Authors: Misti Murphy
Copyright © 2015 by Misti Murphy
Edited by Tami Lund
Cover Design by Double J Graphics
This book is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real events, people, or places is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without the permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations used for review. If you have not purchased this book from Amazon or received a copy from the author, you are reading a pirated book.
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Mike was supposed to be Mellie Albrict’s forever boyfriend. Hell, she’d even imagined marrying him once. After her family abandoned her, he’d been the one to make her believe that love didn’t always end with betrayal. But they’d both been so very wrong.
With the rest of their friends practically family, they formed an uneasy pact. One Mellie relies on when things get rough. And when her father resurfaces in Reverence, forcing emotions long since buried to the surface, Mellie runs to the one man who’s never left her even after the spectacular destruction of their love.
Friendship isn’t enough for Mike Starr. In fact, he’d give his left nut to get Mellie to give him a second chance. Devastated at the idea his illness meant leaving her, he'd pushed her away to make it easier on her if he didn't survive. The fight for his life had been hard, but fighting to convince her they're worth another shot might be harder, especially since he still hasn’t explained the reason for his erratic behavior surrounding their break-up. Determined to be her rock when a trip to her hometown reveals more than either expected, he searches for a way to prove he won't mishandle her heart a second time.
She is a hurricane. A tumultuous whirlwind wreaking havoc in the darkest parts of my soul.
The phone rang. Rolling onto my side, I reached across to the nightstand and picked it up. She knew I’d be awake, as I had been every time she’s called at four a.m. I used to sleep better when she was beside me, but that had been years ago. Before life went to hell in a handcart.
“What’s up, Mellie?”
She chuckled humorously on the other end of the line. “Could you pick me up? I’ve really fucked up.”
“Where are you?” Already out of bed, I pulled on yesterday’s jeans and a fresh T-shirt.
“Lach Street. I’ll be the idiot carrying her shoes.”
“I know where it is.” Grabbing my keys, I raced out to the truck. “I’ll be there soon.”
“Mike…” Silence on the other end of the line, her long drawn out pause telling me she’d gotten in deep this time.
“Yeah?” I yanked open the door and slid behind the wheel, popping her onto speaker while I backed out of the garage.
“Sorry I woke you.”
I hung up on her and pulled out onto the road. That was the way she’d ended every late night conversation. Pretending she didn’t know that I didn't sleep, or that I would do anything to keep her safe. Not that I blamed her. We’d each handled our breakup in different ways. Or as much as we could when we couldn’t get away from each other. I’d shut down, and Mellie, well, she’d gone out and found trouble wherever she could.
That was the problem with friends being family. You never got enough time to get over the heartbreak. The residual emotions rippled under the surface and the sting… I rubbed at my chest. It never went away.
We hadn’t started out close. My best friend and business partner, Orion, had taken Mellie home one night, but back then she could see the woods for the trees. Instead of sleeping with him, she’d befriended him and slept with me. And every day for years after.
I pulled on to the dark street and headed toward the lone figure walking toward me. She raised her shoes in a partial wave as I pulled up. Opening the door, she slipped in beside me. “It’s so cold this morning.”
I spun the dial on the heater and turned the truck around. “You’re not exactly dressed for walking the streets in the middle of the night. Where’s your jacket?”
“I didn’t think I’d need it.” She rubbed her hands together in front of the vents, a shiver curling down her spine, her lips parted to allow a sigh as she relaxed. “Thanks for doing this.”
“No problem. You know I don’t sleep.”
She ignored my comment, pulling her legs up under her and staring straight ahead.
“So what happened?”
“I screwed the pooch on this one. The guy was bloody married.” Lifting and dropping her shoulders, she searched through her bag. “How was I supposed to know he was married?”
“A married guy, Mellie? I wouldn’t have thought you of all people would go there.” I scratched the top of my head, the prickle of guilt sliding under my skin. There’d been a time when she hadn’t needed anyone but me. Until I’d let her down. I’d folded in on myself and shut her out. Would I ever stop regretting that period in our life?
“I didn’t know. He wasn’t wearing a ring. There was nothing to suggest otherwise, until his wife showed up while we were…shit.” She leaned her head on the glass, staring out into the night. “You don’t need to hear this.”
“Hey.” I went to squeeze her knee, but dropped my hand to the gear shift instead. “That was years ago. I just want you to be safe.”
“Well don’t worry about that. I lost my job. No money.” She rubbed her fingers together. “No play.”
“What? How did you lose your job?”
“He was my boss’s husband.” Covering her face with her palms, she groaned. “I’d never met him before. I didn’t know. Oh God, I just fucked my boss’s husband.”
How did one do that? Surely there should have been clues, like the tan line left when one took off a wedding ring. That patch of skin where a ring should have sat should have been a bright white sign exclaiming his married status. The way she hung her head in her hands and the quiet muffled way she berated herself cried out her innocence in this scenario. “You really didn’t know, did you?”
