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The Bite: Chapter 22

Mr. Dawson was a pudgy man who had too many plants on his first-floor balcony. He always told us they gave him privacy. Now I realized it just made it easier for him to peep on people without getting caught.

Before I would not have noticed him watching me with his beady brown eyes from between the leaves of his morning glories, but now I could more than spot him. The scent of day-old cologne and smoked oysters hanging on his skin smacked me in the face the minute I stepped out of the car.

He sat up in his chair, holding his paper up like he was actually reading it as I stepped up to the call box for the condominium. His eyes watched me, brows furrowing slightly like he was confused. I knew he wouldn’t recognize me now.

He would have recognized the frail, bleach-blond, tan ghost of myself. But now? Now I am a stranger to him.

“Visiting?” he asked as I buzzed the call box.

“I am.”

He set his paper down in his lap. “Friend? Family?”

Was he always this nosy? From the corner of my eye, I could see him checking my ass out. The beast in me wanted to snap at him. I couldn’t blame her.

“It’s Nate,” I heard from the call box speaker.

“It’s me,” I answered.

“Thank god,” he breathed. “See you soon,” he finished as the door buzzed open.

Mr. Dawson’s brows raised. “You must be the new girlfriend. Lucky Nate,” he teased.

Funny how before he only watched. Scrutinized. Never showed an ounce of friendliness.

“Lucky him,” I agreed, before stepping inside.

The whole building was as I remembered it. Shiny marble floors that led to a shiny elevator where an attendant waited inside. “Which floor?”

“Top. Penthouse. Nathan Lane.”

The attendant looked over at me. He nodded politely.

“Of course, miss,” he answered before hitting the appropriate button.

My beast cocked her head at him. We didn’t miss how he angled himself away from us, or how he pressed himself into the corner.

The doors dinged opened, cueing the attendant to let out the breath he was holding. I nodded politely and stepped into the foyer. The private foyer where only one door waited for me.

I smoothed out the cream blouse tucked into my jeans and stepped forward. My brown leather stiletto boots clicked along the floor like a clock ticking away the seconds of the day.

My nostrils flared. I could smell him before the door even opened. I could smell the whole apartment the minute I stepped out of the elevator. My eyes easily spotted the little bit of bright-pink lipstick still smudged on the edge of the door as I stepped up to it. Someone forgot to clean up their recent mess.

Before I could knock on the door, it was opening, whether I wanted it to or not.

His scent hit me hard, almost forcing me to take a step back. He smelled about as hollow as he looked. There was a breath of scotch lingering on skin that I could have sworn at one point was golden, but now looked as dull as the pastel-blue Polo he wore. The ends of the jockey emblem were actually starting to fray, much like the ends of his hair, which no longer looked like the kind of strands that Rumpelstiltskin himself would have treasured.

He didn’t say anything. His eyes trained on me with the hunger of a leech.

“Hello, Nate.” I arched a brow. “Are you going to let me in?”

“Your hair.”

My fingers twirled one of my dark strands. “I needed a change.”

“It suits you.”

“Are we going to have this conversation outside?”

His eyes started to harden. Losing his edge never went over well. A smile forced its way onto his lips. “I’m so happy you’re home,” he breathed, stepping forward to hug me with arms that I knew were far from gentle.

My hand shot out to his chest. “We need to talk, Nate.”

His hands went up. “Charlotte, you’ve been gone for over three months. I thought you were dead. Can you blame me?”

I bit back a smile. “Let’s go inside.”

He nodded and stepped aside.

I stepped into the condo that I used to constantly fret over. That I used to constantly redecorate and scrub clean even though we had a maid. I used to worry about what would happen if Nate ever thought that I couldn’t give him a perfect home, and I would stay up at night anxious about the things guests would say if one thing was out of place. I never wanted to be the girl gossiped about in the ladies’ room at the country club, but now I was sure I was their number one favorite thing to talk about.

The beast in me crawled forward. I could see her scrunching her nose at the scents around her. The smell of pleather from the sectional we’d overpaid for, the candles from an organic store that reeked of too much lavender, the hints of perfume that was sickly sweet—too sweet to be anything I would wear—and of course the smell of liquor.

My eyes could easily spot a stain on the carpet that Yulanda would never get out.

“Nothing’s changed. I waited for you.”

I arched a brow and walked to the couch. Because everything had changed. The pictures of us were gone. I had littered the place with them. They were the closest thing to a happy relationship that I ever got to, and not one of them was left.

“I can see that.”


“So?” I asked, sitting down on the couch.

Nate tugged at his collar. A habit he did when he was nervous, although he would never admit it. “Charlotte, where the fuck were you? What—where the fuck did you go?”

