Three Years Ago…
“I STILL CAN’T BELIEVE YOU TESTIFIED AGAINST HIM.”
Kitty O’Doole Reinhardt—no, just Kitty O’Doole now—tossed the last box of what few things she could call her own, into her younger brother’s dusty, old pickup truck.
“As his wife, you didn’t have to,” her brother, Keith, said as he climbed behind the wheel, shaking his head. “You could still be living in this house.”
“You’re kidding, right? Thanks to my ex-husband I could have been indicted on any number of felony charges and faced with jail time myself.” She glared at her brother as he rolled the vehicle down the long driveway. The hot Baltimore summer sun streaked across a clear, blue sky in a blinding glare of brilliant light.
“You really think that would have happened?”
“I signed the documents, which makes me guilty.” She slipped a pair of large, designer sunglasses over her eyes, shielding the dark circles, a constant reminder of the mess she’d made of her life.
“You had no idea what you were signing.”
“Which just makes me look like an idiot.” She knew Keith meant well, but he’d idolized Preston, wanting to be like him. Keith even went as far as to apply for an internship at Reinhart Industries, Preston’s communication technology company. And it didn’t end there. Keith had given up smoking cigarettes and weed, as well as chopping off his hair to try to impress Preston.
For the first year of her marriage to one of the wealthiest men in all of Maryland, his influence on her brother had warmed her heart. Having grown up living from paycheck to paycheck, she and her brother didn’t have the opportunities money had afforded Preston. She hadn’t gone to college because her family couldn’t afford it. Hell, they could barely afford to pay the electric bill, which is why she went to work as soon as she graduated high school.
“You’re not stupid,” Keith said, glancing in her direction, his blue eyes laced with brotherly affection. “You were in love and living a fairy tale.”
She let out a long sigh. She’d met Preston while waiting tables at a posh country club in one of the wealthier suburbs of Baltimore. It was taboo for him to even ask her out, and not because she’d only been twenty, and he thirty, but she was born on the wrong side of town. Dirt poor and uneducated. She was the kind of girl his parents told him to run away from, and fast.
If she had a dollar for every time someone called her a gold digger, she wouldn’t be selling her designer clothes on a fashion app.
“I was blinded by glamour and fancy things,” she said. Her courtship with Preston lasted six months before he proposed, and they were married four months later in a lavish wedding she couldn’t have even dreamed of. Preston showered her with expensive gifts, but she owned not one thing. A lesson she learned the day she divorced him, having to walk away with almost nothing.
“I’m sorry he hurt you,” Keith said.
She reached across the front seat, resting her hand on his biceps. “He hurt us all with his lies, but in the long run, we’re better off without him.”
“He looked utterly heartbroken in court when they sentenced him.”
“He should have thought about that before he colluded and committed fraud.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. For months before Keith had been arrested, he’d been pacing around the house, drinking constantly. He said he was just anxious over a business deal, when in reality, he knew he was being investigated and did everything he could to cover his tracks, including using her to hide investments, money, and bad business dealings.
“Not going to be easy to go from that house, back to living at home with me and the folks.”
“Could have been worse. I could be in jail.”
At twenty-one she’d gone from rags to riches, a story fit for the big screen. Now, at twenty-four, she was back to rags.
And she welcomed it.
She wouldn’t let this beat her down. Not anymore. She had gotten a job at a local Irish Pub and would start classes part-time at the local community college.
This time, she wasn’t going to count on a man, especially a rich one, to make her life better.
She’d do it on her own.
One year ago…
“Get out.” Johnnie Walker Whiskey, better known as JW, hurled his latest trophy across the living room. It hit the wall with a thud and a crack, shattering into three pieces when it landed on the hardwood floor.
“Oh my God,” Bella yelled with her hand on her hip. “What has gotten into you? You could have hit me with that stupid thing.”
“I didn’t throw it anywhere near you, so stop being so dramatic.” As much as he’d like to haul off and hit someone, he’d never lay a hand on her, even if she was the reason for his rage. How could he have been so blind? “And that stupid thing.” He pointed to his first-place trophy from the bull ride earlier that day. “Is what is paying off all the shit you keep putting on my charge card.” He held his hand out. “Give it back. Then leave.”
She dug into her purse, pulling out a hundred-dollar wallet she just couldn’t live without. The shiny diamond he’d given her just two weeks ago sparkled under the LED lighting.
“While you’re at it, give me back the engagement ring.”
She gasped, her eyes growing wide as if the request had been such a shocker.
He really didn’t want the damn ring back, and he should have known their relationship was doomed the day she refused his mother’s ring. Something about it being too small and not her style.
“No way. You’re the one calling off the wedding, not me.”
He laughed. “I’m not the one who has been fucking one of my biggest competitors, not to mention one of my closest friends.” He choked on the words. Any man who’d sleep with his friend’s fiancé was no man at all. “Just get the fuck out. I’ll have your things sent to wherever you want. I just never want to see you near this house again. Ever.” He closed the gap between them, curling his fingers around her arm, tugging her toward the door.
“Hey, that hurts!” She jerked her arm away. “That’s going to leave a bruise.”
He ignored her statement, knowing he’d applied little pressure, and opened the front door.
“We’re done,” he said.
“You’re going to regret this.”
“I doubt that.”
“I’ll make sure you do,” she said with a snarl that only a wild beast could create.
The second she crossed the threshold, he slammed the door shut, locking it. About the only thing that would get him through the night was his namesake.
He stepped over the broken trophy and made his way to the bar, pulling out a bottle of Johnnie Walker. He didn’t bother with a glass. The liquid burned as he took three large gulps, nearly choking, reminding him of the first time he’d ever had a shot of the dark liquid. He’d been seventeen and he and his friends had stolen a bottle. Hell, he was named after the spirit, it should be his signature drink. Only, he’d hated it. Of course, whiskey was an acquired taste and eventually, it had become one of his favorites.
He eased himself back onto the sofa and turned on the television, He had no idea what blared from the speakers as he took a few more shots, closing his eyes. He’d deal with the fallout of breaking up with Bella in the morning. Hopefully, it wouldn’t make the morning news, though Bella was the daughter of Robert Brothers, one of the richest cattle and bull farm owners in all of Idaho, not to mention he ran the best bull riding school in the country and if he caught wind of what happened, he’d be pounding on JW’s door. Wouldn’t matter that he was justified in tossing her out on her ass, she was Robert’s pride and joy.
This would definitely put a damper on JW’s career and his future.
He took a few more sips, his vision doubling as the effects of the alcohol numbed his body. His mind wandered to a place where he’d never met Bella, much less took her home.
His brain became a haze of what ifs and mistakes. He wished he could go back and have a do over…
He had no idea how long he’d slept when the doorbell rang.
His head throbbed, and his stomach lurched to the back of his throat as he tried to stand, but instead rolled off the sofa.
Pushing himself to a standing position, he tried to focus on the clock blinking off the cable box, but the room continued to sway, and he saw double of everything. A faint glow of light shimmied through the window.
So, he’d slept all night. Well, that had been his goal.
He rubbed his temples and stumbled toward the front door.
“Johnnie Walker Whiskey. This is the police.”
Steadying himself, he pulled back the door. “Yes, Officer?” He tried to steady himself, though didn’t think he was successful as the two policemen standing in front of him rocked as if they were holding a baby.
“You’re under arrest,” one of the cops held up a piece of paper. “You have the right to—”
“Before you read me my rights, could you at least tell me what for?” JW asked.
“For the assault of Bella Brothers.”