The Absolution Duet 
(Absolution #1)
(c) Amanda Dick 
Prologue

 

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

- Virginia Woolf

“Eddie Vedder is a god,” Ally announced from the back seat. “No doubt about it.”

Jack nodded at her in the rear-view mirror.

“And not only is he a god, but he has to be one of the sexiest men on the planet,” she added.

Jack winked. “Good save, babe.”

“He’s the guy that chicks want, and dudes want to be like,” Callum said, turning around to face her from the seat in front. “But I don’t blame you ­– if I was a chick, I’d do him.”

“Ugh, now I need bleach to scrub that mental image from my brain.”

“You’re welcome.”

Ally leaned forward between the seats. “Okay – favourite song from the concert tonight.”

Jack sucked in air through his teeth, eyes on the road ahead. “Oceans.” 

“Crown of Thorns,” Callum said. “I never got to see Mother Love Bone live so it’s the next best thing. Although Why Go was pretty freakin’ amazing.”

He broke into a frenzied air guitar session in the front seat, his expression rapturous.

Jack chuckled as Callum turned back to Ally. “Yours?”

“Black,” she said, without hesitation. “With Release a close second. And I got it all on video. Can’t wait to get home and upload it!” She squealed, leaning back again. “I cannot believe it’s taken so long to see them live, but tonight was worth the wait.”

“Definitely.”

“He has the sexiest voice – ever,” she said.

“Hello?” Callum turned around in the seat again. “Do we have to spend the entire trip home hearing about how sexy he is? I’m sure that, given half a chance, he’d prefer to be known for his talent than his looks or his… general sexiness.”

“Jealous?” Ally ribbed.

“When I have all this at my fingertips?” he ran a hand through his short, dark hair. “Not a chance. And come on – he may be sexy, and he may be a rock god, but I’m sure it’s not fun and games all the time. I mean, he probably has those paparazzi bottom-feeders chasing him all over the world, splashing his visit to the pharmacy to buy haemorrhoid cream all over the front page – that’s gotta suck, for sure.”

Ally leaned forward to swat him hard around the head. “Don’t you dare drag him down to mortal level like that! Anyway, I’m sure he has people to do all that stuff for him.”

“True. I bet he has people to apply the cream for him too.”

Ally leaned forward to slap him again but he ducked out of the way.

“Quit it, you two. Don’t make me the grown-up here,” Jack grinned as he took his foot off the gas in anticipation of the approaching corner.

The road was still wet, even if the rain had stopped. The country road had been lined with trees for the past half mile, trapping the light from the headlights, bouncing it off the undergrowth and back out onto the road again. The effect was eerie and he was grateful when the trees gave way to the open countryside again.

“You need to put a leash on her – she’s outta control tonight!” Callum grinned.

Jack glanced at Ally in the rear-view mirror and she smiled back, winking wickedly. She was in a playful mood tonight, still on a high from the concert. He could relate. Adrenaline hummed through his veins and his ears still rang from the noise. It had been worth the long drive there and back but he suddenly wished they were home already. The ring tucked safely into the pocket of his jeans dug into him as a physical reminder of what lay ahead.

Distracting himself, he leaned over to turn the music up and Eddie Vedder’s sultry voice filled the car. Ally swayed to the music in the back seat, a satisfied smile on her face. He turned his attention back to the road as they rounded the corner.

Headlights cut through the dark, directly into their path, and his heart leapt into his throat. His gut knew instinctively what was about to happen mere seconds before the car hit them.

Callum yelled as Jack automatically wrenched the steering wheel away from the blinding light. It all happened so fast, he didn’t even have time to slam on the brakes.

The impact was mind-blowing, sending a shuddering jolt throughout his entire body that turned his limbs to jelly. Time stopped as they skidded across the road, the buzzing in his ears blocking everything else out. Then they were upside down. He squinted out through the windshield, his brain struggling to process what was happening. He felt like he was moving simultaneously in slow motion and fast-forward, and it crossed his mind that this might be how he died. A strange calmness washed over him. His fate was completely out of his hands.

