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Authors: Pam Godwin

Tags: #Romantic Suspense

Vanquish (10 page)

BOOK: Vanquish
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The slam of the front door lurched Amber's stomach into a fit of cramps. Van was gone.

She dropped before the toilet and hung her head. Her mouth swelled with a burst of saliva, and she dry-heaved until her throat was raw. But the pain was nothing compared to the hot stabs of self-loathing perforating her insides.

What did she expect? She'd strutted her crazy all over the house and thought he'd hang around and maybe have sex with her? No shit, she'd overestimated her worth. Though, to be fair, he'd been the first man to reject her offer.

This was her fault. She hadn't even tried to seduce him. She should've said something sexy, maybe flashed a nipple. A man like Van could have any woman he wanted. He wouldn't have just shoved her on the bed and fucked her because she wore a skimpy dress.

A strand of hair fell in her face, and she shoved it away. She used to turn heads once without even trying, but that was
. She'd lost her edge. Beauty faded, and certainly being shut in and crazy for two years had sped that along.

And now she faced an impossible trip to the mailbox.
Thumbs up, Amber. Job well done.

Her chin quivered.
Pathetic crybaby
. She locked her jaw, pushed away from the toilet, and sat on her heels. Beside her, the shower plinked a steady drip, a reminder that it would be several more months before she could afford to repair it.

It took four attempts to stand, and when she finished brushing her teeth, her heart rate rallied, ready to panic all over again.

Fuck that. She breathed deeply, engaging her abs, and forced her feet to move to the front door. Her head swam with dizziness, and by the time she locked the deadbolt four times, the heave of her lungs had elevated into hyperventilation.

Stop it.
She could peek out the window and make sure he wasn't on the porch.

She sucked in, sharply. No, she couldn't. Looking outside was a surefire way to make this night worse. Besides, there was no way he stuck around.

She stomped to the kitchen, slamming her heels four times on the wood floor to drown out her gasping breaths. That man had been intrusive, rude, as fuck. His departure was a blessing. She grabbed a beer from the fridge. The first sip burned the cuts his teeth had left on her lips.

Oh God, that kiss. Her taste buds tingled, not from the hops but from the remembered pleasure of his skillful tongue, the bite of tequila on his breath, and the spicy flavor that seemed to be inherently him. A taste she would never experience again.

Good riddance. She tipped back the bitter ale, hellbent on creating a new night through alcoholic osmosis. In a few days, she would be contemplating her life while sitting in the dark without water or electricity. Because she wouldn't be going to the mailbox. Not tonight. Not ever again.

Might as well drink the beer while it was still cold. She dropped the empty bottle in the trash and grabbed another. “Fucking sucks.” She sucked. Shallow bastards with silver eyes sucked. She slumped onto the kitchen stool, hung her head over the counter, and cursed her sucky self and the sucky bastard who had just ran far, far away.

A six-pack later, she'd vacuumed out the footprints in the bedroom carpet, packaged up the sheaths, printed the postage labels, and barfed as much of the caloric beer as her stomach was willing to release. Then she spent the next hour engaged in a standoff with the front door.

“This is all your fault.” She struck the wood panel, and her palm landed like a sloppy slap. “If you weren't in my way, I'd be out there right now shipping my shit.”

It was a lie, but the door didn't know that. It just stood there like an unfeeling asshole.

“Ever heard of a sledgehammer?” she yelled then burped and laughed hysterically. “That's right, motherfucker. All I have to do is smash your hinges, and you won't even be able to stand.” Momentarily distracted by the jumping sensation of her hiccup, she touched her chest and swayed not-so beauty-pageant–
ably in her heels.

Now what was she doing? Oh right. She lunged for the door, determined to open it, just drunk enough to not give a damn. She wobbled as her hand touched the knob and jumped back, dizzy and confused.

“You're nothing. You hear me?” She thrust out a finger at the deadbolt to punctuate her point.

What was her point again? Jesus, her brain felt heavy as she watched the slow, mesmerizing movements of her arms. She tossed them in the air and stumbled. Whoa, the floor was rocking. Earthquake in Texas? Nah, it was just a blowout of pent-up funk along her psychotic fault lines and stuff. She laughed, bent-over, snorting, though she couldn't recall what was so damned funny.

Probably a good time to call it a night. With a middle finger aimed at the door, she grabbed the bottle of tequila from the kitchen and climbed into bed. Tequila made the tongue taste delicious, especially when it belonged to sinful lips and sharp teeth. She unscrewed the lid and drank. And drank. Until she couldn't remember why she didn't do this every night.

The next morning, she woke with a second heartbeat pulsating behind her eyes and the hot burn of tequila-laced vapors in her throat. At some point during the night, her mouth had forgotten how to produce saliva, and her tongue had withered into a suffocating gag of sandpaper.

Then she remembered the prick who had the nerve to be offended by her proposal. And the fact that she deserved it. Death sounded like a great plan for the day. His. Hers. Definitely his.

She tried to raise her head, and a starburst of pain stole her vision. Not happening. She rolled to her side and her cheek landed in a puddle of drool on the pillow. Not just slobber but the vomit-scented variety that sent her stomach contracting to the tune of
curl up and die

What a miserable thing she'd become. A victim of her own destruction. But self-indulgent pity did little more than exaggerate excuses. True comfort came from order and routine. She glanced at the clock.

Oh, no, no, no. She was late. The pounding in her head exploded, and her hands started shaking. Hangover be damned, she needed to get her ass up.

She pushed with weak arms to a sitting position and waited for the queasiness to pass. The bedside lamp was still on, its light intensifying the headache. She swung her legs over the side of the mattress and stopped breathing. Footprints indented the carpet from the bed to the door. Man-sized tracks. But she'd vacuumed sometime between the sixth beer and the tequila chaser. Or were the fumes in her head making up memories?

