Unraveled, p.28
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       Unraveled, p.28

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
Page 29


  I didn’t like the sound of that either and for a moment, I wondered whether Drake would succeed in seducing her. And then I woke up from my stupid hangover stupor and mentally punched myself. The likelihood of Sam cheating was matched by the likelihood that Drake would stop being a fuckhead. Meaning no likelihood at all.



  “SO YOU’RE OLD FRIENDS WITH Gray?” I asked after Adam and Finn had left. Ethan Drake made me feel uncomfortable and I wished they hadn’t left. I called Gray again but he wasn’t answering his phone. I didn’t want to be here alone with Drake so while Ethan was looking at every corner of my small condo with an appraising eye, I texted Tucker. He was probably on his way into his shop. Maybe he could stop by.

  Ethan whistled as he looked around the small place. "Nice setup youve got here. ” He stretched out his arms as if measuring the square footage of the place. “So you’re Gray’s new lady. ”

  He sounded like he knew Gray, sounded like they were friends but there was something off about him. His eyes were really bright and he looked flushed, like he’d just got done exercising or something. Oh, who knows. I was being far too judgmental.

  "Can I get you something to drink?"

  "Beerd be great. " He sat down and raised his feet to rest them on my coffee table and then thought better for it. I was relieved. I didnt really like when strangers touched my things. But beer in the morning? That seemed…weird but again, who was I to judge?

  “You served with Gray and his friends?” I handed him the beer and it felt like he deliberately brushed his fingers over mine. He gave me a lazy grin and sat back, one arm stretched across the sofa, looking like he owned the place. Ethan Drake sure had a lot of confidence.

  "Yes, ma’am. We were all part of the 101st and I got out about the same time Noah and Bo did. Noah asked me to come up and help him train for his next fight. ”

  “That’s nice. ” This is a friend of Gray’s, I reminded myself. Be nice to him. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, I asked, “Were you deployed with them? I know Gray went to both Iraq and Afghanistan. ” He was clearly agitated. His leg bounced up and down and then he stood up and walked over to the window and then back again.

  "A-stan. "

  I scratched my head as I watched him pace back and forth. "Are you okay, um, Drake?”

  He flashed me a big smile, a smile that affected a lot of girls positively. It was very charming. He had dimples that made him look roughish and endearing at the same time, but for some reason his smile bothered me, probably because he’d crossed the room and was standing so close to me that if I took a deep breath, my breasts would brush against his chest. I slid backward as unobtrusively as possible, but he followed me until my back was pinned against the counter that separated the kitchen from the rest of the main living space of the condo. “Call me Ethan. ” Then he did the move that Gray always did, which was to tuck some of the strands of my hair behind my ear.

  I pressed a hand against his chest and pushed but there was no budging him. “Ethan, I’m sorry to say this but you’re making me feel really uncomfortable. ” For a second, I felt him push forward and I felt frightened, almost more frightened than when I feared the chute wouldn’t open. Where was Gray?

  Then Ethan laughed and took a step back. “You’re a little high strung, aren’t you?” He slugged down about half the bottle and then sauntered back into the living room. “I can see why Gray’s into you. Own your own place. A lot of nice cars in the lot out back. Got rich friends. This what you spend your death benefit on?"

  I gasped. You never asked a widow what she spent her death benefit on. Even on the Internet forums where women shared everything from how they shaved their pubic hairs to where they could shop if the PX got shut down, no one ever talked about the death benefit but in the vaguest terms. It was the height of rudeness to come out and just bluntly put that forth. Not to mention he was making me feel unsafe in my own home.

  "Look, Ethan Drake, I dont know why you came here but you can just leave now. " I stalked to the door and threw it open.