The car suddenly bounced as it left the road, ripping through a fence, the trees ahead rapidly filling the windshield as he mentally braced himself for the impact. The crazy rollercoaster ride ended as abruptly as it had begun, jolting him again, throwing a spear of pain through his shoulder and neck that momentarily left him breathless.

And then there was silence. Buzzing, humming, vibrating silence.

Chapter 1

“There are four questions of value in life;

What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made?

What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for?

The answer to each is the same. Only love.”

- Johnny Depp

Jack bolted upright, bathed in sweat, his heart racing. It took him several long moments to remember where he was.

The sky is darkest just before the dawn.

The small window revealed very little light. It was early. How long had he slept?  A couple of hours? It felt like less. How could one nightmare squeeze such a lot into such a short space of time? One of the many mysteries of the universe.

The fear subsided slightly as he recognised the nightmare for what it was. When he was young, his mother would soothe him with “It’s alright, it was just a nightmare. It wasn’t real.”

But this wasn’t just a nightmare, and it was real. He collapsed back onto the pillow and stared at the grimy ceiling.

Four years had passed and still he could recall every last detail of that night. In his waking moments he had control for the most part, but when he slept it was a different story. Memories, grief and guilt soaked him like acid, eating away at him.

Pushing the covers off, he swung his legs down onto the threadbare carpet. His entire body ached. The trembling hand he ran through his short brown hair left it standing on end, the nightmare still nipping at the edges of his subconscious. Ally’s face flashed in front of his eyes. He squeezed them shut, trying to block her out as he fought to regain control.

In, one thousand. Out, one thousand. In, one thousand. Out, one thousand.

Cautiously, he opened his eyes again, staring blearily at the stained carpet beneath his feet. The day hadn’t yet begun and already he was bone-tired. He stood up, his shoulders still sore from the fight the week before. The recovery time was longer these days but he didn’t care. He needed somewhere to channel his frustrations and inside the ring suited him just fine. He was fighting again tonight, instructed to take a dive – being paid good money to do it, too. Wearily, he pushed his pride aside one more time. The fact that it had become easier to do these days sat like a lead weight across his aching shoulders.

Padding across the room in his boxers, he grabbed his sweats and pulled them on. He took the stairs from his apartment down to the street two at a time, breathing through his nose. Running through the deserted streets, cloaked in despair, almost invisible in the dark, he tried to block out the world. The sun had begun to rise by the time he ran back towards his apartment, having come full circle.

He showered quickly, unable to ignore his battered reflection as he shaved. The skin was still healing over the bridge of his nose and he had a dark bruise around the cut on his cheekbone, the result of last week’s fight.

“You’re a disgrace,” he mumbled to his scruffy self in the bathroom mirror.

Changing into his work clothes – faded jeans, checked shirt, padded jacket, work boots – he threw down a cup of strong, black coffee. It did nothing to settle his stomach. Driving to the work site, he cranked the radio up loud in an effort to silence the voices in his head.

The day passed much like any other. He put in a solid day’s work on site and declined an invitation from his workmates to hit the local bar after their shift ended. Drinking alone was less complicated. One day soon they would stop asking. He had held plenty of jobs just like this and the invitations always dried up eventually. He had nothing to share with any of them – nothing he was proud of, at least. The less they knew about him, the happier he would be to stick around longer.

That evening, he sat at the tiny table in the dingy apartment that had passed for home over the past few months and ate lukewarm pizza in silence. The light bulb had blown in the living room a couple of days ago but he hadn’t gotten around to replacing it yet. The borrowed light shining through from the small kitchenette gave everything a sombre glow that suited his mood.

He felt like he was running in circles. Just when he finally felt like he had made progress, that the memory of what happened that night was fading, he would have the nightmare again and everything would come flooding back. At first it frustrated him, but then he realised that this was how it was supposed to be. The guilt he carried around with him like a chain around his neck, belonged there. Sometimes he thought that this was God’s way of punishing him for what he did. Leaving like that was an act of cowardice, and cowards deserved to be punished. He wasn’t an idiot – he knew that he looked for that punishment every time he got into the ring. He was grateful for every punch that found its mark on his body. He deserved it.

Of course, his father would disagree. Tom seemed certain that forgiveness awaited him – from Ally, from Callum and from everyone else he had left behind. The truth was, as much as he loved his father and appreciated his support and loyalty, he didn’t believe him. Some things were unforgiveable.

