Old Wounds by Kyrie
Story Notes:
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1. Hiding by Kyrie

2. Who Are You? by Kyrie

3. The True Sam by Kyrie

4. Revelations by Kyrie

5. Decisions by Kyrie

6. Unexpected Information by Kyrie

7. Who's There? by Kyrie

8. Complications by Kyrie

9. I Won't Take No For An Answer by Kyrie

10. It's You! by Kyrie

11. Reactions by Kyrie

12. Unsettling News by Kyrie

13. First Night Together by Kyrie

14. Unexpected Nightmare by Kyrie

15. Communication by Kyrie

16. Bad Idea? by Kyrie

17. Big Mistake by Kyrie

18. Lashing Out by Kyrie

19. You Have To Let Go by Kyrie

20. The Truth by Kyrie

21. Some Changes by Kyrie

22. Snap Judgement by Kyrie

23. Who Is That? by Kyrie

24. He's Back! by Kyrie

25. Where Is She? by Kyrie

26. Feelings by Kyrie

27. A Crazy Idea by Kyrie

28. A Plan by Kyrie

29. A Sense of Peace by Kyrie

30. The Past by Kyrie

31. Uncomfortable Question by Kyrie

32. Ambush by Kyrie

33. Love by Kyrie

34. What You Love by Kyrie

35. Pajama Party by Kyrie

36. Extension by Kyrie

37. The Truth Can Hurt by Kyrie

38. What The Hell Happened? by Kyrie

39. Compromise by Kyrie

40. All By Myself by Kyrie

41. Fear by Kyrie

42. A Familiar Voice by Kyrie

43. What The???? by Kyrie

44. A Frightening Exit by Kyrie

45. Bullets by Kyrie

46. A Request by Kyrie

47. The Deceased by Kyrie

48. My Choice by Kyrie

49. Arrangements by Kyrie

50. Old Friends by Kyrie

51. Some Friendly Advice by Kyrie

52. Facing Reality by Kyrie

53. Unasked Questions by Kyrie

Hiding by Kyrie
It was just about midnight when she crept quietly into her room. Thank God for that twenty four hour 7-Eleven, she thought as she set the bag on the floor and made sure the deadbolt was in place. After a few close calls with police officers, Sam had decided that it was in her best interest to only leave the apartment at night, on the rare occasions that she left at all. She had learned to adjust to life on the run and always kept an eye on her surroundings and every person she crossed paths with.

After putting the groceries away in the small motel fridge, she headed into the shower. Stopping to look in the mirror, she was surprised to see the person staring back at her. Her once healthy body was now slimmed down to the point where her neck bones were starting to show. Her eyes had bags under them and she looked as though she hadn’t slept in days. To tell the truth, she couldn’t really remember the last time she slept. Every time she laid her head down, she would doze for a minute and then hear a noise or have a dream that would startle her awake and keep her up for hours; at this point, she had become too afraid to sleep.

Looking around the small bathroom as the water started to heat up, she sighed. The paint was peeling off the walls and the water pipes groaned every time they were used. The toilet was barely in one piece and the sink was being held together with some red duct tape. This wasn’t the way she wanted to live but she didn’t have many options at the moment. The motel where she was staying was the type that generally rented by the hour, didn’t ask any questions and took only cash for rent. It was a dump but the only place around where she didn’t think anyone would find her. At least she prayed every night they wouldn’t.

---------------

“AJ? AJ? Earth to AJ.”

He snapped out of his thoughts when Nick finally slammed his hand on the table in front of him.

“What?” he snapped.

“They’re almost here.”

The guys had set up a meeting with their management about possibly starting a new tour and the record company had requested a meeting with them as well. They wanted them to meet some candidates for different media staff they were hiring so that the boys would be comfortable working with them.

“Oh right.” AJ replied.

“What were you thinking about?” Brian asked.

“Something he shouldn’t be.” Kevin answered for him. “We have work to do AJ and you need to be on your game. The past is the past and it should stay that way.”

AJ glared at Kevin; he was always bringing the situation with Sam up and reminding AJ of how big a mistake he made. Knowing the she had lied to him the entire time they had known each other was incredibly painful for him and he didn’t need Kevin rubbing his nose in it every time he was distracted.

“Maybe I was thinking about something else. Did it ever occur to you…”

Howie cleared his throat as their manager brought in the first candidate. AJ was still fuming but he would have to deal with Kevin at a later time. It took them the better part of three hours but they got through all of the potential staffers and settled on the couple they thought would be the best fit for their group dynamic. The two women would be spending the afternoon with them, learning the ropes and getting to know everyone.

They were all in the lounge talking, when they noticed a group of people had started to gather around the TV set. Not wanting to miss anything important, the guys, and their new staff, took a place on the edge of the circle and listened to the broadcast.

“There is a lead in the case of Samantha Murray who is accused of murdering her husband, Massachusetts ADA Ryan Murray. Police have released information saying that she may be back in the state of California. They have reissued a warning that Mrs. Murray may be armed and dangerous and has a history of mental health problems. If you have any information on her whereabouts, please contact the state police at….”

The people started to scatter until it was the guys and their new assistants left. AJ just stared at the screen in disbelief. He couldn’t believe he had spent so much time with this woman and he didn’t know her at all. They had shared a life together and from what he could tell, it had all been a lie.

“You have terrific taste in women AJ.” Kevin muttered under his breath.

He was about to unleash all of his pent up anger on his brother when one comment stopped him in his tracks.

“I hope she got away.”
Chapter End Notes:
Please let me know what you think!!
Who Are You? by Kyrie
“Excuse me?” AJ asked as he spun around to face the two women. “What’s your name again?”

“Sarah.” the petite blonde answered.

“Ok Sarah, did you just say you hoped she got away?”

“I did.”

“She killed someone.” Brian added stunned. “You don’t know her…”

“Actually, I do. Her name is Samantha O’Brien…”

“You mean Samantha Murray.”

“No, I mean Samantha O’Brien. Murray is her married name but she never liked it. And I do know her because she was our roommate.”

“Your roommate?” Nick asked.

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry.” Kevin interjected. “I’m not sure with an attitude like yours that you belong in this environment. We have an image to protect and with someone on our team supporting a murderer….”

AJ cut Kevin off with a glare and turned back to Suzanne. “Why are you sticking up for her?” he asked.

“Because I knew Sami and I know for a fact that she didn’t do what they are saying she did.”

“Well I’m all ears.” AJ answered.

“I think…”

Howie’s statement was interrupted by Nick.

“We all know, or thought we knew, Max, or Samantha, or whatever the hell her name is and I, for one, like some answers.”

Brian nodded his head in agreement and took a seat next to Nick. Howie joined them and Kevin sighed as he sat down on one of the chairs.

AJ turned to Sarah. “Let’s hear it.”

------------------

Sam stared at the television in shock; her face was being plastered all over the news again. She leaned in to hear what they were saying, not wanting to turn up the volume in fear that someone would notice it. All the information the press was feeding people was completely made up; it sickened her to hear that she could be dangerous and was probably crazy.

As she sat there and watched the newscast fade away, she knew deep down that the only crazy thing she’d ever done is marry Ryan. He started the downhill slide of her life and she felt that she was trapped along for the ride. There was nothing she could do about it and no one who could have helped her. She had to take it upon herself to get out and she knew that what she had done was the only thing that saved her life.

She started the all familiar routine of gathering her belongings up and shoving them into the only bag she had. It was surprising how her life had become just a duffel bag and her wits. Once everything was done, she sat back and waited for nightfall.

-----------------------

“How do you know Samantha?” Brian asked.

“My sister and I were students at Northeastern and we wanted to move out of the dorms into an apartment of our own. We placed an ad for a roommate and the first person to contact us was Sami.”

“Sami?”

“Yeah. Samantha is her real name but her grandmother always called her Sami. She was the only woman in Sami’s life and she raised her since she was seven.”

“Her grandmother?”

“Sami’s parents and brother died in a car accident when she was little and she went to live with her grandmother. She only had her mom, dad and brother, her parents had no siblings and father’s parents had passed away before she was born. All she truly had was her grandmother and they were as close as mother and daughter.”

“Maybe she started having mental…”

Nick turned to Kevin. “Shut the hell up.”

Sarah ignored Kevin’s comment and Nick’s comeback.

“So Sami responded to our ad and after spending twenty minutes with her, we decided that she was perfect.”

“Yeah right.” Kevin responded, not being able to hold himself back. “She has a history of mental problems and you think she’d make the ideal roommate?”

AJ was furious. “If you make one more fucking comment about Sam, I’m gonna…”

Howie laid a hand on his arm. “Let Sarah finish.”

“I’m gonna repeat myself,” Sarah said defensively, “she doesn’t have mental problems. The only problem she ever had was Ryan Murray.”
The True Sam by Kyrie
“I don’t know what happened between all of you, but Sami was, is, honestly the nicest, most genuine person you will ever meet. She would do anything for anyone and move mountains to help the people she loved. There is not a mean bone in her body and I know she would never hurt anyone.” Sarah said, staunchly defending her friend.

“From the sounds of it, we apparently never really knew her.” Brian said quietly. “What was she like?”

Sarah smiled. “She was incredible. Everything she did was to help someone else or to make their life brighter. She was dedicated to her grandmother and she took time off between high school and college to take care of her. After her grandmother died, she decided to go to school for nursing.”

“She was a nurse?”

Sarah nodded. “Growing up with her brother having all the medical conditions he had, made her want to work in the medical field and after her grandmother passed, she became a nurse right after graduating; I don’t think there was anyone more dedicated to her job than Sam was. She even worked part time for a hospice care center. She loved life and she wanted to make sure that everyone enjoyed it, even if it was for a limited time.” The woman started to get choked up. "She was the type of person who’d get stuck outside in a rainstorm and make something fun out of it.”

“It sounds like you cared about her.”

“I did, my sister and I both did. She became like another sister to us; we could depend on her as much as we could depend on our family.”

“What happened?”

“She met Ryan and everything changed.”

-----------------

Sam started to doze off, curled up into a ball in the chair; her eyes closed and gentle snoring followed. For a change, thoughts of Ryan and her constant running were replaced with memories she had pushed away when she left. Being with AJ was one of the best times in her life and she couldn’t remember a time when she’d been happier. She would give anything to get those moments back.

-----------------

“How did she meet Ryan?”

Sarah tensed at the sound of his name. “His father was one of the hospice patients she took care of. Ryan visited his father several times during the time he was sick and took an interest in Sami.”

“It sounds like you didn’t approve.” Nick said.

“I didn’t.”

“Why?” Brian inquired.

“He rubbed me the wrong way. Something was off about him; he seemed to most people to be an upstanding and trustworthy guy. I mean after all, he was an ADA, people are supposed to trust him.”

“But you didn’t?”

“Not at all. He spent too much time chasing Sami and once he caught her, he wasn’t going to let go.” She paused. “Under any circumstances.”

“That sounds pretty ominous.” Howie added.

“It was and unfortunately I was right. Ryan and Sami dated for about six months before he asked her to marry him. She was so happy that she’d found someone and she truly believed that he would love and care for her for the rest of her life. That was the fairytale version that she wanted anyway.”

“But it wasn’t I’m guessing.”

“No, he was controlling before they got married but nothing compared to what he was like once they exchanged their vows. He knew she didn’t have any family to turn to so he decided to push her as far away from us as he could so that she would be totally dependent on him.”

“She had work right?”

“No, he made her quit that with the promise that they were going to have kids. He told her how wonderful she’d be as a mother and that she should really focus on just taking care of the kids.”

“I take it that the kid thing wasn’t ever gonna happen.” Nick stated.

“No way. Ryan was never meant to be a father and it was bad enough that Sami had to live like that. She would have never wished it on a child.”

“Live like what?”

“A human punching bag.”
Revelations by Kyrie
“A what?” Howie asked not sure if he had heard her correctly.

“A human punching bag.”

“How long did she live like that?” Nick probed.

“The whole time they were married. Once Ryan got ahold of her, we didn’t see her for six months. Then, out of nowhere, she shows up at our door covered in more black and blue than your album cover.”

AJ paled as she continued.

“She had two black eyes, handprints on her arms and neck and bruises covering most of her body. Ryan must have been abusing her since the day they married.”

“And the scars on her back?” AJ asked softly.

His four brothers’ heads turned to stare at him and Brian spoke up. “What scars?”

“I walked in on her one day in the bathroom and I saw all these thin scars all over her back. She never told me what happened and I didn’t push.”

Sarah shook her head. “Those scars were from one of Ryan’s favorite games. He used to have her stand in front of a mirror and he would point out all of the places on her body that she needed to work on. She made the mistake of telling him once that she didn’t see anything and Ryan put her through the mirror, back and head first.”

“I think I’m gonna be sick.” Brian said and dashed out of the room.

“Oh my God.” Kevin uttered.

“It got worse.”

“There’s more?”

“Yeah. We convinced Sami to call the police to report the abuse and she did. She answered all their questions and sat through the pictures and the exams and told them all the humiliating details. Two days later, a couple of state troopers show up with Ryan in tow.”

“What?!?” AJ yelled.

“Apparently being an ADA earns you some friends in the police department. The two troopers and Ryan convinced the city cops to ignore the reports saying that Sami had mental health problems and inflicted the injuries on herself.”

“They can’t do that!”

“Actually they can. And, to top it off, he got a fifty-one fifty order that allowed him to put her into the psych ward until she agreed to come home with him. That was the last time we saw her until we watched the news and they showed the arrest warrant.”

“I can’t believe all of that!” Kevin exclaimed. “No wonder she killed him.”

“I don’t think she did.” Sarah said bluntly.

“Why?”

“Because Sami hated guns, she didn’t even know how to use one.”

“Maybe she had to learn to protect herself?” Howie asked.

She shook her head. “I don’t think Ryan’s dead at all. It seems funny to me that the state of California issued the warrant for her arrest even though the supposed murder took place in Massachusetts.”

“That was weird.” Nick mentioned. “I thought the state where the crime occurred had to do it.”

“That’s what I mean. I think Ryan is alive and he figured out exactly where Sami was and what name she was living under. He had some friends do this to flush her out in the open so he could get to her.”

AJ’s heart dropped into his stomach and he felt like throwing up. “Do you think he found her?”

Sarah’s eyes filled with tears and her voice cracked as she spoke. “I hope not because if he did, the only thing anyone else will ever find is her body.”
Chapter End Notes:
I hope people are enjoying the new story! Please let me know!
Decisions by Kyrie
AJ couldn’t handle it anymore; he leapt out of his seat and stormed out of the room heading for a balcony across the hall. Nick got up to follow but Kevin motioned for him to sit back down.

“Give him a minute before you go charging out there.”

“Why?”

“Because you and I have been tearing Sam apart since the first time we met her and I don’t want him to think that we’re going to do the same thing now. He won’t be able to take it.”

Nick thought about it for a few seconds and then slumped back into his chair. Howie sat there lost in space with a sad look on his face. The information had hit all of them hard and they all wished at this point that they’d given her more of a chance when she was there. They would have liked to fix it but, based on what Sarah has just told them, they might not have the chance.

---------------

Brian was heading back to the room when he noticed AJ smoking a cigarette out on the balcony. He kept pacing back and forth and Brian had never seen his brother look as upset and angry as he did now. Slowly pushing open the door, he slipped out in the chilly air and leaned up against the railing.

“You ok J?”

“No, I’m not ok!” AJ furiously replied. “I think I know the woman in my life, I find out that I don’t and now I find out that she’s been in danger the entire time I’ve known her.”

“But you didn’t know it before.”

AJ whirled around to face him. “I’m a fucking moron Brian. The signs were all there, her scars, her fear of getting close, her always keeping me at a distance. We had an argument once and she almost leapt of her skin trying to get a good distance between us.”

“You weren’t going to hit her were you?” Brian asked in shock.

“Of course not!” AJ yelled. “You should know I’m not that kind of guy.”

“I know but the way you made it sound…”

AJ sighed and slid down against the wall. He dropped his head into his hands and started to cry. Brian felt awful and knelt down next to him; he was careful not to crowd his friend. They stayed like that for a little longer before the others, and Sarah, joined them out on the balcony; Nick was the first to speak.

“I’m sorry AJ.”

“Whatever.” his brother replied under his breath.

“Seriously AJ.” Kevin piped in. “We really mean it when we say we’re sorry. We were wrong to treat Sam that way and to not understand how you were feeling.”

AJ pulled himself up and stood face to face with Kevin. “I hope you’re still that sorry if we have to go to her funeral!”

Kevin was caught totally off-guard by the anger surfacing in AJ and took a step back as AJ stomped by him into the building.

“What are we going to do now?” Howie asked finally.

“Find her.” Nick replied with determination. “We’re going to make this right.”

------------------

Sam lay curled up on her bed, bundled under as many blankets as she could find in the room. She had planned on leaving during the night but a torrential rainstorm began just before sunset and was showing no sign of slowing down. To make matters worse, the heater in her room had died and the last thing she wanted to do was call attention to herself or her room. She would just have to deal with it and hope for the best.

Trying to get some rest, she stuck a pillow under her head and tried to push all the negative thoughts out of her head. The one thing that always made that possible was AJ and she smiled as soon as his picture came to her head. It didn’t last very long as the real world crashed in and she realized that the relationship she had with AJ was over and there was no way it could be repaired at this point. She was sure he’d seen all the news coverage and she couldn’t imagine him listening to, and believing, her side of the story with the amount of lies being spread around.

She was just climbing out of bed to use the bathroom when she heard something like pebbles bouncing off her window. Freezing, she waited for a few minutes to see if she heard it again. When she didn’t hear anything, she started her trip back to the bathroom; after two steps, it started again and she turned to check the door. It was at this point that she saw the chain hanging off the door. She quietly raced across the room and noiselessly slid it into place.

As soon as her fingers left the door, she heard a laugh outside the door; her heart seized up and the panic started in, she’d recognize that laugh anywhere. Tears started to well up in her eyes and the terror started to spread when she heard the low voice outside her door.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.” The voice teased in a menacing tone. “You know you can’t stay in there forever.”

Sam backed up and ran into the closet; she had built what she’d like to think was a mini fort where she thought she could hide for a while. It was obvious that anyone who came in would find her but she needed to have hope in maybe something going in her favor. She spent the rest of the night curled into a ball, hoping that she would get to see another morning.

------------------

Nick followed AJ down to the parking garage and caught ahold of him before his brother got in to leave. AJ stood still but refused to look Nick in the eye.

“I’m sorry J, I really am. I can’t even begin to tell you how sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter. Sam’s gone and now her ex is looking for her. With everything Sarah said about his connections, there’s no way he’s not going to find her.”

“Then we find her first.”

“What?” AJ said as his head whipped up.

“I said we need to find her first.”

“But…”

“But nothing J. She means a lot to you and she’s in serious trouble. Between you and the four of us, I know we can find a way to find her first.”

“Four?”

The others guys made their way across the parking spaces; Kevin wrapped his arm around AJ’s shoulders.

“We’re family J and we’re going to find some way to make sure Sam’s safe.”
Chapter End Notes:
Thank you to everyone for reading, please let me know what you think!
Unexpected Information by Kyrie
The guys spent the next week scouring ads and scouting websites to see if they could find someone who could help locate Sam. They didn’t tell their wives because the whole situation was still legally questionable and there were details they didn’t want the women in their lives to know. AJ was thankful for his brothers’ assistance, knowing that this task would have been far too big for him.

“I got a lead!” Howie called out as he hung up the phone.

AJ pounded up the stairs from the basement and hurtled himself towards his friend.

“What? What did you find?”

“I called the police…”

“WHAT!?!” shrieked AJ, Brian and Nick in unison.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Kevin yelled, his brows furrowing.

“Don’t jump down my throat!” Howie shouted back. “I didn’t tell them anything.”

“Then why did you call them?” AJ asked, his anger starting to show.

“Let me explain.”

Howie led everyone into AJ’s living room and took a seat by the fireplace. Nick and Brian thumped down on a couch while Kevin took the chair opposite Howie. AJ, too angry to sit, stalked around the room.

“You’d better have a good excuse Dorough.”

“I do. I told the cops that my sister had run away with a loser boyfriend and I wanted to find her for my parents.”

“You…”

“Calm down AJ.” Kevin interjected. “Let him finish.”

“Thanks Kev. I asked them if there was anyone that they used in missing persons cases. I explained that I wanted to look for her before upsetting my parents.”

At that point, nobody really knew what to say. Nick and Brian were trading glances and Kevin was shaking his head. AJ had finally stopped pacing and slumped down on the ottoman near Howie’s feet.

“What did they say?” he asked quietly.

“They told me to call a guy named Max Howard…”

AJ let out a low chuckle. “Max huh?”

Everyone stared at him until the realization hit them that Max had been Sam's alias when they knew her.

“Sounds like a good coincidence.” Nick replied. “Is he good?”

Howie nodded. “The cop that I spoke to said that the precinct uses him all the time and if he had a missing family member, he’d call him.”

“What are we waiting for then?”

--------------------

Sam watched the rain pouring down in sheets against her motel room window through a crack in the shade and sighed. Stretching out on the bed, she tried to figure out what her next move would be. Every time she had thought about leaving, the weather or too much police presence in the neighborhood would stop her. There were an unusual amount of arrests being made within the vicinity of the motel and she wasn’t all that shocked. She knew that Ryan was out there waiting for her and he was calling shots from a safe distance just to make sure she didn’t forget he was there.

The other reason was because she was simply too afraid. She knew Ryan was out there waiting for her to slip up and make a mistake. He could be in the next room, down the hall or across the street; he was waiting for her somewhere. There was nothing she could do and she knew it.

--------------------

“You’re sure about this J?”

Nick agreed to go with AJ to see Max Howard and figure out what they could do about finding Sam. He felt awful for the way he’d treated her and he knew that he needed to make it up to J and if this was how he could do it, then he would.

“Of course I’m sure.” AJ answered as he slammed the truck door shut. “I need to find her and make sure she’s ok.”

“I know. I just don’t want you to get your hopes up.”

AJ stopped short. “Why? Do you think she’s bad for our image?”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it. I want you to find her more than anyone but what if she isn’t here or doesn’t want to be found. I don’t want you to kill yourself trying.”

“I don’t care if it takes me fifty years and five million dollars. I am going to do everything I can do to find her and make sure she’s safe.”

Nick nodded and followed AJ inside. The secretary welcomed them and then pointed to a small sofa where they could sit while she went to let Max know they were there. They had just sat down when the office door opened and a short balding man wearing an expensive suit came out to greet them.

“You must be AJ.”

He nodded. “This is my friend Nick.”

Max shook hands with both men and invited them into the office. He motioned to two cushioned chairs in front of his desk and then offered them coffee or water. AJ declined and Max took a seat behind his desk and pulled out a yellow legal pad.

“So you want me to find someone for you?”

“Yes. I’m looking for a friend of mine and I don’t know where she is.”

“Does this friend want to be found?”

“It depends on who it’s by.” Nick answered under his breath.

Max’s eyebrow went up. “And who else is trying to find her?”

AJ sighed. “Her husband is looking for her.”

“I take it that’s a bad thing.”

“Very. He’s extremely abusive and I’m afraid if he finds her before we do…” AJ couldn’t finish his sentence.

“Ok. What’s her name?”

“Sam O’Brien.”

Max took a second look at him and set down his pen. “That’s the woman wanted for murdering her husband.”

AJ nodded. “But she didn’t do it.”

Max looked at him funny. “I know she didn’t.”

AJ and Nick’s jaws dropped. There was no way he knew all this before they had even got there.

“How do you know she didn’t?” Nick finally asked.

Max thought carefully for a few minutes. “Because her husband came here the other day to ask me to find her.”
Who's There? by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
Thank you to everyone for reading and reviewing. I hope you guys are still enjoying the story!
“What?” AJ exclaimed. He jumped out of his chair and slammed his hands down on the PI’s desk causing the older man to jump. “What did you say?”

Nick put his hand on AJ’s arm to restrain him; he’d never seen his brother this angry. It almost looked as though AJ would cause bodily harm to anyone who stood in his way.

“Calm down Mr. McLean.” Max said putting up his hands. “I told him I couldn’t help him.”

“Why?” AJ asked, not convinced he was getting the whole truth.

Max leaned back in the chair as he tapped a pen on his blotter. “I watch the news too. The woman in the picture he showed me looked familiar and then he showed me their wedding picture and it clicked.” He paused for a minute. “He came across as being charming but you can tell when someone’s mean to the bone.”

Both AJ and Nick understood immediately what he meant.

“Was he upset when you said no?” Nick inquired.

“Not on the outside but you could see his angry boiling just below the surface. His brain was already figuring out what else he could do to find her. Do you mind if I ask you something?”

“Whatever.” AJ responded.

“Why are you looking for Samantha?”

AJ looked him straight in the eye and his face was deadly serious. “Because I care about her and I’m going to stop him from hurting her again. Now, can you help me or not?”

“Yes.” Max replied after a few moments. “There’s this retired state trooper who helps…”

“No cops.” Nick interjected without hesitating. “Don’t forget, she has a warrant.”

“I understand but this woman has worked domestic abuse cases before. I can explain what’s going on and I will also let her know that Mr. Murray was alive and well when he came to ask me to find his wife.”

--------------------

Sam lay in bed all day thinking about what she was going to do. She had rationed out all of her food and water but in two days, it would all be gone. There was a chance she could last for a little longer with no food but the tap water in the motel was undrinkable and she couldn’t leave knowing that Ryan was waiting for her.

As she was contemplating a new course of action, she caught movement by the door out of the corner of her eye. She was watching intently to see what would happen when a piece of paper came sliding in from outside. Creeping over as quietly as she could, she picked up the paper; the top side was blank so she flipped it over and her heart stopped.

It was a photocopy of her wedding picture with a heart drawn over her face. Inside the heart was a bull’s eye and there was something written at the bottom of the page. As she read the words, she started to cry.

~You have to leave sometime and you know I’ll be waiting for you Sami. You have three days to decide. Make a good choice!~

She ripped the paper into two and slid down to the floor. Curling into a ball, she started to sob; it was only a matter of time now.

----------------------

“It’s me.” the woman’s voice said as soon as Ryan picked up. “I’m in.”

“Perfect.”

Ryan leaned back on the hotel bed and smiled to himself. He had worked long and hard on this plan to find his wife and he was determined to get what he wanted; he always did.

“So what do you want me to do?”

“Nothing for now.” he replied as he turned the TV on and starting flipping through the channels.

“What?” the voice asked incredulously. “Why?”

“Because I said so.” Ryan responded with annoyance.

“But I thought we were getting rid of her.” the voice whined. “Wasn’t that the plan?”

Ryan thought about it as he stared at the menu options. Originally, he had intended to find her and get rid of her altogether but since he’d found her, there was a new objective. When she misbehaved or acted stupidly it made him angry and he punished her; this made him happy. But now, what excited him even more was watching her panic and live every day in fear that this would be the day. Her anxiety and terror would slowly drive her crazy and he wanted to savor every minute of it.

“There’s a new plan.”

--------------------

Sam was so exhausted that she could barely see; she wanted to sleep but her fear kept her awake. It had been two days since she received the picture and there hadn’t been one out of the two thousand eight hundred and eighty minutes that passed where she felt safe. There hadn’t been anything else slipped under her door and for most people, that would make them a little more at ease but she knew Ryan. When he said something, he meant it and when he made a threat, he always followed through on it. She knew that he was true to his word and never changed his mind.

Her exhaustion was starting to win but right before she started to doze, she heard the door knob rattle. It turned a few times before she heard a set of keys jangle and several male voices start to rise. Flying off the bed, she raced over to the closet and tried to bury herself under a pile of blankets she had stacked. It probably wouldn’t do her any good but, since there was no other way out, she figured she had to try anyway.

As she sat there and shivered, she heard the door open and the voices start to mumble. She listened as they checked under the bed and then in the bathroom. The footsteps finally made their way over to the closet and she bit her lip to keep from crying out. The door opened and she saw his eyes staring down at her and she started to sob. All the anxiety, panic and fatigue overcame her and she fainted before the long arms reached down to grab her.
Complications by Kyrie
Sam’s eyes began to flutter open and she tried to focus on where she was. Her eyes started to adjust to the light and as her gaze made its way around the room, she saw the figure standing by the window. She leapt off the bed but came crashing to the floor as her legs got tangled in the blanket. Scurrying towards the wall, she curled into a ball, wrapped her arms around her head and started to cry.

“Please, please, I’ll do whatever. Please don’t hurt me.”

“Shhh.” the voice said and gently placed a hand on her arm. “It’s me, it’s Lauren.”

Sam slowly unwrapped her arms and peeked at the woman through her tears. It really was Lauren and she was so grateful to see her that she pulled her close and held on with everything she could. She felt as though she was sinking in an ocean and Nick’s wife was a life raft. Lauren put a protective arm around her and listened as Sam cried all of her emotions out. When she was quiet, Lauren crawled over to the bedside table, grabbed the tissues and made her way back to the young woman.

“Here.” Lauren said, handing her a tissue. “You don’t have to worry anymore, you’re safe.”

