Tristan hit rock bottom, and no one felt the impact harder than Danika. She was forced to see, in the most brutal of ways, that love does not conquer all. Bruised, bloody, and broken she had to walk away.
Picking up the pieces of your life after a tragedy is a daunting prospect, and that’s considering you still own all of the pieces. But what if you don’t? What if someone else owns those pieces, and those pieces are a part of your soul?
You dig deep and work with what you’ve got.
That’s what Danika told herself and believed, every single day, for years.
Tristan and Danika’s love had failed every test that life had thrown at them. She couldn’t forget that, not for one second. And if those tests had been overly harsh, well, she wasn’t one to wallow in self-pity. The failure was the thing she had to focus on. The failure was the lesson. She had no intention of working so hard to make it out of hell without learning that lesson well.
Over six years after the night that changed everything, Danika finds herself forced to spend the weekend constantly in Tristan’s company, as they attend the wedding of two of their dearest friends. It’s been long enough that she feels they can be friendly again without it destroying her peace of mind, but just a small amount of time in his presence has her remembering something she had forced herself to forget: There’d been a reason she’d gone through hell with this man, for this man, some true good to precede the bad.
She shocks herself by quickly giving in to a hunger that she never imagined could still consume her.
Even the best intentioned denial has a breaking point.
THE HARSH REALITY
After everything that’s happened, the rise and the fall, the pain and the aftermath, can these two navigate the waters of acute regret, survive the trials of coming face to face with all that they have lost, and find the strength to try again?
This book is intended for readers 18 and up.
SIX YEARS AFTER THE ACCIDENT
I was beyond flattered to be asked by Bianca to be a bridesmaid. I agreed instantly. I hugged her when she told me, and embarrassingly, even teared up.
Her friendship had been very good for me. We’d particularly bonded after the shooting. I’d visited her whenever I could as she was healing.
She managed in that quiet way of hers to talk me into posing for a series of paintings for her while she recovered.
I was terribly flattered, and excited, because she’d promised me a painting for my time.
She was extremely generous with her art, offering several times to give me pieces I was taken with in the past, but I’d always put her off, insisting on paying for the two small paintings that I did end up buying from her collection. This though, the exchange of inspiration for art, didn’t feel like taking advantage, and so I accepted her offer of taking my pick from her next collection, after we’d finished with the sessions.
One painting turned into another, until I became her favorite subject, second only to James.
The hours turned to days, hell, to weeks, and her next show, which premiered a mere of eight months after her first, had so many paintings of me in it that I couldn’t keep track. I became a bonafide part of the show. It was a strange experience, to say the least, but a good one.
We’d opened up to a each other as I’d sat and she’d painted, even talking to some extent about our rough childhoods. As far as nightmares went, I thought hers took the cake, but it was good to have a friend that could relate to having and surviving a troubled past. To climbing out of a pile of rubble and leaving it behind.
It was hard, but I made a promise to myself, for the sake of two people I adored who were getting the dream wedding they deserved, to just be nice to Tristan for the whole affair.
Not just civil. Not just less hostile. But nice.
I could do this, I told myself, many times.
And when push came to shove, it was frightening just how easy it was to fall back into the old rapport.
Not just easy. Natural.
I had this moment every time I went to visit Bev and Jerry at their house. I’d walk in the door, and everyone in the place would just stop what they were doing and rush at me. The kids, no matter how big they got, would wrap themselves around me. The dogs, sans Mango now, but with an extra puppy in the mix, would come and crowd me until I sat down somewhere, and let them all converge on me. Bev would come and kiss me on the forehead, even while Jerry did a drive by all the chaos to pat me on the head affectionately.
I was squeezed so tight that the air left my lungs, licked on every part of skin that wasn’t covered, and it usually lasted for several minutes. That many kids, and people, and dogs should not have existed comfortably into one space, but it didn’t just feel comfortable, it felt right. Like I was coming home.
Every single time.
That’s how this felt.
Tristan and I were entering a new and unfamiliar chapter, only it didn’t feel that way. It felt like no time had passed at all.
It was terrifying. And comforting, because it hadn’t all just been some dream, there’d been a reason I’d gone through hell with this man, for this man, some true good to precede the bad. Over the years, I’d half-convinced myself that I’d imagined most of the good. It was just easier that way.
We were partnered up in the wedding party, which meant that we walked together, and, at all of the parties, we sat together.
I usually took care with my appearance, but I went to great lengths that weekend, spending extra time on my hair and makeup, and shopping for days to put my best foot forward.
I don’t care how things stand, every girl wants to feel beautiful when they see ‘that ex’ again. You know the one I’m talking about. The one you never quite got over. The one that had claimed enough of you that some of it had been lost in the parting.
I wore a gold lace sleeveless mod sheath to the rehearsal dinner, going heavy with gold shadow, and big hoop earrings. I wore my hair straight and parted down the middle. I kept it down, since I’d have a complicated up do the next day.
I was in dress to impress mode. I’d already seen Tristan several times since the festivities began, and each time I’d decked myself out with special care.
Vanity at its most perverse.
On the up side, we’d been getting along well, both of us cautious enough to go out of our way to give no offense.
“By the way, where’s that guy?” Tristan asked, sometime during the third course at dinner, his mouth making a mockery out of the words with just a hint of an unhappy smile.
His hair was longer. It looked good on him. Grippable. I gave myself a mental slap for even thinking it.
“Andrew,” I clarified, something in his voice troubling me, and unwillingly, intriguing me.
We’d kept things light thus far, and it had seemed to be working. This was a new turn, or the potential for one.
“You think I don’t remember his name? How likely do you think that is?”
“Where’s that girl?” I asked, immediately wanting to take it back. We did not need to do this to each other.
I looked down, up, shifted uncomfortably, but his eyes stayed glued to my face, his intense regard strong enough that it felt like a physical touch.
“What girl?” he finally asked.
I made a dismissive motion with my hand. I knew her name, but I already regretted even asking. “No one. It was a very silly question.”
“No, tell me. What girl?”
“That blonde one you’re always with. Your girlfriend.”
“That’s not my girlfriend. It’s weird to bring a girl that’s not your girlfriend to a wedding. Your turn. Where’s that guy?”
He had this perfectly even scruff on his jaw. It was distracting.
“Andrew couldn’t make it.” That was a lie. He’d wanted to come, but we were on a break, a very long break, due to the fact that he’d proposed several months ago, and I’d put him off again, and to say he’d been unhappy about it was a gross understatement. These days we were strictly friends, but Tristan did not need an update on my love life, or lack thereof.
“Oh, well that’s too bad.” His statement was so unconvincing that I had to make an effort not to laugh.
“Not an Andrew fan?”
He gave me a rueful smile, his brown eyes so endearing. I could tell he was about to say something funny. I just knew him that well. “That’s like asking if I’m a fan of cancer. I fucking hate it, but do I know how to get rid of it? Not fucking likely.”
That surprised one small giggle out of me. “Oh my God. Stop it. You’re impossible.”
His focus shifted to something behind me, and I turned to look. In an almost comical manner, everyone seemed to be staring in our direction, all gone quiet. No one was used to seeing us interact with each other like normal human beings.
“We should really blow their minds and start making out,” he whispered.
I laughed again, and had to check the urge to give his arm a playful punch. “You’re an ass. Shut up,” I told him.
His smile grew, and his eyes shone in pleasure, like I’d just given him a gift.