I was silent, and it only took me a moment to recognize the sounds of the ocean. I sighed as the rhythmic noise of the waves hitting the shore lulled me into a more relaxed state.
Finally, Jett’s voice broke the silence. “The sound of the ocean helps me remember that there are some things so much bigger and more powerful in life than my problems.”
“It’s amazing,” I answered.
“Worth a little extra energy?” he asked with humor in his deep baritone.
I smiled. “Sometimes keeping your sanity is probably worth any price.”
Honestly, I’d never had the luxury of experiencing the sense of calm I had right now. My life had always been about survival. There was no room for anything else except living through another day.
“I feel like Cinderella right now,” I admitted. “None of this would be happening if it wasn’t for you. And I’m still not quite sure how to deal with it.”
“You don’t have to do anything to handle it, Cinderella. Just let it be. You should have a home, and you should be able to feel safe. This country is supposed to be considered the land of opportunity, but sometimes circumstances screw you.”
“Before my parents died, I wanted so many things. I dreamed about having my own catering business, and I’d fantasize about the day I could actually be…free.”
My hopes for the future were the only thing that had gotten me through the bad times before I’d become an adult.
“Were you happy as a kid, Ruby?” he asked. “When your parents were alive, did you have a good life?”
I hesitated for a moment, but I finally answered, “I was happy with my mom and dad. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my dad could always find a way to make things fun. And I knew that they loved me.”
“All those things you wanted should have happened for you, Ruby,” Jett said gruffly. “You got fucked over by life.”
“I’m scared,” I murmured, less afraid of expressing my fears to Jett in the darkness. “I don’t understand why you’re helping me, and I’m afraid it will all come to an end.”
“You don’t trust me yet,” Jett said flatly. “But trust takes time, especially after all the things that happened to you.”
“I’m a stranger to you, Jett.”
“Not anymore,” he grumbled. “And you’ll eventually learn that I’m not going anywhere.”
“Do you trust me?” I asked hesitantly.
“Yes,” he said immediately.
“Because you haven’t given me any reason not to trust you.”
In truth, Jett had never given me any reason not to trust him, either. “I’m sorry. I should have more faith in people, I guess.”
“Bullshit. You’ve never had a reason to trust anybody since your parents died. Our life experiences are different, Ruby. Other than my accident, I’ve led a pretty charmed life. You’ve never had that experience.”
I let his words sink in. Our perspectives were incredibly different. “So you trust everybody until they give you a reason not to?”
He chuckled. “Hell, no. I’m a businessman. If I trusted everybody, they’d screw me over. But sometimes you know in your gut who to trust and who not to trust. I went with gut instinct with you, Cinderella.”
“I’m not always a good person, Jett,” I confessed. “Sometimes I was actually so hungry that I stole food. But I never stole money or other things. But when you’re hungry—”
“Don’t, Ruby,” he warned in a dangerous tone. “Don’t justify trying to survive.”
“I’m not,” I answered. “I guess I just want you to know everything bad about me. Since you trust me, you deserve to know.”
“You never have to explain yourself to me.”
“Maybe I want to talk about it.”
“Then go ahead,” he said unhappily.
I took a deep breath before I said, “When I was really hungry, I considered selling my body for money or food.”
“Why didn’t you?” he asked roughly.
“Because I decided I’d rather die than to let somebody use my body. I couldn’t stand to just lay there and let somebody touch me just to get off. And what if they ended up violent like my uncle?”