Ideal Image: Snapshot, #2, page 1
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2017 Freya Barker & KT Dove
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person or persons, living or dead, any event, occurrence, or incident is purely coincidental. The characters and story lines are created and thought up from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
RE&D - Margreet Asselbergs
Table of Contents
A WORD FROM KT
A WORD FROM FREYA
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
In one blinding flash, the very fiber of her existence is shredded.
For criminal lawyer and single mother, Stacie Gustafson, a dependable career, a well-organized life, and an immaculate image, had always been her armor. Without it she’s left exposed and struggling to create a new existence for her and her daughter. No matter how hard she tries, she is unable to avoid her history.
All it takes is one look at the blue-eyed woman, for Nicolas Flynn to be transported back ten years. Sure, her appearance has changed, but then so has his, since he turned his life around. His devotion to his small-town law firm is tested with the arrival of this bittersweet blast from the past, making for a persistent distraction. One that drags along more trouble than she left behind.
To those visibly or invisibly marked by trauma they’ve sustained in their life.
In hope that Stacie’s words may resonate for you.
I have scars, but they don’t get to define me.
I am a sum of my parts, and I’ve been forgetting about a lot of my parts, focusing only on the part of me that has changed, not the parts that have stayed the same.
I’m still me.
Before you start...
It is highly recommended you read Shutter Speed, and Freeze Frame prior to reading Ideal Image!
Ten years ago
“Are you...coming back?”
My voice is slurred and I have to blink to clear my vision. I’m drunker than I thought I was.
This was supposed to be my last hurrah before forcing myself into a corporate suit and adopting a professional demeanor, suitable for a brand-new lawyer in the market for a placement. A final party saying goodbye to what otherwise has been a long and rather boring road to graduation. On Monday, I’d be diving back into the books to prepare for the bar exam, but this weekend I was going to let my hair down.
It would appear I’ve let my hair down a little too far.
All I can see is the dark hair, wide shoulders with what looks to be a tattoo of a Celtic cross between his shoulder blades, and tight ass disappearing out the door, but for the life of me I can’t remember his face. His cum is still running down my leg, and I can’t remember what the hell he looks like, let alone his name.
Did we even exchange names?
I can’t concentrate. I know I should be concerned about the sticky residue he left behind, but I just can’t bring myself to worry. I’m too busy trying to keep the room from spinning.
I may have dozed off for a minute, but the second I open my eyes, a violent bout of nausea hits me, and I can barely roll myself to the side of the bed to find the trash can. Puking does not feel good. My eyes blur with tears, my head pounds, and I’m so disoriented I don’t know where I am.
Wiping my mouth with a corner of the dingy sheet, I wrestle myself into an upright position and reach for the jeans and panties still tangled around one ankle. My bra and shirt have been shoved up under my armpits and I manage to pull them back in place. I think.
I suddenly want to be home. Back in my own apartment, where I can crawl into my own bed and sleep.
Still trying to button up my jeans, I stumble out of the room, right into a body. I tilt my head back to see, but the movement brings on another wave of nausea, and I feel myself shoved into a bathroom and bent over a sink, right before it all goes black.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT WAKES me up, but it’s daylight outside and I’m facedown on a towel on my couch, my Ikea salad bowl on the floor beside me. I have no fucking clue how I got here.
THREE MONTHS LATER, my bar exam behind me, I sit on the edge of an examining table in a sterile room wearing only a paper gown, still wondering how the hell I got there. The party may have been reduced to a slight ripple in my history, but the impact is long-lasting, as I discover.
My promising and bright future grinds to a halt at the hands of the fresh-faced doctor, who with three words instantly changes the course of my life.
“You are pregnant.”
I’M NOT SURE WHAT FIRST attracted me to her.
Sure, she’s beautiful, but so are a good number of the other students. All I know is that the first time I saw her walk into the auditorium, her blonde ponytail bouncing with every step and her ready smile brightening the dark and somewhat intimidating space, I simply couldn’t look away.
Highly inappropriate—she is much younger and a student. I’m a staff member for crying out loud. Besides, it’s not
Three years I watched her come and go for lectures. Three years of surreptitious glances on my part and a rare nod of acknowledgement on hers. Whenever her eyes did land on me, however briefly, it felt like my heart stopped.
