Beautiful Sacrifice (Maddox Brothers #3)(10)

Kirby melted.

With little effort, Gunnar pulled Kirby onto his lap and gave her a quick peck on the mouth. He stood up, lifting her with him, before quickly setting her on her feet.

“I’m glad you’re leaving,” I deadpanned. “PDA makes me nauseous.”

Kirby stuck out her tongue, letting Gunnar lead her by the hand to the door. He stopped, and she did, too.

“Good luck tomorrow,” Gunnar said.

Kirby’s features sharpened into a mischievous grin. “The guy is the one who needs the luck.”

“Get out,” I said.

I reached over the arm of the sofa and snatched up the pillow, throwing it at the door. At the same time, Gunnar pulled Kirby through, closing the door behind her. The pillow bounced off the old wood and fell to the tan carpet below.

My entire body felt heavy as I pushed myself up off the chair and trudged to the bed. The covers were already pulled back from when I’d crawled in earlier. I sat down and slipped my legs underneath, pulling the blanket up to my chin and snuggling with myself and the empty space around me.

I took a deep breath, breathing in my freedom after five full years of dealing with my grief and guilt on my own terms. I might have let my parents make one too many decisions for me, but against all reason and fears, I had liberated myself. Although my parents would stop by on occasion, they couldn’t hurt me anymore.

My eyelids grew heavy, and I blinked a few times before letting myself nod off to sleep with no nightmares about bright lights, white walls, strangers grabbing at me, or screaming in the distance. Those hadn’t happened since a month after I moved into my tiny loft. Now, I would imagine omelets and cheesecake and sun tea along with Chuck’s expletives over the stove and Phaedra’s insistence on seating patrons. Normal came with the absence of suffocating impossible expectations.

I took a deep breath and exhaled, but I didn’t dream of the Bucksaw.

I dreamed of Taylor.

The alarm bleated, yanking me out of unconsciousness, and I reached over to smack the snooze button with my palm. The sheets were wrapped around my legs, and the blanket had fallen to the floor like it did every night.

I stretched and slowly sat up, squinting at the bright sun pouring in through the bedroom window. The white walls made it even more severe, but I wouldn’t dare ask Phaedra to change a thing. She and Chuck had already given me this loft apartment for nearly nothing, so I could save money.

I dressed in one of the dozen or so V-neck shirts stored in my tiny closet and stepped into my favorite jeans that I’d found at the local ARC Thrift Store. The faded skinnies were the pair I’d purchased just a couple of days after moving into the loft, after my first paycheck from the Bucksaw, and after Phaedra had found out I was sleeping in my car, exactly ten days before my parents had towed and sold it.

Even though I’d had a bedroom full of designer clothes and shoes at my parents’ house, my closet in the loft still had plenty of space. Aside from the things I had stashed in a bag—like toiletries, water, snacks, and the shoebox—before my getaway, all I’d had was my car and the clothes on my back. Five years at the Bucksaw had gained me five more pairs of jeans, three shorts, and a dozen or so shirts. It was easy to do without when you had nowhere to go.

I pulled back the top section of my hair into a clip, letting my bangs fall, which would catch my eyelashes every time I blinked.

Always in my damn eyes!

The time for a haircut at The Falyn Salon was overdue. I glanced down to the drawer that held the scissors and decided against it since it was just before my infamous date with a cute but decidedly unlucky hotshot. There was no way he would be able to compete with my perfect dream version of him, who could make me orgasm with just a side glance, so my mind had already written him off as a disappointment.

After scrubbing my face and completing the rest of my morning routine, I grabbed my apron and pushed open my door. With a quick flip of the wrist, I locked the door behind me. After just a short jaunt down a narrow hallway and fifteen stairs, I was in the Bucksaw again.

Chuck was at the prep table, and Phaedra was counting the cash in the register, the morning sun highlighting the silver strands in her hair.

“It’s like I never left,” I announced.

“You say that every morning,” Phaedra called back to me.

“It feels like that every morning.”

“You say that every morning, too,” Chuck said. He placed a plate of pancakes drowning in syrup, topped with a small swirl of whipped cream and a sliced strawberry, onto the counter in the window between the kitchen and the main dining area.

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