Hollow, inside and out. Everything I am, everything I thought I could be, I left in the hands of a woman. A beautiful, effervescent, sexy, and in the end . . . manipulative cheat. I should have known it would never, could never work between us. She’s famous. A celebrity. I’m nobody when compared to all that is Skyler Paige.
My fuckin’ dream girl.
Why would the likes of her settle for a businessman, a beer-and-baseball-type guy living in Beantown, when she could have anyone in the entire world? It makes no sense. We made no sense, even though for a while, I thought she was mine. I held all of her beauty and what I believed was her soul in my heart.
Somehow, I lost it, lost everything.
I have no idea how to move forward. What my next steps should be. I’ve honestly not felt this low in . . . forever. Even when Kayla burned me, it didn’t feel like this. Like I’ve been gutted, skewered beyond repair.
There’s also the issue of my brothers. Once Bo and Royce find out, they are going to be all over me. Forcing me to talk about her, get over it, move on. How does one get over or move on from the love of their life? Sure, I’ve been hurt in the past. Which means I knew exactly what I was getting into when I signed on for a relationship with Skyler. Yet I still waded in. Blinded by her sweet honeys, her self-doubt, and the way she seemed to need me.
Having Skyler count on me made me feel ten feet tall. Being her man, hearing her voice in my ear on the phone each night, having her body in my bed every chance we got, was living a dream. And like all dreams can do, mine so easily turned into a nightmare.
With her, I guess it just wasn’t meant to last. I’ve found a lot of things in life are like that. Not meant to last. My mother even warned me about such things when I was a boy.
“Sometimes beautiful moments are like sand slipping through your fingers one granule at a time. When you’re experiencing it, it’s the biggest, brightest sensation in the world. And then, as quickly as it came, it slips away. We’re left with only the memory of that moment, of the feeling of having something so soft and glittery within our grasp. That’s part of its beauty. Knowing you had a hold on it for a brief time is a blessing. Remember that, son. Not everything in life is meant to last.”
I walk to the kitchen to get another beer, planning to add it to the other four empty bottles on the table. I took the flight back from New York in a complete daze. I only recall going to the first phone store I saw, buying a new phone, downloading my most recent backup from the cloud, and shutting it off. I’ve since locked myself in my apartment. The landline rings at random—caller ID shows the calls are probably from Wendy—but I ignore it and let the calls go to voice mail. I numbly move around. I’d told Royce I was going to take a few days, touch base with them sometime today. He probably thinks I’m balls deep in my woman right now, which is exactly where I should be!
Intense anger screeches up my spine and surrounds me like a living, breathing evil. “Goddamn it!” I roar as the claws of betrayal slither all over my skin, digging into any bit of meaty flesh they find. The hair on the back of my neck stands straight up, and I clutch the empty beer bottle in my fist and look up at the ceiling.
White. Flat. Nothingness.
Images of her flood my vision.
Skyler in Johan’s arms . . .
Spending the night in his bed . . .
Those delicate hands on his body . . .
His lips on hers . . .
It’s like a demented waterwheel, dropping the next load of horrible pictures, each one worse than the last. My skin is awash with violent tremors as though a bucket of spiders has been dropped over my head and they’re skittering across my skin.
“Why, Skyler? Why would you do this to me? To us!” I holler into my empty apartment, the fire inside me building to epic proportions, burning flesh and muscle from the inside out. I can’t fucking take it. The despair. The ugliness I feel about the one woman I gave my goddamned heart to!
Another image of her blowing me a kiss enters my mind, and I clench my teeth, close my eyes as tight as I can, and impulsively pull my arm back and smash my fist and the beer bottle into the kitchen wall. Not only does the glass shatter and cut into my hand on impact, my fist goes straight through the drywall.
A searing pain ricochets up from my hand, through my forearm, and to my shoulder. A guttural scream tears through the room as I fall to my knees, clutching my bloody hand. I barely catch myself on the counter as I go down, breaking my fall. My knees hit the tile violently, and I jerk, my body shuddering as the agony of my hand and knees filters into my consciousness.
The door to my apartment slams open, and I barely glance up. A pair of dirty black motorcycle boots come into my view.
