Treat me, p.21
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       Treat Me, p.21

         Part #8 of One Night with Sole Regret series by Olivia Cunning
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  Chapter Sixteen

  Amanda stopped just outside the ladies room. The guy who’d hit on her on Friday was standing next to the door with his arms crossed over his chest and a knowing smirk on his handsome face. “I guess you skipped step one and went directly to full-out, man-hating bitch mode.”

  Her eyes narrowed. She hadn’t skipped step one. She hadn’t even gotten to step one yet. “Go fuck yourself,” she spat at him before slamming both hands into the bathroom’s swing door. She gave zero fucks what he thought of her. Wasn’t sure why he’d taken the time to rub the breakup she’d predicted into her face. Asshole.

  Before Amanda had even managed to cross the threshold, the tears she’d been holding in check started to fall. She somehow managed to stifle an anguished sob until the door swung shut behind her. Thank God Jacob hadn’t followed her. She wouldn’t have been able to force herself to say another cruel thing to him no matter how loudly her sister’s threats rang in her ears.

  “That was brilliant,” Tina said as she burst into the ladies room a moment later. “He left all pride and swagger as usual, but for a minute there, I thought he was actually going to cry.”

  “If you value your life, you’ll get the fuck away from me,” Amanda said in an animalistic growl. Her hands balled into tight fists and her eyes narrowed into slits. She wanted to hit something—hard—and Tina’s face would serve as the perfect target.

  “You did the thing properly, at least,” Tina said with a self-serving chuckle. “He’ll never take you back after that public humiliation. Half the bar was recording it on their phones.”

  Amanda’s stomach clenched, and she pressed her fingertips against her quivering lips. How could she have been so heartless? And to Jacob? He was always so good to her. Had she really called him stupid? An idiot? She knew how sensitive he was about his intelligence, and she’d fucking used his greatest weakness and insecurity against him? How could she have done that to him? In front of all those people?

  But she had to go for the death blow, otherwise he wouldn’t have left. She’d had to break him to save him.

  Oh God, Jacob, I’m so sorry.

  With a wave of crippling grief, her stomach lost its battle and she raced into a stall, barely making it to the toilet before she heaved up everything she’d eaten in her entire life. Tina left Amanda sobbing and puking her guts out, kneeling on a grimy bathroom floor over a less-than-sanitary toilet. Amanda was surprised her sister hadn’t snapped a picture of her triumph before she abandoned her.

  Tina had won. As usual. The bitch who always fought dirty had won.

  So this is what rock bottom looks like, Amanda thought as she used cheap, scratchy toilet paper to wipe her mouth. It’s better than I deserve.

  Thinking of what she’d done to Jacob brought on a new set of tears. She wasn’t sure how long she sat on the floor of the stall crying—several women entered the bathroom and a few even tried to help her—but she was completely inconsolable. She just wanted to cry until she was so dehydrated she couldn’t make any more tears.

  It was Leah’s voice that finally reached her.

  “Amanda, it’s me, honey. Unlock the door.”

  “Leah?” Amanda croaked. Her throat felt as if she’d taken up sword swallowing as a new hobby.

  “Tomás called and said you’d been crying in the restroom for over an hour and needed me to come get you. What happened?”

  “I broke up with Shade.” She sniffed. The entire time she’d been focused on Shade, not Jacob. Making herself believe she was tearing apart the rock star—who must have a heart like a polished diamond—had been the only way she’d been able to get through that ordeal. But that rock star had looked like Jacob and acted like Jacob, and the pain in his expressive blue eyes had definitely been Jacob’s.

  “Oh God,” she sobbed and curled into her knees, covering her head with folded arms as the tears began to flow again. She felt as if someone had kicked her in the stomach a few hundred times. But what was worse was that she knew she deserved any pain she had to endure.

  “Amanda,” Leah called through the narrow crack in the door. “Open up and let me in.”

  Amanda shook her head. She didn’t want Leah to make her feel better. She wanted to wallow in this misery.

