Seven months ago…
“Oh, dear God. This can’t be possible. Not my sweet Chloe,” Ellie Winters said to herself in a low, urgent whisper. She was alone in the doctor’s office where she worked, so not a single soul heard the torment in her raspy voice. She was horrified by the videos she’d just seen on James’s laptop computer—completely by accident—as she’d searched for a file her physician boss had requested.
It was a medical document she’d initially been searching for, something he’d asked her to print out for him. She’d gotten distracted when she saw an icon marked “Chloe’s Videos,” and she hadn’t been able to resist looking at what she’d assumed were cheerful images of her best friend, even though she knew she was clicking into something she probably shouldn’t.
She’d expected to see some happy snippets of her friend, a smiling Chloe that Ellie, quite frankly, hadn’t seen in a while. Her buddy had been distracted and uncommonly nervous lately, and Ellie wished she knew the reason why. Chloe Colter was one of those people who was naturally kind and sweet.
Unfortunately, the scenes hadn’t been joyous; the videos had been terrifying.
Ellie had only worked for Chloe’s physician fiancé for a week or so, and he was demanding, but what she’d just seen made her realize that James was so much more than just a jerk.
He was pure evil!
Tears poured down Ellie’s face as she signed out of the laptop and unplugged it, knowing she needed to get to Chloe as quickly as possible.
I have to talk to her. She can’t marry him. Why in the hell is she even still engaged to him? The bastard should be in jail!
Dammit! Ellie was angry with herself that she hadn’t dug deeper into why Chloe seemed so different since she’d returned to Rocky Springs. She’d assumed her friend was just distracted and adjusting to being home again after being away for so long to become an equine veterinarian. Or maybe she was stressed about her upcoming marriage to James. Getting married and planning a wedding was stressful, right? Especially when Chloe was still trying to establish her career.
There’s a hell of a lot more to this story that I don’t understand. I have to talk to Chloe, find out why she’s hiding the fact that James is an abuser.
A fierce protectiveness fluttered in Ellie’s stomach, as she remembered all the times Chloe had jumped to her defense in their twenty-something years of friendship. How many times had Chloe offered to help her out of her impoverished situation when they were kids? Ellie had lost count; just like she couldn’t remember the number of times that Chloe’s family had fed her when her mom had to work, or gave her new shoes or clothes to wear, Chloe claiming they didn’t fit and wanted Ellie to have them.
So many sweet things Chloe and her mom have done for me over the years.
Choking back a sob of sadness, Ellie was determined to make sure her best friend didn’t end up with the devil himself for a husband. Chloe deserved the most amazing husband in existence.
Why? Why is she covering for what James is doing to her?
Ellie didn’t have the answers, but she was damn well going to find out. If need be, she’d drag Chloe out of the relationship kicking and screaming before she’d sit by and watch as the maid of honor while her friend got a life sentence with Satan.
Frantically, she gathered up her purse, ready to head out to Chloe’s place. Ellie considered calling her, but she needed to confront her in person. She had no doubt that Chloe knew nothing about the videos, and would probably be horrified when she saw them.
Chloe Colter had been her best friend since grade school, and Ellie knew Chloe’s terrified screams of pain and agony in the video weren’t some kind of kinky sex game. Chloe had been traumatized, frightened, and begging for James to stop.
But the asshole never had. What kind of sick games was he playing, and how had Chloe ever gotten involved? Why hadn’t she just walked away from him? After all, she was a Colter, and she didn’t need any man. Chloe was rich and highly educated enough to lead her own life, and she had four older brothers who would have kicked the shit out of James had they realized what he’d done to her. Then there was the biggest question: why hadn’t Chloe called the police on his ass? There had to be an explanation, but reason escaped Ellie in her rush to get out of the office.
The sound of someone jiggling the handle of the locked front door of the office made Ellie panic, and she gathered up the computer close to her body and sprinted from behind the desk, her heart racing as the door began to open.
She didn’t look to see who was coming in. There were only a few people with a key, and she was one of them. Even if it was the cleaning crew, she wasn’t about to chance waiting to find out. The only thing she could think of was sprinting for the back door, getting to her vehicle, and hightailing it straight to Chloe.
Hearing James’s bellow from the reception area tripled her heart rate, and she flat-out ran for the back exit.
I just need to get to my car. I just need to get to Chloe.
Ellie could hear James’s heavy steps pounding down the hallway behind her, but she kept on running, her breathing ragged from panic as she punched down the bar of the back exit and flew through the metal door without hesitation.
Hating herself for putting on heels that morning, she kept on sprinting as fast as her shoes would allow, clutching the laptop to her body like her life depended on it.
I have to get to Chloe. I have to get to Chloe. Please, just let me get to her place.
She’d almost made it to her beat-up little economy car—a vehicle she’d long ago dubbed the Blue Turtle because even though it was slow, it kept on moving—when James’s body collided with hers. They both went to the ground, but unfortunately his body had her pinned to the cold concrete.
“Get. Off. Me.” Her voice was a breathless hiss as she struggled to get out from under him.
“Is there some reason you’re running away with my laptop, Ms. Winters?” James asked as he wrapped an arm around her neck.
“I’m going to work from home tonight.” It was a lame excuse, but it was all Ellie could think of, and Chloe had always said she was a terrible liar. No matter what she claimed, she doubted James would believe it since she’d been running away from him, and he’d only asked her to find and print one document.
“You saw the videos,” he accused menacingly. “You were going straight to Chloe. Nosy bitch. I asked you to do one thing on the computer and you just had to look at things that weren’t intended to be seen by you or anyone else. Not now. You’ll ruin everything. I’m glad I came back when I realized you might not mind your own business.”