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The Guardian’s Mark

Angels and demons are a myth…or so Ava thought. A fateful meeting with a celestial guardian is all it takes to change her entire world. She has one chance to prove herself and save the human race, but is Ava really everything they’re hoping for?

Age Rating: 16+

 

The Guardian’s Mark by Createtorelease is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

The app has received recognition from BBC, Forbes and The Guardian for being the hottest app for explosive new Romance novels.
Ali Albazaz, Founder and CEO of Inkitt, on BBC The Five-Month-Old Storytelling App Galatea Is Already A Multimillion-Dollar Business Paulo Coelho tells readers: buy my book after you've read it – if you liked it

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

1

Destiny. Life purpose. True identity. Three examples of the many ways of describing the heart’s deepest desire. Above all, we want to find our destiny in life. What we’re meant to be and accomplish.

Who we’re meant to be with. The path we’re intended to follow.

My path had always been foggy but I pressed on nonetheless, hoping for an inkling of insight. I was not prepared, however, for what I would find and how quickly everything would change.

One night would alter my life so drastically it would be almost impossible to comprehend. How could I, a lone girl struggling to find herself in the bustling city of New York, be as important as I would soon find out I was?

My life and choices following this particular night would ultimately decide not only my own future, but the future of the human race.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself in telling the story though, so let’s start from the beginning of that night. The night that started a chain reaction of chaotic events that would leave me forever changed.

It was my best friend’s birthday and she had organized a dinner and a night out on the town afterward.

Some of our closest friends would be there and seeing as how we were all in our mid twenties, half were in relationships or married.

The other half were still trying to figure out how the heck to travel around the world while still paying their bills on time.

I was one of the few in between. Comfortable in my life and undeniably responsible but not quite settled yet.

I was twenty-six and lived alone in a simple one-bedroom apartment. I worked as an assistant to a wonderful veterinarian while also doing freelance photography.

Photography was my passion but animals were my heart so as long as I had them both in my life I was happy. I didn’t need much more than that.

“Well, you know what I need? I need for Mal to not be late tonight because being fashionably late stops being cute after about the tenth time. I love him but our schedules are so opposite.”

I smiled at Harper, the best and most loyal friend I could ask for, a woman who also happened to have very little patience for men.

Her boyfriend, Malachi, was known for being late to literally everything, whether it be five minutes or fifty. And he was late now, seeing as we had just been seated at our table and he was nowhere in sight.

“Maybe he’s taking so long because he’s out buying you that diamond bracelet you wanted and he’s having a hard time deciding on wrapping paper.”

Harper laughed, her brilliant green eyes flashing with that birthday glow.

“If that’s the case, he can be late for the rest of his life. Diamonds are apology enough.”

She tucked some of her dirty blond hair behind her ear, lowering her voice so the other ten or so at the table wouldn’t hear.

“So I heard Carter is coming with him. Is that okay?”

No, no, absolutely not.

“It’s fine. I’ve moved past it so it won’t be awkward.”

Yes, yes it will.

Harper gave me the look that said she knew I was lying but didn’t speak on it.

“Alright, if you’re okay with it I won’t tell security to throw him out. Let me know if you change your mind though.”

I nodded. “You got it.”

The one thing I loved and envied about my best friend was her strong personality. She was kind but not a pushover and didn’t hesitate to put a person in their place if they deserved it.

I wasn’t exactly a pushover but sometimes I felt like it. I was more of the passive aggressive type and preferred to hide in my shell rather than speak on whatever was bothering me.

This part of my personality was something I was working on. Luckily, Harper’s sharp tongue was almost always around to defend my honor.

“Harper! Should we order a round of drinks?” our friend, Zoey, shouted from the other end of the table, the waitress beside her.

Zoey was a wild card and always the life of the party, her hair color changing as often as her mood.

At the moment it was a jet black that blended half way down into a deep blue color, the perfect ringlets reaching halfway down her back. She was of Mexican and Irish descent which created a beautiful eye catching mix.

Next to Harper, she was runner up on the best friend scale and just as loyal.

The rest of the people present were other friends, coworkers, or cousins of Harper’s, numbering fourteen in total. Now just missing were Harper’s boyfriend and my ex-boyfriend.

“Order whatever—Heeeey. Finally!”

And now everyone was here.

Malachi had just walked up to where our table was located in the private back room of the upscale Japanese restaurant. If there were anyone in the world perfect for Harper, it was Malachi.

He reached five inches over her five-nine height and had the most lovable personality of anyone at the table.

He was African and German which had given him short dark curls and a beige skin tone that blended well with his hazel eyes.

He was my ex’s best friend as well as business partner and never missed an opportunity to dress well, thus why he was always running late.

Tonight he donned a freshly pressed navy suit with a white collared shirt and brown loafers.

Harper loved the fashion guru side of her boyfriend no matter how much she complained about his timeliness. It was sort of her way of complimenting the amount of effort he put into his appearance.

“Sorry, we got stuck on the bridge because of some accident. Luckily, nothing can keep me from my baby’s birthday dinner.”

Harper rolled her eyes and stood to kiss her boyfriend before he began working his way around the table, shaking hands with everyone.

I stood to greet him next when I saw the one person I was never prepared to see over his shoulder.

Carter.

As much as I wanted to deny my attraction to him, he looked good and I was always unable to push away that familiar flutter of my heart whenever I saw him.

Carter was similar to his best friend in style but gave it his own twist.

His mom was Australian while his dad was Irish, and they’d managed to create one of the most handsome men in Manhattan, the same height as his friend with the build of a soccer player and the face of a model.

His dark brown wavy locks were always perfectly swept back by mousse and his striking light blue eyes had the ability to pull you in and make you forget your own name.

For tonight’s occasion he wore a tailored black suit and light grey collared shirt, his black leather shoes glinting in the red restaurant lights. He always looked good and it always drove me nuts.

It took only a few moments for Carter to notice me and as soon as his blue eyes locked with my hazel ones, I was a goner.

Malachi gave me a hug and said something that I barely registered before turning to Harper’s cousin for some small talk. I had about five seconds to calm my nerves as Carter approached me.

He stopped a bit closer than comfortable and placed a hand in his pocket, lifting the corner of his mouth. “Hello, Ava.”

I smiled politely, straightening my posture, although I knew my five-eight frame would never reach his six-two, even in the small heels I wore.

“Hi, Carter. How are you?”

“I’m good. You look great.”

“You too.”

“And you cut your hair.”

I couldn’t tell from his expression whether he liked my new look, but if he didn’t he was doing a good job of hiding it.

My normally long, thick chocolate hair was now just above shoulder length and streaked with a lighter brown color.

Instead of the large curls I usually had, I’d calmed them into waves and pinned one side back behind my ear.

My style of dress hadn’t changed though so I was wearing a simple black silk dress with crisscross straps in the back that reached my knees and a simple gold arm cuff.

Carter and I had always looked like your ideal couple and even now we looked like something out of a Vogue photoshoot.

“I just felt like a change.”

Carter reached up and touched a ringlet that hung by my cheek, his blue eyes never leaving my face.

“Change looks good on you.”

I smiled and broke the gaze, glancing down at his collar.

“Thank you. I like it too. I feel like it’s more me.”