“Where am I?” she asked quietly.

“AJ’s.”

Sam tried to focus her vision again and she took a long, slow look around the room. She finally recognized it as one of AJ’s guest bedrooms and she took a deep breath in and settled back against Lauren.

“How did I get here?”

“AJ and Nick found you in a motel room yesterday and brought you here. They’ve been so worried about you.”

“Nick?”

Lauren nodded.

“But I thought he hated me.”

Lauren couldn’t help but chuckle. “You’ve spent the last six months on the run from a lunatic and you’re worried about Nick disliking you?”

Sam turned beet red. “I guess my priorities are a little off.”

“We’ll help you get them back.” Lauren said and leaned her head against the wall. “Nick and AJ have been searching for you all week. I have never seen AJ that frantic; he fought hard to find you before Ryan did.”

Her husband’s name sent shivers up her spine and she cringed. “I’m not guilty you know.” she told her quietly.

“We know.”

Sam’s head shot up. “How do you…”

“Sarah showed up…”

“Sarah’s here?” Sam asked as her eyes welled up again. “Where is she? Can I see her?”

Lauren smiled. “She’s coming by tomorrow. We thought you should rest today.” Lauren paused for a moment. “She told the guys what happened to you.”

Sam clammed up instantly; she could only imagine what they were thinking. They probably thought she had done something to deserve it or that she was so stupid for putting up with it for as long as she did. That’s what everyone else thought so it wouldn’t be too much of a leap for them to think it too.

“They’re not thinking that.” Nick’s wife said as though she was reading her mind. “They’re upset because no one helped you, no one kept you safe.”

Sam stared at her.

“You need to understand these guys. Family is everything to them and they will go above and beyond to protect their families. All five of them would go to hell and back to make sure that the people they love feel safe.”

“But I’m not family…”

“Honey, you became family the minute you agreed to stay here with AJ.” Lauren stood up and stretched. “Speaking of the tattooed one, I should let him know you’re awake.”

Sam’s hand shot out and grabbed her arm. “Please don’t.”

Lauren gave her a funny look. “Why?”

“Because he’ll come up and try to convince me to stay.”

The other woman’s face hardened. “Sam, they spent weeks looking for you. How can you even think about leaving? It would devastate AJ.”

“It’ll be worse for him if I stay.”

“How do you figure that?”

Sam went silent and debated whether or not to tell Lauren that Ryan had already found her. After a few minutes, she decided it would be smart to tell her and hope that she would agree with Sam that leaving is the best idea.

“He’s not safe as long as I’m here. None of you are.”

Sam pulled herself up and sat down on the bed, untangling herself from the sheets. Lauren took a seat next to her and waited for her to continue.

“I have to be honest with you. Ryan already found me.”

“What?” Lauren yelped.

“Sshh.” Sam said quietly. “He already knew I was at the motel.”

“Are you sure?”

Sam nodded. “He’s been sending me messages all week and he was probably watching when AJ and Nick came to get me. Someone must have already followed them and figured out I was here. That’s why I have to leave.”

“But you’ll be walking into a trap.”

“It’s better that way.”

“How can you say that?”

“If I leave now, Ryan’ll be focused on me and I don’t think he’ll bother any of you if I’m not here. He’ll forget about all of you and he won’t concentrate on you guys helping me. Trust me, I know him.”

Lauren didn’t say anything for a few moments. Sam stood up and headed towards the bathroom; once she cleaned herself up a little, she took a seat next to Lauren again.

“I don’t think this is a smart idea Sam. You’re walking right into…”

“I know what I’m doing Lauren. I need to do this to keep all of you safe.”

“AJ won’t let you leave you know. He’ll stop you before you get to the door.”

“That’s why you can’t tell him I’m awake.” Sam responded. “I’ll wait until everyone’s asleep and I’ll leave. I can be really quiet when I need to be.”

“I don’t know.”

Sam grabbed Lauren’s hand. “I’m begging you Lauren, please don’t say anything. You can explain everything to him once I leave. Me leaving is the best thing I can do for everyone involved.”

Lauren considered it and eventually agreed to keep quiet. She helped Sam get settled and waited until the young woman was asleep before leaving the room.

----------------

It was dark out when Sam woke up and the alarm clock read three fifteen am. This was the perfect time to get out. No one would still be awake and she could get out as quickly as she could. Straightening out the bed and covers, she slipped out the bedroom door and crept down the stairs. Everything was going well until she realized AJ had set the house alarm; she was racking her brain so hard to remember the code that she missed the person coming out of the kitchen until he was right there.

“So you are leaving.”
I Won't Take No For An Answer by Kyrie
Sam jumped as she heard Nick’s voice call out. She turned and saw him standing in the doorway of the kitchen, leaning against the frame with his arms crossed. Knowing she’d been caught, she tried to think of something to say so that Nick would help her leave.

“I…”

Nick held up one hand. “Stop, Lauren already told us everything.”

Sam’s jaw dropped. “But…”

“She’s my wife Sam, she’s not going to keep secrets like that from me. She’s also not going to let you walk into a dangerous situation without a fight.”

Sam hung her head; she knew that she shouldn’t have asked Lauren to lie to them and keep her secret. Nick made his way over to her, took her upper arm in his hand and gently steered her towards the living room. He plopped down on the couch and motioned for her to sit down as well. She hesitated but finally gave in and dropped down onto the sofa. Both sat there for a few minutes before Nick broke the silence.

“Why on Earth are you leaving?” he asked. “And I don’t want Lauren’s version, I want the whole story from you.”

Sam sighed and leaned her head back onto the couch. “I don’t want to leave Nick but I have to. The longer I stay here, the worse it will be for all of you. Don’t forget, you’re technically harboring a fugitive.”

“That’s the least of our problems. We all know your crazy ex is alive and kicking and if you leave, you’re running the risk of leading him straight to you. It’s safer that you stay here.”

“No it’s not.” Sam said and stood up. “He’s going to find out I’m here if he doesn’t already know by now and he’ll make your lives hell for helping me. If I leave now, he’ll be concentrating on keeping an eye on me and where I go instead of all of you.”

Sam was pacing back and forth across the living room as Nick caught a glimpse of who she really was. He could tell she was scared as hell of leaving and finding Ryan on the other side of the door but Sarah was right, she’d do anything to protect other people. He needed to find a way to convince her to let them do the right thing for her.

“You know AJ’s not going to let you leave. None of us are.”

“You don’t have a choice Nick.” Sam said and stared him in the eye. He could see the fear just below the surface and he stood up, walked over to her and gave her a huge hug.

“We’re here for you Sam. Stop worrying about us and start worrying about you.”

Nick’s hug caught her off-guard and she started to cry. He held her for a minute then led her back to the sofa. Once she was settled, he pulled an afghan over her and took a seat by her feet.

“How much do you know about me Sam?”

She gave him a funny look and Nick laughed. He thought back to all the times he ignored her and how they were hardly ever on friendly terms.

“Forget I asked.” he replied to his own question. “I’ve been through a lot of shitty relationships in my life and no matter what, whether I screwed up or not, the guys have always been here for me. I can turn to any of them and whatever I need, they’ll do.”

“I know how close you guys are.” Sam said quietly. “I could always tell that you weren’t just friends but were a solid family.”

“These guys have been my family.” Nick took a deep breath. “I was in an abusive relationship. Hell, I kind of still am.”

“Lauren?”

“No, my family.”

“What?”

Nick leaned back and faced her. “My parents are two people who should have never married or met for that matter. They weren’t designed to have kids and for most of my life, I’ve been parenting myself.”

“That’s awful.”

“It has been but I don’t want to focus on that part. My family has been cruel with things they’ve said about me and how they’ve treated me but I have never had to doubt I had another family I could turn to. These guys are my brothers and have been such a better family than the one I was born into.”

“How does that apply to me?”

Nick looked her in the eyes and held his gaze. “You’re family now and we’re going to do whatever we can to protect you. No matter what, we’ll keep you safe.”

Sam shook her head. “It’s not the same thing Nick. You guys have been together for more than twenty years, you really are a family.” She played with the afghan and turned her head away from him; her next words were just a whisper. “Besides, your family may be bad but at least they don’t want you dead.”

Her words shocked Nick; they all knew how bad her husband was but to hear her actually say those words was like a body blow. He couldn’t imagine what it was like to be her and on the run from someone who literally wanted to end her life.

“This is exactly the reason why you need to let us help you.” Nick stood up and stretched. Placing a gentle hand under her arm, he helped her up. “You’re going back to bed, no arguments and no sneaking out. I’ll sleep outside your bedroom door if I have to.”

Sam stood up and followed him; she didn’t want to admit it but she was exhausted and as much as she wanted to leave, she knew she wouldn’t make it far without some rest.

“I’ll stay tonight.” she said as they made it to her door. “After that, I can’t promise anything.”

“I’ll take that,” Nick said, “for now.” He leaned down and kissed her on the head. “Go get some rest.”

He watched Sam climb into bed and then he quietly closed the door. Rubbing his eyes, he made his way into the guest room he and Lauren were staying in. He climbed into bed and she stirred.

“Is it my turn to watch for her?” she whispered half asleep.

“No.” Nick said and pulled her into his side tightly. “I don’t think she’s going anywhere tonight.”
Chapter End Notes:
Thank you to everyone who has been reading! I'm sorry I've been slow with the updates but I hope you're still enjoying it!
It's You! by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I am SO sorry for the delay in updating! Please let me know what you're thinking and I hope that all the time between updates hasn't discouraged you from reading!
Nick was right and they woke to find Sam sound asleep in her bed. The plan was to have Sarah come over that afternoon and, after the conversation last night, it was clear that she needed someone who had known her for a while to cement her staying. Lauren was busy putting together an outfit from AJ’s sweats and t-shirts when she heard Sam cry out from down the hall. She raced down to the room and almost collided with Nick and AJ in the process.

“Let me do this.” Lauren said pushing the two of them back a little. “It’ll be easier for her to wake up to me instead of the two of you.”

Lauren slipped through the door and they could hear her shushing Sam back into sleep. It hurt AJ deeply to see the pain that she was obviously going through and more than anything, he wanted to see Ryan suffer for everything he’d put her through.

It took a few minutes before she reappeared and the guys followed her down to AJ’s room where she finished pulling together something that Sam would fit into.

“Is she ok?” AJ asked quietly.

Lauren shook her head no. “This isn’t the first nightmare she had and I think it’s going to take a long time,” Lauren paused for a minute, “and one dead body before she’s going to be ok.”

Nobody had to ask her whose dead body it would be and frankly, they all wished they could do it for her.

“Do you think she’s safe here?”

“Yeah I do. I know we’ll all protect her.” Nick answered his brother. “No matter what she says, she’s safer here with us than she’ll ever be if we let her leave.”

“I agree.” Lauren seconded and looked over the outfit in her hands. “But we need to find her better clothes.”

---------------------

It was an hour or so later when Sam finally awoke after yet another nightmare. Lauren was fixing some flowers in a vase when she heard her cry out.

“It’s ok Sam.” Lauren said in a soothing voice. “You’re fine.”

She eventually opened her eyes and looked around the room. The drapes were still drawn but Nick’s wife had lit a candle and put a bouquet of beautiful roses in a vase on the bureau.

“It smells good in here.” she said quietly and Lauren laughed.

“It had better between the roses and the candles.”

Sam chuckled and pushed the sheets away from her. “How long have I been asleep?”

“On and off for about eight hours. I don’t think you slept that well though.”

“I didn’t.” Sam answered and paused. “It was the nightmares again huh?”

Lauren nodded and helped her stand up. “Why don’t you go take a shower and get cleaned up?”

“I don’t have any clothes to change into.”

“I know, I put a pair of AJ’s sweats and a t-shirt in the bathroom for you.”

“Thank you but what happens when he runs out of stuff I can wear?”

“One step ahead of you.” Lauren said as she steered her towards the bathroom. “I sent the boys shopping.”

Sam’s eyes went wide. “They left? What if…”

“Calm down. AJ called Drew and he came over. He has strict orders that if Ryan comes anywhere near here, he’s to throttle him and AJ’ll pay for a lawyer.”

Sam burst out in laughter and Lauren smiled. “I knew that would do it. Go get cleaned up and don’t forget Sarah will be here in a little while.”

The thought of seeing her old friend made Sam smile and she thanked Lauren as she went to the bathroom to shower. Turning on the water, she stuck her hand in to test the temperature and started to relax. The fact that she was going to take a warm shower and wear clean clothes for the first time in six months made her want to cry; a few minutes later, the tears came flooding out and she sat in the tub as she let everything out.

When she was finally cried out and cleaned up, she climbed out of the tub and toweled her hair as dry as she could. She turned to look in the mirror and was stunned by what she saw, her eyes had huge bags and her hair was long and straggly. Being clean was an improvement but she still looked like a homeless person that had been out on the street for a while; she was actually embarrassed for them to see her that way.

As she tugged on one of the t-shirts Lauren had left, she was caught off guard by the scent of AJ’s cologne. She pulled it close to her face and inhaled. This was the smell that she had fallen asleep with for the short time she and AJ had been together. She had never forgotten it and the happy memories it brought back made her want to cry again. Pushing the emotions down, she finished getting dressed and made her way back into the bedroom.

Lauren must have gone back downstairs and Sam wandered over to the window. She’d been locked in the dark for so long that she needed to feel light on her skin. Pulling back the curtains, the sun fell into the room and she soaked up the rays as she stared at the ocean behind his house. She desperately wanted to walk on the hot sand and feel it between her toes as the water lapped at her ankles. Unfortunately, she already knew how much danger they were all in and no matter what, she wouldn’t make it any worse by exposing herself.

She made her way back to the bed and just as she started to sit down, the door burst open and she smiled as she threw herself into the arms of her best friend.
Reactions by Kyrie
“Sami!” Sarah cried as she threw her arms around her friend and squeezed her tightly. “Thank God they found you!”

Both women held onto each other and cried; Sam was just happy to see her old friend and Sarah was glad that AJ found her. They stayed locked for a few more minutes as Lauren slipped out of the room and allowed them some privacy.

“How are you?” Sarah asked as they finally sat down.

“Ok physically but mentally, I’m not at all.”

“Are you still having the nightmares?”

“How did you…”

Sarah took her friend’s hand. “You used to have them when you stayed with us that time you ran away from Ryan. It seemed like they came several times a night. I remember how you used to scream yourself awake.”

Sam’s eyes filled with tears and she was so appreciative of her friend’s looks of love and concern.

“I’m sorry…”

“Don’t apologize.” Sarah replied. “There’s nothing you need to apologize for.”

Sam wiped her eyes and squeezed her hand. “I’m so grateful to have you here. I honestly never thought I’d see you again.”

“You’re tougher than you think Sami; I never had a doubt I’d see you at some point.”

“I’m not tough.” she responded as she stood and made her way over to the window. “I’m probably the weakest person…”

Sarah made her way over. “It takes a tough woman to withstand everything that happened to you. It would take a lot to make you go down without a fight.”

“Thanks Sar, that means a lot to me.”

“I mean it. You’re not going down easily.”

--------------------

“Whose car is that?” AJ asked with concern as he entered the house.

“Calm down J.” Drew answered. “It’s her friend. You knew that she was coming right?”

“Yeah. We thought it would be good for her to come over and check on her.”

“So what clothes did you get?” Lauren asked as she wiped her hands on her apron. “And please tell me it’s not all pink or has skulls all over it.”

“What’s wrong with skulls?” AJ teased with a smile. “They’re a fashion statement.”

“Only for you Alexander.”

AJ laughed and piled the bags onto the counter. Lauren went through them and found all the items she’d asked him to buy as well as a few pretty items he threw in for good measure.

“Good job AJ.” Lauren said with a smile.

“You mean good job Nick.” her husband said as he wrapped his arms around her waist. “I had to keep a leash on him!”

“Shut it Carter.”

“Whatever McLean.”

“I hate to break up the love fest but did you ever tell the private investigator that you found her?” Drew asked breaking into the friendly argument. “I think that if he keeps looking, it might be safer for all of you because the husband might not realize that you found her.”

AJ and Nick looked at each; neither one had thought to do that.

“I hate saying it but I think you need to tell the guy she’s here but to pretend to keep looking.”

AJ nodded and pulled out his cell phone. He dialed the number he had memorized and waited for Max to pick up the phone.

“Hello Mr. McLean. How are you?”

“I’m good actually. I wanted to let you know that we found her.”

“Samantha?”

“Yeah, we found her the other day.”

“That’s wonderful news! I’ll call my friend so she can stop…”

“Actually, I was hoping I could pay you to keep looking for a while.”

“But you said…”

“I know but we were thinking that if you kept looking, it might throw Ryan off for a little longer.”

Max paused. “Do you think that’s safe?”

“Honestly? I don’t know but I do know that I need to keep her as safe as I can. Could you call your friend and explain? I’ll pay whatever I have to.”

“Ok. I’ll call her right now.”

---------------------

Ryan picked up his cell off the table and grinned when he saw the familiar number flash onto the screen.

“I hope you have good news for me.”

“They have her.” the woman responded.

“Are you sure?” Ryan said as he sat down by the window. “I need to be absolutely positive that she’s with them.”

“I’m certain, I just got confirmation that she’s at McLean’s house.”

“Perfect.”

“So what’s the next move?”

“We wait.”

“What?” the female shrieked. “You said we could get going as soon as we were sure. Why are you…”

“Shut up!” Ryan yelled as he smashed a vase on the bedside. “You’re so lucky you’re not standing here right now!”

The woman quickly got quiet; she knew the consequences she’d face if she pushed him.

“Good.” Ryan responded to the silence. “I’m glad you understand and I’m anticipating that you’ll remember your place the next time we talk. I’ll call you when I’m ready to move forward. Keep your cell on and wait for me to get in contact.”
Unsettling News by Kyrie
Sam sat on the chair in her bedroom a week later, staring out at the ocean while trying to read her book. She had read the same passage ten times now and finally gave up, throwing the book on the floor and curling up. Being cooped up in the house was starting to drive her crazy; she knew that it was the safest place for her but after being on the run for more than six months, she was beyond frustrated.

Ryan had been ruining her life since she married him and even now, being away from him, he was continuing to do it. There was no place for her to go and as much as she appreciated everyone’s help, the only two people she ever saw were Nick and Lauren. It was AJ’s house but he never came up to see her. Hell, she wasn’t even sure if he was ever there. She knew what it was like to be stuck away as Ryan’s trophy wife but now she knew what it was like to be shut up in an attic somewhere where the owner was happy she was there.

She was starting to get worked up when she heard the knob on the door rattle. Turning, she saw Lauren’s head poking through the door and she forced herself to smile.

“Hey Sam. How are you?”

“Ok. Tired of being stuck up here.”

“Why don’t you come downstairs for a while?”

“I don’t think AJ wants me down there.”

“Why would you say something like that?” Lauren asked as she squatted down near the chair.

Sam finally lost some of her patience. “He pretends that I’m not here. I bet he’d be happier if I just left!”

Lauren reeled back. “Is that what you really think?”

“Yes.”

“Then you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

-----------------

Nick relaxed on the couch while he watched as AJ paced the living room floor. He had just told his brother that he and Lauren would be leaving in a few hours and heading back to their home. This, of course, meant that AJ would not be totally alone with Sam. Nick thought he’d love to get his space back and would like the chance to develop a better relationship with the woman he was just starting to get to know again.

“Are you sure you have to go?” AJ asked as he turned to face him.

“Yes.” Nick replied with a sigh. “We’ve been here for two weeks J. We have lives to get back to as well as a couple of dogs who are not happy with us for kenneling them.”

“I said you could bring them here.”

“You’re missing my point dude. Lauren and I have other responsibilities to get back too. Besides, don’t you want your home back?”

AJ dropped into the chair next to the sofa and put his head in his hands.

“Yes.” he mumbled. “But there’s Sam.”

“She doesn’t bite J. Although I hear she’s handy with a gun.”

AJ’s head snapped up. “That’s not fucking funny Nick! She needs to be protected not…”

“Now that’s the AJ I know.” Nick said as he put his hand on AJ’s shoulder. “You’re going to be fine.”

“How?” AJ asked. “She can’t even be near me.”

-------------

“Do you know what AJ does every time you have a nightmare?”

“Sleep through it?” Sam snapped. She knew that Lauren was trying to help and she didn’t mean to take out her anger on her. It was just all the pain she’d been through boiling over.

“Scoot over.”

Lauren pushed her over a little and took a seat on the arm of the chair. She understood why Sam was so infuriated; it wasn’t directed at any of them but at the situation and what had been done to her. Thinking back on it, she should have explained AJ’s behavior before now.

“He races me to your door?”

“What?”

Lauren nodded. “He gets here before me every time. The first time it happened, he wanted to go in but I was afraid you’d freak out if you woke up to a guy in your room. I persuaded him to wait outside and let me try. He wasn’t happy about it but when he saw that you were scared by me, he was hurting but understood…”

“So now he lets you do it?”

“Kind of.” she replied. “He still races me to your door every time but, instead of coming in, he sits by the door until I’m done getting you back to sleep. Then he has to come in and check your room and make sure you’re sleeping; he wants to make certain you’re safe.”

Sam sat there stunned and let Lauren’s words sink in. She hadn’t seen AJ since the night they brought her here and she assumed that he had done it out of pity and was now regretting the whole situation. When she found out that Lauren and Nick were leaving, she had been scared of what would happen and now, she wasn’t as scared as uncomfortable.

“I know it’ll be different without us,” Lauren said, reading her thoughts, “but give AJ a chance. Open up some and let him in Sam. He wants to help you but he doesn’t know how. He’s not used to situations like this but he will do whatever he can to make you feel better.”

“But how do I do that?” Sam asked as her eyes filled with tears and she turned away to hide them.

“Go downstairs…”

“But the windows!” Sam protested as she thought of AJ’s floor to ceiling window walls.

“AJ has blinds. Tell him you’re coming down and he’ll close them.”

“But…”

“No more buts. AJ’s used to be a fixer; let him help you. I know you’re scared of the whole situation but let him in. He’ll keep you safe Sam.”

All the young woman could do was nod and hope she was right.
First Night Together by Kyrie
Nick and Lauren had been gone an hour and AJ wanted to run upstairs to check on Sam but was afraid to. Lauren had told him about their conversation and it genuinely hurt him that she thought he didn’t care. All he wanted to do was to help her and he was frustrated that he had no idea how to do that.

It was almost dinnertime so he decided to make something, hoping he could get her to leave the bedroom for a while. A half hour later, he had managed to pull together a salad and some pasta. He went to the bottom of the stairs to call out to her but decided it might scare her by shouting. Just as he was hitting the top stair, he heard her start screaming and he bolted down the hallway and right into her room. He raced over to the bed and tried to wake her up. Instantly, he knew it was a mistake.

Her eyes finally flew open and she tumbled out of bed, crawling towards the wall. It was the same thing she’d done the first time Lauren had tried to help her. Her arms instinctively flew up to her face and she started to tremble with fear. AJ was equally shaken up and he backed off immediately. He decided that he should try to talk her down rather than invade her space.

“Sshh Sam, it’s just me. It’s AJ.”

He crouched down to her level but stayed on the other side of the room. She moved her arms up a little so she could peer out between them. It looked like AJ but the room as dark and she couldn’t be sure. The thought that it might not be him made her shake and she pulled more into herself.

“Can I turn on the light?” AJ asked without making any moves.

Sam didn’t reply but she didn’t move further away either. AJ made his way quietly over to her nightstand and turned on the bedside lamp. He immediately went back across the room and gave her some time to adjust to the light and look back over to where he was. When she was finally sure it was him, she unwrapped her arms and crawled back over to the bed. She pulled herself up and took a seat at the end.

AJ stood up but he didn’t make his way over to her. Instead, he took the chair, turned it towards her and sat down. He waited for her to settle down some and then indicated to the spot next to her. She nodded and he gently made his way over to the bed and sat down next to her.

“I’m sorry.” she said quietly.

He reached his hand out but she jerked hers away. The gesture stung but he understood why she did it.

“You don’t have to ever be sorry Sam. I should be the one apologizing for scaring you. I just wanted to help when I heard you yelling.”

“And I freaked out.”

“With every reason too. You’ve been through so much…”

AJ stopped talking for a minute and just looked at her. He had only seen her for a little while before he’d brought her home. She was an absolute mess at the motel but since she’d been there, Lauren had helped her clean up. Her chocolate brown hair spilled over her shoulders and she smelled like the coconut shampoo Lauren had bought her.

When she finally looked at AJ to see why he paused, he saw a pair of beautiful blue eyes staring at him. When she had been Max, he thought her black hair and brown eyes were pretty but seeing her as Sam made her ten times more attractive. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her but he decided that this moment wasn’t right.

Sam stood up and made her way to the bathroom to wash her face. He watched the way she moved and he realized how much he’d missed her when she was gone. It had taken him months to get her to open up to him the first time and it almost seemed like he was starting all over again. She finished and made her way back over to the bed, sitting next to him but not too close.

“What did you come up for?” she asked as she turned to look at him.

“I made some dinner and I wanted to see if you were hungry.”

Her stomach growled in response to his question and they both laughed. It was the first happy moment he’d had with her since before she was gone.

“I guess I am.”

“Do you want me to bring you up something?” he asked, standing up.

She shook her head. “I’d actually like to come down but can I ask a favor?”

“Anything.”

“Do you mind pulling the blinds across the windows? I’m afraid…”

“Absolutely. Give me five minutes and I’ll make sure no one can see in.”

“Thank you.”

AJ gave her a smile and made a dash downstairs to do what she asked. It took him a few minutes but he called up to her when it was safe. He was pulling plates out of the cabinets when she made her way into the kitchen cautiously.

“I’m sorry you can’t enjoy the view.”

“I’ve seen enough of the view from living here.” AJ said pulling out a chair for her. “If it makes you feel better, I can board up the entire house if you want.”

Sam giggled and watched as he served up the food for both of them. As he sat down, she realized that this was the first time since she’d run that she was going to sit down to a dinner with another person.

“Thank you.” she said as he handed her the plate. “Thank you for everything.”

AJ smiled at her. “You don’t have to thank me Sam. You’ve been through so much and you deserve to have a safe space you can live in. I’ll help you any way I can, all you have to do is ask.”

She nodded in response and they spent a quiet night eating dinner and talking about the weather and any interesting news AJ had caught on the news he watched earlier. After they finished, Sam thanked him again and made her way back up to her room. The nightmare and dinner had taken a lot out of her and she found herself exhausted.

AJ finished the dishes and made his way up to his room to watch a movie. He made sure to stop by Sam’s room and make sure she was ok. By the time he opened the door, she was sound asleep under the covers and he smiled. Quietly closing the door, he headed down to his room and crawled into bed. Maybe Nick was right and really could handle this.
Unexpected Nightmare by Kyrie
Sam awoke the next morning after a fitful sleep. She hadn’t had another nightmare but she couldn’t shake this uneasy feeling she had. Stretching, she got out of bed, showered and changed her clothes. As she made her way to her chair, she noticed a note that was propped up against her bedside lamp.

Sam,
I had to go to the grocery store. I wanted Drew to come over and stay with you but he couldn’t. I promise to be back very soon.

~J

As soon as she finished reading the note, the panic crept in. She was here alone with no way to reach anyone since she didn’t have a phone or know any numbers to call. Racing out into the hallway, she noticed that AJ had opened the blinds again so going downstairs to wait wasn’t possible.

What if anyone came to the house? What if Ryan showed up? What was she going to defend herself with? The questions and thoughts made her fight for each breath. It felt like she was on the run again except this time, she was stuck in a beautiful prison. As she sat there, frightened out of her mind, she heard a car pull into the driveway. She ran into the guest room that faced the driveway and cautiously separated the blinds to see who it was.

Two men stepped out of the vehicle; one came up to the door to ring the bell while the other one looked around. She watched as he scanned the drive, the sidewalk and the neighborhood. He was dressed in a simple suit with sunglasses and a hat shading his face. His walk and mannerisms seemed familiar to her and when he stared up at the window where she was, her blood froze. There was no mistake, Ryan had found her!

She slammed herself into the wall next to the window and prayed to God he didn’t see her. The blinds had hidden her well but she could have sworn he smiled at her when she watched him look up. There was a good chance that he knew she was there and she started to quake. Slipping down to the floor, she curled into a ball and started to sob.

-----------

It took AJ longer than expected to run the errands and he was starting to get nervous about being away from Sam for this long a period of time. He finally got through the line and loaded up his truck. Breaking the speed limit to get home, he started to breathe a sigh of relief as he pulled in. The relief was replaced with panic when he saw the unfamiliar car in his driveway and the two men at his door.

He parked his car, jumped out and raced up the walkway. The two men heard him coming and turned to face him.

“Mr. McLean?”

“Yes.” he said out of breath. “That’s me. Who are you?”

One of them flashed a badge and took off his sunglasses. The other one kept his distance and tried to not focus on AJ. He looked over the badge before handing it back to the older man.

“What do you want?”

“Actually, we were hoping you could help us.”

“With what?” AJ asked as he positioned himself between the two men and his front door.

