Never Give Up

Chapter One

Maya

Everything in my brain screams to keep my mouth shut before I utter words I can’t take back.

Brian Miller, the only man with the power to break me, wears the same expressionless mask he puts on when dealing with suspects.

That expression tells me everything.

It cracks my carefully built resolve.

My palms grow clammy and my fingers tremble against the table like I am drumming a tune without a name, yet I can’t look away from the man who holds my heart in his hand.

“Please, Maya.” Brian’s words betray the blank stare in his eyes, thick with emotion for a fraction of a second. “Don’t.”

I touch Brian’s arm, needing… Shit, I don’t know what I need, but I can’t let it end like this.

His “don’t” speaks volumes.

Don’t ruin this.

Don’t say something that can’t be taken back.

Don’t change the status quo.

But keeping everything to myself isn’t working. It’s slowly eating through my soul until even working with him is becoming almost unbearable.

And our friendship?

I need that to exist after I tell him.

No. That’s a lie. I need more than friendship. I need him to tell me how he feels. To confirm that it isn’t all in my head. But if he doesn’t, if I’ve built everything between us like a house of cards during a hurricane, then…

I swallow the rock in my throat and gather the tiny bit that’s left of my courage.

His shifting expression steals my last piece of confidence. His dim eyes break my thinning hope. The unspoken affection I’ve held on to in the dark night when I pretend—fantasize—I might mean as much to him as he means to me.

His blue eyes hold nothing but regret.

Tears sting and blur my vision, but I blink them back. Crying isn’t an option. “Brian—”

“If you say it, we can’t go back.” He cuts me off. “Right now, we can stay where we are. Where it’s safe.” Brian’s promise is almost worse than the rejection on his face. “But if you say the words, the ones swimming in your eyes, there’s nothing left. Don’t you want to keep it safe?”

I don’t want safe. I want—

“I want more.”

There.

I say them. Three little words that give him the power to destroy me, not that he even needs them.

“I can’t give you anything, Maya.” Brian brushes his fingers down my face, sliding a strand of my long hair out of the way as his eyes finally find mine. “I thought you knew that. That you understood… I’m not the one for you.”

We’ve never done anything but talk and share in the misery that’s torn apart both of our lives.

But he’s been the only one to see me.

“There can’t be anything between us, Maya.” His words cut through the fog overtaking my brain as his touch lingers.

Brian drops his hand and steps back, sealing the coffin on my hopes of a future between us.

“Why?”

“The boys are all I have left. All I can give my attention to.” He steps toward the door separating the kitchen from the rest of the Birch County Sheriff’s Department. “They’re my life.”

With that, the man of my dreams turns and walks away, taking my broken heart with him.

If I’d kept my mouth shut, the streaks of hot pain wouldn’t be slashing through me and making my heart ache all over again.

If I’d kept my mouth shut, he’d never have said those things. Never said we couldn’t go back.

If I’d just kept my mouth shut, I would be a coward.

I lost him. In all the ways that matter.

Just because I want him.

And I had to be stupid enough to tell him.

The tears burning my eyes, blurring my vision, and clogging my throat begin to fall moments after the patrol room door closes.

No.

I’m not about to sob and break because of a man.

Taking a deep and jagged breath to steady the emotions swirling through my body, I wipe my face and stand on suddenly shaky feet.

What the hell is wrong with me?

As the tears dry and I regain control of my emotions, I shake my head.

“Men suck.” My words echo through the empty room.

Poppy looks at me above the computer screens when I make my way back to the dispatch room, her curly red hair unkempt like always. “You told him, didn’t you?”

I nod and take my seat at my side of the computer station.

“You know he’s still in the building, right?” Poppy’s concern permeates the air. “I warned you. He’s a hot mess and you deserve better.”

Before I can speak, the patrol room door slams open, echoing as it hits the wall behind us, and the booming voice of the lieutenant on duty hits us as he storms in.

“What do you mean, you can’t find him?” He practically roars. “He’s driving a bright-yellow car! It can’t be that hard to find a drunk man driving that monstrosity.” The lieutenant’s face starts to turn red like a three-year-old having a temper tantrum, and there is only one deputy in the office for him to take it out on.

“Bill, he’s driving a cab. Of course he’s going to be able to get away. It’s the middle of tourist season and the roads are packed,” Brian says, following him through the office toward dispatch.

I know that placating tone. The one he’s used on suspects and calming his lieutenant’s bad attitude. The same one he used on me in the kitchen only a few minutes before.

It’s the same voice I dream about at night, being used in a completely different way.

Not that it matters.

Not anymore.

“Just tell dispatch to get Serenity Harbor PD on it.” With that, Bill slams his office door on the other side of the wall connecting dispatch to the rest of the sheriff’s department.

