Authors: Lolita Lopez
After work, she had to run by the graphic-design shop to check on her
new business cards, and then there was that cocktail party where she planned to schmooze and network.
Whitney settled on a belted dress made of fiery-orange fabric. The box pleats along the neckline were her favorite element. She chose those outrageously expensive leather flats she’d scrimped and saved to buy over the flashy pumps she’d reached for first. With all the walking and standing she’d do, her feet would thank her at the end of the day.
She quickly accessorized with earrings, a bracelet, and watch and tucked her cosmetic bag into her purse. Her cell phone had recharged overnight, so she unhooked it and tossed it into her bag, too. She grabbed her iPad from her bed and left her room.
By the time she reached the kitchen, she was already hitting up Facebook and Twitter, searching for the latest fashion news. The tantalizing scent of French toast, bacon, and eggs made her mouth water. She looked up from her iPad to see Eddie at the stove and Mick filling glasses with orange juice. He swooped in for a quick smooch.
“You look stunning.”
“Thank you, Mick.” Whitney placed her purse and tablet on the counter.
“Beautiful,” Eddie said, leaning over for a kiss. “Sorry I wasn’t there to hold you this morning.”
“I dragged him out for a run,” Mick explained. “I’m looking a little flabby around the midsection and needed the drill sergeant over there to kick my ass into high gear.”
Whitney giggled. “Flabby? You? There’s not an ounce of extra fat on your body.”
“I don’t know,” Eddie said, giving Mick a critical eye. “I’m pretty sure I grabbed ahold of a love handle last night.” Mick whacked him on the arm. “I kid. I kid!”
Whitney laughed and took the plate Eddie handed her. The guys trailed her into the dining room where they sat in their usual places.
Mick made a second trip for the tray of juice and coffee and brought her forgotten iPad.
“So what are your plans for your day off?” Whitney asked Mick as she drizzled her favorite organic maple syrup over the fluffy French toast Eddie had made.
“Sleep. Catch up on some television.”
“Do some grocery shopping,” Eddie interjected, shooting him a meaningful glance.
Mick groaned and grimaced. “You know I hate the grocery store.”
“Cry me a river,” Whitney said, shaking her head. “You do the shopping, like, four times a year.”
“But the list is so long and complicated. And,” he added emphatically, “Eddie makes me use coupons!”
Whitney laughed. “God forbid we save a little money around here.”
“Some of us”—Eddie gestured between himself and Whitney—
“didn’t grow up with a silver spoon tucked neatly between our lips.”
Mick narrowed his eyes and muttered over his glass, “I’ve got something you can tuck between your lips.”
“Yes, please,” Whitney said and offered her sexiest smile.
“Well, you can’t have any meat unless you finish your—”
“Not at the breakfast table, children,” Eddie scolded playfully.
Whitney surrendered to a fit of giggles as she picked up her iPad and continued skimming the morning’s latest posts and tweets. Social networking drove the fashion business. She made sure she was an active participant.
Her next stops were the handful of gossip blogs she loved. She read out the particularly juicy bits to the guys. She had a feeling Mick was the only one even the slightest bit interested. Eddie didn’t get the obsession with famous folks. He also wasn’t a fan of gossip. Such a moral sweetheart, that one.
As Whitney polished off her eggs and bacon and toast, she landed on the local news. Her finger scrolled down the front page of stories.
“Another robbery yesterday.”
“Yeah,” Eddie replied rather gruffly. “Two people killed. A teller and a guy making a deposit. Apparently they came in with shotguns and blasted up the place. Terrorized the whole room, got the money, shot up the vault, and then killed two people on the way out, both of them using their cell phones to text for help.”
Whitney’s full stomach churned as the horrifying vision filled her head. Eddie painted a truly frightening picture of violence.
“Sounds a lot like the old ’97 North Hollywood shootout,” Mick commented.
Eddie nodded, but Whitney shook her head. “I don’t remember that one very well. I was young and bouncing around between foster homes,” she clarified. “That’s the one with the semi-automatic weapons, right?”