Carter dropped his hand and pushed it into his other pocket, his body stiff as a board.

“It is. Keep it.”

Malachi interrupted then, coming up behind Carter and placing a hand on his best friend’s shoulder.

“Let me know when he starts bothering you so I can handcuff him to the table leg.”

I smiled at Malachi, feeling some of the tension between Carter and I lift.

“He’s doing alright so you can keep your handcuffs put away for now.”

Carter grinned as he responded to his friend but his eyes never left mine.

“You better hide those handcuffs from Harper before she remembers why she was mad at you in the first place.”

“Too true. Let’s sit down and distract her with conversation before she has a moment to think.”

Malachi winked and turned around to pull out his girlfriend’s chair at the head of the table. Harper smirked knowingly at him as she sat.

“After you.” Carter pulled out my chair and waited until I was seated before taking a seat beside me.

I knew what he was doing. Pulling the gentleman card to get back in my good graces whether or not his intention was to restart our relationship. Unfortunately, it was working.

That was one of the two qualities I’d always loved about him: his drive and his manners. Two of the things his father had instilled in him despite their complicated relationship.

Aside from the awkwardness I felt from all of us together after my break up with Carter, Harper was happy and having a good time.

That meant I needed to be a good friend and put aside my feelings for the night and treat Carter amiably.

“Shots are here!” Zoey shouted.

Pink shots were passed around the table until each person had their own.

Harper held hers up, smiling as her gaze traveled over everyone.

“Thank you to everyone for coming out. I love you all so much. Let’s have some fun tonight!”

The table cheers-ed before downing their shots. I knew I was going to be warm and fuzzy after this since I rarely drank. Hopefully I’d be able to keep my distance from Carter despite how good his cologne smelled.

Tonight was going to be interesting, to say the least.

After dinner, we headed a couple blocks down the street to a new club in the area. A place on the twenty-first floor of a skyscraper with a rooftop lounge.

Our group started off with some mingling and drinks on the outdoor patio before heading to the actual club inside.

Harper and Malachi were on the dance floor immediately as everyone in our group dispersed, leaving Zoey and I to stand near the bar with our drinks and gossip.

“So is it weird seeing him? I know it’s been a few months.”

Carter was standing a few feet away with two of Harper’s coworkers, talking and laughing and looking the most comfortable I’d seen him all night.

I pulled my gaze away just as he glanced in my direction and looked at Zoey.

“It is but I can’t just avoid him. I just don’t like this déjà vu feeling. It’s been eight months but all I have to do is see him and it feels like the break-up happened yesterday.”

Zoey smiled lightly in understanding.

“Well, at least you’ve had some time to process everything and get over the crappy part. Do you think you could ever forgive him?”

I shrugged, knowing I’d spent countless hours thinking about that very question but still unable to come up with an answer.

“I don’t know. I know he regrets everything but I don’t think I can so easily forgive and forget.”

“Oh trust me, you don’t want to forget. If they’ve done it once, they can do it again. That’s just how men are.”

Zoey was a smart person but her opinion was definitely biased. She was constantly in and out of a five years and running relationship with her boyfriend James.

He would cheat and then try to flip the blame, somehow pinning it all on her. My situation wasn’t too crazy different but it was hard to listen to the advice of someone who couldn’t make a straight edged decision.

“True. Sometimes. But sometimes they change…”

Zoey’s eyes widened suddenly and she shushed me, whispering in a hushed tone. “Shh! He’s coming over.”

Crap, I had been planning to keep my distance the rest of the night. Guess that wasn’t going to happen.

“Am I interrupting something? Hello, Zoey, nice to see you.”

Carter had just walked up and leaned around me to place his empty glass on the neon lit bar counter.

I got another whiff of his cologne and felt a chill run down my spine as he pulled away, standing beside me.

Zoey smiled politely, a better actress than I could ever hope to be.

“Nice to see you, Carter. How’s life?”

Carter placed his hands in his pockets. “It’s good. Can’t complain. Would you ladies like a drink?”

Zoey kept her smile polite, although it was clear she was ready to get out of this uncomfortable situation.

“I’m good, thanks. I was actually just going to go find a dance partner so I’ll see you two out there.”

Damn. She was leaving us alone, knowing full well I wasn’t strong enough to blow him off.

My traitor of a friend gulped down the rest of her drink before walking away and grabbing one of the guys Carter had been talking to on the way to the dance floor.

The deep electro beat filled the entire room and vibrated through the floors, but was low enough so that people mingling around the bar could conversate without shouting.

Which meant I couldn’t pretend to not hear my ex-boyfriend speaking to me.

Carter moved to stand in Zoey’s place, facing me, and leaned one arm on the counter to place a drink order with the bartender.

“Want anything?” he asked me.

I started to decline the offer but then realized I had decided to have a little fun tonight and a third drink wouldn’t kill me.

“Sure. A vodka tonic. Thank you.”

Carter told the bartender and then turned his full attention to me. “So how is everything? You still work for the same doctor?”

I shifted my weight, playing with the straw in my empty drink. “Yes. Going on three years now.”

“Lucky guy. Good for you.”

My heart was beating wildly in my chest and I thanked God for the ability I had to remain calm on the outside. “Thanks. How is business with Malachi?”

“It’s good. We just bought another restaurant and the remodel starts next week so we’re doing well. Look, Ava, I wanted to apologize to you…”

Now this I was not expecting.

“I know I apologized back then but I feel like in the moment it just didn’t seem genuine to you.”

He was right. It hadn’t. When you find out your boyfriend is leaving you for his ex it’s hard to really accept anything he says afterward.

Carter didn’t look uncomfortable, but he did look sincere, which was new because he never had been very good at apologizing.

“I’m sorry about what happened. I was an idiot and didn’t realize what I had until I’d lost it. You didn’t deserve to be treated that way and if I could take it back I would.”

My chest suddenly felt heavy and there was a burning in my throat, which I hoped was from my drink and not from the strong emotions I was suddenly feeling.

“Thank you. I really appreciate that…” And I truly did. I just didn’t know if I could ever let it go. He had been the love of my life and in one moment had turned into a person I didn’t even recognize.

The bartender arrived with our drinks to which Carter thanked him and told him to close the tab.

I was surprised. Carter had always enjoyed a night of drinking or a good bottle of wine at home. It seemed tonight he was taking it slow.

He handed me my drink and held out his own. “Cheers. To new beginnings.”

I clinked my glass against his and took a sip before making a decision I wasn’t really sure about.

“Want to dance?”

Carter smirked but it wasn’t cocky, it was almost shy. “Sure. After you.”

I avoided eye contact as I headed to the dance floor, feeling tingles on the back of my neck as he followed closely behind.

All I wanted in that moment was to get a little buzzed and dance the night away, losing myself to the music and forgetting all of my problems.

A while later I was a bit more than buzzed and Carter and I had moved past the awkward stage and into full-on flirtation territory.

We danced the night away, joining Harper and Malachi a few times, and conversed like two people with no grudges between them.

The club would be closing soon so Carter and I were at the bar sharing a water, laughing about an inside joke I’d almost forgotten about.

“Y’know, I don’t want to seem paranoid but some guy has been watching you all night and I might have to kiss you to make him stop.”

