’t think I’d be the main event.”

He sighs. “You’re having entirely too much fun without me. This is unacceptable.”

I grimace. “Yeah, because having my face pummeled is loads of fun.”

“So, Leo took you home and patched you up?”

“Until James got here.”

“You called James?”

“No, Leo did. He was trying to convince me to go to the hospital, but I didn’t want to. I think he thought if his brother was there, he’d get me to change my mind.”

“You know, you’re going to have to get over this fear of hospitals one day. You might really need to go, and you won’t have a choice.”

“I know, I know. I’m just not ready to be back there yet.” I push away the memory and change the subject. “How are you doing?”

“Ah, I’m good. I have my ups and downs. You know how it is.”

I nod. “I’ll be there this week for therapy. Want me to bring you anything?”

“A shovel, so I can dig myself out of here Shawshank style?”

I snort. “Something less conspicuous.”

“Fine. I also accept baked goods.”

“That I can do.”

I toss my phone onto the comforter and glance at the window one last time.

James really does have an all-access pass to my private space. I’ll have to remember to close the blinds from now on.


It’s noon when Leo shows up.

His face falls when he walks into my bedroom and sees the aftermath of my face. “Shit, Nix. I’m so sorry about last night.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.”

He gestures to my face. “Look at you.”

“You don’t look so hot yourself.”

He scoffs. “I always look hot.”

I smile and shake my head. “One day someone’s going to knock that ego right out of you.”

“Unlikely.” He glances down at his phone as it dings in his hand. “God, my brother is relentless. He has texted me every twenty minutes to remind me to check on you and tell you to take your pills.”

“Tell him I took them, and to stop worrying.”

He heaves a sigh and tosses his phone onto the bed. “Impossible. The man worries constantly. I told him he’s going to take years off his life if he keeps worrying so much.”

“I don’t think he can help it.”

He shakes his head. “It’s been bad since Mom died. It’s like he thinks he can single-handedly stop anything bad from happening to me or Dad.”

“It’s an awful way to live.” I pat the space next to me. “How old were you when your mom died?”

He lowers himself onto the bed. “Eleven. None of us expected it. It really fucked with us. My dad started drinking.”

My eyebrows shoot up. “Really?”

He nods. “He almost lost his job. They put him on leave so he could go to rehab and get his shit together.”

“I can’t picture him like that. It must’ve been so hard for him to lose her.”

“Every night, I wish it was me who died and not her.”

My heart breaks thinking about Leo not here, in this moment, on this earth. I clasp his hand and squeeze it as hard as I can. “I used to wish the same thing about my dad. I would’ve switched places with him. But we can’t. We just have to learn how to survive without them.”

I’m about to ask how she died when my phone buzzes in my lap. I show Leo the name flashing across the screen, and he snatches my phone out of my hand to answer it. “She took the damn pills, James. I’m not a complete fuckup.”

James’s impatient voice blares through the phone. “Put her on.”

But Leo hangs up on him.

I gasp. “Leo, he’s going to kill you. Stop torturing him.”

“He’s gonna call back. Watch.”

Sure enough, my phone vibrates. “Hi, James. I’m fine.”

He grunts. “Why does he have to be such a pain in the ass?”

“He’s your pain in the ass. Just remember that.”

He mutters something under his breath. “How do you feel?”

“Just sore.”

“I’m going to stop by the store to get a few ingredients before I head home later tonight. I’m making you chicken soup for dinner.”

Leo grins and shakes his head.

“You don’t have to do that, James. You’ve done plenty.”

“I know I don’t have to. Is there anything else I can get you while I’m out?”

I nudge Leo’s shoulder and whisper, “Watch this.” I clear my throat. “Actually, would you mind stopping at Barnes and Noble?”

“I can do that. What book do you want?”

“I don’t know. I read romance novels, so just pick out a variety.”

Leo clamps his hand over his mouth as his shoulders shake.

It’s quiet on the line. “James?”

“I’m here. Do you mean, like, the books with Fabio on the cover?”

I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. “No, but that’s the section you need to go to. I’ll let you pick them out for me. Read the blurbs on the back and pick whatever sounds good to you.”

“I don’t know if I’m the right person for this.”

Leo leans over. “I can make a run if you don’t think you can do it, brother.”

“No, no. It’s fine. I’ll go.”

We say goodbye, and as soon as I end the call, I double over with laughter. “Oh my god. I can’t believe he’s going to do it.”

“Damn, Nixie. I had no idea you were into spicy porn books.” Leo rubs his hands together. “This is going to be fun.”

“They’re not porn books. They just have…”

“Porn in them.”

