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I concentrate on the sounds of my breathing. Otherwise, it’s too quiet. The car is so insulated, the noises from outside are gone.

Not even looking up from his texting, he says, “I don’t intend on explaining myself to you, but you should know I have a girlfriend. Her name is Svetlana Volkov, and I expect you to treat her with respect.”

“I’m sorry, did you just tell me you are living with another woman?”

“Yes, Tess, I am.” He glances up for a second, looking like he wants to say more, but he doesn’t.

“Why would you bring me with you? You have a whole other life going on.” The first glimmer of hope fills me. Surely my dad is not going to want me to stay long if he has a girlfriend.

He shrugs. “Svetlana is perfect, Tess. You could learn from her. All this weakness is your mother. Svetlana will teach you how to fight. Trust me, you’re going to need it.”

“Why, Daddy?” I whisper, wiping my cheeks.

“You’re my child. I know you’re angry with me right now, but it’s my job to protect you. I had hoped your mother would rise to the occasion, but she’s let the booze and her own insecurities take over. You don’t need to be around that. Stop crying. It’s done.” He holds the phone to his ear, dismissing me.

The Valium must be working. Either that or I’m numb, maybe both. The car pulls up to the tarmac. I vaguely feel my dad’s arm guide me into his private jet. I walk into the bedroom, shut the door, and sleep the entire flight.TESS

Present day – twenty-five years oldI stand and wait for the three beeps alerting me my coffee has finished brewing. My pink manicured nails drum the granite counter, the need to feed my one addiction wiping away all my earlier patience.

Fuck it. When I grab the pot, steam blows out the top of the coffee maker. Quickly I fill my mug. I’m a rule breaker, right?

Taking a deep sip, I grimace as the hot liquid singes my tongue. The burn is over too quickly. I’m left with the same despair I’ve been plagued with for hours.

I’m sluggish and my eyes hurt as though I have a fever or someone has thrown sand in them. Hopefully I have eye drops. My overtaxed mind wanders to the contents of my medicine cabinet.

“God, you’re pathetic,” I mumble, blinking back the tears. A soft wet nose nudges my hand. I look down and start crying. Kind, trusting brown eyes stare up at me, a white tail curled over his back wagging away. The coffee maker hisses. I smell burned coffee coming from the bottom of the carafe, the symbolism not lost on me.

Burned. Dark. Guilty. Remorseful!

Sliding down my cabinet, I sit on the floor. A fluffy white bundle of goodness jumps into my lap.

“I’m okay, buddy. I’m going to be gone for a while. Will you be okay with Uncle Logan?” He cocks his face, and I swear he smiles at me. Like a sleepwalker, I sit on my hardwood floor petting his soft, fluffy fur, confessing all my sins. He doesn’t judge me. In fact, he loves me, which makes me cry harder. I rehearse to my Samoyed why I did what I did. His head lies on my thigh and he listens, making me feel ten times better.

“If only I could bring you on the jet. You’d distract everyone, wouldn’t you?”

The doorbell rings. Knowing it’s Brance, I don’t even bother getting up. He has a key. Pushing my dark tangled hair behind my ears, I stay seated. Pudding happily leaves me to greet Brance.

“Tess? Baby Girl? Buddy?” Brance calls.

I groan as I stand up. Turning the corner, I run smack into Brance’s lean shoulder as he and Pudding come barreling in. He reaches for me, his beautiful dark eyes full of concern.

“Jesus, are you all right?”

“Of course,” I snap, pulling out of his grip. I refuse to be a victim. What a lie—I’m nothing but a victim.

He sighs heavily, pulling me into a tight hug. “It’s going to be okay,” he whispers soothingly. “You knew this day was coming.”

My tears fall again. I’m so sick of the tears. As I nod my head against his lean chest, I say, “I know, I mean I thought I knew, but now that it’s happening, I’m not ready.”

Pulling away, I look at him. “I don’t think I can do it.” With the lump in my throat, I’m barely able to choke it out.

“I know, Pretty Girl.” His strong hands stroke my tangled hair. Three loud beeps fill the quietness in the room. Brance’s eyes shift toward the kitchen.

“Coffee’s ready.” He smiles. I laugh and sob at the same time.

He throws his arm around my shoulder. “How much time do we have?”

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