Unexpected Consequences, page 1
Unexpected Consequences by Sloan Johnson
Text copyright © 2014 by Sloan Johnson
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Cover photo used with permission from
Eric Battershell Photography
Excerpt from Double Full by Kindle Alexander used with permission
Love can be a funny thing sometimes, sneaking up when you least expect it. This book is dedicated to all of those who have opened my eyes to the complexities of love.
If I’m not careful, I’m going to be Cupid’s next victim. I’ve managed to escape that little punk’s arrows for almost thirty-five years, but as I lean against the door watching Mary disappear into the elevator with Tasha and Holly, there’s no doubt I’m a fucking goner. It’s crazy how someone can run in the same circles and you never meet them until a random, unrelated encounter. Had it not been for Dylan needing a ride home from the airport one day, I might have never met the sassy ginger who is somehow stealing my heart.
Realizing that I am, without a doubt, falling for her should be scary, but it’s not. I’ve made an art out of spending just enough time with a woman to have some amazing memories without risking silly shit like emotions coming into play. And now… well, I think it’s safe to say Mary caught me completely off guard and I’m okay with that.
“Were all of you fuckers in on this little intervention?” Tommy’s venomous accusations pull me back into the present, away from thoughts of all the things I’d rather being doing than trying to keep my cousin from completely falling apart. He’s pacing around the room like a caged tiger, cracking his knuckles one at a time. Everything he’s been bottling up for months is now coming to the surface in an explosive manner.
“Tommy, you need to calm down,” Jeff says soothingly. He cocks his head to the side, assessing my cousin before proceeding. No matter how much time we spend together, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the way Jeff analyzes every situation, sometimes in a split second, before reacting. Me, I’m much more impulsive and tend to speak first, then think about what I’ve said. I stare at him for a moment, realizing once again how much my life has turned around in recent months. He was a bit of a wild card, the piece of the puzzle I didn’t realize I was missing. We’re polar opposites, but somehow, it works for us.
“Everyone is here tonight because we’re worried about you. Holly and Zeke both love you and they see you pulling away from them,” Jeff informs Tommy, his brow furrowed while he waits for a reaction. “You have to find a way to work through your emotions without punishing those who are trying to help you.”
Glancing around the room, I can see that all of us are on edge about tonight’s conversation. It’s not going to be a fun one, but it needs to happen. Dylan’s sitting on the couch, his knee bouncing about a mile a minute. Tommy’s eyes are darting around, looking for the best possible escape from the situation. Jeff’s trepidation is more subtle, but little nuances such as the way he bites on the inside of his cheek or the way his eyes narrow show me that he’s concerned as well.
Needing a break from the tension, I grab a round of beers out of the fridge, knowing there’s no way we’re going to sit around and share our feelings without a little bit of liquid encouragement. It’s just not the type of things guys do, but it’s exactly what we need right now. The way things are right now, I’m not sure how we haven’t already taken to settling the score by kicking the crap out of one another.
“Fuck that!” Tommy trips over the coffee table as he launches himself off the couch. I would be worried at this outburst, but I know it’s because we’re getting through to him. When he spins around, hovering over Jeff aggressively, I’m torn on whether to intervene or let this play out.
“If he hadn’t decided to lie to me about Liam, maybe I would have been able to prepare myself for this ahead of time,” Tommy screams, turning his head to glare at Dylan. “Instead, I walk into a fucking bathroom and see the man who killed my sister standing inches away from my girlfriend. How the fuck was I supposed to react? And now, everyone expects me to be best buddies with him as if he didn’t take away the most important thing in my life.”
Dylan lunges out of his chair, shoving Tommy back on the couch. I don’t blame him, I think we’re all getting sick of Tommy putting all of this at Dylan’s feet. I see the vein throbbing across his bald head and know we’re about to have a nuclear explosion right here in my condo. Before I can get in between the two of them, Dylan twists the front of Tommy’s t-shirt in his hand, pulling him up slightly. I wave Jeff off when he goes to intervene. I might regret it later, but even if these two do go to blows, I know they’re making progress. Shit, part of me hopes they’ll pummel one another just so it’s over and done with.
“He didn’t kill her,” Dylan roars. We’ve been through a lot over the years and the guttural tone of his voice is one I’m not sure I’ve ever heard before. The rage swirling in his eyes scares me a little. It’s enough to make me take a step forward, fully prepared to get between the two of them, even though I know I’ll get my ass handed to me if I do. If Dylan goes after Tommy right now, it’s not going to be a quick exchange of flying fists, it’s going to be a death match and I’m not up for that tonight.
“You think the fact that Liam was driving the car that night didn’t fuck my brother up permanently? He loved Maria. He wanted to marry her. I know you’re going to be pissed when I say this, but I really don’t give a shit anymore. You’re not the only person who lost someone that night. Liam was never the same after Maria died and it didn’t take long before he turned his back on all of us to try to escape the pain.”