The one with the badge pulled a picture of Sam out of his jacket and AJ had to try with all his might to not acknowledge that he knew who it was.

“Who’s she?” he feigned ignorance at the sight of her.

“Samantha Murray. She’s a very dangerous woman and we heard that she might be in the area.”

“I haven’t seen her.”

“Does anyone live with you?”

“No.”

“Is there someone who stays with you?”

“Just some friends of mine.”

“Are you home often?”

“Yes.” AJ answered with force; he didn’t like where the conversation was going.

“Can I give you my number in case you see her?”

As he nodded, he turned to watch the other gentleman. After staring for a few moments, he realized that Ryan was standing in his driveway! He grabbed the number the other man handed him and then watched as they got back in their car and pulled out of the driveway. After he was sure they were gone, he raced into the house, locked the door and turned on the alarm. He tore up the stairs and barged into Sam’s room. After realizing she wasn’t there, he started calling her name softly and he finally heard crying when he passed one of the guest bedrooms.

AJ walked in and didn’t see anything at first. Then he heard sobbing and gasping coming from the closet. He opened the door and his heart sank; Sam was curled into the fetal position, hidden behind some blankets and she was crying so badly that her entire body shook.

Without thinking, he dropped to the floor and pulled her into his arms. Surprisingly, she didn’t fight him and instead, grabbed a hold of him and practically crawled into his lap. He held her against him tightly and tried to reassure her she was safe. It took an hour before she finally relaxed some with him and was able to pull back. Her cheeks were stained with tears and her face showed her fear.

“What if he comes back?” she asked quietly, the thought making her shudder.

“We’ll figure it out.”

“How?”

“I’ll think of something.”

“I couldn’t call you.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have left you.” AJ admitted. “I did get you a phone that you can use. I had them program a few numbers for you.”

“Thank you.” she said as she tried to get to her feet.

She stumbled and AJ caught her before she fell. He helped her down to her room and waited for her to clean her face. When she was ready, he tucked her in and started to leave.

“Will you stay with me?” she whispered.

AJ turned around and nodded. He pulled her chair over to the bed where she could clearly see him and slid into it.

“Try to rest.” he told her as he took hold of her hand.

“You won’t leave?”

“I’m not going to leave you again.”
Communication by Kyrie
When Sam woke up a few hours later, the room was dark and the chair by her bed was empty. She switched on the bedside lamp and noticed a phone and piece of paper propped up against her books. Opening the note, she read the two words “Call me”.

She opened the phone and went directly to the contacts, finding that AJ had done what he said. Listed in order of importance, he had plugged in his, Nick, Lauren, Drew and Sarah’s phone numbers linking them all to speed dial numbers. Letting herself relax against the bed, she pushed speed dial one and AJ answered on the second ring.

“Hey sleepyhead.”

“Hey.”

“I’m taking it you found my note.” AJ said over the din of something clattering on his end.

“What was that?”

“Nothing. How do you like your new phone?”

“It’s great and thank you for picking the blue one.”

“No problem. I figured you needed one is case of an emergency.”

He didn’t add that she should have gotten one sooner so that she could have called him when Ryan showed up that morning. She was thinking the same thing when a warning bell went off.

“What if someone gets ahold of your phone? They’ll have my number…”

“Calm down.” AJ said gently. “You’re listed in my phone as Eddie the plumber. I think you’re safe.”

Sam burst out in laughter. “A plumber huh?”

“Yup.” AJ said with a chuckle. “By the way, I got you the phone for another reason too. Whenever you want to come down, just call me and I’ll make sure the blinds are closed. It’s probably safer than both of us yelling up and down to each other.”

She was so grateful that he had been so considerate and protective and she felt awful for doubting his intentions. The assumption that he didn’t care was completely wrong and she hoped that he would be able to overlook her poor judgment.

“Can I come down now?”

“Can you wait a half hour? I ordered salad and pizza for us and it should be here soon.” Sam heard some clanking. “Plus, I want to finish something.”

Sam was intrigued by AJ’s mission but agreed to do as he asked. She showered, changed and decided to braid her hair while she waited. Her mother had done it all the time when she was younger and the memory made her smile. Whenever she had a tough night with Ryan, she’d retreat into her memories in order to distance herself from what was being done to her.

About twenty minutes later, AJ called her on her new phone to say that it was safe to come down. Just to make sure, she crept into the hallway and saw that the blinds were blocking the outside view. She headed down and into the kitchen where AJ was filling two bowls with salad. He looked up when he heard her and his hands stopped moving.

“You’re beautiful.” he blurted out and instantly wanted to take back. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

He felt awful for telling her she was attractive but it was hard to keep the thoughts to himself. With everything she’d been through, he wanted her to know that she was still a beautiful woman and that he cared about her.

Sam blushed at the compliment but didn’t say anything. Instead, she took a seat at the island as he finished putting out their dinner.

“I wanted to make something but I forgot about the groceries in the car.”

“I guess they’re no good huh.” she added quietly.

“Nope.” he replied. “I’m going to have to go get…”

“You’re leaving?” she asked as she jumped off the stool in panic.

AJ reached out and touched her arm. “Relax Sam, Lauren and Drew are coming to stay with you…”

“But what about you?” she asked, concerned for his safety now.

“Nick is coming with me.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m positive. I promise to be careful and after this morning, I am never leaving you alone again.”

Sam believed him and started to settle down. They finished dinner quickly and AJ suggested that she stay out of her room for a little longer and he offered to watch some reruns of The Big Bang Theory. He remembered how hard she’d laugh when they used to watch it together; thankfully, her humor rose to the surface as she loosened up some more.

After a few episodes, she yawned and told him she was heading to bed. He got up and stopped her before she could go very far.

“Do you trust me?”

Sam gave him a strange look but nodded.

“Good.” he said as he dragged her towards the basement. “There’s something I want you to see.”

-------------

Ryan sat there staring at his phone and was annoyed that she was calling again. He told her what happened this afternoon and gave her fair warning that he did not want to be disturbed that night. This is what he got when he found another senseless woman to get involved with.

All women are ridiculous he thought as his anger started to build. They didn’t understand their place, they didn’t get that he was in control and they couldn’t understand why he had to punish them until they learned their lesson. He thought he’d beaten Samantha enough times that she was starting to get it but then she made her unwise move and tried to run. What on Earth made her think that she was smart enough to con him and get away? He couldn’t wait to get a hold of her and explain how foolish she was in detail.

The phone kept ringing and he finally grabbed it. His anger was starting to boil over at this point and he thought if he could release some of this pressure by disciplining her, he’d start to feel better.

“Come over right now!” he bellowed into the phone and quickly disconnected the call.
Bad Idea? by Kyrie
Sam was up, dressed and sitting on the living room couch by the time her babysitters got there. AJ had assured her that he and Nick would be back as soon as they could and that Drew was given explicit instructions that he should do whatever was necessary to protect them. As it turned out, Drew was licensed to carry a firearm but didn’t usually need it since the guys rarely required armed protection.

Drew showed it to both her and Lauren and made sure they knew how to work it in case they needed to. He would have preferred to take them to the firing range but there was no safe way to get Sam out of the house with Ryan lurking around. However, she knew that when AJ said to do anything to protect them, he really meant anything.

----------------

AJ and Nick made their grocery run in record time and found Lauren and Drew in the living room.

“Where’s Sam?” AJ demanded.

“Easy J.” Drew said as he stood. “She’s upstairs taking a nap.”

“Is she ok?” Nick asked.

Lauren nodded. “I think it’s the nightmares. They’re draining her and she has no other way of coping with them besides sleeping. She really needs to get some exercise AJ. I saw how she looked at the pool…”

“You opened the blinds?” AJ shouted.

“Just a crack. She needs some fresh air. We need to find some way to get her out of the house so she can breathe.”

“But Ryan…”

Lauren sighed and slouched back onto the couch. “I know how much of a nightmare he is but she needs some kind of release. There has to be some way for her to tire herself out so that maybe she won’t have to deal with the terror at night. Please just promise me you’ll try J.”

AJ promised but he had no idea what to do. Their friends stayed for dinner and then left, leaving Sam and him along again. They were just heading to bed when AJ had an idea.

“Did you keep the bathing suit you had while you were here?” he asked jumping in front of her.

Sam gave him a strange look. “I think so. Why?”

“Go change.”

“But…” she protested as her eyes got big.

“No buts, go change.”

Sam stared at him to see if he was serious and, from what she could tell, he was. She had no idea what he was planning but she did what he asked her to and then met him back in the hallway.

“What are we doing?” she asked when she saw him dressed in swimming trunks and carrying two towels.

“Going for a swim.” he answered as he took her hand.

“No.” Sam shrieked and dug her heels into the carpet. “It’s not safe. I can’t.”

Her eyes started to well up and AJ slid his hand gently across her cheek to wipe the stray tears away.

“You said you trusted me right?”

Sam nodded but looked terrified.

“Then trust me.” AJ pleaded. “It’s dark, there’s no lights and the pool is surrounded by trees. As long as we don’t have a cannonball contest, we should be fine.”

“But…”

“Please trust me Sam. You need to leave the house and get some fresh air. Even Lauren mentioned it. Maybe it’ll even help with the nightmares.” AJ paused. “I swear to God that I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Sam finally relented and followed AJ out to the back yard. The pool was pretty well hidden and he was right about there being no lights around. They quietly slipped into the pool and she was struck by how good it felt to be out and in the water. AJ watched her as she silently and gracefully moved through the dark water; he couldn’t help but notice how happy she seemed. They stayed out for a while longer but made sure they didn’t talk just in case someone was listening.

Sam started to shiver and AJ motioned with his head that they should probably get out. As he followed her out of the water, a small sliver of moonlight broke through and illuminated the scars on her back. Seeing all those marks and now knowing how she got them made AJ furious; all he wanted to do at the moment was wrap his hands around Ryan’s neck and choke the life out of him.

He grabbed one of the towels off the lounger and wrapped it around her. Pulling her a little closer, he started to rub her arms to try and warm her up and to distract him from his murderous feelings. She finally whispered that she was ok and they made their way inside; he waited until she was upstairs before locking the door and setting the alarm.

When he made it upstairs, her door was closed and he could hear the shower running. He decided to leave her in peace and changed his clothes, climbing into bed a few minutes later. The night had gone to well that as he lay down to sleep, there was a smile on his face and a great night to dream about.

----------

Sam woke up in the middle of the night with her throat scratchy. She looked over at her bedside table and her water bottle was empty. Debating between waking AJ up and going downstairs herself, she decided that she would let him sleep. It would be a quick trip down to grab a bottle of water and she could make it back up in a few minutes.

She avoided the windows the best she could and when she opened the fridge, she couldn’t find any water. Knowing he kept some bottles underneath the island, she knelt down and dug around until she found one. As she stood up, she heard a noise and looked across the counter at the windows, now completely open from blinds.

There was a shadowy figure slowly making its way across the lawn and towards the windows. She started to panic and tried to think of a way to get upstairs as fast as she could. As she was trying to figure it out, the shadow made its way closer to the windows and when she looked over, the person came into focus and she found Ryan staring back at her. He crooked his fingers in some kind of evil wave and his grin was absolutely terrifying. She looked down to see where his other hand was and she noticed he was holding a fairly big rock. Just as she realized what he was going to do, the rock came up and she let out a bloodcurdling scream as she was hit by the shattering glass.
Big Mistake by Kyrie
AJ bolted out of bed when he heard Sam’s scream and charged full force into her bedroom. He found her crying and thrashing around in bed with the covers winding themselves around her. Gently easing her awake, he could tell that whatever she saw in her nightmare was terrifying her. When she finally came around, there were tears streaming down her face and she was shaking to the point where her teeth were chattering.

She was so petrified that she started clawing at him to pull him closer. He nudged her over on the bed and stretched out next to her, tightly wrapping her arms around her and positioning her as close to him as he could. Her arms were clasped tightly around him and she curled up with her head buried under his chin. He felt so helpless watching her work through the fear and he wracked his brain trying to figure out some way to calm her down. Suddenly he remembered that, when they were together before, she sang him an old Irish lullaby that her mother had sung when she was younger. She made a point to say how much it soothed her and as he was rubbing her back, he started to quietly sing to her.


Over in Killarney, many years ago
My mother sang this song to me in tones so sweet and low
Just a simple little ditty in her good old Irish way
And I'd give the world if she could sing that song to me this day


As he sang, he felt her body start to still and her ragged breaths became slower and deeper.


Toora, loora, loora
Toora, loora, li
Toora, loora, loora
Hush, now, don't you cry
Toora, loora, loora
Toora, loora, li
Toora, loora, loora
It's an Irish lullaby ***


By the time he got to the end, Sam was snoring quietly. He started to unwrap his arms when he was surprised by her pulling him back. He wasn’t sure if it was instinct or a reaction but he covered them both with a blanket and lay back down. Stroking her hair, he started humming the song again and after a few moments, he was sound asleep.

-----------

The sun was streaming through the bedroom window as Sam slowly opened her eyes. She was just starting to focus when she sensed heaviness under her arm. Glancing upward, alarmed after her nightmare and dreading what she would find, her stomach stopped lurching when she saw AJ’s handsome face resting on the pillow. Vaguely remembering him comforting her after the nightmare, she realized that he must have spent the night with her.

AJ started to stir and his eyes fluttered open; he looked over and saw Sam staring at him.

“This is awkward.” he whispered and they both laughed. “I planned on being gone by the time you woke up but I guess I missed the boat on that one.”

Sam rolled onto her stomach and propped her head up on her arms. “It’s ok, I appreciate you staying with me.”

Without thinking, AJ reached out and pushed a few stray hairs back behind her ear. “I wasn’t going to leave after all that.”

“Thank you.” she added and dipped her head down.

Not wanting to make the situation any more uncomfortable, AJ sat up and stretched.

“So what’s on the agenda today?”

“I know I don’t want to go back outside for a while, no matter what Lauren says.”

AJ nodded. “Agreed. Maybe it was just too much too fast.”

Sam climbed out of bed and headed into the bathroom, stopping and turning before she got to the door.

“Do you think we can just watch some movies and eat a ton of popcorn?”

“I think that sounds like a plan.” he smiled and climbed out of bed. “I’m gonna go shower and then I’ll meet you downstairs.”

--------------

Sam curled up on the couch while AJ got them drinks and popcorn. Since they had decided against horror movies and romance, they flipped a coin between musicals and comedies. AJ lost the toss so he was stuck watching any musical that Sam picked out. He moaned and groaned about it but he was just really looking forward to spending more time with her. It seemed that they were getting close again and he was hoping that it was a good sign of things to come.

“So, what’d you pick?”

Sam smiled when she saw the huge bowl of popcorn. “We’re watching Les Mis, then Phantom of the Opera, then…”

“What?” AJ asked as his jaw dropped. “I have to sit through like nine hours of Broadway musicals? You’re kidding right?”

“If you’re nice to me, maybe I’ll let you off the hook after two of them.”

“Oh jeez thanks.” AJ said and tossed a pillow at her. “Does that qualify as not being nice?”

Sam whipped the pillow back at him, knocking his bowl of popcorn on the floor. He sat there stunned for a minute and then threw a handful of popcorn at her. They went back and forth between pillows and popcorn and before long, the living room looked like a bomb exploded.

AJ tried to grab the last handful of popcorn from her bowl as she yanked it away. Reaching over her, he got a handful and then pulled back some. He was inches from her face and he lost all of the control he had; dropping the popcorn, he slipped his hand behind Sam’s neck and pulled her in for a gentle kiss. She started to push him away gently but he just couldn’t pull himself back. He leaned into her causing her to fall backwards on the sofa as he moved his hands away from her face. It was a stupid thing to do and an instant later, AJ realized it.
***"Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (That's an Irish Lullaby)" written by James Royce Shannon
Lashing Out by Kyrie
Sam shoved AJ away from her and leapt off of the sofa, making a mad dash for the stairs. He watched her fly up to her room and heard the door close. Damn idiot, he thought to himself as he slumped down in a chair. After sitting there for about an hour, he pulled out his cell and called Nick.

“Yo J. What’s up?”

“I fucked up.”

Nick laughed. “As usual.”

“Knock it off.” AJ spat. “I really messed up this time.”

“Whoa, what happened?” his brother asked getting serious.

“I kissed Sam.”

“Oh shit.” Nick swore. “I take it that it went bad fast.”

“Very fast.” AJ answered and told Nick the whole story.

-------------------

Sam was pacing back and forth in her room when she heard the sound of AJ talking to someone. She pulled the door open gently so he wouldn’t know that she was listening and sat there on the floor as AJ spoke to Nick. She was so shocked by what he said that she only heard one statement before she darted back into the room.

“It’s too hard having her here Nick. I’m not sure this whole thing is a good idea.”

--------------

“So you want her to leave?”

“Hell no!” AJ responded. “I’m just saying that this whole situation is hard and I don’t know how to deal with it.”

“Have you told her how you feel?”

“No because I don’t know how to tell her I love her.”

“Excuse me?” his brother asked. “Did you just say you loved her?”

“Yeah, I don’t think I stuttered.”

“Are you sure J? Maybe it’s just a damsel in distress kind of thing…”

“I’m positive Nick. When we were together before, when she was Max, I felt something strong for her but this is different. I’m finally getting to see who she really is and I realized that the feelings I have for her are so much deeper.”

“Easy boy. I really think you should give this whole love thing a second thought. I know that it’s hard for you to process what’s she’s been through and it’s difficult to get to know her again. Maybe it feels like love but…”

“I’m not stupid and I don’t need to rethink anything. I love her and I don’t care how many different ways you spin it, my feelings aren’t going to change.”

Nick was quiet for a minute. “What are you gonna do then?”

“I don’t know.” AJ replied with a sigh. “I guess I’ll have to figure out some way of dealing with my feelings instead of making things more difficult between us.”

“Good luck with that J. You wear your feelings on your sleeve and anyone who’s around you can tell what you’re emotions are with one look.”

AJ agreed and hung up with Nick; he sat on the sofa for another hour or so just thinking about what was going to happen now. He had obviously crossed a line with Sam and he honestly had no idea how she was going to feel about him now. Her living here was already a walking on eggshells thing and, from her reaction to his kiss, it wasn’t going to get any better.

Picking up the pillows from the floor, he straightened the couch and then dug out the vacuum to clean up all the popcorn that was scattered around. It turned out that it was a smart decision not to put all the butter on it. Just as he was emptying the chamber, he heard Sam making her way downstairs and he hurriedly put the vacuum away before going out to meet her.

“Hey.”

Instead of saying anything to him, she reached for his hand and led him over to his easy chair. She motioned for him to sit and then she awkwardly sat down on his lap and leaned in for a kiss. Instead of letting it get that far, AJ pushed her into a standing position, got up and stalked to the other side of the room.

“What are you doing?”

“I was trying to do what you wanted.”

“Why? It was perfectly clear to me that you weren’t comfortable with the whole thing. Why are you pushing it now?”

“I owe you…”

“Whoa!” AJ said getting angry. “You tried to kiss me because you owe me?”

“I do…”

“No Sam, you don’t. You don’t owe me anything and to be truthful, I don’t want anything you’re willing to give out of a sense of obligation. Why would you think that…”

AJ stopped short and realized why she had done it. Being with Ryan had taught her to get along by going along and she had done things out of fear with him. It seemed like that type of behavior wasn’t going to be erased easily.

“I don’t know what the hell happened with Ryan but I am NOTHING like that bastard.” he said, raising his voice. “I kissed you because I wanted to not because I thought you owed me.”

Sam’s eyes started to well up and he felt awful but he was angry that she would put Ryan’s actions on him.

“I don’t want anything from you that you, not someone else, but you don’t want to give. I would never force you to do something that made you uncomfortable or that you didn’t want to do.” He stormed towards the stairs and then turned to face him. “Stop putting me in the same category as that fucking asshole.”

Sam watched as he stomped upstairs and she could hear his door slam. She dropped to the sofa, covered her face with her hands and started to cry. AJ was nothing like Ryan and she knew it but somehow she couldn’t get her past out of her way; she was going to keep doing things like that unless she found a way to deal with everything.

She stayed down there for a while and then made her way back upstairs, stopping by AJ’s door first. Raising her fist to knock, she heard the music volume increase and it was like a sign that he wanted nothing to do with her. Once she got back to her room, she cleaned her face and changed into her pajamas. The minute she laid her head on the pillow she became afraid to fall asleep. AJ had always listened for her nightmares and he became the one person that was her anchor back. He was so angry with her that she knew he wouldn’t be coming that night no matter how bad the night terrors were. In fact, he’d probably want nothing to do with her and she might be back on the run again soon. The whole situation was so overwhelming that she cried herself to sleep and lost herself in some new nightmare.
You Have To Let Go by Kyrie
Sam awoke to sun streaming through her window and she breathed a huge sigh of relief that she managed to make it through one night without a horrible dream. The argument with AJ the night before came rushing back and she wanted to apologize to AJ as soon as possible; she needed to explain that she knew he was nothing like Ryan and to make a promise that she would work on making him feel like that. Making her way out of the room quietly, she noticed that AJ’s door was open and he wasn’t there. As she was heading back to her room, she heard voices talking downstairs and immediately realized that one of those voices belonged to Ryan.

She raced into the bedroom and quickly shut the door. While she looked around for a place to hide, she heard two sets of footsteps make their way upstairs and then down to her room. All of a sudden, her door flew open and she came face to face with her husband; the shocking part was that AJ was standing there with him!

“You can have her.” AJ said with malice. “I don’t want to deal with her anymore.”

Sam screamed as he turned around and started to walk away.

“Please AJ! Don’t leave, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry! Please don’t make me leave!”

Sam felt hands around her arms and saw Ryan’s face right in front of her. She started sobbing and continued screaming for AJ. Nothing was making a difference and the sight of AJ leaving was suddenly blocked by Ryan’s horrible smile.

“Now we can settle this.”

------------------------

AJ knelt down beside the bed and lightly tried to shake Sam out of her nightmare. It didn’t usually take this long and from the tears streaming down her face, he knew this was an awful one. He tried once again but when it didn’t work, he sat on the bed and pulled her into his lap.

His heart broke at the sight of her in so much pain and at the fact that she kept screaming his name like it was her last hope. Rocking her gently, he tried to keep her body still and calm her down.

“It’s me Sam.” he whispered. “You’re ok. I’m here and you’re fine.”

He kept repeating those words as she struggled against him. She must have woken up at some point because he could hear her moaning as she tried to fight him.

“Calm down Sam, it’s me.”

She continued to struggle but he didn’t want her to freak out and hurt herself, so he kept a tight grip on her.

“Baby it’s me. Please stop fighting. You’re ok.”

Something about what he said made her calm down somewhat and he could see the tears falling from her eyes as she finally stared up at him to see who it truly was. When she saw it was him, she wrapped her arms around his neck and started to sob hysterically. He didn’t say a word as she cried but he started to rub her back and tried to get her to relax.

It took a little while for her to loosen up her grip around him and for her tears to run out. He handed her a tissue from the bedside table and let her wipe her eyes; she started to come around and get her bearings.

“I’m sorry.” she whispered. “I’m sorry for everything. Please don’t make me leave.”

“What?” AJ asked with shock as he wiped a few stray tears away from her eyes. “Who said anything about you leaving?”

Sam started to cry quietly. “I know you’re angry with me and you told Nick that it was too hard having me here.”

AJ kissed her forehead and pulled her close. “I will never, ever want you to leave. I said it was hard having you here because I was frustrated. Don’t ever think that I don’t want you here.”

“But you’re angry with me.”

“I’m not angry with you.” he answered with a sigh. “I’m angry with the situation and not being able to help you. I feel like we haven’t made any progress since you’ve been here. I also know that’s not your fault.”

Sam pulled her head back so she could look at him. “I know you said I treated you like Ryan last night and I’m so sorry AJ. I know you’re nothing like him and I know that you’ve kept me safe here. Please know how sorry I am to keep doing this.”

“It’s ok Sam. We’ll figure this out together and I promise not to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

She leaned her head against his chest and her breathing slowed a little more.

“I’m just so tired.” she murmured.

AJ slid down so that he was lying on the bed and then pulled her down next to him. He rolled onto his side to face her and she gave him the smallest hint of a smile. Kissing her on the forehead again, he pulled her close and she nestled her head under his neck as she wrapped her arms around him.

“Try to get some sleep sweetheart.”

“You won’t leave?”

“Nothing could get me out of this bed.”

-----------------

Sam woke up to find the bed empty next to her. She started to panic that this was all part of a new nightmare when AJ made his exit from the bathroom. He noticed the concern on her face and took a seat next to her.

“Sorry, I couldn’t wait any longer.” he said with a chuckle. “I didn’t mean to freak you out.”

“I’m sorry if I disturbed you.”

“Disturbed me? I was hoping I didn’t wake you when I got up.” he replied. “And who cares if you disturbed me?”

Sam’s face fell a little and he could tell this was another lovely leftover from Ryan. He wanted to murder him every time he saw her like this and this time was no exception. Reaching out, he pushed a stray strand of hair off her face.

“I think we should talk.”

“About what?”

“Ryan and everything that happened.”

“I don’t…”

AJ stood up. “Look Sam, this whole thing is going to stay a mess unless you deal with it. I heard some stories from Sarah but I think there’s a lot more under there and I want to help you with it. Take a shower and then come downstairs; I’ll make us some dinner and then we have to get this hashed out.”

“But, what if you look at me differently and…”

AJ knelt down beside her. “Nothing you tell me will make me feel any differently about you Sam. I care about you and whatever you tell me isn’t going to change that. You said you trusted me and to be honest, if you don’t get everything out, your nightmares are just going to keep happening.”

Sam nodded, knowing that AJ was right. If she didn’t pull the plug on this dam and let it out, it would swallow her whole.
The Truth by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
Thank you to those of you reading this story and forgiving me for the long delays between updating. Hope you are still enjoying the story!
Sam felt a little more like herself after her shower but she wasn’t looking forward to opening up about Ryan. She never talked about him with anyone and starting off with AJ wouldn’t have been her first choice. However, she knew she needed to be fair to him and at least give him a general idea about what had gone wrong with her and her husband.

She finished her shower and found him in the kitchen, filling up bowls with soup, when she made her way into the kitchen.

“Feel better?” he asked.

“A little.”

“A little is better than not at all.”

He motioned for her to join him at the table and Sam thanked him for dinner. They ate in silence for a while before AJ blurted out his first question.

“When did all this start?”

Sam put her spoon down and thought about how she wanted to put it.

“I guess after we got married.” she answered. “Although, looking back, there were definitely signs I missed along the way.”

AJ nodded. “I speak from experience when I say hindsight is twenty twenty.”

“You can say that again.” Sam replied and took a sip of water before continuing. “Ryan had such a larger than life personality and that’s what attracted me to him originally. He was always telling jokes, giving compliments and making people feel as though they were the only people in the room. I thought he was genuine in that respect until I realized it was all a carefully constructed act. He only behaved that way in public so he could keep moving up the legal system ladder.” She paused for a minute. “His real side came out when it was just the two of us.”

Sam proceeded to shred her napkin into pieces as she told AJ about all the beatings, the dislocated shoulders, the black eyes, the bruises that just seemed to run together after a while. She listed all the rules that Ryan had for her like her not being able to leave the bed until the morning when he woke up because it would disturb him. Or the rule about not being able to leave the house unless she was escorted by him and only to somewhere that he wanted to go. She admitted that what Sarah had told them about how she got her scars was true and Ryan frequently made her examine her body and list all the things she could work harder on. AJ learned about the isolation he caused her and how walking on eggshells all the time caused her so much panic and stress. By the time she was finished, she could see the anger building in his eyes.

“Please don’t be mad.” she said and put her hand on top of his.

“I’m not mad.” he replied. “I just want to kill him.”

“You and me both.” she whispered.

They sat in silence while AJ figured out how to ask his next question. He didn’t want to insinuate that any of this was her fault and he didn’t want her to shut down but he really needed to know.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way.” he prefaced as he tapped his spoon on the table out of nervousness. “How come you went to Sarah once and then never again?”

Sam sighed. “I tried. I snuck out of the house a bunch of times but Ryan would always find me before I made it very far. He’d pull his usual strings the first few times I refused to come home and I’d wind up in a psych ward until I told him I’d learned my lesson and I’d behave. I was there so many times I felt like I was actually going crazy.”

“How did he get away with that?” AJ demanded. “There has to be rules or a law or something.”

“He was the ADA.” Sam said with a sad little laugh. “He had cops that owed him for helping them out and there were a few judges that did the same thing to their families. You’d be stunned to see all the evil, illegal things that happen within our legal system.”

At this point, AJ was running through a mental list of all the pain he wanted to inflict on Ryan. He was beyond lucky to have a woman like Sam as his wife and he did nothing but disrespect and abuse her. If Sam was his wife, he would move heaven and earth to make sure she knew how much he loved her.

“Plus,” Sam said quietly, breaking him out of his thoughts, “Ryan rigged our doors after the seventh time I ran. He installed doors that needed keys to open both sides and he never let those keys out of his sight.”