I spotted her coming out of a favored coffee shop a while back, carrying her book bag and a travel mug. I wasn’t thinking, and ended up following her to an older, three-story apartment building.
There I stood outside in the parking lot, watching as she made her way along the third floor gallery to a door about halfway down. The instant the door slammed shut behind her, the almost trance I’d seemed to be under, as I followed her here, snapped. Shame and disgust washed over me as I glanced around me to see if anyone saw me gawking.
After that I’d done my best to avoid her.
“YOU SHOULD COME,” DERRICK, one of the other TAs said, elbowing me as we walked out of the campus gym where we started working out a few months ago.
“I don’t know,” I hesitated, not sure whether going to a student grad party was a smart move.
“Just for a beer or two. It should be fun.”
I guess his definition of fun and mine are not the same.
I’ve been nursing this one beer for about an hour, leaning my back against the wall as I watch. The alcohol is flowing freely and more than once I’ve had to wave off someone offering me a shot of one thing or another. No one seems to recognize me, which is interesting, since I recognize a large number of them.
Maybe it’s because I finally bit the bullet last week and shaved my head. At twenty, I started losing my hair at an increasingly rapid pace, leaving me with a sizable bald spot at barely thirty. Oddly enough, shaving what little remained resulted in me looking younger, rather than older. It gives me a bit of an edge, and apparently makes me more noticeable to the opposite sex. I guess the bald head is an attraction, despite the fact I still wear the same glasses and I’m still carrying a few extra pounds, although a few months at the gym have made a difference. It’s a new reality for me.
With these thoughts going through my mind, as I wave off yet another offer of tequila, I almost miss the familiar blur of blonde hair in my peripheral vision.
She seems drunk off her rocker as a big muscular guy, I’m not familiar with, drags her into the back hall where I know the bathroom and bedrooms are. It’s like a punch in the gut. I know she’s not for me—I get that—but that makes watching her go off with that muscled jock no less hurtful. I’m actually a bit disappointed. In my fantasy, I had her built up into someone who’d be able to look further than outward appearances. Someone who would appreciate the person, not the package, but it seems I was wrong.
Despite the churning in my stomach, I keep an eye out. When not ten minutes later I see the guy come out of the hallway, still zipping his jeans, with a cocky grin on his face, I push myself off the wall. There’s no sign of her.
I keep an eye on the jock, who slips into the kitchen for a while, to see if he’s going back down the hallway. At some point, I realize I haven’t seen her appear and make my way to the back of the house to investigate. I stop, trying to listen for any sounds coming from the bedrooms, but the damn music is so loud, I can barely hear myself think. I knock on the first door I encounter, before carefully pushing it open. It’s a bedroom and although it’s empty, the thick smell of sex still lingers in the air. I guess this side of the house is seeing its share of activity.
I skip the next door on the left, because I know that’s the bathroom, focusing instead on the last door on the right side. Just as I reach out to knock, the door flies open and she comes stumbling out, barreling straight into my chest. She smells of booze, puke, and sex, and I almost push her off me when she tilts her head back. One of her hands flies up to cover her mouth and I can guess what’s coming, so I quickly shove her into the bathroom and over the sink.
Next thing I know, her knees collapse and I can barely prevent her from hitting the floor. I wrestle her onto the toilet, where she slumps against the tank, and wet a hand towel under the tap. She’s mumbling incoherently as I wipe her face clean. I step back and contemplate what to do next, when the bathroom door slams open and her jock boyfriend steps in.
“Perfect,” I mumble, handing him the wet rag I’m still holding. “She’s wasted, you should take her home.”
He looks at me funny, and then glances at her with a look of disgust.
“Not my fucking problem, dude. I don’t even know the chick; she’s just a warm hole, man. Just a warm hole.”
I’ve never been a violent person, but my fist shoots out before I can even think about what I’m doing. I can almost hear my knuckles crunch as I catch him right on the chin, catching him by surprise. He stumbles back, hits his head on the edge of the door and slides down to the floor, where I leave him to go find some help.
I need to get her home.
