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Authors: Lauren Gallagher

Reconstructing Meredith

BOOK: Reconstructing Meredith
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Reconstructing Meredith

By

Lauren Gallagher

 

Winner

2011 National Readers’ Choice Award

Erotica Category

 

Finalist

2012 EPIC Awards, Erotica

2012 National Leather Association

Pauline Reage Novel Award

Copyright Information

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Reconstructing Meredith

Copyright © 2013 Lauren Gallagher

Second Edition.

First Edition published by Carnal Passions (an imprint of Champagne Books) 2010-2013.

Cover Art by Erin Lark

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher, and where permitted by law. Reviewers may quote brief passages in a review. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Lauren Gallagher at
[email protected]

ISBN: 978-0-9898746-5-6

 

 

A Note From The Author

This book contains references to traumatic physical and sexual abuse,

including rape and imprisonment, and the psychological effects thereof.

While the abuse is not shown, it is discussed and may be upsetting to some

readers. Please use your discretion.

 

- L. Gallagher

 

Dedication

 

To everyone who made this book possible,

Especially Steve, Kathleen and Lia.

 

I couldn’t have done this without you.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

King. Queen. Jack. Ten. Nine. All spades.

Only a well-practiced poker face kept me from grinning. With a king-high straight flush in my hand, the only thing that could save any of my opponents was a royal flush.

Kristen, one of my girlfriends, eyed me from across the table, undoubtedly inspecting my expression for anything that might betray the hand I held. I just looked back at her, put my cards facedown on the table, and folded my hands over them.

She laughed quietly. Why she still tried to read me, I didn’t know. My poker face was as rock solid as her own.

To my left. Steve, tonight’s host, scowled at his cards. His visible frustration was too intense to be a bluff. He was probably thinking his shitty hand meant he was fucked. Which I supposed was true, but it was really my hand  that meant he was fucked, not his.

And it was about damned time, too. I was already down almost fifty bucks tonight, and most of that was in the pile of chips in front of Kristen. It was high time I got some of that back.

Matt, Kristen’s other boyfriend, tapped a five-dollar chip on the table. “Kris, you’re opening.”

She didn’t hesitate, picking up two fivers and tossing them into the center of the table. “Ten.”

Steve’s scowl intensified. He chewed his lip for a second, then threw in two chips. “Call.”

I did the same, minus the display of frustration. “Call.”

Matt raised the bet to fifteen. Kristen and Steve both raised their eyebrows. That five-dollars could have been cockiness or, knowing him, a bluff. Still, I wasn’t worried.

Matt tapped the deck with two fingers. “Kristen, how many?”

She pulled two cards out of her hand and slid them across the table. Matt dealt two and sent them her way.

He raised his eyebrows. “Steve?”

“Four,” Steve muttered. They exchanged cards.

“Scott?”

I started to speak, but my cell phone vibrated in my pocket, startling me. As I pulled it out, I said, “None for me.”

I looked at my caller ID. The number was unrecognized, so it was probably a wrong number. I debated kicking it over to voicemail, but since they were calling at past nine on a weeknight, there was always the possibility it wasn’t a wrong number and was important. Keeping my voice as quiet as I could, I answered.

“Hello?”

“Scott?”

The woman’s voice raised the hairs on the back of my neck. It couldn’t be. Not after all this time.

I cleared my throat. “Uh, yes, this is Scott.”

“Oh, thank God.” She was almost whispering. “It’s…”

My heart pounded. “Meredith?”

Kristen met my eyes from across the table, eyebrows up and lips apart.

“Yeah,” Meredith said softly. “It’s me.”

I nodded. Kristen’s eyes widened.

To Meredith, I said, “This is… unexpected.”

Matt and Kristen’s voices murmured in the background, behind the blood pounding in my ears and the tense silence on the line.

“…someone you know?”

“…his ex-girlfriend…”

Meredith took a breath. “Listen, I know I’m probably the last person you expected to hear from, and…” She dropped her voice a little lower. “Scott, I need your help.”

