Branded as trouble, p.43
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       Branded as Trouble, p.43

         Part #6 of Rough Riders series by Lorelei James
 
Page 43

 

  Her gaze zoomed to the flowers on the table and then back to him. “What are those for?”

  “They’re not given out of guilt, if that’s what you’re thinkin’. ”

  She frowned. “Why would I think that?”

  Was India really going to play dumb? “I heard you and Cat talkin’. Brought to mind Ma tellin’ me when I was a kid that eavesdroppers never hear anything good about themselves. Guess she was right. But then again, I didn’t exactly hear you leaping to my defense, Indy, when Cat started in on my character—both past and present. ” He looked at her with a mix of misery and anger. “I expected more from the woman I’m dating. ”

  “How was I supposed to respond? Anything I said would’ve been the wrong thing. ”

  “Some of the things she said were an outright lie. Any positive response about me or our relationship would’ve been better than the flip crack that we’re just havin’ fun and you weren’t pickin’ out wedding announcements. ”

  “Aren’t we just having fun? Dating for kicks? Nothing serious, right? Especially since you were out with another woman last night?”

  “Just like that, you believe what Cat told you?” He threw up his hands in total exasperation. “You believe what Cat thinks she saw?

  Without askin’ me? Without trusting me?”

  “You’re a fine one to talk about trust, McKay. ”

  “Don’t you go there. This ain’t got nothin’ to do with me not playin’ some stupid trust game in A. A. meetings. ”

  “Fine. It’s not a game. But it is about trust. So I’m asking you now, Colt. Who was she?”

  “No, you’re not asking me, you’re accusing me. Expecting me to defend myself when I’ve done nothin’ wrong. When the reason I haven’t explained anything to you is because I haven’t talked to you in the last two goddamn days. You said you needed space, remember?”

  She moved to the wall separating the living and dining rooms, folding her arms across her chest. “That is not the issue. ”

  “You’re damn right that’s not the issue. You immediately jumped to the conclusion I was seein’ another woman behind your back. ” He resisted the urge to shake her. “Do you honestly think if I was sneaking around that I’d do it in the restaurant next to your business? In the same building as your apartment?”

  India bit her lip and looked at her feet.

  Colt expelled a bark of laughter. “Don’t you go all wet-eyed and coy on me. You’d be better off pickin’ a fight because you know it’s impossible for me to resist the hellcat in you. Then you’d get what you want from me, just like you told Cat you would. ”

  Two red spots appeared on her cheeks.

  “I wondered what that comment meant. I’d foolishly hoped you were bein’ cryptic with her because she’s a mean, gossipy hag and it’d drive her crazy. ” He paused. “Then I found the calendar in the bathroom. I know exactly what you want from me. ”

  “What? You had no right—”

  “And neither did you. No right at all, to be another person in my life who takes away another one of my choices. To take something from me I would’ve freely given to you, if you just would’ve asked. ”

  Tears shimmered in her eyes. “I’m not the only one who jumps to conclusions, Colt. ”

  He said, “Tell me I’m wrong. ”

  She countered with, “No, you tell me I’m wrong. ”

  A standstill.

  Jesus. He had to get out of here. Now. He shuffled to the door, everything inside him heavy as lead. Like dead weight, which fit since he felt dead inside.

  “That’s it? You’re just leaving?”

  For now. “Yep. ”

  “Great. So what happens now?”

  “I don’t know. I need time to think. ”

  “But—”

  “I gave you time to get your head on straight, more than once in this relationship, I expect the same courtesy from you. ”

  “Fine. ” She pushed off from the wall. “But I sure hope you don’t plan on finding a bottle to help you pass the time while you’re off thinking. ”

  And he thought he’d felt sick before. “Spoken like a true A. A. sponsor. Thank you for the support. ”

  “Shit. Colt, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it the way it came out, I just can’t think… Fuck. I can’t believe this is happening and I know I’m doing this all wrong. ”

  Yes, you are.

  “I’m just frustrated and you know how I get and say such stupid impulsive things—”

  “No, I don’t know. Because I thought I knew you, India. And I thought you were one of the few who knew me. But I guess I was wrong about that too. ”

  Colt didn’t look back as he left.

  Go after him. You need him. You love him. Weren’t you mustering up the guts to tell him how you felt? How can you let him walk away?

  Let him go. You don’t need him, especially after his hypocritical behavior. He jumped to his own set of conclusions without letting you explain.