I laughed and turned to follow Carter’s gaze, spotting a man in an all black suit at one of the VIP tables.

He didn’t seem like one of those creepy belligerent men with no personal boundaries, but he also had this dark aura about him that I couldn’t decipher.

His eyes were dark and as soon as they found mine I felt a strange feeling come over me. Like this man was not only a threat but something more.

I quickly turned my gaze back to Carter, who was still eyeing the man.

“Do you know him?” he asked me.

“No…” I said. “Don’t start anything though. He’ll go away.”

Carter finally pulled his eyes away from the dark stranger and let them settle on me. He reached out to take my free hand, rubbing his thumb over my wrist.

“I won’t. Want to see if Harper’s ready to go? This place is shutting down soon.”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

I surprised myself by letting Carter continue to hold my hand as he led us back onto the dance floor.

Harper was talking with Malachi, Zoey, and a couple of her coworkers, clearly past the drunk stage and into full on stumbling territory.

“Hey, you guys ready to head out? They’re closing soon.”

Harper chugged the last of the rum and coke she held and nodded, swaying to the music. “Let’s go! I want pizza!”

I smiled at my drunk friend. Looked like she was having a good time.

Carter didn’t reach for my hand as we all headed for the elevator and I was glad. I knew the weird looks I’d get from my friends and I didn’t want to give anyone hope just yet.

We took the elevator to the ground floor, Carter nudging my shoulder as we walked out of the lobby, greeted by the warm summer night.

“Did you have fun tonight?”

I nodded, staring at a streetlamp so as to avoid his eyes. “I did. Did you?”

He nodded, our group stopping just in front of the club while a couple people went to hail cabs.

“So…I don’t want to be too forward but I have to take advantage of a good moment. Can we get a coffee sometime? Just something casual so we can kind of….start over.”

My heart fluttered at the sound of this. I wanted nothing more than to forgive and move on but I couldn’t.

There were so many factors I had to think about and I felt I’d be a fool if I forgot about them and blindly said yes.

What was the reason now anyway? He’d had months to try and contact me and make things better. Why now?

“Carter…” His name had barely left my lips when someone pushed between us, shoving Carter out of the way and bumping into me.

“Hey man! Watch where you’re going,” Carter shouted after the stranger.

I looked up at the man and felt dread wash over me. I’d suddenly become light-headed and as the man turned to look back I saw that it was the same one from the VIP table earlier that had been staring at me.

He now had on a black pea coat with the collar up, his gelled black hair glinting in the streetlamp light. His eyes were what I noticed had changed though.

They were still dark and sinister but they flashed red, the corner of his mouth lifting into a smile. A moment later he was gone, disappearing into the crowd.

“Y’know I love New York but I could do without some of the people. What a prick.” Carter was re-adjusting his suit jacket, staring after where the man had been standing.

“Carter.” I felt short of breath and my vision began to blur. What was happening? A panic attack?

“What?” He looked up, freezing.

I looked down, time slowing as if it were now in slow motion. I didn’t know when I’d reached up to grab my side but as I pulled my hand away all I saw was dark red. What had just happened?

“Oh my God, Ava.” Carter’s voice had gone from annoyed to panicked.

I exhaled and felt my knees buckle, too weak to support my weight any longer.

Carter caught me before I hit the cement sidewalk, cradling my head in his arm.

“Jesus, Ava. Hold on. Mal! Call 911!”

I felt him shift and lay me down but I could barely see. My vision was foggy and the streetlight was so bright it blocked out half of his worried face.

“Stay awake, Ava. It’s going to be alright.”

I heard a ripping sound over the ringing in my ears and figured he was ripping open the slit in my dress where the man stabbed me.

“Oh my God, Ava!” Harper’s panicked voice came near and then I felt her pick up my hand, squeezing it tight. “What the hell happened?” she asked Carter.

Carter quickly shook off his blazer, wadding it up into a ball and pressed it against my side, causing me to cry out.

“I don’t know. Some guy ran into us and he must have stabbed her then. I didn’t even see him do it.”

A crowd had gathered around to watch, looks of shock and horror on their faces as they whispered to each other.

Malachi was talking on his cell phone, stumbling over his words as he tried to tell the police where we were and what had happened.

Amidst all the chaos, I felt unexpectedly calm. Maybe it was the loss of blood that had numbed me but I’d only felt scared for a moment and now I was just tired.

“Ava, look at me,” Carter said, sounding much more worried than I felt.

I switched my gaze from the dark sky to his face. My calm and collected ex-boyfriend looked frazzled for the first time in a long time and I wasn’t sure why. I couldn’t speak, though I wanted to. I was so exhausted.

“Stay with me, baby. You have to stay awake, okay?”

I nodded, unable to form the simple word ‘Yes’.

“Mal!” Carter shouted. “Are they almost here?!”

“Two minutes!” Malachi responded.

Why was everyone yelling? I felt fine and I was sure I would be alright. I just needed to rest a little.

“Ava! Don’t you dare close your eyes.”

I was starting to drift off when I heard a loud boom and the ground shook like an earthquake, bringing me out of my dreamy state.

Carter whipped his head back and there was a moment of silence as a blinding light engulfed everything around us. I was only partially aware of Harper’s hand releasing mine and then Carter pulling away.

I felt scared suddenly. Where had everyone gone and what was this blinding light?

The ringing in my ears subsided and there was nothing but white silence. I felt an unknown presence approach and someone slowly kneel beside me.

“Hello, Ava.”

The voice was smooth and calm, a man’s voice that filled me with warmth and reassurance. A voice I had never heard before but immediately trusted.

A face moved into the light and it took a moment for my eyes to adjust. When they did, the first thing I saw were these electric green eyes with more depth and emotion than I’d ever seen before.

I felt as if he wasn’t just looking at me but looking into me, searching for something. A moment later the rest of his face appeared and I saw him.

Pale ivory skin. Dark red hair that ran down along his jaw and over his upper lip. Despite the facial hair he looked young, maybe late twenties. I’d never seen him before in my life but I was sure he knew me.

“It’s not time for you to go yet.”

I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding, my eyes filling with tears. “It’s not?”

He smiled kindly. “No…”

I felt a warmth over my stab wound and realized it was his hand.

“Okay…”

He broke eye contact to look down at my abdomen and as he did, the blinding light engulfed every inch of my sight, swallowing him up.

Every nerve ending in my body felt ignited, pulsing with an energy more powerful than anything I’d ever known existed.

And then my vision went spiraling down a dark tunnel and all was black.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

2

The beeping came first. A steady sound like the beat of a heart.

I slowly peeled my eyelids back, groggy and confused. The blinding light was gone and replaced by a dull one, covered in shadows. Where was I?

It took a moment for my sight to adjust, but once it did I realized I was looking at a white ceiling.

I dropped my gaze and saw that I was lying in a bed in a…hospital room?

Glancing to the left I noticed a figure asleep in a chair, a white blanket covering everything but their face. It took me a moment to realize it was Carter. Had he been here a while?

I struggled to sit up and was surprised to find no sign of aching in my body. If anything, I felt energized.

