fast in my life. I’m running as though the devil himself is chasing me, mud splattering up over me as I sprint toward home.
Hold on, babe, hold on.
My lungs are burning. Burning in my chest. But it’s nothing compared to the agony of not knowing if Daisy is safe. She never called back. Then I lost signal in the trees and when I tried her cell again, it wouldn’t connect.
“Fuck!” I yell as my feet pound against the hard road.
I’m almost there.
Is he there now? Is he touching her? Hurting her?
My blood courses around my body, powered by my thundering heart. I swear if he’s touched her, I will kill him.
I will fucking kill him!
This is all my fault. He found her because of that photograph. Because Cindy wanted to hurt me. I can’t believe she would do such a spiteful thing. I’m a fucking idiot! Despite trying my hardest not to, she got the wrong idea about us. She wanted revenge. And now Daisy’s the one paying the price.
Nothing can happen to Daisy. I wouldn’t survive it. I need her.
I fucking love her.
The end of the driveway comes into sight, and I power forward, willing my legs to go faster. To get me there quicker. You hear those stories about how a split second can make all the difference. What if Daisy only has a split second? I need to get there.
I must get to her.
The storm is passing, but the sky is still dark gray. The birds have stopped flying and there is an eerie silence in the air. The only sound other than the easing rain is my deep panting and the slamming of my feet on the ground.
Please be okay. Please be okay.
I race into Daisy’s driveway and see red and blue flashing lights up by the house.
The cops. An ambulance.
Relief floods my body, but is instantly replaced by numbness spreading down my fingers.
Where is she?
I swing my head around, my eyes wildly darting over the scene. There are two police cars and one ambulance up ahead. The flashing lights make it hard to see beyond them.
What the fuck happened? Where is she?
“Stop right there!” a cop calls.
I ignore him, speeding up as I race toward the cars.
“I said stop!”
“Daisy!” I yell. “Where is she? What did he do to her?”
“Sir!” he shouts again and stands in my way.
I dart around him and jump, sliding over the hood of the patrol car on my ass and landing in front of the house. I swing my head around, my heart hammering in my chest as I try to process what I can see. There are two medics tending to an unmoving body on the ground.
“Sir!” The officer rounds the car and approaches me.
I run over to the body, spots appearing in my vision as I clutch a hand to my chest and suck in deep breaths.
It can’t be her. Please don’t let it be her.
Muddy boots, black jeans…
My arms shake, and my pulse races as a medic moves to one side.
And I see him.
His face is swollen and is covered in blood. But it’s him. I’d recognize him anywhere after seeing the photos of him with his arms around Daisy on social media.
“Where is she, you piece of shit? What did you do to her?”
I reach down between the two medics and grab him around the neck. His bloodied head lolls to the side, his eyes rolled back in his head. He’s totally out cold. No fucking use to me.
Hands swarm me, grabbing my arms, as three officers appear and struggle to pull me back.
“What did he do to her?” I shout, turning to one of them.
“Sir, tell me who you are.”
“I’m her boyfriend! Where is she? Where’s Daisy?”
The officer seems to decide I’m not a threat and lowers his arms, catching the eyes of his colleagues. They release me and I look at the house. The porch steps are covered in blood. Dread twists in my stomach, making me want to hurl.
“Where is she?” I turn to the second officer, a female.
“You said you’re her boyfriend?” She looks me up and down, taking in my sweat and rain drenched clothes.
“Yes! She called me and said her ex was here. She had to hang up to call 9-1-1. But she never called back. Where is she? Please,” I beg, searching the officer’s eyes.
She holds my gaze. “We don’t know.”
They were too late. They didn’t help her.
I stare at her. I want to toss their stupid cars and light up into fucking orbit!
“What the fuck do you mean, you don’t know?” I stride past her, past the medics, and stare out over the lake. The surface of it looks dark and gray.
“Daisy!” I yell, cupping my hands around my mouth. “Daisy!”
“Sir, we’re doing everything we can.”
My eyes dart to two more officers. One searching along the edge of the lake. One searching the garden.
“Can you tell me what happened?” she probes.
“Her ex came for her, just like she said.” I don’t meet the officer’s eyes. Instead, I frantically hunt for any sign of Daisy.