“How did you get out then?” he asked, confused.

Sam didn’t answer right away. She knew she’d have to tell him everything at this point and it scared her. Doing what she did was the only thing that saved her life but to someone who wasn’t in her shoes, it probably sounded horrible. There was no going back at this point and she hoped that when she told him, he wouldn’t hate her afterwards.

“I drugged him.” she responded quietly. “That’s how I got out.”

AJ’s jaw dropped but he didn’t say anything. Sam couldn’t look him in the eye so she got up and moved over to the counter. She couldn’t bear seeing disappointment in his eyes so she continued the story from there.

“We were at a dinner party one night and on my way back from the bathroom, I heard a few women talking about the fact that one of the well-known judge’s wives was addicted to Percocet and she was so hooked that she carried them with her everywhere. I snuck into the guest bedroom and found her purse; they were right, it looked like a pharmacy.”

AJ waited patiently as she struggled to get her story out.

“I stole a few of the pills and wrapped them in a tissue. I remembered Ryan saying something about a knee surgery he had when he was in college and how the doctor prescribed them for him. He made a point of saying that they knocked him out for hours and how a train could run by and he wouldn’t hear it.”

AJ stood up and walked over to the counter. He turned her around so that she was facing him and he pushed her chin up so that he could look her in the eye.

“Tell me what happened.”

“It took me a few weeks to work up the nerve,” she said as she started to tear up, “but I finally crushed them up into one of his nightcaps. He was right; I could hear him snoring within ten minutes and I took the keys and got out. I’ve never looked back.”

AJ wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close to him. Resting her head against his chest, she put her arms around him and just stood there for a few minutes.

“You don’t hate me?” she whispered finally.

“No.” AJ said and kissed her head. “How could anyone hate you? You did what you had to in order to survive Sam. Besides, you didn’t actually kill him.”

She knew he was right but at that moment, she almost wished she had.
Some Changes by Kyrie
AJ and Sam talked for a while longer that night before she started to yawn.

“I think it’s time for bed.” she said and climbed out of the easy chair she had crawled into after dinner. “I’m sorry that I unloaded all of this stuff on you.”

“I asked you to.” he replied. “Did it make you feel any better?”

She contemplated his question for a few minutes. It took a lot out of her to share all of that but it also felt good not having to hide all those secrets anymore.

“I think so. It’s good that you know everything now.”

AJ nodded and followed her upstairs; just as she started to turn towards her room, he tugged on her hand. She turned to face him and she noticed he was nervous about something.

“You said you trust me?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have opened up to you like that if I didn’t.”

“Ok.” AJ said. “Wait here for a minute.”

He barely heard her reply as he took off towards his room. Sam stood there, curious, as she heard doors and drawers being opened and closed. It sounded like he was rearranging the room and she was surprised when he pulled open his door and asked her to come in.

Nothing had really changed since the last time they’d been together while she was Max. The walls were still blue, the balcony still opened up towards the beach and he still had a king sized bed. It was the bed that finally caught her attention as she noticed a huge mound of pillows and blankets dividing the bed down the middle. She looked over at AJ who was grinning like a little kid.

“Why does it look like Martha Stewart’s linen closet exploded on your bed?”

He walked over to where she was standing and took her hand. “I want you to sleep here tonight.”

“AJ, I…”

“Hear me out.” he pleaded.

She wasn’t sure where this was going but she agreed to listen and took a seat on the edge of the bed.

“Sometimes, when you have nightmares, it takes a little bit for me to hear them and get to you.”

“I know…”

“It also seems like they’re getting harder and harder to pull you out of.” he said interrupting. “If you stayed here, I could get to you right away.”

“But…”

“I know.” AJ said as he knelt down in front of her. “That’s why I made the great wall of pillows.”

Sam chuckled. “Thank you but…”

“Please Sam.” he pleaded as he gripped her hand. “I promise that I’m not trying to make any moves on you. I just want to keep you safe.”

Sam watched his face as he talked and she could see how important it was to him. He was being straightforward and she knew he meant what he said. She nodded after a minute and told him she’d be back.

He debated on whether he should have done all that as he went to change. The whole thing probably shocked her and he was pretty sure she wasn’t coming back that night. She pleasantly surprised him though when he made his way out of the bathroom and found her standing by the bed.

“Are you sure you’re ok with this?” he asked as they climbed into bed. “I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable.”

Sam just smiled at him and reached out for his hand. They talked for a little longer until she started yawning again. He was touched when she locked her fingers with his. Both fell asleep with their hands connected on top of the pillows and it was the first time in months that she slept the whole night with no nightmares.

---------------------

Sam continued spending the nights in AJ’s room over the next few weeks. It was comforting to know that someone else was there with her and it seemed to keep the nightmares at bay. She kept busy during the days working out with some gym equipment Lauren had suggested and an old treadmill that Drew had brought by. The workouts weren’t because she needed to get in shape but as an outlet for all of her stress and anger. She had realized that she needed to make some changes in order to help herself.

Even though Sam had gotten closer to AJ, she didn’t feel comfortable working out with a guy so Lauren came over a few times a week to help keep her motivated. All the exercise really helped to burn off the excess energy and Lauren had been very supportive. The one thing that kept bothering her though, even with all the workouts and sleeping with AJ, was the sight of the beach behind his house. When she had been with him before all of this, she’d spent days and nights on the beach; it brought back great memories from her childhood and gave her a sense of peace. What she really wanted at this point was the chance to spend five minutes out there.

Sam had just come up from one of her workouts when she heard the doorbell ring. It was one of the few sounds that still scared her and she raced to the stairs, almost plowing into AJ on the way.

“Whoa speed racer!” he said, jumping out of her way. “It’s just Nick and Lauren.”

“Are you sure?” Sam asked with her foot already on the stairs.

“Positive.” he responded. “I watched them on the camera.”

AJ had purchased a new security system equipped with cameras covering every available spot around his house. Both he and Sam could see if there was anyone around by using an app on their phones.

Sam let out the breath she’d been holding and sank down onto the stairs. AJ waited a few seconds for her to calm herself down before opening the door; she smiled once she saw it was them.

“Who called for pizza?”
Snap Judgement by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
A big thank you to Sapphire for helping me get this chapter done!
The two couples enjoyed dinner together but split up after so that Nick and AJ could get something accomplished on their studio work. They were both putting out solo albums and wanted to bounce some ideas off each other. Sam was more than happy to have some girl time with Lauren and they settled down to find a movie as they talked.

“So how have things been going with you guys?” Lauren asked as she sat down.

“Pretty good.” Sam replied curling up in a chair. “The nightmares have stayed away and AJ’s really trying to help me let go of some things. It’s tough though knowing that Ryan could be anywhere.”

“He hasn’t been back has he?”

Sam shook her head. “No, but I know Ryan, he won’t go away until he has what he wants.”

She turned her head toward the TV, signaling that the conversation was over. Both women were quiet while Sam flipped through the menu trying to find something to watch. An old episode of Mercy came up and she selected it. Lauren watched as Sam’s eyes filled up and it hit her how hard it must be for her to give up something she loved.

“You miss nursing don’t you?”

Sam nodded and wiped a tear away from her eye. “It’s what I enjoyed doing.”

And then Ryan happened, Lauren thought. “What made you interested in it?”

Sam took a deep breath. “My brother Sean was born with Down’s syndrome and I always went with my parents to his appointments. I watched the doctors meet with my parents to discuss any issues that were happening but I really liked watching the nurses with him. They were the ones to give him lollipops and soothe him when my parents were out of the room. The nurses there were so attentive and loving; it made me think that I might like being a nurse.”

“That sounds very admirable. So you always wanted to do it?”

Sam shrugged her shoulders. “No.”

“Why?” Lauren asked as she shifted position on the couch. “It seems like you loved it.”

“My parents and my brother were killed in a car accident on their way home from an appointment. No matter what the doctors or nurses did, they couldn’t save them and I got really jaded about it. Why would I want to be someone that couldn’t save my family?”

The tears started to fall down lightly and Lauren could see them glistening on her face.

“What changed your mind?”

Sam’s hand slid across her face. “I grew up and I realized that they really tried everything they could and it wasn’t their fault. I also spent a lot of time taking care of my grandmother when she had a stroke. I had help from visiting nurses and I saw how hard they worked, how much they cared about their patients. When my grandmother passed, I was kind of lost for a little while until I decided to fill out an application for nursing school.”

Lauren got up and grabbed a box of tissues. She took a seat on the arm of the chair and rubbed Sam’s back as she let out some of the emotions she’d been holding back. She was still crying when the boys made their way into the room and AJ raced to her side, kneeling down in front of her.

“What’s wrong? What happened?”

“Nothing.” Lauren replied. “We were just talking.”

“About what?” AJ demanded as he glared at Lauren. “It can’t be nothing if she’s crying!”

“Ease up J.” Nick said, putting a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “I’m sure it’s…”

“Don’t say nothing because it’s obviously something!”

AJ had stood up and looked at Lauren again. The whole situation was tense and it wasn’t going to end up on a positive note if no one did anything. Sam wiped her eyes and stood up, pulling on AJ’s arm.

“It really wasn’t anything, we were just talking about me growing up.”

“You were crying.” he answered angrily and turned back to Lauren. “Why did you have to start talking about her past?”

Nick was growing agitated with AJ and the two of them started arguing. Lauren, who hated confrontation as much as Sam, left the room, which aggravated Nick even more. Sam didn’t know what to do so she finally stepped in between them and put her hands on AJ’s chest.

“I’m fine.” she pleaded with him. “Please don’t argue with each other.”

“But you were crying…”

Sam finally put her hands on his face and forced him to look at her.

“I’m fine baby. It’s nothing, I promise.”

AJ stopped short when he heard her call him baby. She didn’t seem to even realize she said it but it unnerved him enough to quiet down. They’d talked a thousand times but she never called him anything affectionate. While Sam stood there trying to calm AJ down, Nick left to check on Lauren.

“You need to go apologize.” Sam said, snapping AJ back into the moment. “You lashed out at Lauren for no reason. She didn’t do anything wrong.”

AJ hung his head because he knew she was right. He got upset every time he saw Sam cry and he blamed anyone around for making it happen. Feeling apologetic, he left to talk to Nick and Lauren.

Sam settled back onto the chair and waited for the friends to work things out. She didn’t want to get any more involved because she knew her presence wouldn’t help. It was also a chance to collect herself and pretend that she didn’t just call AJ baby. The word had just slipped out and she wasn’t sure why she’d used that term. She never referred to him by anything but AJ and she hoped that this didn’t mess up anything between them.

The three made their way back into the living room and seemed to have smoothed everything over. Nick and Lauren understood why AJ had reacted the way he did but they told him that he needed to keep his feelings in check because it wasn’t good for anyone.
They said their goodbyes and AJ asked Sam if she would mind going to bed alone.

“Are you ok?” she asked.

“I’m fine.” he answered with a faint smile. “There’s just some stuff I need to finish up in the studio. Will you be ok by yourself for a little bit?”

Sam nodded and hugged him quickly. She hated going to bed alone now but she realized that he needed some space. Hoping this wasn’t going to last, she crawled into bed and pretended to be asleep by the time AJ made it up an hour later.
Who Is That? by Kyrie
Lauren called the next day to check on Sam and run an idea by her. She knew Sam needed people around her and more freedom to move around outside the house before she went crazy being so cooped up. Nick had suggested a cookout the following Saturday with everyone at AJ’s but the minute Lauren mentioned it, Sam freaked.

“No way!” Sam shouted into the phone. “My nightmares got worse after the night swim and Ryan’s already been here; he could come back at any time.”

“It’ll be ok.” Lauren said, trying to reassure her. “We’ll all be there and we’ll keep you safe.”

“No and it’s not my safety I’m concerned about. It’s bad enough that you, Nick and AJ have helped me. I’ll put everyone in danger and I think I’ve caused enough trouble as it is. You guys were arguing because of me last night.”

“Nick and AJ are guys, they argue and then they’re fine. It’s really not a big deal and I don’t think you should use that as an excuse to not do this.”

“No.”

“Please think about it Sam.”

“I already did and the answer is no.”

Lauren didn’t push it any further but she did call AJ later on that night. She told him all about her concerns and reasons for not doing it and he agreed that the time had to come sooner rather than later. He knew that Sam was dead set against it but he invited Nick over the next morning and they broached the subject to Sam again and this time, it was two against one. It took almost two hours but they finally wore her down and she reluctantly agreed to try it. But she swore to them that if anything happened, it would be the last time she’d leave the house.

Saturday morning came and Sam spent the morning pacing the floor while AJ set things up outside. Everyone was coming with food so there wasn’t much that needed to be done. The doorbell startled Sam and when she looked at the clock, she was confused.

“I thought they weren’t coming till one.” she called out to AJ. “It’s only eleven.”

“I thought so too. Let me check.”

He went off to answer the door and she was surprised when he came back with Lauren and Leighanne who were carrying several big bags.

“What are you guys doing here so early?”

Lauren smiled. “We came early to get you ready for the party.”

“Don’t you mean help us get ready?” Sam asked in confusion.

“Nope. We’re here to get YOU ready.” Leighanne said as she grinned and pulled Sam towards the stairs. “We have a plan!”

AJ had greeted everybody by one thirty but he hadn’t seen Leighanne, Lauren or Sam since they dragged her off early. Kevin, Kristen and Leigh were hanging around by the pool while Howie, Brian and Drew were starting up the grill. Everyone decided to leave the kids at home to be on the safe side since no one knew if Ryan would show up. Nick made his way over to AJ and slung his arm around his shoulder.

“I’m surprised Sam is letting us do this.” he said and took a sip of his beer. “She was really against it.”

AJ nodded. “If this doesn’t go right, she may never speak to me again.”

“It’ll be fine J. We can make this work.”

“I know we’ll try.” he replied and made his way over to check the pool pump. “By the way, do you know what your wife is doing to her?”

“Huh?” Nick asked.

“Yeah, she and Leighanne showed up like two hours ago and I haven’t seen her since.”

“That’s weird.” his brother said as he cocked his head. “Lauren said something about doing her hair for her.”

“Dude, it’s more than hair. She and Leighanne must have had like ten bags with them. I don’t think they need that much crap to do her hair.”

Just as AJ and Nick were turning to head back to the house, they heard Kevin mumble something and everyone got quiet. When they looked up, Leighanne and Lauren were flanking a woman who AJ could only assume was Sam; they were right when they told her that they were getting her ready.

Sam stood between the two woman dressed in white denim shorts and a deep emerald short sleeved t-shirt. The outfit was normal enough but gone were Sam’s long brown hair and beautiful blue eyes. In their places, were a massive amount of strawberry blond curls and a set of the greenest eyes he’d ever seen. The whole look was stunning on her but he didn’t understand why they had changed Sam’s real beauty. Lauren saw his eyes cloud over and made her way down to him.

“We had to do this. She was petrified to be outside and exposed in case Ryan came by. We wanted her to have a good time and she would never have been able to if we didn’t help her a little. You understand don’t you?”

AJ shrugged his shoulders and watched Sam as she gave him a small smile and then headed over to the patio table. Everyone was gushing over how good she looked and the thought occurred to him that he had no idea who she was supposed to be if Ryan showed up; Lauren seemed to read his thoughts.

“She’s going to be Drew’s girlfriend Fiona in case you know who comes by.”

He hated everything about the idea but he knew he wanted Sam to enjoy a free day out without any issues so he plastered on a smile and joined everyone else by the pool.

The day flew by with all the conversation and stories and Sam truly looked like she was having a good time. AJ was so glad to see her happy that his earlier talk with Lauren had faded to the back of his mind. Unfortunately, ten minutes later, it would be back.
He's Back! by Kyrie
Whether it was because her hyper vigilance was so sharp or that she happened to be listening to another conversation, Sam was the first to hear the gate door latch squeak.

“Hello.”

AJ’s head jerked up and he saw Ryan and an officer approach the group. They had all known that this was a potential issue but they had let their guard down as the evening passed. It was a massive mistake and the smile on Sam’s husband’s face sent a serious message that they had underestimated him.

“Can I help you?” Kevin said, cutting off any chance that AJ might lose his temper.

“You might be able to.” Ryan said with an evil grin as he handed a photo to Nick. “We’re looking for this woman and we were wondering if any of you had seen her.”

“I already told you no.” AJ hissed, grabbing the picture out of Nick’s hand and shoving it against Ryan’s chest. “I don’t understand why you keep coming here but it’s bordering on harassment.”

Ryan stood there and looked around at the group. Most of them were just sitting there but he noticed Drew suddenly place his hand on a woman’s thigh and he knew in that instant that he was looking at his wife. AJ noticed the motion too and the anger that had started to boil was literally right under the skin and he was afraid he would erupt soon.

“I think I want everyone to see the picture.” Ryan said, showing everyone the photo. “This woman is wanted for murder and if you’ve seen her, you need to tell us. After all, harboring a fugitive is a criminal offense.”

His last statement was directed at AJ but he stared into Sam’s sunglasses when he said it. She tried as hard as she could to not jump up and run into the house; Drew’s hand on her thigh kept her in the chair.

“None of us have seen her.” Kevin replied, making it clear that he spoke for the group. “I’m sorry we can’t help you.”

Ryan sneered but he nodded. “Well then I’ll just see myself out.”

“I’ll be happy to show you out.” AJ spat as he headed for the gate. “It’s this way.”

Kevin had enough sense to follow behind AJ and the other two men. He knew AJ had the potential to explode and he wanted to prevent any major issues. After making sure the two men had pulled off and weren’t heading back, Kevin steered his younger brother into the house and then into the living room.

“You have got to calm down J.”

“Calm down?” AJ yelled. “He’s a piece of shit and he’s coming after her more and more. He’s never going to back down and leave her alone! After this, she’ll probably never agree to leave the house again!”

“I know.” Kevin agreed in a quiet tone. “I didn’t realize it had gotten this bad but I’ll contact one of our lawyers tomorrow and figure out what we can do to keep him away.”

“It won’t matter!” his younger brother ranted. “He’s never going to stop! He really is as crazy as she said he was!”

Kevin slowly sat down in a chair and rubbed his fingertips against his temples gently. He knew the next thing he said was going to push a button, but he had to do it.

“Ryan’s not the only reason you’re mad is it?”

“Of course he is!” AJ shouted. “Why else would I be so pissed?”

“Because of what Drew did.”

AJ’s jaw dropped; he didn’t say anything as he sank down onto the sofa. Kevin finally looked up and stared at him.

“Everyone saw your face and you made it obvious.”

“I didn’t…”

“Yes you did and thankfully Ryan wasn’t looking in your direction. You looked like you wanted to rip Drew’s arm off.”

“No…”

“Yes you did.” Kevin responded with a sigh. “You, and now all of us, know you have feelings for her. I’m pretty sure Nick and Lauren already knew but you made it crystal clear today.”

“Yeah well, she doesn’t feel the same way about me.” AJ muttered as he looked at the floor.

“Are you freaking kidding me right now?” Kevin demanded. “She damn well does have feelings for you.”

“No she doesn’t, I can tell.”

“Then you’re a moron.”

“What did you just say?” AJ said as he started to stand up.

“I called you an idiot and sit down.” Kevin said as he pointed his finger back at the couch. “You have to be completely blind to not see how she feels about you.”

“She doesn’t…”

“Yes she does. Did you see her at all just now or were you too focused on where Drew’s hand was?”

AJ didn’t say anything but leaned back onto the couch and closed his eyes. He knew Kevin had him at this point.

“Let me clue you in.” Kevin started again. “The minute she heard the lock click, her head swiveled to you.”

“Maybe she expected me to…”

“It’s not that!” Kevin said, louder than he had planned. “She wasn’t looking at any of us, just you. She wanted someone safe…”

“That’s all I am.”

Kevin stood up and headed to where AJ was sitting. He shoved him over and sunk down next to him.

“Let me finish. She wanted someone who was safe, someone she trusted. Nick, Lauren or Drew could have protected her but she didn’t look at any of them.”

“She looked at Drew when he put his hand on her.” AJ said with a pout.

“The only reason Drew did that was to keep her from running. It was nothing more than that.”

Kevin let his words sink in a little before he continued.

“Sam has had no one in her corner for years and I don’t blame her for not trusting people. It’s different with you though, I can see it in her eyes. Earlier today, you were the only one making her laugh. You’ve repaired a part of her and even if she hasn’t said it, she cares deeply about you.”

“So what?” AJ asked after a few moments. “She’ll never say it.”

“Give her some time and I think she’ll surprise you.”
Chapter End Notes:
Thank you to everyone who's been reading! Let me know what you think!
Where Is She? by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I apologize for the huge delay in posting and I hope everyone enjoys this chapter!
A week passed since AJ’s talk with Kevin and Sam still said nothing. In fact, seeing Ryan face to face seemed to frighten her so much that she started retreating back into herself. The nightmares had started again and she was as skittish as she was the first time he came to the house. AJ felt beyond helpless because he had to watch her work through it all over again and he couldn’t do anything.

He convinced Nick and Lauren that Sam needed a relaxing night with friends so he invited them over for a dinner and board games. She was probably going to resist the idea so he didn’t tell her ahead of time that they were coming. They arrived the next night and as much as Sam wanted to hide, she knew she couldn’t be rude. The dinner passed by with Nick and AJ making as much conversation as they could but they all knew Sam’s heart wasn’t in it.

They were deciding what game to play when AJ’s phone sounded. After Ryan’s last stunt, he had set an alert on his phone to let him know when anyone was approaching the house from any point. Opening up the camera, he cursed and slammed his phone down on the counter.

“He’s here again.” he said quietly.

Before Lauren and Nick could even turn to face Sam, she was gone.

“Where’d she go?” Lauren said with fear.

“Don’t worry.” AJ said. “Let’s get rid of him first.”

AJ and Nick made it to the door before the bell could even sound. Kevin had talked to the lawyer and he made it clear that if Ryan or any officer showed up about Sam, they would have the right to press charges for harassment. This was especially the case when one of the men was “dead” and using favors to inflict stress on the guys and their families.

AJ whipped open the door and came face to face with Ryan and the same younger officer he brought to the cookout.

“What do you want?” he demanded.

“Well hello to you too Mr. McLean.” Ryan said with a nasty grin. “I was actually hoping that we could come in and have a little look around. That is if you don’t have a problem with it.”

Nick finally lost his temper. “Look, I don’t know who either one of you are but you are not coming in this house. What you’re doing is harassing this man and frankly, the minute you leave, I’m going to be on the phone to our lawyer and your boss!”

The last comment was directed at the younger man who had actually started to sweat. Ryan lost part of his grin and held his hands up.

“No need to do that. We were just looking for some help.”

“You are NOT getting any help from me, at any point in time.” AJ spat and slammed the door in their face.

He watched them pull out and then called Kevin, who agreed to call the lawyer and discuss the next step. Lauren was pacing back and forth in the kitchen when they came back.

“I can’t find her AJ!” she yelped in a panic. “She’s not anywhere in the house! She wouldn’t leave would she?”

“I know where she is.” AJ said as he placed a hand on Lauren’s shoulder and steered her towards the basement.

Nick and his wife followed AJ down to his studio where he went right into the sound booth and rapt his knuckle against one of the gigantic speakers.

“It’s us Sam.” he whispered. “He’s gone.”

“Are you sure?” Sam asked with an even quieter whisper.

“I’m positive.”

Lauren and Nick heard a few locks click open and they got a look at Sam’s hiding spot at the door swung open.

“When did you do this?” Nick asked in shock.

“Not too long after she moved in.” AJ responded.

He had essentially gutted the two largest speakers he had. One was filled with some cement blocks to make them the same average weight if Sam was in the other. To keep her safer, there were air holes drilled in the back and several garden gate latches installed on the inside that only Sam would have access to. He would have done anything he could do to keep her safe and Nick was impressed by what he saw.

“You really thought this one through J.”

Sam stepped gingerly out of the speaker so as to not knock it over but as soon as she was out, she surprised everyone by grabbing AJ by the waist and pulling herself against him as closely as she could. He could feel her shaking and he wrapped his arms around her tightly.

“Shhh Sam, it’s ok. You’re going to be ok.”

Lauren and Nick took their cue and headed back upstairs to the kitchen leaving AJ to calm Sam down. He stroked her back and kept whispering to her that she was ok. After a few minutes, the shaking started to simmer down and she pulled back slightly. As if she hadn’t stunned them all enough that night, she stood up on her tiptoes and placed a gently kiss on AJ’s lips.

“What’s that for?” he asked as she pulled back to see him.

“For always keeping me safe.” Sam replied with tears in her eyes. “For doing everything you’ve done to make me feel protected.”

AJ’s eyes started to get wet and he squeezed the water out with his fingers. “You don’t have to do this Sam.”

She gently pulled his hand away from his face and looked him directly in the eye. “I’m not just doing this as a thank you.”

To prove her point, she kissed him again with a little more pressure. She wanted to make it clear to him that she was kissing him because she wanted to and not because she felt she had to. She’d made that mistake before and she wouldn’t do it again.
Feelings by Kyrie
AJ was shocked by Sam’s second kiss and as much as he wanted to keep things going, he forced himself to pull back from her embrace. She looked disappointed but he needed to make sure that this was truly what Sam wanted before he went any further. A few stray tears slipped down her face and he wiped them off with a soft brush of his finger.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way Sam...”

“It’s ok.” she said as she dipped her head and started to walk away. “You don’t have to explain.”

“No it’s not ok.” he replied as he gently tugged her his way again; once he had her attention, he continued. “I want this, probably more than you know, but I just want to make sure that you really want this and you’re truly ready. I made the mistake of putting too much pressure on you before and I absolutely don’t want to make that mistake again.”

“I’m sure.” she answered quietly. “I wasn’t ready before but I am now.”

“Then I think we should tell Nick and Lauren to take a hike so we can talk.”

Sam laughed and her smile made AJ grin; he would do anything in his power to keep that beautiful smile on her face. He took her hand in his and they made their way upstairs to find Nick and Lauren in the kitchen waiting for them. Nick noticed their intertwined fingers and he gave a subtle nod to AJ. His brother returned the nod and Nick nudged Lauren.

“I think I’ve had my fair share of excitement for tonight.” Nick said and grabbed Lauren’s purse from the chair. “Let us know if you guys want to do something this week.”

The couple dashed out as fast as they could because they understood that something happened in the basement and whatever that was, AJ and Sam needed some time by themselves to figure it out. Once AJ made sure the door and alarm were secure, he flopped down on the sofa and pulled Sam down beside him.

“So I think we need to talk.”

“Me first.” Sam said as she nodded in agreement.

“You win.” AJ winked.

Sam was quiet for a few minutes because she knew what she wanted to say but she needed to make sure he understood where her head and heart were at.

“I’ve spent most of my adult life either in a horrendous relationship or running from it. Ryan destroyed me while we were married and in some ways, I let him…”

“You did not!”

Sam rested her hand on AJ’s before she continued. “I let him win AJ. I gave up everything and everyone I loved and I didn’t even realize it until it happened. Then I let him win again when I went on the run and I let him win every day that I spend in fear of him or what will happen. I’m tired of living my life for him even when he’s not here. I want to enjoy my life, my new friends, my freedom and, most of all, I want to enjoy a healthy relationship with you.”

AJ didn’t say anything but he was surprised by how deep she was getting.

“I couldn’t handle it when you kissed me before and instead of just telling you that, I pushed you away and put up my walls again. I hurt you…”

“It’s ok…”

“No.” she said with certainty. “It’s not ok because that’s not who I used to be. Ryan made me that way and I want to go back. I want to be the strong woman I was, not the little girl that wants to run and hide.”

She paused for a minute before she explained how she was feeling at the moment.

“I’m scared of starting something with you because part of me is still broken and needs to heal. I don’t know exactly what I’m ready for but I know with complete certainty that I’m ready to try with you.”

It was a lot for AJ to absorb and it took him a few minutes to get across how he felt.

“Are you positive that this is something you want? I have to be honest with you and tell you that if we try to make something work with us and you keep pulling back from me, it’s going to make it rough.” He paused for a minute. “When we had a relationship in the past, when you were Max, I developed real feelings for you and it broke my heart when you left. My feelings are already invested in this and it will kill me if you decide you can’t handle this and you leave again. Are you sure about this?”

Sam stared directly into his eyes. “I’m positive.”

He gently leaned in and kissed her; she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close. Not wanting to rush things, he tried to make the situation a little less serious.

“Can we get rid of the great wall of pillows?”

“Definitely!” Sam said with a laugh.

----------------

AJ woke up in the middle of the night and looked down at his side. Sam’s head was nestled under his and he could feel her breath on his chest. Her arms were wrapped tightly around his waist and he could see her chest rising slowly and evenly, a sign that there was no nightmare coming tonight. He never thought that the day would come that he and Sam would find the feelings they had before and make something new out of them.
A Crazy Idea by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
A huge thank you to Sapphire for pushing me to get this chapter done!
“I can’t believe that idiot!” Ryan shouted at his female companion. “He and that blonde moron have some nerve telling me that I can’t search his house or come back.”