Their terms of engagement were crystal clear. Jack kept in contact, Tom didn’t push him for more details than he was willing to offer. Jack appreciated the phone calls as the lifeline they were. He just wished he could allow himself to believe when Tom said that all was not lost.

Jack found himself staring into Ally’s blue-green eyes, her lips tilting into a seductive smile.

He blinked, quickly pushing the vision aside. One day, he promised himself, he would go home and apologise in person. But not yet. Four years had passed and he was no more ready to face them now than he was back then. He wasn’t strong enough, and to face up to them after what he had done, he had to be strong.

He took another swig from his beer bottle and set it down on the table in front of him, staring at it as if it would provide him with answers. He had fantasies about going home, about just turning up on his father’s doorstep out of the blue. He imagined talking to Callum, hearing him say that he understood why he left and that he didn’t blame him for anything. He fantasised about Ally forgiving him, throwing herself into his arms and everything going back to the way it was.

But they were just fantasies. The reality was that he would never be able to go home, that Callum would never understand why he left and that Ally would never be able to throw herself into his arms again.

Sometimes, in the moments just before waking, he almost felt her curled into his body on the bed, her hair tickling his nostrils. He could swear he felt her long, smooth legs entwined with his, his hand curled around hers beneath the pillow.

And then he woke alone, his arms empty, his bed cold.

He had taken something from her that she would never be able to get back. As she lay in the ICU that night, he remembered thinking that she looked whole. But she wasn’t. A shattered spinal cord did invisible damage, damage that could never be repaired. She would never walk again and it was his fault. He carried that knowledge around with him like an anchor that simultaneously tied him to her and tore her away from him.

Questions haunted him, but he was afraid to ask them. He told himself it would be easier if they didn’t talk about her, warning his father that it had to be this way. The delusion was paper-thin. Just because they didn’t talk about her didn’t mean she was far from his mind. He shook off the musings, taking another swig from his bottle. He didn’t deserve to know.

Staring down at the untouched slice of cold pizza on his plate, he saw his whole life stretched out in front of him. Alone in some grubby little apartment, working a dead-end job miles from home. Throwing himself into harm’s way – tempting fate, but too much of a coward to take matters into his own hands. Working himself to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion, trying to block everything out. How had he ended up here? 

He stood up and stared out the dirt-covered window into the back of the building in front of his. After a few moments, he took what was left of his beer over to the couch and sank into it, the fabric on the arms smooth with the ingrained grease and dirt of previous tenants. His gaze crawled over the faded, peeling wallpaper as he tried to psyche himself up for the fight tonight. He had been instructed to take a dive in the third round, which got under his skin. He knew his opponent, had seen him fight. He was bigger, but he was clumsier too. If he put his mind to it, he could take him, but he had his instructions. Didn’t matter if he could take him or not.

The trill of his ringing cell phone broke into his thoughts and he picked it up off the stack of pizza boxes that passed for a coffee table. An unfamiliar number blinked at him from the screen.

“Yeah?”

“Jack?” The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. “Hello?”

“Who is this?” he asked tentatively, although the voice was far too familiar to be mistaken.

“It’s me. Callum.” His heart thumped in his ears. “You still there?”

“I’m here.”

How the hell did Callum get this number?   

“I’ve got some bad news. It’s your Dad.”

The words hung in the air between them, his heart breaking as if it knew the truth before he did.

“He’s dead, Jack.”

Silence. Utter devastation.

“He had a heart attack.”

Jack stared at the wall opposite him. “When?”

“This afternoon. I came over to –” Callum’s voice broke and he cleared his throat. “He was in the living room.”

The world stopped spinning.

“Your number was in his phone. I thought you’d want to know.”

Jack nodded blankly.

“I’m sorry.”

He nodded again, forgetting that Callum couldn’t see him.

“Funeral’s on Friday.”

The pause was long and uncomfortable. He imagined Callum’s face on the other end of the phone. He felt dead inside. Empty. Alone.

“Are you coming home?” His heart hammered in his chest, fear pulsing through him at the thought. “Jack? Are you planning on coming home, for the funeral?”