I look to Jeff, hoping he’ll know what to say in response to Dylan’s outburst. The protective side of me wants to slap Dylan across the back of his shiny head for being so inconsiderate that he would think Maria’s death and Liam running away are anything alike. The rest of me realizes that this is a huge moment. Dylan rarely talks about Liam, and I’ve never heard him talk about how their family dealt with Maria’s death. It pisses me off that he’s made me realize that our family has been so consumed by our own loss for all these years that we never stopped to think about theirs.
“Dylan, let him go.” When Jeff stands, he’s shorter than Dylan in stature, but there’s no doubt that he is taking control of the situation. Dylan glares at him, still holding the cotton at Tommy’s neck, but finally releases him.
“Seriously, if this is going to turn into some big love fest where we all hold Tommy’s hand and tell him it’s okay to feel the way he does, I’m out.” There’s hurt in Dylan’s voice as the anger fades away. “I’m not saying he shouldn’t be upset, but he needs to start thinking like a grown man instead of as a child. I didn’t know his sister all that well, but I did know her well enough to safely say she’d be pissed as hell if she was here and he was acting this way.”
The shrill ring of Dylan’s cell phone is just the diversion I’ve been praying for since he opened his mouth. I told Jeff it was a bad idea to have everyone here, but he swore it was for the best. Given the copious amount of money he spent getting an education, I figured he knew what he was talking about even though I know how animated my friends can be at times.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Dylan asks whoe
Something about the panicked tone in his voice has everyone snapping to attention. There’s no information to be gleaned from the occasional nods and grunts. The color has drained from his face, his free hand gripping the back of one of my dining room chairs tight enough I’m expecting it to splinter at any moment.
His phone shatters when it hits the wall seconds after he ends the call.
“What the fuck is going on?” I ask, trying to ignore the fact that his phone isn’t the only thing lying on the hardwood floor in pieces. His little outburst has claimed a mirror and some weird glass bowl I got as a housewarming gift when I moved in. I’m a little pissed at the prospect of trying to clean that shit up. I’d like to think I’ve done a good job at staying mellow through all of this, but whatever is going on with Dylan has me instantly on edge.
“We have to go,” Dylan yells over his shoulder, racing for the door. The rest of us jump to our feet, knowing from his tone that there’s no time to get details right now. As we all blindly follow him into the hallway, I notice a sheen of sweat forming along his brow. “That was Liam. There’s been an accident and he’s pretty sure the girls were involved.”
Nothing makes sense. They haven’t been gone long enough to have even made it to the parking ramp, much less get anywhere and have an accident. We race across the street, none of us bothering to see if there are cars coming. I know my racing heart has nothing to do with physical exertion and everything to do with the rising panic as we get closer. A group of teenagers press themselves against the side of a building when they see four grown men sprinting up the hill. That was a wise decision on their part because I have no doubt we would have run right over the top of them.
The sound of sirens bouncing off the downtown buildings is the only reassurance any of us have as our feet thud against the concrete darkness leading to the other end of the block. I can hear the blood coursing through my veins, fueled by fear and adrenaline. Under the glow of the street lights, I see people pouring out of the brewpub on the corner, staring at the scene in front of them. Whether or not it’s our girls, I wish they’d mind their own business and go back inside. There’s no need to gawk if you’re not going to do anything.
By the time I push my way through the crowd of on-lookers, my eyes skitter from one scene to the next, trying to figure out where I should go and what I should do. Liam is crouched at the curb rocking Holly in his arms while Tommy’s talking to one of the officers on the scene, presumably to see what they know so far. My first instinct is to go to Holly’s side and tell Liam to find somewhere else to be. I’m not sure where my cousin’s head is at with all of the commotion, but he’s made it clear he has issues with Liam being anywhere within fifty feet of Holly.
Dylan is kneeling next to Tasha in the middle of the road, brushing the hair away from her face. I can hear her crying, begging Dylan to make the pain go away, so I’m reasonably certain she’ll be okay.
As I race to where the paramedics are already working on another victim, I pray that it’s not Mary. That she’s somewhere in the crowd. Jeff turns to me, his face ashen and grave as he shakes his head.
“Mary!” I scream, ready to cry like a little bitch. After turning back to the paramedics, Jeff raises, quickly making his way to me. Every time I try to look past him to see what’s going on, he feints the same direction, effectively blocking my view. “Dammit, Jeff! I need to help her! She needs me right now!”
It figures that right after I do something like get used to having Mary around, she’d be taken away from me. Maybe Liam’s right and there’s no use in letting anyone get close to you.
Jeff reaches out to me, not hesitating to pull me into a comforting embrace. I feel myself shaking against his body, needing to get to Mary but terrified of what I’ll see. I beat my fists against his chest, trying to break free from his grip.
“You need to calm down,” Jeff says, pressing his cheek against mine. “It’s not good, but she’s alive. If you go over there right now, you’re going to keep them from doing their job. Let them help her and then you can see her.”
When I feel his hands on either side of my face, forcing me to look directly into his ice blue eyes, a sense of calm washes over me. Jeff wouldn’t lie to me about something like this. He cares about her almost as much as I do and he’s somehow staying calm, so I will myself to not panic.
