Beautiful Sacrifice (Maddox Brothers #3)(7)

The carpets were worn, and it smelled of grease and mildew when a candle wasn’t burning, but for two hundred dollars a month, it was mine. In comparison with other apartments in the Springs, the loft was practically free.

Leftover decorations from Phaedra’s eclectic collection hung from the walls. I had left home with nothing but the clothes I wore and my Louis Vuitton purse. Even if I had wanted to take some of my things, my father wouldn’t have let me.

Dr. William Fairchild was feared at the hospital and at home but not because he was abusive or ill-tempered—even though he was the latter. William was a renowned cardiologist in the state of Colorado and married to Dr. Blaire Fairchild, one of the best cardiothoracic surgeons in North America, also known as my mother … and queen bitch of the universe by some of her nurses.

My parents had been made for each other. The only person who didn’t fit into our family was me, and I was a constant disappointment to them both. By my junior year of high school, I had been introduced to my favorite friend, my secret comfort, the promise of a stress-free good time—cheap beer. The more obsessed and well-known my parents had become, the more I’d nursed my loneliness and shame—not that they’d noticed.

The water began to turn warm, bringing my thoughts to the present.

“Finally,” I said to no one.

The button of my jeans easily popped open, the slit worn and a bit stretched out. I unzipped my pants and then realized, with the millions of thoughts swirling around in my head, I’d forgotten an important part of my nightly routine. I swore aloud while rushing to my bedroom closet. Bending down, I uncovered a size-nine shoebox. I carried the cardboard to the kitchen and set it next to my apron on the counter.

A thin stack of twenties and fewer small bills peeked out from the apron that was folded neatly on the speckled gray-and-rose Formica. I removed the lid from the box that held over five years of letters, pictures, and cash instead of Adidas. I carefully placed half of my tips inside, and then I hid it back in the dark corner of my closet.

I returned to the kitchen to tuck the rest of the money inside a plain black wallet that I’d purchased from the local discount store shortly after I’d sold the Louis Vuitton online. One hundred and eleven dollars in cash fit right in with the rest of the stack. I would have rent by the end of my shift the following day. With that thought, I smiled and tossed the wallet onto the counter on my way to the bathroom.

My T-shirt was stuck to my skin from sweating throughout the day. I peeled it off and easily kicked off my ratty white Converse high-tops, and then I maneuvered my way out of my skinny jeans, pulling them down over my ankles and tossing them to the corner.

The large pile of dirty clothes made me happy, knowing that would never have existed in my former life. With a houseful of staff—Vanda, the housekeeper, and the three maids, Cicely, Maria, and Ann—overlooked laundry at the end of the day would have meant somebody’s termination. My bed had been made the moment I climbed out of it, and my clothes had been laundered, pressed, and hung up by the next day.

I let my panties fall to the floor, and I pulled off my damp socks with my toes. I stepped under the steaming uneven spray. Once in a while, the water would become ice cold and then turn scalding before returning to normal, but I didn’t care.

The trash was full, the laundry was a week behind, and dirty dishes were in the sink. And I would go to bed without giving any of it a second thought. No one was there to yell at me, to obsess over order, or to chastise my untucked shirts or untamed hair. I didn’t have to be perfect here. I didn’t have to be perfect anywhere anymore. I only had to exist and breathe for no one but myself.

The yellow wallpaper in the bathroom was peeling from years of steam filling the room, the paint in the living room was chipped and scuffed, and the ceiling in my bedroom had a large water stain in the corner that seemed to get worse every year. The carpet was matted, the furniture older than me, but it was all mine, free of memories and free of obligation.

Once I’d scrubbed the grease and sweat from my skin, I stepped out, wrapping myself in a fluffy yellow towel. Then I began the nightly routine of brushing my teeth and moisturizing my body. I slipped on a nightgown and watched exactly six minutes of the news—just long enough to catch the weather. Then I crawled into my full-sized bed and read something completely and utterly trashy before falling asleep.

Breakfast at the Bucksaw would begin in ten hours, and I would repeat my day like every other day, except for Sundays and the occasional Saturday when Phaedra would insist I find somewhere else to be. Only, the next day would be different. I would have to survive dinner with the interagency oaf, likely listening to how cool axes and tattoos were and being just bitchy enough that he’d steer clear of me until he went home to Estes Park.

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