The harshness in Callum’s tone shocked him into answering. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t care one way or the other. It’s your call.” Jack closed his eyes against the obvious distaste in his voice. “I just thought that if you were, Ally should know.”

His eyes flew open at the mention of her name.

“She said she doesn’t want to see you. So if you decide to come, stay away from her – I mean it. She doesn’t need this shit from you, not now.” The anger was unmistakable. “Funeral’s Friday, at eleven. Father David’s handling it. You can call him for all the details.”

Callum rattled off the number as Jack scrawled it on the top of the nearest pizza box with a pen he dug out. He stared at the number, barely able to read his own writing, his hands were shaking so badly.

“Thanks,” he mumbled automatically.

“I mean it, Jack. Stay away from her. You owe her that much.”

The line went dead. His heart thundered in his ears. He blinked once, twice, as the colours around him faded until he was staring at a wall of grey.  

***

 

Jack pushed the conversation with Callum into the back of his mind, compartmentalising it, as he had done so often over the past few years. Shadowboxing, he bounced on the balls of his feet. He didn’t want to think about anything right now. He just wanted to get into the ring and fight.

The warehouse smelt of sawdust and oil, and it put Jack in mind of a garage, although there were no cars to be seen. It was on the outskirts of the city, tucked in behind a factory that looked like it had been closed for years. Grass sprung up from cracks in the broken concrete outside. If you looked up ‘urban decay’ in the dictionary, there would be a photograph of this place.

Ben arrived with one of his heavies, strolling straight into the small storeroom out back that served as the locker room, to clarify the details with him. He was to go down in the third round. He nodded irritably, ignoring the giant who stood next to him, doing his best to silently scare him into submission.

“Third round,” he mumbled. “Got it.”

“Payment after the fight, as usual,” Ben said, preparing to leave. He turned around in the doorway. “There’s a lot riding on this so don’t screw it up, for either of us. You go down in this fight and your next one will earn us both double, trust me.” He paused, giving Jack the once-over from his feet up. “You look tense – loosen up.”

Jack clenched his teeth, nodding brusquely. He needed to concentrate and if his father didn’t stop invading his head like this he would never get through it. Tom wouldn’t approve of this – he wouldn’t understand. Frowning, he pushed the thoughts down deep. He didn’t have the luxury of dealing with grief right now, he had a job to do.

He had been aware of the general buzz of the amassing crowd outside, slowly building. Moments later, they erupted into a loud roar. There had to be at least a couple of hundred people out there. By the time he climbed into the ring to the deafening sound of cheering, he was in a trance. His head was on fire and combined with the noise surrounding him, he could barely think straight. Standing up inside the ring, the smell of sweat, stale beer and liniment reminded him he had a job to do. He bobbed up and down, rolling his shoulders, ignoring the crowd and concentrating on his opponent. He had clearly been spending a lot more time in the gym since he last saw him. His ribs ached just looking at him.

“Third round,” he mumbled to himself above the cacophony, throwing punches into the air in front of him.

He never even heard the bell above the roar of the crowd, but he saw his opponent heading straight for him. He shook his head to clear it and headed into the centre of the ring to meet him head-on. They were fighting for money and the crowd was betting large. There was no meeting in the middle to touch gloves, no agreeing to abide by the rules. There were no gloves and no rules. Strangely, he felt at home there.

He ducked the first punch and snapped back to reality in time to feel the second punch connect with the side of his head. His ears rang but he kept his hands up and his feet moving. He stole a quick glance ringside. Ben stared back at him. Jack diverted his attention back to his opponent, dancing around him for a few seconds before bearing down with a series of one-two combinations, ending with a sharp jab to the ribcage. His opponent staggered but stayed on his feet, Jack’s arms and shoulders burning from the recoil. Stray punches found their mark but Jack shook them off.

At the end of the first round, he retreated to his corner and took the squirt of water offered greedily. Panting, he was fairly certain that was more from the effort of trying to keep his mind on the job rather than the physical toll. His father’s voice kept overriding that of the crowd. Blinking, he grabbed the water bottle, squirting it over his face in an effort to wash the voices away.