“You should know. You paid a pretty penny for that P.I.”

He looked at the ceiling, hands on his hips. “Fine,” he admitted with a sigh. He strolled to the wet bar and pulled out his favorite handle of scotch. “Can you blame me? You just left. There was no trace of you anywhere. I thought—uck—I thought you died, Charlotte!”

I cocked my head. “You were worried I died?” I shook my head with a chuckle. “Nate, you almost killed me that night, and you were worried I died?”

My beast licked her teeth. She wanted to sink them into the artery we could spot pulsing in his neck. His heartbeat was picking up. It wasn’t time for her. I gently persuaded her to settle. Her fun would come soon enough.

His jaw ticked as he poured a healthy serving of scotch.

“You’re right. I fucked up, a lot. Okay? I really fucked up—I’ve been going back to therapy since then.” He picked up his glass and took a long drink. “I—it’s why I sent someone to look for you. I knew I fucked up—I know I did. But I couldn’t stand the thought of something happening to you. Out there, in the woods, by yourself? Charlotte, the thought of what happened to you has kept me up for nights. I fucked up.”

He walked back to the couch and settled, eyes holding mine like they had done so many times before. The same story. The same excuses. The same “therapist” that never worked. I doubt he ever saw one unless you counted one of his favorite bartenders.

I shook my head. “What happened to me doesn’t matter, and it’s not your business, Nate. I didn’t come here today to come home. I came here to tell you that I am done, and that I want you to let me live my life—and for you to call your people off.”

His fingers clutched the glass, the liquid in it beginning to quiver. “Charlotte, this is your home. Those people you’re shacking up with up there? Whoever they are, they are not your people, Charlotte. Our lives are here. Your life is here with me, baby,” he murmured, scooting closer to me.

I shook my head again. “Your life is here, Nate. Your life.

Not mine.”

He took another swig of his drink then set it on the glass coffee table in front of us. The same table I had been shoved into the night before I left. “Charlotte, just stay for a week.

This is your home. You just need to be home, and you’ll see,” e said, sliding closer to me. “It’s you and me. It’s always been and it always will be.”

His hand reached for mine. I snatched mine away before his dirty paws could even graze it. It took everything I had to keep the growl from tumbling out of my throat. I stood and stepped away from the couch.

“I want you to leave me alone and call your dogs off.

Otherwise, I am going to ship this to every reporter in California and to the right law enforcement agencies, where your friends won’t be able to save you.”

I turned and tossed him the Jumpdrive I had tucked in my pocket. He snatched it, fingers uncurling as he looked at it like it was a live grenade.

My feet gracefully carried me to the bar. I took out my own glass and poured whiskey into it. “The fuck is this?” I heard him hiss.

“This is one copy of many. It’s a copy of all the ways you and your father and your friends at that firm have been hiding your tax dollars from the government and laundering money for overseas clients. It’s all there. All the records anyone would ever need in order to put your ass in jail for a long time.”

I took a sip of my whiskey. The beast in me started to pace, because we could see the “I miss you” facade starting to fade. I was ready for it, because if his sweet talking didn’t work the anger would come next.

“What overseas clients?”

I leaned against the wall and swirled the ice around in my drink. “Don’t play dumb, Nathan. We both know you loved to fuck the girls they brought over—I caught you with that Russian girl in your dad’s pool house once. I should have left you then, and that’s on me.”

He ran a hand over his face as a sickly smile twisted on his lips. “Baby, you’re so cute. Seriously? What is this game?”

I rolled my eyes and took another drink. “The game is that you’re fucked, Nate. Royally fucked. You’re fucked if you don’t leave me in peace. Although I think you may be fucked in general.”

He cocked his head. “And what about you? You know and haven’t said anything. That makes you an accomplice.”

I smirked, holding in a laugh. They’d have to fucking find me first, and I doubted they would.

“I’m serious, Nate.” I set my drink down on the cart next to me. He stood, fists clenched at his sides. “I’m done. I’m out. I want to be left alone and in peace. That’s all I ask. I don’t want anything else.”

“You’re going to just walk out of our lives? After everything? After everything you’ve put me through these last three months?!”

His angry side was coming out, rage seeping through with each step he took toward me. I didn’t move. No, I let the beast crawl forward and held my ground.

“I loved you! And you left! You left and I thought you were dead! And now you have the fucking audacity to come here and blackmail me?! Are—did you get your small-ass mind brainwashed out there?! Did you hit your fucking head?!”

“A few times,” I answered casually. “But my mind has never been clearer.”

His brows furrowed almost as if the rage was going to crack through his skin. For a moment, I wondered if he was some type of monster that Levi had forgotten to tell me about, but then I realized that he was just a man. A sad, insecure man who was losing his grip.

