By: Winter Renshaw

And now is not the time for judgment.

I flip my pillow to a fresh, cool side and pull the covers up to my chin. I’m artificially safe like this, all warm and burrowed. I’m getting drunker by the minute. With each passing second, my mind quiets and my body feels lighter. It’s temporary, but I’ll take it.

My lids weigh down as I struggle to stay awake to catch the last five minutes of some handsome, late night comedian interviewing celebrities, but it’s an uphill battle. Everything darkens around me, wrapping me up in a world void of everything that could possibly hurt.


The ricochet of my heart into my throat brings me back to life. No one rings my door this late at night.


I know it. I feel it. Someone’s come to tell me he passed. My stomach sinks.

Knock, knock, knock.

I grab a robe off the bathroom door and hold onto the wall as I stumble toward the stairs. The ground beneath my feet sways and undulates. Everything around me spins. It’s a miracle I make it to the front door without throwing up all over the rug.

This is what I get for drinking on an empty stomach.

With one hand on the doorknob, I take a deep breath and prepare myself for what’s about to happen next. My body is braced for a hurricane, every muscle tensing until it aches. I can prepare my outside for the delivery of bad news, but I have no idea how to prepare the inside.

Only all the cheap liquor in the world can’t prepare me for what I see on the other side.

The contents of my stomach swirl, and this time, it’s not the alcohol.

“Royal.” I say his name, out loud, for the first time in years.

He clears his throat, his familiar stormy eyes narrowing. “Demi.”

I’m hallucinating.

This isn’t real.

The alcohol is fucking with me, and I’m having some trippy dream.

Lightheadedness threatens to knock me off my feet. I lean into the doorway, folding my arms to resist the instinctive urge to fix the messy strands of unwashed hair that hang into my face.

I hate how good he looks. His shoulders are broader than they used to be. The hint of stubble on his chiseled face. The hollows of his cheekbones, deeper than ever. Full head of thick, dark hair, cut tight on the sides and long on top. It’s messy, but in a sexy way. And his face has enough of a five o’clock shadow to tell me either he doesn’t care, or he’s a man with other priorities. I don’t know if I want to know what those are.

Royal’s hands are jammed into the front pockets of his pants, but he doesn’t look nervous. If his heart is beating in his chest as hard as mine is, he doesn’t show it.

“What are you doing here?” My voice is breathy. I suck in air. “How’d you know where I live?”

I realize my second question is moronic in this day and age, but I can hardly think when he’s standing there, looking at me like that. He keeps his cool. I unravel before his very eyes.

A cool sweat glazes my palms before lacing across my forehead. I need to fan myself, but I’m paralyzed. How can he just stand there, acting like we just saw each other yesterday?

It hits me as my eyes lock in his. I clearly missed him more than he missed me. Seeing me doesn’t faze him or excite him or get him worked up.

“Can I come in?” He looks past my right shoulder. If he’s done his research, he’ll know this house is solely in Brooks’s name. I don’t own it. Maybe he’s looking for Brooks. He has to know that Brooks lives here too.

Doesn’t matter. He’s not coming in.

Royal Lockhart doesn’t get to abandon me and then show up like we’re suddenly old friends.

Not now, not ever.

“Nope.” I step back, my hand on the door, ready to slam it in his face. He places his hand out to stop it, but it only serves to piss me off even more. He’s lucky I don’t tell him exactly what I think of him.

And I would.

If my mind wasn’t going a thousand miles per hour. I can’t make sense of any of my thoughts. They’re going this way. And that way. And this way. And back. They’re racing in circles, some lapping others.

I want to slap him.

I want to kiss him.

I want to kick him and punch him, and then I want him to wrap his big, strong, full-grown man arms around me and let him squeeze me tight until I calm down. I want to feel the stubble on his chin scratch my forehead as he kisses it, and I want to feel the heat of his breath on the top of my head, because I’m convinced it’s the only thing that could prove he’s really, truly standing before me.

Maybe it’s the adrenaline mixing with the alcohol, but my course of action becomes clear, and I place a death grip on the doorknob, ready to slam this thing in his face with all my might.

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