She lifted her gaze to mine, her eyes shining under the streetlights, and let out a strangled gurgle, somewhere between a sob and a chuckle. “You really think I’m that low of a person? That stupid?”
“No, shit, no. That wasn’t what I meant.” I pulled the truck off the road and we sat staring into the darkness while my mind raced over how to fix what I’d broken.
“I can’t find my way out of this mess. I don’t know how to keep out of trouble.” She twisted in her seat. “But I’m going to stop dragging you into it. That isn’t fair to you. I’ll walk from here.”
Opening the door, she gathered her bag and shoes and slid half off the seat.
“Hold on, Mellie, I didn’t mean it to come out like that.” I held her arm, wanting to pull her across the cab and onto my lap. If not for me she wouldn’t have been out in the wee hours of the morning, doing these stupid things. If I hadn’t pushed her away, she would have been home, fast asleep beside me. She wasn’t mine anymore, but I could never let her go. If that meant I tortured myself with saving her, with being the friend who knew all her dark secrets when I could do nothing to fix them, then it was still more than I deserved. At least I could do something about her unemployment. “You’re going to come work for me. I need another front of house rep.”
“Don’t take pity on me.” Her eyes flashed, but she sunk back into the seat.
“I’m not. I need the help. You’re great with clients and you're a professional. You’ll be saving me time and money by filling the roll until I can hire someone else.”
She tugged the door closed. “Maybe I could help you out for a couple of weeks.”
“A couple of weeks would be great.” I let out the breath I’d been holding, each word out of my mouth like walking on a knife’s edge. “I’m sure I can find someone to fill the role in that time.”
“Okay, you have a deal.” She curled up on the seat as I guided the truck back onto the road, driving toward her house.
Another thought occurred to me, but it was stupid, wasn’t it? Still, as soon as it entered my mind I seized upon it. There was only one way to keep Mellie out of the type of trouble she’d gotten herself into tonight. I pulled into her driveway, the motor idling while we sat together, lost in our own worlds. My mind wandered back to the night we’d fought at her twin sister Lola’s studio a few weeks ago. When the fight had ended, she’d been climbing my body, her mouth demanding what she would never ask for. It hadn’t been the first time we’d rehashed the night she left me, but the way she’d clung to me reminded me of how explosive we had been, in more enjoyable ways. As much as we tried to lock it away, the attraction was still there. Perhaps it had never disappeared in the first place. For me, she would always be the one I couldn't let go of. “Okay, this is going to sound odd, but hear me out.” My fingers tightened on the steering wheel in anticipation of the inevitable explosion. “I think we should sleep together.”
“What the fuck, Mike?” She jerked the door handle, pushing it open so she could escape the cab. “Are you kidding me?”
I opened the door and met her in front of the truck. “Hear me out, okay?”
“Fine.” She searched through her handbag for her keys.
“Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had sex?”
“No.” She darted a glance at me. “Why would I know that?”
I shrugged and leaned on the truck. There was no good reason to expect her to know the answer, but I wasn’t about to tell her that there’d been no one since her. That the interest hadn’t been there. That after she’d left me I’d had no libido to appease anyway. “Neither do I. I don’t have time to go out and meet someone, and to be honest I don’t want to have to put in the work of wooing some girl who may or may not fill my needs.”
She raised an eyebrow, her mouth turning up in the corners. “There are hookers, you know.”
It was inevitable that she would have a sassy return, and I chuckled. “Yeah, right, but…”
I want you.
I want to hold on to the hurricane and feel alive again.
“...here’s the thing. You go out three or four nights a week, and I get at least one of these phone calls every week. I’m not complaining. I’d rather have you call me than not know you’re okay, but are these encounters giving you what you’re after?”
She held her keys up, her nose scrunched even as she came to the conclusion I expected. Slumping against the car, she admitted it. “I actually think it makes it worse, but I don’t know how to stop. It’s like I have a hole in me, and I need a dick to fill it.”
“Then how about you let me? I won’t have to resort to prostitutes, and you won’t get into so much trouble.”
She stuck out her tongue. “Prostitutes, ha! This whole thing’s a joke.”
Bumping her shoulder with mine, I tried not to let the disappointment show. For a moment the idea of getting her back into my bed had promise. “If that’s what you want it to be, but the offer’s there.”
Jumping up, she headed toward the house, calling over her shoulder, “You’re crazy, Mike. We’re friends. Let’s not complicate that.”
Her rejection hammered me. The small nugget of anticipation that had been burning in my chest and racing around my brain crumbled. What could I say to that? “I’ll see you at ten.”
“Ten?” She hesitated at the door.
“Get cleaned up and have a nap before you come in to work.”
“Yet another reason why your idea is insane. I’ll see you in the morning. Well, later this morning.” She slipped inside, and I jumped back in the truck and headed home to get ready for work.