  Drake did get up off the sofa and lazily walked toward me. He set his bottle on the granite counter. “You know why I’m here? Cuz your man asked me to come and try to seduce you. I told him I wasn’t into that kind of thing, but he begged me. It wasn’t pretty. And you know us Marines got to stick together. So I did it for him but I can’t really guess why he’d want into your dried-up cunt. ”

  I slapped him. I just up and hit him with my open palm across his face. It was instinctual, like my whole body revolted and wanted to push back. Drake didnt hesitate to return the favor. The blow from his hand was swift and hard. Maybe I deserved it. I hadnt ever hit anyone before in my life. My head hit the back of the door and I felt something warm trickle down the side of my face. For a moment we stood staring at each other, as if neither of us could believe whatd just happened.

  Shaking, I pointed. "Get out. Get the fuck out of here and never come back. "

  “I wonder what I’ll tell old Gray. Should I tell him how easy it was, how you didn’t hesitate to drop your panties on the ground for me?”

  I wanted to fly at him but was too afraid of being hit again. "You get out or Ill call the police on you. "

  "Fuck you, cunt. " He spat at my feet and then walked out. Still trembling, I closed the door behind him and sunk to the floor.

  Its funny how the mind allows you to forget the exquisite feeling of pain but leaves behind the memory of it. Looking back, I remembered being so overwhelmed with anger and sadness and loss when Will died that it was hard to get out of bed. The cocoon inside the bedcovers made it easier to shut out all truth and make up my own reality—the one where he was still alive and I was living with him in Alaska. But each day had gotten a little better until I no longer fought to stay inside my dreams and I could get up and move around and while my chest still felt hollow, like Id buried my beating heart somewhere with Will, I was upright and functioning.

  The minds ability to self-heal wasnt a boon, it was a nightmare. If I could still call up the exact, piercing, debilitating pain that Id felt when I lost Will, I wouldnt have ever allowed myself to fall for Gray. Id have protected myself. Maybe I couldve had sex with him, or maybe I wouldve just stayed away because then I wouldnt be reduced to this cold, trembling, little girl thing on the floor of my condo. I wondered at my endless capacity to generate tears. Was salty water all that I was made of?

  My face throbbed where Drake had hit me, but that blow was nothing compared to the knife in my gut. How could I not have foreseen the danger Gray presented? Why hadnt I done a better job of protecting myself? I curled up in fetal position and cried until I didnt have anything left in me.

  Id never felt so betrayed and misused in my entire life. If this was love, I was better off a widow for the rest of my life.

  I don’t know how much time passed. Maybe it was thirty minutes but it felt like hours. A pounding at the door startled me. Standing up, I looked out the peephole, afraid that Drake was back but the person on the other side was almost worse.

  “I don’t want to talk to you or see you ever again. ” I leaned my back against the door and started crying again. I’d told him I loved him. I said I’d move to Japan for him and he had to test me?

  “Baby, forgive me. ” I heard him say and whatever hope I’d had that Drake had made it all up burnt to a crisp under the flame of his apology. If Gray was sorry then Drake hadn’t been lying.

  “Why?” I asked. My hands were trembling, and I was shaking all over. “How’d you ever get the idea that I would cheat on you? That I needed to be tested? Why’d you bring that awful person into my life?”

  “I was drunk. I wasn’t thinking right. I’m so, so sorry. ” He jiggled the doorknob. “Let me in,” he pleaded.

  “No, you knew exactly what you were thinking. This was cold and calculated. Im a person. Not a thing. You dont test me. You ei
ther trust me or you dont. ”

  “I trust you, baby. I swear it. ” A thudding against the door had me moving away. It was like he was…running and jumping against it.

  “Stop it. ” I pounded on the door right back and the thudding stopped. “You take your tests and get the hell out of here. I never want to see you again. ”

  “You dont mean it. ” He sounded anguished but it didn’t touch me.

  “I do. Im done with you. Im done with military men. You aren’t good enough for me!” I cried, and then I left the door and ran upstairs to my bedroom. I heard him plead and knock on the door, but I buried my head under my pillows and curled into a tiny ball. I searched out that place I’d discovered back when Will died. That open cavernous place where I’d spent so many nights after Will’s death, and I enfolded myself in the cold loneliness that I thought Id left behind.

