“You’re a whore!”
Drew’s insults shouldn’t hurt anymore. It shouldn’t stab at my chest like a dagger, and it definitely shouldn’t make my eyes burn with unshed tears, and yet-
“You made me look like an idiot in front of my peers.”
I could hear my heart beat in my chest as I watched Drew jerk the steering wheel of his slick sports car, throwing us into the lane of oncoming traffic. On any other night, I would have embraced death.
“Everyone is laughing behind my back because my wife can’t keep her hands off my partner-”
I closed my eyes while Drew continued to spew untruths.
“Drew,” I said calmly even though my insides were twisting and turning. “I’m not having an affair with Officer Brooks. His mother died last week, and I offered him comfort in the form of a hug.” A brief, one-second, hug.
“Right, and I suppose you think I’m stupid enough to believe you?”
There was no arguing with this man. That was why I kept my mouth shut. Peeking at the angry stranger behind the steering wheel, I felt the knot in my heart twist and twist. I’d loved him once. But that love had turned into fear soon after our fairytale wedding. And now, fear had made way for hate.
How sad. I hated my husband. Hated him for treating me like dirt. Actions he justified because when he’d met me, I’d been on the wrong the side of the law and he was the law.
There’s more to live for now. I reminded myself as I turned my gaze to the darkness outside.
“You have a minute to get your ass out of this car and into the house.” Drew’s voice reverberated in the small cab of the now motionless vehicle. I’d been so busy with my musings that I hadn’t noticed we were home.
Climbing out of the car, I took in our fancy two-story, brick mansion. What a joke. The outside looked so perfect with its white picket fence, and exquisite landscape, but the people inside were anything but perfect. I guess all of it was needed to keep up the illusion that we were a happily married couple.
Heavy feet carried me into the house, every step cementing my decision. A conclusion I hadn’t reached in haste. The door slammed shut behind me and, instantly angry hands grabbed my hair and yanked my head back.
Sharp pains shot through my scalp, but I refused to make a sound. Drew loved it when I whimpered and cried—it just fueled his rage.
“You think I’m stupid, Sarah?” The warmth of his breath against my skin revolted me. What had once made my skin prickle with anticipation, now made my stomach churn with disgust.
“Answer me!” With one hard shove, I tumbled to the ground. On instinct my hands went to cover my stomach—Drew had taken so much from me already. He wasn’t taking this.
“I don’t know what you want me to say, Drew. I’m not sleeping with Officer Brooks.” On my knees, I glanced over my shoulder, taking in the man I’d once loved. He was good looking by anyone’s standards. Blonde hair, crisp blue eyes, and a heart-achingly beautiful smile.
It was that smile that had made me feel safe the day he’d arrested me for trespassing.
It was that smile that had stolen my heart when he’d visited me at the shelter.
It was that same smile that hid his true personality–the monster that only I got to see, unfortunately.
“Right-” Drew’s fingers clamped around my upper arm as he pulled me to my feet. I held my breath, waiting for the impact of his palm against my cheek.
It never came.
Instead, Drew hauled me to the dining room. Rearranging two chairs to face each other, he pushed me into one and then sat down as well.
“Have it your way then, my dear Sarah.” Each word dripped with acid. And whatever he had in store for me tonight, sent my heart on a terrifying gallop. Over the years I’d learned to handle it when Drew got physical, as much as it hurt, I still managed to go to another place.
But when he played games, fear gripped my chest and crippled me.
Drew reached behind him and soon a gun came into view—not his service weapon, this one was unregistered. He emptied the cylinder of all its bullets except one. With a grin of pure evil on his face and nothing but malice in his eyes, he stared at me as his fingers spun the rounded metal again and again.
The loud click of the cylinder snapping into place had my entire body jerking. With my palm pressed tightly against my belly, I prayed that this was not how I was going to die. For the first time in my life, I had something to live for. Someone to live for.
“Let’s try this again,” Drew’s voice was hard, and his face pulled into an excited expression. With a steady hand, he raised the revolver and aimed it at my head. “How long have you been screwing Brooks?”
“I’m not sleeping—”
My heart stopped and then kicked in again at an alarming pace.
“How long, Sarah?”
“Drew, please don’t do this.”
His head cocked to the side and then...
“You’d better start answering truthfully,” Drew sneered. With both his feet planted firmly on the ground he leaned closer, pressing the cold metal of the muzzle against my skin.
I tried to swallow down the fear that was lodged in my throat.
Somehow I had to defuse the situation—two lives depended on it. Drawing strength from somewhere deep inside, I brought my hand up and placed it over Drew’s cold one. The steadiness in my voice shocked me.
“Drew, why would I look at another man when I have you? I’m nothing without you; I haven’t forgotten that. No one can give me what you can.”
For a tense moment, he just stared at me, his eyes gleaming, his lips twitching. A self-assured smirk broke free while Drew lowered the weapon and suddenly grabbed me by the hair and pulled my face to his.
