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New & Unbroken

Chapter One

Everly

 

I’d planned to take a cab to the airport, but when I stood in the entryway of Adam’s Upper East Side penthouse, carry-on and suitcase in hand, he was quick to inform me that I needn’t have wasted the brainpower thinking for myself after all.

“I’ve got a car waiting for us downstairs.” With a grin, he slid a pair of Aviators onto his bronzed face and then shoved his wallet into the back pocket of his loose-fitting designer jeans.

If I hadn’t known his intent, I would’ve found his smile sexy—sweet, even. But after three years with this man, I knew better.

“It’s not necessary. I can take a cab,” I replied, my gaze drifting to my sandals.

 

His hands moved abruptly to my face, and then he hit me with a bruising kiss. When he broke away, his grip on the sides of my neck remained, his fingertips digging into the sensitive flesh.

 

My body became rigid, and my heart thumped against my ribcage in protest.

 

Breathe in . . . breathe out . . . breathe in . . . breathe out.

 

“I’m taking you to the airport.” His voice was almost a growl. “Don’t begrudge me of that, Ev. I do so much for you—you can give me this, at least. Right?”

 

He leaned in, and I was suddenly grateful I couldn’t see his eyes behind the dark lenses.

 

My mouth curved into a fake smile, and I nodded. This appeased him, and we were able to move on.

 

The ride to the airport was uneventful. Adam played on his phone the entire time while I drove my short nails into the palms of my hands in a steady pattern, using my digits like a metronome to set the pace of my respiration.

 

Catching a glimpse of his profile, I was immediately reminded of the fact that any woman in her right mind would want this guy’s hands and lips all over her. But I was hardly in my right mind, and Adam Shields was hardly the blue-eyed Prince Charming his handsome good looks portrayed him to be.

 

With his mussed blond hair, sapphire eyes, movie-star smile, and muscles that practically jumped off his body, Adam could charm just about anyone on sight, which is exactly what he’d done to me when we’d met at a hockey game.

 

He’d spotted me in the stands as I’d watched his team win in overtime to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, and from that moment on, he’d made it his life’s mission to sweep me off my feet and claim me as his own.

 

To say he’d declared himself successful was an understatement.

 

The Lincoln Town Car parked at the terminal, and my right leg began to tremble as I waited for the driver to retrieve my bags and open my door. Edgar had been Adam’s driver for the past few months, and he typically moved faster than he was now. Perhaps today he and Adam were coconspirators in dialing up my anxiety.

 

“Ev.”

 

Adam’s gruff voice cut through my thoughts, and my fake smile rose from its premature grave.

 

“Yes?”

 

“This trip,” he said as he moved the Aviators to rest on top of his head, “it really is for work, right?”

 

My throat worked to swallow as hard as my eyes worked to feign my innocence. “Yes, Adam, it’s for work. You’ve already spoken to my editor . . .”

 

I held my breath, praying to all things holy that he didn’t keep pressing the subject.

 

“Right,” he muttered, more to himself than to me.

 

Then, with reflexes honed from years of professional training, he grabbed my left hand and crushed my ring and pinky fingers together, drawing a painful gasp from me.

 

“This ring?” Ignoring my reaction, he held up my hand to ensure I knew exactly what ring he was referencing. As if I could forget about the nine-karat diamond ring that weighed down my finger.

 

Adam said he’d chosen nine because it was his jersey number.

 

All it made me think about was the nine rings of hell.

 

“It doesn’t come off your goddamn finger, you got it?” He gave it one last squeeze.

 

“Of course.” Suddenly all too aware that we were alone in the car now, I put on my best show and pressed my lips to his, hating myself all the while. “I’ll never take it off.”

 

He held the back of my neck with one hand, but he was gentle now, and his stare lacked the intimidation of earlier. It was reminiscent of when Adam had been the man of my dreams, not the one invoking nightmares.

 

“Can we have a sit-down with your doctor when you get back?” he asked. “I’d really like to get back to fucking you.”

 

Tears burned in the back of my throat, but I managed a nod and smile.