“Yeah,” Eddie said, his voice tight. “They fired more than a thousand rounds at the cops outside the bank. Patrol cops who arrived on the scene first didn’t stand a chance against the robbers’ weapons.”
“One of them shot himself, and the other bled to death, right?”
“From wounds to the lower extremities,” Mick confirmed. “Nasty stuff.” He refilled his juice glass and poured more coffee in Eddie’s cup. “Do they have any leads?”
“None that I’ve heard,” Eddie said. “They seem to be somewhat professional but, you know, psychotic.”
“It’s sad,” Whitney murmured. “I can’t believe the way this crazy-ass economy has made some people lose their minds.”
“I don’t think it’s as simple as that,” Eddie replied. “When people are down on their luck, they steal diapers or a can of SPAM or something useful, you know? They don’t knock off banks and kill tellers. They aren’t interested in long prison terms. They just want to feed their kids or keep clean diapers on their butts. This?” Eddie
leaned over and touched the screen of her tablet. “This is a different animal altogether.”
Whitney fiddled with her napkin. Eddie was SWAT, and those were the guys who were called to situations like bank robberies. If these perps were willing to kill for money, they’d have no trouble taking a shot at Eddie. “You’ll be careful, won’t you? If you’re called to one of these robberies in progress, I mean.”
Eddie sat back and shrugged. “Am I ever careless?”
“No, but it makes me feel better to say it.”
Eddie winked at her. “I’ll be careful, sugar.”
“Don’t be a hero,” Mick added. “Let someone else take a bullet for once.”
“For once?” Whitney frowned. “Wait. Is that where that gnarly scar on your shoulder came from, Eddie?”
He nodded. “And the one on my thigh.”
Whitney slumped in her chair and pouted. She felt so incredibly left out. “Why didn’t I know you’d been shot?”
“It was years ago,” Mick said, as if that made it better. “When he was serving in Iraq.”
“Fallujah,” Eddie clarified.
“And it never occurred to either of you that I might want to know that?”
Eddie seemed confused. “I don’t see why you’d need to know. It’s none of your business.”
“Eddie!” Mick’s eyes widened as he shot Eddie a frustrated glare.
“What?” Eddie threw his hands up. “It was a long time ago. It’s a period of my life I’d rather forget, okay?” He stood up and checked his watch. “I have to go.”
Mouth agape, Whitney watched Eddie stalk away without so much as a good-bye. She swallowed hard as she fought tears. It was silly, really, to feel so hurt by something so insignificant. Guilt soured her belly. She should have left it alone. Obviously Eddie didn’t like to dwell on that time in his life. Who was she to bring it up?
“Whitney,” Mick breathed her name as he walked around the table. He knelt at her side and cupped her face. “I’m sorry about that.”
“No.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have made a big deal out of it. I mean, really, it’s not like I have some right to know everything about your pasts.”
“I’m not so sure of that. I think you have every right to know about those kinds of things. We’re in a relationship, and it doesn’t do any of us any good if we’re keeping secrets or not sharing information.”
“I just feel like I’m playing catch-up, you know? You and Eddie have been together for, like, ever. Me? I’m new. I’m realizing I don’t know anything about either of you.”
Mick sighed. “You’re right. You do have a lot of catching up to do. You’ll never know everything, though. Eddie and I have been friends since kindergarten. We’ve been through it all. The good, the bad, the ugly, the amazing.”
Sadness filtered through Whitney. God, he was right. She really didn’t stand a chance. Mick and Eddie shared an amazing bond, one borne of years of friendship and romance. Even if they grew to love her, she would never have that with them. She couldn’t compete with that.
“Hey,” Mick said, playfully chucking her chin. “Don’t look like that. You’re breaking my heart.”
“Yeah…well…I’m afraid you’re both going to break mine,” she confessed with a sniffle.
“What?” Mick was taken aback. “No. Never. Why would you think that?”
“You said it yourself. You and Eddie have been together for ages.
Where do I fit into that dynamic?” She shrugged. “Maybe this is the reason you two haven’t been able to find a third to complete your trio.
No one wants to be the odd man out.” She scooted back her chair and grabbed her iPad. “Especially me.”