“Damn straight. You were nothing when I met you, and I can put you back on the streets so fast it will make your head spin.” The way his hungry gaze raked over me made me sick to the pit of my stomach. “Now, be a good wife and get your husband something to drink before you fulfill your wifely duties.”
I scurried out of there as fast as I could manage. Drew had beaten me many times before, but he’d never, not once, pressed a gun against my head. My whole body was trembling when I walked into the kitchen.
After pouring his drink, I reached inside my bra and pulled out the little bag I’d been carrying with me the whole day. I’d hidden it there because I didn’t know what he’d do to me if he found it. With one last look over my shoulder, I emptied the contents into the tumbler and stirred furiously.
This had to work.
“Took you long enough,” Drew barked when I entered the dining room again.
“Sorry,” I mumbled as I handed him the drink. With my breath caught in my throat, I watched him swallow down the liquid.
“I’m going to go freshen up.” I was out of there so fast; he didn’t even have time to stop me.
Instead of freshening up, I went straight to the safe in Drew’s closet and emptied it. With my heart beating uncontrollably, I pulled the small backpack which I’d stashed there that morning, from beneath the bed and clutched it to my chest.
“Sharraah!” My name was nothing but a slur. Cold terror held me in a vice grip as I listened to Drew’s heavy footfalls drawing closer. “Sharrrraaaahhh!”
“No, no, no,” I chanted over and over again. Drew should’ve been out cold by now; I’d given him enough sleeping pills. I could hear him edging closer and closer, and then.
I listened and heard nothing. Still clutching the backpack in a white-knuckled grip, I dared to venture out of the bedroom.
Drew was flat on his face in the middle of the floor. Cautiously, I pointed my toes inside my sneakers and poked his head.
Tears of relief spilled from my eyes, and without hesitation, I sprinted to the front door and pulled it open.
Six years later.
With my shoulder propped against the wall, I had the perfect view of the woman who’d been plaguing my every fantasy for the past seven months.
A woman as closed off as she was beautiful. She’d been living next to me for seven months, and the most I’d gotten out of her was the odd ‘hello’ or ‘have a nice day.”’ Now I know at six foot four, and with ink covering nearly all of my skin, most people found me intimidating. But Harper practically ran in the other direction whenever she spotted me.
“Close your mouth, man! You’re drooling.”
At the sound of Brett’s mocking tone, I gritted my teeth. We’re not blood-related, but I considered the man a brother. Kindred spirits, each fighting our own demons.
Without turning to acknowledge my friend, I muttered a “Piss off” under my breath.
“Ya know, you’re starting to look like a creeper, always staring at her like that.”
With Harper still in my sight, I brought my beer to my lips and guzzled the yeasty brew. I swiped my palm over my beard and turned to give Brett my best shit-eating grin, “I’m not staring. Simply observing her excellent dog washing skills.”
“You’re observing what?” At the sound of my younger brother’s voice, I let out a groan. Ever since Chase had found out about my little thing for Harper, he’d been teasing me to no end. And it was getting old, fast.
I turned my gaze back to Harper just in time to see her laugh while an oversized Labrador was furiously shaking its wet fur. With both her arms stretched out in front of her, she threw her head back, her mouth wide open with laughter.
Damn, she was beautiful.
“He’s ogling your employee again.” I heard Brett tell Chase, who’s the town veterinarian and also Harper’s boss. She’d been in town all of three days when my brother had turned on the charm and convinced her to work for him at the animal shelter.
She turned out to be quite an asset to Chase. This event–washing the town folk’s pets to raise money for the shelter–had been one of her ideas. Last month she’d arranged a bake sale and the month before that the employees of the shelter held a car wash.
And, yes, I’d been first in line with my truck.
“When are you going to grow a pair and actually talk to her?” Chase’s voice sounded from beside me.
“Kinda difficult to do when she avoids me like the plague.”
“Maybe she’s afraid your appearance is going to give the kid nightmares.” And that was my brother’s favorite dig. Yeah, so maybe I was not as clean-cut as my brothers were. I had a beard, unruly hair, colorful tats, and an even more colorful past, but that didn’t make me a bad person though.
And, my appearance definitely did not give little Flynn nightmares. I’d caught the boy on more than one occasion peeking through the fence while I was working on my bike. Unlike his momma, Flynn had a mop of winter-white hair and the biggest, brightest blue eyes.
“Don’t you have puppies to wash or something?” My annoyance only grew when both Brett and Chase chuckled. With a huff, I pushed off the wall and flipped them the bird over my shoulder. Scanning the large patch of greenery that stretched over the park, I searched until I found the stall I was looking for.
“Let me guess,” Lizzy said with a warm smile the moment I stopped in front of her table. “You’re looking for a big slice of pecan pie.”