  “If you don’t unlock the door, I’m calling the fire department,” Leah warned. “You wouldn’t want a bunch of sexy firemen to see you with crying-jag face, would you?”

  Amanda didn’t give a fuck, but she figured she’d already hurt one person she loved today. She wouldn’t want to upset Leah too.

  Amanda wiped her face on the hem of her shirt and pressed her hand against the wall to gain enough leverage to get her wobbly legs beneath her. Her stomach heaved, but she didn’t have anything left in it to hurl. She swallowed against a parched throat and released the bolt with a trembling hand. The door swung out, and Leah peeked around the green metal. Her jaw dropped, and she scurried into the stall to join Amanda, bolting herself inside.

  “Oh God, sweetie, you’re a mess,” Leah said, but she didn’t try to clean Amanda up with cheap toilet paper. Instead, she immediately folded Amanda into a comforting embrace, setting off another flood of tears. “It’s going to be okay,” Leah repeated over and over again, but her words didn’t mean a thing to Amanda. It decidedly was not going to be okay. Nothing would be okay ever again.

  When Amanda’s sobs turned to sniffles and her full-body quaking lessened to occasional shudders, Leah drew away and stroked Amanda’s tear-drenched hair from her cheeks. “Tell me everything that happened. It’ll make you feel better.”

  “Nothing will make me feel better, Leah.” Well, maybe if a meteor shot out of the sky and struck her sister dead . . . No, even that would suck because Julie would have to go through the pain of losing her mother. And even with Tina out of the picture, Jacob would never love Amanda again. Not after the heartless things she’d said to him.

  “I promise it will, sweetie.” Leah glanced around their less-than-inspiring surroundings. “But maybe we should go home first. It smells like vomit in here.”

  “That would be my fault too,” Amanda said dully, her energy completely sapped.

  She allowed Leah to lead her out the back exit so there’d be fewer prying eyes burning into the back of her neck. Thankfully, the asshole—Anthony was his name, she recalled—was no longer leaning outside the bathroom door. She probably would have kicked him in the nuts if he’d still been there. Because Amanda was too shaky to find her keys, much less drive, they took Leah’s car, leaving Amanda’s in the parking lot.

  The distance to Amanda’s house wasn’t far, but as soon as Leah turned out of the parking lot, she said, “Start talking.”

  “I don’t know where to start,” Amanda said, clutching her small purse to her chest. The phone inside had been silent for over an hour. Part of her had hoped that Jacob would call and fix the mess she’d made—that Tina had insisted upon—but part of her was glad he hadn’t. A clean break would be easiest for all of them. If she kept telling herself that, maybe she’d start to believe it.

  “Start at the beginning.”

  Amanda told Leah about setting off Jacob’s alarm and spending Friday night and Saturday morning alone with him.

  “That morning, he told me he loved me,” Amanda said, the ache in her chest so sharp, her heart struggled to beat.

  Leah pulled into Amanda’s drive, put the car in park, and turned to study her. “I’d say that’s fantastic, but I’m assuming this story doesn’t end well.”

  Amanda shook her head miserably.

  “Why don’t you go wash your face while I make you a chocolate milkshake? We’ll talk all night if you need to.”

  Amanda smiled at Leah. She was already feeling more rational. Leah was a soothing constant in her life. She wasn’t sure what she’d do without her. “Thanks for rescuing me.”

  “You’ve rescued me plenty,” Leah said, opening the door and climbing out into the balmy night air.

  Cicadas cried repetitively to the summer sky. Crickets filled in the chorus with higher-pitched chirrups. The scent of freshly cut grass drifted over from a neighbor’s yard, and a dog up the street barked a sharp warning. Nothing unusual about any of those things—Amanda must have experienced them hundreds of times—but she’d never taken note of how comforting the mundane could be. Amanda was glad Leah had brought her home. She wrapped the familiar around her like a protective cocoon.

  “We’re going to have to find a new hangout,” Amanda said as the motion-sensing porch light switched on and she fit her key into the front door lock. “I’ll never be able to show my face at Jack’s again.”

