Emily Donovan woke with stinging eyes, her body shuddering in the throes of a nightmare. The same nightmare she had every night.
She closed her eyes against the unbearable ache in her chest and tried to fall back into oblivion, but the memories were too vivid, too alive in her mind.
How she missed him. He hadn’t deserved to die. He’d been too young, so full of life. He’d loved her unreservedly, picked up the pieces of her shattered heart and helped put her back together.
As always when she thought of Sean, images of his two older brothers, Taggert and Greer, haunted her. It angered her that she couldn’t separate her memories of Sean from the other two Donovan brothers, but they were as much a part of her soul as Sean had been. But Sean had accepted her. Loved her. Taggert and Greer had shoved her away.
The ache in her chest stole her breath, and she opened her eyes to stare at the blurred ceiling. The lamp at the side of her bed cast elongated shadows, sometimes frightening, but the dark was scarier, so she always left it on.
The days had gotten a little easier. She managed to perform normal activities. Eating. Sleeping—finally. But her sleep was still tortured by images of that night. By Sean’s blood covering her hands. By his whispered I love you and his warm smile before he took his last breath.
“It’s not fair,” she whispered fiercely. “It should have been me, not you.”
Her breath stuttered out in a sob that clawed at her throat. It hurt to inhale. It hurt to exhale. It hurt to live.
Giving up on sleep, she crawled out of bed, feeling much older than her twenty-five years. She’d always been so much older than her years. Quieter, more mature. Only the Donovan brothers had been able to bring her out of her shell, and she’d give anything to go back to those days in the Montana mountains where only the skies were bigger than their dreams.
She’d lived hers. Just for a little while. Just as Tagg had always predicted. Their little songbird was destined for bigger and better things than the Mountain Pass Ranch. But she hadn’t wanted fame and fortune. She’d only wanted their love.
With a weary sigh, she walked into the kitchen clad in only her silky pajama top. Sean had bought it for her, and when she’d laughingly informed him he got ripped off because only the top was there, he smugly told her he preferred easy access and had thrown away the bottoms.
Mechanically she performed the rituals of morning. Preparing coffee that she didn’t even like, toasting a bagel she wouldn’t taste. All the things that made her life feel normal.
The chair was cool on her bare legs, and she scooted up to the small, two-person table where she’d placed her saucer and cup. She drank, barely wincing when the hot liquid hit her tongue.
Chewing the bagel took effort. Swallowing took more.
What was she supposed to do today? The question filtered calmly through her mind, and she stared at the half-empty cup in her hand in bemusement. She had no job to go to. No appointments. No schedule. She only had one goal. To survive another day.
Maybe she’d take a walk. Challenge herself to face the city she’d fled to. Its size and people would swallow her up. Offer her the anonymity she desperately craved.
The mere idea of leaving her apartment without a specific destination in mind sent a wave of nausea through her belly. The coffee bubbled like a volcano about to erupt, and she swallowed rapidly.
She couldn’t go on like this, living in the shadows, afraid to step into the light. Sean would hate the life she led. He’d look at her with those intense blue eyes, and his lips would thin in disapproval.
She looked down, studying her fingers, and wondered how long it would take before she didn’t feel so flayed alive when she thought of Sean. When she couldn’t feel the knife that had ended his life.
A firm knock sounded at the door. Her head whipped up, and panic hit her like a sledgehammer. Each breath squeezed from her lungs, crushing her chest.
Stop being stupid.
No one knew she was here. She knew none of her neighbors. She was safe.
Who the hell could be at her door at five in the morning?
Renewed fear gripped her by the throat.
Maybe it was just her apartment manager. Or a neighbor.
At five in the morning?
Her gaze flickered over the four deadbolts she’d had installed. No one was getting in unless she let them.
The knock sounded again. Harder this time.
She flinched and hastily stood, her heart beating in a vicious cadence.
She didn’t have to answer. She could pretend to be asleep. Or not at home.
Hesitating, she turned away from the door only to yank back around when the knocking persisted.
Whoever it was wasn’t going away.
Damp palms wiped nervously on her pajama top. She glanced down, realizing she wasn’t dressed for company, and then she laughed—a harsh, dry sound that assaulted her ears.
She wasn’t entertaining guests. The sooner she answered the door and sent them on their way, the better.
It took everything she had to make that walk across the living room to the door. She put her palm on the surface and leaned forward to peer out the peephole.
She gasped, blinked, stepped back then surged forward again, straining to see. Her stomach plummeted.
Greer and Taggert Donovan stood in the hallway, their expressions grim—and determined.
How had they found her?
She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead on the door. Not now. She couldn’t face them right now. Maybe never. How was she to look at them knowing how much they reminded her of Sean? Of how much she loved Sean?
Of how much she loved Greer and Taggert.
Her fingers splayed out over the wood as if she could touch them through the barrier. She turned her head so that her cheek pressed against the surface and then reached for the top lock, letting her hand rest on it without moving it.
Another knock jarred her face and then she heard Taggert’s voice, low and entreating.
“Emmy, open the door.”