I could send someone.
I could go home, ensure a medical team knew how to find him, and step out of his life as firmly as I’d stepped into it.
That would be the kindest thing. It would give him back his independence, his hard-won peace and refuge.
He’d bound me because he was terrified of being alone again. And I’d done that to him. I’d invaded his territory, reminded him of companionship, then ran from him the moment I spied an opportunity. I’d taken whatever peace he’d found here and torn it into pieces.
He was better off alone.
I only seem to make things worse.
I’d eaten his vegetables without understanding the painstaking process of growing them. I’d investigated the bedrooms upstairs and borrowed clothing from women who’d raped him.
The longer I stayed here, the more I would hurt him. It was inevitable because we came from different worlds. I came from chaos and noise and life. He came from calm and silence and death.
His request for me to stay was uttered from a desperate man who’d had his entire existence upheaved by an unthinking, brazen girl who’d done her best to repair what she’d broken but was now painfully aware that she couldn’t.
Not this way at least.
I’ve hurt him enough.
Leaving now seemed cruel. It went against everything I believed in. But really, it would be a blessing. The nicest gift I could give him.
It was obvious he wouldn’t cope in society. And it was also obvious I couldn’t stay here for the rest of my life.
Our meeting had been wrong, and our separation would fix that wrong.
I nodded, crossing my arms against the pain of saying goodbye. The idea solidified quickly, warning me to choose this path now before my mind overthought it.
I couldn’t be responsible for this man’s happiness or his sadness. He’d heal quicker if I wasn’t there to hurt him.
“I’m sorry, Kas. For everything.” Hugging myself, I looked at his wild beauty one last time. I imprinted the only man who’d crowbarred his way into my heart with violence and sexual domination, and then I turned and strode from the library.
He would be out for hours, judging by his previous episodes.
I had time to clean up the kitchen—I’d seen his lip curl at the mess I’d caused—and ensure I left what I’d used in tidy condition, just like he would. I would make a plan, confirm this was the right thing for him and for me, and then, I would figure out a way to remove the cuff, throw away the leash, and walk out the door forever.
* * * * *
Come on. Come on.
I fumbled for the nineteenth time with the cuff. I sat on the kitchen floor with the smallest fillet knife I could find. My back hurt from curling over my leg, and the marble tiles beneath me had flattened my ass to a pancake.
And I still hadn’t left.
The now sparkling kitchen didn’t own any key or tool to free me. No scissors were sharp enough to hack through the hardened leather. No oil—even if there had been any in the cupboards—could help me wriggle my way out of the tight binding.
The padlock was the only chance I had at getting free, and so far, it refused to relinquish me. The frustrating thing was intricate. A hard nugget of metal with just a tiny pinhole instead of a key slot—and no matter how hard I pulled, poked, or twisted, the metal stayed put.
I’d tried stabbing it, jiggling it, even went as far as placing the blade against my leg and trying to saw the thick, impenetrable leather with the knife.
However, unless he gave me the strange key or I somehow managed to use the wood ax from the shed to get free (without hacking off my own leg), it was a dead end.
I’ll just have to climb with a heavy chain tucked into my waistband.
Not the safest, but beggars couldn’t be choosers—wasn’t that the saying? Not a very nice one if you asked me.
Standing, I placed the knife on the clean countertop and readjusted the four packets of instant pasta I’d left as a peace offering for eating his vegetables. Beside those packets were a mountain of chocolate bars, fruit roll-ups, muesli bars, and the rest of the painkillers, along with the empty second backpack that he’d taken from my Jeep.
I hadn’t left myself a lot of supplies to climb and hike home, but my guilt wouldn’t let me leave without trying to apologize.
Okay...this is it. Are you sure you want to do this?
I had no answer, but I believed this was the best thing...for both of us. He’d get his asylum back; I’d go home to my house. We would both move on and forget.
Inhaling hard, ignoring the prickle behind my eyes, I turned and headed toward my already packed backpack waiting by the door.