  “No huge loss,” Leah said glumly. “Only losers go there anyway.”

  Amanda glanced over her shoulder. “Something wrong?”

  “Remember that guy Colton from Friday night?”


  “He never called me after . . .” Leah lowered her gaze.

  “Did you sleep with him?”

  “Maybe.” Leah shrugged. “Okay, yeah, I did. We had lunch on Saturday, and I didn’t mean to get so intimate so soon. It just sort of happened.”

  Which is why he didn’t call you, Amanda thought, but Leah didn’t need to hear that when she was hurt.

  Amanda reached out and stroked Leah’s silky jet-black hair. “I’m sorry he didn’t call you. He seemed nice. Maybe he just needs a couple days to figure out how awesome you are.”

  “Men! They’re such assholes.” Leah scowled at the ground.

  “Not all of them,” Amanda said, her thoughts on the wonderful time she’d had with Jacob that weekend before she’d pulverized his heart and his pride.

  “Okay, correction,” Leah said as she followed Amanda into the house. “All the men I’ve ever been with are assholes.”

  “You’ll find someone great,” Amanda said. “My theory is that if you strike out enough times, eventually you’ll get lucky and hit one out of the park.” And when you finally do, you probably shouldn’t make him hate your fucking guts, she added silently.

  Setting her purse on her console table, she gave Tinkerbell a scratch behind the ears as she passed her lounging on the back of the sofa. The calico stretched out her paws and produced a mighty yawn, but obviously didn’t give two shits that the human who fed her and cleaned her litter box had returned home. Amanda had always been more of a dog person, but when Tinkerbell had shredded one of Tina’s curtains and Tina had threatened to take the stray Julie had found hiding in their drainpipe to the pound, Amanda had agreed to adopt the tiny kitten. She didn’t regret the decision—Julie adored the standoffish cat—but was it asking too much for a tail wag of greeting when she came home after a hard day? Tinkerbell leaped off the couch and padded toward her food bowl in the kitchen. Apparently unmitigated affection was too much to ask from the furball.

  Amanda entered the only bathroom in her small cottage and washed her face with cool water. She made the mistake of looking at her reflection in the mirror above the sink. She looked like she’d been to Hell and back, but she felt like she hadn’t actually made it back.

  The blender whirred to life in the kitchen as Leah started making the promised chocolate shake. Moments later, Amanda was slurping the cold creamy concoction while she continued to tell Leah about her weekend. Soon they were both sighing over the sexy, sensitive, and virile hunk that was Jacob Silverton. He really was amazing. Their sighs turned to mutual outrage when Amanda’s story ended with Tina’s attack and her demands that they break up.

  “That’s blackmail!” Leah said.

  “It’s worse than blackmail,” Amanda said.

  “I’ve always hated your sister, but now . . .” Leah snarled. “What she did . . .” Her entire body was shaking. “This is just too much.”

  “There isn’t anything I can do about this, is there?” Amanda focused on Leah, hoping the woman’s super brain could devise a plan to make everything work out.

  Leah rolled the tip of her straw between her fingertips and got that far-off look she’d typically sported when she was puzzling out the answer to a tough school assignment. After a long moment, she shook her head. “I’m sorry. I can’t think of anything. In every scenario, Julie is the one who gets hurt.”

  Amanda sighed, her shoulders slumping in defeat. “Exactly.”

  Leah reached over and touched the back of Amanda’s hand. “Unless Tina’s just bluffing,” Leah said. “Maybe she’s just talking out of that perfect ass of hers.”

  Amanda shook her head. “She isn’t bluffing. Tina never bluffs. You know she’d have no problem using Julie as a wedge between Jacob and me. If I hadn’t ended it tonight, the situation would have gotten worse, not better. Tina won’t back down until it suits her.”

  What really irked Amanda was how Tina always managed to make everyone take her side. Somehow Tina would twist Amanda’s affair with Jacob into something tawdry and cheap. Everything would end up being Amanda’s fault when all was said and done. Except Leah. Leah had always been in her corner and Amanda trusted that she always would be.

