Tymber Dalton

Safe Harbor


This one’s for Steph. She knows why.


For any reader who’s curious about them, Ray, Oot, and kitten also make an appearance in Love Slave for Two: Beginnings.

Chapter One

Someone—she couldn’t remember who—once told Clarisse Moore how lucky she was to have Bryan Jackson as her boyfriend.

If they could see me now.

Clarisse huddled deeper in her seat in the bus station lobby, her legs curled under her to keep her feet warm. The denim jacket she wore over her hooded sweatshirt proved no match for the cold Ohio January breeze that flooded the depot every time the door opened.

Which at this time on an early Tuesday morning seemed remarkably frequent and made her even more nervous.

The bus wasn’t due in for another twenty minutes. Clarisse couldn’t help but scan the parking lot for Bryan’s car. No way he’d let her leave without a fight.


If not for his fists, she could deal with the rest of it. Mrs. Moore didn’t raise her daughter to be a punching bag. The first time, he got a freebie because she was too scared to report him. That time, he apologized and reined in his anger for a few months, until he gradually returned to his old, angry ways. Over the past few months, his rages had increased until he snapped yesterday morning.

He wouldn’t get a third chance.

By now, Bryan had already found all her things gone. She’d stashed her stuff in a storage space on the west side of Zanesville.

Raquel would care for Bart, her dog, until she got settled and came back for him and her belongings.

Clarisse figured Bryan would be angriest about the bank account.

At least she’d left him a hundred bucks—more generous than she should be, considering how he’d blown through her inheritance. She’d ended up with ten grand out of the original hundred thousand, nine of which she’d already deposited in a new bank account. She had a thousand in cash on her.

She couldn’t risk using credit cards.

Raquel had begged and pleaded for Clarisse to file charges this time. Reluctantly, she did.

He had beaten the crap out of her Monday morning. They didn’t arrest him because there were no witnesses or proof he did it beyond her word against his. He claimed his innocence. The police opened a case file and took her statement. She got an emergency restraining order against him, and the department put him on paid administrative leave.

Against her, the fact that Bryan’s father was best friends with the chief of police—Bryan’s boss. Late that afternoon, an unidentified man called her cell phone and threatened her unless she dropped the charges. She refused. Clarisse had been sitting on Raquel’s couch when the call came in. After she hung up, she smashed the phone with her foot. It was in Bryan’s name. Why the hell would she want it when he could probably track her with it?

Then she found “FAT FUCKING BITCH” deeply keyed into her car door when she returned to the house later that evening. She’d only been inside ten minutes. Clarisse had stopped by to drop off the car and take one last look around for anything she couldn’t bear to leave.

Raquel had been following only minutes behind her. Clarisse raced inside the house, then out the back door and through a small patch of woods in case anyone had been watching the street.

Yes, she felt that paranoid. Justifiably so.

He’d registered the car in his name, even though her inheritance had paid for it—let him get it repainted. Served him right. She also didn’t want him following through with his threat to report the car stolen if she ever left with it. She didn’t know if he really could do that or not, but she wouldn’t risk it.

It was easiest this way. New start, new life. No more being screamed at for not folding his shirts just right. No more merciless harassment about her size sixteen frame.

That had been his favorite target lately, the one thing she’d not been able to immediately rectify about herself to curb his anger. Her hips would always be round, her thighs would always be full, and she would always be a little broad across the beam. At five-six she wasn’t obese, just amply rounded and curvy, but still no match for Bryan’s hulking two-hundred-plus pounds of muscle once he unleashed on her for talking back to him and telling him to fuck off.

As Raquel had said, he’d bitch no matter what, so the fewer reasons she gave him, the more he had to invent. Then their argument gave him a prime reason, so he claimed.

Still, she knew she had to get away fast. The restraining order would only protect her for a little while. He’d always teased that he could kill her and no one would know it, that his dad would get him out of trouble, that she could never outrun him or find a place to hide where he couldn’t find her. Maybe he’d be in jail by the time she came back for Bart and her stuff.