This was what I both loved and hated about our small town. Everyone always knew everyone’s business. Still, I flashed her my teeth in a broad smile, “The biggest you got.”
Shaking her head, Lizzy pulled the pie closer and sectioned about a quarter of the treat for me. While she was busy, I studied her. She was beautiful. Tall and lean, with a thick auburn braid hanging over her shoulder. And yet, she didn’t stir anything in me. No, the only woman capable of crossing my wires also happened to be the only one who wouldn’t give me the time of day.
Female company was never in short supply. In spite of what most of my family thought about me that wasn’t how I rolled. Leading a woman on when you couldn’t offer her anything more than a tumble between the sheets didn’t sit right with me. Whenever I took a woman to my bed—which wasn’t that often—I always made sure they knew exactly what they were signing up for.
Unfortunately, a long night filled with hot no-strings-attached-sex didn’t appeal to me anymore. Unless said hot sex was with the dark-haired beauty living next to me. Yeah, that wasn’t happening anytime soon. With a quick thanks, I grabbed my pie and turned to stroll toward one of the benches.
I’d made it all of three steps when a whirlwind slammed into me from behind.
“Argh…Oh, come on!”
I knew that voice.
Spinning on my heels, I found the lovely Harper flat on her ass being drenched in doggy kisses. Her petite frame made the loveable Rottweiler look like a mauling giant. I eyed my pie and then the dog who wasn’t giving Harper any room to get off her butt. With a sigh I tossed the pie into the nearest bin and then grabbed the over-excited pup in a bear hug, lifting him off Harper with ease.
“Why don’t we give the lovely lady some breathing room, mmm?”
The overjoyed dog wagged its tail furiously, the thick fur thumping against my denim-clad leg.
I turned my attention to Harper, still sitting on the grass. Her rich, dark hair—that reminded me of my favorite stout—piled high on her head. More than once I’d wondered what she’d look like with it tumbling over her shoulders or thoroughly mussed from running my fingers through it over and over again.
Okay, so maybe Brett had a point. My little obsession with this woman was starting to creep me out. “You alright, Sugar?”
Eyes so green, they rivaled the grass beneath her ass, looked up at me. Nothing but six-foot walls shining behind them. “Yes.” With the grace of a cat, she pushed to her feet and swatted the grass off her legs and behind. My eyes followed every trek of her hands with razor-sharp focus.
“Sorry for bumping into you. He-” she narrowed her eyes and pointed at the Rottie, his tongue lolling to the side and his tail still thump-thumping against my leg. “- jumped me out of nowhere.”
She could bump into me any damn time she wanted, but I wasn’t going to say that to her pretty little face. “No problem.” With my chin, I pointed at the dog. “This boy got a human?”
Her face fell. “No, he’s one of the shelter dogs. Flynn would love to take him home, but-“ She stopped abruptly and if I weren’t so keyed into everything she did, I’d have missed the subtle shake of her head. “Anyway, sorry again.” Patting her leg twice, she smacked her lips together. “Come on Dozer.”
Stunned, I watched as the dog fell into a steady pace next to her. Almost immediately my attention was drawn to the gentle sway of her perfectly rounded ass. Yeah, I was a creeper alright. As Harper sashayed toward the pen where they put the shelter animals, in hopes of finding them forever homes, my eyes zeroed in on the human sprinting toward her.
The moment she noticed her little boy, she dropped to her knees and spread her arms wide. The action reminded me of my momma. She always had so much love to give to her three boys. It didn’t matter what a mess I’d gotten myself into; Daisy Jackson was always ready with a hug and a warm chocolate chip cookie.
“I think you lost something.” Chase’s voice broke through my thoughts. Looking to my left, I found my brother grinning and holding up a fresh slice of pie. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen you bin pecan pie before, but then again I’ve never seen you this… infatuated with a woman before either.”
“You gonna keep giving me grief or are you handing over that pie?”
Chase handed me the pie but kept a grip on the plate. “She’s not like the women you’re used to, Logan.”
“Figured as much.” With a pull, I retrieved the plate from Chase and promptly forked a large piece into my mouth. Irritation grating on me like sandpaper to my bones.
Chase sighed, “I meant, you have to approach her differently. She’s skittish. Reminds me of a stray that hasn’t had too much human contact. If you crowd her with your loud personality, she’s gonna tuck her tail between her legs and hightail outta here, or she’s gonna bare her teeth and attack.”
Swallowing half-chewed pie chunks, my head snapped up, and I stared at my brother, “Did you just compare her to a dog? And you say I have issues?”
“I’m trying to give you advice, dumbass.” Chase slapped a palm against my shoulder blade. “If you want her to notice you, you have to be smart about it. Subtly plant yourself in her daily life. Coax her out of her shell.”
Animal analogies aside, my brother had a point. I didn’t know a damn thing about being subtle, but I’d do just about anything to get Harper’s attention.