If there were five words in the English language that could make me abandon a king-high straight flush when I was fifty in the hole, those were the ones.

“Hold on a second.” I pushed my chair back. To the other players, I said, “I need to take this. I’m out.”

Kristen shot me an inquisitive look, but didn’t say anything.

I ducked into the kitchen so I could speak to Meredith privately and not disturb the other players. “So, what’s going on?”

“It’s a long story. There’s—” She exhaled. “A lot’s happened in the last few years.”

Something cold wrapped itself around the base of my spine. Her voice was different somehow. I couldn’t decide if she sounded exhausted or on the brink of tears. Or both.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

She took another breath, and the raggedness of it only tightened that chill coiling around my spine.

“Meredith—”

“I’d rather discuss it in person,” she said quietly.

I swallowed. “When?”

“Whenever. The sooner the better, but it’s not a dire emergency.”

That allowed me a little bit of relief. Not much, though. I wouldn’t rest easy until I had the full story.

“What about now?” I asked.

“On such short notice? Scott, I don’t want you to drop—”

“Where are you? I can leave now. Just tell me where you are.”

“It’s not an emergency,” she said. “I don’t want you to drop everything.”

“Do you need my help?”

“Yes, but—”

“Then let me help you,” I said. “Tell me where to be and when to be there.”

The breath she released was pure relief, as if she’d worried I’d turn her away. I hoped she knew me better than that; whatever was in our past, I would never leave her high and dry.

“Can you meet me at my apartment?” she asked.

“Text me the address,” I said. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

She said nothing for a moment, then whispered, “Thank you, Scott.”

We hung up a moment later, and my heart pounded as I stared at my now dormant phone. I looked up just as Kristen stepped into the kitchen.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“Yeah. I have to go, though.”

“What’s wrong?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. Meredith says she needs my help, but fuck if I know what that means.”

She put her hands on my hips. “You think she’s in some kind of trouble?”

“No idea.” I slid my phone back into my pocket. “Hopefully it’s nothing serious, but if she’s calling me after all this time…”

“Maybe it has to do with her husband.”

That cold something wound itself a little tighter. I nodded slowly. “I’d be willing to bet it does.” I hoped it didn’t. I hoped I’d been wrong about him from the beginning, but I doubted it.

Matt appeared in the doorway. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I think so, but I have to go.” I grinned and ran my fingers through Kristen’s long hair. To Matt, I said, “Guess you’ll have to take care of her on your own tonight.”

Matt chuckled. “I don’t think that’ll be a problem.”

“Didn’t think it would be.” I looked at Kristen. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“Damn right you will.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Don’t get mouthy with me, woman.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

I laughed. “I’m going to—” I paused when I put my hands on her waist. I squeezed gently, noting the stiff, thick fabric beneath her unassuming sweatshirt. Then I released a long breath through my nose. “You’re wearing the black corset tonight, aren’t you?”

She batted her eyes. “Maybe I am.”

“Vile temptress.” I leaned in to kiss her. My phone buzzed, probably signaling that Meredith’s text message had come through. “And on that note, I have to run.”

“Okay.” Kristen stood up on her toes to kiss me one more time. “Give her a hug for me.”

“Will do.”

“Love you.”

“Love you, too.” We parted with one last brief kiss. Then I shook Matt’s hand, cashed out my chips, said goodbye to everyone else, and left.

Steve’s apartment was on the second floor, and I was thankful we’d had poker night at his place this week. Several of the other players were on some of the higher floors, and at least from here, I could just take the stairs instead of losing my mind waiting for the painfully slow elevator.

On the way down the stairs and out to the parking lot, my thoughts went back to my short, cryptic conversation with Meredith. What was going on? Why me? Why now?

I hoped against all hope it wasn’t what I thought it was.

We’d parted
almost
amicably after living together for a couple of years, and things were strained for a while after that. Time eased the resentment, though, and eventually our friendship had flourished. In the back of my mind, I’d held on to the hope that we might get back together, but I was content with friendship if that was the best thing for us.

Then she met Rich.