“Have you tried reaching out to your friend?”

“Are you an idiot?” he said as he glared at the woman, who was now shrinking back into a chair, afraid of the wrath she was about to incur. “Of course I thought of that. I’m not as stupid as you are!”

The woman just sat there and let him go; she knew that if she said anything at this point, no matter how small, his fists would be flying as well as his words.

“My ‘friend’ apparently can’t help me now because his chief is breathing down his neck! He has no balls to stand up to that man and now it’s screwing up my plan.”

Ryan paced around the room like a caged animal; he was furious that he no longer had access to police assistance and how it was setting his plan back. He had hoped to gain entrance to the house and find out where his wife was hiding. The thought of nabbing her made him smile and he thought about the look that would be on everyone’s faces when they watched him drag her out by the hair. She had let this crap go on long enough and he was getting fed up.

“We need to figure something out and fast. I want her sooner rather than later!”

-----------------

The next week flew by as Sam and AJ spent their time now as a couple instead of roommates. He was very careful not to push her or make her uncomfortable; it had taken him so long to get her to open up that he didn’t want to risk making an idiot move and having to start from scratch. Sam, on her part, was trying to relax more around him and see him in a different vein. She knew how much he cared for her and it meant the world to her, even if she wanted to take things slowly.

One thing that had been bothering her, and had been for a while, was the fact that she was still cooped up in the house, afraid to go outside in fear of Ryan being nearby. She knew that it was for her own protection but it was making her so stir crazy and she didn’t want that frustration to boil over and ruin her relationship with AJ. But, more than that, she wanted to live a life where she didn’t feel like she was chained to a house like a slave. This feeling had been bothering her so much that she finally made up her mind to do something about it and asked AJ to sit down and talk that afternoon.

“What’s wrong?” AJ asked with concern as he took a seat next to her on the couch. “Are you not ok with going forward with this relationship? I promised not to push you and I’ll keep my word.”

Sam turned to face him and took his hand in hers. “No, I’ve never been surer of something in my life. This doesn’t have to do with us.”

“Then why do we need to talk?”

“I need to get out.” Sam blurted out.

“Get out of where?” AJ asked, confused. “Out of the bedroom? The living room?”

“The house.” she answered quickly, afraid her frightened self would take over. “I need to get out of this house.”

“Ok.” he replied. “We can head out to the pool tonight if you want.”

“No. I want to completely leave this house, go somewhere where I can get a chance to breathe…”

“Absolutely not!” AJ yelped as he leapt up. “There is no way you are going to leave here. Ryan’s a madman and you know how close he’s come to finding you here.”

“I need to get out AJ. I feel like I’m Rapunzel, trapped in a tower by a nasty witch; a witch who happens to be my husband.” she said louder than she had planned. “I’m dying in here and I need to get out so I don’t go crazy.”

“No.” he replied firmly. “I would do anything for you but I am not willing to put your safety in jeopardy.”

“You can’t keep me here AJ! I’m not a prisoner and if I want to leave, I can. You can’t tell me what to do!”

Sam’s anger surprised him and he watched as she stood up in a huff and stomped away; he could hear her feet slamming against the staircase and the door of their bedroom slam. Shaking his head, he flopped down on the sofa and started rubbing his temples. He had just gotten her to open up to him, start to work things out and in one second, the whole thing was starting to crumble. Hearing that she felt like a prisoner truly hurt him because all he was trying to do was keep her safe. After sitting there for a few moments, he called the one person who he was sure could give him some sensible advice.

“Hey J.” Kevin answered after the third ring. “How are you?”

“I’ve been better Kev.”

“Uh oh. That doesn’t sound very promising.”

“It’s not.” he answered with a sigh. “I really need your help with something.”

“Please tell me that you and Sam aren’t falling apart already.”

AJ sighed. “We’re hitting a speed bump and I don’t know how to get over it.”

He explained what had happened and expressed all of his concerns. Kevin asked about Sam and how she responded to what AJ had said; he got quiet after that and it was a few seconds before he said anything.

“I think you have to let her leave.”
A Plan by Kyrie
“I know it’s not what you wanted to hear J, but I think getting out of that house is the best thing for her.”

“But Ryan…”

“That’s why I’m saying this.” Kevin said and sighed. “Please don’t take this the wrong way but Ryan kept Sam trapped for years in their home and never allowed her any freedom. I’m not saying that you’re anything like Ryan but keeping her against her will is only going to cause resentment. She’s a big girl AJ, let her make the decisions she wants to and be there to support her.”

AJ took a second to think about what his older brother was saying. He knew he was nothing like Ryan but he could see the similarities in the behaviors Kevin pointed out. Maybe it was time to loosen up.

He thanked Kevin and hung up. After giving himself a few minutes to let the decision sink in, he headed upstairs to talk to Sam.

------------

“How are we going to find her?” the female voice asked quietly.

Ryan was still furious that his access to police assistance was denied and the fact that he could no longer force that tattooed idiot to cooperate. He was desperate to find a way into that house to retrieve his property.

“What if we watched the house constantly?” she said, trying to avoid another beating. “We can take turns, maybe hire someone to help.”

Ryan was about to lose it on her when he stopped to think about it. Keeping watch would provide opportunities for him as well as keep this insufferable, nagging woman at bay. While he’s taking a break, she would be far enough away.

“I don’t want to hire someone, too many questions. You’ll take twelve hours and I’ll take the other twelve.” He pointed his finger at her and glared. “You have the afternoon shift tomorrow and you’d better not screw it up.”

-----------

AJ found Sam sitting on one of his easy chairs, staring out at the ocean. He didn’t want to frighten her so he cleared his throat to let her know he was there.

“Can we talk?”

Sam just shrugged her shoulders and continued to watch the waves as they crashed on the beach; whatever he said wasn’t going to change her mind. AJ came around to the front of the chair and knelt down, blocking her view. He wanted her to listen, not ignore him.

“I’m sorry.” he said quietly.

Sam didn’t say anything and it hurt AJ that she was so mad. He knew why she was upset but it didn’t make her silence any easier to take.

“Where do you want to go?”

Sam was caught off guard by his question so she just stared at him, not really understanding why he was asking her that.

“You heard me.” he said with an easy smile. “Where do you want to go?”

Sam threw her arms around his neck. “Anywhere with water and peace for you and me!”

-----------

Ryan spent the next morning watching AJ’s every move. He followed him to the dry cleaners, the bank and the supermarket. The annoyance of having to do this nagged even more at him as he watched him schlep in the groceries and pull his truck into the garage. A few minutes later, AJ took his other car out and proceeded to watch and wax it. Leaving it to dry, the younger man made his way back into the house and it became quiet.

The desperate side of Ryan wanted to ignore the idiot, skip following him around and just break into the house but that wasn’t part of the big plan. He could have easily gone in while AJ was gone and grabbed her but it would be much more exciting to watch that dimwit struggle to save her as Ryan reclaimed what was his.

When his companion showed up to take the next shift, he explained, in detail, everything that had happened.

“Keep your eyes open, watch the door and that car. We don’t want to lose him!”

----------------

“How are we going to leave?” Sam asked with apprehension; she was starting to second guess herself about whether this was a good idea or not.

AJ told her about the strange car that had been following him and the other one that was now parked near the side of the house.

“Don’t worry. They’ll eventually need a break and that’s when we’ll go.”

He had already planned their escape down to every detail and he explained that he left the other car in the driveway to show that he was at home. Having his truck in the garage made it easy to load their stuff and sneak her into the backseat. He would cover her with a blanket and leave as soon as the mysterious car was gone.

---------

She sat in the car for hours without taking her eyes off the house. Ryan would be furious if she missed anything and she knew what happened when he got angry.

The hours continued by and after the fifth, she had to use a restroom; the two coffees she had were catching up to her. Ryan had instructed her to wear Depends or use a catheter, whatever would prevent her from leaving the car. Normally, that would be something someone would say as a joke but she knew Ryan wasn’t kidding. She tried for a while longer to get her mind off of it but, after another hour, she just couldn’t take anymore. There was a coffee shop up the street and she knew she could get there and back in less than five minutes.

Going as fast as she could, she made it back in four and let out a huge sigh of relief when she saw the car still sitting in the driveway. Her relief, however, would be short lived when Ryan noticed that there were no lights on when he showed up to take over. Concerned with the lack of movement, he crept up to the garage and saw that the truck AJ had been driving earlier was gone.

“Stupid bitch!” he roared as he stormed off to his car and sped back to the hotel.
A Sense of Peace by Kyrie
AJ removed the light blanket that he had draped over Sam as soon as they were on the highway. He wanted to make sure no one was following them before he took it off. His concern was still heightened, so she agreed to lay down in the backseat till they got to the destination; she didn’t realize how tired she was and she fell asleep within a few minutes. She only stirred when she felt the truck come to a stop and the engine turn off.

“Are we here?” she asked with a yawn as she sat up.

“Yup.” AJ answered. “Just stay there for a few minutes while I check in.”

Sam nodded and laid her head back down. It only took a couple of minutes for AJ to get back and he started the truck, putting into reverse.

“I thought we were here?”

“We are but I needed to get the keys to our cabin.”

AJ had rented a cabin up in Lake Gregory National Park for them to spend a few days. He wanted to avoid hotels where others might see them and paid cash in case someone was monitoring his credit cards. Ryan obviously had access to the police so only God knew what else he could get in to. Sam had agreed to only be out for a few days so that they could be back before anyone started a serious search for them.

The sight of the water was the first thing that caught Sam’s attention. AJ had tried so hard to find a place near the ocean but there wasn’t anything that was concealed enough for her safety. Instead, he chose a beautiful lakeside retreat that allowed for the water she was looking for and the safety he wanted for her.

The sunset was stunning as she watched the water lap the shoreline. The cabin was set a little off the beach and safely in an inlet of trees; it was also scattered far enough away from all the other cabins. That meant Sam could spend as much time in the outside air she craved without having to worry about someone watching.

AJ watched her face light up as she took in the surroundings. It was almost as though a sense of peace had settled in and he knew he’d made the right decision listening to Kevin. Happiness radiated off her and it made him smile; she was free to be the Sam she was before Ryan, if only for a few days.

He made his way into the cabin, keeping his eye on her through the window. Dropping their luggage in the small den, he checked the kitchen to make sure all the food he’d asked for had been delivered. Not wanting to disturb her, he put water on for the pasta and started chopping up the vegetables for a salad. She appeared at the door with a smile as he was just finishing up the garlic bread.

“Smells delicious.” she said as she wrapped her arms around his waist. “Thank you AJ.”

“You’re welcome Sam.” he replied and leaned in to kiss her. “You deserve your own space and the chance to find some peace.”

“So do you.”

“Why?”

“You need a break from constantly babysitting me. You barely leave the house and when you do, you’re worried for me.”

“It’s not babysitting.” he said and pulled her closer. “It’s protecting the woman I love and I will do it as long as it takes to keep you safe.”

-----------------

The couple shared a peaceful, relaxed dinner and Sam suggested that they spend some time outside by the water. She loved the water and stars at night, and even though it wasn’t a beach, it still gave her a chance to see the moon over the lake. Her parents used to take her and her brother camping as kids and they made it a point to have everyone sit outside at night and talk about what they were thinking about before they went to bed.

“Are you ok?” AJ asked as he caught her expression while setting up a small fire in the outside pit.

“I’m fine.” Sam reassured him. “I was just thinking about my parents and Sean. They were always taking us on vacations like this and remembering them, it makes me miss them more.”

“We can go back inside.” AJ suggested as he slipped down next to her on the blanket. “I want this to be a positive experience for you, not a sad one.”

“Remembering my family isn’t sad.” she said and crawled between his legs to rest her head against his chest. “I miss them but something like this makes me feel like they’re watching over me.”

“I’m sure they are.” AJ reassured her as he kissed the top of her head. “I know they’re proud of the woman you’ve become.”

“I’m not so sure about that.” Sam replied in an under her breath whisper.

AJ scooted back a little and turned her to face him. “Why would you say that?”

“Because of what I let Ryan do.” she answered as a tear slipped down from her closed eyes. “They wouldn’t be proud of me staying there.”

“Are you serious?” he asked, lifting her chin so she would eventually have to look at him. “You didn’t bring this on, you don’t deserve it and you didn’t do anything wrong Sam. Ryan is at fault here, not you. Your family would be so proud of how their strong Sami survived through all of it and how you fought hard to get out. Do not, for one second, question how much they love you and how amazing they believe you are.”

Sam looked at him with wet eyes. “Do you really believe that?”

“I absolutely do.” he replied and kissed her. “You are an remarkable woman, Samantha O’Brien, and I am the luckiest man in the world to have you in my life.”

Sam ducked her head, not used to comments like that but AJ pushed her chin up again.

“I love you Sam and no matter what you think, I know you’re family loves you more than anything and all they want is for you to be happy.”

She tried to absorb what he said and it took a few minutes for her to respond.

“I am happy AJ, I’m finally happy.”
The Past by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I apologize for the lengthy delay in updating! I hope you guys are still reading; please let me know what you think!
“I’m sorry Ryan, I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

The woman sobbed as she sat on the floor holding her head. Ryan was furious when he came back to the room and told her that she had let them slip away. Her face was covered in bruises as were most of the other available spots on her body. There was no way to get past this and she knew that this might be the end.

“I don’t give a fucking crap about how sorry you are!” Ryan seethed. “You’re a complete moron and I have no idea why I ever thought you were capable enough to do this. A dog could have done better!”

“I’m…”

“I don’t care!” Ryan yelled as he slapped her as hard as he could across the face.

Her body finally slumped to the floor; she couldn’t take it anymore and was praying to God that this was the last time.

----------------------------

Sam yawned and stretched, waking up late in the morning. The sunlight was pouring through the bedroom window and she could hear AJ humming to himself in the kitchen. Rolling over onto her back, her mind played back the night before. It felt so amazing to be free and back out among the living; it was going to be devastating when they had to go back to the real world and she got locked up again. Shaking her head, she got up and made her way out to the kitchen; she wasn’t going to ruin the few days of freedom she had with worrying about going back.

“Hey sleepyhead.”

AJ greeted her with a smile and a kiss as she looked around. He had set up a beautiful breakfast of fruit and pancakes with orange juice poured and coffee brewing.

“You didn’t have to do this.” Sam said. “You have done more than enough bringing me out here.”

“Well I’m not going to let you starve to death!” he teased as he pulled her in for a hug. “I’m glad to see that smile on your face, I haven’t seen it since I don’t know when.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen it too.” Sam admitted quietly. “The last time I was this happy was living with my grandmother.”

AJ didn’t push her any further than that even though he really wanted to get to know more about the woman who raised Sam. He waited till they were halfway through breakfast before he asked any questions.

“I was wondering about your grandmother.”

Sam didn’t say anything and just took another bite of her pancake. AJ wasn’t sure if that was a sign to drop it or if she just needed a prodding so he decided to approach it differently.

“I miss my grandmother so much.” AJ admitted. “My mom raised me but we spent most of my life either living with my grandparents or having them around almost daily.”

“I’m sorry.” Sam said quietly as she saw the pain of her loss flash across his eyes. “What was her name?”

“Ursula. She was an amazing woman and honestly, sometimes I felt like she was more of a mom to me than my mom.” AJ realized how badly that sounded so he tried to make it clearer. “My mom worked a lot of jobs to take care of us because my dad walked out when I was little. My grandparents watched me all the time and I guess that’s how I became so attached.”

“When did she pass away?”

“2001.” he replied. “I went off the deep end when I lost her. I was already addicted to drugs and was an alcoholic so when she died, I took it as an excuse to go back to my old ways. Thankfully my mom and the guys were there to pick me up and put me back together again.”

“You were lucky.” Sam said and began to open up a little. “There was no one there after my grandmother passed.”

“I’m sorry Sam.”

“It’s ok. I’m not angry about it, I just wish there was someone there to help me deal with everything. My grandparents had taken care of everything when my parents and Sean died and then my grandmother took care of my grandfather’s arrangements. By the time she passed, I was on my own.”

AJ felt bad and tried to steer the conversation back into a positive direction.

“Sarah said you went to nursing school after your grandmother passed.”

“I did.” Sam said with a nod. “I hadn’t gone to college after high school because I was taking care of my grandmother. When she passed, I needed to do something and I remember all the care and love that her hospice nurses showed when they were helping me in her last few months. I wanted to experience that and take care of someone else that way, so I went to school and got my nursing degree.”

“Did you always work with hospice patients?”

“No. I did that mostly on the side.” Sam paused. “That’s actually how I met Ryan.”

AJ remembered Sarah saying that Sam was Ryan’s father’s hospice nurse and that’s how they met. It made him furious thinking how caring Sam was and how Ryan saw that as a weakness. He swooped right in when he found out that Sam was alone and kept her that way for such a long time. It was a good thing that he wasn’t standing in front of AJ right now or that butter knife wouldn’t be on the table anymore.

Sam could tell what was running through AJ’s mind just by watching his eyes. She reached out her hand and placed it over his; she could feel the tension start to dissipate.

“I don’t want to ruin our time here by talking about Ryan. You brought me out here so that we could have some peace. Let’s just forget about any negative stuff and enjoy the time we have left here.”
Uncomfortable Question by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
A big thank you to Sapphire for helping me get this done!
Sam spent most of the afternoon down by the lake, alternating between swimming and getting some Vitamin D on shore with a good book. AJ knew how much she needed this so he decided not to crowd her; he was able to send emails and take care of some business while she was enjoying her own space. Pushing himself onto to her as a constant companion would only backfire so he waited until dinner time to approach her.

“Don’t get too toasty down here.” he teased as he took a seat in the sand next to her.

Sam laughed and smiled at him. She was beautiful as she was but AJ had never seen her this tanned and happy; it was almost like joy was radiating off her. He must have been staring too long because she finally blushed and turned away.

“I’m trying to just soak up as much sun as I can before I turn back into Cinderella.”

AJ could hear a hint of irritation in her voice as she quietly made her comment. He knew that she hated being stuck in the house all the time and he honestly wished that there was some way to give her more freedom at home. The thought of that wish was tainted when he saw Ryan’s nasty smirk in his mind and the abuse he put Sam through came flooding in.

Sam noticed AJ get quiet and saw a glimmer of fury in his eyes; she knew he was thinking of Ryan and she hated that, even though they were miles away, he still had the nasty habit of creeping into her life. The abuse she suffered while they were together was awful but it felt like she was still being abused, just by fear and threats instead of fists and feet.

The couple sat there in silence for a few minutes before they picked up everything Sam had brought down to the shore and headed back to the cabin. He had planned another nice evening under the stars but he wanted to make sure she ate something first.

Once dinner was over, he collected the blankets from the night before and spread them on the sand. He lay down and tugged Sam down next to him; he could feel her become still and heard a small sigh of content as she lay there holding his hand. This caused him to smile and they lay there, staring at the stars for a little while before AJ turned on his side to face her. The question that he was about to ask had crossed his mind earlier that day while he was working.

“You can tell me to mind my own business, or even slug me, but can I ask a question?”

“Shoot.” Sam said and turned over to face him. “I don’t have any secrets with you.”

“What was Ryan’s dad like?”

The words flew fast out of AJ’s mouth; he wasn’t sure if the question was appropriate or if it would bring back awful memories.

“Honestly?” Sam asked. “He was one of the sweetest men I have ever met.”

AJ’s jaw dropped; he wasn’t quite sure what he expected her to say but he wasn’t prepared for the compliment she bestowed on the man who raised her abusive husband.

“Surprised you huh?” Sam said with a half-hearted laugh. “I bet you didn’t imagine that coming out of my mouth.”

“No I didn’t.” AJ replied. “I think that was the last thing I expected.”

“Well it’s true. Besides my dad and my grandfather, Matthew Murray was the kindest man that I had ever met and I adored him. It hurt to watch him wasting away from cancer but he had the most positive attitude, he exuded peace and calm.”

“How the hell did this man raise such a monster?” AJ spat out and instantly regretted it; he didn’t want to make things worse for her by bashing someone she obviously cared about.

“I don’t know and trust me when I say that I have asked myself that question over and over again.”

They sat there for a bit before Sam spoke again.

“I don’t think Ryan’s father knew what a bastard he was. He was good at pretending to be the doting son and perfect gentleman while he was at his parents’ house. His mother was so proud of him and his dad always spoke highly of him. If they did know anything, they chocked it up to someone not understanding him.”

“He’s more than a bastard.” AJ whispered.

“I know but I fell for him partly because of the way his parents talked about him and how he acted around them.”

“Why didn’t they do anything about the abuse?”

“His dad passed away before we started dating seriously and about two months into our relationship, his mother had a heart attack from all the stress that losing her husband caused. Personally, I think she died of a broken heart; I’ve only seen a love like theirs’ twice, once with my parents and the other time with my grandparents.”

“So he was free to do whatever he wanted after that.”

Sam nodded and sighed.

“He came into his parents’ money and his career was starting to take off. He was free to be the abusive piece of crap he was.”

Sam turned and lay back down on the blanket; she could feel some tears starting to well up in her eyes and she didn’t want AJ to see them. It would make him feel bad for asking her and she didn’t want to hurt him after all he’d done for her.

Even though she tried hard to hide it, AJ saw the rogue tears slipping down her face and he wiped them away with his finger.

“I’m sorry for dredging this all up for you Sam.”

“It’s ok.” she replied a few moments later. “You should know everything if we’re going to make this work.”
Ambush by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I apologize for the long delay in updating and I hope everyone still reading; I would love to know what you think. A big thank you to Sapphire for all her help and reviews!
AJ and Sam returned to real life the next day and, as happy as the trip had made her, she wasn’t looking forward to being stuck in the house again. The time away made it all too clear to her that Ryan was still controlling her life and she was again under his suffocating grasp. Being abused for as long as she had been was incredibly difficult and, even now that she was away from him, it still didn’t make any difference.

AJ had been so supportive but he realized that she was miserable being in the house all the time with no freedom. He wanted to do something to make it easier on her but there was nothing he could think of that wouldn’t put her in danger. Ryan was, by now, well aware of them sneaking away for their trip and risking another trip wasn’t something he was willing to do.

It had been a week since they had been back and Sam was restless. She spent most nights not sleeping but tossing and turning, letting her mind go back to being at the lake; this happened to be one of those nights. AJ had fallen asleep a few hours ago but there she was, wide awake with no hope of going to sleep any time soon. She turned on her side and instead of that helping, she caught sight of the moon illuminating the beach and it was a beautiful sight. Not being able to hold it back any more, she slipped out of bed, threw on a sweatshirt and silently snuck down to the kitchen. After making sure the house alarm was off, she pulled open the back sliders and took in a huge breath of fresh air. She hated sneaking off like this but she just needed a little time to herself.

---------------------

Ryan was pacing his hotel room floor, getting angrier by the second. That stupid woman had caused him quite a headache when she let that moron escape with his wife. It had made him realize that she was good to have around when he was frustrated but wasn’t worth a damn in any other way. Knowing that she was completely incompetent, he had hired, against his better judgement, a private investigator. This was not someone who had the best record but it was one of the cheaper, and more discrete, ones who he wouldn’t have to justify anything to. So far, he had been unimpressed and was starting to consider finding someone else when he got the phone call. He listened to the information and had barely snapped his cell shut before he was racing to the parking garage.

--------------------

Sam sat as close to the water as she dared and let the silky sand fall through her fingers. She had missed these smells and feelings for years and was content, for this moment, to sit here and enjoy the view. There was little time to be out here because she wanted to be back in bed before AJ woke up; she didn’t want to cause any panic.

As she sat there longer, an unexpected anger started to rise through her. She was so tired of having to run from Ryan. Before him, her life had been happy even with its ups and downs. Losing her parents, brother and grandparents had an effect of her as it would anyone else but she was trying to use all of that loss to fuel something that would help someone else. Being a nurse did that for her and she loved her job, her co-workers and her patients; she had planned on being a nurse for as long as she could.

She had also dreamed of having a happy marriage and children. Her parents and grandparents had shown her that two people could love each other with complete devotion and spend their lives together in peace and harmony. That was a great lesson for her to learn and she had hoped that she would be able to find that with someone special; unfortunately, she found Ryan first.

Ryan hadn’t started off as awful as he turned out to be but Sam found out later that was just an act. When he came to visit his parents, he was always attentive to them and she thought that it was sweet for a man to treat his parents the way he did. As it turned out, all he wanted to do was to stay in their good graces so that he wouldn’t be written out of the will before they died. His father had once threatened it when he acted out as a young adult so he knew it was a possibility and he couldn’t let that much money slip through his fingers.

She made the mistake of thinking that he cared about her too but that was just the same lie he portrayed to his parents. Sam was just the trophy wife, the one who looked like she was supposed to, did what she was supposed to and was really Ryan’s punching bag. It made her so furious that she had spent years living like that and she got so lost in the resentment that she wasn’t paying any attention to her surroundings.

--------------

The information that his investigator called him with was spot on; he found Samantha sitting by herself on the beach. She was still such an idiot and he had to laugh to himself about how easy it would be to get to her. There was no one around and she wasn’t paying any attention to anything. All he’d have to do is silently slip up behind her and grab her; he couldn’t have asked for more.

--------------

AJ flipped over onto his other side and reached his arm out so that he could wrap it around Sam. Instead of finding her body, his arm flopped onto the bed and his eyes cracked open. He looked around the bedroom but didn’t see any sign of her. His concern for her was increasing, and although he knew she needed space, he wanted to make sure she was safe. Thinking she was in the bathroom, he flipped back over and noticed that the light was off and the door was open.

Jumping out of bed, he slipped on a pair of sandals and quickly made his way down to the first floor. He remembered he didn’t shut the shades so he made his way to the alarm; the light was blinking that it had been disarmed. The panic rose in him as he searched the first floor and the studio downstairs. Still not finding her, he happened to look outside and saw a figure sitting on the beach near the water. Hoping and praying it was her, he whipped open the slider door and took off as fast as he could.
Love by Kyrie
Someone grabbed Sam’s shoulder as she stood to brush the sand off her pants and the panic shot straight through her. She whirled around and came face to face with a completely panicked AJ, who looked as though he was on the verge of crying.

“What were you thinking?” he said in a loud whisper. “Do you know how dangerous it is for you to be out here like this?”

“I just needed some fresh air.” Sam squeaked as he wrapped his arms around her as tightly as he could. “I couldn’t sleep and when I saw the beach, I thought it might help.”

AJ finally eased his grasp to grab her by the hand; he dragged her up to the house and deposited her in a lounger by the pool. Racking his hand through his hair, he thought about the scare she just caused and what he wanted to say to her.

--------------

Ryan slunk back into the bushes as he watched the idiot drag his wife away. One more minute and he would have had her exactly where he wanted to! This jackass kept getting in the way of his plans and as Ryan sat there and watched them together, he thought of all the possible scenarios he was going to have to implement in order to get rid of the moron.

---------------

“You cannot ever, ever do something like this again.” AJ said, a little louder and harsher than he should have. “Waking up and not being able to find you scared the shit out of me.”

Sam felt bad because she could see the worry all over his face. He was always looking out for her, taking care of her and she really didn’t want to cause all of this stress.

“I’m sorry AJ, I just needed a little bit of space and quiet time.”

He sighed and slumped down onto the lounger next to her. “I don’t mean to tell you what to do; I’m just concerned about you.”

“I know you are.” Sam said as she reached out and squeezed his hand. “I guess that trip of ours reminded me of how much I loved being out. I just felt like I needed to get out again.”

“You could’ve woken me up, I would have some out with you.” he said and he saw a small smile cross her face. “I guess that would kind of defeat the purpose of alone time huh?”

“A little.” she replied as she held her index finger and thumb a little apart. “But I understand what you mean. Can I ask one favor?”

“Anything.”

“Can you give me five minutes out here by the pool? I just need a couple minutes to think.”

AJ cocked an eyebrow, what did she need time to think about? He reluctantly agreed to give her the space and slowly made his way into the house, repeatedly looking over his shoulder to make sure she was ok. She gave him a smile and a wave as he finally entered the house and closed the slider.

Sam sighed and stretched out on the chair by the pool. She knew why AJ was concerned and she agreed that it was stupid of her to go outside without at least letting him know. He was absolutely terrified that something had happened to her and she felt awful about causing him to worry like that. After taking a deep breath and thinking about what she wanted to say to him, she turned and waved at him to come back. She knew that, even if she couldn’t see him, he could see her and it made her laugh.

He came back outside, sitting down next to her with a sheepish grin. At first she didn’t say anything and simply took his hand in hers. His eyes searched hers as he was waiting for her to speak and he could have sworn he saw a different person in there.

“I need to tell you something.” Sam said after a few minutes. “And I need you to listen without saying anything. Can you do that?”

AJ started to open his mouth but changed his mind and nodded the answer to her request.

“There are some things that I should have said to you a while ago but I didn’t know how to do it.” Sam said and paused for a few seconds. “I love you AJ.”

“I love…” AJ started to say before Sam raised her eyebrow and he quickly closed his mouth.

“I love you and I should have told you a long time ago. You have told me over and over again that you love me but I’ve never said it to you. That was a mistake on my part and I want to make sure you know how I feel about you.”

