Authors: Renee Miller
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher.
Ebook formatting by
For Carlos, because he’s read Dirty Truths more times than I have, and because he's Carlos.
And for Luis, because he's awesome.
Table of Contents
Joe McNeil sank onto the stool, his face haunted.
“Rough night?” Wade set a Coors in front of his friend. “Just let me lock up and I’ll join you.”
“Shit, I forgot you closed early on Wednesdays. I’ll finish this and get out of your hair. I just needed somewhere to calm down.”
Wade slid the bolt across the door and strode back to the bar. Joe’s leg vibrated against the stool as he took a long swig of his beer. Kristina. It had to be. Nothing else rattled Joe.
He lifted a glass from the rack and scooped some ice into it. After grabbing the bottle of Jack Daniels off the
shelf, he walked around the bar to join Joe. “Kristina?”
Joe nodded and finished his beer. Wade filled his glass and slid the remaining whiskey to his friend. “Probably not the best idea. I could kill the little fucker.”
“Who do you think?”
Daniel Riley. Useless piece of shit.
“When we got there, Kristina said she was carrying the baby and fell down the stairs.” Joe’s voice broke. He cleared his throat and rolled his shoulders. “I told her she was a piss poor liar. No one gets a fucking shiner from falling down the stairs.”
“He hit her?” Rage burned in the bottom of Wade’s gut.
“Christ, when isn’t he hitting her? This time, he punched her, kicked her, bit her… fuck. Then he hit the baby. Might have been his worst mistake.”
“The baby?” A red haze distorted Wade’s vision.
“Well, Kristina says he didn’t, but I know when she’s lying. Cadence had a bruise on her cheek, but she seems okay. Kristina took the brunt of whatever pissed him off this time. Wait.” Joe dug into his jacket and pulled out his cell. He pressed a couple of buttons and passed it to Wade. “There. See for yourself.”
Hands unsteady, Wade looked at the images. The eyes, once a bright green and so full of life it made a man ache just to look into them, held hopelessness that broke his heart. He skipped through the pictures, unable to look at them for longer than a moment, before stopping at an image of Kristina’s abdomen. The right side was covered by an angry purple bruise, swollen and scraped in spots. “What the fuck, Joe? Did she call the cops?”
“Yeah, after we made her do it.”
“You know, I could take care of this. A favor; just between you and me. No one would hear from him again.” Wade cracked his knuckles.
“You know what Kristina’s like. Just let her do this on her own. I think she’s finally had enough. If we do anything, she’ll know. She’d never forgive me.”
“No, Wade. I mean it. Leave it be. Please.” Joe glanced up.
“Fine. But if you ever change your mind, you know where to find me.”
“He hurts her again, I don’t make any promises.”
“Me neither, my friend.”
“I can’t do this.” Kristina shook her head.
The lawyer touched her hand. “You can.”
They sat in a little room awaiting the judge’s decision. Although it was to be a place to calm a person’s nerves, the pale green walls and old office chairs lent to nausea instead.
Daniel visited the night before, begging her for another chance, insisting he would change. He pleaded with her to stop the divorce proceedings and she’d wavered. In the end, though, she’d stood firm. Their marriage was over.
Now that she had testified against him, the judge sat in his chambers deciding the particulars of their failed marriage. It was all too real. Kristina feared she couldn’t handle being alone.
“Look at these and tell me you want to go back.” Her lawyer passed the pictures she’d already seen. Images she saw every day in the mirror, every night in her dreams.
They showed a destroyed woman she didn’t recognize
. It wasn’t just on the outside although the blackened eyes, swollen nose, and bruised body were bad enough. Emptiness reflected in that woman’s green gaze, so cold and vast Kristina barely recognized her.
She nodded to her lawyer. “Okay. You’re right. I just don’t want to fight him anymore.”
He smiled, his dark eyes crinkling at the corners.
She didn’t want to be the woman in the pictures, the one who jumped at shadows and trembled at the slightest change in tone.
“You’ll fight no matter what you do, because it’s what Mr. Riley does. But you have to get him out of your house. He could kill you the next time, and almost did.” He squeezed her hand.
She looked away.
“I’m not telling you what to do, but if you were my daughter, I’d urge you to think about the future. What about your baby? What if she grows to be a difficult child? What will he do if she doesn’t ‘obey’ as her mother does?”
Shame burned her throat as she remembered the last time Daniel slept in their home. Cadence had been so still, and the bruise... Daniel didn’t look at the photos when they’d passed them to his attorney. Instead, he’d stared at Kristina, his mouth pressed into a firm line. Showing the pictures of her bruises was the only way she’d ensure he couldn’t take Cadence, but Daniel would never understand she could have done much worse. If she’d taken pictures of what he did to their daughter, he would be in jail.