Mick didn’t say a word as she gathered up her purse, found her car keys, and headed out to the garage. She ignored the painful lump in her throat as she slid into the front seat of her car and hit the button on the garage door opener hooked to the sun visor. Somehow she managed not to cry as she backed out of the driveway and onto the street. Shallow as it sounded, the thought of having to fix her makeup held the tears at bay.
Whitney’s commute seemed shorter than usual. Her distracted mind made her nervous, so she continually fought to keep her focus on the traffic instead of the troubling thoughts swirling round and round in her head. Clearly, the honeymoon phase was over.
How could she have been so foolish? Jumping blindly into a new job and a new and very complicated relationship was just plain stupid.
If she’d been a man, she’d have accused herself of thinking with her dick instead of her head. As it was, she blamed it on her overactive libido and those stacks of erotica she read. Everything was rainbows and ponies in fiction. In real life? Not so much.
Whitney parked her car in her usual spot and took a moment to check her reflection. She applied a quick coat of lipstick, grabbed her purse, and slid out of the car. The small red compact beeped reassuringly after she hit the lock button on her key fob. She sucked in a deep, cleansing breath and shoved her personal problems to the far corner of her mind. She had a job to do and refused to let her sex life interfere with her professional one.
* * * *
Still in a rotten mood, Eddie flopped down in a booth at his favorite diner and stared at the lunch menu. The rest of his team had given him a wide berth. He didn’t blame them. He was being an absolute bear. What he needed was a swift kick in the ass.
Eddie rubbed his hand down his face and tried to force the looping image of Whitney’s hurt expression from his mind. He’d been such a
jackass to her. It was wrong, really wrong of him, and he didn’t know what to do about it. Apologize? Sure, but how?
He’d considered calling or texting, but he knew she had a very busy day. The last thing he wanted to do was rattle her nerves. He’d already done enough damage for one day.
Why had he snapped at her like that? He kept running the scenario, and it never made sense. Her question had made him uneasy, and he’d overreacted. He didn’t like to think about those tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three rounds of combat had done a number on him. If it hadn’t been for Mick and his insistence that Eddie attend private therapy, god only knew where he’d have ended up by now.
Probably staring into a bottle every night…
But he’d avoided that rather-ugly possibility. He’d learned to deal with the stress and trauma. He rarely experienced violent or painful dreams. His flashbacks were mostly gone and only very infrequently triggered. He avoided most violent films and video games. He made a point of talking out messy crime scenes with Mick who wasn’t afraid of a little gore and always listened without judgment.
Thinking back, Eddie realized he’d never spoken of the firefight that ended his military career with Whitney because she’d never asked. She wasn’t the typical woman with a near fetish for men in uniforms. Most of the women Eddie had dated liked to ask probing questions about his time in the Army. His usual tactic was to give a succinct answer and quickly change the subject. He didn’t want to be the star of some woman’s military fantasy. He didn’t want to relive the horrors of war to play into some gal’s sex dream or to satisfy morbid curiosity.
Eddie sat back against the cracked-leather seat. Whitney knew he’d been in the military. She’d commented on the pictures in his room once or twice in those early weeks of their roommate arrangement, but she’d never pried. She’d simply nodded and left it alone. Somehow she’d known it was off-limits.
And he’d yelled at her for finally feeling comfortable enough with him to ask.
God, he’d really fucked this one up.
His inner psychiatrist pushed for answers. Why had he blown up like that? Why had he told her it wasn’t any of her business when, clearly, it was?
He shuddered inwardly at the very thought of that lying bitch.
She’d been one of those war-hero junkies. She’d been his nurse in the VA hospital where he’d been sent for treatment and therapy. Man, he’d been so blind and stupid. He’d fallen for her hook, line, and sinker.
And then she’d met Mick and had happily become the filling in their man-sandwich, so to speak. Eddie had allowed himself to dream.
He’d envisioned all those things he’d been craving for so long only to have his hopes dashed.
Those old scars on his body were like the physical manifestations of the emotional wounds she’d inflicted. He didn’t like to talk about them because it brought up all those old memories of Miranda, memories he preferred remained buried.