She waited to see if he was going to cut her off but he was trying as hard as he could to do what she asked.

“The other thing is that I need to thank you. You have been there for me through all of this and I know how much you’ve sacrificed for me.”

“But I haven’t….”

Sam cut him off by putting her finger against his lips.

“You promised to let me talk remember?”

AJ simply nodded and let her continue.

“You have sacrificed your time and your freedom to be here with me all the time. That means more to me than you could possibly imagine but it’s not been fair to you. There are things that you need to take care of outside of this house. I know the guys want to work on a new album and your management wants all of you to get back out there so you have more visibility…”

“None of those things is more important than protecting you!”

“You really can’t be quiet can you?” Sam asked with a laugh.

“Not when it comes to you.” AJ replied with sad eyes. “I couldn’t imagine not being here to keep you safe.”

Sam was touched by what he said but she had already thought long and hard about it. She couldn’t keep him tethered to her and this house like Ryan did to her, it just wasn’t fair.

“You need to get out AJ. I promise nothing will happen.”

------------------

Ryan was seething as he watched the two of them walk back into the house. She just told that idiot she loved him! Sam hadn’t said that to him in years and he was her fucking husband! That little bitch thought that she was escaping from the life they shared but she’d come to find that there was no way he would let that happen.
What You Love by Kyrie
“I know you may not want to hear this but it might not be such a bad idea.”

AJ sighed as he listened to his older brother; he had called Kevin the next morning to ask his opinion about Sam’s idea for him to leave for a bit. He wanted him to say that it was an awful idea and shouldn’t be done but, deep down, he knew that Kevin would see the realistic, sensible part and agree with her.

“It’s not safe.”

“I know you don’t think so and, frankly, I’m not thrilled with it but it’s going to need to be done at some point.”

He knew his brother was right; eventually he would have to leave the house and leave her by herself. Management was accepting of his excuses at first but they had started to get frustrated with the lack of movement on the guys’ parts. They were demanding that the boys get back out onto the road for some visibility and he knew that they would not give him much longer before they brought up the contractual obligations.

“I know you’re worried J, and I understand why, but you can’t put your entire life on hold for Sam.”

“But I’m not…”

“Yes you are.” Kevin interrupted. “I mean how many times have you actually been out of the house since she came back?”

AJ thought about it for a minute and had to agree that Kevin was right. Other than his trip with Sam and the two times he ran out for groceries, he’d probably only left the house two other times. The thought of being restricted to the house hadn’t crossed his mind but now it was hitting him in the face.

“I can hear the wheels running in your brain.” Kevin joked. “They’re a little rusty from the lack of use. Maybe some WD-40 would help.”

“Bite me.” AJ said as he laughed into the phone. “They work a lot faster than yours old man.”

He had to admit that he’d missed this back and forth bantering that he had with his brothers and part of him truly missed being out on the road. Sam needed him to keep her safe though and he had to figure out which thought weighed more heavily.

“How about we do something small, like a four day media thing?” Kevin suggested. “We can visit a few radio shows and maybe do some TV. We’ll be back before you know it.”

“But what about Sam?”

“You know she can’t come with us J, that would create a disastrous mess since she’s still technically wanted for murder.”

“I know but that’s why I don’t want to…”

“Would Lauren be willing to stay with her?”

“Probably.” AJ said after a minute. “But what about both their safeties?”

“We have a ton of security between all five of us so why doesn’t Drew stay with them?”

AJ listened to his brother work out a potential plan and he promised to think about it; he would let Kevin know the next day either way. They hung up and he thought about how he was going to bring this situation up to Sam.

-----------------

Sam had ventured out to the pool that afternoon for a little sunshine. AJ was hesitant but he agreed as long as she stayed where he could see her and that she come in right away if there was any sign of someone being in the yard. He had to admit that he still needed some time to think about what Kevin said; he chose to wait until dinner to let her know what he had decided.

He cooked her favorite, meatloaf, for dinner and had just finished whipping the mashed potatoes when she came through the slider. She smiled, walked over to where he was and wrapped her arms around his waist; he could smell the coconut suntan lotion that she had used and it drove him crazy.

“You better be careful with that lotion.” he said as he pulled her closer. “You’re going to look like a lobster.”

Sam started to laugh. “I’m careful.”

“Ok, just remember, you are Irish!”

“Smart ass.”

Sam grabbed a kitchen towel and flicked AJ with it before she went upstairs to change her clothes. When she came back down, she found a beautifully set table with candles glowing.

“What’s the big occasion?”

AJ didn’t say anything because he was still working up the nerve. He pulled her chair out and slid it in after she sat down. Her eyes searched his face to figure out what he was up to and she decided that he needed to tell her right then and there, no more stalling.

“I’m going to leave for a few days.”

AJ prepared himself for the potential pain, panic and strain that Sam might feel with his decision to leave. She shocked him though when she smiled and put her hand on top of his.

“Good, I’m glad.”

“You are?”

“Yes.” Sam replied and paused for a minute. “I know how protective you are of me…”

“I love you and would do anything for you.”

“I know but this is something that you need to do for you. You light up when you talk about your music and performing; I know how much you miss it.” She stopped for a minute. “I want you to do what you love because I don’t want you to resent me in the long run.”

“I would never resent you. How could you say something like that?”

AJ was upset by her statement and he got up from the table, storming over to the stove. He was scooping carrots into a bowl to distract himself when he felt her arms around him and her head laying on his back.

“I’m sorry AJ; I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“I just don’t know why you’d say something like that.” he said as he turned around to face her. “Why would you ever think I would resent you?”

“Because I resented being shut up in a house when there were things I wanted to do, things I wanted to experience. I know that you’re doing this voluntarily but I really want you to go and do what you love.”

AJ sighed and pulled her closer to him; he kissed her on the head then pulled back a little.

“Are you sure about this Sam? I don’t have to do this.”

“I’m positive.” she answered with a smile. “I think you’ll be happier and that’s all I want for you.”
Pajama Party by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
A huge thank you to Sapphire who kicked my butt and reminded me that I needed to get on the ball about updating. I also want to thank Inconsolable and addictedtobsb for their reviews. I hope everyone is liking the story and I apologize for the slacking in updating!
“Do you think they’re ok?”

Nick sighed; AJ had asked the same question every ten minutes since they had left Lauren and Sam with Drew. He knew his brother was truly concerned for Sam and that this decision to leave had been difficult for him. However, Nick was going to strangle him if he heard him ask it one more time.

“They’re fine J; they’ve been fine for the last two hours. And every time you ask me this question, until I hear otherwise, I’m going to give you the same answer. Now go take a nap.”

The guys had rented a tour bus to share on their short, five day tour and the guys were either asleep or halfway there. AJ felt bad that he kept bothering Nick but he couldn’t shake the concern and fear that something would happen while he was away. The decision to leave had been torture for him and he prayed every night since making it that he wouldn’t regret it.

“I know but I’m not there to make sure.”

Nick rolled over to face his brother who was standing right outside his bunk.

“She is fine. If anything was going on, Drew or Lauren would call us and let us know. They promised to watch over her and they always follow through on their promises.” Nick turned back over. “Now go to sleep.”

----------------

“I feel like I’m sixteen again!” Sam said as she polished the last finger on Lauren’s right hand. “It’s like a sleepover.”

“It really is except we can drink now!” Lauren laughed. “We couldn’t do that at sixteen.”

Sam smiled; she really enjoyed spending time with Lauren and having her here while AJ was gone was a comfort. She hadn’t had many close female friends besides Sarah and her sister. And she really didn’t have her anymore because Sarah had left the week before to head back to Boston; she said California didn’t agree with her but she invited Sam to stay with them any time she wanted.

She glanced down as Lauren was painting her toenails and she was glad that she had such a good friend in her. Nick’s wife had always been there for her and looked after her as if she was like her little sister. She knew AJ was really concerned about leaving her alone for five days but she felt safe with Lauren and Drew.

AJ’s bodyguard came into the room a few minutes later to find Lauren braiding Sam’s hair.

“Just wanted to let you guys know that the pizza’s here.”

“Great.” Lauren replied. “I’m starving.”

“Me too.” Sam agreed and then turned to Drew. “Do you want us to do your nails after dinner?”

“Hell to the no!” Drew said with a deep laugh. “My job description says I need to protect you but it doesn’t mention anything about getting a manicure!”

“AJ gets them.” Sam said with a fake pout.

“That’s because that boy might as well be a woman at times!”

“Hey!” Lauren said as she whacked Drew on the arm. “Watch it!”

“Seriously Laur, have you seen that man shop?” Drew asked as they made their way into the kitchen. “He buys more accessories and jewelry than any woman I know.”

Lauren thought about it for a minute.

“Yeah, you’re kind of right about that. We could probably play dress up in his closet.”

“That’s a terrific idea!” Sam shouted as they turned to face her. “I totally think we should dig out some of his stuff and dress up like him. I think it would help him feel a little better about being gone if he could see us being silly and having a good time. Maybe he won’t feel as bad.”

Lauren and Drew contemplated the whole idea during dinner and they had to agree with Sam that it might lighten AJ’s mood a little to see everyone ok. The three of them investigated his closet and dug out hats and wife beaters as well as some jeans. Lauren and Sam were too small to fit in his jeans so they had to hike them up with belts. They put the wife beaters on with the fedoras and took turns posing in different AJ styles while Drew took some pictures with his phone.

When they were done, they cleaned up his closet and sat down with Drew to pick out the best pictures. Lauren wanted to send some to Nick as well so that he would be in on the photo shoot. After narrowing it down to two a piece, they texted them to the two guys along with some captions that were lyrics to some of their songs. Sam truly hoped that this would ease some of her boyfriend’s concerns about being gone.

------------------------

“Oh my God!” Nick said as he rolled off the couch onto the floor giggling. “J! Have you checked your phone?”

“No, I just finished showering.” AJ replied, poking his head out of the bathroom door. “What’s wrong? Is it Sam?”

Howie grabbed Nick’s phone to see what was funny and busted out laughing. He passed the phone to Brian and Kevin who got as much amusement out of it as their other two brothers.

“Somebody tell me what’s going on!” AJ demanded as he stormed out of the bathroom with only a towel on.

“You’re gonna love it.” Brian chuckled as he handed AJ his phone. “It’s priceless.”

AJ flicked over to his messages and waited a moment for them to load. When he saw what the two women sent him, he started to laugh along with the guys. Seeing Sam having fun with a big smile on her face definitely made it easier for him to be out there and he started to think that maybe this whole trip would be fine.
Extension by Kyrie
The guys had been gone for two days but AJ made a point to text Sam at least ten times a day so that she knew he was there and that he cared. She always replied and assured him that she was fine, she loved him and that she was glad he was having a good time on the road. He had to admit that the decision to leave for a few days was beneficial to both of them; he got a few days to do what he loved and she got a few to enjoy with Lauren. The girls had become close friends and he was glad that she had other people in her life besides him.

AJ was watching Nick and Howie play video games as the bus traveled to the next destination when Kevin sat down next to him on the couch.

“You missed this didn’t you?” his older brother asked with a smile.

“I did. I guess I didn’t realize I missed it this much.” AJ paused. “I’m glad you told me that I should come.”

“You both needed a break J. You and Sam have been cooped up in that house for months and you almost never leave because of her…”

“But…” AJ interrupted.

“I’m not saying you’re wrong.” Kevin shushed him with his hand. “I’m just saying that you two are bound to get on each other’s nerves if you’re constantly attached at the hip. I mean Kristin practically kicks me out of the house when she needs some space.”

AJ laughed. “I can see why!”

“Shut up.” Kevin replied with a gentle shove as he stood up. “I’m gonna take a nap.”

“Ok old man.”

Kevin smiled and flipped off his younger brother as he disappeared into one of the lower bunks. Brian came out of the back of the bus a few minutes later and took Kevin’s seat next to AJ.

“Talking to Leighanne?”

“Yeah.” Brian said, blushing. “I miss her.”

“I hear you.” J echoed. “I text Sam constantly.”

“We noticed.”

“I have to check on her.”

“And you love her.” Brian added. “Relax man, we all get it; we’d feel the same way if we were in your position.”

“She’s so important to me.” AJ admitted after a few moments. “As much as I like touring with you guys and making music, I just can’t imagine not having her around me. I don’t mean all the time but to not have her in my life, I couldn’t even see what that would be like.”

“You love her don’t you?”

“I do.” J lowered his voice. “I know Nick thinks I’m thinking with my heart and not my head but she really is one of the best people I have ever met. Knowing everything she’s been through makes me love her more.”

“Well,” Brian said as he stood up, “make sure you tell her that all the time.”

-------------------------

The guys found out the next day that their management wanted to extend their tour for a few more days. Nobody was thrilled to be away from their family longer than they had planned but AJ was especially upset. He had promised to be back with Sam that afternoon but he couldn’t break the tour without upsetting management. Calling Sam to give her the bad news, he found a response he wasn’t expecting.

“It’s ok.” Sam said quietly, after he told her the news. “Lauren already knows and she and Drew said they can stay with me.”

“But I promised…”

“You didn’t break a promise baby; you just need to do what you have to do. Please don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

AJ never got tired of hearing her call him baby or any other term of endearment; in fact, he relished those moments because it meant that Sam was finally, truly, starting to bring down her protective wall to let him in.

“I know you will be, you’re a strong woman. I just don’t know if I can be as strong.” AJ teased. “I’m going to have to start cuddling with Nick soon!”

Sam laughed at the thought of the two brothers cuddled up next to each other.

“You’ll be fine and you know what they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

“My heart couldn’t grow any fonder of you or love you any more than I do right now.”

Sam was quiet for a few moments; she was trying to get used to AJ always telling her how he felt and how much he loved her. The problem went back to Ryan and for the years she spent being told all negative things. She knew what to do if someone was being abusive but she wasn’t good at responding to someone who was just trying to love her.

AJ knew why she was quiet and he didn’t want to make things awkward so he changed the subject quickly.

“I’ll see you in a couple of days and just remember, if you and Lauren invade my closet again, we need more pictures!”

“Ok.” Sam said with a giggle. “I promise.”

“Good.” AJ said with a smile she couldn’t see. “I love you Sam.”

“I love you too AJ. Be safe and I’ll be here waiting for you when you come home.”
The Truth Can Hurt by Kyrie
“Ugh,” Laura sighed, “I hate being sick!”

“I hear you.” Sam murmured from her spot on the couch.

Both women had come down with a cold and, while they had planned to do a couple things over the next few days, they couldn’t find much energy to do anything. At that moment, Lauren was slouched down on the overstuffed armchair with an ice pack on her head while Sam was buried under an old quilt she had found. They both could barely move and, as much as he didn’t want to get sick, Drew had been taking care of both women. At the moment though, he was on the back deck giving AJ and Nick the low down.

“They are miserable.” Drew told them. “They’re both sick as dogs.”

“Thank you for taking care of them.” Nick told him. “I wish J and I could be there to do it.”

“Me too!” Drew exclaimed. “I can’t wait till you guys get back.”

“We’ll be home in a few days.” AJ said, stealing the phone from Nick.

“You said that last time.”

“I swear it. We’ve made it clear to management that we were doing the one extension and we’re heading home in couple days. I think they realize we’re not kidding.”

“Well the girls will be happy about that; they really miss you both and you two are lucky to have them.”

“Don’t I know it.” AJ replied. “I’m lucky I found her again at all.”

AJ leaned back on the couch as he finished his conversation with Drew. He assured their friend that would be back in a couple of days and reiterated how appreciative he was of Drew taking care of the girls. They hung up after a few minutes and AJ handed the phone back to Nick.

“This sucks.”

“I know.” Nick agreed. “Lauren always takes care of me when I’m sick and now, I’m nowhere to be found to take care of her. I hope they’re not too pissed.”

“I’m not sure Sam ever gets upset with anyone.” AJ commented. “I’ve never seen her get cross.”

“She did with you when she came back.” Nick reminded him as he stretched out on the sofa nearby. “I remember a few blowups.”

“I remember but you can’t say that’s who she is. She was reacting to a tough situation and she lashed out a little. Ever since we worked the situation out though, she hasn’t even raised her voice.”

Nick had to agree with his brother on that point. He knew that Sam had been through a lot and he was impressed at how she was able to open herself up again to his brother. Remembering how he questioned AJ about really being in love with her, he realized that they were truly in love with each other. All he wanted for all his brothers was to be happy and if Sam made him happy, than Nick was in support of them for the long haul.

-------------------

The girls recovered over the next few days and, by the time the boys were on their way home, they felt some kind of normal again. Sam was looking forward to AJ being there and for them to spend some time together before their management decided on a new album and schedule. She had never missed Ryan when he went away and it surprised her how much she could miss someone else when they weren’t around. AJ had shown her a new perspective and she didn’t think she’d ever be able to thank him enough.

However, as excited as she was to see him, she had spent the last half hour arguing with Drew about picking them up.

“Why can’t I come?” Sam demanded as Lauren and Drew got ready to leave and pick the guys up from the airport. “I don’t want to be left here.”

“You need to be.” Drew replied sternly. “I’m not taking a chance with either you, Lauren or the guys. I can’t keep an eye on everyone.”

The old Sam would have agreed with Drew and been frightened to leave the house at all but being with AJ changed that. It’s not like she wanted to take careless risks but she was more willing to attempt to have a real life. She knew she could dress up again and be safe at the airport but Drew didn’t feel the same.

“I want to go.” Sam demanded, standing with her hands on her hips. “I have a right to be there.”

“No.” Drew stated as he returned her fierceness. “I already have to watch Lauren and help the others watch the crowds around the boys. I can’t watch all of that and you.”

“Why can Lauren go then?”

“Because she used to this and she’s not wanted for murder!” Drew snapped and instantly regretted it. “I’m sorry Sam, that was mean.”

“Whatever.” Sam replied, tears forming in her eyes. “Go without me.”

She turned on her heel and silently made her way up to AJ’s bedroom. Drew hung his head and walked out the door with Lauren. He made sure everything was locked and alarmed before getting in the Denali.

“I’m not going to say anything to J.” Lauren said quietly. “He doesn’t need to know that you snapped at Sam.”

“He’s going to find out anyway.”

“Sam won’t say anything; she may be mad but she would never do something to make a scene between you and AJ.”

“I know she wouldn’t.” Drew replied as he kept his eyes on the road. “That’s why I feel so bad about what I said.”

“It was a mistake; you didn’t say it to be mean.”

“I hope J understands that and feels the way you do!”
What The Hell Happened? by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
Thank you to Sapphire, addictedtobsb, Inconsolable and everyone else who has been reading. I know that I've been going awhile without updating but I hope you can all stay with me. Please let me know what you're thinking, reviews always help!
AJ could barely contain himself as they made the drive back to his house. Lauren and Nick were snuggling in the backseat while he and Drew took the front seats. He was surprised at how quiet Drew was; usually, his friend would have been talking his ear off about something that happened while they were gone or the outcome of the latest sports game. It was a little concerning but AJ put it out of his mind as they turned into his driveway; throwing open the passenger side door, he bolted for the house as soon as the vehicle stopped.

“Sam! Where are you?” he yelled as he ran into the house looking for his girlfriend. “Baby, I’m home!”

Sam jumped off the couch and came flying into the hallway nearly colliding with her overly excited boyfriend. AJ picked her up and spun her around as he wrapped his arms around her.

“I cannot tell you how much I missed you!”

“I missed you too.” Sam said with a laugh as he buried his head into her neck. “I’m glad that you didn’t have to do another extension.”

“There is no way in hell I was going to pass on the opportunity to come home!” AJ replied as he set her down. “We made it clear that we weren’t going to keep making this tour longer and longer.”

AJ kissed Sam and pulled her closer. She couldn’t imagine a better feeling than being wrapped in his arms and she wanted it to last forever. Unfortunately, she saw Drew out of the corner of her eye as he approached them.

“Hey J?”

“What’s up?” he asked without breaking eye contact with Sam.

“I need to talk to you.”

AJ let go of his girlfriend and turned around; he very rarely heard this serious tone from Drew and he was concerned about what needed to be said.

“What’s the matter?”

“I need to apologize to you and Sam.”

AJ caught the sight of his girlfriend violently shaking her head at Drew and making a motion with her hand for him to stop. He turned to face her and she turned red as her head stopped shaking. His gaze whipped backed around to Drew who looked like this was the last place he wanted to be.

“Apologize for what?” he asked as his eyes narrowed. “What’s going on?”

“It’s nothing.” Sam said, tugging on his arm to turn around. “There’s absolutely nothing that Drew needs to apologize for.”

Drew was grateful that Sam hadn’t mentioned anything to J about his comment to her earlier but he felt like he needed to get it off his chest.

“I kind of snapped at her earlier when she asked me if she could come to the airport.”

Drew went on to tell him exactly what he said and AJ’s eyes got wide, his cheeks getting redder and redder by the minute.

“YOU SAID WHAT?!?” AJ yelled as Drew finished telling him what happened. “Why the fuck would you say something like that?”

Lauren and Nick came racing into the room after hearing AJ yell and could tell from his face something was going on. AJ stalked over to Lauren and glared at her.

“You let him talk to her like that?”

Sam ran over to AJ and stepped between him and Lauren, shoving him gently in the chest.

“It’s not a big deal AJ, it was just a misunderstanding.”

“It is not a misunderstanding!” he shouted. “It was completely rude and …”

He looked down as he yelled and saw that Sam’s eyes were starting to water. He took a step back and turned around, focusing his view back on Drew. Sam saw where he was heading and jumped in between the two friends.

“Please don’t do this AJ,” she pleaded, “it was just the heat of the moment.”

Nick saw the distraction and told Lauren to leave as he grabbed Drew by the arm. He could see how angry his brother was and, although he didn’t know what it was about, he knew that AJ was capable of lashing out at his bodyguard.

Sam thanked Nick with her eyes and took hold of both of AJ’s arms to keep him focused on her.

“It was a mistake AJ, he didn’t mean it to come out like that; he was frustrated with me.”

“I don’t care how frustrated he is! He had no business saying that to you…”

“It was my fault AJ, I deserved it.”

“Don’t ever say that Sam! You don’t deserve to be treated that way.”

Sam ignored what he was saying and dragged him over to the couch. She took a seat and pulled him down next to her; she wanted to talk to him but she needed him to take a deep breath and calm down.

“I want to be quiet for a minute and listen to me.”

“I can’t be…”

Sam placed one of her fingers on AJ’s lips and gave him a serious look. He started to say something again but realized he wasn’t helping the situation any; he decided to sit back and let her explain.

“What Drew said wasn’t great but I was completely wrong in what I did. I was so desperate to see you that I didn’t think of the bigger picture…”

“But…”

“Be quiet McLean.” Sam said as she cocked her eye at him. “You need to hear this.”

Her boyfriend sat back, surprised by her forceful attitude and, if he wasn’t so mad, he probably would have laughed seeing her this way.

“I was so absorbed in getting you back that I didn’t think about everyone else. I was being selfish and I didn’t realize it until I thought about it for a while. Drew was right in the fact that there was no way he could watch Lauren and help protect all of you if I was there. Even if I dressed up, there was still a chance Ryan could have followed us or something could have happened to reveal my identity. That would have been disastrous and it would have put all of you into danger. I’m glad he told me to stay and, although I know you’re mad, you need to let it go.”

AJ was surprised by her admission and he had to admit that, if he was in Drew’s shoes, he probably would have reacted the same way. He probably wouldn’t have made that comment but what Drew was trying to do was the right thing.

“I think you need to apologize to Drew.” Sam added. “And Lauren too.”

He started to protest but he saw the look in Sam’s eyes and decided to follow her lead.
Compromise by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I am SO sorry for the delay in updating; I promise to update again within the next week! I hope everyone is still enjoying the story!
AJ apologized to Drew and Lauren at the insistence of his girlfriend and he was able to let it go after hearing what she had said. Sam also made her apologies to AJ’s friend because she knew that she had been at fault and, although Drew had a bad way of snapping back, he was right all along about her not coming. After the whole issue was resolved, Sam and AJ were able to enjoy being back together for a while.

The couple rented movies, hung around by the pool and had dinner and game nights with their friends. They loved being together and truly made each other better; AJ was more vulnerable and easy going while Sam was a lot more confident and outgoing. Being with Ryan for so long had drained her of any will to have something better but, being with AJ, she found that desire again to let people into her life and enjoy their friendship with her. Lauren and Sam had gotten tighter and they frequently worked out together in AJ’s home gym; they also enjoyed girls’ night when they would kick AJ out to go do something with Nick while they got the chance to catch up.

As much as the couple loved being together and with their friends, Sam noticed after a couple of weeks that AJ seemed to have this nervousness about him and he just couldn’t seem to settle down. Although he wouldn’t admit it, she could tell that he was chomping at the bit to get out and work on some projects he’d been developing and work with a particular producer to finish his solo album. The producer wasn’t going to be around for a long period of time so, after their friends left that their usual game night, Sam asked him if they could talk.

“Are you ok?” AJ asked with a worried look as he sat down on the sofa next to her. “What’s wrong?”

Sam was touched that he was so considerate about her feelings and truly cared about how she was doing. However, she needed him to understand that she could be equally as concerned about him.

“You need to leave.” AJ’s jaw dropped and it caused Sam to giggle. “I’m not kicking you out of you own house.”

“Well you did just tell me I needed to leave.” AJ replied, a little more at ease since seeing Sam laugh. “How was I supposed to take that?”

“You do need to leave AJ, at least for a few hours a day.”

AJ had no idea why Sam was bringing up this topic so he was a little apprehensive of what was behind her insistence. He had tried not to be overprotective and give her space to do her own thing but apparently he had messed up somewhere if this was how she felt.

“I can see those wheels turning in your head.” Sam broke his concentration as she spoke and laid her hand upon his. “You didn’t do anything and I don’t need anything but I think you do.”

“I don’t need anything that isn’t already here.” he replied and leaned back onto the couch. “We did our tour and now I just want to spend time with you.”

“I get that but I think you’re not being a hundred percent honest AJ. I’ve seen you fidget and bounce around the house like you’re a kid waiting to open their Christmas presents.”

He blushed because he thought he was able to hide those feelings when she was around.

“I get what it’s like being trapped in one place and I don’t want to do that to you.”

“But you’re not…”

“I know that I’m not but I think you’re trapping yourself.” Sam paused. “When you came back from the tour, I could see how energized you were and how much you missed all the creativity you had flowing around you. I also know that you’ve been down in the studio while I’m sleeping working on new material.”

“How did you…”

“I went looking for you one night and heard you down there; I didn’t come in because I didn’t want to interrupt you.”

AJ didn’t really know what to say because she was right. He hadn’t been able to sleep the last few nights because he just couldn’t shut his brain off. Ideas were flying around and around so he had, quietly he thought, made his way down to the studio and started putting down some tracks. There was a producer in the area that he wanted to work with but his time was limited and AJ didn’t want to leave Sam by herself too much.

He was snapped back when Sam leaned over to kiss him gently.

“I can also figure out what you’re thinking right now and it means you really need to get out. I overheard you talking to Nick the other day about that guy you’re interested in meeting with. I think you ought to do it; in fact, I think you need to do it, for your own sanity AJ.”

He wanted to protest vigorously but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it; Sam was completely in the right here. The only concern he had was making her feel left out and leaving her potentially unprotected during the day.

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with leaving you for very long; it’s not really safe.”

“I already took care of that. Lauren agreed that you should go and she also offered to stay with me while you’re gone. Nick’s working and she figured it would give you both some space to get whatever you need done. I appreciate you wanting to stay with me and keep me safe but I think this is really something you should do.”

She thought he was going to protest but he surprised her by agreeing with her.

“I do want to go but only if you promise me you will be careful baby.” AJ pulled Sam into his lap and she rested her head on his chest. “I need to make sure that you’re safe and okay before I can really take care of business.”

“I promise you,” Sam responded and placed her hand over his heart, “that I will be careful and safe. You will be coming back reenergized and I will be here to welcome you with open arms.”

“If anything happens while I’m gone, I need you to call me immediately and I will come back at once.”

She looked up at him and smiled.

“I swear, if anything comes up at all, you will be the first person I call.”
All By Myself by Kyrie
AJ left a few days later for a short trip to meet with the producer and work on some material for his solo album and, just as promised, Lauren spent the time with Sam. His girlfriend was happy to spend time with her and she was happy that she had convinced him to finally get out of the house to do what he loved. The time seemed to fly by and, before she knew it, the time without AJ was almost over. He had called to tell her that he was coming back the next day and he seemed really refreshed and happy.

“You must be psyched to see him.” Lauren said as she helped Sam fold some laundry. “I bet you can’t wait till I leave!”

“Never!” Sam replied with a laugh. “I always love spending time with you.”

“Same here.”

“Good! I really appreciate you staying because I know I couldn’t get AJ to go out and do this if you hadn’t agreed to stay. I hope this didn’t take you away from Nick for too long.”

Lauren’s reply was cut off by her cell ringing and she smiled when she noticed the caller.

“Speak of the devil.”