“Brother . . . fuck!” Bo’s tortured voice penetrates my consciousness as the man leans down and grips my shoulders. “Jesus Christ . . . what did she do to you?”
I close my eyes, shame flowing out every one of my pores.
Bo lifts my arm. “Shit, Park, you’re gonna need stitches. You might have even broken your hand. What did you do?” He glances at the smashed section of wall above the counter where I’m kneeling. “You hit the wall?” He snatches a towel from the counter and wraps my hand. “And how the fuck did you cut your palm? Dude . . . it’s deep, and you’re bleeding like crazy. We have to go to the emergency room.”
I shake my head. “No way. Not going.”
“Yes, you are. Unless you want me to call Mrs. Ellis to talk some sense into you? I think that might be a bit more painful than swallowing your pride and letting your brother take you, eh? Now come on, you’re soaking the towel through, and blood freaks me out.”
Blood freaks Bo out.
I stifle a chuckle as the four beers I finished in the last hour twist and turn in my gut. The woman I love cheated on me. Just like Kayla. My past rushes to the surface along with the heartache. Haunting me. Digging the vile knife of betrayal deeper into my heart.
My mouth salivates, and a sour taste flows over my tongue. “Oh no.” I make a gagging sound and clutch at my stomach with my good hand.
Bo hauls me up and over to the sink just as my liquid lunch pours out of me. When I think I’ve got it all out and the heaving stops, I turn on the faucet and rinse out my mouth. The acid in my throat burns like I’ve swallowed razor blades.
“Bottle of water, please.” I point to the fridge.
Bo gets a bottle, puts it on the counter in front of me, and leaves the kitchen without a word. I’ve barely taken a handful of calming breaths before he’s crouching at my feet with my Nikes in place. I shove my feet in one at a time while he ties them for me in silence, taking care of me when I can’t do the same for myself. He snags my gray hoodie from where it lies on the counter and eases me into the garment, helping me carefully push my wounded hand through the armhole as gently as possible without adding any pain and suffering.
Christ, I have the best friends.
He leads me toward my front door and grabs the keys to the Tesla on the way out. Bo drives a motorcycle, and he knows I won’t ride bitch. Injured or not. No way, nohow.
The car is quiet as we motor down the road to the closest hospital.
“You gonna tell me what happened?” he finally asks.
I sigh and rub at my forehead with my free hand. “Not much to say.”
He chuckles and gives me the side-eye. “In my experience, there are always very good reasons a man puts his fist through a wall, and all of them center around one thing . . .”
“Oh yeah? Do bestow your worldly wisdom on me,” I crack numbly.
I grind my teeth and focus my gaze out the window.
“Your woman is probably the hottest woman alive, and a beauty like that can also be hard to hold on to.” He glances at me with an expression of pity plastered across his face. “Then there was this morning’s top sleazy magazine report, which has her leaving last night from her home and going to the St. Regis Hotel in New York. That same report states she left this morning from the same hotel, which also happens to be the exact hotel her ex-dickhole is staying at. There’s no way it’s a coincidence,” he surmises.
“Not a coincidence.” I sigh and clench my teeth, trying to hold back the boiling frustration the admission causes.
“Why’d she go there?” His question is more a gasp of surprise.
I shrug. “Fuck if I know.”
“And you haven’t talked to her?” His head jolts back in his seat as if he’s offended by the absurdity.
I huff. “I called this morning after three hours’ sleep in an empty bed at her house. Worried about her safety. Guess who answered her cell, boasting about the fun they had last night?”
Bo’s entire expression turns into one of extreme disgust. “I don’t believe it.”
I wish I didn’t either.
“Believe it. She was there. I heard her voice after I’d nailed him with all the shit Wendy has on him.”
“He’s going to leave her alone?” He passes a couple of cars and moves into the fast lane.
I keep my arm at a right angle with my hand pointing up. “One can only hope. Except I’m guessing that point is moot, because she was there with him all night.”
Visions of her rolling around in a bed with Johan cause my chest to tighten so much I can barely breathe. I gasp for air and roll the window down to let the cool breeze ease the nausea.
