His to Protect - Stacey Lynn

Chapter 1

Trina

The air was crisp, the lingering stickiness of summer’s humidity changing into the first hints that fall was just around the corner. With one hand on Boomer’s leash, I tugged him along the sidewalk, pretending we were out for a late-night stroll through the cobblestone streets of Latham Hills.

I hadn’t intended to stop so close to Kentucky. Detroit was only a day’s drive from the home I’d fled just last week. But as soon as I arrived there, intent on heading to Canada and leaving my past behind, something about the little area on the north side of Detroit spoke to me.

It was old and beautiful, rich with a history I wanted to understand and explore, and that’s what so much of this journey was about for me.

Figuring out who I was and what I loved.

So even though I was close to crossing the border into a new country, I felt drawn to stay awhile.

Heal.

Wait for the bruises on my cheek to fade, and my ribs to cease aching when I moved too suddenly.

Then I’d move on to Canada, where, hopefully, Kevin wouldn’t be able to reach me.

“Come on, Boom.” I tugged on his leash again and led my boxer into the alley, where I’d been giving him food from the leftovers of restaurants for the last week. Leaving my old life with a small supply of cash forced me to stretch my budget in ways I never had before. Dog food wasn’t expensive in the grand scheme of things, but I only had a few hundred dollars left and I was trying to save every penny I could.

I’d make it up to Boomer with a bag of his favorite gourmet food as soon as we got settled somewhere. Besides, he didn’t seem to mind eating leftover burgers from the sports bar that we walked by on our first day.

I won’t lie. The delicious aromas that drifted into the air had called to me more than once, too. It’d been ages since I was “allowed” to sink my teeth into a juicy burger, but a good meal was just one more thing I couldn’t afford right now.

It had been gas station hot dogs and pizza slices for me, something else I hadn’t been allowed to eat before. Although now they were something I didn’t want to eat again.

With a cautious glance down the sidewalk, I ensured no one was watching before Boomer and I headed into the alley. There were lots of restaurants along this main stretch of road in Latham Hills, but few alleys where I could hide while I let Boomer nosh on grilled beef.

“Come on, pup,” I whispered, and gave another quick tug on the leash. He followed me eagerly, already licking his chops while his wild tail flopped back and forth.

My dog could understand basic commands; because of his size, I worked hard to train him properly. But even at six years old, he still acted like a puppy most days.

He began to whine with anticipation as I led him over to the dumpster, where I dropped his leash and told him to sit. He listened immediately, his tail thumping against the pavement, while I pulled myself up to the top of the dumpster.

Dumpster diving. If only my mother or Kevin could see me now. I almost snickered at the idea even as I was grunting.

My required Pilates and cardio routines had done little to build the muscle needed to lift the heavy metal lid.

With a final push, I used all my strength to shove the top open, cringing when the metal banged against the brick wall.

I dropped to my feet, waiting for any sign of life as the sound echoed in the dark, narrow alley.

Next to me, Boomer began to whine, his large, pink tongue drooping from his mouth.

“Hush,” I whispered, and gave him a quick, calming rub. “Just another minute, boy. Now, stay.”

His face rubbed against my thigh and I quickly pushed him away before I climbed back up on the dumpster and reached in for a bag of garbage.

Shame slithered through me as I grabbed the first black bag I could get my fingers on.

A week ago, I was coming home from a manicure appointment and running twenty minutes late for dinner, and I knew exactly what was in store for me.

Now, my chipped nails were clinging to plastic bags of garbage. I had no idea what the future held.

Even with the shame, this life felt better.

The bag slipped from my grip just