 

Three months. For three months, I’d been able to manipulate Adam and just as I’d anticipated, my time had run out.

 

Steeling myself for his possible reaction, I said, “I need to go before I miss my flight.”

 

To my surprise, he simply replied, “Answer when I call, okay?”

 

I nodded and placed one last chaste kiss on his lips and this time avoided his gaze. I couldn’t risk my eyes outing me and my clandestine plan. There was no plan B. Everything hinged on today.

 

When I exited the car, Edgar’s expression remained sterile as he handed me my luggage. I didn’t hesitate, gripping my bags and striding away with deliberate speed. Before disappearing into the revolving door, I looked over my shoulder just in time to see the sleek car pull away from the curb.

 

He’s gone. You’re alone.

Guarded relief filled my entire being.

 

I pressed on.

 

JFK Airport was packed, even for a Wednesday morning. I made my way through check-in and security, choosing a seat in the terminal that was as far away from others as possible. Ten months living in New York City, and I was already over it. Take me back to good ol’ Massachusetts any day.

 

Go, Bruins.

 

Keeping my carry-on close, I plugged in my earbuds and opened a meditation app. I closed my eyes, and before long, I was mentally and emotionally teleported to an ashram in India, and a sense of peace settled over me. My insides willingly released all the tension they had been holding on to, and my sore, contracted muscles softened.

 

Less than ten minutes had passed when an incoming call snapped me out of my zen state. Looking down at my phone, I saw Adam’s handsome mug glowing back at me. I could only hope that when I answered he’d be the same adoring man he’d been the day I’d taken that photo.

 

“Hey,” I said, trying to make my voice sound casual.

 

“Are you checked in?”

 

“I am.”

 

There was a pause. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Adam didn’t really have something to say; he just wanted confirmation of exactly where I was at any given time. A simple text wasn’t enough for him if he felt he could glean a little more intel based on the background noise.

 

“Right. It sounds like it’s busy there,” he said.

 

I didn’t reply; it wasn’t a question. I waited. He’d fill the silent gap eventually.

 

“How about you come back next week. I really want you to go with me to Nate’s Fourth of July party. You don’t want me to go all alone, do you?”

 

Good grief.

 

“I’m sure you’ll be just fine without me. It’s only two weeks; it’s really not that long. It’ll go by fast.” I closed my eyes and waited for his reply.

 

There was another long, awkward pause.

 

“Sure, Ev. I’ll talk to you later.”

 

He hung up before I felt obligated to say goodbye.

 

It’s going to be a long two weeks if he keeps this up . . .

 

I was beginning to wonder if my plan of using this trip as a stepping-stone in my escape was going to blow up in my face.

 

Stay the course. This was your best option—your only option.

I unscrewed the cap on a bottle of water and took a sip; it was a balm for my esophagus, which spasmed with emotion.

 

My phone vibrated.

 

Resigned to the possibility it could be Adam again, my eyes dropped to the screen, and then a feeling of reassurance took over.

 

“Hey, Jill,” I answered, capping my water and relaxing into my seat.

 

“Hey, Evie!”

 

Hearing the voice of my best friend/older sister I never had was an instant pick-me-up. The sound of barking dogs in the background told me that Jill was at work.

 

“So, Adam’s really okay with you leaving for two weeks?” were the next words out of her mouth.

 

And my pick-me-up dropped me back down.

 

Jill’s skepticism was valid.

 

“Yup,” I exaggerated, popping the p.

 

“I’m surprised. The man acts like he can’t exist unless you’re within eyesight.” Jill’s accurate description of Adam made me cringe. She didn’t need to live in Manhattan to pass judgment on the relationship we shared. But if Jill knew the details—if she knew the intricacies—she would have had a lot more to say. In fact, Adam probably would have been castrated like one of the dogs in her clinic.

 

“Please don’t forget, no posting on social media until I tell you it’s safe.” My reminder was more of a plea than anything.

 

“Safe?”

 

I should have been more careful with my word choice; I already worried that Jill had theories.

