I sat up in bed, waking from a nightmare. The air was sucked from my lungs, and sobs racked my body as images of Ryker being shot and the feel of his blood all over my chest and arms assaulted me. My heart pounded furiously against my chest as I screamed through choking tears. “No! Ryker! No!”
“Ky, look at me, baby,” a voice heavy with sleep urged. Firm, callused hands cupped my face and forced me to look into mocha-colored eyes filled with worry. Ryker.
Sighing in relief, tears trickled down my fevered cheeks as I clasped my hands over his. His thumbs moved beneath my palms as he stroked my skin. “Just another nightmare, Warrior. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere.”
My grip tightened on his inked hands as my eyes ran over his face. My voice was weak and hoarse when I spoke. “It always feels so real.”
He brought his lips to my forehead and pressed a soft kiss there. My eyes closed as I enjoyed the tingle he still sent through me. I felt his breath against my face as he sighed, his voice softening with his reply, “I know, baby. I know.”
Even though a couple of months had passed, we both still had nightmares about the shooting. When we stayed the night in my own apartment, Kamden often woke us with his or vice versa. I didn't know when or if they would ever stop, but I hoped they eventually would. I didn't want to have nightmares for the rest of my life.
“Same one?” Ryker asked, brushing his lips across my skin again. His hands moved from my face down to my shoulders. My eyes opened and locked on his as he began to softly rub up and down my arms.
I swallowed deeply and cleared my throat. My voice was clogged with ragged emotion. “Yeah.”
An exact replay of the events of that night had become my worst nightmare—worse than the ones of Kaleb molesting me over the years, worse than the ones of the incident. Seeing Ryker get shot was unbearable, and having to relive it over and over again was agonizing.
My eyes fell to his chest. Bringing my hands up, I placed one over his heart and delicately traced over his scar with my fingers.
I still can't believe how close I was to losing him.
Another flood of tears burned my eyes, but I forced them back.
There's no reason to cry. Ryker's still here. He's still with you. Stop being weak.
Leaning in, I pressed my lips to his scar, letting them linger on his skin before pulling back and looking up at him.
Ryker cupped the back of my head and gently pulled my face to his.
My eyes fluttered shut, my stomach tightening as his mouth met mine. Every touch filled me with bliss, bringing me a happiness I still couldn't believe I had. Ryker was my remedy, the only one capable of washing away the taint from my nightmares, the only one able to take away the pain.
When our lips parted, he lay his forehead against mine. “I love you, Warrior.”
My heart warmed, chasing away the ugly, biting cold that crept in from the nightmare.
I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing him say that.
My response was automatic, instinctive because of how much I felt for him, how real it was. “I love you, too.”
Ryker lay us back down and enveloped me in his arms. Draping my leg over his, I nestled into him and released a sigh of contentment. Being like that, warm in his embrace in bed, was my favorite place to be—my own personal heaven from the hell in my mind, keeping my demons at bay.
I yawned as my eyes became heavy. Ryker's fingers softly ran through my hair, and it didn't take long for him to lull me back to sleep.
I loved waking up in Ryker's arms. Even though I absolutely loathed mornings, seeing his handsome face the moment I woke up always made me smile.
He stirred, opening one eye as he gruffly murmured, “Mornin', beautiful.”
The grin I had spread wider, making my cheeks feel tight. “Morning, baby.”
Pulling me to him, he pressed his lips to mine. I had stopped trying to fight him on that, even though I was mortified by my morning breath. I thought it was sweet that kissing me was still the first thing he wanted to do when he woke up.
We had spent the night at his apartment, where we usually stayed on the weekends. I couldn't be at mine when Kamden drowned himself in alcohol, which was how he spent his Friday and Saturday nights. I had tried to stop him multiple times, but it only escalated things, especially with Ryker being so protective over me. I didn't want to watch the two men that I loved fight, so I let Kamden be—at least for the time being.
I hated watching Kamden burrow himself deeper into his hole. Even though therapy had helped in the beginning, he was slowly sinking into an all-consuming depression. I prayed I could bring him out of it, but I wasn't sure if I'd be able to. I'd still be buried in mine if it wasn't for Ryker.
The brush of his knuckles down my cheek brought me out of my thoughts. “Ready for breakfast?”
“Yeah. I want to check on Kamden first, though.” Turning away from him, I reached for my phone on the nightstand. I quickly dialed Kamden's number, but his phone went straight to voicemail.
I pulled the phone away from my ear before getting out of bed. “Went straight to his voicemail. I'm going to go over there and make sure he's okay.”
Ryker threw the covers off and slid to the edge of the mattress. “I'll go pick something up.” He stood and walked toward me, then wrapped his muscular arms around my waist. My hands wound around his neck as he dipped his head to kiss me again. When he pulled away, I was left in a haze from his kiss, as usual.
God, those lips.
Ryker smirked knowingly when our eyes met. He made me feel like a giddy school girl, even after being together for so many months, which may not have been long for most, but was sort of a record for us. Neither of us were relationship people, and I definitely never thought I would have a love like the one Ryker and I shared. Some things still took some getting used to at times.
I stepped around him, my face heating as I headed for the bathroom. I could hear him chuckling softly as he followed behind me, apparently amused by his effect on me. When we finished getting ready, Ryker and I left his apartment together. My place was only the next building over, so I walked there while he hopped in his truck and drove out of the parking lot.