Where are you, babe?
“That’s the guy on the ground?” She motions to Mickey, laid out cold.
“Didn’t she tell you this on the phone?”
I spot something orange and my heart lurches, but then I see it’s just the watering can that’s blown over into a bush.
“We didn’t speak to her. The call connected, but all control could make out was a conversation between a man and a woman. There was glass smashing and raised voices. That’s when they dispatched a unit. Me and Rogan got on scene first. Found him”—she looks at Mickey—“then called in back-up and medics.”
“Fuck.” I rake my hands back through my hair as an officer appears from inside the house.
“Found something!” he calls out.
A pressure so great that I think I may pass out builds in my chest as I look at what he’s holding up in his hand.
It’s hers. There’s no doubt in my mind.
Fear seeps through me, and it feels like my chest is about to implode. I clench my fist so hard my palm stings, and fight to hold in the contents of my stomach.
I stare up toward the officer in the doorway.
My eyes glue themselves to the blonde clump of hair hanging lifelessly in his hand.
What the fuck did that bastard do?
Time seems to stand still as he walks over to the other officer, and they talk in hushed voices. I’m aware of hands touching me, one on my back, one on my arm. And something warm and familiar pressing into my palm.
“Blake? What the hell’s going on?”
I turn and look into Kayla’s wide eyes, her hand wrapped around my arm.
“We were bringing someone home to you,” Travis says, drawing my attention to my other side, where he has one hand on my back, his face pale as he watches the medics tend to Mickey.
“Huh?” is all I can manage as I stare at him. My mind racing as it tries to process what’s happening.
Where is she? What’s he done to her? Why is there so much blood?
Travis looks back at me and then glances down. I follow his gaze and drop to my knees, my mouth dry and my chest tight as I wrap my arms around Betsy’s warm body and lean into her. She whines and licks my face.
“Where the hell have you been, girl?” I murmur as I press my face into her soft, warm fur. “Where the hell have you been?”
“Ralph dropped her into the clinic,” Kayla says. “Said he found her in his yard with Duke but couldn’t get you on your cell.”
“I lost signal,” I mutter as I run my hands up and down over Betsy’s back.
“Where’s Dee?” Kayla asks. “And who’s that?” She looks over at Mickey, unable to recognise him from all the blood on his face.
“That’s Daisy’s ex,” I spit, venom lacing my voice as I turn to look at him getting medical help. He doesn’t deserve a second of their time. Daisy needs them. She needs their help. Wherever she is. Whatever he’s done to her.
My nostrils flare as I stand. If he’s in that state, what the hell is Daisy like? I ball my hands into fists at my sides.
“Blake. What do you mean? Where is she?” Travis’ eyes are round as he looks at me.
“They can’t find her, Trav.” My voice cracks as I rub my fist against my chest. “They can’t fucking find her.”
I can feel my strength unraveling like a loose thread. Soon I’ll just be a fucking mess on the floor.
“God!” Kayla’s hand flies to her mouth and she sobs. “Has he hurt her? Has he—?”
“No,” Trav cuts in. “We can’t think like that. She’ll be okay.” He wraps his arm around Kayla as she sobs into his chest. His eyes meet mine and he gives me a look that tells me all I need to know.
He’s shitting himself almost as much as me.
Betsy grumbles next to me, nudging my hand with her nose. I stare down into her large brown eyes. She looks back at me, and I swear she knows something is wrong. She can sense it. I bend down and cup her chin with my hand.
“She’s in trouble. Daisy’s in trouble.”
Her ears prick up and she whines, then pulls her face from my hand and springs to her feet, barking at me.
“What is it, girl?”
She spins around in a circle and then bounces on her back legs, barking at me again.
Hope blooms in my chest. “Show me,” I whisper. “Show me!” I say louder and she turns, tearing off across the grass, her nose rooted to the grass as she sniffs and runs from side to side, pausing to cock her head and listen.
She’s looking for Daisy.
“Come on, girl! You can do it! Find her for me! Find her!” I fire off words of encouragement as I run after her, following her over the grass.
I stop dead.
She’s led me to the end of the jetty.
No! Fuck, no!
“Daisy!” I cry, diving into the water without hesitation.