A terrifying thought hurdled her stomach to her throat. She stumbled from the bed and ran to the front door, clutching her churning belly.

She wiggled the door handle, and the deadbolt held as it should have. She knew she'd locked it before she'd destroyed all her brain cells. Glancing around, nothing seemed out of order, until her attention narrowed on the books.

Oh God, the titles were rotated and no longer alphabetized by author. The lines weren't there, the spines zig-zagging along the shelves. Her hands clenched and unclenched, and her skin swelled so hot, she was surprised it didn't catch fire. The meddling dick!

She scrambled to the shelves, breathing from her diaphragm. Terrible, unimaginable chaos invaded her head when the lines weren't straight and things weren't grouped as they should be. Sweet mother, she'd slept all night while the spines lay in a shuffled, incongruent mess.

Her hands flew through the books, fixing and straightening. Why had she let him anywhere in the house alone? She hadn't even looked at the shelves when he'd left. How could she have been so sidetracked?

Halfway through reordering the novels, her mind wandered back to the footprints in the carpet. When did those happen? Surely, he hadn't messed with any of the other locks while he'd been there and come back after she'd passed out? Her fingers turned cold, and an ache ballooned in the back of her throat.

Heart racing, she sprinted through the house and checked the windows and the rear sliding door. With a trembling hand behind each and every drape, she confirmed they were all locked. She buckled over the kitchen counter, her skin clammy. Jesus, that little freak-out had not helped her nausea.

She gulped down a large glass of water. Then she returned to the shelves, sagged onto her knees, and straightened the self-help books. He knew she was fucked up. Of course, he wouldn't return to mess up her carpet. She wasn't worth the trouble. She must've left the footprints in a drunken sleepwalk.

Never again. No more drinking. No more muscled men with alluring scars and invasive questions. And no more acts of desperation.

The clocks on the wall read 9:54 AM. Her daily routine was one hour and fifty minutes behind schedule. She'd just have to start in ten minutes and skip the two hours of baseboard scrubbing and furniture polishing to reset the clock. Her pulse elevated at the notion, but she would survive this. She had to. Soon, she would be back on schedule and realigning her world.

10:04 AM:
She vacuumed, mopped the floors, and washed the bedding.

12:04 PM:
She ran four miles on the treadmill, sweating tequila and hops from her pores.

1:04 PM:
She ate lunch—a baloney sandwich and four pickle slices. Just like every Sunday. Twenty minutes later, her stomach felt grossly distended. She purged the sandwich.

1:34 PM:
She lifted weights—back and biceps on Sunday and Wednesday.

2:04 PM:
She worked on her remaining leathercraft orders.

Eight hours later, she finished the carvings on two belts, three wallets, and tied off the last stitch on a sweet throw pillow made from the recycled leather of men’s worn loafers.

At 10:04 PM, she slumped onto the couch with her laptop, fresh from a shower and dressed in a tank top and boy shorts. The straight lines and symmetrical flawlessness of the sitting room soothed her heart rate, even as she probed every detail for an imperfect tilt or wrinkle. She exhaled a heavy sigh and relaxed against the cushions. Her world felt pretty damned realigned.

She hadn't thought of him or her overdue bills once in twelve hours. So she didn't feel too obsessive when she logged into an online agoraphobics group and searched the discussions on
I told him to leave when he found out about my disorder.
Zero results returned.

Not surprised, she tried,
He won't sleep with me.
Zero results returned.

Her face heated. “Bullshit.” She bit her lip and typed,
He thinks I'm nuts.
Thirty-three pages of results, but none of the discussions applied to her situation.

Had she overreacted when she found him reading her self-help books? She sniffed and rolled her shoulders. Didn't matter. He left anyway. She closed the laptop and leaned back. It was for the best.

Except she couldn't distract her mind from the prior night, reliving the strength of his arms around her, the spicy scent of his breath, the pressure of his mouth against her lips, and the way he owned her with a flick of his tongue.

She tried not to listen to the silent slither of loneliness as it snaked its way around her. Tried not to analyze why she felt colder and more hollow tonight than any other night. Tried not think about how much she missed the intoxicating warmth of a man sleeping beside her, skin on skin, even if that memory had been created and destroyed by Brent.

None of that solved her financial problems. If she could ship her completed sales by Tuesday, maybe she'd only be without water and electricity for a few days.

She grabbed her cell phone and opened a text to contact Zach. They never communicated this way, and she waffled with how to start the conversation. She went with courtesy.
Are you feeling better?

Thirty seconds later, he replied,
yes will b there tues.

Her heart soared then plummeted. Would he still want sex or had she scared him away from that? She imagined his lips on hers, and the remembered sensation suddenly seemed...uncertain. Maybe, he'd kissed her weakly because he didn't want to kiss her at all. A swallow lodged in her throat. She was flawed, after all.

After Van's repulsion to her offer for sex, she felt used and unclean. She cracked her knuckles not really feeling them. Her insides twisted in knots. Sleeping with Zach had lost its appeal, but she had nothing else to offer him.

She wouldn't be so dependent if she'd gone to the mailbox while soaring on liquid courage. But no amount of tequila would help her conquer the fear. She didn't want to conquer it, because she needed it, the adrenaline rush and the lung-squeezing pain. Like an addiction, the fear fed her, made her feel alive, and gave her something to focus on. She was so messed up.

The phone dinged with a new text.
will u keep the lights on this time?

An onslaught of trembling tightened her muscles. If she said
, it would be a new low in her desperation. If she said
, she would lose the one person she had to depend on.

Is this the man you want the lights on with?

Unbidden, Dr. Michael's words filled her mind with another man, one with a seductive smile and a perfect scar.

BOOK: Vanquish
13.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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