  Gray was a bump in the road. Id get over him, and Id never fall in love again. There was no room for that anymore. My heart couldnt take it. I wrapped it up, surrounded it in concrete blankets. Safe, secure, and…dead.

  From a distance I heard him call my name. And I thought I saw him. I ran toward him but he kept moving farther and farther away and I was so so tired. Id forget him in time. Thats what I’d spent the last two years learning. How to forget.

  I closed my eyes. The voice that called my name was distant and indiscriminate and finally the thudding stopped.

  It was done.

  Deep down in somnolence I found peace. And I never wanted to wake up again.



  THE DRIVE BACK FROM SAMS condo was a blur. I could have hit five cars and four pedestrians and I wouldnt have realized it. I was just that numb. A few careless words had laid waste to my life. For a moment there, Id had everything. A gorgeous girl who was loyal and loved me and was willing to see through my decision to stay in the Marines. She was experienced and knew what deployment felt like. She was self-sufficient and had her own hobbies and plans. She wasnt reliant on me to make her entire life, even though I was beginning to realize that I wanted her to be my sole focus. But because I had a moment of insanity, Id ruined it. Give her time, I thought. I just needed to give her a few hours to cry it out. Then we’d talk and I’d make her see that I was over that moment of indecision.

  I pulled in blindly to the driveway and into the car pads. The rain was making it hard to see. I switched on the wipers but the wet spots remained and I realized it wasnt rain but that I was crying. I swiped the back of my hands against my cheeks and they came away wet. The drivers door opened and I looked to see Noah and Bo looking down at me with concern.

  "I fucked up, boys," I choked out. Bo nodded gravely and offered me a hand. I took it and he pulled me out. The two led me out to the far end of the pool. The place was quiet, an unusual state for the house. I dropped into a lounge chair and folded over, knees on my elbows, head in my hands. Finn liked to ask people what superpower theyd ask for. Right now, I needed to be Superman and turn back time so that I could stop myself from making the biggest mistake of my life. Bo and Noah didnt say anything. Just sat there in silent contemplation.

  "Want to talk about it?" Bo asked.

  I shook my head. "No. I just need to wait her out. "

  No judgment or sage words of wisdom came forth from either of them. An hour had passed when Tucker Anderson came charging into the backyard. I heard the squeal of tires and then the slam of a car door, but I paid no attention to it. I was mesmerized by the pool and by trying to count the number of blue tiles in the mosaic trim. It was hard because the blue tiles started morphing into white tiles and then into Sams face. I had to close my eyes when that happened and start over.

  My attention diverted, I didnt see Tucker barrel down the side of the pool and dive right at me. He knocked me right on my ass, my head thudding against the lawn. My sole thought in that moment was that it was a good thing I was sitting on grass because my head would have cracked like a spoiled melon if wed been on the concrete pool deck. Dimly I heard shouts but Tucker had the right of it. I needed an ass kicking and as her brother-in-law, he probably should deliver the punishment. As I took one blow after another, I wondered if this penance was good enough to win her back. Hit me all you want, Tucker, I deserve it.

  Perhaps it was my lack of response, but his blows died out after the first flurry. Tucker was fit, but he wasnt a Marine, and it was easy enough to dislodge him. I swiped at my mouth and looked at the blood left on my hand. No kissing then, not with a split lip, but then I thought of Sam and her bruised heart and wished that Tucker could hit me again and again and again. But Bo and Noah were holding him back. I leaned back on my arms and shook my head. "Let him go. I deserve it. "

  Adam, the only other roommate present, looked disgusted and walked off. Maybe I could set up a punching booth instead of a kissing one and all these Woodlands guys and their pals could take a swing at me to make themselves feel better.

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