I thought moving out of our old complex would help, but it didn't seem like it was. Kamden was still having trouble coping with killing Kaleb, no matter what I said or did. He had even started skipping his therapy sessions.
When I reached my apartment, I slid my key into the lock and twisted the knob. Anxiety knotted my stomach when I entered, worry for Kamden eating at me since he hadn't answered my phone call. “Kam?”
He didn't answer.
Probably passed out, wasted.
I made my way to his room, and the door was wide open. Kamden lay face down, wearing a muscle shirt and a pair of gym shorts. A half-empty bottle of Jack was tipped over on the floor beside the bed. Kamden's arm dangled over the side of the mattress next to it. “Kam?” I slowly crept toward him before sitting beside him.
No response again.
His mouth was wide open and drool dampened the pillowcase.
I gently shook him on the shoulder, but he didn't stir. I jostled him more forcefully, making his upper body shake. He grumbled obscenities and moved slightly, but didn't wake up. I continued to shake him, and he finally jerked awake, sitting up and roughly grabbing me by the forearm.
“Kam! It's just me—it's Kaiya!” My heart pounded as I attempted to pry my arm from his grasp, pulling at his fingers with my own. He squeezed my arm so tightly that I knew I was going to have bruises.
His glazed, bloodshot eyes darted over me before he let go. “Sorry,” he muttered, rubbing his hands over his face. I couldn't help but notice his stubble—it looked like he hadn't shaved in days.
I pulled my arm to my chest protectively and rubbed it with my other hand. Glancing down, I could see bruises from Kamden's fingertips already forming.
Shit. Ryker's going to be pissed.
When I looked back up at Kamden, he had his elbows on his knees, cradling his head in his hands. His eyes were closed, and his face was scrunched in discomfort.
“Let me get you some water,” I said as I stood. I walked to the kitchen and grabbed a water bottle out of the refrigerator before returning back to Kamden, who was still in the same position.
Sitting back down next to him, I nudged his arm with the water bottle and handed it to him. He took several slow sips before laying back on the bed and groaning.
“You need to stop drinking so much, Kam. I'm worried about you.”
“Don't worry about me. I'm fine,” he mumbled, draping his arm over his eyes.
I scoffed. “You are not fine. Look at you!” I gestured at him with my hands, even though he couldn't see me.
“Don't fucking start, Ky,” he growled in a combination of anger and irritation.
We'd had this conversation before, and I usually let it go because one, I was a coward, and two, I didn't want to fight with him. He had always been there for me, and I wanted to give him his space and let him cope in his own way like he had let me. But this was getting out of hand. “Kam, please talk to me. Don't shut me out.”
“Oh, so you can do it to me, but I can't do it to you?” He sat up abruptly and glared at me before pointing his finger in my face. “You're such a fucking hypocrite, Ky.”
I flinched, hating the way his words cut through me and impaled my heart. My eyes watered as I meekly replied, “Kam, I-”
He looked away from me, avoiding my gaze. “I think you should go.”
I was about to do as he said, but the stubborn side of me said fuck that. I swiped the few tears that had fallen down my cheeks and crossed my arms over my chest. “No.”
Kamden's head snapped to me, and his nostrils flared. “Get out, Kaiya.”
He may not have been yelling, but there was no mistaking the ire in his low tone. He was pissed off—really pissed off.
I swallowed the lump in my throat, and held my ground, maintaining eye contact as I repeated, “No.”
We stared at each other for what felt like forever until he finally sighed and dropped his head, grumbling under his breath.
Uncrossing my arms, I reached one hand toward him and linked our fingers together. “I'm here for you, Kam.”
After several seconds, he finally squeezed my hand back, but remained silent, almost as if internally debating whether or not to confide in me.
“Talk to me.” My tone was pleading, practically begging him to open up.
“I'm tired of talking—that's all the therapist wants me to do is talk, talk, talk. And for what?” He thrust our joined hands and his other arm forward as he spoke, the volume of his voice increasing with every word. “She doesn't understand shit. She doesn't know our family. She doesn't know what we went through, what you went through, so what's the fucking point?”
He was right—that's why I never went to therapy. A psychiatrist would never understand what I had experienced. But Kam and I had endured everything together and understood what the other had gone through.
“What if I go with you? Would that help?” I spontaneously spoke, then immediately regretted it.
Shit, why did I say that?
He brought his eyes up to mine, and the hope that lay beneath the drunken haze in them tightened my chest. I knew I'd do anything to help him if that glimmer meant I was getting my brother back. “You'd do that for me?” Even his tone was brighter, optimistic.
Yeah, I'm fucked.
I smiled softly. “Yeah, I would.” I squeezed his hand tighter.
“You hate therapists,” he remarked with a chuckle.
“I do,” I admitted with a shrug. “But I love you. And I'd do anything to help you.”
My words caused something amazing to happen—Kamden smiled. The first real one I'd seen since the shooting. Months had gone by since I'd seen his beautiful smile, the one that had gotten me through so many rough times. The one I missed seeing every day.
“I love you too, sorella.” Pulling me to him, he embraced me in a hug. I scooted closer on the bed and wrapped my arms around his waist. He smelt like liquor and sweat, but I didn't care. I was taking another step to getting my brother back.
“We'll get through this,” I promised.
I wasn't going to fail Kamden, just like he'd never failed me over the years.