“Has she tried to call you? Tell you what happened?” His tone is one of anger and disbelief.
The fire I’d put out by ralphing into the sink comes back like a raging inferno in my gut and chest. “Doesn’t matter. She cheated on me. With her fucktard ex who was blackmailing her.”
Bo frowns and plucks at his goatee. “I don’t know, man. The woman I saw at Lucky’s was doing cartwheels over being with you. And don’t try and pretend you weren’t gonzo over her, because we all could see it.”
“I fucking love her, Bo. Love her. And she cheated. Just like Kayla. You’re smart to have your chicklets, have your fun. Fuck love and fuck her!” I grate out between clenched teeth, the pain in my hand making my entire body hot. Sweat tingles against my hairline, and my vision swims before I shake it off and open the window farther, the wind taking the blackness away with it.
Bo shakes his head. “Man, I know you’re hurting and shit’s eating you up inside, but there’s got to be an explanation. Skyler’s not the cheating kind.”
I slam my head back into the leather seat. “And who is the cheating kind?”
“Me?” He grins.
I let out a slow breath and swallow down the lump in my throat. “Bullshit. Your chicklets know the score. All I know, man, is that she was there, with him, all night. She didn’t answer my calls or texts. I slept in an empty bed while she reconnected with her ex.”
“Is that what she said? That she was getting back together with her ex?” His tone might as well be dipped in shit for how vile he thinks that would be.
I cringe. “No! That’s what he said!”
“And you believe him?” His words are ones of outright shock.
“She was in his room and spent the night in his bed. A man who threatened to distribute disgusting pictures of her . . . that he’d taken without her consent. Someone who wanted fifty million dollars to keep it out of the press. And she went to his hotel room. Left her security team at home.”
Bo sucks in a sharp breath. “That’s dangerous as it is.”
“Yeah, it is. For her, it could be lethal. And she took that chance to meet up with him at his hotel, and stayed the night. When I called at six in the morning and threatened him, he was all too keen to share how he’d gone there with my woman . . .” I choke out the words as ice fills my veins and chills my soul. “Fuck!” I feel like I’m about to come out of my skin or alternately punch another hole in something. The dashboard looks inviting.
“Relax, we’ll figure this out. I just find it hard to believe, that’s all,” he offers in a soothing tone.
Sometimes I wonder if Bo has ever cared enough about a woman to let her get close enough to burn him the way I’ve been burned. Since I’ve known him, he’s had many women. None he’s given an inch of himself to outside of the inches in his pants. He wouldn’t understand.
“I don’t find it hard at all. I loved Kayla, and she cheated on me with our best friend. I love Skyler, and she betrays me by opening her legs for her ex. See a pattern here?”
Bo inhales low and deep, taking the off-ramp that will lead us to the hospital. “Regardless of how messed up this all is—and I agree, it’s fucked up—give her at least one chance to settle things with you. Yeah? Can you do that?”
The desire at the prospect of hearing her voice lifts my heart but is quickly followed by revulsion with the memory of what she’s done. “I can’t make you any promises.”
Bo nods resolutely. “Well, let’s get you stitched up for now. The rest can come later.”
Two broken fingers, now splinted, twenty stitches in my palm, a fully wrapped hand, and I’m back home, feet up on my coffee table, a fresh beer and prescription painkillers at the ready. Bo, sitting on the couch, arm stretched along the back with his own beer dangling from his fingers, has his booted feet up on the table next to me. Across from Bo is Royce, sitting in the single chair, socked feet up on the ottoman. Man would never disgrace another man’s furniture by putting his shoes on it. Even if his shoes cost more than the chair and ottoman put together. On the floor with a bowl of popcorn in her lap is Wendy, eyes glued to the flat screen, where a game is playing. She’s wearing skinny jeans, Converses, and a Red Sox T-shirt that I have a feeling belongs to her man, because it’s about four sizes too big on her slight frame.
While I was being seen at the hospital, Bo called IG to update them on the developments and let them know where we were and why. The call resulted in the team being at my place when Bo brought me back and the IG offices closed for the rest of the day.