Sam laughed and watched her friend leave the room. She knew how much Lauren and Nick loved each other and she was happy to be included in their lives. Lauren had really become her best friend, besides AJ, and she was glad that there were people she could count on and trust.

She noticed Lauren come back and when she looked up to meet her friend’s eyes, she noticed a sadness in them.

“What’s wrong?” she asked and dropped the socks she was folding. “What happened?”

“Nacho passed away last night.” Lauren replied as several tears made their way down her face. “Nick found him this morning.”

Sam felt awful; she knew how much Nick loved that dog and how much it would hurt to wake up to something awful like that.

“You need to go home.” Sam insisted. “You need to be with Nick.”

“I can’t, I promised AJ.”

“Yes you can. We haven’t heard anything from Ryan in a while and it’s only until tomorrow morning.”

“But he’ll be upset…”

“No, he won’t.” Sam said, cutting her off. “Nothing is going to happen. AJ will be here tomorrow morning and I will talk to him then. You really need to be with Nick right now, he needs you.”

Sam knew how much he loved Lauren and how he relied on her to help him through all the stress in his life. Lauren had been a constant, supportive presence for him and this is one of those times that he absolutely needed her to be by his side.

“But what if something happens?” Lauren asked and wiped her face. “I would hate it if…”

“Nothing is going to happen.” Sam assured her. “And, on the way off chance, something did happen, you and Nick would be my first phone call.”

Lauren didn’t need much prodding after that and she made Sam promise that if anything happened at all, she was to call them immediately. She knew she was taking a chance by leaving her friend alone by herself but Nick was a mess and she would be the only one he could count on. Hugging Sam on her way out, she made her promise once more that if anything happened, she could call and they would be there in minutes.

----------------

Finally, Ryan thought to himself as he finished his conversation with his private investigator; they had at long last left her alone, completely defenseless. He had been waiting for weeks for just one screw-up, one moment when everyone let their guard down, so that he could swoop in and grab what belonged to him! Dialing a familiar number, he barked orders as the woman on the other end listened and cringed.

After they hung up, she packed her bag and made sure she had everything. At this point, there was no going back and she knew she wouldn’t be around much longer. Everything would come to a head tomorrow and it would be too late to back out. She knew what she had to do but she just couldn’t understand why it was so impossible for him to let this go; what made his wife so special that he couldn’t see what he had now?

----------------

Sam woke up the next morning feeling as though she’d barely slept. She made it through the afternoon and evening of the day before but, when it came to going to sleep, she realized how vulnerable she really was. Sleep eventually came but it was broken every time she heard a noise, or thought she heard one.

The one thing she felt good about was that she managed to handle her nerves and her fear without running to AJ to fix it. She was proud of the fact that she made it through almost a whole twenty-four hour period being by herself and looking out for her own safety. It was going to take time but she knew that, with AJ’s help, she would be able to handle longer and longer chunks of time without a person guarding her.

She showered, changed and dragged her tired body downstairs where she put on some coffee and dropped some English muffins into the toaster. AJ would be home soon so she knew that she only had to last a few more hours by herself before she was back in the arms of the man who proved to her every day how much he loved her.

The muffins had just popped when she heard the doorbell ring; she stiffened instantly and didn’t release even the smallest breath. Someone started knocking on the door and rang the bell a few more times. Sam’s heart beat like crazy in her chest and she refused to move from the spot where she had frozen. She waited for a few minutes and, when she didn’t hear anything else, she crept slowly towards the hall that led straight to the front door. There was no shadow in the frosted glass pane and the ringing and knocking had stopped. Watching the door for a few minutes, she finally allowed herself to take a deep breath and she crept closer to the door. As she got almost to it, she noticed a manila envelope that had been slid under the door and she hesitated before picking it up. Would Ryan try and kill her with something in a package?

She shook her head to clear her thoughts and slowly picked up the envelope. Sprinting down to the kitchen, she grabbed a sharp knife and slit the envelope open. Several pictures and a letter slid out and she took a quick breath when she saw what was in that mysterious envelope.
Fear by Kyrie
Sam sank onto one of the kitchen stools as she flipped through the pictures. They were pictures of all of the guys, their wives and their children. Each picture had a bull’s eye drawn onto it with permanent marker and contained a number in the center of each bull’s eye. AJ’s picture was the last in the stack and it had the highest number. Knowing that only one person could have sent it, her hand trembled as she opened the letter.



Dear Samantha,

You must have thought that you had been granted a reprieve for all your sins because of the lack of visitation from me. You should have known better, I never give up until I get what’s mine. And frankly, you haven’t been that intelligent about keeping your whereabouts a secret.

Feel free to take a look at the pictures that I’ve sent. In case you are too slow to understand what I mean by the photos, let me explain it to you. For every day I have to wait for you to return to me, I will harm one person out of the group according to the number on their photo. I saved your dimwitted, pathetic paramour for last so that he can see all of the pain and destruction you’re going to cause.

Now, I say that you are going to cause this pain because I know how selfish and unfeeling you are. You’ve probably lied and cried about how I punished you. That would never have happened if you could just follow simple rules and instructions. You really did this to yourself.

You have two choices at this point. You can continue to be the self-centered bitch I know you are and put everyone around you in harm’s way; plead and beg that tattooed moron to save you from your “mean” husband. Or, which would come as a complete shock, you could meet me at the address written below in the next four hours and pretend like you actually care about someone besides yourself.

You know that I will not give up until you are returned to me and, if experience is a teacher, you know what types of surprises I have in store for all of your new friends. Let’s see what you decide.

Ryan





A wave of nausea crashed through Sam’s stomach and she found it hard to catch her breath. She knew that Ryan was not kidding when he spoke about how he would hurt everyone around her and she also knew that he would thoroughly enjoy the pain that he would put each person through. As much as it killed her to know that this may well be her last day on Earth, she would meet her husband and take whatever punishment was coming her way. AJ and her friends had supported and cared for her since the very beginning and there was no way she would risk anything happening to anyone.

She threw the letter and the photos in the trash, wrote a quick note to AJ and left her keys and phone on the counter next to the paper. Setting the alarm, she took one last quick look around at the only sanctuary that she had known since she was a child living with her parents and then slipped quietly out of the house.

-----------------

“Thanks for coming to get me Drew.”

AJ appreciated his friend picking him up from the airport. He hadn’t been able to reach Nick, who had promised to get him, nor could he ask Sam to come get him; he would never put her in that kind of danger.

“No problem J.” Drew responded. “It sucks that Nick blew you off.”

AJ nodded and decided to try his brother’s phone one more time to see what idiot distraction had kept Nick from picking him up. The cell phone rang three times before someone picked up.

“Hello?”

“Lauren?” AJ asked with surprise. “Nick was supposed to come pick me up…”

AJ stopped short; how was Lauren able to answer Nick’s phone if she wasn’t with Nick? And, if she was Nick, were they still at his house with Sam?

“I know.” Lauren answered. “I’m sorry and I hate springing this on anyone but Nacho passed away this morning. I came home to help Nick take care of him.”

AJ felt awful because he knew how much his brother loved that dog. Nick was lucky to have Lauren to come home…what the hell?

“If you’re with Nick at your house, where is Sam?” AJ demanded.

Lauren paused for a moment and all AJ needed to know was in that silent reply.

“YOU LEFT HER ALONE!?!” AJ screamed into the phone. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

“She promised to call if anything happened.” Lauren said tearfully. “She promised she’d…”

AJ was so angry that he hung up without listening to the rest of her statement. Drew gathered that, from AJ’s side of the conversation, that for whatever reason, Lauren had left Sam by herself and he also knew enough to not ask what happened. Instead, he pressed the accelerator further down and took off for AJ’s house at top speed.

It took them a few minutes to get there and, when they did, AJ jumped out of the SUV before Drew even came to a complete stop. Racing up the walkway, AJ dug out his key and quickly got the lock open.

“Sam! Sam!”

AJ tore through the house looking for his girlfriend and screaming her name at the top of his lungs. He couldn’t understand why she wasn’t answering him and he continued to search in a panic until Drew called out to him.

When AJ found his friend in the kitchen, he noticed the devastated look on his friend’s face. Following Drew’s finger, AJ finally noticed that Sam’s key, her phone and a piece of paper were lying on the counter. He picked the note up and read her short message; going crazy from fear, he crumpled the note and started knocking things over. Drew let him continue until he saw the pictures tumble out of the trash can that AJ had toppled.

Drew knelt down and picked up the pictures and the note that was next to them. After reading it, his heart sunk down to his feet; he knew what this meant for her. He finally got up and grabbed a hold of AJ, shoving the pictures and not into his friend’s chest.

“Here’s your answer.”

AJ flipped through the pictures and took a moment to read the words Ryan had written. His face turned white as a sheet and he could barely breathe. Thankfully, Drew knew what he wanted and they both ran for the car and took off to the destination Ryan had given Sam.
A Familiar Voice by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
Sorry for the HUGE delay, I hope you guys are still reading!
Sam watched out of the backseat window as the cab pulled into the dreary looking motel. It took her a few seconds before she realized that it was the same motel she was staying in before AJ found her. The surroundings were still bleak and depressing; she shuddered as she thought about how much she feared being there. Deep down inside, she knew that this would probably be the last time she saw the outside of anything; if Ryan didn’t kill her right away, she knew that she would spend the rest of her life in some cell or basement somewhere. As much as that thought terrified her, it would be far worse if she stayed and put everyone’s safety in jeopardy.

She climbed out of the taxi and handed her last few bills over to the driver. As he sped away, she turned to figure out what room she was supposed to be heading to. Ryan had told her to take the stairs to the second floor, turn left and look for the room that had a white flag taped to the door. He truly had a sick sense of humor and, when she got the door of the room, she realized he had gotten even crueler. The room she stopped at was the exact room she had stayed in; her stomach flipped over knowing that he had been watching her every move and could remember such an insignificant detail about the room she hid in. She knew at the point that she had done all she could to put this off and she lightly knocked on the door.

No one answered so she knocked again; when no one answered again, she stepped back slightly. She was beyond tempted to run away but, at this point, there was nowhere to run to. There was no going back to AJ’s because he would try to convince her not to respond to any more messages and she couldn’t simply go on the run again because Ryan would take that act as a defiance of his wishes. He would most certainly take his anger over that out on everyone Sam had ever cared about. As much as she loathed being there at that moment, she knew that risking her life was the clear choice above risking anyone else’s lives.

She put her hand on the door and it swung inward; since the curtains were shut and there was no lamp on, this created a pitch black area for her to walk into. Holding her hand out in front of her, she took a few tentative steps into the room. There were no sounds coming from inside the room except for her heart thudding in her chest. She took a few more steps in and felt the air close in around her as the door slammed shut behind her. The time had finally arrived to come face to face with the evil she had lived with for years.

----------------

“What do I do?” AJ yelled into the phone as Drew flew down the highway. “Kevin, tell me what to do!”

His older brother could hear the panic in his voice and, after what AJ had just describe, knew that the panic he felt was a legitimate emotion. He wanted to tell his friend not to go and to send the police instead but he realized that if Sam’s life was in danger, no one would be able to make AJ take a step back. She was truly in danger and Kevin had known for a while how in love with her AJ was. There was nothing he could say that would help at the moment so he tried the best he could to be the voice of reason.

“Call the police AJ. I know you’re going to go there no matter what but you need help with this; you and Drew cannot do this on your own.”

“If I call the police, they’ll go in there with lights and sirens flashing!” AJ shouted. “He’ll kill her Kevin and sneak out the back!”

Kevin knew that AJ was probably right in that respect and he racked his brain for another solution that would work in this instance. He’d never had to come up with advice for such a serious situation and he was hesitant to give any guidance in case this went wrong fast. After a few moments, an idea occurred to him.

“Can you call the private investigator you hired to find Sam? Didn’t he have a retired cop or something working with him?”

AJ was just about to tell him that was a bad idea but he took a deep breath and thought twice. He knew the police couldn’t be involved but the woman he’d met already knew the situation and might be just the person who could help them. Hanging up on his brother without another word, he dialed the number that the investigator had given him early on in their search and explained to the woman what was going on. She told them that she knew where the motel was and that she could be there in thirty minutes. That was longer than AJ wanted to hear but he knew it would take him and Drew about that long to get there. He was worried because he didn’t know how much of a head start Ryan had on them and if Sam would even be there when they finally arrived.

------------

Sam took a deep breath and steeled herself to take on whatever abuse Ryan had planned. She knew in the moment that door was shut, there was no backing out and there was absolutely no place to run. As much as she wanted to turn around, her body was frozen in place anticipating the blows that her husband would soon be inflicting.

It seemed like an eternity as Sam stood there, waiting and barely breathing. Nothing was moving around her and she didn’t hear any sounds or noises except for the sound of light breathing coming from behind the door. Not being able to take it anymore, she turned to face the person she knew would be standing there. Without any light, she knew there would be no way to see who was there but she knew the voice instantly when the person spoke.

“Hello Samantha.”
What The???? by Kyrie
Sam whipped around as she finally registered the voice. The person waiting behind her flipped on the light switch and stared at her.

“Sarah?” Sam asked astonished. “What are you doing here? You need to leave, Ryan will be here any minute.”

Sam took a step towards her old friend as though to whisk her out of the room before any danger headed her way. As she went to touch Sarah’s arm, her friend took a step back and her lips broke into a malicious smile; the last time she had seen such a cruel facial expression was when Ryan showed up at AJ’s house months ago.

“You don’t need to worry about me, I’ll be fine.” Sarah replied with her sadistic grin growing bigger. “I really don’t need to worry about anything, but you certainly do.”

Backing away slowly, Sam tried to figure out what was going on. Ryan had summoned her there with that taunting note but so far, he was nowhere to be found. Instead, she found a woman who she had literally trusted with her life, standing there looking like a demented clown minus the make-up. Had Ryan gotten to her?

“I can see those wheels spinning Sami.” Sarah said as she dragged the only chair in the room towards the door. “You might want to sit down, this could take a while.”

-----------

“Can’t you drive any faster?”

Drew watched him out of the corner of his eye and decided not to respond to AJ’s outburst; he knew how much pain his friend was in and wished he could do more for him. Sighing, he looked over again and AJ was sitting at the edge of the passenger seat with a white knuckle grip on the door handle.

-----------

Sam stared at the woman who she considered her best friend, almost as if she was a sister, as Sarah took a seat in front of the door. She knew that she had to do something and it seemed to make the most sense to try and make a quick exit to the right of the chair and out the door. Making small steps and moves, Sam prepared to make a run for it.

“I wouldn’t do that.” Sarah said as though she had read her mind. “We’re not done here.’

Sam still felt like it was her only way out and started to make her way towards the door. She stopped however, when Sarah reached behind her and pulled out a small revolver.

“I said that’s not a smart idea.”

She pointed with the barrel of the gun from where Sam was currently standing to the small motel bed. The thought of being trapped in the room with this psychotic woman was not something Sam was seriously considering until Sarah narrowed her eyes, motioned to back and forth to the bed and then cocked the hammer. She knew there was no way she could outrun a bullet so she needed to buy a few minutes until she could figure out what to do. Stepping towards the bed, she stopped at the edge and stood there for a few seconds before Sarah started in again.

“Good. It’s amazing that you are intelligent enough to see what’s in your best interest.”

For the life of her, Sam couldn’t imagine where this woman had come from. Sarah had been her best friend for a large portion of her life and she had come to depend on her during her horrendous marriage to Ryan. This woman had provided a place for Sam to live as well as emotional support; there was no way to reconcile the woman she saw in front of her with the woman she had considered a sister.

“I can tell what’s going on in that thick head of yours.” Sarah smiled as she taunted her. “I know exactly what you’re thinking and maybe I should explain.”

Sam didn’t know how to react to Sarah’s need to tell her what was going on. She felt like she was in the Twilight Zone and had no idea what had happened in the last ten years that would have changed her best friend into this person that was boring holes into her. There was no rhyme or reason for Sarah to suddenly turn on her but, as much as she wanted out of that place, she found herself wanting an answer, some reason for her friend to have done this to her.

“I have one reason for doing this.” Sarah stated as she continued to stare at her former friend. “You ruined my life!”

Sam’s mouth dropped; how in the world had she ruined Sarah’s life.

------------

“AJ, please, sit back.” Drew pleaded with his friend. “You’re not going to be any good to Sam if you can’t calm down.”

“Calm down?” AJ snapped. “Sam’s life is in danger and you can’t seem to drive over the speed limit!”

Drew gripped the wheel tighter; he knew that AJ didn’t mean what he was saying, he was just scared to death about Sam. He knew how much that woman mattered to his friend; God help them if they got there too late.
A Frightening Exit by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I apologize for the shortness of this chapter!
“I ruined your life?”

Sam just couldn’t understand; what had she done to Sarah that had pushed her to this point?

“Yes.” Sarah replied calmly. “You ruined everything that I have ever worked for.”

Without a thought, Sam sank down on to the bed and simply stared at who she had considered her best friend. The idea of her trying to escape had gone out the window as the sadness crept over Sam. She must have done something awful to Sarah for her to feel the way she did; she just couldn’t grasp what that thing was.

“I’m sorry Sar…”

“No you’re not!” she yelled, “You’re not sorry at all. The minute you met Ryan, you knew you wanted him and it didn’t matter who you stepped on to get him.”

“What?”

“Ryan was in love with me.” Sarah answered quietly. “Then you walked right into his life, pretending to be so loving and caring when all you really wanted was someone to take care of you.”

“I didn’t…”

“You did!” her friend cried, leaping out of her chair. “You took care of his father because you knew it would get his attention and it worked. He fell for you and that was it, you were the girl he was going to spend the rest of his life with you and I got left behind.”

Sam sat there as she listened to Sarah rant and rave about how Ryan had left her and focused all of his attention on Sam. Nothing she was saying was making any sense at that point; there was no way that she had caused all of this.

“And you were just awful to him.”

That statement caught Sam’s attention and her head whipped up to stare at Sarah. There was no way this could be her friend, the one who saw the bruises, the black eyes, all the scars on her back. This couldn’t be the woman who had given her a place to stay and encouraged her to get help and flee the abuse she was living on a day to day basis.

“I did something to him?” Sam said loudly, narrowing her eyes at Sarah. “He put me through hell every day. I didn’t cause those beatings or his verbal abuse; you saw how cruel he was to me!”

“You deserved every single one of them!” Sarah screamed as she took a step towards her. “All you had to do was behave and listen to him. You were so fucking stubborn, always thinking you were right and looking down on him. I could have made him happy, I would have obeyed him! I even gave you the chance to try again, to be the kind of wife you should have been, when I told him you were staying with us.”

Sam opened her mouth to say something when the meaning of Sarah’s statement hit her; it felt like a sucker punch realizing that the one person she felt she could turn to in a crisis, had betrayed her. Although Ryan constantly threatened her with the taunt that he would always be able to find her using his connections, she had wondered how he really had been able to find her that night. Sarah’s hurtful words made it very clear to Sam that her friend had never been on her side; she was actually working against her to help her psychotic husband.

As anger started to replace the fear in Sam’s mind, she stood up from the bed and took a step towards Sarah. Her tears blurred the gun in Sarah’s hand and she only realized that she was holding it when her friend, now an enemy, fired the first shot. The pain was gut wrenching and Sam stumbled back as the bullet tore through her shoulder. There was no way to describe the feelings and emotions that were flooding through her mind; adrenaline started to kick in and Sam pulled her arm close to her as she took another step.

The gun sounded like a firecracker as it fired the second bullet into Sam’s thigh; the pain was unbearable and she fell back onto the bed, tears streaming down her face. There was no getting out of that room at this point and Sarah knew that as she approached the bed with a sickening smile on her face.

“You should have never been lucky enough to land a guy like Ryan.” Sarah hissed. “He was mine and it would have been better if I had never met you. Thankfully, this will be the last time I ever had to deal with you.”

The pain had finally numbed Sam to the point where she could no longer move and, thankfully, she lost consciousness before the third, and final, bullet was fired.
Bullets by Kyrie
Lauren looked up from her book to check on Sam as she lay under a blanket in her hospital bed. She was as white as the sheet but her blood pressure and breathing were doing well and the doctor had assured them that there would be no permanent damage. Thankfully, Sarah was a lousy shot and hadn’t struck any major organs, vessels or arteries. Sam’s tibia had been fractured by the bullet and her leg was bound tightly in a cast; her arm was in a sling but the first bullet Sarah fired had been a through and through, not tearing into much of the muscle. She would be in a lot of pain when she woke up but they were confident she would make a full recovery.

Lauren had just turned the next page in her book when a motion near the doorway caught her eye. AJ was standing there, about as white as Sam, hesitating to come in. Nick had talked to AJ while Sam was in surgery so this was the first time he’d actually seen her since they whisked her off the ambulance and into the emergency room.

“How is she?”

“Why don’t you come in and see for yourself.” Lauren prodded.

“I can’t.”

“Why?” she asked, watching his face. “The doctors said she was going to be fine AJ, the damage wasn’t as bad as it looks.”

He looked over at Sam again and he fell apart; Lauren had to get up quickly to help him make it into the room. She got him settled in a chair and watched him delicately pick up Sam’s hand and drop his head against it.

“Tell me what happened.” Lauren asked, putting her hand on his shoulder. “What happened out there?”

It took a few minutes before AJ was able to look up and, when he did, she saw the tears streaming down his face. Lauren knew how much he loved Sam and anyone could tell that this whole situation had torn him apart; she’d never seen AJ in such a bad place.

“I heard the shot.” AJ replied as he wept quietly. “I knew it was bad when I heard that shot.”

Lauren let him take a moment to collect himself; she hoped he would continue without prodding because she didn’t want to make it any worse.

“I saw her body lying on the bed when we got to the door and I thought she was dead. I didn’t even see Sarah’s body until Drew pulled me back.”

Nick had told Lauren that Sarah had fired the first two bullets but as she prepared for the final shot, the retired trooper that AJ had called, fired into her first. The bullet hit its mark and Sarah fell right where she had stood. If AJ hadn’t called her, Sam would most definitely be dead; Lauren couldn’t even imagine what that realization was doing to AJ right now.

As she was about to ask AJ what else they’d found at the motel, Sam’s eyes starting to flutter and she moaned in pain. Neither one moved; they wanted to make sure she was fully awake before they got too close to prevent scaring her. She moaned again and her eyes opened slightly; after blinking a few times, Sam’s eyes fully opened and searched the room , trying to figure out exactly where she was.

“It’s ok.” AJ said as he grabbed her hand tightly. “You’re ok Sam.”

He watched as his girlfriend tried to focus on him; he saw her eyes well with tears and the pain she was experiencing clearly etched on her face. It broke his heart to see her lying there in so much pain but, he had to admit that no matter what pain she was in, it was better to see her lying in a hospital bed than in a coffin.

“Where am I? Where is Sarah? Is Ryan here? Where are they?”

The questions came tumbling out before AJ had time to answer the first one. He could see the panic set in as the thought of Sarah or Ryan lurking around every corner flooded Sam’s mind.

“We need to leave right now.”

She struggled against the pillows, trying to remove the IV from her arm. It took all of Lauren and AJ’s strength to hold Sam against the bed so that she wouldn’t wrench her leg in the wrong direction. As her movement slowed down, AJ clicked the button for the nurse; he wanted them to give her something so that she wouldn’t hurt herself.

“It’s ok Sam, we don’t need to leave; it’s fine, everything’s fine.”

“No it’s not.” Tears filled her eyes. “She’s going to come back, she wants to kill me. She’s never going to stop.”

“Yes she will Sam.” AJ tried to calm her. “She’s never going to hurt you again.”

“Yes, she will! And this time, Ryan’s going to help her!”

“They’re not coming back Sam.” AJ paused before he made his next statement. “They can’t come back.”

“Why?” she asked, confusion passing over her face. “How can you be sure?”

“Because they’re dead.” he responded quietly. “They’re both dead.”
A Request by Kyrie
Sam sat there, stunned, as AJ explained what he knew of the whole situation. Apparently, Sarah and Ryan had cooked up the plan of luring her out using the note and the pictures with the outcome of the scheme being her death. However, at some point, Ryan had changed the plan and wanted to continue Sam’s psychological torture as he was getting much more pleasure out of that then he would by killing her. This turn of events had sent Sarah, who was already fragile, into a complete tailspin.

According to a diary found in the motel room, Sarah had expressed her desire to have Ryan to herself and there was no way that she was going to let Sam continue to have a hold on him. She had threatened Ryan with a gun earlier that day and, as Ryan laughed at her, she pulled the trigger; this shot had done much more damage than her bullets did to Sam. Ryan bled out in a few minutes and Sarah decided that the only way she could be with him again was to kill Sam and then herself. The entire plan would take less than a few hours but she never intended for anyone to follow Sam and interfere with her master plan.

As AJ talked, he watched Sam’s face as she tried to process everything he was telling her. After all the months and days she had spent on the run, this was the moment where she was coming to grips with the fact that she would no longer have to do that. Even though the rational side of her mind knew that this was true, her heart and feelings wouldn’t let her believe that it would be as easy as this to gain her freedom.

“I want to see him.” Sam demanded as AJ finished his explanation. “I want to see his body. His and hers.”

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.” AJ responded. “You don’t need to put yourself through anything else.”

“Let me say it in a different way, I need to see him. I need to see that what you’re telling me is true.”

AJ was hurt by the fact that Sam wouldn’t believe him when he told her they were both dead. He had trouble, seeing from her point of view, that this was something she needed to do. The amount of damage Ryan had inflected was evident all over her face and he truly didn’t want to put her through anything else.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Lauren crooked her finger at AJ and pointed to the door; the morphine that the nurse had given her before AJ started to explain was kicking in and Sam’s eyes began drooping. He gave her hand a squeeze before following Lauren out.

“I don’t want her to do this.”

“It’s not your choice.” Lauren said bluntly. “None of us want to see her hurt any more than she already is but I think she needs to actually see what we’re talking about.”

“Why can’t she just believe me?”

Lauren sighed as AJ listed all the reasons Sam should take his word for it. She gave him a minute to rant and then interrupted him.

“Do you have any idea what’s running through her mind? Do you know what it’s like to be on the run?”

“It doesn’t matter…”

“Yes, it does, at least to Sam. We have no idea what it’s like to live in her shoes. She’s been protected or controlled by us and Ryan for years. This needs to be her decision and we need to respect what she is asking to do. Neither one of us may agree that this is the best way to reassure her but I think she feels like she needs to know, concretely, that what you’re telling her is true.”

------------

Sam awoke a few hours later to find AJ speaking to someone in the doorway of her room. She couldn’t hear what they were saying but she could tell from the look on their faces that it was serious. After waiting a few minutes, she saw AJ shake the other man’s hand and then turn; when he noticed she was paying attention, he sat next to her and took her hand.

“Did you mean what you said earlier?”

She wracked her still foggy brain to figure out what he was talking about. AJ sensed her confusion and kept silent; he didn’t want to encourage her by reminding her of the conversation they had had about going to see Ryan. His hopes were snuffed out when he saw an expression cross her face and the corners of her mouth turn down.

“Yes, I meant it.”

AJ let out a slow breath and pushed the call button for the nurse before speaking again.

“I spoke to the medical examiner and he said they haven’t started the autopsies yet. The bodies are still in one piece.”

Sam’s stomach lurched slightly and AJ hesitated, wishing that what he said would discourage her from wanting to go.

“Please AJ, I want to go.”

He nodded and waited for the nurse to come; the psychologist who had come in to check on her while she was sleeping, agreed with Lauren’s opinion. She had been through so much with both her ex-husband and ex-friend that he felt it was going to do more good than harm to let her see for herself.

“Will you come with me?” Sam asked as they settled her into a wheelchair.

“I’m sorry,” he quietly responded, “I can’t do that; I just can’t.”
The Deceased by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I apologize for the long delay; please let me know if you're still enjoying the story!
The nurse wheeled Sam down to the morgue as she sat quietly in the chair. There were so many emotions flooding through her at the moment, so many so that she couldn’t even feel the relief that should have come. She ought to be comforted by the fact that she could stop running and hiding but it just wasn’t possible with every ounce of fear, regret and anger that was coursing through her.

The medical examiner that met her at the entrance to the autopsy suites reminded her so much of her grandfather that she almost started crying. He very gently offered her the option of viewing the bodies from behind a window but, as she discussed with the therapist, she explained that she needed to see the physical bodies themselves. She thanked him for looking out for her and he gave her a faint smile before wheeling her into one of the suites.

“Would you like me to stay?” he asked, locking the brakes of her wheelchair.

Sam shook her head; this was something she needed to do herself without having an audience. She needed to experience her feelings alone, without any words or comforting gestures from anyone else. He simply nodded at her response and left a walker near her so she would be able to get around out of the wheelchair.

After taking several large breaths, rising gingerly from her seat and acquainting herself with the walker, she moved over to where Sarah’s body lay; she realized that she wasn’t quite ready to see Ryan’s body yet. Thankfully, the older gentleman had already pulled the sheets away from their faces so she could see them clearly. She was quite sure she would never have had enough courage to pull away the cold, white cloth from their faces, not knowing what she would find underneath.

