The Righteous and The Wicked (10 page)

BOOK: The Righteous and The Wicked
11.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

She imagines what went on. She feels jealous, empty, and angry. Angry that Aaron is gone, and yet she still can’t get rid of him. Angry that she’s alone. That this whore got to have Eric, and she can’t. She’s angry that the first person she has allowed to come anywhere near her is a twisted sex addict, but she’s most angry at herself for how turned on she is by his sin.

Eric walks toward the door, but he’ll have to walk right past Emma to get there. She sits down, pulls her hair over her shoulder, and tries to hide behind it. She wants to disappear.

Like Emma, Eric just wants to escape. He may have scrubbed his flesh clean of all evidence in the bathroom, but he cannot wash away the mark on his soul. His shame rises up like bile. Now that the rush is gone, he can see and he’s beginning to think with clarity. He feels overwhelming disgust, revulsion, and disappointment. He’s helpless and alone.

Then he sees a girl at the bar. Beautiful dark hair, long legs, short dress. Some skeezy guy is trying to get with her and is failing. Eric wishes he had seen
before going for the other woman, and then kicks himself for having yet another sick thought. But it doesn’t matter now. It’s all over. The internal struggle he has wrestled with has exhausted him. It dawns on Eric that he’s no different from that guy at the bar. He’s just as bad. He’s no better. He walks past the dark-haired girl and his eyes move from her legs to her face. Shock and fury rise up inside him when he sees that it’s Emma.

She’s looking down at her full glass like she wants to crawl inside it, avoiding the asshole next to her. The thought of Emma’s quiet elegance being tarnished by this hellhole is too much for Eric to bear.

“What are you doing here?” He’s grinding his teeth. She looks up at him, and she looks different. She looks . . . sexy. Her eyes are angry.

having a drink. What are
doing here?”

“You don’t drink, Emma. This place is a shithole. You shouldn’t be here. And who the fuck is this guy?”

Her delicate loveliness, contrasted with this filthy place, the abhorrence that he just partook in inside the bathroom, and Emma’s proximity to a scumbag are turning Eric into a vial of acid.

“This is Ryan. And maybe I
like it
here.” She answers him in a voice he has not heard from her yet. Antagonistic, like a defiant child. He wonders why she’s here with this guy and why she would subject herself to someone so unworthy of her.

Eric will not tolerate it. If he can’t save himself, he needs to save someone. To keep one thing in this world good and clean. And he needs to get her out of here before he gives in to the temptation to beat the shit out of Ryan.

“Get up. Let’s go. We’re leaving.”

Eric grabs her elbow. Ryan stands, but the look Eric gives him makes him think twice about starting an argument.

Emma shakes Eric off. “I can make my own decisions.”

Their eyes are locked in an impasse. Eric’s fury and her defiance battle between their irises. He’s the first one to break. He crumbles against his need to preserve her purity. She must remain untouched by the evil this place exudes. He will not disappoint himself twice in one night. His fury dissolves into a plea, his shout to a whisper.

“I just can’t leave you in this place. I’ll worry about you all night. Please, let’s just go. Please, Emma. Please, just come with me.”

He has such desperation in his voice and his eyes, Emma cannot refuse him, and she doesn’t want to. His face has changed from aggressive to kind. Stormy Eyes has once again been replaced by Eric.

She relents, and Eric takes her hand, guiding her out of the bar. She looks down at their joined hands and her feelings of envy and rejection are amplified. She wonders if this is the closest she’ll ever get to him. She vows to make sure it’s not.

They walk through the moonlit parking lot and reach his Jeep. The night is silent, except for the call of an owl up above. Eric holds the passenger door open for her.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m driving us home.”

Emma’s confused. “But I have my car here.”

“We’ll come back for it tomorrow. Please, just let me take you home,” he begs.

“I’m okay to drive. I wasn’t drinking.”

They engage in another staring contest and Eric relents. He sighs and shuts the door.


He folds his arms across his chest. He looks hopeless and beaten. Emma can’t understand why he’s having such a strong reaction to her presence in the bar, but it makes her ache to see him so upset. She longs to comfort him like she did after the bee stings. She wants to ease his pain. She steps toward him, following through on her private vow. He looks up, and the storm is evident in his eyes, plaguing and tormenting him. She wants to chase it away.

She thinks of confessing and telling him that she knows about his struggle, but she fears he would push her away. Stepping closer, she takes both his hands in hers and then slides her palms up his arms, over his biceps, to his shoulders, around his neck. Their bodies linger an inch apart. Then Emma rests herself against his chest.

Eric wraps his arms across her back, and pulls her closer, sliding his hand into her hair. He presses her into him, resting his cheek on top of her head. Their pain becomes one pain as they embrace, and the river of loneliness that runs through each of them evaporates. She can feel the storm retreat; his heartbeat slows to a steady, contented rhythm. She rubs her cheek against the soft cotton of his shirt, and feels the heat of his body just beneath it. He breathes in the sweet scent of her hair, and they are silent. Peaceful.