Kristina sighed. “I definitely don’t want her hurt, but I don’t think he—”
She looked at her lawyer, a man old enough to be her grandfather and saw the pity in his eyes. God, she was sick of pity. She’d seen it when her parents came to help her, and when they’d taken the pictures. Her dad urged her to tell the police everything, but she didn’t want anyone to know what she’d let him do to Cadence. A good mother would never have allowed the situation to become so dangerous. Kristina couldn’t bear the thought of losing her daughter, even if she might deserve to.
Everyone in town already knew about her failed marriage. She didn’t need them knowing she’d botched motherhood as well.
A small woman dressed in an impossibly tight grey suit opened the door and motioned them outside. They followed her, back to the judge’s chambers. She ushered them inside a small dark room. The walls, paneled in a deep brown wood, matched the desk and floor. Three chairs, their metal legs rusted, lined up before the desk. Daniel and his lawyer stood by the door. Kristina shook as she walked past.
Their judge, a thin man who must have forgotten how to smile, sat at a large oak desk covered with papers, most in stacks, a few spread out before him.
He cleared his throat and looked at both of them in turn. “Usually I would decide this differently. I’d send you home and give you a date to return, but given the situation, it’s wise to settle matters as quickly as possible.”
Daniel’s lawyer nudged him forward.
Kristina moved away as he brushed her side. The judge eyed them before putting his glasses on and lifting a thick stack of papers. “I agree for a period of time, Mr. Riley’s visits with his daughter should be supervised. I am recommending anger management classes Mr. Riley. You will attend if you hope to see your daughter in your home without supervision. These pictures are disturbing, very disturbing. I know the matter has been dealt with in criminal court already, but I want to make sure you get the help you need so your anger doesn’t spiral out of control.”
Kristina had trouble hiding a smile. She wouldn’t have to leave Cadence alone with him. Whatever else happened today didn’t matter. Daniel couldn’t take her daughter, and that was all she cared about.
“Mrs. Riley,” the judge’s dull voice brought her thoughts back to the present and she straightened. “I’m giving you a choice regarding visitation. Mr. Riley may visit your daughter in a designated place with a representative of the court, out of your presence, or in your home with you supervising.”
“In my home,” she said.
No way would she place her baby in a stranger’s care. Daniel could charm anyone. He’d convince them he was a good person and have Cadence on his own within weeks. And if she angered him, he’d make sure Kristina never saw her again.
“Give the decision some consideration. You are under no obligation to supervise these visits, or to ever be alone in Mr. Riley’s company again. This is an option, a choice, Mrs. Riley. Please, consider it carefully.”
Kristina held her breath. Daniel’s gaze turned, his eyes burning into her. Her fear of losing her daughter outweighed her fear of him. “It’s better for Cadence to be in her own home.”
“Are you sure? This means the restraining order issued previously will be taken away.” He lifted a grey brow.
“I—it’s okay. He’ll be getting help. If he—if Daniel gets angry again, I’ll arrange for someone else to handle the visits. I’d like us to be able to get along for Cadence’s sake,” Kristina said.
“It’s settled then. Although I would like you to consider having a non-partial third party present for these visits, at least until Mr. Riley finishes his counseling.” The judge rambled on about property, child support and other things related to the divorce. Kristina heard none of it over the roaring in her ears.
Seated on the couch, Kristina stared out the window and waited for Daniel to arrive. Birds chirped and a large blue jay fought with a robin over the seed in the feeder near the window. No matter how valiantly the robins fought, the aggressive jays always won.
The afternoon sun reflected off the neighbor’s steel roof. She blinked to clear her vision, her attention moving to two boys walking slowly down the quiet street. Shirtless, towels and fishing poles over their shoulders, they headed toward the river across the road. After climbing over the guardrails next to the old footbridge, they disappeared over the short slope and into the trees. Her mind revisited summers spent with her friends in the muddy water beneath the falls. Maybe next summer she could take Cadence swimming.
Shaded by a tall oak tree, the driveway remained
empty; as it had been the last five times she’d looked out. He never came when he said he would. She didn’t know why she expected him to.
Kristina stood and turned from the window her gaze drifting once more to the clock. More than two hours late. Cadence had fallen asleep, despite Kristina’s efforts to keep her awake. Not that Daniel cared. He paid his daughter little attention when he came, preferring to argue instead.
Hatred burned in his eyes when he looked at her and it soaked every word he said. Even as he pleaded for Kristina’s forgiveness, his loathing smoldered in the brown depths of his eyes, through his false tears. It hurt more than she’d ever let on to realize he never loved her.