Sarah’s face looked nothing as it had when Sam saw her last; the evil, menacing grin was gone and the anger that had emanated from her eyes was replaced with closed lids, making it look as though she was sleeping peacefully. Memories of all the times she shared with her “best” friend came flooding through and Sam wept quietly.

The slideshow in her mind played scenes from the decade of time she had spent with Sarah and her sister. There was the day she moved in with them and the friends, trying to hang some fabric on the wall, collapsed on each other when Sam’s sofa bottom finally caved in. Then, there was the time when she had tried to teach Sarah to swim in the ocean; her friend had gripped her so tightly, they both almost drowned when they started laughing. Or the time when Sarah, her sister and Sam danced in the rain at night in the middle of Faneuil Hall after their bar crawl was interrupting by a freak storm. Hundreds of moments swam through her mind and she couldn’t help but smile until she came to the end of her picture show.

The final memory that played was by far the hardest one to swallow. Sam remembered clearly the day that Ryan showed up at the sisters’ apartment with the two officers to collect her. As they were dragging her out, she had turned to Sarah, reaching her arms out as tears rolled down her face. Her friend was crying and trying to push past one of the men to get her. Realizing she couldn’t fight someone stronger than her, she blew Sam a kiss and turned away. At the time, Sam thought it was because she couldn’t bear seeing her friend hurt; in reality, Sarah was probably upset because Ryan wasn’t there to get her, not the thought that she may never see Sam again.

The pain of knowing her friend had betrayed her from the beginning made Sam cry even harder. It was like someone was tearing her heart into pieces. In her mind, friends and family were always supposed to support one another and be that rock in the storm that could be unfailing relied on. Sam had no family left before she met Sarah; she needed someone to make her feel that she wasn’t hanging there out on a limb by herself. Sarah was supposed to be that person for her.

The tears streamed down her face and she looked around the room to find a box of tissues. Instead, her gaze fell on Ryan’s face and she wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. Using the walker, she slowly made her way over to where her husband’s body lay there, as cold as the table beneath him. As it had turned out, his heart and soul were beyond freezing.

The fear that Sam had felt from early in their marriage until a few days came rushing back and it almost caused her to stumble. Not knowing if it was against policy, and not really caring, Sam reached out her hand and put it in front of Ryan’s nose and mouth; she couldn’t feel any air coming out. Even then, there was an irrational part of her that thought Ryan would wake up the minute she turned her back.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, all of the anger that had been building in her over the last few months was stronger than that irrational part and rage starting building in her stomach. She hated the man that lay before her on that table; he was the reason why her life had been turned upside down and was the cause of all of her torture and abuse. For the first time in her life, she was glad that another person was dead and she hoped that he had suffered in the end.

Before making her way back to the chair, she leaned down to Ryan’s ear and spoke quietly and clearly, as though he could hear her.

“You lose you bastard. I hope you go straight to hell.”

Without any hesitation, she made her way to the wheelchair and sat down, pulling the release for her breaks. Some of the relief she had been searching for rained down and she felt like she could truly breathe for the first time in a long time.
My Choice by Kyrie
Before Sam could leave the morgue, the medical examiner stopped her to ask what she would like done with the bodies. After a few moments, she gave the older gentleman Sarah’s sister’s phone number and told him that she would be sending Ryan’s body back east. At the time, it sounded like a good idea but, after it sunk in, she realized that Ryan didn’t have anyone on the other coast to bury him. She didn’t really care if he sank into the ocean but she knew how much his parents would want him laid to rest with them; they had never harmed her and she would do what was right by them.

She was dreading telling AJ that she would be heading back home; she knew that he would say or do whatever to keep her from doing that. The more she thought about it, the worse she felt about her decision even though she knew she had to do it. The house that she shared with Ryan and all the assets and money would need to be dealt with as well as his burial arrangements. Sam wasn’t sure she was strong enough to handle it alone but she wasn’t sure that having someone around was the best idea either. Once she was back in her room, she called Lauren to ask her opinion.

“Honestly, Sam, I’m not sure what the best or right thing to do is.” Lauren answered after her friend explained the situation. “It comes down to what would make you the most comfortable.”

They talked a few more minutes and then hung up, leaving Sam with a million things to think about it. She would appreciate AJ’s support through this whole thing but she didn’t know if he could handle being in the place where she endured some of the worst pain of her life. There was also a chance that he would want to shield her from everything that was uncomfortable and she wasn’t sure that kind of protection was the best. She didn’t get much time to think about it as he seemed to materialize in her room before she could gather all her thoughts.

“Are you ok?” he asked hesitantly, taking a seat next to her on the bed. “Can I do anything?”

Sam started to shake her head and change the conversation but it occurred to her that there would never be a good time to tell him about her decision so she just blurted it out.

“I have to go home.”

“Anytime! I can have the doctor release you…”

The look on her face stopped AJ midsentence and he suddenly realized that she wasn’t talking about his house. It hit him like a ton of bricks when her plans dawned on him and he was dead set about changing her mind.

“No,” he demanded, “you’re not going back there.”

“I have to do this. Ryan…”

“You don’t owe that asshole anything!” AJ yelled loudly. “How can you even contemplate going back there? Didn’t he hurt you enough or are you so brainwashed that it doesn’t mean anything to you, opening old wounds?”

He regretted that last statement the minute he said it; he wished he could take it back when he saw the pain cross her face, the tears welling in her eyes.

“I’m so sorry Sam.” he said quietly. “I didn’t mean it.”

“I think a part of you did.” Sam replied with determination suddenly passing over her face. “I know you don’t get why I need to do this or maybe you really think that I like punishing myself. Whatever reason you have for doing this, I need to let you know that I’ve already made a decision. I am leaving for Boston when the doctor discharges me in a couple of days.”

That idea shocked AJ; he thought he would be able to talk her out of it if he had a couple of days. The doctor had said that she would be mobile enough to move around in the next few days but they didn’t want her overexerting herself. Making the trip to Boston and dealing with all of what was waiting for her was a terrible prospect and he was determined to be there for her.

“I’ll make us plane reserve…”

“I’ve already made one.”

“I’ll go home and…” It took a second for AJ to register that she had said she made one reservation. “I am coming with you right?”

Sam shook her head and his heart broke a little. He knew this was something she needed to do but if she was going alone, was she planning on coming back?

“When’s your return flight?” he asked quietly.

“I don’t have one.” Sam replied. “I don’t know how long it will take for me to sort this all out AJ.”

“You are coming back, right?”

Sam didn’t say anything and averted her eyes from his. She loved him but her life had been blown apart by everything that had happened in the last few days. Wanting a life with him meant she would have to deal with the past and facing the past made her fear that she would fall apart again. Nothing about this was easy for her to do but she knew that she needed to do it and she hoped he would eventually understand.

AJ got up off the bed and started to pace around the room. He was angry that she was doing this in the first place but a part of him ached that she was doing it without him. Just looking in her eyes, he saw something had changed within her, something that wasn’t going to change back. It scared him more than he wanted to admit that this might very well be one of the last times he would see her; the thought of losing her sucked all the breath from his body and he sank into a chair.

“I’m sorry AJ.” Sam whispered. “I don’t know what I’m doing right now and the last thing I want to do is hurt you.”

He would regret his decision later, but he rose and crossed to the door, turning to look at her right as he was walking out.

“You just did.”
Arrangements by Kyrie
Sam hadn’t heard from AJ since he’d walked out and, as much as she wanted to reach out, she simply left on a plane to Boston a few days later. The doctors had warned her to try and keep the physical movement and the anxiety as easy as she could; they didn’t want her to tear her stitches or let the past break her psyche. She really couldn’t promise that she could head the second request since this was a moment she had dreaded. A part of her felt strong enough to handle everything but the other parts froze as the plane took off; she always thought that Ryan would find her and she would be taking this flight with him, back to a prison where torture was just waiting on the other side of the door.

There was no one waiting for her at the airport and her heart sunk when she realized that there wouldn’t ever be. She had no family, Ryan had no family and she had no friends left; Sarah and her sister were her only friends and now, Sarah was dead and she couldn’t bear looking her sister in the face. Thankfully, one of the flight attendants noticed her struggling to get around and came over to help. He grabbed her bags for her and called for a taxi who took her to the home she had shared with Ryan.

Her body felt like it took a sucker punch as she pulled into the driveway; this place had been a cruel chamber of torture for her and when she had escaped, she vowed that she would never return. The driver brought her bags into the house for her and then helped her up the stairs to the hallway. She handed him the money and turned to stare at the door; how was she going to get through this if she couldn’t even bring herself to go inside. Feeling the old anxiety and fear start to creep in, she felt like she couldn’t breathe and she leaned against the doorway for support as tears streamed down her face.

It took a few moments before she was able to step across the threshold and close the door behind her. Looking around, she noticed that Ryan had changed nothing since the last time she had been there. She took a few steps into the living room and noticed that their wedding picture still hung up above the mantle and suddenly, she was furious. Taking one of the crutches, she slammed it against the picture, breaking the glass and sending the whole thing to the floor. Using the crutch to help her, she made her way around the room, smashing everything in sight; at this point she wanted nothing but to erase everything around her. She didn’t stop until everything was broken and there was a huge mess in the living room; she found herself not caring about what was lying around her as she sank on the couch and started to sob. Her cries shook her entire body and she let everything out that had been building inside her for years. She was so drained that she eventually cried herself to sleep on the sofa.

A few hours later, she awoke and was startled to see her old house. It took her a couple of seconds to remember why she was there and to register the mess around her. She could just imagine Ryan’s face if he saw what she had destroyed and, for reasons she didn’t understand, she began to laugh. Just as hard as the earlier sobs rocked her body, her laugh began deep down inside and just came flooding out. Ryan was never coming back and at this point, she could smash whatever she wanted and no one would be there to demand she clean it up or to beat her because she had broken something.

After she settled herself down, she pulled out her phone and made several calls. The first was to Ryan’s lawyer, who told her he would be over the next morning to discuss what could be done with the house and any money that had existed. Her second call was to the funeral home; she explained that it would be difficult for her to get around so the funeral director offered to come to the house to discuss the arrangements. She really couldn’t care less if they stuck his body in a pit somewhere but she knew that she had to go through the motions of at least burying him with his parents.

Thinking she should make herself something to eat, she made her way into the kitchen and found the fridge and cabinets emptied. Ryan had been gone so long that there was no food left so Sam dug out the phone book and found a pizza place that delivered. She wasn’t hungry but she couldn’t take her pain pills on an empty stomach. Not wanting anyone to see the living room, she pulled the French doors across its entryway, cutting out the destruction she had found so liberating. She ate dinner that night in the kitchen instead of the dining room they had always used and slept in the guest bedroom on the first floor. There was no way she would spend a minute in their master bedroom and, even if she had considered it, the stairs would have been too much for her.

She woke early the next morning and showered in the small bathroom attached to the guest room. Dressing in a pair of jeans and a warm sweater, she made her way to the kitchen to wait for the lawyer and the funeral director; the latter arrived first. They discussed having a small memorial service a few days later so that his “friends” and co-workers could pay their respects. He had suggested burying Ryan in the same plot as his parents and Sam agreed as long as he was cremated and placed in an urn. There was no way she could explain this to the older man and thankfully, he didn’t push her about using a casket. She needed to know that there was no way Ryan could ever return even if it seemed foolish to everyone else.

She had a few minutes of reprieve before the lawyer showed up with Ryan’s will. He had brought the document to go over with her and she expected to go quickly as there was nothing she was entitled to. However, what he had to say surprised her.

“Everything is yours Sam.” he told her. “The house, the accounts, all of the contents.”

“There is NO way that can be right. I know Ryan had everything in his name and the last will we had done left everything to some school.”

Her husband had told her awhile ago that he was leaving her absolutely nothing; he said he planned on outliving her and, if for some reason he didn’t, he was hell-bent on leaving her penniless. He had actually laughed when he told her he was going to leave it to his alma mater so they would name a building for him; he was bound and determined to be remembered forever.

“That’s not the case. Everything that was in Ryan’s name is now is yours.”

“How did that happen?”

“When Ryan’s parents died, they left everything to h…”

“I know, he made a point to tell me that.”

“Well, apparently he forgot to mention that his parents left everything to both of you. The condition was put into the will by his mother to ensure that both of you would be taken care of. If Ryan was to outlive you, he would own the house and have access to all of the money. However, if you were to outlive him, everything would transfer to your name.”

Her mind was swimming; she had thought that she would just be here to clean up before someone took control of everything. It took her a bit to digest the fact that she could do whatever she wanted with his things and the house. The fact that his mother was looking out for her reminded her of how, as much as she hated their son, she had loved them like a second set of parents. However, none of those feelings changed what she wanted done.

“I want it sold.”

“You don’t have to decide that rig…”

“I want it sold. As soon as possible and for whatever you can sell it for.”

“Sam, you should get the best price…”

“No, I don’t care anything about the money. Sell it to the first person who wants it.” she demanded. “I don’t care what I get for it.”

The lawyer could see from the look on her face that she wouldn’t budge from her position. He jotted down notes about how she wanted things done and that she wanted everything in the house to be sold with the house itself. She also gave him instructions to set up a bank account in her name that could be transferred to another bank once she decided where she would be settling. After giving her the name of a cleaning crew that could come in and get everything straightened up, the lawyer made a quick exit, telling her he would have all the information for her in two days.

Once he was gone, Sam made her way back to the guest bedroom and lay down gently on the bed. Her leg was throbbing and she just wanted to close her eyes, shutting out everything around her; she was asleep a few moments later.
Old Friends by Kyrie
Author's Notes:
I hope you guys are still with me, let me know what you think!
The next few days flew by like nothing and it was almost like there was a blur in Sam’s memory of everything that happened. She had held a memorial service for Ryan and accepted the condolences given to her by all of his “friends”. These people were no more upset than she was to know that Ryan was deceased and some of them were even silently excited because his job had opened up. The men were already putting their names in for his position, lawyers really being no better than vultures when someone passed away. She never wanted to hold a service but the lawyer suggested she just get it over with because his parents would have wanted one; this was the last thing she would ever do for them.

He also helped her with the sale of the house and with the emptying and closing of several bank accounts. She kept enough money to get by on while she decided what she was going to do next; all the money from the sale of the house was being donated to the hospital where she worked. They were building a children’s cancer center and she wanted something good to come out of everything that happened to her; she wanted to give back to people who had given so much to her. All of the items in the house were sold at auction with the money going to the hospital as well.

She had moved into a hotel as soon as everything was completed and she felt like she could finally breathe. Every little piece of her past that had hurt her was finally gone; it was like getting rid of old ghosts. After taking a few days to just rest and decompress, she got dressed and headed over to the hospital. The chief surgeon was an old friend of hers and she wanted to bring the check to him personally; she always wanted some time to explore the place that gave her a life after she’d lost her family. Luckily, she was able to make a last minute appointment and she made sure to dress like the new woman she felt like.

When she arrived at the hospital, she made her way up the familiar main elevator to the third floor where she knew, from her past employment, that chief surgeon’s office was three doors down on the left. She smiled as she past some of the new employees she didn’t remember and then knocked on the partially closed door before poking her head in.

“Matias?”

A handsome Latino man stood up from the desk and made his way to the doorway. Enveloping Sam into a deep embrace, Matias Gomes smiled down at her from his six and a half foot height, making her feel like she was a little kid.

“How are you?” he asked after kissing her cheek and getting her settled. “Sandy said you wanted to stop by for a hello and something else but she said it was a surprise.”

Sam had just intended to visit and drop off the check but looking into his warm, brown eyes, she felt the tears she’d been holding in start to leak out, little by little.

“What’s wrong Sam?” He looked down and, for the first time, noticed the cast on her leg. “Are you ok?”

The tears were pouring out at this point and it broke his heart. Seeing a painfully emotional side to Sam that he’d never experienced, he pulled his chair up to hers and held her hand while the whole story just spilled from her. She told him everything that happened before she ran away, while she was on the run and what had happened to finally stop everything. Matias was furious with Ryan and with himself for not seeing how Ryan was forcing her to put distance between her and the people that cared about her.

“If he wasn’t already dead, I’d kill him myself.” Matias responded after a few moments. “I can’t believe you had to live like that.”

“Neither can I.” Sam said quietly and took a second before she continued. “Honestly? I can’t believe I let myself continue to be abused.”

“This is not your fault! Don’t you remember all the times you sat in the ER with the women who were here for domestic abuse treatment? You always made a point to tell them that they did not ask for or deserve the abuse they were getting; that this was never, ever their fault.”

She could actually remember saying that to dozens of women who came to the hospital for treatment and protection. For whatever reason, she just couldn’t take her own advice at the moment.

“Where are you staying? Please tell me it’s not at the house.”

“No, I rented a hotel room for a few days while I figure out what to do.” She wiped her eyes and pulled herself back together. “I really didn’t come here to tell you my horror story.”

“You should have, I would have helped you with some of this stuff.”

“Some of this stuff is actually why I came here to begin with.”

Sam dug around in her purse and pulled out the reason she was there. Not knowing how to explain the money, she just handed Matias the envelope; her face broke out in a smile when she saw the look of disbelief in his eyes as he pulled out the check.

“What is this?”

“It’s a donation to the new center for childhood cancer you’re building.”

“I can’t take this Sam, you need to keep your money.”

“I can’t keep this,” she said, “I have no use for it and it’ll make me happy for something good to come from this whole mess.”

“I don’t even know what to say.”

She smiled and gripped his hand; the grip had everything she wanted to say wrapped up into it.

“Are you sure?”

Standing up, she made her way over to the door, the day had already been taxing enough and her leg was throbbing. All she wanted was to go back to the hotel and lay down.

“Will you at least come over for dinner?”

Thinking about it for a moment, she nodded and headed out of his office. She had planned to visit the ER to say hello but she just couldn’t take any more emotions. Hailing a taxi, she gave him the address of her hotel room and sat back, taking a deep breath in and letting it out, letting everything go.
Some Friendly Advice by Kyrie
Sam rang the doorbell of a small Craftsman style home on a quiet, tree lined street; she smiled as soon as she heard the voice calling from inside. The door opened and Sam looked down at the little girl with pigtails who definitely had her dad’s eyes. Matias’ wife Sophia came down the hall right behind the child who had just introduced herself as Ana, Princess of the Party.

“She always thinks she’s the princess of something!” Sophia explained with a laugh and a hug. “I’m so happy to see you!”

Sam remembered the first time she met the young woman when Matias had taken the job at the hospital; she knew instantly how truly sincere and warm she was. The couple had hosted a party at their home to thank everyone for the support they received from people and to show that their chief of surgery wasn’t too straight laced. She recalled some of the women being pretty jealous but she had loved Sophia from the moment she met her. The woman always spoke her mind but she had an enormous amount of love and compassion that she shared with everyone around her.

“Come in and take a seat.”

Sophia ushered Sam out to the back patio and got her settled into one of the lounge chairs. Rushing in at the call of her daughter, she promised Sam she’d be back in a minute with a massive margarita for her.

She had just laid her head back on the cushioned headrest when she heard the slider open again. Matias handed her a drink and took a seat next to her.

“I see you met the princess.” he said with a laugh. “And she definitely is a princess.”

Sam could see the love in Matias’ eyes for his wife and daughter. She remembered the moment when he came rushing into the ER to tell everyone that Sofia was pregnant with a little girl; his eyes had lit up like a Christmas tree and he walked on air for days. Unfortunately, Ryan had convinced Sam to quit her job before Sophia gave birth so she had never actually met the little girl that had her father completely wrapped around her little finger.

“She’s beautiful Matias,” Sam responded, “and it’s really a good thing she takes after her mother!”

Matias stuck his tongue out at her and stood up to greet his wife who, as promised, came back with an enormous drink in her hands.

“I’m never going to be able to drink all that!”

“I think you deserve one this big considering what you’ve been through!”

Sophia took a seat on the lounger her husband had just vacated. Taking Sam’s empty hand in hers, she let a little tear slide down her face. Matias knew that the women probably need a male free minute so he went back into the house to look for Ana.

“I’m so sorry,” Sophia said once they were alone. “I hope you don’t mind Matias telling me.”

“I figured he would once he invited me for dinner.”

“I’m just glad you came. I would have hated not to see you while you were here. How long are you planning to stay?”

Sam just shrugged her shoulders; she felt like her life was spinning out in the universe and it hadn’t decided which direction she was going in. Sophia, never one to beat around the bush, brought the topic straight home to her.

“Are you going back to AJ? That’s his name right?”

Sam laughed.

“Hey, you know me, I’ve never had a question that went unasked!”

“I know.” Sam said as she laid her head back down on the pillow. “I honestly don’t know.”

“Because you aren’t happy with him or because you’re scared?”

Sam hated to admit it but Sophia was right about one thing, she was scared to go back to AJ. She had left the whole situation a mess and she knew he was angry at her for coming out here. He was probably even more upset because she hadn’t reached out the entire time she’d been here.

“I don’t know Sophia, I really don’t. I was a disaster while I was hiding from Ryan, always afraid, never really allowing myself to be me. Plus, I know I hurt him when I told him I was coming out here alone.”

“Maybe he was angry or maybe he was just hurting for you. From what you told Mathias, he seems to have upended his life to help you. No man would do that for someone they weren’t completely in love with.”

“What if he hates me anyway?”

“Seriously girl? You really think a man like that is going to tell you to take a leap if you were to call and tell him you miss him?”

Sam had been thinking about that for the last few days. AJ told her, repeatedly, how much he loved her while she was living with him. She knew she loved him but what if he didn’t feel the same about this new woman? Sophia seemed to read her mind.

“He’s still going to love you Sam. In fact, he might love you even more now that you can actually go outside with him!”

Sam laughed out loud; Matias’ wife always had a way to lighten up a mood and she smiled to herself when she thought about the fact that she and AJ would actually be able to leave the house without hiding if she went back.

“I think you’ve made up your mind,” Sophia pointed out, “you just need to be brave enough to ask for what you want.”

The two women broke off their conversation when Matias came outside with Ana. The three adults enjoyed a casual dinner and when the little girl started to yawn, Sam thanked them and told them she needed to head out as well. Sophia hugged her and told her to call them whenever she needed to and that she was always welcome in their home. Matias walked her to the door and handed her a card; he explained that it was the name of a new therapist at the hospital. She specialized in treating woman who had been the victim of abuse and he thought it would be a good idea to give her a call.

Sam thanked him for the advice and for dinner just as the taxi arrived to get her. She promised that she would give the woman a call and she gave her friend a hug; she had a few things to think about when she got back to the hotel.
Facing Reality by Kyrie
Kevin watched as AJ sunk down on the couch as the other guys were still in the recording booths, finishing their parts to one of their new songs. He hated seeing his brother like this and he knew, that even after 3 weeks, AJ was still hurting from Sam leaving.

“How are you doing Bone?”

It had been forever since Kevin has used that nickname for him and it caused him to look right up at him. He could see the love and concern in his older brother’s eyes and it caused his own eyes to fill up. There was no way he was going to cry in front of the guys even though he had difficult moments at home where he’d just sob into his pillow.

“I’m alright.” AJ replied, wiping a tear from his eyes and turned towards the booth. “The song sounds pretty good huh?”

Kevin rolled his chair over to the couch and stopped right in front of AJ. He knew that his younger brother was suffering and all he wanted to do was fix it for him. That was the part of him that always came out around the guys, he just wanted to help in any way he could even if it was hard for everyone to hear.

“You’re lying through your teeth J and I’m tired of just watching you walk around like a zombie.” Kevin paused, not wanting to overstep. “Have you heard from her?”

The word “her” went right to AJ’s heart. He missed Sam more than he’d ever thought was possible. No other woman had this effect on him and it truly hurt him to have her so far away.

“She’s texts every other day or so.”

AJ wasn’t lying when he said this, she truly was texting every couple of days. The problem with the texts was that they were very short and didn’t show much emotion. All he wanted was for her to tell him she loved him or that she would be home soon; he didn’t want to push her but his heart was hurting and he wanted to know if he should keep hanging on.

“Maybe you should just ask her.”

It was incredible to him, even after all these years, that Kevin could give words to exactly what he was thinking.

“Are you sure you’re not psychic?” AJ asked him. “You keep telling us no but I’m not sure I believe you.”

Kevin smiled even though he knew AJ’s comment were just a distraction from how he was feeling. He had wanted to ask AJ something for a while but kept stopping himself, not wanting to push his brother away. Unfortunately, he thought that this was the best moment.

“Have you ever thought about seeing someone?”

“What?” AJ asked incredulously. “Sam just left a few weeks ago, I don’t want to see…”

“That’s not what I meant.” Kevin said, raising his hand. “I’m talking about seeing a therapist.”

AJ didn’t say anything; part of him wanted to tell Kevin to stay out of it, that he didn’t need to talk to anyone about his feelings. The problem was that AJ had been thinking the same thing for a little while. He didn’t know how to help Sam or to help himself; the situation was overwhelming and, as much as he pretended he could handle it, he was doubting himself.

“Maybe I should.”

________


“How are you Sam?”

She didn’t know how to answer that question today any more than she had when she first called Dr. Finke. Matias had given Sam her name and assured her that she was a terrific doctor who was able to get her patients to open up to her. So far, Sam could see why her friend had sent her here, Dr. Finke was kind enough to let her share what she wanted but was forceful enough to make her question things that she had been through and decisions she had made.

After a few visits, Dr. Finke had diagnosed Sam with PTSD and she was shocked to hear that diagnosis. Sam was under the impression that the only people who could possibly claim to have PTSD were soldiers that had experienced battle. The doctor told her that was a misconception and she had explained how, “normal people” as Sam put it, could have developed PTSD.

“PTSD is a medical condition that is the result of witnessing or being involved in traumatic situations. It can cause panic, anxiety, depression as well as other medical problems. Granted, men and women serving in the various armed forces are subjected to prolonged and more violent situations than you and I are, but that doesn’t mean someone like yourself can’t develop PTSD.”

It took Dr. Finke a few weeks to finally get through to Sam and she had to admit that dealing with the abuse Ryan had inflicted on her was definitely challenging. Admitting that she could have PTSD made her feel vulnerable and weak but the doctor assured her that dealing with her issues and emotions showed how strong she was. Sam didn’t accept that at first, especially when she was detailing all of the abuse and how long she had stayed with Ryan before leaving. She thought that she was weak for staying as long as she had but Dr. Finke had finally worked through those issues with her. The only thing left to work through were her feelings about AJ and whether she was going to stay in Boston or going back to California.

“I don’t know if I can go back and face him.” she admitted after a few more sessions. “I hurt him and I left without looking back.”

“But you have been looking back, you told me that you’ve been texting every other day.”

“I know but I’m not sure I can actually go back. What if he’s moved on or if he can’t forgive me?”

“While I don’t know him personally, from what you’ve told me, he was there for you through so many difficult times. He doesn’t sound as though he’s the type of man who would just “move on” or not forgive you.”

Sam wished there was a way she could make herself believe that.
Unasked Questions by Kyrie
Three months later:

“Are you going to swing by later to watch the game?”

Nick looked over at his brother as AJ swung the golf club. He’d been trying to keep AJ as distracted as he could because he knew how much his older brother was going through. Lauren and he were working on keeping him sane but he wasn’t sure it was working.

Sam was in AJ’s thoughts every day, all day. AJ knew his friends were trying to help but they really couldn’t do anything. This was especially tough because Sam had stopped texting him a few days ago and he couldn’t figure out why. He had gone through every text he’d sent her, looking for something that he’d said to push her away from him. He was going through hell by not having her here but it had gotten five times worse when she’d cut off all contact.

“I don’t think so Nick. I’m kinda tired.”

Nick couldn’t disagree that AJ looked like shit and it was frustrating to him that he couldn’t do anything to help his friend. If he’d had Sam’s cell phone number, he probably would have called and cussed her out for everything she was putting his brother through. Thankfully, Lauren had been there to calm him down and help him see reason.

“Are you sure?”

AJ nodded and they finished their final round. Nick made the offer again as they walked to their cars but his brother declined again. He knew he couldn’t force AJ to come over but he hated him going home alone again.

“Well, if you change your mind, just give me a call k?”

“I will, thanks Nick.”

AJ drove home in silence and contemplated everything that was happening. He was so lost in thought that he almost hit the other car that was parked in his driveway. It was unfamiliar and he could tell by the plates that it was a rental car.

He was starting to think that the boys had called his mother about how he was acting and he tried to fight the urge to call them and tell them to mind their own business. As he was about to call out, the door opened and a woman with long brown hair climbed out. He didn’t even have to see her face to know it was Sam.

“Sam?” he called out, thinking maybe she was a mirage. “Sam?”

The woman turned to face him and he couldn’t stop himself from running over. Pulling her into the tightest embrace possible, he started to cry into her shoulder. He felt the emotions take over her as well as she started weeping. They stayed that way for a moment before pulling apart; she looked up at him with questioning eyes and he instantly knew what she was asking. His mouth slowly broke into a smile as he stared into her eyes.

“I love you, welcome home Sam.”


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