An owl has left its perch in a nearby tree and circles high above them. It glides and soars through the starlit sky. It doesn’t notice them holding each other in the light of the moon. It doesn’t see the single tear that’s escaped from Eric’s eye. It is unaware that Eric’s arms are gripping Emma tighter, holding her closer. It doesn’t hear Emma whispering, “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay,” into Eric’s chest, over and over again.

Chapter Eleven

Emma wakes to find her hand gripping the pillow next to her. No head rests there. She’s annoyed that she still searches for Aaron in her sleep, but this morning when she wakes, she wishes it were Eric lying there.

She rolls over and stares at the clock.
One o’clock
. She jolts upright in bed and listens. Silence. It’s Saturday afternoon and it is silent. No hammering, bulldozing, sawing or banging.


She feels rested, she feels awake. She lies back into her pillow and remembers last night. Eric, feeding his need. The sin Emma has witnessed several times before. She was repulsed by his obvious dirty deed in the bathroom and attracted to him for the exact same reason. Regardless of what plagues him, she craves him. She wants him. Witnessing him trying to protect her from Ryan heightened that deranged attraction.

Eric, wounded and vulnerable. So lonely and desperate. The intimate moment they shared was profound. He let her inside just a bit further, she got just a little closer. His burden weighs on him, and Emma would do anything to try to take that pain away. She has thought of a way, but she’s not ready to share it with him. Not yet.

Eric is the first man who has held her since her husband. While they were standing there together in the moonlight, she felt a burning desire for him, but also a need to save him. Once again, she felt the inexplicable sensation that Eric had been brought to her for a reason. He was meant to be in her arms. It was as if the world could fall away and she would be content to remain there, with her head pressed against his chest. She has felt that way for only one other man.

The sunlight shines through her bedroom window, illuminating the empty side of the bed. The space that has been occupied by a ghost. She feels like she’s betraying someone who’s not even here. The wooden box lurks under her bed like a monster, and she gives in to the temptation to open it, to once again partake in her self-abusive ritual. She runs her fingers over the old initials

Emma Mallory. The person she used to be.

She takes out the picture and looks at Aaron’s hands resting on her full belly. Enormous smiles on both their faces, the joy that only expectant parents can know. So proud to almost be. She takes out her wedding ring and reads the inscription,
“Our love shines brighter than the sun. You’ll always be my only one.”

The grief Emma has been ignoring is ripping her apart again. She wipes her flowing tears, and wants to throw the ring out the window and set the box on fire. She wants to forget. Emma resolves to no longer labor as a servant to her past and her pain. She closes the lid with resentment. This time she doesn’t return it to its home beneath her bed. She stuffs it inside her closet, burying it alongside all of the other old things that she has no use for.


Eric rises early, as always, and looks at the unfinished frame of the house he’s building, and the ladder and lumber that rest there. He would love to work, but he won’t disturb her. He stares at the low ceiling of his trailer and his feet hang off the edge of his tiny bed. He thinks about last night, the intensity of the perversion with the woman in the bathroom, and he’s so disheartened by his inability to control his urges.

He’s made this useless vow a hundred times before—that this is the last time. He won’t do it again. He will stop. False promises and bargains. Always lying to himself. He wants to finally mean it. His dark secret has forced him to remain so isolated from the world that he has never tried to lean on another person. He has never felt that any kind of relationship could help him to be better.

He thinks about finding Emma in the bar, and how the unexpected sight of her made him feel even more shame and disgust over his weakness. He thinks of Emma enveloped in his arms in the parking lot, absorbing what haunts him, seeming to absolve him of his sin. Her virtuous nature has kept him from feeling any attraction to her, but last night, it was just that element that he found so intoxicating. Eric has never before been attracted to anyone good. He has always found that only certain kinds of women fit the mold of what he needs. Only certain women will go down on him an hour after meeting him, or fuck him in a bathroom without even knowing his name. Eric has never had any use for the kind of girl that Emma is. He’s never been attracted to a girl like her . . . until now.

Holding her last night brought him a feeling he has never experienced without being immersed in the ocean of his impulse. The all-consuming release was rivaled by the simplicity of just holding Emma in his arms. When he’s with her, he doesn’t think about finding his next victim. The incessant longing is absent. The sole rationale he has for this is that the blissful peace she brings to him outweighs his insatiable lust.

Emma’s sensuality and femininity are not lost on Eric, and in spite of his growing attraction to her, he knows he could never treat her the way he treats his victims. Regardless of any temptation he may feel, he would never want to involve her in his sickness. He would never degrade her purity by dragging her down into his deep and sinful needs. If he had Emma in his life, he believes he could resist his addiction. For some reason, she’s like the mute button for the constant white noise of his deviance. She came into his life by accident, a woman as lonely and as lost as himself. In pain, just like him. The only way Eric feels he can stop feeding his disgraceful hunger is to throw himself headfirst into a friendship with Emma. This will not be an easy feat. In fact, it may be impossible.


BOOK: The Righteous and The Wicked
11.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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