Cruel Water,Portland,ME, Book Two
Innocence marked her…
Violation crippled her…
Love left her raw…
The life she carefully rebuilt is challenged when she is confronted with the sins from her past. The carefully applied protection is at once ripped away, leaving her exposed and vulnerable.
Her single night of indulgence with the silver-eyed stranger is only the beginning. He sees right to the heart of her and she is unable to ward off emotions that have been deeply buried. With the sting of betrayal still fresh in her soul, she’s surprised to find herself opening up to the honest integrity of the sharp-eyed, rough-looking biker.
When he lost everyone who mattered, he was left without roots and learned to be content simply living in the moment. Completely unprepared for the feisty blonde bartender with old pain marring her clear-blue eyes, he questions his own rules of detachment, as she unwittingly finds a way under his skin.
Appearances deceive and when the masks fall away, revealing deep, dark secrets, there is nothing left but to hang onto each other and survive the storm.
The muffled sound of a phone ringing penetrates the remnants of sleep. I try to get up, but find myself pinned to the bed by a heavy body. Right. Slowly the memories of last night filter back: the tall quiet man at the end of the bar who’d spent my shift at “The Skipper” following my movements without a word. Startling grey eyes in a rugged face that I could feel on me by the tingle it spread over my skin. Dark brown long hair skimming the collar of his worn leather jacket and the strong, long legs cased in dark jeans had drawn my attention the moment he walked in. When he lifted his eyes to mine as he took a stool at the bar, the impact of his gaze jarred me. His order of beer was the only time I heard his dark raspy voice. The rest of the night he simply lifted his empty glass for a refill and my normally chatty self seemed unable to try for empty conversation. Tongue-tied. My brothers would have had a blast torturing me with that fact.
The man left the bar about half an hour before closing and I’d felt a brief sense of loss before I scolded myself for even giving him a thought. I should know better. And I thought I did, before walking out to cross the parking lot to my apartment building after closing and finding him leaning against the single light post at the end of the alley. Why I wasn’t scared, I don’t know. I should’ve been. Instead I watched with butterflies in my stomach as he purposely stalked toward me, stopping no more than a breath away, forcing me to tilt my head back to look at him. That in itself was a turn on. I’m not exactly short and am used to meeting most people at eye level.
His eyes roamed over my face before coming to rest on my mouth. Part of me wanted to bolt, but another, stronger part of me wanted badly to give into a craving I’ve spent years suppressing. While I was waging this internal battle, his arms folded around me and pulled me hard into his chest. Strong, solid arms banded around me and one hand slipped into the short hair at my neck, fingers curling tight to the point of pain. Still, I didn’t move. The first touch of his lips on mine was brief, and quickly followed by a toe-curling exploration of the recesses of my mouth. A kiss that satisfied a hunger I hadn’t been aware of.
I did have the presence of mind not to take him back to my place. I simply climbed on when he pulled me by the hand to the black and chrome bike at the edge of the lot. Tucked in tight behind his broad back, I let him take me to the La Quinta Inn on Park Avenue.
That’s where I find myself now, carefully trying to untangle myself from his limbs as I grope around for my purse and the offensive familiar tune on my phone, indicating a call from my oldest brother, Owen. Ignoring the inarticulate grumbling in the bed behind me, I snatch up my clothes that his nimble hands divested me of last night and unearth my ringing purse. With my arms full, I beeline it for the bathroom and lock the door behind me.
“What’s up?” I whisper breathlessly.
“Viv, I…” The hesitation in his voice sends chills down my spine as if I can sense bad news looming. “Dad’s in the hospital. Mom found him this morning in the upstairs hallway. She just called me.”
Already tugging up my jeans, I snap, “What hospital?”
“Maine Medical Centre. I’ll come pick you up.”
“No. I’ll meet you there.”
“You sure? I can be there in a—“
“I’m sure. Go. I’ll see you there.”