A few seconds of blissful quiet follow that, but I’m not calm. In fact, my heart starts to race because I know what’s coming. And I am abso-fucking-lutely not ready to see his face. The sound of footsteps grow even when I’m screaming in my head for him to leave. I don’t turn; I don’t do anything. I just stare at my blank computer screen and listen to him breathe right behind me for what feels like an eternity.

“Hey.” He finally breaks the awkward silence and clears his throat. “Did you call—”

“Yup,” Poppy cuts him off. “We heard him. But we also know how to do our jobs.” The sarcasm practically drips from her voice.

“Thanks. I’m headed out.” But he doesn’t move. And one minute turns into two, with him still standing there.

My cheeks start to burn with the realization that he is watching me, waiting for me to acknowledge him.

“Ten-four, see you later.” Poppy’s vibrant cheer is strong enough to scare anyone.

He sighs behind me, muttering something under his breath as he leaves.

Me? I just sit there, finally able to catch a full breath because I didn’t have to relive the worst humiliation of my life like I was a freshman in high school all over again.

“Come on, Maya. You can get over this. Over him.”

I find a smile even though all I want to do is lay my head down on the table and cry. “Over what? He’s just a… friend. I don’t even really want him.”

Poppy’s brows rise, calling me on the lie.

“Hiya, Maya? Crazy lady trying to lie to me here? It’s me. We both know he’s the only one you talk to besides me.” Poppy’s famous Irish attitude rears its head, and it’s only a matter of time before she explodes and throws a pen at me or something. “So don’t lie to me about it being a crush or you not really wanting him.”

“Bill’s still in the office. I don’t want to talk about this.” Heat continues burning my cheeks and I stare at my keyboard.

“Just… You deserve more, Maya. And one day very soon, like our next off-shift, we’re getting drinks and we’re going to vent about this shit.”

I can’t say anything to Poppy, even if I did know what to say to her, because our emergency phone line blares to life with an ear-splitting ring. For the next few hours, we are beyond busy taking medical calls, logging traffic stops by deputies, and handling everything else that comes up. I don’t even have a chance to go to the bathroom, let alone think about the fact that I lost my best male friend and the only man I wanted to be with in one fell swoop.

Still, when the lines go quiet, all I can do is think, what if I kept my mouth shut?

Before I can get very deep in my thoughts, the emergency phone rings again.

“9-1-1, what is the address of the emergency?” My brain flips to professional mode as I handle the call.

The hours tick by slowly, until our relief shows up just before shift change.

“Come on, girl, hurry up before the sun gets us.” Poppy’s already up and walking out the door before I can sign out of my computer. “You walking home again?”

With a nod, I wave her off and start the short journey home with nothing but the thoughts I’d been trying to ignore all night as my company.

Brian smiling at me while I trained on codes and call types.

Our late-night conversations about his boys and the life he wanted for them.

The friendship and advice we passed back and forth about failed relationships and what we wanted in the future.

My heart and mind play a cruel game with me, making it impossible to think of anything else while the minutes slip by.

I take my time walking the mile to my house, enjoying the brisk air and the chance to clear my mind. Living so close to work makes it easy to save gas money in the summer, and I love the quiet that comes with the time alone.

As our driveway looms ahead of me, something isn’t right. Stopping in my tracks, I stare at the closed door and the open window to its side, clearly showing the couch through the glass.

The living room light is on.

Brandi, my roommate, doesn’t just leave the light on. She’s obsessed with making sure that no one can see into our windows at night while we’re sleeping.

Slowly, I make my way inside, suspicion clouding my mind and making every horror movie I’d ever seen start to play through my mind at the same time. Until I see the bright-pink piece of paper stuck to our fridge.

Out for the night.

Don’t forget to turn off the light.

-B

Why she couldn’t have sent a text was beyond me, but there it is, written on the fridge.

“Thanks for the heart attack.” I roll my eyes and smile at the panic attack I’d almost given myself.

Like an older sister, Brandi watches my back, making sure that I get taken care of when I’m too lazy or tired to take care of myself.

Exhaustion and the need for sleep propel me up the stairs toward my bedroom. But at the top of the landing, I go completely still.

My bedroom.

The door is open.

I always close it because of Brandi’s cat, and Brandi never goes into my room.

The suspicion returns tenfold, slamming through my body until every single one of my nerve endings feel like they’re on fire.

The light above my head burns brighter.

The smell of the air freshener fills my lungs.

I hear every rasping breath my body inhales, like a choking sob that can’t escape.

And I feel the goosebumps creep along my skin, making the little hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

The house creaks.

The house, or a footstep?

My heart hammers as I stay still, listening as cold panic whispers inside me, demanding action.

I’m not alone.

Run.