~ Jared St. Croix ~
“Night!” I called, parting ways with my colleagues as they went to explore the Vegas night life. I walked the opposite direction, heading toward my hotel. The evening was balmy, so I’d figured I’d walk back, just to get a little exercise. I’d been cooped up in a conference room most of the day.
My yawn cracked my jaw. I’d been so damn tired for so long. I just wanted to go home and climb into my bed and cuddle with my wife. Except I couldn’t. Avery, my wife was back in Chicago while I was here, pitching the MedRight phone app to investors.
I’d put in so many extra hours lately, I wasn’t sure my wife was actually speaking to me. Ignoring the bright lights of the strip, I pulled out my phone, then decided against calling, since there were too many loud voices partying nearby and even louder music in the area surrounding me. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but it was one big fiesta of some sort. I’d just have to call Avery as soon as I got back to my room.
On second thought, she’d probably be pissed if I did that. It was after eleven here. Las Vegas might be a city that never sleeps, but my wife had probably been in bed for hours since it was after one in the morning back home. But maybe, she wouldn’t mind. I missed the hell out of her. If she missed me, too…
Then again, we’d been doing more fighting than talking anymore—mostly because of my job. Something had to give. My company had been sending me all over God’s green earth to pitch their products. I’d made a ton to pay toward the little dream house Avery and I wanted. I planned to surprise her with it—but maybe, it would be better if I just told her. What good was the money if I lost her in the process?
Sighing, I reached for my phone again as I walked through a strangely shadowy area. Despite the weather, a cold chill washed over me as if icy tentacles strung around my six-foot-three frame. God, I was overtired and making up things in my head.
Suddenly, dagger-like nails dug into my arms, and I flew through the air toward an alleyway. My body slammed into the brick wall. I heard my phone clatter against the ground, but I didn’t care about it. I had to get up. I had to get away. Before I could move, whoever had grabbed me picked me up again. Their grip left no leeway for my struggles. I tried. Fuck, I tried. Desperation pummeled through me while my pulse raged past my ears, full of fear and fight or flight. I screamed, hoping to attract help, but a searing bite sliced into my throat, sharply cutting off my yells. Nearly as quickly, all my strength sapped away as if sucked from me through a high-powered vacuum. One minute I flailed; the next I could barely lift my arms.
I clawed at my attacker and tried to get free but to no avail. His grip was too much against my powerless struggles. My feet dangled off the ground, giving me no leverage. My vision grayed, even the darkness around me fading. All the sound from the strip drifted away.
As I floated in nothingness, my sight and hearing gone, the scent of garbage and a weird spicy fragrance I couldn’t identify filled my senses. The pain faded, and a coppery tang filled my mouth. The assault wouldn’t actually kill me. Now, I’d choke on my own blood because of the injuries from the attack, though.
Disconnected from my body, I barely registered thudding to the ground again. It didn’t hurt. I felt nothing.
Nothing except the excruciating pain of knowing I’d never see Avery again, that she might not even know what had happened to me. And that was worse than any physical pain I could imagine.
~ Avery St. Croix ~
“Mom, I’m fine,” I said for about the twenty-fifth time this conversation. We both knew I wasn’t, yet I was really regretting answering the phone this evening. No one could lay on the guilt and judgment like my mother.
“I’m just saying that Jared seems to be gone a lot,” she said.
I grimaced and bit back a sigh. “It’s work.”
“But is it?”
I was silent as her words stabbed into a raw part of my heart. With as secretive and absent as Jared had been lately, even when not out of town, I’d begun to wonder, too. Maybe, I wasn’t what he needed anymore. Maybe, he didn’t want a wife who worked part time at a diner, and he desired someone better, someone professional with a career in his tech field.
He’d never made me feel that way, but I still wondered with how he’d been pulling away. Plus, I hadn’t heard from him in three days now. He wasn’t due back from Vegas until tomorrow night, but the radio silence unnerved me. It was new. But then, once upon a time, working every waking hour had been new, too.
“I’m sure it’s fine,” I said again when I realized I hadn’t answered. Even to my ears, it sounded lame.
“Honey…” My mom sighed. “You know you can come home at any time. If there are problems, you don’t have to stay and soldier through this.”
“Jared’s not cheating on me,” I said, trying to be firm. “I’m sure things are—”
“Fine?” she injected, interrupting me. “Okay. Well, I love you, and don’t forget we’re always here for you.”
Tears pricked at my eyes. Only my mom could get this reaction from me because she knew I wasn’t okay, and she was there to catch me if I needed it.
“I love you, too,” I said quickly, my voice a strangled sound.
“I’ll talk to you later.” Quickly, I hung up before much else could be said. Annoyed at myself, I tossed the cellphone onto the cushions beside me and curled into the corner of the couch. Many more conversations like this one and I knew she and my stepdad would show up to drag me home, acting as if I were some kind of hero to stick it out with a guy they didn’t think was worthy of me.
It kind of sucked to be in the middle of that. Things weren’t great in my marriage, they knew it and they disapproved of Jared—something they’d never fully disguised. On the other hand, I loved my husband of two years. Mostly, he treated me like a queen—when he wasn’t working. He was a really good man who’d been dealt a shitty childhood. But was I letting that weigh in his favor when I shouldn’t?