Carter grunted, his eyelids fluttered open at the sound of rustling sheets. Realization dawned on him in a matter of milliseconds and he sat up, pushing the blanket away and reaching for my hand.

“Ava. You’re awake.”

I nodded, running a hand through my no doubt greasy hair.

“I am. Hi.” Awkward much? I’d never woken up in a hospital before so I didn’t really know what to say.

“Hey.”

Some of the worry drained out of Carter’s eyes but he still looked a mess, shirt wrinkled, tie discarded over the armrest of the chair. His brown hair was tousled, eyes bloodshot.

He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days.

“How are you feeling?”

I sat back against the raised bed and used my free hand to play with a loose string in the blanket over my legs. I felt guilty for some reason.

I’d never seen Carter anything but composed and I’d single handedly managed to unravel him.

“I feel alright. Pretty good, actually. How long was I sleeping?”

Carter rubbed his eyes and then pushed his hand through his hair. “Um… Since Friday night so…almost two days?”

“Wait, it’s Sunday?” I looked over at the curtains covering the window and realized the sunlight was peeking through them.

“Yeah, it’s…” he looked down at his watch. “Almost three.”

I had slept through a full day and half another? No wonder I felt so well rested.

I turned back to Carter. “And you haven’t gone home?”

Carter sat up, looking slightly uncomfortable with the question.

“I left a couple times to eat. I just wanted to wait for you to wake up… No one should wake up alone.”

Despite our past, I felt grateful to him for caring so much. He was right. I might have panicked had I not had someone familiar at my side.

I smiled lightly. “Thank you.”

I wanted to ask the question that had been at the forefront of my mind since I’d woken up: Who was the man I’d seen? I felt though that now wasn’t the time.

Carter nodded. “Anytime…”

And a second later the moment was gone.

“I’m going to get the doctor.” He stood and stretched, looking as tired as he probably felt, then leaned over to kiss my forehead. “And some coffee. I’ll be back.”

I smiled at him and waited until he’d left the room to settle back into the pillow and contemplate what exactly had happened two days ago. I’d been stabbed and…wait.

I put my hand over my abdomen and felt no bandage under the hospital gown. What?

I quickly sat up and pushed off the white blanket, pulling up the gown. Where I expected to see stitches I saw…nothing.

My skin was smooth. No scar or any kind of evidence that I’d been stabbed.

I pulled the gown back down and looked at my hands. If they’d been covered in blood the nurses had washed them well…or there’d never been any blood to begin with…

Had I dreamt it all?

“Well, look who’s awake.”

A doctor had just entered the room, an older man with graying brown hair and kind eyes.

“Hello, Ava. I’m Doctor Ashcroft. How are you feeling?” He came to stand next to the far side of the bed and checked the beeping monitor.

“Um…I feel alright.”

“Do you remember what happened?” He fiddled with a few things before turning to look expectantly at me.

“I…” I remember being stabbed and a strange man possibly saving my life and healing me? “I’m not sure.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?”

Carter entered the room holding a paper cup of coffee, his free hand in his pocket. He came to stand beside the bed, almost in a protective way, his eyes on the doctor.

“I remember being outside the club where we were celebrating my friend’s birthday. We were hailing a cab and then…that’s it.”

I didn’t know why I didn’t want to tell him about what I thought had happened.

I figured that if I wanted to get out of the hospital that day not wearing a straitjacket, I’d have to omit the part where a mysterious stranger saved my life.

“Well…” Doctor Ashcroft set the clipboard on the table beside him. “It seems you passed out which we attribute to the alcohol poisoning.”

Alcohol poisoning? I’d barely gotten buzzed. “Oh…”

The doctor’s tone turned slightly berating. “Luckily your friends called 911. You were severely dehydrated when the paramedics arrived.”

He said it as if I had a drinking problem. Which I didn’t, seeing as how I only drank on special occasions and even then kept it to a minimum.

“When will she be alright to go home?” Carter asked.

He’d interrupted the possible beginning of a lecture and asked what I’d been wondering. My gratitude to Carter had just gone up a notch.

“Well, we need to monitor her for a bit to make sure her vitals are good but there are no signs of permanent damage so we should have her out in a couple hours.”

“Okay, thank you, doctor.” Carter’s business tone was clipped and I knew he was basically telling Doctor Ashcroft to do his job and get out.

Doctor Ashcroft sighed and picked up his clipboard. “I’ll send one of the nurses in. Do you need anything in the meantime or have any questions?”

I smiled politely at him. “No, I’m fine. Thank you.”

“Alright.”

Carter sipped his coffee and waited until the doctor had left the room before sitting down on the bed and resting the coffee atop his leg.

“Do you want me to call anyone? Your mom?”

“No, she’ll only freak out and I don’t want to worry her if I’m fine.” I looked up at him and smiled. He seemed a lot more relaxed than he’d been minutes ago. More himself. Although still exhausted.

“Thank you again.”

He looked confused. “For what?”

“For being here. I wasn’t really expecting you to…”

“What? Care?” He shifted his weight, turning his body toward me and looking directly into my eyes. “Ava, despite everything, I’ll always care about you. Probably more than you know.”

I reached out and took his hand, lacing my fingers with his familiar ones. “I know now…”

I was released a few hours later as Doctor Ashcroft had promised. Carter drove me home to where I promptly showered and blow-dried my hair. Two simple things that had me feeling refreshed and brand new.

I slipped on a pair of track pants and a white t-shirt before walking out to my living room where I’d left Carter.

He was sitting on my white couch, elbows on his knees as he scrolled through his phone, probably responding to work emails.

As one of the youngest business owners in Manhattan, work never stopped for him.

“Hey.”

He looked up as I entered the room and smiled. “Hey. Feel better?”

I pushed some of my hair behind my ear, returning the smile. “Yes. I always took showers for granted. I won’t be doing that anymore.”

He grinned. “I know what you mean.”

He stood and slipped his phone into his pocket, grabbing his keys from the coffee table.

“I have to run by the office and take care of a few things for tomorrow but I was thinking I could bring you dinner afterward? So you can just relax and don’t have to cook.”

Carter had always been a nice and generous guy but this side of him was taking it to another level. “Sure. Sounds nice. Thank you.”

He nodded, stepping toward me. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”

It was digging at me and I’d regret it if I didn’t ask him. “Carter…why are you being so nice to me?”

He didn’t seem surprised I’d asked but looked at a loss for words, glancing away for a moment.

“I just…” He brought his eyes back to mine.

“I never realized how much I took you for granted, Ava. And I know I’m not exactly the most honest when it comes to my feelings but…for one horrifying second I thought I might lose you and never get to tell you how much I care.”

Wow. I hadn’t expected that at all. He was right too. As long as I’d known him, Carter had been the type to bottle up his emotions and hide them from the world.

I’d only had him be this truly honest with me a handful of times.

“Well, you didn’t lose me.” I reached down to take his hand. “And I’m sorry you had to feel that.”

He reached up to cup my face, running his thumb over my flushed cheek. “It’s not your fault. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

I wasn’t sure if he would reciprocate but I suddenly needed to hug him. I released his hand and slid my arms around his torso, pressing my face into his chest.

Surprisingly, he didn’t hesitate and wrapped his arms around me, resting his chin atop my head. We held onto each other for a few moments before pulling apart, allowing him room to place a kiss on my forehead.