Panic churns inside me, and I accidentally suck in a mouthful of lake water as I surface. My throat burns and I cough as I search the surface frantically for any sign of her. A ripple, a bubble, something.
I gasp and dive below the surface. All I can see is darkness—murky water where the storm clouds are cutting out almost all the light. I come up for air and then dive straight back under, coming up again with nothing.
I’ve got nothing.
She’s been down here for too long. If he put her in the lake… If he did something to her and then threw her in… then she’s…
I swallow down the acid that’s burning a hole in my throat.
No! I can’t give up on her. I will not give up on her! She did not come back into my life after ten years, to be taken like this.
I’m not letting her go.
“Daisy!” I scream, my voice growing hoarse. “Daisy!”
Betsy barks, and I turn to her. She’s standing on the edge of the jetty, scratching the wooden boards beneath her paws. She looks at me, dipping her nose over the end of the final board next to the wooden ladder, and then barks again.
The red flash of the cops’ lights illuminates the briefest flash of something behind the ladder.
Blonde strands of hair.
I throw my arms out and swim to the ladder. I’m only meters away, but it feels like miles as I fight through the water to get to her.
I swim under the jetty and grab her, pulling her limp body into my arms.
Her eyes don’t focus on me. One is swollen shut and her lip is split. Blood covers her face, her hair matted and sticking to it.
“It’s alright, babe. I’m here. You’re safe. You’re safe.”
She grunts, and her head rolls forward onto my shoulder as she passes out. Her arms are wrapped around the ladder, keeping her head just above the surface of the water.
Another split second and she would have let go.
I would have lost her.
“Help!” I scream. “I’ve found her! She needs help!”
I grab the ladder and pull us around to the front of it, climbing up it with one arm, Daisy clasped firmly to my chest with the other. Two officers run to the end of the jetty and hold out their hands, helping us up. I lay her down gently on the wooden boards, supporting her head.
The officers step back as two medics appear and take over, shining a light into Daisy’s good eye. When the torch moves, I see the extent of the giant swelling on the other side, and the blood seeping from her nose and lip.
“Fuck.” The word comes out as a strangled sob from my throat.
Betsy appears and leans into my side. I sink my nose into her fur as I shake with a mix of adrenaline, fear, and rage.
“Oh, my god!” Kayla shrieks.
I look up. Her and Travis standing further away, their eyes wide.
“He tried to kill her! He tried to fucking kill her, and I wasn’t here!” My heart drops to my stomach.
I was almost too late.
The medics have got a line into Daisy’s arm, and she’s hooked up to a bag. The sound of sterile packets being ripped opened fills the air as they patch her. Plug wounds. Stem bleeding.
Fight to help her.
Fight to put my girl back together again.
“Please save her. She’s everything to me.”
I watch, helpless as Daisy lies still, wet, and covered in blood. It’s like something out of a medical drama. She’s a patient. My beautiful, strong, loving girl is a silent patient.
I search the medics’ faces. The girl keeps working on Daisy, injecting her with something. The guy looks at me.
“She’s pretty banged up, but her pulse is strong. I’d say you’ve got a fighter on your hands.”
I scrub my hands back through my hair, my eyes filling with tears as I glue myself to her side, following and watching as they get her onto a stretcher and into the back of another ambulance, which has arrived.
“Sorry, no animals.” The female medic looks apologetic as Betsy sits on the grass at the back of the ambulance.
“Blake, we’ll take her. You go with Daisy. We’ll meet you at the hospital.”
I nod a silent thank-you at Travis and look at Kayla, who gives me a small smile, her cheeks stained with tears.
“You did good, girl.” I sniff as I press a kiss on Betsy’s smooth head. “You did good.” I pat her on the shoulder and then climb into the back of the ambulance.
The door to the hospital room opens, and Travis walks in.
“Hey, man. How are you holding up?” He places a hand on my shoulder and squeezes.
I’m leaning forward in my chair, my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands.
“I’m fine.” I turn my head to the side and look at him.
“Well, you look like shit. Why don’t you go home and take a shower? I can stay with her. Kayla’s just saying goodbye to your parents in the hallway. She can give you a lift.”
