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Charisse took another step back up the staircase. Did Conor know Josh was here in his house? Of course he knew, but surely he didn’t know this was her Josh.
“You can’t be here,” she said. She hated how her voice shook. She’d planned on being confident if she saw Josh again. But she’d expected him to show up at her salon or even her apartment. Not here. Not now.
“I have an invitation that says otherwise.” He grinned, but his eyes were cold. The volume of his voice dropped. “Don’t ruin this for me, Charisse. I’ve completely changed. Becca knows we had a bad breakup but nothing else. She’s so sweet. She even tried to arrange your absence from the party so I wouldn’t have to recall all the bad times with you. But I guess that didn’t work out.”
Charisse gripped the banister to keep herself standing up. “If you knew I was going to be here, you had to know Conor is my boyfriend. He’s going to throw you out when he realizes who you are.” She glanced towards the patio. When she didn’t see Conor, she took another step back.
Josh advanced toward her up the stairs. His expression hardened like it always had right before he hit her. “It was a risk, but Becca has your new boyfriend on a short leash. He won’t make a scene for fear Becca will tell everyone that he murdered his wife.”
Charisse forced herself to stand her ground. “Conor didn’t kill his wife.”
Josh stood on the step below her, staring straight into her eyes. Her whole body shook with fear that he’d touch her. The therapist had told her repeatedly not to allow him to have any power over her.
Josh said, “I don’t care if he killed his wife or not. He cares what people think, and you care what people think, which is why you’re going to march right back up to your room and play sick until the party’s over.”
She couldn’t go back to her room. He might follow her, and then she’d be alone with him. As long as she stayed on the steps in view of the crowd, she’d be safe. She said, “But when the party’s over, I’ll tell Conor who you are. As much as he and Becca don’t get along, he’s not going to let her marry an abuser.”
The word was like a small bomb going off between the two of them. He grabbed her arm and dug his nails into her skin so hard she knew he drew blood.
“I’m not an abuser.” He whispered, but every word had an edge. “You made me do those things to you. You’re such a whore. I’ve never hit her, and I never will. She’ll never believe I hit you, especially coming from the man who killed her sister.”
Tears streamed down her eyes. But she didn’t make a sound, just like always.
“Miss LaRouche, do you need help?”
Josh turned his head to look back.
Charisse gaped at the security guard standing at the door, watching. Something about his concern broke through to Charisse. She didn’t need to take Josh’s abuse. She didn’t need to be silent. She didn’t need help. For once she was going to help herself.
She slammed the heel of her shoe into Josh’s foot and followed it up with a knee to the groin. When he doubled over, she pushed him back, making him fall to the bottom of the stairs.
The crowd in the living room gasped. Over it she heard Conor yell, “Charisse!”
Becca shouted, “Josh!”
Charisse stared at Josh moaning on the ground with his hands over his crotch. The security guard who’d spoken to Charisse tried to haul him to his feet.
Conor stormed through the parting crowd, crimson with rage. “You’re Josh.” He spat out the next words like he couldn’t finish a sentence. “Floor trader. Douchey haircut. I can’t believe I didn’t realize it was you.” He strode to Josh and punched him in the face. “I can’t fucking believe you’re in my house.”
Conor pulled his fist back to punch him again, but the other security guard grabbed him. “You don’t want to dirty yourself with him, Mr. Grishin” said the guard. “Let us deal with it.”
Conor broke the security guard’s grip and punched Josh one more time with Becca screaming at him to stop.
Conor backed off and said, “Get him out of here.” He turned and ran to Charisse. “God, I’m sorry. I had no idea that was Josh. I would never have agreed to this party.”
Charisse was numb. He enveloped her in his arms. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t talk.
“Are you crazy?” screeched Becca.
“I’ll get everyone out of here,” said Conor, ignoring Becca. “Why don’t you go back to your room.”
The words broke through her numbness. She wrapped her arms around Conor. “I don’t want to go to my room.”
He pulled away, “What’s this?” He had drops of blood on his hand and some smeared on his shirt.
She lifted her arm up and saw blood running down her arm from where Josh’s fingernails had torn her skin.
“Why are you bleeding?” asked Becca.
Charisse was vaguely surprised that Becca hadn’t run out to be with Josh. She kept staring at her arm instead of looking at Becca and said, “Josh. I got off easy this time. I think it was because I didn’t let him push me up to the bedroom.” Her voice broke at the end, and her chest shook with sobs.
“You did great my love,” said Conor, holding her again. “You nailed the bastard right in the balls.” He lifted his head from on top of hers. “Raul, get everyone out of the house, and get a first aid kit for Charisse.”
“What do you mean you got off easy?” said Becca, standing right next to them.
Charisse didn’t want to talk to her. Fortunately Conor said, “He used to abuse her. I assumed you knew that since you didn’t want her at the party. Get the hell out of here.”
Charisse watched Becca pale. She backed up, shaking her head. “You’re lying. He wouldn’t do that.”
Finally Charisse made herself speak. “I didn’t cut my arm myself.”
Raul took Becca by the arm and walked her out the door.
Charisse said in a shaky voice, “Did I really shove him down the stairs?”
Conor held her head to his chest and said, “Yes, and it was fantastic.”