Ravaged River(4)

By: Lindsey Cross

Hunter stood there, lips parted, studying him. For a moment, Hoyt thought he might relent, but then he stalked out of the room and shut the door behind him.

Hoyt stood there in silence for a moment, catching his breath, and then turned back to face the monster in the mirror. He’d never been a coward before, and he wouldn’t start now.

He couldn’t hold a sniper rifle steady. He couldn’t hold his woman. She could no longer be his woman. He couldn’t even hold his shit together without pills and alcohol.

His friends were here to celebrate his recovery. They were in the living room eating, drinking and having fun like the old Hoyt was back. Like he was normal.

His chest felt like a thousand-pound wench was cinched around it. And now he couldn’t breathe in his own bedroom, the large open space as tight around him as a layer of shrink wrap.

The walls closed in, trapping him, robbing the room of oxygen. His throat closed with it. Hoyt gasped, helpless to stop the panic, just like when he’d been helpless to stop the torture. Strung up like a piece of meat in that shack in the woods.

Can’t breathe.

Can’t think.

Can’t stop.

“Fuck you!” He threw a desperate punch, and his fist shattered the mirror. Shards of glass flew everywhere like shrapnel. His shoulders pinched tight and he threw the bottle of whiskey.

Nothing could help him. Not the pills. Not alcohol. Not Hayden.

Hoyt sank to his knees amidst the glass.

No amount of counseling would fix him. He was as broken as the mirror and if he didn’t do something, he’d destroy his loved ones right along with it. No matter how hard he tried to push her out of his mind, his awareness of her had only grown. She’d turned into some sort of ghost part of his heart, like a limb lost in battle, it ached and ached like she was still there.

Hoyt picked up a shard of glass. There was only one way to escape himself.

He was a burden. A disgrace to his team. Worthless.

He wouldn’t give them the choice to try to save him. He didn’t deserve it. Besides, he knew Hayden enough to know she might not stay away and he knew himself enough to know if she kept coming around, he wouldn’t make her. He wouldn’t let her waste her life on him.

Hoyt stuck the tip into his skin and sliced down his arm, making sure to slice the right vein.

He’d been a coward when they’d tortured him. He’d begged. He’d pleaded. He’d given up his identity.

But not anymore. This was the way he’d reclaim himself.

A wave of dizziness hit and he fell to his hands. Blood gushed from his arm. He dropped flat on the floor and let it all go.

No more nightmares. No more panic attacks. No more pity. Just darkness.


Hayden James tugged her pink skirt down her thighs and shifted on the couch, praying no one detected the desperation lining her new clothes. She'd spent a whole week's budget on the outfit, but she'd needed to be a drop-dead bombshell for Hoyt's welcome home party. The past two months had been pure torture and she needed all the ammunition she could get to convince Hoyt to listen to her.

Any minute he’d come walking down the hall into the living room. He’d be wearing one of those tight black t-shirts that perfectly displayed his corded biceps, his ripped hard abs would flex and narrow into hips even leaner than six months ago. Her mouth watered at the thought and her skin grew sensitive.

He’d look at her in a way that made her heart beat faster. No, twit, he wouldn’t. He didn’t want you anymore.

As if to test her nerves, the low buzz of chatter in the living room crested over the latest hit playing on the radio. But even the rising decibels had no hope of drowning out the sound of her heart pounding in her ears. Nothing did. Nothing but Hoyt.

Evie winked at her from across the room. Hayden tugged her hemline down again. Was her sister-in-law sending some hidden message? Did everyone in the room feel sorry for her?

The whole team and their spouses were here today, even Colonel Grey. Hayden reached in her purse for that imaginary pack of cigarettes. If she still carried around a pack, she’d probably throw away the past five-month, ten-day, six-hour long cessation and toss her nicotine patch in the trash.

She forced her fingers to uncurl from the pack. She didn't need to give Hoyt another excuse to ignore her. Hell, she couldn’t figure out why he’d pushed her away in the first place. She’d made it clear she didn’t care about his scars, she would stand by him and help him through his torment.

"I wasn't sure you'd come." Jared, Hoyt's brother, took a seat next to her on the sofa. His black hair and matching dark eyes were so different from Hoyt's golden coloring. He wasn’t a man who usually showed his emotions, but there’d been regret in his eyes the day he told her Hoyt didn't want to see her anymore.

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