She patted the key ring in her jeans pocket, the keys she’d frantically searched for and finally found buried in a small box full of mementos. A cherished memory of an old, nearly forgotten life. Three keys, hopefully ones leading to her freedom.

The bus pulled in. She hefted her bags and painfully made her way outside. After the driver stowed her luggage, Clarisse boarded.

Relieved, she sank into her seat and tried to relax.

Clarisse always thought of herself as relatively smart, which made it even more inexplicable to her that she fell for someone as controlling, manipulative, and dangerous as Bryan Jackson.

* * *

By the time the bus pulled into a station in southern Ohio, Clarisse was ready to jump off to use a real bathroom. When the driver assured her that she had time, Clarisse raced inside. With relief, she finished and washed her hands.

She flinched when she caught sight of her reflection in the mirror.

The shiner looked horrible, the eye still nearly swollen shut, both her blue eyes red from crying. Thank God he hadn’t broken her nose. The split upper lip hurt like hell. She knew without looking that the black-and-blue bruises over her kidneys would take time to fade—as would the marks on her thighs and chest where he kicked her when she curled into a ball on the floor.

She pulled her baseball cap lower on her head and didn’t bother threading her long, black hair through the back. She could keep her head down. Her hair hid the worst of her wounds from others.

Back on the bus, she settled in her still-warm seat. Fortunately, no seat mate. She pulled the hood of the sweatshirt she wore under her jacket over her head, over the baseball cap, and stared out the window as the bus rolled south throughout the morning.

Her last look at the Midwest. No more brutal winters. She’d miss Bart like crazy until she could get him, but getting out fast was her priority.

Getting out alive.

She’d thought about flying. Bryan might have called the airport, so she didn’t. She didn’t know how that worked, only that he had threatened he could track her no matter what and prevent her escape in anything other than a body bag. He knew that she despised taking the bus. She’d sworn she’d never ride one again after a less-than-stellar cross-country trip with two of her friends after high school.

Maybe it would stall him. He might be a cop, hopefully soon to be ex-cop, and yes, he worked in the computer division, but he wasn’t a freaking psychic. Armed with her mom’s old driver’s license, using her name and paying cash for the ticket might slow Bryan a little more. Thank goodness she’d held on to that. She’d found it in the box with the set of keys.

Clarisse tried not to think about her mom and dad. It hurt too much. She left knowing that unless Bryan went to jail, she couldn’t risk visiting their graves one last time.

Despite her exhaustion, she couldn’t sleep. Instead, she watched the miles and country flow past the window as the day rolled into evening and the bus drew closer to Columbia, Virginia.

She spent the six-hour layover for the bus to Myrtle Beach counting the number of snack packages in one of the vending machines.

Blessed numbness had settled in. Emotional detachment.


At least it marginally overrode her pain.

Then she realized she couldn’t sleep. Every time a car pulled alongside the bus and stayed there for any length of time, she nervously waited to see if Bryan or one of his buddies was driving.

By the time the bus reached Myrtle Beach, Clarisse’s exhaustion had carried her into the realm of jittery, paranoid anxiety. The term

“sleep-deprivation psychosis” swam through her mind as she stood waiting her turn at the ticket counter with her bags at her feet and her mom’s driver’s license in her hand. The black eye and split lip proved an asset at this point. She resembled her mom closely enough that the ticket clerks didn’t question her.

She patted her pocket to ensure the keys were still there.

They were.

That had quickly become a nervous, calming habit. She didn’t dare take them out of her pocket for fear of dropping and losing them.

Stupid to think they’d even work, but it was her only chance.

At least she’d had the sense not to buy her entire trip at once. She didn’t want Bryan waiting for her at her destination. Yes, he could track her if he got that far, but hopefully he’d be running around Rapid City looking for her.