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Authors: Lolita Lopez

Between Friends (19 page)

BOOK: Between Friends
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Her belly lurched. Such a beautiful moment ruined by reality. She held tight to Eddie’s arm as he led her out of their aisle and out to the
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reception in the ballroom. There was nothing to do about it now, she decided. Best to plaster on a smile, have a drink, and try to forget.

For now, at least.

* * * *

Grateful to be home, Mick flopped onto the couch and toed off his Crocs. His tired feet throbbed as he propped them up on the arm of the sofa. He draped his arm over his face and enjoyed the quiet peace.

Soon, Eddie and Whitney would be home from the wedding. He just hoped they weren’t hoping for some late-night nookie. He’d have to plead a headache and exhaustion just this once.

Mick’s back and hands ached fiercely. Hours upon hours in surgery patching together the victims of a god-awful bus crash had taken its toll. Of course it happened when they were down a trauma surgeon. Thankfully, Maggie had gotten back into town early from her anniversary trip to Napa Valley with Charlie. She’d been an absolute doll to come in and take over for the night.

Although he desperately wanted a beer to take the edge off, Mick was on call and had to settle for a handful of ibuprofen washed down with a glass of chocolate milk. He considered going to bed but didn’t have the energy to drag himself off.

“Fuck, I’m getting old,” he declared aloud. Just a few months short of thirty-six, Mick was finally starting to feel his age. Those crazy-ass hours he’d worked without complaint as an intern and resident were hell on his body now. At least he had Whitney and Eddie to come home to every night. That made it all a little easier.

Speaking of the devils, he thought as the garage door opened. He only saw one set of low headlights and decided Eddie must have left his truck at the hotel or Whitney’s office. He wouldn’t have to worry about one of them blocking him if he had to run out in the middle of the night to answer his pager.

“Look, just drop it, okay, Eddie?”

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Mick frowned at Whitney’s upset tone. Her high heels tapped against the hardwood floor. Wincing in pain, he pushed up off the couch and rolled his feet to the ground.

“No, Whitney. I’m not going to drop it.” Eddie’s heavy footfalls echoed loudly in Mick’s pounding head. “Just tell me what’s wrong!”

The couple burst into the living room. Whitney threw her purse into the nearest chair while Eddie tossed his tuxedo jacket on the end of the couch. He tugged at his bowtie and finally seemed to notice Mick. “What the hell are you doing home?”

Taken aback, Mick put up his hands. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on between the two of you, but keep me out of it.”

“I thought you had to work?” Whitney put her hands on her hips.

“Did you ditch me for a night home alone?”

“What?” Mick shot to his feet. “No! Of course not, Whitney.

Maggie was able to come in and cover tonight. I got home like ten minutes ago. If you don’t believe me, go feel the hood of my car. I bet it’s still hot.”

Whitney seemed embarrassed. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Mick looked back and forth between the pair. “What’s going on?”

“Ask her.” Eddie gestured angrily toward Whitney. “One moment everything is okay at the reception and the next she’s crying in the bathroom.”

“What did you do?” Mick demanded.

Eddie gaped. “Me? Why do you automatically suspect I did something wrong?”

“Because I know how you can be,” Mick shot back. “Need I remind you of the breakfast incident?”

“That’s fucked up, Mick.” Eddie practically growled. “I made my amends for that morning. Screw you for throwing it back in my face.”

He crossed his arms. “I forgot that you never make mistakes.”

Mick suddenly felt like shit. “I’m sorry, Eddie.”

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“Whatever.” Eddie shook his head. He faced Whitney. “If you don’t tell me what’s wrong, I’m going to throw you over my lap and paddle your ass.”

“Oh, that’s your answer for everything, isn’t it, Eddie?” Whitney snapped. “Violence solves all problems, huh?”

Eddie’s head snapped back as if he’d been hit. “I’ve never been violent with you or Mick or any person I’ve lo—cared about.”

Mick sensed this discussion was going south fast. He stepped between the fighting pair and put a gentling hand on Whitney’s arm.

“Honey, what happened at the wedding?”

