CHAPTER ONE

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    "You don't believe me?" His voice is hoarse, something that happens typically after he's been smoking and drinking. His voice is laced with threat, challenge.

    "No. I don't. Why should I believe you? All you've done is lie since he was born." I hear his palm make contact with her cheek and I automatically wince, knowing from experience the sting that results from such a slap.

    At my side, I hold on tight to Max's hand, whispering for her to stay quiet and that it will all be okay soon. When I hear heavy footfall become louder as it approaches, I hurriedly whisper to Max to act like she's asleep. The door opens and I can see the light flood in even through my eyelids that are shut tight. Terrified, I try my best to remain still.

    Until the covers are ripped off of me.

    I wake with a start, immediately feeling the sweat beads on my forehead. My breathing is erratic as I attempt to pull myself together.

    It was only a dream, Ian.

    But it wasn't.

    After telling myself to shut up, I force myself to get out of bed. Careful as to not wake the sleeping blonde who was laying next to me. I walk myself to the kitchen, keeping all the lights off, a habit I had instilled in myself as a child. Opening the cupboard, I pull out a glass and place it under the water dispenser, pushing the button on the refrigerator door as the sound of the stream of water hitting the glass fills the room. When I turn around, I jump slightly at the small shadow in front me.

    My heart eases as the light switch is turned on and reveals a 10 year old girl, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "Ian?"

    I walk over to the girl, a small smile etched on my features. "Go back to sleep, Max. We have to be at the airport in a few hours."

    "Can I sleep with you and Clara? I'm having nightmares again." My heart melts and I immediately nod.

    Please never grow up, Max.

    "Of course. Just give me one second." When she nods in return, I chug down the glass of water I had poured and place the glass in the empty sink. When I approach the girl again, I'm in automatic mode as I scoop her off of her feet and into my arms. I feel her tired body relax and I take her into the room where I had left the sleeping blonde. She lays down under the covers in the middle of the bed and I slide in on the side.

Just as fast as I've fallen asleep, I'm waken up again by my alarm. Time to get up and start moving, Ian.

But do I have to.

Yes, you have to do final packing for you and Sam.

I internally groan as I sit up, shutting off my phone alarm. I look over to assess the damage of my loud ass alarm to find it minimal. Clara stirs in her sleep, slowly coming to, but Max doesn't move at all, sound asleep. I triumphantly smile as I get up, walking around the bed to my girlfriend who was just waking up. I bend down, placing a small kiss on her lips.

"Good morning, baby." I shoot her a smile, knowing how much she loves to be woken up with a kiss.

"Good morning." She gives me her breathtaking smile, but her eyes are still tired. I move to start my morning routine but before I can walk away, she grabs my hand. "Do you have to go today?" Her voice holds a whine that I hear every morning she doesn't want to get out of bed. It's her fake whine, when she knows she won't get her way but tries anyway.

"Unfortunately, I do. But I'll be back before you know it."

"I just hate that you're going without me. What if some Miami baddie tries to steal you away?" I chuckle lightly and kiss her forehead.

"As if," is all I say before I walk away, going into the bathroom to brush my teeth. After going through my routine of showering and doing my hair, I go back into my room to finish packing up the last minute things like my tooth brush and deodorant. Max isn't in bed anymore so I assume she's in the kitchen with Clara making breakfast. I make sure to grab my case file off the nightstand before putting my suitcase by the door. I set the case file down  on the counter, walking over the the blonde cooking bacon at my stove. Snaking my arms around her waist, I kiss the exposed skin on her shoulder. She smiles.

"It smells amazing."

"It's the least I could do considering I'm ditching you on this trip," she says.

"Clara, it's not your fault that your boss is jerk. Plus, I'm fine. I think I can handle my work trip without you. Plus, I'll have Max with me. She'll keep me out of trouble."

"Ian, she's 10."

"Have you seen the sassiness that girl has? Trust me, she'll keep me in check."

"She loves you too much to scorn you." When she says this, I roll my eyes and walk to the fridge, grabbing an apple out of the inside drawer. Max comes out of her room, her suitcase rolling behind her. She push it to its place right beside mine and smiles up at me.

"Have you ever been to Miami, Ian?" She asks me and I hop up onto the counter. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Clara shoot me a glare so I immediately hop off of the counter. She hates it when I sit on the counter, especially after she's probably just wiped it down.

"Yeah. I have actually," I answer truthfully. Clara looks over at me, surprised.

"You have?"

With Amanda.

I nod before I answer. "I went there for summer camp before my junior year." Lies.

Satisfied with my answer, Clara goes back to cooking.

After we eat, Clara gets ready for work while I do some last minute things. I help Max make sure she has everything and although she seemed ready, she of course forgot her toothbrush and her hairbrush.

As usual, I tease her with my big brother ways. "You plan on looking like a hobo in Miami?" She laughs and snatches her pink hairbrush out of my hand.

"No, I just wanted to give you a chance to look better than me for once," she says as she sticks her tongue out at me. Without hesitation, I reach down, picking her up and throwing her on the bed. She starts to laugh.

"What's so funny?" I question as I begin to tickle her. Her body contorts all over the place as she starts to laugh even harder.

"Yo-your fa-ace," she says in between laughs which makes me start to tickle her harder. After about 10 more seconds of torture, she throws her hands up. "Okay, truce! Truce!"

I stop, smiling maniacally down at her. "Never question my role as the better looking sibling." She immediately frowns.

"I happen to think you are both exceptionally adorable." I hear behind me and turn around to see my blue eyed girlfriend. She's in her flight attendant uniform, her hair slicked back into a high ponytail. "You guys ready to go?"

"Yes. Thanks for taking us by the way." She smiles as I walk to her, placing my hands on her waist.

"Of course. My first flight isn't until 10 anyway." I nod and turn around to wave on Max. She gets up off her bed and walks ahead of Clara and I. Behind the girls, I turn off Max's bedroom light and shut her door. I go around the apartment, making sure all the lights are off before I meet them at the door and grab my suitcase. After I set the alarm, we are out and head downstairs. At the car, I curse to myself, realizing that I left my case file on the kitchen counter.

    "Hold on, hun, I forgot my file." I hear her sigh behind me as I jog back to the apartment building and up the stairs. When I unlock the door, the alarm screams in my ears. I turn it off, grab my file from the counter and reset it. I lock the door, heading back downstairs to the girls.

    Miami here we come.

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