It takes me two seconds to finish dressing, desperately trying to push down the dark thoughts that want to bubble up. I don’t even look at the bed as I tear through the room and out the door, the grey-eyed man I leave there all but forgotten.
“What happened?” Are the first words from my mouth when I find Mom in the waiting room the nurse at the front desk directed me to. I wasn’t able to avoid thinking about the man I left behind in the hotel room while riding in the back of the taxi that I managed to snag just dropping someone off outside La Quinta Inn. Snippets of the heated grappling of hands to get clothes off as fast as humanly possible played out behind my closed eyelids. Guilt over the thoughts flitting through my mind wasn’t enough to stop the slight clench of my thighs around. It had been a long time…only one rather disastrous attempt to wash away the harsh touch of my ex with a long-time friend, after a night of companionable drinking about a year after I managed to leave that unhealthy relationship. A one-time mistake that should never have happened and left me locked inside my bathroom, sobbing on the floor. The friendship recovered, but I had become gun shy after that, never allowing myself more than an occasional quick relief with a battery operated toy for assistance. Grey eyes was the first man I’d been able to lose myself with—so much so, I apparently fell asleep in his strong arms in the early morning hours.
Mom looks like a deer stuck in headlights when her slightly wild eyes turn to me.
“I don’t know…I noticed him leaving the bed at some point and I dozed off. Next thing I know he’s still not back and when I went to look, I found him lying in the hallway outside your old bedroom.”
A slight shiver runs down my spine and I swallow down the emotion. Mom seems so fragile despite her normally unwavering strength. At seventy-three, she’s as energetic and outgoing as she ever was and I’m having a hard time seeing her so lost. Sitting down next to her I slip my arm around her rounded shoulders.
“Has anyone come to see you?”
She shakes her head no. “We just got here twenty minutes ago. I know nothing.”
Just as I’m about to get up to find some answers, Owen walks in with his wife Lydia following behind. She slips in the seat on the other side of mom while he bends down to give her a hug. His eyes find mine and I shake my head in response to the silent question.
“I’m gonna see what I can find out, okay?” he says, walking back out the door, leaving mom framed by Lydia and me, like bookends keeping her spine straight. I meet Lydia’s warm eyes over my mother’s head and give a tight smile.
“Where are the kids?” I ask, knowing that it’s too early for the school bus to have picked up my seven and ten-year old nephews.
“Neighbor,” Lydia answers. “She’ll make sure they get on the bus.”
I simply nod in response and a heavy silence falls in the room. I want badly to cut through it with idle chitchat to ward off my troubled thoughts, but can’t bring myself to speak.
The return of Owen with a doctor in tow cuts through the onslaught of unwanted memories threatening to suck me down. He introduces himself to mom and just smiles at Lydia and I.
“Your husband seems to have suffered a stroke,” he directs to mom gently, who nods as if she’d expected it. I can’t help the pang of resentment at her usual quiet acceptance, but I bite it down as I focus on listening to the doctor speak. “His vitals are fine, although his heart rate is slightly elevated and we’ll keep an eye on that. We have him on medication to try and minimize the impact, but will need some time to evaluate the full extent of any possible damage. He’s currently responsive but slightly confused and has difficulty communicating—something that’s not at all unusual and not often permanent. Give us some time to run a few tests.”
By the time the doctor finishes explaining the tests ordered for my father and the promise to come back to get mom to see him as soon as they are done, my brother Aaron has arrived. As per usual Owen and Aaron gravitate toward each other and start talking with mom leaving me out of the conversation, so I turn away and slip into my head.
My other two brothers don’t live in Portland. Nolan stayed in Boston after his divorce in order to be close to his teenage daughter Chloe who lives with his ex-wife, and according to Aaron, he is on his way. Dorian is supposed to get the first flight out, since he lives clear across the country in San Francisco. The youngest of my brothers is probably the only one who never once treated me like an annoying little sister and instead became my best friend growing up.