Heading into the centre for round two, he was anxious and hyper-alert. He dodged his opponent’s first couple of punches easily, swinging his body away from the right hooks – his most powerful. He was too slow to avoid the sudden left swing that hit him though, and it reverberated throughout his body, leaving him staggering.

Unbidden, Ally’s face was suddenly in his head and he shook it to get rid of her, an overwhelming sense of guilt hitting him with the same power as a well-placed roundhouse kick. Groaning, he knew she would never have let him put himself and his body on the line like this. She would hate it, if she knew – if any of them knew.

A thunderous blow to the head saw him falling to the floor as the lights went out momentarily. He lay on the floor for what seemed like hours, his head ringing. Slowly, his vision cleared and he saw his father – standing inside the ropes, staring at him. Jack held his breath. Then he blinked and the image was gone. Scrambling to get up, he shook his head and tried to ignore the screaming crowd. This had to stop.

He shot upright, barely thinking about what he was doing, heading straight for his opponent, hands up, eyes focused. He didn’t even feel the first punch connect with his opponent’s ribs, but he saw him double over all the same. The next punch came straight out of the blue and into his opponent’s face, front and centre. The grief and guilt tore out of him at a hundred miles an hour and rained down on his opponent because he was there. For a split second, he felt sorry for him.

Catching him as he rebounded off the ropes, he slugged him again – and again, and again, until the man was a steaming heap at his feet.

The crowd roared, baying for blood. Slowly, Jack came back to himself. Realisation slammed into him. Adrenaline fired through his system as he frantically sought out Ben. It was like staring into the eye of a hurricane.

He bolted from the ring, fighting his way through the crowd, heading straight for the storeroom. He had been in more establishments like this than he cared to remember, and one thing he routinely did before the fight was check for possible escape routes, just in case. More than once he’d had to escape an unhappy crowd when the fight didn’t go their way. He snatched his bag, jamming a chair beneath the door handle. Heading straight for the small anteroom at the back, he tried to force the window open. When it wouldn’t give, he dug into his bag and pulled out his shirt, wrapping it around his fist impatiently and jabbing it into the window-pane, shattering the glass. He cleared the jagged glass around the edges of the frame and climbed through, glancing behind him once he was out in the alley.

Panting heavily, he ran along the alley, not stopping until he was clear of the building, steam pouring off him into the chilled night air. He jumped into his car and gunned the engine, heading for his apartment, blood pounding in his ears. Checking the rear-view mirror every few minutes, he looked for signs that Ben or his henchmen might be following him, thankful that – as far as he knew – they didn’t know where he lived. He took the long way, just in case, and bolted up the stairs to his second-floor apartment.

Throwing his meagre possessions into his duffle bag, he checked his cell phone battery and ripped the lid off the pizza box, jamming that in too. After giving the small apartment a quick once-over, he headed straight back to his car. There was no time to hang around. Ben would be looking for him.

Throwing his bag into the car, he glanced quickly up and down the street. He climbed in, pausing to take a deep breath. His lungs pushed painfully against his bruised ribs. His muscles screamed and his hands shook uncontrollably.

“I’m coming, Dad,” he whispered into the silence. “I’m sorry I’m late, but I’m coming.”

(Sliding Down the Sky #2)
(c) Amanda Dick 
Prologue

“The sense of loss is such a tricky one, because we always feel like our worth is tied up into stuff that we have, not that our worth can grow with things we are willing to lose.” – Tori Amos

 

Callum

 

I spent a good part of my life hating my father. I hated the booze, I hated the way he treated my mother, and I hated the way he looked at me. I hated the man he was. I was as scared of him as I was ashamed of him. Then came that day, the day everything changed.

I remember that moment as if it were yesterday. Like all the moments in my life that shaped me into the man I am, they linger. They burn through my veins like neon, lighting me up from within. It doesn’t matter how deeply I try to bury them, I know they’re there. They carve scars deep into my heart and soul. Much like my tongue might caress the gap where a tooth used to be, my brain goes over and over these moments until they finally become part of my history. I don’t realise it at the time, but I will never be the same again.

Life can be stripped down to a few critical moments. We rarely recognise these moments as they’re happening. It’s not until much later, when the storm has passed, and with the benefit of hindsight, that we finally see them for what they are.

