G I V E A W A Y E N D E D
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I was the walking tragedy she couldn’t even remember.
It had been almost fifteen years since I’d seen Alessa Crawford. The last time seared into my memory with the strongest pain and hatred a person could possess.
Seeing her again was like a shot of adrenaline and made those previous feelings seem minor in comparison.
A plan took shape quickly when I saw her sitting at a table in my bar.
A plan that would finally give me peace.
Until I wasn’t so sure anymore.
I fought against her being different from the girl who had become the villain of my story.
I refused to let her win that fight.
I had resolve.
Surprisingly, I also had second thoughts.
Hindsight’s always 20/20.
And always too late.
I was sleeping with an enemy I didn’t even know I had.
After my marriage collapsed, I moved back in with my dad. Back to my childhood home, a place weighed down with sadness and loss.
I had work, my best friend, and my sister and her family.
And then Troy made me an offer I didn’t want to refuse.
It was good timing. I was ready to move on.
So, for once in my life, I took the good offered to me.
My body came alive under his touch, and I saw a glimpse of a life I hadn’t had the chance to live.
Troy was taking, too, and with sweet lies and a hard body, he took parts of me I never planned to give.
It’s true what they say about there being a thin line between love and hate.
I just didn’t know which one would save me.
“Not her,” I demanded through gritted teeth, slowly peeling my fingers away from my palm.
His exasperated breath was the only sign that he’d heard me before he said, “Alexa, make it louder. A little more.” Once the music volume in the room was louder, he walked back to me. “Why, man? What’s your issue?”
All my fingers finally opened, the last one painfully so. I used my left hand and scrubbed down my face. “Just trust me.” This whole situation suddenly exhausted me.
Theo crossed his arms. “You know I do, but you have to trust me too. You are the last person I expected to walk in here and start insulting fucking clients, so explain or get the hell out so I can go back there and do my damnedest to get her to see me again.”
A frustrated growl rose from deep in my chest, and I looked up to the ceiling, forcing myself to take a deep breath. He deserved to know. “Les is her.” I waited for a response. When none came, I forced myself to look back at him and clarified, “Les is . . . Alessa.”
A second of confusion lingered before realization sparked in his eyes. His frustration dropped away and his mouth pinched as he rocked back a step. “No fucking way. What are the odds?”
“Never thought there were any odds. Never thought she’d be back around here.”
“I wonder why she—”
“No.” My voice was sharp, my anger rising all over again. “Don’t wonder shit. Just ink her friend and get her the fuck outta here.”
I stormed out the door, needing space and air and a goddamn deep breath that wasn’t tainted with any part of her. My hands touched the leather of the seat of my bike, palms flush against it, and my chin craning up, opening my airway. I inhaled the light smell of tacos from the truck a block over and watched the streetlight go from yellow to red. My fingers traced the custom stitching in the leather a bit harder as I tried to even my breaths.
Even with all the time that had passed and life that had been lived—it didn’t matter. I would have known it was her if only one of my senses had been working.
She smelled the same as she had all those years ago. I laughed in the least humorous way possible because, as much as I loathed it, she was every bit as beautiful as she’d been in high school too. Just like back then, she sure as hell didn’t know it now either.
I leaned over and spit on the sidewalk. All I needed to do was ride away and pretend as if the last ten minutes never happened. My freedom was right in front of me, and I should climb on, gun the engine, and open the throttle.
I shouldn’t go back in.
With my jaw locked tight, I turned away from my bike and headed down the alley between the shop and another building. Then, as quietly as I could, I unlocked the emergency exit and let myself into the back of the shop.
In the small, narrow space of the hallway, I could smell her. I inhaled deeply because my brain still wasn’t working, and I let myself think it fueled my hate, that it was only disgust punching at my skull. I refused to acknowledge that there was anything but deeply rooted loathing making my skin tight or that I didn’t care at all about what she may say or do while here. I told myself it was not because of her that I parked myself in the chair in the office, which was right next to Theo’s station, and left the door wide open while I pretended to look at his books.
I had to make myself believe it all because I’d only ever been weak once before in my life.
For the woman named Les in room five.
The girl who I knew as Alessa.
Stacie Santoro lives with her family in New York, in the town where she was born and raised. She is the mom to three amazing boys and wife to a great man (who swept her off her feet with his basketball skills).
When she’s not running with her family, you can find her enjoying a glass of wine or cup of tea, reading a book or daydreaming about a million things; like stories to write, putting her toes in the sand or owning every lip gloss created. Or maybe having one created just for her.
She’s also smiling big from the release of her debut novel, The Real Devil; Journal One, and a firm believer that it’s never too late to make your dreams come true.