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I can’t stand it. I’m pissed she put herself in that position, but the depth of her anguish is making my hair stand on end. JT deserved her retaliation, but she’s not seeing that right now.

Right now she needs validation that her soul hasn’t been tainted. That she was merely ensuring her own life would continue and defending against someone else’s attempt to take it.

Pushing away from the desk, I turn to see Sela staring at me with tears pouring down her face and eyes so burned out by grief that they’re streaked with redness. I can’t fucking stand it, and in two strides, I have her in my arms and lifted from the floor. As I cradle her gently, I tell Caroline, “I’m going to get her cleaned up.”

“Beck,” Caroline says cautiously. “Wait…it was self-defense. We need to call the police. It’s bad enough she left the scene, but you cannot go cleaning up evidence off her.”

I turn from my sister, noting Sela’s head lying heavy on my shoulder as tiny hiccups echo periodically. Caroline rushes to the office door, puts a hand on the knob, and holds up the other. “Just wait a second…”

“Open the fucking door, Caroline,” I growl at her. “Yes, it was self-defense, but how does Sela prove it? Once they find out that JT raped Sela, there’s a damn good chance they’ll see that as nothing but a motive for murder. In fact, it will seem more likely since she went there with a gun in her purse.”

“But she did nothing wrong,” Caroline implores me, even as she twists the knob and opens the door for me. She knows I’ll just do it myself. I slide past her, being careful with Sela’s body in my arms.

“I know she didn’t do anything wrong, but do you think the justice system will see that? The police and DA want convictions, not a messy death with no evidence to support self-defense. I’m not willing to take that chance.”

“She has bruises.”

“That they’ll say were caused by JT merely defending himself,” I say bitterly. “Again, not willing to take the chance they won’t see it our way.”

“There will be physical evidence at his house connecting her,” Caroline says as she follows me down the hall to our bedroom. “Prints or some shit like that. That’s always how they get the suspect. With forensics.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” I say as I head straight into the master bath. I hear Caroline close the door behind us, and I have to assume Ally is still happily occupied in front of the TV. Fuck if I want her to see Sela covered in blood. “But I plan to rectify that situation as soon as I get Sela taken care of.”

“Beck,” Caroline snaps at me in irritation. “Don’t put her in that shower until we talk about this. This is Sela’s decision, not yours.”

“You’re right,” I say softly, and lower Sela to the tiled floor. Her feet touch solidly, but I keep my arm around her waist, because she looks like a delicate breeze would blow her away. One hand goes to her cheek and I get her attention by tilting her face up so she looks at me.

“Sela,” I tell her with a mixture of authority and empathy. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to go to the police. You’d never be on their radar. They have no clue about your history with JT. I’m going to do everything in my power to ensure they don’t find that he’s dead.”

“But she looks less guilty if she goes to them now,” Caroline points outs.

Sela’s eyes never leave mine. She never considers Caroline’s words, but I feel the need to clarify. “Baby…if they come after you, you still have the truth of what occurred. That will always be there.”

Caroline makes a frustrated noise but turns away from us, almost as if she’s giving us privacy. She knows she’s said her piece and she also knows that even though Sela has the truth of what happened on her side, the mere fact she didn’t report it right away will be held against her.

But I can’t risk it.

Sela has more motive for murder than anyone on this planet. She’ll be a district attorney’s wet dream as a murder suspect. Hell, until just weeks ago, Sela was planning to murder JT. Too many things could go wrong.

“The letter opener’s in my car,” Sela murmurs. “I wanted to get rid of it but didn’t know what to do.”

“I’ll handle that,” I tell her, my thumb stroking her cheek. I’m going to handle so much more than that, but she doesn’t need the details.

“Then I’ll do what you think’s best,” she says softly, her shoulders sagging as if she can’t handle one more burden.

I lean in, give her a soft kiss on her lips. Chaste. Reassuring.

She can count on me.

“Take your clothes off,” I instruct Sela as I stride over to the huge walk-in shower and turn the water on. She complies immediately and without any regard for Caroline, who now stands in the doorway, watching us both with a nervous bite to her lip.

I gather up the clothing…the gray hoodie that I have no clue where it came from, blood-soaked T-shirt that leaves her skin rusty brown when she peels it off from the sheer volume that leaked through and dried. Sela disrobes like a robot, eyes almost dead. I take each piece of clothing from her, balling them up tightly, and when she’s completely naked, I put my free hand on her lower back and gently urge her into the shower. She complies with no hesitation, stepping under the hot spray, and I try not to notice the immediate swirl of blood around the tile flooring as the water hits the remnants of JT that are left on her body.

Turning to Caroline, I lean in and whisper, “When she’s done, you get her dressed and into bed. Then you pour every bit of bleach I have in this condo down that drain, you hear me?”

Caroline’s eyes widen in fright, and because she was so adamantly against this, I think she’ll complain. Instead, she just nods her head, and I know that our course has been set, she’s on board with me and Sela. She may not agree with the way I’m handling things, but she’ll help to protect the secret we’re slowly creating, one lie at a time.

I walk out of the bathroom, acutely aware of Caroline following me. When I hit the hallway, she murmurs so Ally can’t hear us. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to JT’s house and I’m wiping that place down so there’s no trace of Sela. Then I’m going to make sure these clothes and the letter opener never are found.”

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