I’VE CROSSED SO MANY lines tonight.
I take one last look at the couch, where I left her to sleep off her bender. Her long blonde hair wiped back, a towel under her face, and a bowl in case she needs to puke. It’s tempting to stay and make sure, but already I don’t feel comfortable with the liberties I’ve taken. I don’t want to run the risk of her waking up and freaking out at the sight of me.
Best for me just to go—walk away. Not just from her, but from my obsession with her.
She’s not for me.
“Mak! You’re not going to have time to eat if you don’t hurry the hell up!”
Ever since school started last week, Makenna has been dragging her ass every morning.
She didn’t have any problem getting out of bed during the summer break; she’d be out the door and by the riverside, with that damn fishing rod my brother got her, before I had my first coffee. Thank goodness Ben put the fear of God into her about the Dolores River right across the street. His recounting of the lives the fast-moving water has claimed over the years was enough to scare her into the life vest he insisted she wear.
With her fishing now limited to the weekend, she’s lost her interest in getting up at the crack of dawn. In fact, she’s missed her bus, more often than not, so I’ve had to drive her to school most mornings. Not really a problem, since I work from home, but being out in public still makes me uncomfortable.
I can’t really blame them, because I have a hard time looking in the mirror myself, which is why I’ve taken most of them down. The scars I was left with, as the result of an explosion earlier this year, are pretty prominent along the left side of my body and draw looks. I’m still due for some plastic surgery, but after the initial months of constant prodding and poking at my body; I need a break.
I’ve barely had a chance to settle into the new house and my new reality. Days are so much longer without the constant pressures of working in the very busy Albuquerque District Attorney’s office. I’d barely been in the hospital a week, when the phone calls started coming, wanting to know when I would be back in the saddle. I already knew that wouldn’t be anytime soon, since an ADA is in the public eye quite a bit, and the public wouldn’t want to see me like this.
My life has been turned upside down and I’m still finding my feet.
As is my nine-year-old daughter, Makenna. Although she loves the idea of living near her Uncle Ben, Isla, and their baby, Noah, she wasn’t happy about giving up her school, friends, and home permanently when I decided to settle here. Displeasure she is more determined every day to drive home.
Christ, that kid drives me up the wall.
I toss a few muffins in a container and grab an apple from the crisper drawer in the fridge. Looks like my recalcitrant daughter will be eating on the fly again. Loud footsteps come pounding down the stairs, and Mak comes stomping into the kitchen
“No time, kiddo. Told ya the first time.” I hand her the muffins and turn her around so I can stuff the apple in her pack. “Get your butt out to the car. We’re pushing it already.”
“Why can’t we have Pop-Tarts or donuts? Normal people do,” she complains all the way out the door.
I roll my eyes heavenward, and count to ten, before snagging my phone and keys off the counter and following her outside. By all counts, I have ten or so more years of this before I can legally show her the door. The thought is enough to get me drinking at seven forty-five in the morning.
Jen spots me coming in right away. Doesn’t matter that there’s a bit of a lineup, she waves me through to the back right away.
“Do Stace a macchiato when you have a minute,” she calls out to the barista before following me into her office. “I need to pick your brain,” she says to me after sitting down at her desk.
“Isla’s sent me the edits from your shoot with her—I cried,” Jenn says, dramatically flapping her hands in front of her face. “So gorgeous. Anyway, with the campground booked all the time, still nursing Noah, and the upcoming fundraiser, she’s running ragged. I need your help.”
“Sure,” I offer, shrugging my shoulders. “What do you need?”
“You know she’s planning to auction off some of your shots at the gala, right?”
I nod, I do know, it was the whole purpose for allowing her to photograph me in all my glory. The Children’s Burn Foundation is a cause I’ve thrown myself into the last months. I’d never heard about them until I got to talking to a mom of one of the kids in the burn unit at Durango Mercy Regional Hospital. Her little girl had sustained burns to her face and chest, in an accident with hot oil, and was there for her eighth surgery in two years. Her mother mentioned that if not for the foundation, she would not have been able to afford the additional plastic surgery to reconstruct the little girl’s nose and mouth. When I mentioned the foundation to Isla a month or so later, it was her idea to do something.