“No way.” I shake my head. “I’m not leaving her.”
“Blake. You’ll be an hour, tops. And I will call you if anything changes.”
“I said no!” I growl.
“Fine.” Travis sighs. “Just don’t say I didn’t warn you if she takes one look at your rough-ass face when she wakes up and changes her mind about you. I’m surprised the stench hasn’t woken her up already.”
“Jerk,” I mutter.
“Shit funk,” he fires back.
The corners of his mouth lift, and I try to smirk back at him, but it’s a half-assed effort. Nothing feels right about smiling or joking right now. Not when Daisy is lying in a hospital bed.
However, Travis is right. Not that I will admit that to him. I do stink.
He brought a change of clothes to the hospital for me. I was soaked after diving into the lake. But I still haven’t washed. I smell like a swamp monster that ran a marathon, and then had a fight with a skunk.
“I’m not leaving her, Trav. She hasn’t even woken up properly yet. I need to hear her voice. I need to look in her eyes and tell her I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry for, you idiot? You saved her.”
I laugh a humorless laugh as my eyes fall back to her face. She looks so fragile. The doctors have cleaned her up, but her lip is still bloody, one eye is black and swollen shut, and there are bruises scattered across her face.
“Betsy saved her. I left her. I wasn’t there when she needed me.”
“There’s no way you could have known her ex was coming, Blake.”
I blow out a breath as I watch Daisy. She’s sleeping now. She barely came round at all in the ambulance, or since she arrived. The doctor said it’s normal. Her body is exhausted.
“I should have known. After seeing Cindy and her telling me about the reporter… I should have known,” I hiss, gritting my teeth.
“You can’t think like that. So what if there was a photo? Maybe even a minor story online somewhere? The guy was all the way back in England. You could never have known he would show up like that. Neither of you could have known.”
I look over at her beaten face again, my eyes moving down to her neck. At the deep purple marks cover the delicate skin there.
His fucking hands left marks on her. On her skin. The skin I’ve spent hours stroking, kissing, losing myself and my heart to.
“I wish I’d killed him when I had the chance.” I suck a breath in through my nose, making my nostrils flare.
“When he was out cold on the floor, you mean? When your priority was Daisy, and her needing you?” Travis raises a brow at me, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Yeah, then,” I mutter, looking down at the floor.
“Blake.” His voice takes on his ‘this means business’ tone, and I know he’s about to lecture me, or ‘talk some sense into me’, as he would call it. “She needs you. She needs you to be there for her when she wakes up. Not on some vendetta about an ex who she gave it back to pretty good.”
I try to smile again, but even finding out that Mickey has a broken nose and a fractured eye socket does nothing to ease the sickening pull in the pit of my stomach.
He almost killed her.
“I’m going to go get a coffee. You want one?” Travis heads over to the door and looks back at me.
“Sure, thanks.” My eyes go back to Daisy’s face, and I pull my chair closer to her bedside.
“I’ll let your mom and dad know you’re staying. They said they were going to wait around for a while.”
“Okay.” I nod, only half listening. I’m too busy watching Daisy’s chest rise and fall as she breathes.
The door clicks shut as Travis leaves, and I reach out and take Daisy’s hand. It seems so small and fragile in mine. Her fingernails are filthy. A mix of blood and mud embedded underneath them. One of her nails is missing entirely. Ripped from her skin. I pinch the bridge of my nose with my other hand.
That fucking bastard.
The police came and took swabs earlier. From under her nails, inside her mouth, the cuts on her face. I stayed in the room with her while they photographed the marks on her neck too. The marks where he wrapped his hands so hard around her neck and tried to squeeze the life out of her. Tried to extinguish the light in my girl’s eyes.
My shoulders shake as silent sobs wrack my chest, threatening to take over my body. I draw a deep breath in through my nose and tilt my head back, blinking my eyes to force the water away.
Get it together.
I need to be strong for her. Everyone thinks I’m this brawny guy. All bravado and no depth. But with Daisy? With her, it’s different. I want to bawl like a baby at almost losing her. I want her to open her eyes so I can pour my heart out to her. Tell her she owns it. Tell her it will only ever belong to her. She makes me feel out of control, impulsive, wild, alive.
