Jo knew it was a stupid thing to do. But she just could not spend one more minute in that tiny, crappy motel room with that whiny-ass, pregnant girl. Or that man fawning all over her. Not that she was jealous of Donovan Bradshaw. She had no right. One night in this town. And everyone knew what happened in Vegas, stayed in Vegas. Not that they had actually…
She downed the whole glass of Chardonnay and tapped the empty glass on the bar to get the bartender’s attention. Looked like all her carefully acquired manners were out the window, right along with her career. And that was all she had to show for a quarter of a century, over half her life.
Damn him, she should have never listened to Donovan Bradshaw. She should have walked her lily-white, trailer-trash ass in Tyson, Turner, and Tyson, LLP on Monday like nothing happened. Five days on the run with those two lovebirds, and she was losing her ever-loving mind. A couple more, and it might not matter. Did Nevada have the death penalty? Not that it mattered, she was sure she could argue justifiable homicide.
No, she should focus on the girl’s problems instead of her own. There was almost something vaguely familiar about her as she held out her hand, “Hi, I’m Abby. Abigail Monroe.”
Holy shit, it couldn’t be. But that would explain it. The kid had just come to live with her grandmother the last time she had been home. Not that Sebida was her home anymore. That was her immaculately decorated apartment with the ocean view in Long Beach.
Jo did some quick calculations. This girl’s great-grandfather was her grandfather’s brother. That made them second cousins, once removed or some such shit. Since leaving Sebida, she had not worried about that kind of stuff. It only mattered in small towns where you were related to half the dating pool. “I’m Jo. So, how did you come to marry a man you’ve been in love with your whole life in a single day?”
Better to keep her talking about herself than having her ask any question that Jo could not answer. Especially her full name. Laughing off the fact that they shared the same last name might not be as easy as it seemed. Especially if the girl remembered Jolene Monroe, who had made it big in Los Angeles. And she’d bet her Mama didn’t let anyone in Sebida forget that. Even if she had not seen the woman in what? A decade?
Jo half-listened to the girl as she studied her and sipped her fourth glass of wine. A whole bottle. She had drunk the equivalent of an entire bottle in the last hour. Probably not the wisest thing, considering she needed to keep her wits about her and stay sharp, just in case.
Yeah, she could see the family resemblance. The girl was a bit more zoftig than she had ever been. But the high cheekbones, the eyes, and of course, the coloring. Her own hair was almost that exact shade, maybe a bit darker, underneath all the dye. Yeah, this was that same little girl.
Damn, was she old. No wonder the man preferred the pregnant chica over her old but still firm ass. Fifteen years? Sixteen? Hell, almost young enough to be her… No. Don’t go strolling down that path in memory lane.
But Jo knew that was the other thing that had sent her fleeing that motel room. Being around a pregnant woman had never been so hard. She had managed to survive more than half a dozen colleagues abandoning her for the Mommy track and a dozen proud Papas or more among her associates. Hell, she had even made it through Gina’s pregnancy, her daughter Jade’s babyhood and toddler years. Why now?
She had never regretted her choice before. She had done what she had to. The only thing she could in those circumstances. And it was not just some selfish choice based on her education and career. She could not have… No… She would have gone insane…
Breath. In, one, two, three, four. Out, one, two, three, four. Repeat. Jo had not had one of these panic attacks in so long she had almost forgotten how to survive them. And she certainly could not risk calling her therapist. If she could even find the woman’s number. It had been three years? Four, since her last session? She thought she had dealt with all that shit. But these past few days…
“So, Jack insists that we get married. That we don’t give Sebida anything more to talk about. I mean, the word bastard is still more than a cuss word where I come from….”
Jo knew that better than anyone. Yeah, this had been a terrible idea. The alcohol mixed with another unplanned pregnancy, or the possibility of one anyway, was more than she could handle right now. “Listen, suga.”
How had she slipped back into that accent after less than half an hour around this woman? Her cousin or some such shit. But then everything that she had spent a quarter of a century building was disintegrating all around her. Crumbling into so many pieces that she feared she could never rebuild her life. Herself. Hell, she wasn’t even sure who that was anymore.
She held out her hand, “It was really nice meeting you, but I should probably get going….” But where? Back to that cheesy timeshare off the strip that belonged to a friend of a friend of a friend of one of Donovan’s gangster cousins. This is what her life had come to. A lifetime of hard work, and she might have been better off marrying some cowboy in Sebida and having babies. She needed to get the fuck out of here before she cried. And she had not cried in years. She would not show that kind of weakness. Give anyone or anything that kind of power over her. But now…
“Hey, there you are. I’ve been looking for you, sweetheart,” Jo turned and looked up into Donovan’s face. Damn, why was the guy so good-looking? It had been her downfall that night. Would she be in this situation now if…
No, she might be dead if he hadn’t pushed her to the floor of that damned elevator. She could not blame him for mistakes that went back far further than that. She should have stopped Junior’s philandering and harassment long ago. If she had…
Yeah, right. That’s why she hadn’t. Because the poo’ white trash woman stood no chance against that type of privilege and misogyny. She had known that and gone along, afraid to rock the boat, lest she lose everything. Like she had now.
“We were just heading out for dinner.” If a career in law did not work out, the man should try acting. They were not eating out. They never left whatever dive they were staying in, except him, and even then, Donovan was back as quickly as possible.
She saw the other girl standing quietly with her head down just behind him. Selena Ortiz needed to grow a set of titties if she was going to make it. Not just as an attorney, but as a woman in this fucked up world. Yeah, she saw why Junior had chosen her. The girl had victim written all over her.
Just that thought sent a shooting pain through her chest. Had she? Had that starry-eyed seventeen-year-old done or said something? Worn the wrong thing? Why had he singled her out?
No matter how far Jo had come from Sebida, how much she educated herself on the issue, or how much she spent on that fucking therapist and doctors, the truth was she had internalized her own guilt for it all. Maybe that was why she had found herself on the wrong side of the issue too often. Why she had shafted other women, other ‘victims’?
She tried to get up, to get the hell away from them all, before she fucking lost it. But she stumbled. And landed in his arms. Fuck, that should not feel so damned good. She didn’t need any man. She had made it this far on her own…
Except… Where was she now? Her career might never recover. Hell, she might be lucky just to live through this shit. Five days. And not even a fucking plan as to what they do next. Where they would go.
All that wine, a whole bottle, was mixing with another of those greasy spoon breakfasts that still sat on her stomach. It was not a good combination. And Jo feared the damned thing would taste even worse coming up than it had going down.
She shoved at him; maybe she should get the hell out of here? Just leave the two lovebirds alone and take her own chances? But Jo was smart enough to realize she wasn’t thinking very straight on a bottle of chardonnay in less than an hour. She would come back to that thought…when she was more sober.
She knew the proper thing would be to turn and say her farewells to Abby Jean Monroe. Miss Myrtle’s granddaughter had grown into a beautiful woman. It took all the strength inside of her to turn and smile, “Best of wishes.”
She did not wait for them. She shoved away from Donovan and breezed past Selena, who barely looked up. She would go back to that sleazy condo. Eventually. But right now, she needed to get the hell away from it all. She tugged the hoodie tighter about her face as she rushed out the front door of the Bigalow. The fountains were dancing to Old Blu Eyes, ‘I Did It My Way.’ And she had. Look where that had gotten her.