Authors: Jennifer Loring
What’s Left of Me
The Firebird Trilogy, Book 2
By Jennifer Loring
What’s Left of Me
Copyright © 2016 by Jennifer Loring.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: July 2016
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
For Aunt Lynn
Rest in peace.
Table of Contents
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“Aleksandr Volynsky Target of Rape Allegation”
bellowed the headline from the
. Alex pulled his glasses down and stared over the rims. His vision glazed over. He carved his hands through his hair, held it back, then let go.
It appeared that hockey superstar Aleksandr Volynsky had lost everything. Suffering a career-ending injury at twenty-five years old, the Russian left-winger later revealed he had also been battling bipolar II disorder for a number of years.
Now nearly twenty-seven, Volynsky is newly married, a father-to-be, and ready to assume his position as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Gladiators. Despite turning over a new leaf, the young star has been unable to outrun his reputation. An allegation of sexual assault has surfaced claiming he attacked the accuser at his former home two years ago, after the pair left a downtown Buffalo bar together. Though Volynsky has refused to comment publicly, a spokesperson says he “vehemently denies this absurd claim”. Volynsky has not been charged with a crime.
“We have an investigation ongoing,” a Buffalo police source said. “We are not naming a suspect and do not expect it to be resolved in the near future.”
The Gladiators released a statement yesterday via email stating, “We take the allegation made against Aleksandr Volynsky very seriously. We are gathering facts and have been in touch with the NHL and Aleksandr’s representatives. Until we have more information, we will not have any additional comment.”
The league added, “We are aware of and are monitoring the investigation involving Buffalo Gladiators assistant coach Aleksandr Volynsky. We have no further comment at this time.”
Aleksandr Volynsky’s past legal history includes a physical altercation at a Seattle strip club just over a year and a half ago. Volynsky was arrested, but charges were later dropped.
No shortage of people wanting to enact retroactive punishment for his transgressions, real or perceived. Another war to wage against those determined to trap him in the past, the inevitable fallout of sleeping with nearly three hundred women in his seven-year career. Alex removed his glasses and flung the paper across the table. “It’s all over the news.”
Stephanie, standing behind him, massaged his shoulders. “We’ll get through it, like we have everything else. What can I help with? You’re taking on too much, and I don’t want you to—”
Have a breakdown. Snort a few rails. Try to kill himself. He could keep trying to weed out certain invasive truths, keep cultivating his new good-guy image, but
. It was grueling. “You’re eight months pregnant.”
“I’m not helpless.”
“Oh, I know.” Alex chuckled and patted her hands. “Still, I should be taking care of
“You can later. Come on.”
“Wait.” He scratched his head. She was beckoning him from the kitchen doorway. No pregnant woman had ever been so adorable, even if she had all but abandoned grooming, waddled like a giant penguin, and complained the symptoms she’d suffered at the beginning had resurfaced. “Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise. You’ve been so busy and distracted, I wanted to do a little something for you. Come on. It won’t take long.”
Ten minutes later, they were pulling into the lot of an obstetrics and gynecology office. Stephanie unbuckled her seat belt, stretched almost to its limit to accommodate her swollen belly, and grabbed her bag from the console. “You didn’t get to see the other two ultrasounds, so I figured you’d want to tag along for this one.”
The printouts hung on the refrigerator—one from the first trimester when Anya resembled nothing so much as a tiny C-shaped bean, and one from the second when she had developed clear facial details—but he felt terrible about it nevertheless. He’d had so many meetings with the front office and players, trying to get his bearings as a new coach, the timing never lined up. Never mind the modeling gigs.
Now Anya was only a month away, which inspired a unique terror each time he thought about it.
“And my blood pressure’s a little high, so they wanted to do another one.”
He kissed her. “I’ll take any excuse to see my baby girl as soon as I can.”
“Come on, then. The sooner we do this, the sooner I can pee.” She coughed into her fist and patted her chest.
“You’ve had that cough for a while now.”
“It’s nothing. I’m seeing my doctor soon and anyway, she said it’s normal to have trouble breathing at this stage of the pregnancy.”
He helped her out of the BMW, and they walked hand-in-hand into the office. After a weight check, a nurse led them to an exam room where Stephanie undressed from the waist down, put on a paper robe, and lay on a table.
The doctor arrived an impressively short time later. “Hi, Stephanie! Back for more fun, huh?”
“Hi, Dr. Hill. This is my husband, Aleksandr.”
The young woman held out her hand. “Nice to meet you. You look scared. The first one tends to have that effect.” She moved to the other side of the table and picked up a corded device with a fat, convex end. “Aleksandr, I’ll explain what we’re doing as we go. This is a transducer, which emits high-frequency sound waves through the uterus. They bounce off the fetus and send signals back to this machine, and it converts them into a black and white image. Today we want to make sure Stephanie’s high blood pressure hasn’t affected the placenta.”