“You’re not blackmailing me. You’re not leaving. You’re staying here where you belong. If you think I’m going to let you walk out of that fucking door again, you’re wrong. Dead wrong.”

A smile pulled at my lips. “That’s where you’re wrong, because you are going to let me walk out of that door. I’m done, Nate. Leave me in peace.”

I pushed off the wall and moved toward the door. Nate’s hand shot out to grab me. I ducked under his arm and stepped around him as the momentum of his motion caused him to stumble.

“The fuck?” he breathed, turning to me.

I cocked my head. “You don’t want to do this with me, Nate.”

“You? You should know better than to fucking try this with me, Charlotte.”

“Try what?” I asked airily. “What am I trying, Nathan?”

He reached for me again, his long bony fingers like prongs trying to snatch me. Again, I ducked before he could reach me and stepped around him. My foot struck out and caught one of his, enough to make him stumble into the bar cart.

When he turned this time, I knew the game was over.

Gone was the golden boy I once used to worship. The ghoul that used to haunt my dreams was in his place.

He lunged for me with a strange growl of his own. My arm shot out and shoved him back by the chest right as a fist hurled toward me. My own hand caught it as a growl rumbled over me. The beast was close now. I could feel her under my skin, itching to sink her teeth into him. Nate’s eyes went wide as I shoved him back by his fist into the wall.

“What the fuck!” he cried, before he made one last attempt with his fist.

I blocked it then caught his other hand by the wrist, easily snapping it. The cry of a dying rabbit wailed out of his mouth. He took one more step toward me but my hand shot out and snatched his neck instead—pinning him to the wall.

The glow of my eyes reflected in his. His free hand clutched his broken one to his chest, but the minute his fingers twitched as if they were going to try one more time, I let another growl vibrate from my chest in warning.

“What the fuck are you?”

“That and the rest of my life are no longer your business.

I am walking out of here and you will not follow me or send anyone after me again. Are we clear?”

“You’re a fucking monster.”

A laugh bubbled out of my lips. “You’re right, baby, I am a goddamned monster, and right now, you really don’t want to piss me off any more.”

I gave his neck one final squeeze before shoving myself away from him. His free hand shot to the bar cart to hold himself upright as the sound of my heels carrying me to the front door filled the empty space.

“I’ll call the cops! I have friends, you know!”

“And tell them what?” I laughed, turning to look at him.

“That your girlfriend’s the boogeyman?”

“And blackmailing me!”

“Ah! Yes, can’t wait to hear you explain that. Especially when they want to hear what I have on you.”

His mouth closed. There was no longer an argument for him to win. I took one last look at the home I used to love.

I knew if I went out on the extended balcony that I would feel the ocean breeze on my cheeks, smell the salt air, and be caressed by the warm sun that could never make any bruise he ever left better. I always thought these walls would hold our relationship together, not trap me in it.

“Bye, Nate. Remember our deal,” I said, turning to the door that I should have walked out years before.

• • •

The elevator door chimed open. I stepped from the car, the attendant refusing to look me in the eyes, and out the doors, where Mr. Dawson was still on his balcony. I could spot him watching my hips from the corner of my eye.

“Quick visit?” he asked from behind the safety of his newspaper.

“He didn’t last long,” I called over my shoulder.

He lowered his paper with wide eyes. I smiled sweetly before skipping over to the cherry-red Mustang convertible that Elliot had insisted we rent. Derek opened the door to the backseat for me. “All good?”

I hugged him as a long breath of relief rolled out of me.

His arms gave me a gentle squeeze before releasing me. Eyes sparkling pride, he smiled wide at me.

“Let’s get out of here,” I said.

He laughed and helped me into the car. Elliot started the engine, then turned to face me. “You’re sure you don’t want me to have some fun with him? We may need a little snack before our flight?”

Derek pulled his seat belt on while scowling at Elliot, who shrugged casually. “What? It’s like a two for one here.”

I buckled my belt and shook my head. “You don’t want any of his blood. It’s rotten.” That, and Nate wasn’t going to risk coming after me now. Elliot and Derek could have compelled him, but the thought of him living with himself—living with a new monster in his head—well, that was sweet revenge at its finest.

Derek nodded in agreement. “Home, then?”

“Home,” I agreed. “I think Levi is right. I think too much sunlight’s bad for you.”

Elliot sighed and shifted the car into Drive. “Fine. I checked the flights and we have a few hours, which means we’re trying that restaurant I found online last night.”

“Have it your way, then,” Derek teased.

“Oh, I will,” he answered with a devious smile. His eyes looked in the rearview mirror as we pulled out of the parking lot. “You good, Char?”

I nodded. “More than good.”


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