  India sank to the floor and wept, knowing it was pointless, knowing it’d make her feel worse. She was so numb in body and mind and spirit, she couldn’t even move. She couldn’t even crawl to her bed. She just laid on the floor, curled in a ball, and cried. And cried. Big sobs. Hiccupping sobs. Silence as tears streamed down her face.

  What had she done?

  What had he done?

  She’d never wanted a drink so badly in her life. Or to smoke a big, fat joint. Or to down a bottle of sleeping pills so she could sleep the day away.

  Her mind flitted between all the choices, in greedy glee, the old voices and vices taunting her. You’ve been good for so long, don’t you deserve to cut loose? Just once? No one will ever know. Surely one wouldn’t hurt you.

  One what?

  One of anything. Pick. There are so many choices.

  But what if I get caught?

  By who? Could your life honestly get any worse?

  No.

  YES. Another voice piped in. Don’t let eight years of sobriety go down the drain because of an eight-minute fight. Do something besides sit around and give your demons control. Take a walk. Talk to someone.

  The only person India wanted to talk to was Colt.

  Screw him. It’s his fault you’re in this state anyway. Get in your car and drive to the package store. No one will know. Don’t you miss it? Don’t you remember? The tart taste of white wine on your lips? The bubbly feeling of beer on your tongue? The fiery burn of tequila sliding down your throat?

  India’s mouth watered.

  A mental snort sounded as voice number two reappeared. You might as well throw yourself down the stairs. Drinking again is suicide. You know that. Colt is not to blame. And if you use him as an excuse for a relapse, you’ll never have the chance to repair this misstep in your relationship, because part of you will always fault him, even when it’s not true nor his fault. You’re stronger than this.

  Goddammit, she was stronger than this. But she didn’t have the strength to ride out the voices alone. She needed help.

  Wasn’t that what she always reminded fledgling A. A. members? No one is ever cured of alcoholism. Some days are easy; some days are hard. No matter if you’ve been sober a week or two decades, there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it.

  There wasn’t. But there’d be a whole lot of shame if she gave in to temptation.

  India rolled to her back and stared at the ceiling. Squinted at it mostly, because her eyes were so swollen and bleary from crying.

  She suffered from the mother of all headaches. Her mouth was as dry as the Wyoming prairie. She was exhausted. Heartsick. Her body hurt. Her mind was scrambled. But she knew if she laid there wallowing in self-pity another second she’d never get up. Or she’d give in.

  One step at a time.

  She slowly pushed to her feet. Shuffled into the kitchen.

  Poured herself a
glass of water. Once she’d accomplished those simple tasks, she was ready for the hard one. She scrolled through the contact list on her cell phone. When his number flashed, she selected it and hit dial. He answered on the fourth ring.

  “Hey Bert. It’s India. No, I’m not doing so good. Yeah, I realized I’m not invincible. Do you have time to talk to me? Face-to-face?” The tears came again. “Thank you. Come on up, the door is unlocked. I’ll put on the coffee. ”

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Colt’s head spun every which way. When he parked in front of his empty house, he realized it was the last place he wanted to be.

  Running wouldn’t fix anything, but time away might give him a different perspective.

  He called Cam and left a message. “I’m droppin’ off the grid for a couple days, bro. Don’t round up a search party for me, I’ll be fine. And if anyone in our family asks, let ’em know I ain’t on a three-day bender. Later. ”

  Next he called Chassie’s. “Hey Trev. How’s Chass? Yeah, well you knew she was ornery when you married her. It’s funny that it takes both you guys to handle her. Look, I’m leavin’ for a couple days and I wondered if you and Ed would keep an eye on my place?

  Nothin’s wrong. ” Colt sighed. “That ain’t entirely true. Just some shit I need to sort out on my own. I appreciate the offer. You guys are great. Thanks. ”

  Food packed, gear packed. Two rods, one tackle box, zero cell phone.

  When things got tough…the tough went fishin’.

  Two days later…

  India burst into Dewey’s when she noticed the sheriff’s department cruiser parked in front. She stalked over to Cam, who was sitting at his usual space in the back booth. “Tell me where he is. ”

  “Who? Colt? I haven’t the foggiest idea. ”

  “Bullshit. ”

  “I’m serious, India. He left me a message saying he was leaving for a few days, and not to worry because he wasn’t on a bender. ”
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