Rough Hard Fierce (Chicago Underground Boxed Set)(9)

By: Skye Warren

A knot formed in my stomach, threatening to expel the churning mixture of chocolate ice cream and alcohol.

“He called me,” Shelly said. She was watching me, probably wondering how I would react. I wondered the same thing. I had the expected feelings: fear, revulsion. But maybe relief too, that the paralyzing wait had come to an end. “He said he just wanted to catch up. And…he asked about you. I told him I didn’t know where you were.”

“How did he find you?”

“Same number since high school.” She put up her hands. I’m sorry. “Changing numbers is not a good business move for me. Still, I think we may have taken the hiding-in-plain-sight idea a little too far.”

“I’m not hiding.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“I’m not doing it well,” I admitted. “He was the one who left.”

Shelly didn’t press me, thank God. We walked into her bedroom, where Bailey slept in the middle of the queen-size bed wrapped in fuzzy pajamas, her little fist against her mouth. I scooped my baby girl up, huffing a breath under the weight. Well, she’d be two years old in a few short months, not exactly a baby anymore.

Turning sideways through the bedroom doorway, I left Shelly’s place and carried Bailey down to our apartment, depositing her in her own secondhand princess bed. Already in her pajamas, she slept on as I tucked her in under the sheet. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and paused to breathe in her scent. That turned out to be a mistake, because she chose that moment to wake. I calmed her as she fussed, singing my small retinue of nursery rhymes until my voice had gone hoarse and her eyelids stopped fluttering.

This was how I protected her, by keeping the darkness separate.

I couldn’t give her a mother who was whole, unbroken. But I could be here for her, night after night, day after day. And if I went on an occasional date night, if there was a twisted side of me let out only then, she never had to know.

I padded into my own bedroom, convinced I’d made the right choice in not seeing Colin again. Men had one use in my life, and that was what the club was for. I wasn’t in a good place for anything more than that, would probably never be.

Colin seemed like a nice guy, not like my usual dates. But I’d been wrong about a man before, hadn’t I? So I’d made the right choice. Almost definitely.

When I lay down in bed, though, I thought back to the way he’d been with me, the way he had touched me. The way he had licked me. Jesus.

Most kids loved getting presents, but I hated it. After every present people would look at me expectantly, waiting for the gasp of surprise, the exclamation of how much I adored it, and the obligatory hugs all around. I worked at these happy displays, and if it wasn’t up to par, I suffered the disappointment. It got to where receiving presents was associated with letting people down.

If a man gave me oral sex, I felt pressure to come quickly. Then it would be like I owed it to him to be properly grateful afterward. Even if I could get off, the stress wasn’t worth it. And sometimes I couldn’t even come. How could I relax with a stranger’s teeth at my most vulnerable place? It wasn’t a common problem for me, though, because picking up random guys at bars isn’t usually conducive to finding generous lovers.

Colin had licked me, though, and it had been amazing. I had the oddest thought that I wanted him to do it again. That wouldn’t happen, of course. But I slipped my fingers into my panties and dreamed.

Chapter Four

I started looking over my shoulder in parking lots, bundled into my thick jacket as if it were armor. Slowing down as I approached alleyways as if something might jump out at me.

Bailey wasn’t excused from my insanity either. I crept into her room multiple times a night, making sure she was there and breathing. I even gave in a few times to sleeping on the floor near her bed, sharing the dim comfort of the night-light.

Colin was to blame, of course.

Shelly said it was Andrew—the call from him—but I didn’t want to think he could still affect me like this. After all, we were safe from him. As safe as a woman and a baby could ever be from a man who wouldn’t wish them well.

I told myself this was something far more basic. More base.