“I’ll be back in a bit.”

I smiled as he walked out before sitting on my couch and picking up my freshly charged phone, which undoubtedly would have a plethora of missed calls and texts.

I didn’t know where Carter and I stood but I didn’t want to worry about it. I was just happy he was here.

***

“Ava! Oh my goodness, I am so happy to see you.” Harper spread her arms wide and pulled me into a bone-crunching hug.

“I thought I was going to go crazy not seeing you for so long. I stopped by the hospital a couple times but you were still out.”

I returned Harper’s hug then pulled back and smiled reassuringly at her. “I’m happy to see you too. And yeah, apparently I slept through a few days.”

Harper lifted the strap of her satchel over her blond head and hung it over her chair before sitting down at the small table I’d picked in the cozy little diner we’d met at for breakfast.

I seated myself across her and opened my menu.

“So how do you feel? You really gave us all a scare.”

I was scaring myself with this story I’d evidently dreamed up.

“I’m fine. I actually felt really good when I woke up. I guess sleeping thirty-six hours will do that to you.”

“I bet.” Harper rested her elbows on the table, ignoring her menu. “And I heard Carter never left your side.”

Dammit. I wasn’t ready to talk about Carter because I didn’t even know what we were.

He’d come back a few hours later with dinner as promised and we’d watched a movie after which he’d headed home, only kissing my cheek. I didn’t know what it meant but I didn’t want to overthink it.

“Yes, he stayed at the hospital with me and took me home, which was really sweet of him.” I looked down at my menu, pretending not to notice Harper’s raised brow.

“Right…and what else? Did you two talk about things?”

I wasn’t going to get out of talking about Carter and I kind of wanted to talk to her about him anyway. Find out if she knew anything I didn’t.

“Yes…” I set my menu down. “He apologized for everything and said he still cares about me. We didn’t really talk about any kind of future. He was just…there for me.”

Harper smiled.

“I’m happy for you. Malachi told me not to tell you but I think I can tell you now since things have changed.

“He said Carter came to him a few weeks ago and said he hasn’t been able to let you go and that he thinks he made a huge mistake. That’s partially why he came out for my birthday. He wanted to see you.”

Well, this was unexpected news. “I didn’t know that.” So he wanted to get back together…?

“He said the only reason he broke it off before was because he was scared. So he went running back to someone he knew wouldn’t scare him.”

“You mean he dumped me to get back with his ex. Yes, I remember.”

And I tried not to think about it…but I failed almost every day.

Eight months ago Carter had told me he just didn’t think we were good together. And then a week later he’d shown up to an outing with all of our friends, his ex-girlfriend on his arm.

A woman he had left because she’d cheated on him with one of his employees. I had been furious and left, crying myself to sleep that night.

Carter had been the love of my life and in less than a week had moved on. I’d been so angry at him for so long until I finally realized that holding on to that anger was only hurting myself.

“I know. He’s an asshole for that. But I think he really is sorry. And you know how I feel about cheating so you also know I’m not just saying this to say it. Do you think you could forgive him?”

“I don’t know…” With what he’d shown me, I knew I could, but I was afraid that fear of being hurt again might never go away. “I know he means what he says but I don’t know if I can move past it.”

“Understandable. Well, you know I’m on your side and what he did was unforgivable. But if he has changed, maybe you should give him a chance.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Deal. I’ll tell Malachi not to purchase that best man suit just yet.”

I grinned and returned my eyes to my menu, sighing inwardly. That was when it occurred to me. Maybe I should ask Harper what she remembered about that night.

“Hey, I have a question.”

My best friend looked up from her menu. “What’s up?”

“What do you remember from Friday? Like, what happened?”

“You don’t remember?”

I shrugged. “I do but it’s all foggy.”

“Well, we were trying to get a cab when all of a sudden Carter was yelling at Malachi to call 911. When I turned to look back, you were lying on the ground and looked really pale.

“So I went over to you and Carter said you’d just dropped all of a sudden.”

Exactly the story Carter had told me when I’d asked him. He’d acted weird about it though so I thought he’d been hiding something. Maybe he just felt uncomfortable reliving the event.

“And then this guy came out of nowhere…”

My heart skipped a beat.

“He said he was a doctor and did CPR on you because you’d passed out. And Carter was acting all weird about it. Probably jealous he wasn’t the one that got to save you.” She smiled.

“He was cute too. Like hipster cute. Anyway, the ambulance got there shortly after and that’s about it.”

“Did you find out who the guy was?” I asked quickly.

“No, he left after they took you away and we all were scrambling to get cabs to the hospital. Why? We thanked him but apparently he was in a hurry to get somewhere.”

“What did he look like?” I knew I was being weird but I didn’t care. I had to know if I’d hallucinated it all or not.

Harper gave me a strange look. “Um…I don’t know. Red hair. Green eyes. Tall. Like Carter’s height. Why?”

I couldn’t tell her as badly as I wanted to until I could make sense of it all.

“Just curious. I want to thank him.”

But why had Carter not told me about the man who’d possibly saved my life? Jealousy seemed like a stupid reason considering he was a complete stranger.

“If he’s a doctor, maybe he works at the hospital you were at? It’s only like twenty minutes from where we were. I wish we’d thought to ask his name.”

“It’s alright. I’ll figure it out.”

Figure out who this mysterious guy was and if I was or wasn’t losing my mind.

***

That night I spent two hours searching via the internet in an attempt to find my mysterious savior. After that proved to be futile, I called every hospital and urgent care center within a fifty mile radius.

Unfortunately, they all either claimed no one by that description worked there or they couldn’t give out employee information. I knew I was acting crazy but even if I’d imagined the whole thing, I still needed to thank him.

Once again, just like the night before, I was unable to sleep. Thankfully I’d been given the day off but the next day I had to return to work. I had no idea of how I was going to focus and be productive for a full eight hours.

That Thursday, my older brother invited me out to a museum with a few of his friends. My brother was only two years older so we’d been close our entire lives.

Throughout high school we’d had most of the same friends and a few years after he’d even dated Harper, a relationship I had fully supported seeing as how they were both great people.

Though they ended up determining they weren’t right for one another. Looks wise, he was basically the male version of me. Taller, reaching six one, with the same creamy beige skin, dark brown waves, and hazel eyes.

My brother was attractive but genuine, and lacked the big ego many men had. He was a lover of the simple things in life.

A pair of jeans and a plaid shirt were his normal wear and he aspired to have very little in terms of luxury. Instead he loved the outdoors and being active; a love we shared and the biggest thing we bonded over.

His friends were equally kind and genuine which was why I loved to hang out with them and leapt at any opportunity to do so.

I had invited Zoey to come along since she was in the off-again status with her boyfriend and had more free time.

I was secretly hoping to ignite her interest in my brother’s friend, Adam, who had been crushing on her since the day they’d met.

Her boyfriend wasn’t exactly the steady relationship type and we all knew she deserved better. She just needed to know it too.

The guys had decided to go to the MET, seeing as how two of my brother’s friends had never been after living over five years in New York. Apparently they thought it was too touristy of a place.