The doorbell rings, and Wendy bolts up as though she has pogo stick springs for legs. “Pizza! I’ll get it. Charging it to the company, FYI.” She bobs over to the door, signs the receipt, and brings the two large pies into the kitchen.
She hollers from the kitchen, “Bo, want to get up off your ass and come help me serve our bros?”
Royce covers his grin by sipping his whiskey.
Bo rolls his eyes, drops his feet from the table, and stands. “Tink, you know it’s the woman’s job to serve her man! I think I’m going to have to teach you a lesson!” he warns playfully, but heads into the kitchen to assist.
“How you doin’, brother?” Royce interrupts my thoughts on the inner workings of the friendship between Crazy Number One and Crazy Number Two.
I lift my hand and turn it from side to side. “Between the painkillers and the beer, I’d say just about right.”
Royce chuckles, leans forward, splays his legs out wide with feet on the floor, and rests his elbows on his knees. He looks up at me from under dark eyebrows, his eyes laser beams of truth. “Not talkin’ about the war wound, though I can’t say I’m happy ’bout that either. Bo updated us. It’s why we’re here.”
“Got that. ’Preciate it too.”
He nods and purses his lips. “Still doesn’t change why we’re here. Your girl fuckin’ you over. How are you dealing with that?”
I close my eyes and inhale full and deep, trying to squash any visions of her with Johan before they ever enter my mind. It works, thank fuck. I shrug. “Not sure what I feel. Anger is at the top of the list.”
His lips flatten into a thin line. “You talk to her yet?”
I shake my head. “Got nuthin’ to say to that woman. It’s over.”
“Brother . . .” His words are left dangling.
“Park . . .” He continues undaunted. “Know you fell hard for her. Know she fell hard for you. Could see it in every line in her face and body when we met her at Lucky’s. You don’t just give that up and walk away.”
“She did,” I sneer, tightening my grip on my beer.
Royce nods slowly and runs a hand over his knee. “With the way you were feeling in San Francisco, maybe you ought to give her a little time to explain.”
I jerk my gaze to his. “You think anything she says is going to make it okay that she betrayed me? She fucked that piece of shit the same night I was sleeping alone in her bed.”
Royce lifts a hand. “Now, hold up. You don’t know what happened in that hotel room.”
“Don’t I? Woman jumped me the first fuckin’ night I was in her penthouse. She was with Johan for close to two years.”
“Doesn’t change the fact that he was blackmailing her, she was scared, and you were out of town.”
“So that gives her the excuse she needs to betray me?” I counter, my voice laced with fury.
His head jolts back, and he groans. “Fuck no! It means shit was swirling around in her head. Bad shit. Her man wasn’t there. Maybe she thought because of their time together, she could handle the chump herself. Stupid, I admit, but knowing Skyler, that’s more likely than her going there and offerin’ her goods up on a silver platter. You need to look deep inside yourself, inside that heart of yours that made you fall for her, and tell me . . . do you think she could betray you? Really?”
I grind my teeth and let his words sink in. “What do you think?” I ask right as Bo and Wendy walk in with two plates apiece, each loaded with pizza.
“I think there’s got to be more to this story than what a filthy manipulator spews out his trap.” His tone is resolute and convincing.
“Oh, are we talking about what happened with Sky? I’m all over that. Ran her credit cards, her phone records, everything before I came over.” Wendy hops into action, digging into the satchel she set near the entertainment center. Once she has a hold on her thin laptop, she opens it and sets it on the table.
“Tink, not sure Park wants the comings and goings of his woman right this second.” Bo sets a hand on her shoulder.
I sit up and put my feet on the floor, cradling my hand. My heart starts pounding hard at the mention of finding out anything about Skyler. “Actually, I do. What do you have?”
She nibbles on her pizza, then sets it indelicately on her plate, licks her fingers, wipes them on her napkin, and takes to the keys. Once she swallows her bite, she lays it out. “Yesterday she was at the set. I have her phone tracker on. Made sure to do that when she visited us last time. Keep tabs on all of you”—she twirls a finger around all of us—“just in case something goes down—”
“Seriously, Wendy? What the fuck you think is going to happen to us, girl?” Royce interjects, shaking his head tiredly. “Woman is too damn smart for her own good. Brothers better watch yo’selves.”