That is, until he moved to the opposite coast and broke my heart. I get it—I’m the only one who does get it. He needed a place where he could be himself, without the scrutiny of the small-town attitude still existing in Portland despite its size. I think part of me always recognized that Dorian had a healthy interest in boys—men—especially when both of us admitted to having a crush on the lead singer for Duran Duran, Simon Le Bon. I remember my mouth falling open when Dorian confessed and rolling off the bed giggling. I was fourteen and it was the last time I told my brother my secrets.
“Hey Girl,” Gunnar answers my call. Best friend to my brother Owen and permanent fixture in my life growing up, Gunnar has become a good friend in the past few years. He’s also my boss and the owner of “The Skipper”, a restaurant pub on Holyoke Wharf in Portland, where I should’ve been prepping for the lunch crowd right about now.
“Hey Boss. Some bad news: my father is in the hospital after mom found him on the floor this morning. Looks like a stroke, but we’re still waiting on more news.”
“Shit, honey. I’m so sorry. Need me to come keep your brothers in line?”
The immediate show of support has my eyes fill with the tears I’ve managed to avoid thus far. Gunnar and his wife Syd, who has grown into the best friend a girl could have, would drop everything to be here for me, I have no doubt.
But they have two kids that need looking after and a pub that needs to open without me to do it. He has also gone to bat a time or two with Owen, when he tried bossing me around like the little girl I’d long since left behind. There are things Gunnar knows about me that he has not shared with anyone in my family—things he reminds me are mine to share if and when I’m ready. Don’t know if I ever will be, but I’m grateful for the trust he shows me.
“Nah. I’ve got it covered,” I bluff, and Gunnar knows it. I don’t speak up in my family, not against my parents, not against my brothers. It’s futile, since they don’t hear me anyway.
“Alright Viv. We’ll take care of “The Skipper”. No worries. Wanna talk to Syd?”
The thought of talking to her causes a few tears to push past my eyelids, rolling quietly down my cheeks. “Will you tell her for me?” I manage. “I’ll give her a call when I know more.”
“Sure thing, honey. Hang tough and we’ll be in touch.”
I’m sure Gunnar heard the hitch in my voice, but knows better than to draw attention to it and simply hangs up without waiting for a response. I take a minute to slip into the washroom when I step back inside the hospital, and splash some cold water on my face. Shoring up my proverbial bootstraps, I walk back into the waiting room where the same doctor is talking to my mother.
“Viv, there you are,” Mom says. “Apparently Dad is calling for you.”
My breath gets stuck on the way out and I have to forcefully push the air from my lungs. Ignoring the goosebumps that pop up on my arms, I turn to the doctor. “I’m sorry?”
“Your father became a bit combative during the CAT scan and keeps asking for ‘Vivvy’. We can’t seem to calm him down.”
The use of my father’s childhood nickname for me leaves a foul taste in my mouth, but I bite through it. “What would you like me to do?” I ask with a straight face.
“If you wouldn’t mind coming with me to the radiology department, perhaps we can calm him down enough to finish the scan.”
With a simple nod and without looking at my family in the room, I follow the doctor out.
I can hear him yelling in the hallway and walk through the door that is being held open for me. My eyes find him on the narrow table, being held down by two people in scrubs.
“Dad?” My voice croaks as I take in his disheveled look, one side of his face drooping and his eyes wild and red, shaking his head from side to side. “Dad! I’m here. It’s Viv—look at me.”
The red-rimmed eyes search frantically at the sound of my voice and when they finally settle on my face, fill with tears. His mouth opens and closes, making him look like a fish on dry land, as he seems to be searching for words.
“Vivvy,” he manages slurring heavily, his body relaxing under the restraining hands. But his next words send a cold stab through my heart and I have to fight to hold in the measly cup of coffee Lydia brought me earlier.
“Vivvy, I…cou…couldn’t fff…find you.”