I’d mentioned to Zoey that Adam would be there and although she would never admit it, she’d dressed up a little more than necessary for this day trip.

A nice blue dress that matched her hair, black stockings, and black boots.

I’d gone more casual in dark skinny jeans, a loose white shirt, and green military jacket, my favorite brown boots finishing the outfit. I knew all of my brother’s friends and they were all like family to me.

I also was still trying to figure out what to do with Carter. Forgive or say goodbye? My stint in the hospital had really opened my eyes to the person I’d always suspected he was deep down.

“There they are. Hey, is there anything in my teeth? I think I got some gyro meat stuck in there.”

I smiled knowingly at Zoey as we exited the subway stairs and made our way down the street. “You’re fine. I don’t see anything.”

“Okay, thanks. So how’s everything been since the weekend? Have you seen Carter again?”

“Not yet. He wants me to come to an event with him tomorrow night.”

“Are you going?”

“I don’t know yet. I might.”

“I think you should go. I haven’t always liked Carter but if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that he really cares about you. He looked a mess the first time I saw him after the break-up.”

“I know… I just don’t know if I can try again. Or if he even wants to.”

“Believe me. He wants to.”

I smiled at Zoey but didn’t respond because we had just spotted my brother and his friends.

“Ava!” My brother waved us over, smiling brightly.

I was so grateful for our relationship. We rarely fought and had the healthiest brother/sister relationship out of anyone I knew. Even I knew that was about as rare as they come.

Zoey smiled wider than usual as she stepped up onto the stone steps before the museum to begin her greetings. She went for my brother first but I could see she had her eye on Adam.

“Hey Ava, good to see you.” Rhodel, my brother’s oldest friend, hugged me tightly.

He was half Filipino and half Colombian with a caramel complexion and inviting chocolate eyes, never a hair out of place atop his perfectly styled black coiffure. To this day, my brother still made fun of him for it.

He was also recently married and expecting a baby girl, something that had changed him from the spontaneous thrill seeker he had always been to the calm and responsible man he was now.

Next I greeted Adam, the oldest of the crew who, ironically enough, looked the youngest. He was of Spanish and German descent, leaving him all angled jaw lines and dark wavy hair.

He was also a lover of the outdoors and my brother’s right hand man when it came to any type of nature adventure. The two of them were planning a move to Utah as soon as they could afford it.

A move I supported but was sad about. My family was small and I’d never been more than an hour away from my brother. I wasn’t sure I’d be too happy only seeing him a couple times a year.

“Hey butthead.” Myles wrapped his arm around my neck and kissed the side of my head. “How’s life?”

I pinched my brother’s side before ruffling his hair, something he hated, to which I responded by doing every chance I got.

“It’s good. Can’t complain. You?”

“Not too shabby. Fawn just adopted a cat, as if we don’t have enough on our hands with Baxter. But she’s got a chill personality so I guess she can stay.”

I smiled. Fawn was my brother’s girlfriend, an animal lover like myself who housed rescue animals until she could find them a good home.

Baxter was their furry pit bull child whom they’d gotten together after a year of living together. It was hard taking care of a big animal in a city where a good sized apartment wasn’t easy to come by, but they made it work.

My brother secretly loved each animal they took in anyway. Even the last dog that had chewed up his favorite pair of bouldering shoes.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll survive somehow. You’ll have to tell me about your week. I feel like I don’t even know you anymore.”

Myles smiled, both of us watching Adam and Zoey make awkward small talk.

“Sure thing, sis. But first, do you think Zoey would say yes if Adam asked her out?”

I watched Zoey start playing with the necklace she wore, twirling it in her fingers, a tale tell sign she was crushing on someone.

“I definitely think she would. Why, does he want to ask her out?”

“Yeah, but he’s afraid she might still be holding out for that idiot ex-boyfriend of hers.”

“She might be but I think she would give Adam a chance. Here, let’s go inside and I can sneak and ask her.”

“Alright, in a second though. We’re waiting for one more person.”

“Who?”

“A buddy of mine from school. Speak of the devil. Hey man!” Myles removed his arm and turned to a guy headed up the stairs to our right.

I turned with my brother, ready to introduce myself to the newcomer once they were done saying hi.

Myles shook the guy’s hand before turning around to reveal him and placing a hand on his shoulder. “Ava, this is Gavin. Gavin, my sister Ava.”

As soon as he came into view, my eyes widened and my heart rate sped up.

It was him. The man from that night. The mysterious doctor.

He had the same electric green eyes I remembered and dark red hair, the scruff around his face and jaw close cropped.

He was tall, an inch over my brother, and fit, his well-toned arms outlined by the white t-shirt and unbuttoned blue plaid shirt he wore.

He looked at me for a moment then smiled, revealing a nice set of pearly whites, and extended his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Ava.”

I was frozen for a moment before realizing it was rude to stare. I quickly reached for his hand and shook it, a warm electricity shooting into my own.

“Nice to meet you too, Gavin.”

He smiled as he lowered his hand and something passed through his eyes. It seemed as if he knew I recognized him and was just putting on a show for my brother…

Myles turned Gavin to introduce him to the rest of the group, leaving me stunned.

Did he recognize me or not? I was so sure it was him. I felt it deep down in my bones. This was the unknown man that had come to my aid outside the club. And yet he was acting like he’d never met me.

My brother interrupted my thoughts, speaking to the whole group. “Let’s head inside, yeah? Rhodel and Gavin need to see what they’ve been missing.”

Zoey joined me as we all climbed the stairs to the entrance and I tried my hardest to keep my eyes away from Gavin. Best way to do that? Distract yourself with conversation.

“So, I saw you talking to Adam.”

Zoey shrugged as we entered the museum. “We were just catching up. I haven’t seen him in a while. Does he look buffer to you?”

I laughed. “I haven’t really noticed but maybe? Myles told me something interesting though…”

Her expression brightened up as she looked over at me. “What?”

“He said Adam wants to ask you out.”

Zoey smiled, her eyes sparkling with that new crush look. “Really? Did he say when?”

“Yes, today, but he’s afraid to try. He thinks you might still want Ryan back.”

“What?! I definitely do not want that fool back. Tell Myles to tell Adam that I’m totally available.”

“If you say so.”

Zoey rolled her eyes. “I am. Anyway, who’s the new guy Gavin? He’s pretty cute.”

“He went to school with Myles I guess.”

“He’s definitely a cutie. He gave you the eye, too. What’s going on with you and Carter again? Maybe Gavin could be your backup plan.”

“I think I should focus on Carter instead of making things more complicated. He’s been really good to me this last week.”

Zoey purchased her ticket then stepped aside and waited for me to purchase mine. We entered the first side of the museum with the guys, trailing behind Rhodel and my brother.

“I feel like I’m giving conflicting advice,” she continued, lowering her voice. “I totally support you and Carter getting back together. Gavin looks too nice anyway.”

I glanced nervously back at Gavin who was conversing with Adam, seemingly not to have heard us. “I appreciate you saying that. Let’s talk about something else now.”

“Oh, they’re not listening. And you’re welcome. Want to split up? I really want to check out the medieval jewelry exhibit and I know you want to visit your precious Japanese garden.”