Her lower lip wobbled. She hugged herself and shuddered. “I realized that I’ve been living a stupid fantasy.”

Like a punch to the gut, Mick watched Whitney sink down into the chair, crushing her purse between her thigh and the cushion, and break down into wracking sobs. He wanted to comfort her but was actually afraid to touch her. What did she mean? Living a stupid fantasy?

He shot a worried glance at Eddie. The other man’s face was pale and drawn. Oh, Christ. It was Miranda all over again.

“This has been fun, but it’s not reality, you know?” Whitney cried pitifully. “I want to get married someday. I want to have kids.” She shook her head and shrugged. “How do you do that with two boyfriends? I can only marry one of you. And kids? You can’t raise kids in a three-parent household.”

Mick didn’t know what to say. He snuck a quick look at Eddie and saw his old friend shutting down. “Whitney,” Mick said urgently.

“No,” she said and held up her hand. “It’s true, Mick. Kids can have a mom and dad or two moms or two dads, but a combination of three? Yeah, right. Can you imagine how much teasing and bullying the kids would suffer?” She sniffled and pointed at them. “And what about you two? Do you honestly think the people you work with would accept the three of us?”

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Mick gulped as a painful lump stretched his throat. “Whitney,” he said honestly, “I don’t have the answers.”

“Yeah, well, neither do I.” She rose slowly and gazed at both of them for a long moment before grabbing her purse and disappearing down the hall.

He heard the telltale click of the lock on her bedroom door and cringed. Eddie’s Adam’s apple moved a few times as he tried to choke back tears. Mick had never seen the big man so obviously distraught. He took a step forward to console him, but Eddie threw off his hand as if it were offensive. “Don’t touch me.”

Mick’s eyes widened. “Don’t touch you?” he repeated in shock.

“What the hell did I do?”

“This is all your fault.” Eddie poked a finger in Mick’s chest. “If you had just gone to the damn wedding, none of this would have happened.”

“Eddie, it wouldn’t have mattered which one of us went with her tonight. She was going to have this reaction regardless.”

Eddie’s jaw clenched. “Well, I hope you’re happy.”

Mick threw his hands in the air. “Happy? Are you fucking serious? I’m devastated, Eddie.”

“I don’t know why,” Eddie said as he gathered up his jacket. “We both know she’ll pick you.”

Mick’s chest constricted as if squeezed by a vice. “That’s not true, Eddie.”

“Isn’t it?” Emotional pain shadowed Eddie’s face. “They always do. Who the hell would choose me when they could have a rock-star doctor like you?”

Eddie stormed out of the living room, and Mick’s vision skewed to the left. He nearly lost his balance as his world crashed down around him. He reached for the arm of the couch and righted himself before collapsing onto the leather cushion. His chest ached as heartbreak took hold.

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Nausea roiled in the pit of his stomach. It was all he could do not to break down into tears. With such finality it made him hurt, Mick realized he was going to lose everything this time.

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Chapter Eleven

Whitney stepped into the cold confines of the bank and glanced around the lobby. This wasn’t her usual branch, but it was the closest one to her new office. It was the bank’s main LA location and suitably upscale inside. Lots of gleaming marble, modern gray furniture, and updated teller counters. She dug around in her purse for her wallet as she joined the shortest line.

That morning she’d realized her paycheck still hadn’t hit her account. A couple of phone calls confirmed there was a problem with her direct deposit but not on the employer side of things. She’d contacted the bank, but they couldn’t help her over the phone. It was an issue that had to be dealt with in person, of course.

She fought with the plastic sleeve holding her bank account card.

The copies of the direct-deposit paperwork were in the inner pouch of her purse. She pulled them out and returned her wallet to the dark abyss of her purse. Her gaze shifted around the busy bank. It was lunchtime and packed, which meant the lines were moving slowly, giving Whitney way too much time to think.

For the last four days, thinking was something she’d done her best to avoid. That cringe-worthy night after the wedding played over and over again in her mind. She did everything possible to stay busy.

Working late had never been such a relief. She’d thrown herself into brainstorming the branding for the new street-inspired Chess & Perry line. As a young girl obsessed with pop culture, Kadie was the ideal buyer, and she had so many great ideas. Whitney loved incorporating them.