I just about lose it when Jeff urges me to go over to check on Tommy and Holly. Even from the middle of the road, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that she’s freaked the fuck out but unharmed. Mary is the one who needs me right now. I can stay calm, I know I can. But I’m not going to be able to do that if he keeps trying to shield me from seeing her.
“Zeke, I need you right now. Please make sure Holly isn’t hurt. Ask Tommy if he needs anything for her. Then, find out how bad Tasha’s injuries are. Help your cousin and friend while I make sure they’re taking care of Mary.” His voice is deeper than normal, each word spoken slowly and with purpose. I turn on my heel and make it two steps before I realize that I’m fooling myself if I think I have a chance of walking away from either one of them. I am his and he knows it. There’s no other explanation for why I’m not fighting him over pushing me away.
The frenzied action continues everywhere. I look over my shoulder and see the paramedics working to stabilize Mary. I try to ignore the fact that there are now more people tending to her, while only two paramedics remain with Tasha, working to put her on a backboard. No matter how much I want to run to Mary, I stay with Tommy and Holly. My girl’s life is now in Jeff’s hands and I have to trust he won’t allow anything to happen to her.
“I’m so sorry! This is all my fault,” Holly sobs. She pulls her black hair in front of her face. While it could be so she can’t view the scene around her, I’m more inclined to think she’s trying to keep us from looking at her. I ease my way onto the concrete to her left, glancing behind her to my cousin. He silently nods and I know that he’s assuring me the altercation that barely had time to start at my place is all but forgotten.
“Baby, why do you say that?” Tommy asks, running his hand in slow circles over her back. I watch the two of them together, amazed by the way Tommy takes care of Holly. They haven’t been together much longer than Mary and I have been fooling around, but they share this bond that causes an unfamiliar pang in my chest. I realize that that is what I want. Having a good time without any sort of expectations or commitment isn’t enough for me anymore. I just hope it’s not too late. “It was an accident, you didn’t do anything.”
“No, no, no. NO!” She shrieks, pounding her fists repeatedly against her thighs. “If I wasn’t such a complete fuck-up, we’d all be safe right now! Don’t you get it?”
Holly continues rambling about how this is all her fault, how she’s a kiss of death to everyone around her. Hearing the way she’s berating herself, it doesn’t take a professional to know she’s slipping back into the state of self-loathing she lived in last year. She seriously thinks this freak accident is somehow the universe punishing her and taking away those she cares about. The look on Tommy’s face shows he’s just as perplexed by her meltdown as I am. How can she think she has any control over whether or not someone runs the red light?
“Holly, did you three have the walk light?” I ask, allowing Tommy to focus on consoling her while I attempt to draw out an explanation for her line of thinking. My body tenses, waiting for her response. It’s a simple question, but given her state of mind and what I’ve heard about her past, I’m fairly certain there’s no such thing as a simple answer.
“Yes, but that’s not the point!” She narrows her dark eyes at me, the death glare I’ve heard about but never received before tonight. The one that tells me she thinks I’m being an idiot right now. “They were trying to hit me but they missed!”
Okay, so that gets my attention. I sit up straight, turning to face her. I place one hand on her back, tryin
Tommy cuts both of us off before another word is spoken. My face contorts, showing every ounce of confusion I feel. She’s finally talking and he’s telling her to stop. Makes no sense to me, but what do I know? “Babygirl, stay here. I’m going to get one of the officers to come and listen to this.”
Good idea. This is why I’m always tasked with being the buddy when shit goes south. I don’t have the mental capacity to take control the way he and Jeff can. When Tommy stands to leave, I feel Holly’s trembling body melt into my side, shock threatening to overwhelm her senses. “Hey man, you stay here. I’ll go.”
I look around as I try to find an officer who isn’t busy taking statements from witnesses. This might be the most helpless I’ve ever felt. Dylan and Liam are hovering over Tasha, so they don’t need me. Jeff won’t let me anywhere near Mary, which still pisses me off. And Holly, well I’m clueless as to what I could do for her. I love the girl like a sister, but she’s not normal. She’s her own special kind of crazy that I’m not sure I’ll ever understand. After getting the attention of an officer wading through the crowd for more eye witnesses, there’s nothing left for me to do here. I stand in the middle of the road, trying to figure out where to go next.
Weighing my options, I look up just in time to see them hoist Mary’s gurney into the ambulance. Under the harsh fluorescent lights in the back of the vehicle, I see her normally perfectly styled hair matted with sticky blood. Her face is swollen and missing her trademark smile. She looks so different right now I wonder if I would be able to recognize her if I didn’t know she was involved in the accident.
I feel as if my feet are weighted as I try to put one in front of the other to get to Mary. I don’t give a damn what Jeff says, I need to be there with her. Before I can reach her, the doors slam shut and the driver begins to pull away. I scan the crowd, needing Jeff. He’s nowhere to be found. Just before the ambulance rounds the corner, I look in the back windows and see him in the jump seat. I stand in the middle of the road, stunned, as I watch two of the most important people in my life racing further away from me.
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