I shove his shoulder. “Shut up and go make me a sandwich. I’m getting hungry.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Leo salutes me, and then he’s bounding into the hall and down the stairs like a kid.

Maybe he still is a kid. Maybe he’s stuck in the last stages of his life when his mom was still alive. Maybe that’s why we have such a hard time moving on from trauma, because we’re still the same person we were before it happened, only everything around us has changed. Life goes on, but we’re stuck in purgatory, replaying old memories of the good times.

The rest of the afternoon goes by as Leo and I watch old movies in bed. Neither one of us has anywhere to be, and even if he did, I don’t think he’d admit it.

“You know, you’re more like your brother than you think. Have you ever thought about becoming a police officer?”

Leo snorts. “The law isn’t my thing.”

“What about a firefighter? Or an EMT? I can see you helping people.”

“I never really thought about it.” He stares up at the ceiling. “Never saw much of a future for myself.”

A familiar feeling settles into my bones, and I drag my nail over the raised skin on my wrist. “Me either.”

“You’re young. You can still figure it out.” He shrugs. “I guess we both can.”

“Want to hear a secret that I’ve never told anyone before?”

He sits up, eyes wide. “Yes.”

“I think I want to write a book.”

“Like one of your porn books?”

I laugh. “A romance, yes. But a realistic one. Where there’s drama, and heartache, and real-life situations.”

“So do it. Start writing.”

“Yeah, I guess the only way to know if I can write a book is to just try.” A surge of excitement shoots through me. “Let’s make a pact: I’ll work on a book, and you figure out something you want to do. And we both have to have it completed by the summer.”

He arches an eyebrow. “Seriously?”

“It’ll be good to motivate each other, and it’ll give us a goal to keep us on track.” I shake his shoulders. “Come on, let’s do it.”

“Do what?” James walks into the room, and I suck in a breath.

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing him in his uniform.

“I’m trying to encourage your brother to do something with his life.”

James’s dark eyebrows jump. “Like what?”

Leo pops a nonchalant shoulder. “Maybe an EMT. Ride around and help people. I could be good at it.”

James’s eyes bounce between the two of us. “I think that’s a great idea.”

Leo makes an attempt to snatch the bag of books from James, but he pulls back before he can get to it.

I shake my head and smile. “I can’t imagine what you two were like growing up.”

“Exactly like this.” James gives Leo a playful shove. “Get out of here. Go tell Dad you’re becoming an EMT. It’ll make his day.”

Leo shoots me a wink. “See you later, Nixie. Have fun writing.”

James lowers himself onto the edge of the bed and turns his attention to me once Leo leaves. “Writing?”

My cheeks burn. “I told him I was thinking about writing a book. Maybe. I don’t know.”

He empties the contents of the bag onto the comforter. “The romance section was very… interesting.”

I sift through the books. “It looks like you knew what you were doing. Colleen Hoover is the best.”

He rubs the back of his neck. “A worker helped me. She said everyone loves Colleen Hoover, and then I threw in a couple of rom-coms because those other books sound sad.”

I imagine this big man in his police uniform picking out romance books, and I can’t help the smile that spreads across my face. “You’re really sweet, James.”

His eyes drop to his lap. “You really like these love stories?”

“I do. It’s an escape from reality, even if there isn’t a love out there like that for me.”

“Who says there isn’t?”

“I don’t know. I never thought I’d find someone who could love me like that.” I pause. “Have you ever been in love?”

His eyebrows pinch together, and the corners of his mouth pull down. “I’ve dated, and I thought I was in love once or twice. But looking back, I don’t think that’s what love is.” He glances around my room like he’s trying to find the answer somewhere. “I watched my father love my mother with every ounce of his soul, and when he lost her, it broke him. I look in his eyes now, and he’s not the same man. That terrifies me.”

“Love can be scary, but I think it’s always worth it in the end, regardless of how it turns out. It’s better to be full of love than full of… nothing.”

“Even if you end up with nothing in the end?”

I nod. “Even if you end up with nothing. At least you had something. I wouldn’t take back the years I had with my father. I’d rather the memories than to never have known him at all.”

He picks up one of the paperbacks and turns it over in his hands. “There were a lot of shirtless dudes on the covers of these books. What’s that about?”

I bark out a laugh. “Sex sells, didn’t you know that?”

“I guess it does.”

“Trust me. If your abs were on the cover of a book, it’d sell millions of copies.” My eyes widen. “Maybe you can be on the cover of my book when I’m done writing it.”

A tint of pink crawls up into his cheeks as he rises from the bed. “All right. I’m going to make you dinner.”

“Did you blush? The big bad cop just blushed?”

He walks toward the door. “Enjoy your books.”


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