I was just like him.

The realisation itself was a dye, tainting everything. It leaked into my actions, my moods, the very essence of who I thought I was, until there was no point fighting it anymore. The situation I now found myself in was simply a culmination of all of that.

Jail cells had a particular smell, and this one was no different. A unique blend of vomit, urine and misery, overlaid with the not-so-delicate scent of bleach.

So far I’d managed to keep the booze down. I should’ve eaten, but that would’ve been counter-productive. My goal, if I’d been thinking clearly enough to have one, was to get rip-snorting, memory-erasing, coma-inducing drunk – drunk enough to forget about everything – but I couldn’t even manage to do that right. I should’ve been disappointed in myself, but I couldn’t even muster up the necessary disgust anymore.

The room seemed to tilt and I leaned forward to keep up with it, my head in my hands. I tried not to think. I didn’t want to think, but even when you don’t want to think, it happens anyway. Just like when your heart hurts so much, you convince yourself that this is it – it can’t get any worse. Then someone twists a knife and you find a new level of pain.

That’s what had happened to me tonight. I’d found a new level of pain, and it was cutting me to ribbons.

I swallowed back a combination of vomit and tears, my nostrils twitching as I fought against the impulse. I was not going to throw up or cry. I just wasn’t. I wished I had my phone. How many calls had I missed? What was going on out there?

I was in the cell with a couple of other guys, one much older, sleeping it off on the bench that ran across the opposite wall. The other guy was younger than me. I looked up at him out of the corner of my eye. He’d barely moved in the hour since I’d been thrown in here, and he hadn’t uttered a word. He was like me – the strong, stupid type. He just sat there, his back to the wall, watching everything. He didn’t look drunk, but then some of us hid it well. Instead, he looked like a simmering volcano. That look in his eye was all too familiar.

Like me.

Like Dad.

Only, my anger was waning. Teetering on the brink for so long, I could feel it burning away, taking with it the soul-destroying sense of betrayal and even the confusion. Now, I was just broken. Broken, and drunk, and too exhausted to search for a way out of this mess.

I sank my fists into my hair and pulled tight. It was pure distraction, like stomping on my foot to take my mind off a sore thumb. Maybe, if I ripped my hair out by the roots, it’d take my mind off the ache in my chest.

Self-preservation kicked in though, and I let go, choking back a sob that sounded more like a gasp. I wanted to sink into a deep ocean of self-pity, allowing the water to swallow me up without a trace, but I didn’t have that luxury.

I was wasting time. I had to get out of there. I had to get the hell out of there and see her, before it was too late.

I lurched to my feet, the floor leaning sideways as I hurled myself at the bars.

“Hey!” I shouted. “I need my phone call!”

Nothing.

“Can anyone hear me?”

“You’re wasting your time.”

I turned, still hanging on to the bars to keep my balance. The younger guy regarded me from across the cell, his eyes narrowing as if I was something he’d just scraped off his shoe.

“I need my phone call,” I said again.

“You have to wait, just like the rest of us. They’ll be back.”

He was right. I should’ve known that. This wasn’t my first rodeo. My heart sank and the despair was instant and absolute, wrapping cold arms around me and squeezing so tight, I had trouble breathing.

While I sat there, suffocating in self-pity, she could be dying.

She could be dying, and I wasn’t there.

Chapter 1

I don't think your ability to fight has anything to do with how big you are. It's to do with how much anger is in you.” – Amy Winehouse

 

Callum

 

Five Weeks Earlier

 

Barney’s was filled to capacity, which was unusual for a Wednesday night. So unusual that it was starting to piss me off. I wanted to lose myself, but the noise in there was distracting. I’d arrived late and lost my usual booth in the far corner, so I’d found myself at the bar instead, which was handy for refills but not what I had in mind when I came in.

To make it worse, I’d been jostled and shoved from all directions. I could feel the beast inside me beginning to stir. I tried to drown it with booze, but we both knew it was a temporary fix.

As if to illustrate my point, the guy beside me bumped into me a second time, spilling my beer down the front of my shirt. That was the final straw. I turned around and gave him a shove back, sending him sprawling into his friends, friends I hadn’t noticed until that moment. That should’ve been my warning, but I was way past seeing signs.