She makes me feel everything worth living for, all at once.
“God, Daisy. I know you can hear me,” I whisper. “I know you can hear me.” I squeeze her hand in mine. “I’m sorry I wasn’t faster. I should have been there. This wouldn’t have happened. You wouldn’t be here, you wouldn’t be—”
“Blake?” a raspy voice murmurs.
My eyes go wide, and I jump to my feet, leaning over the bed. I stroke her forehead. Light, gentle strokes as the lids of the eye she can open slowly prise apart.
My girl’s awake.
“Daisy?” Warmth erupts in my chest as I gaze at her. She murmurs something barely audible, and I lean closer so I can hear.
It sounds like she says schink.
“You want a drink, babe?” I reach to the cup of water on the side and hold the straw to her lips so she can have a sip.
She groans and mumbles again, “You stink.”
I look into her one open eye. She tries to smile at me and then winces.
I drop my chin to my chest, relief pouring over me.
She’s back. My girl’s back.
“It’s nice to see you again too.” I chuckle as she slowly moves her hand and laces her fingers between mine. I look at them. Seeing all the blood and mud again. My smile drops, and my voice drops to a low whisper as I raise my eyes to meet hers. “I’m so sorry, babe.”
A frustrated sigh comes from her throat, and she tries to lift the hand which is entwined with mine. I help her, lifting our joined hands up, so our elbows are resting on the mattress. She extends a finger and clumsily drops it against my lips.
“Okay.” I smile and kiss her fingertip in understanding. “I’ll stop talking.”
She moans a sound of agreement and then gives me the tiniest smile. It barely moves her lips, but it reaches her open eye, which shines back at me.
“I’d better tell the doctor you’re awake.”
She squeezes my hand to prevent me from reaching for the call button. We stare at each other for a minute, neither making a sound. We don’t have to say anything. I know from the way she’s looking at me, and the way my breath has stalled, that we are just lost in a moment.
Lost in a moment of finding one another again.
“Betsy?” she whispers.
“She’s fine, babe. Ralph found her.”
She nods, and my heart swells as she lets out a small sigh. She’s lying here, in a hospital bed, black and blue, yet her first thought is for Betsy. Not herself.
That’s Daisy all over.
I smile as I look at her. When she first came back, I knew. I’ve always known. She is the same caring, positive, loving person she’s always been. She shows it every single day.
A tear escapes her eye and slides down toward her ear. I catch it with my free thumb and stroke the side of her face.
“It’s okay, babe.” I struggle to keep my voice steady.
“He’s alive,” I growl.
Although, I wish he weren’t.
Daisy’s gaze searches mine, and I lean forward and kiss her fingertips before I answer.
“He can’t hurt you again. The police are charging him with attempted murder. Your conversation was all taped. They found your phone underneath the dresser in the kitchen. You called them, babe. You did it.”
A sob escapes Daisy’s lips, and another tear rolls down the side of her face.
I tense, pushing down the rage inside me as Travis’ words repeat in my head. She needs you to be there for her. Not on some vendetta about an ex.
“They’ve got him recorded, admitting to everything, trying to bribe you against giving evidence at the trial. And then the…” I look at the bruises on her neck and swallow. “They know he wouldn’t have stopped, Daisy. You must have fought him off hard.” I screw my eyes shut as the images flood my mind again.
Mick threatening her.
Mick cutting a chunk of her hair out.
Mick strangling her.
Me ripping him apart and feeding him to a pack of starved wolves.
“Sleep tonic,” she croaks.
“What?” My eyes pop open and I look at her.
“I gave him my sleep tonic. Four doses. Put it in his drink.”
“Daisy.” My shoulders drop, and I slowly release a breath. My chest expands and I shake off a sudden feeling of being lightheaded.
My girl’s a fighter.
I press my lips to the back of her hand. She’s so tough, so strong. I couldn’t be prouder of her.
“You’re incredible.” I can’t hold it in any longer. My eyes water as I gaze at her, so I lean over and press my lips gently to hers. “You take my fucking breath away.”
She looks at me, tears falling thick and fast from her good eye.
“I love you, Blake Anderson,” she whispers.
I rest my forehead against hers.
“And God, do I love you, Daisy Matthews.”