Gravel crunched outside. A bubble of anxiety grew in her chest. Daniel’s black Dodge blocked the window. The sight of the large truck angered her every time she had to look at it. He didn’t pay child support, but he bought the new truck only a week after the divorce was final. Of course, Daniel claimed his girlfriend, Desiree, bought it.
She hated herself for it, but every time he mentioned Desiree, jealousy soured Kristina’s stomach. Guilt and indecision had plagued her throughout the ordeal of leaving, filing for divorce, and pressing charges against him. She didn’t want the marriage they had, but longed for the man she thought he could be. Kristina often wondered what might have been if she could’ve made him happy. He moved on easily enough, though. So much for dying without her.
The door burst open and Kristina jumped.
“Don’t start, I had to meet a client and it ran late,” he grumbled.
She looked at his khaki shorts and black polo shirt. “On the golf course?”
“So? It’s business. I’ve told you a million times, but you never listen. Half your problem is your shitty listening skills.”
She bit her lip as Daniel crossed the room to Cadence’s playpen.
“She’s sleeping,” Kristina warned.
He glared and leaned over to pick the baby up. Cadence squirmed, protesting a muffled cry at the audacity of whoever dared to wake her. He straightened her pink dress, holding her in one arm. Opening her eyes, Cadence looked up at her father. She turned her head and, seeing Kristina standing across the room, her lip trembled.
“Fuck, is this all she does? You’ve got her spoiled.”
Daniel bounced her a bit, but it didn’t stop the wail that escaped Cadence’s mouth. She reached for Kristina but he turned away and walked to the kitchen.
Kristina followed, aching to take her daughter. He held her all wrong. Cadence hated to lie on her back. She preferred to be facing out so she could see everything.
He paced the floor speaking in hushed tones to the squalling infant. Kristina hovered in the doorway. The window above the small table cast little light in the tiny room and the darkness depressed her. She often wished she could knock out the far wall and put a large window in to allow in the morning sun. Instead, she’d settled with painting it a cheery yellow, a color Daniel had forbidden while they were married. If he noticed the change, he didn’t comment.
“Here, take her.” He pushed Cadence into her arms.
“Shhh,” she lifted Cadence against her chest and patted her back. The baby settled at once.
“That’s just bullshit. You’re turning her against me, just like everyone else.”
“I didn’t turn anyone against you.”
“No?” he leaned against the sink, crossing his arms over his chest.
Kristina backed toward the living room, flinching at his belligerent glare.
“It’s been nearly three months. When can I take her on my own?”
“I don’t know. It’s up to the court.”
A muscle in his jaw twitched.
stared at the bottles lined up on the counter next to his arm. Although she had grown used to the rage, it didn’t change the way her body reacted. Cold sweat broke out down the small of her back and she tried to hide the slight tremble of her hands. She didn’t want to be afraid, but her body couldn’t forget how much Daniel’s anger hurt.
“It’s not bad enough you tell everyone our personal business and make me look like a monster, you have to make sure I’m miserable too. You like controlling me, making me beg to see my kid?”
“I want you to be happy so both of us can move on.” Kristina backed away, trying to put distance between her and the rage that hung in the room like thick smoke.
He snorted, “Right. So you called Desiree because you want me to be happy?”
“So she’s a liar?” Daniel pushed away from the counter.
Kristina retreated until the playpen dug against her thighs. Skirting around it, not taking her eyes from Daniel, she placed Cadence inside. The baby fussed. Then she noticed the mirror hanging on the side and smiled at her reflection.
“You told her I was sick,” Daniel said. “You told her to leave while she had a chance. Right?”
Kristina shook her head. “I didn’t say those things. She asked why you couldn’t see Cadence and I told her—”
“You had no right to talk to her at all,” he roared.
Although she expected the rage, it startled her. Why did it always turn to this?
“You took everything from me and now you’re trying to destroy my life.”
“Daniel, I just want to forget this nastiness and move on. I don’t want your life ruined. Can’t we just get along for Cadence’s sake? I’m glad you found someone.”
“Bullshit! It’s okay for you to fuck around and to sleep with whoever shows an interest, but I can’t. You want to control my life.”
She said nothing. He wouldn’t believe her anyway. She’d told him repeatedly there’d been no one since him, but Daniel preferred to believe the worst about her. Maybe to be able to live with himself he had to make her the villain. The alternative would be unacceptable to someone like Daniel.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and strode across the room.
Kristina stumbled to move out of his way.
He turned, raising an eyebrow a smirk curving his lips. “What are you afraid of?”
She straightened her shoulders. He couldn’t hurt her now. The lawyers and the police said he couldn’t.