I smiled at Zoey. Sometimes she knew exactly what I was thinking. “Deal. Hey Myles, I’m going to head to the Japanese side. I’ll meet you guys in half an hour in the middle?”

“Sounds good. Anyone want to go with her?”

“I’ll go. I’ve never seen that exhibit.” Gavin had spoken, causing me to instantly become nervous.

For some reason, being alone with him intimidated me. If he did remember me and was pretending not to, what was the reason?

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to find out and I also didn’t want to consider the fact that maybe the face I’d seen had been a different one. The hallucination theory was not one I welcomed.

“Alright, we’ll meet you guys in a bit. Don’t get lost in there.”

I felt my cheeks heat up at my brother’s comment as we walked away from everyone. I wasn’t usually a nervous person but just being in Gavin’s presence made me anxious.

“So your brother tells me you two moved to New York together?”

I nodded, forcing my hands in my pockets to avoid fidgeting. “Yeah, we were tired of Michigan and decided to try something new. Where are you from originally?”

“Alaska. I grew up there.”

“Why’d you leave?”

“I’m a people person and wanted to live somewhere more populated. I got a full ride to Columbia and that was that.”

“So what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a paramedic. You?”

A coincidence or was it him? I’d assumed my rescuer had been a doctor, or had Harper told me that? I couldn’t remember now.

All I knew was I had to find out why he wasn’t bringing up the fact that he’d saved my life and instead was content with casual conversation.

“I’m an assistant at a vet office.”

We entered the Japanese exhibit and took the elevator to the third floor. Standing side by side, I felt the electricity between us raise the hair on my arms.

I didn’t know why but he just emulated this electrifying power…or perhaps I’d just hit my head when I’d fallen and the doctors had missed the concussion. Was I imagining things?

We entered the garden and stopped by the small man-made waterfall, enjoying the peaceful sound of the trickling water in the silence.

Now that we were alone I wanted to ask him if he remembered me. I might not have the chance again and I needed to know.

“Do you mind if I ask you something that may sound a little strange?” I kept my eyes on the water but saw Gavin turn to face me, his expression guarded.

“Of course. Ask away.”

I gathered all the courage I could find and faced him, gazing into the electric green eyes I couldn’t forget if I wanted to.

“Last week I was in an accident…And there was a man that came to help in the midst of the commotion. I wasn’t exactly in my right mind but I never forget a face. Are you…him?”

He paused for a moment, giving away nothing with his expression but everything with his eyes. “Yes.”

Oh my God. It was him and that meant I wasn’t crazy.

“Why didn’t you say so from the beginning?”

“I figured you wouldn’t want me to say anything in front of your friends. And I also believe you haven’t told your brother?”

He had me there. I hadn’t. Although I planned to. Just not yet.

“How do you know that? Either way, I didn’t want to worry him. My family is very protective and I don’t want to freak them out.”

Especially since I hadn’t known which story to tell, the one including or excluding my savior. Now I knew…well, partially.

“I can understand that.”

“So…what exactly happened? My memory is fuzzy but what everyone has told me and what I remember just doesn’t add up. I don’t remember…passing out being the only thing that happened to me.”

“Well…what do you remember?”

It was hard to tell if his question had a secondary meaning. It seemed as if he were testing me, waiting for me to say something about the situation and only then would he tell the truth.

I scanned the room behind him, making sure we were alone. This wasn’t exactly a conversation that needed an audience.

“I remember being stabbed…and I remember that as I was passing out, I saw your face…but when I woke up in the hospital, the stab wound was gone. Everyone told me that I’d passed out from alcohol poisoning which is impossible…”

Gavin hesitated before opening his mouth to speak. “I—”

Footsteps entered the room, silencing us both. A middle-aged man had entered with his adolescent daughter, speaking quietly to her.

They glanced up at us, probably feeling the tension in the room and wondering if they’d interrupted a private moment.

I looked back at Gavin. “Maybe we should…”

“Talk about this somewhere else,” he finished, clearly thinking the same thing.

“Yeah.”

“Would you like to get a coffee after this?”

I wasn’t sure why but my nerves went crazy at the request of spending time alone with him. And yet I needed to know. Know why he made me feel so different. So powerless and yet…protected?

Yes, I’d definitely gotten a concussion.

“Sure, I can show you my favorite spot.”

I wasn’t sure why I’d said it. Very few people knew where my favorite coffee spot was. I preferred to keep it a secret because it just felt special that way. Something that belonged to me.

I’d waited half a year before telling Carter. Other than him, only Harper and my brother knew where it was.

Gavin nodded. “It’s a plan. Want to show me what’s cool about the rest of this room in the meantime?”

I walked Gavin around the rest of the floor and told him what little I knew about the exhibit. Afterward, we met up with my brother as planned and moved on to the main part of the museum.

Zoey quickly maneuvered her way to my side, smiling like a kid with a secret. “Do I smell a new romance blooming?”

“What do you mean?” I knew what she meant. I just wanted to play innocent since I wasn’t sure of how I was going to feel about Gavin after our coffee date.

“You know what. You and Gavin. He keeps looking at you. Did you make out in that garden or something?”

I laughed, always appreciative of Zoey’s sense of humor. “No, we just talked. I think I’ve met him before.” Not a lie but not exactly the truth.

“Mmm, I see. Does Carter know you’ve met before?”

“He might…” Which was true. He might know that Gavin had been there and yet he hadn’t said anything. What was he hiding?

“What’s up with you and Adam? Did he ask you out yet?”

Zoey sighed. “I think he was about to but then Rhodel interrupted. He didn’t know what he was interrupting but still. Take a hint, man.”

I smiled. “You have to talk to him alone again. I’ll be your wing woman.”

“Yes, please distract Rhodel. I might have to choke him next time.”

We walked around the numerous rooms and I was sure to keep my distance from Gavin, however I caught his eye multiple times.

Each time he quickly turned away but the third time he lifted the corner of his mouth gently before returning his attention to what my brother was saying.

I hadn’t had butterflies for someone new in a long time but I was experiencing them now.

Just as we were leaving, Carter texted me, asking if I wanted to come with him and Malachi to check out a new property.

Back when we’d been together, I’d tagged along with him every chance I got because I enjoyed learning about his business. Now, I wasn’t so sure I was ready to re enter that part of our relationship.

And I also had plans…

The rest of the museum visit went without a hitch. I was able to distract Rhodel long enough for Adam to ask Zoey out, to which she came and squealed to me about after.

A few hours later, we’d gone through most of the museum and everyone was ready to head out.

Adam offered to walk Zoey home and I had to tell my brother I was going to get a coffee with Gavin, to which he raised his brow.

I didn’t feel like coming up with a lie about the reason so I hugged my brother before he could drill me about it and walked off.

My favorite coffee shop was twenty minutes away by foot so we spent the time learning a bit more about each other.

The conversation we needed to have was eating at me but I knew I had to wait until we could find a quiet corner to talk.

I also wanted to be looking at his eyes when he told me what he knew. Not just to enjoy the bright green color of them but also to make sure he was telling the truth.

Gavin held the door for me as we entered my favorite spot. It was a cute little corner café with french press coffee and delicious pastries.

The décor gave it a quaint homey feel, all wooden with vines encircling every inch of the paneled walls.