I didn’t even know who the guy was, I only knew he worked over at the mill, was clumsy and had a big mouth. That’s not true, I knew something else about him, too – he was big. Taller than me, so maybe six-three or six-four, with a face that was perfect for radio. He also seemed to think he was bulletproof, but I was about to prove him wrong.

He turned around, and suddenly I was faced with four of them, all varying combinations of huge, drunk and angry. That should’ve slowed me down, or had me pausing at least, but it didn’t. It was a challenge, and I loved a challenge.

“You got a problem, dude?” he asked, giving me the once-over from the feet up.

That pissed me off even more.

“Yeah, I have. You just spilled beer all over me, asshole.”

One of his friends laughed. He actually laughed, although I failed to see the humour in the situation.

“Think that’s funny?” I demanded, slamming what was left of my beer on the bar.

The universal sign for ‘bring it on, punk’.

“Take it ouside!”

Harry’s voice was swallowed up in the melee as the situation rapidly deteriorated. I saw red, and it blurred out almost everything around me. The room seemed to sway and heave with people as the guy came barrelling towards me. I should’ve known. I should’ve seen what was happening, but the beer had dulled my senses. I turned my head at the last moment and his fist connected with my cheekbone, jarring my entire skull. The room began to swim as I grabbed onto him and took him to the floor with me. I got in one good punch, one decent, solid hit that got him right in the ribcage, and he rolled off me, his arms wrapped protectively around his gut.

The next thing I knew, two of his friends were frog-marching me across the crowded room, the three of us parting the crowd like the Red Sea. It all happened so fast. One minute, we were on the ground, the next, I was flying out the door. It was one of those surreal moments, like something out of a dream. The anger that had consumed me only moments before dissipated, and I was left hollow and confused, struggling to make sense of the sudden change of scenery.

I landed on the pavement outside on my hands and knees. That woke me up and took care of the dream sequence in one fell swoop. Reality flooded in, like a movie with the sound suddenly switched to full volume.

They yelled something at me that I didn’t catch, then one of them kicked me in the ribs for good measure. The impact blinded me, forcing me over onto my back as I curled into the foetal position to protect myself. Pain, immediate and intense, bloomed through my torso like a virus, making my head spin. I fought back the urge to throw up as I tried to breathe through it. I heard the door to the bar slam shut behind me and then I was alone.

Shit.

I lay there for a while, trying to catch my breath, watching it turn into fog in the cold night air.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been thrown out of a bar, and it probably wasn’t gonna be the last time either. Why was it that booze numbed your senses when you were physically fine, but as soon as someone drove a boot into your ribs – or a fist into your face, or nose, or any other part of you – you felt everything?

Asshole.

I wasn’t sure if that was aimed at him or me. Probably both. I was just as worthy of it, especially lately. It was a wonder that Harry hadn’t barred me already – I sure as hell deserved it. The anger swam around inside me, searching for a release. Booze made it worse, but it also made the flipside easier to bear.

The loneliness.

It was eating me up inside. The booze took my mind off it, at least for a while. I’d yet to discover what the answer was, long-term. I wasn’t even sure I wanted one.

With a grunt, I heaved myself to my knees and then to my feet, staggering slightly. I looked up and down the street, but it was empty. Not a soul was out at this time of the night, and those that were, were inside Barney’s.

I was drunk and stupid, but not suicidal, and sure as hell not capable of driving.

My ribs ached and I tried to take shallow breaths as I made my way down the empty street in the dark, towards home.

"I highly recommend both these books, and I love-love-love, that they're available as a set, now!" ~ J via Amazon - 2 August 2017

 

"If you seek the heart of your characters, to know them deeply and emotionally, then please, read ANYTHING by Amanda! But start with the Absolution Duet, because she will take you on a roller coaster ride that only improves with each writing she completes." ~ DianaBanana via Amazon - 1 August 2017

"Her writing style is scintillating, exciting and last but not least - powerful." ~ Hooked on Books via Amazon - 1 August 2017

"Couldn't put the book down. Dogs were lucky to be fed. Just a really great read. Thank you for writing it." ~ Liz via Amazon - 1 August 2017

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