I gritted my teeth at the very thought of him. I punched Meredith’s address into my car’s GPS, and then turned out of the parking lot and followed the directions.

Rich had sent up all kinds of red flags from the very beginning. I never actually met the son of a bitch, but when Meredith abruptly cut off contact with me after seeing him for two weeks, alarm bells went off in my head. She stopped returning my calls and blocked my e-mail address. Within a month, she’d stopped communicating with any of our mutual friends, and before the second month was up, she’d quit her job and moved out of state with him.

Last I’d heard, they’d married about six months later. That was five years ago, and to my knowledge, no one in our social circle had heard from her again.

I’d thought about her often since then. I’d alternated between being hurt and angry to worrying myself sick. For five years, I hoped she’d call, reappear, send a smoke signal to me, someone, anyone, but she didn’t.

Not until tonight, anyway. I white-knuckled the steering wheel. The bitter taste of resentment tried to work its way in, but I forced it back. Meredith was a proud woman. If she was willing to admit she needed help and she was willing to come to me for that help, then this was no time to bring up the past. And if Rich was the asshole I’d long suspected him to be, then I had no business holding any of this against her.

The clock on the dash showed a few minutes ’til ten when I pulled into an unfamiliar apartment complex on the other side of town.

“You have arrived at your destination,” the unemotional voice of the GPS announced, and my heart beat faster.

I locked my car and pocketed the keys as I looked up at the building and wondered what waited for me inside. On the way across the parking lot, I glanced around, and icy dread tingled beneath my skin. Aside from my own, there wasn’t a car in this lot that had been manufactured in the last five years. Maybe even ten. On every window of the aging brick building were black bars. Across the street, a rundown convenience store was backed up against a tavern with dark windows and bright neon signs. The place looked crowded for a Wednesday night, and it looked like one of the places that frequently appeared on the evening news with blue and red flashing lights in the background.

All of that added up to an area where one wouldn’t expect to find a surgeon living with his wife, which led me—and the knot in my gut—to believe she lived here alone.

At the entrance to the building, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Then I buzzed her apartment number. A second later, the lock on the door clicked open. Inside, I pulled the heavy metal door shut behind me, the clang echoing up and down the deserted stairwell. I started up the stairs under the weak light of the only sconce whose bulb hadn’t burned out.

The hallway was somewhat better lit. At least enough for me to make out the weathered, faux brass numbers on each door.

Twenty-one. Twenty-two. Twenty-place-where-a-three-used-to-be.

Twenty-four. I steeled myself against whatever conversation awaited, and knocked.

My heart kept time with the muffled footsteps on the other side.

“No, no, get—” Her voice raised my pulse a few more notches. “Would you get out of the way?”

The chain on the door scratched, then rattled. The deadbolt ground, then clicked. I couldn’t breathe. I sent up one last prayer that this wasn’t what I thought it would be, and the door opened.

My heart dropped into my feet.

Meeting my eyes across the threshold, one hand on the doorknob and the other arm restraining an irritated orange tabby, was a shadow of the woman I’d once known. Her face was gaunt, shoulders poised as if she was ready to shrink back or recoil at any second. She smiled, but that didn’t mask the darkness under—or the worry in—her eyes.

“Wow,” she said softly. “I can’t believe how long it’s been.”

Forcing a smile, I said, “Neither can I.”

“Come in, come in.” She stood aside. The cat squirmed under her arm.

I stepped past her, glancing at the cat and chuckling. “Opinionated little creature?”

She groaned. “Oh, God, you have no idea.”

“Trust me, I do.” I scratched the cat’s ears. “I have one that drives me crazy.”

“Guess they’re good for that, aren’t they?”

“Sometimes I think that’s all they’re good for.”

She laughed, then set the cat down. It trotted out of the room, leaving us in awkward silence without our easy conversation piece. Meredith kept her eyes down, and as she folded her arms across her chest, her shoulders were bunched with tension. She chewed her lower lip, something unspoken furrowing her brow.

I opened my mouth to speak, but she suddenly gestured down the hall.

BOOK: Reconstructing Meredith
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