She ignores him completely. “Looks like she got to her house yesterday, then made a call to a number I found out was Johan’s. They had a very short—as in two minutes—conversation, and then she used her credit card in a taxi that took her to the St. Regis, which is where she stayed the night, though she didn’t pay for a room.”
I clench my teeth and toss my plate of pizza on the table, no longer hungry. “That’s enough—” I start, when Wendy waves her hands and shakes her head frantically.
“No, no, it’s not. That’s when things with her finances get crazy.”
I frown, and Royce stands and walks around to crouch where Wendy’s got her computer set up on the coffee table. The word finance to Roy is like waving a juicy steak in front of a dog.
“How so, girl?”
Her eyes light up with excitement. I swear if Wendy were a cartoon she’d be a part of the Scooby-Doo crew. She looks more like Daphne, but she’s definitely got Velma’s intellect.
“Here and here.” She points at something I can’t see on her screen. “Bank transfers to the tune of a lot of zeros. I’ve traced one to a Miguel Fuentes, who’s some highfalutin businessman, but in reality, the guy’s a top-notch loan shark. The kind that looks all rich and professional, but word on the web is that he has no leniency with people who go for a long time owing him. They end up missing. Never found again.”
“Come on, this isn’t The Godfather . . .” Bo eases back in his seat, his brows furrowed.
“Kind of is. Miguel Fuentes is known for being connected to the Mexican mob,” Royce adds flatly. “I know a lot about the money market, and there is word that Miguel has some shady attachments. Hence the reason only the rich, powerful, and unlawful tend to do business with him. Problem is, cops have been trying to get a lock on Miguel and his backdoor dealings for ages but can never pin him down.”
“Shut the fuck up!” I growl. “And he’s got Sky into this?”
Wendy’s fingers clack against the keys faster than before. “Only in that her account wired money to his account. A lot of money. Ten million to be exact.”
“Jesus Christ.” I run my hand over my sweaty forehead. The meds and the beer are kicking in, and not only am I starting to feel woozy, my train of thought is slowing down.
“Also, she sent at least fifteen other wire transfers. Credit cards. Bank loans. Mortgages, and a few other payments to shady individuals.”
“Fuckin’ hell, woman!” Royce rubs at his mouth and chin.
“Goddamn it!” Bo grits through his teeth.
I don’t say anything. My heart, mind, and body have lost all will to move, exhaustion lying heavily in my bones.
“With all of those, the strangest one is the last payment she made last night.”
I frown. “W-what, ish it?” I slur, even my tongue feeling heavy.
All three of them look up at me, different worried expressions flitting across their faces. “Just finish.” I wave my good hand in a hurry-up motion.
Wendy licks her lips and bites down on the bottom one. “According to this . . .” She points it out to Royce and Bo, who can see her screen.
Bo’s eyes widen, and he closes his eyes.
Royce shakes his head. “Shee-it. What kind of play is he making?” he murmurs, still looking at the computer.
“What?” I blink away the sleep trying to invade my mind.
“Skyler paid for what looks like a three-month stay in a rehabilitation facility for one Johan Karr.” Her voice is steady, but her eyes are huge and bright blue against her pale-white skin.
That seals it. She’s paying for him to be rehabilitated so they can get back together.
Fuck my life.
“On that note, I’m-I’m-I’m gonna g-go lie down.” I stand, and my knees start to weaken. I catch myself against the arm of the couch as Bo jumps up from his seat and wraps an arm around my waist.
“Lean on me, brother.”
I smile and make a kissy face at him. “Aw, Bogey, who’da thought you cared.” I start to close my eyes, but Bo moves me around the couch toward my room. When we get there, he leads me to the bed and pulls back the covers. I fall to my ass and back, curling to my side, where I tuck my bad hand against my chest.
“Dude, sleep it off. I’ll be here when you wake up.”
“Go-shh home. ’S okay. I cool,” I mumble as sleep starts to invade.
“Sweet dreams, punk ass.”
It’s the last thing I hear before I see nothing but black.