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Working with Kadie was the perfect excuse to stay out of the house. She just couldn’t stand the weird vibes around the place. Eddie had been gone by the time she’d woken up that next morning, and she’d only seen him twice since. Both times, he’d remained tight-lipped and done his best to avoid her. He seemed to be working an awful lot of overtime.

Mick wasn’t much better. He’d tried to talk to her over a very awkward breakfast, but she just couldn’t do it. He’d been kind and let the subject drop. A few times they’d tried to have a meaningful conversation, but nothing came of their attempts. In the end, they’d been reduced to text messages about picking up a gallon of milk or dealing with the neighbor whose dog crapped in the front yard again.

Whitney hated to even consider it, but if the three of them couldn’t sit down and talk this out, she was going to have to find a new living situation. Perhaps it was a bit premature to be thinking about worst possible outcomes, but better to be prepared than tossed out on her ass, she figured. Frankly, Eddie and Mick had been an item before her and would probably continue after her. She was the interloper in this situation, and the only way she was coming out of this relationship was as a single woman.

And it broke her heart.

Whitney couldn’t remember ever crying as hard as she had the last few nights. She loved Eddie and Mick. When she was with them, she felt secure and safe. The two of them had given her the illusion of family she’d so long craved.

Maybe it wasn’t an illusion. Maybe it was real. Or had been, at least. After her breakdown, she’d shattered whatever chance they had to be happy. She’d never forget the look on Eddie’s face or the way Mick looked afraid to touch her. She’d hurt them both so much.

Probably in ways she couldn’t fix.

Whitney rubbed her face and forced away the troubling thoughts.

She couldn’t function like this. Something had to give.

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Stomach still churning with the pain of loved lost, Whitney inhaled a steadying breath and tried to focus. She moved up a few more steps and patiently waited her turn. Finally, she was summoned to the teller’s open window. “Good afternoon, ma’am. How can I help you?”

Whitney smiled, introduced herself, and explained her predicament to the teller. “I was told I needed to come down here to clear this up.”

“Yes, Ms. Montcrief,” the teller said, “but you’ll have to speak with someone in our electronic-banking division.” She pointed to a set of desks across the lobby. “They’ll be able to sort out the issue for you.”

She fought the urge to roll her eyes and huff. Instead, Whitney smiled again and thanked the teller for her help. She stepped aside and tried to decide which desk to try. Both had nearly equal lines waiting behind the ropes. She judged the bankers’ faces and decided the older woman seemed nicer and more helpful.

As Whitney crossed the lobby to join the new line, she noticed the double doors to the lobby opening. The security guard’s shout barely registered. No, it was the eardrum-busting shotgun blast that finally caught her attention. As if in slow motion, she turned her head just in time to see the red splatter of blood hit the wall behind the guard who hadn’t even had time to pull his holstered weapon.

“GET ON THE GROUND!”

Before the instructions could even sink in, the quintet of bank robbers began firing their shotguns and automatic weapons at the ceiling. On instinct, Whitney threw herself to the hard marble. Pain shot through her abdomen and chest at the sudden impact, but she paid it little mind. She figured if she was still feeling pain, she was alive.

Her gaze flicked to the heavily armed men garbed in black tactical outfits similar to the kind she’d seen Eddie wear. These men were not fucking around. Snippets of the news articles popped into her head.

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Fear squeezed her heart.
Oh, god. Please, please, please don’t let
them kill us.

Chunks of ceiling tile and shards of glass rained down around her.

Busted-up lights sparked. Bullet casings or whatever those metal things were called pinged as they bounced off the marble floor. Only the knowledge they were shooting above her head kept Whitney from straight-up hyperventilating.

“Tellers out on the floor. Managers, loan officers, all of you. On the fucking floor now!”

Whitney watched the herd of employees scurry out from behind the counters and desks as ordered. Without having to be told, they held their hands high and said nothing as they filed out and lay down on the ground. She wondered if that was part of their “What To Do In The Event of A Hold-Up” training.

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