 

“You know what I mean,” I replied.

 

“Uh-huh.” When I didn’t respond, Jill continued, “No worries, Evie. He’ll never know I didn’t go on this trip with you. You’re not doing anything wrong.”

 

I knew Jill was trying to ease my guilt about lying to Adam. But the truth was if I hadn’t lied, he never would have agreed to let me go on a solo trip—even if it was for work.

 

I’d met Jill when I attended college in Boston and worked as a barista at the coffee shop across the street from her veterinary clinic. She’d struck up a conversation with me one day over our mutual love of all things pumpkin spice, and we’d been friends ever since.

 

Jill’s friendship had been the one constant in my adult life, and it was the one thing I refused to let Adam control. Fortunately, with Jill being several years older than me, married with two kids, and running a veterinary practice, she was a safe friend in Adam’s eyes. When I’d had to convince Adam to let me go on this trip, I’d known I’d needed to sell him on the lie that Jill would be coming.

 

Lucky for me, Jill had been more than willing to play along.

 

Her levity had the corners of my mouth turning up into a genuine smile, but the stiffness in my cheeks had me feeling somber all over again.

 

I used to smile a lot more.

 

I shook off the morose thoughts. “Thanks for being my partner in crime. You’re the best.”

 

“Call me if you need anything, anything at all. Okay?” Jill didn’t even try to downplay her mothering nature. Having zero relationship with my actual mother, it was just one of the things I adored about my best friend.

 

“I will,” I assured her. “I promise, Jilly.” I hoped I was convincing.

 

“Oh, Evie, gotta run. I’ve got a beagle on the operating table.”

 

The timing of our goodbyes was perfect. My flight was boarding, and I couldn’t wait to get on that plane.

/////

One of the many side effects of being in an unhealthy relationship is a lack of quality sleep due to stress, among other things. So when the steady hum of the plane lulled me into a deep slumber, I took full advantage of it and slept the entire way to Louisiana.

 

Adam insisted that my habitual tiredness was due to my refusal to abandon my career aspirations, even though he pressured me to do so on the regular. Since moving to Manhattan ten months ago, I’d taken on freelance writing projects to keep my mind and skills sharp while applying for a variety of full-time positions. When I was hired by a digital travel magazine to visit and blog about a national park of my choosing, I’d seen it as the universe throwing me a life raft, and I had known it was time to put into motion the escape plan I’d strategized all on my own over several months.

 

And when they’d backed out of my contract at the last minute, I’d kept those details to myself as well.

 

Deboarding and retrieving my luggage at the carousel was seamless, and it wasn’t long before I stepped into the furnace right outside Alexandria International Airport in central Louisiana. The muggy atmosphere immediately stole my breath.

 

I peeled off the light cardigan I’d chosen for my flight, revealing the thin cotton dress beneath. Even though it was sleeveless and only came to just above my knees, it still felt excessive in the steamy bayou. Using the hair elastic from my wrist, I pulled my raven locks up into a high ponytail. In the few minutes I’d been standing outside, my hair had already begun to stick to my neck the way a wet paper towel clings to a surface.

 

Cabs at the airport weren’t quite as plentiful as they were in the Big Apple, but before long, I was leaning back into the cool leather seat of my yellow savior.

 

“Where to, cher?” the driver asked in a thick Cajun accent that brought a true grin to my face.

 

I’d really done it.

 

I’d put distance between Adam and me. Hearing the dialect coming from the front seat was confirmation.

 

“Winn Parish,” I replied. “Kisatchie National Forest.”

 

He looked at me over the back of the bench seat, his scrunched-up face turning into a friendly smile. “A nature person, are you?”

 

“A little bit,” I answered truthfully. “It’s for work. I’m here to do research.”

 

He nodded and turned back around, pulling away from the curb in silence. I didn’t blame him for the lackluster reaction. I hadn’t made it sound all that exciting.

 

No one, not even my best friend, knew what I was really doing in Louisiana.

 

As that thought filled me with hope, I slipped off my engagement ring and dropped it into the bottom of my clutch.

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