Little flower-shaped lights followed the vines on the wall and hung overhead, making you feel as if you’d stepped inside a dreamy little fairy house.

We ordered at the counter after which I led Gavin to my usual table of choice, against the wall. He had been enjoying the décor of the restaurant when we’d first entered but now his attention was solely on me.

I tried to pretend I didn’t notice him watching me. He was shameless about it but it didn’t come off creepy. It just came off curious.

I took a bite out of my banana bread and felt my cheeks burn when a crumb fell from the corner of my mouth. On the walk over I’d managed to ignore my nerves but sitting in front of him now, I was a wreck.

Gavin sipped his tea. “So…”

I smiled, cupping my hands around my mug. “So…”

“You brought something up earlier.”

“Yes. And correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you’re hiding something.”

He smiled. “What makes you say that?”

“You and I both know there’s a missing piece of this story.” I barely knew him but I got the feeling that he wouldn’t be offended by straight talk.

“Why don’t you tell me what you think that is?”

“You were there when I was injured outside the club last weekend.” Injured. Passed out. Stabbed. All the same thing, right? “But what I remember and what the doctor told me don’t match up.”

His ability to keep eye contact in an uncomfortable situation was admirable. He hadn’t flinched even once. “You first tell me what you remember. Then I can fill in the blanks.”

I tried to keep eye contact but it was hard. I felt too vulnerable looking into his eyes. Like he could see beneath the surface and was looking into my thoughts.

“Well…I remember leaving the club. We had walked out and were calling a taxi.” I was watching his eyes and saw no change. He was damn good at hiding his emotions.

“We were standing around talking when this man pushed past. I think I went into shock. I felt numb and light headed and when I looked at my hands I saw blood. He had stabbed me.”

I paused for a moment, feeling a weight on my chest as I described the memory.

“I started to pass out and that’s when I saw…you. You told me it wasn’t my time yet. I woke up in the hospital a few days later and the doctor said I had passed out from alcohol poisoning…and there was no stab wound.

“So like I said, you tell me what happened.”

I had tried to keep the accusatory tone out of my voice but it was proving difficult. He knew something and he wasn’t telling me and it was starting to make me angry.

“You’re right. There’s two realities with what happened. But only one is true.”

I laced my fingers together, focusing completely on him.

“Ava!”

I flinched slightly and looked to my right, spotting Malachi a few feet away, making his way over to us. Carter followed behind him, looking a little put off.

The emotion went away as they reached our table and he stopped beside Malachi, one hand in his pocket.

Crap. I’d meant for this meeting to be a secret. And I knew exactly what Carter was thinking. And now I was going to feel like crap for him finding me talking to Gavin, no matter what the purpose.

“Hey Malachi.” I stood to hug him, nervous about greeting Carter. I didn’t know yet where we stood but I knew what it looked like to them. It looked like I was on a date.

“Hey there. How are you feeling?” Malachi wrapped his arm around me in a warm hug. “I haven’t seen you since last weekend.”

“I’m alright. Back to the regular hustle and bustle of life.”

“Glad to hear it. I didn’t realize you were such a party animal. Remind me to hide the liquor next time.”

I laughed lightly, turning to Carter and reaching out to hug him.

Carter’s expression remained guarded as he hugged me, placing his hand low on my hip. “Hey.”

I felt the warmth of his fingers through my jacket as we pulled away, Gavin standing to shake their hands.

“Hey, I’m Gavin.”

Malachi smiled politely and shook his hand. I knew he was going to say something to Harper later, after which she would ask me what the hell was going on. But for the moment I knew Malachi would play dumb.

“Nice to meet you, man. Malachi.”

Carter seemed stiff as he shook Gavin’s hand next, barely lifting the corner of his mouth. “Carter.”

Gavin nodded. “Nice to meet you.”

“Well, sorry to interrupt—”

Gavin cut Malachi off. “Oh you weren’t. We were just talking. I think Ava’s brother has mentioned you before. You went to Columbia, right? I actually went there too.”

“Oh really? Yeah, I did all four of my years there…”

Malachi and Gavin began to converse and I smiled nonchalantly, acting like I was interested in listening. I had been trying to avoid looking at Carter but as their conversation continued I felt my eyes wander to him.

Carter was looking at Gavin, his expression friendly as he put in his two cents but his eyes saying something else. He broke his gaze to look at me and an unsaid message went between us.

I wasn’t sure what to do so I held his gaze, hoping he’d understand that I wasn’t on a date but also hoping that he wouldn’t. I wanted him to be jealous.

As petty as grudges were, there’s nothing more satisfying than someone that hurt you getting a taste of their own medicine.

“We should link up sometime.”

“Yeah, definitely. We can all go do something together. Just let me know when you’re free.”

Only a few minutes had passed and already Malachi had Gavin’s number. That was the salesman in him. He was able to break down the awkward first impression barrier within the first three sentences and befriend almost anyone.

“Will do. Carter, it was nice to meet you.”

“You too, Gavin.” Carter was still playing polite but he was pissed. I would hear about this later. Or get the silent treatment. It was a toss up between the two.

As they walked away, Gavin and I returned to our seats. He was watching me, studying my body language. “So I take it you and Carter have a history?”

I had been mid sip on my tea when he said it and almost spit it out. I coughed down the warm liquid, raising a brow. “What makes you say that?”

“I can tell. I’m good at reading people.”

“Well…” What did I say in response to that? “We used to date but we’re just friends at the moment.”

“He seems like a good guy.”

“He can be. Do you mind if we get back to the original topic and my unanswered questions?”

Gavin sat back, nodding. “Right. Where did we—”

A shrill ring cut through the air, interjecting him mid sentence. “I’m sorry.” He reached down into his pocket and retrieved his phone, answering it on the third ring. “This is Gavin.”

I watched him as the person on the other end of the line spoke. He was such a good-looking guy. He had a nice angled sharp jaw and cheekbones under his facial hair, brilliant green eyes, and smooth ivory skin.

Even his hair looked good, beard trimmed perfectly and hair styled to look casual but it obviously wasn’t a two minute job.

“Okay, I’m on my way.”

My heart dropped at that statement. Was our conversation going to be cut short?

I crossed my arms. “Everything okay?”

Gavin nodded, returning his phone to his pocket. “Yeah, hospital. One of the paramedics got sick so they need me to cover. I’m sorry I have to rush out. Can I walk you to your station?”

“Sure, I’m done anyway.” With my tea but not the conversation. How was he going to just leave at a time like this?! I wanted answers and wasn’t ready to wait for them.

Gavin and I exited the coffee shop, however, I was in my own little world.

I walked beside him, playing with a string of my hair as I contemplated how to force the information out of him. I looked over and noticed he was deep in thought.

Once we reached the entrance to the subway train I would take home, I turned to him. Fortunately he spoke before I did.

“Hey, I’m sorry we didn’t get to finish. If you’re free sometime this weekend, we can get together again.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

“Alright, I’ll see you soon.”

“Have a good night.”

I walked away, feeling defeated and frustrated. There was something different about Gavin but I wasn’t sure what. Although I had a feeling a piece of his story lay in the truth of what had happened a week ago.

 

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Note: This story is the author’s original version and does not have sound.

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