  “How can anyone be so selfish?” Leah fumed.

  “She’s always gotten everything handed to her, so she thinks whatever she wants is owed to her. Nothing will stop her from taking what she wants. Did I mention that when we were having that brawl in Jacob’s driveway, she said that she still loved him?”

  Leah’s eyes widened. “Shut the front door! Do you think it’s true?”

  “Of course not. She just doesn’t want me or anyone else to have him.”

  Leah used her straw to stab at the hunk of ice cream at the bottom of her glass. “One of these days this is all going to bite her in the ass.”

  “God, I hope so. For now I’ll bide my time to protect Julie and Jacob, but I’ll be looking for an opening. And when I find one, she’ll be sorry she ever crossed me.”

  The bitch better watch her back.

  Chapter Seventeen

  Shade handed his bag to the copilot, who stuffed it into the near-empty compartment beneath the plane. Shade had assumed he was late and that they were holding the plane for him, but apparently he wasn’t the only one getting a late start.

  “Please hurry, sir,” the copilot said. “We’re going to miss our departure time.”

  Shade climbed the awkward metal steps and ducked his head to enter the small craft. The only one inside was Owen, who offered him a smile and a friendly wave.

  “Hey,” Shade grumbled as he strode past Owen and took the seat in the far rear corner. He didn’t want to chat with Owen. He didn’t want to see or talk to anyone until he got his emotions completely in check.

  He still wasn’t exactly sure what had set Amanda off, but he was too pissed—too hurt—to want to set things straight with her. And he wasn’t sure his pain or anger would diminish with time. He’d thought his lack of education—his stupidity—didn’t matter to her. Well, apparently he’d been too dumb to recognize her disdain. Last night, he’d replayed every moment of the weekend as he’d stared at the darkened ceiling in Julie’s bedroom. Sleeping on the couch had been out of the question—the first time he’d made love to Amanda had been on that couch—and her scent still clung to his own bed, so he’d found no rest there, only heartache. There was comfort in being surrounded by reminders of his daughter who never judged him even as her bitter mother tried to belittle him. But not comfort enough to let him find sleep.

  He remembered every time Amanda had faced his struggle to read. Remembered well the look of pity on her face when he’d convinced Julie to give up her bedtime story so he could sing her to sleep. Remembered how she’d automatically read all the signs at the zoo when Julie had a question. That little speech she’d given him in the car about how she couldn’t care deeply about an idiot had obviously been true. Maybe it had been the only truth she’d spoken to him all weekend. He kept hearing those words over and over in his head. “I could never care so deeply about an idiot.” And the ones she’d said to him at
the bar. “Do you really think someone like me would fall for an idiot like you?” Oh yeah? Well, fuck her. He’d gotten this far without having a firm grasp on written language. An illiterate moron could do a lot worse for himself.

  Owen rose from the spot he’d chosen up the aisle and flopped himself into the seat across from Shade. “Have a good weekend?” Owen asked as he fastened his seat belt.

  “Most of it,” Shade admitted. Until last night, it had been one of the best weekends of his life. It had ended as one of his worst. “Where’s Gabe?” Kellen and Adam had stayed behind in New Orleans, and he guessed that Owen had ditched Lindsey at his mom’s house, but the plane was still emptier than it should have been.

  Owen shrugged. “The pilot said he flew back last night. I have no idea why.”

  That was odd.

  Shade didn’t have time to fire off a text to Gabe asking him what was up before the scratchy voice of the pilot came over the intercom to remind them to turn off their devices during takeoff and that they were a few minutes behind schedule.

  Owen grunted. “Well, I’m in the dog house, but—”

  “I’m going to catch a nap,” Shade interrupted. He wasn’t in the mood to chat. And he was tired. There were no reminders of Amanda on the plane, so maybe he could actually sleep.

  “Uh, okay,” Owen said. “I wonder what Kelly’s up to.”

  Owen apparently needed a friend at the moment, but Shade
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