Dr. Hill covered Stephanie’s ballooned abdomen with a thin layer of gel, then waved the transducer across her belly.
“All right. We have a nice, strong heartbeat. Ready to see, Daddy?”
“Honey,” Stephanie whispered, “you’re hurting my hand.”
He was clutching her in a death grip. “Oh.
, I’m sorry.” Alex relaxed his hold and kissed her hand, but kept their fingers linked. “
The doctor stepped aside. “There she is. Your little girl.”
Alex stared at the screen. Within the cavity of Stephanie’s womb lay their distinctly baby-shaped daughter. Two arms, two legs. Ten fingers and ten toes. A perfect little face. So real. So close to entering the world. His head swam, his thoughts scattering like marbles.
I’m about to be a father.
His heart drummed with the shot of adrenaline. He wished the process worked in reverse, that if he touched the screen it could transmit to Anya his elation of being her
Anya kicked a few times, as though she knew he was watching, which provoked a loud “Oof!” from Stephanie.
“Everything looks great. The blood pressure isn’t having a negative effect, but take it easy anyway. I’ll have the picture waiting for you at the front desk.”
“Thank you, Dr. Hill.”
Stephanie folded the robe and set it on the table, then shimmied into her panties and jeans.
Alex pulled her into his arms for another kiss before shifting his hands to her roly-poly stomach. Anya kicked again.
“I think she’s trying to kill me. My doctor said they usually stop kicking so much by this point, because there’s no room to move. So either she’s tiny, or I’m huge.”
“I love you,” he said and laughed. “Both of you.”
She brushed her lips against his ear. “Let’s go home, and you can show me how much. Well, maybe after some ice cream. Anya’s hungry.”
“Sure, blame the baby.” Alex kissed her cheek and linked his fingers with hers. “I think we passed a Dairy Queen on the way. You look like a woman who could use a Blizzard.”
Stephanie gazed out the kitchen window of their million-dollar, five-bedroom house complete with a gunite pool, a gym, and a hot tub room, all sitting on more than an acre of land that stretched to a large creek at the property’s rear boundary. Alex’s definition of a modest home in the suburbs. He had insisted they install security cameras in both the front and back, despite the six-foot iron fence protecting the property. She’d thought it overkill at first, the whim of a new and vigilant father, but she’d spotted an increasing number of paparazzi hiding in the bushes beyond the front gate since the rape story broke.
Alex was rubbing a soapy rag in loving circles over the Mercedes where it sat in the driveway. A cigarette poked out from the corner of his mouth. He’d stopped smoking indoors as soon as they found out she was pregnant, but he insisted on at least one vice. “I’m Russian,” he’d said with an exaggerated roll of the
. “We love cigarettes.”
He bent over the hood and polished the black roadster to perfection, his tattooed biceps flexing and releasing. Not many men could successfully pull off wearing black jeans and a sleeveless white T-shirt without looking like a
reject, but not many men compared to her husband. In his time away from hockey, he’d modeled everything from Ferragamo suits to Calvin Klein underwear. He looked best, of course, in nothing at all.
Alex stepped back to admire his handiwork and flicked ashes onto the asphalt. He caught her gaze, winked, then crushed the cigarette beneath his shoe. Those chatoyant eyes never failed to captivate her; she was outside and in his arms faster than she ought to be able to move at her size.
“Sorry. Couldn’t keep my hands off you.”
“No complaints here. Although I think that’s why you’re pregnant.”
Giggling and coughing, she buried her face against his shoulder. Something popped painlessly inside her, a water balloon spilling warm fluid down her legs and darkening the front of her jeans. “Oh God,” she whispered. “Alex, I think my water broke.”
Alex stared at her, mute, his eyes huge and damp, somehow too bright. The tendons in his neck stood out, his pulse visible.
“I…uh, here. Get in the car. I’ll grab the bag.” He opened the door and eased her into the seat. After dashing back into the house for the bag they’d packed a couple weeks ago, then locking up, he scrambled into the Mercedes and with the bag on his lap peeled out of the driveway.
This is it.
She laid her hand over his and squeezed. A pain worse than her most violent menstrual cramps thundered through her back and into her lower belly, a bodybuilder gripping her torso. Then reaching into her uterus and wrenching it. She laid her free arm over her hardened stomach.
Alex was trembling, and all the color had drained from his normally ruddy face. He blinked away the liquid sheen in his eyes and took a deep breath, then slowly blew it out. “I’m ready.” He grinned. “I’m so ready.”
Stephanie, depleted, lay sweating in her hospital bed after eighteen hours of labor. A wrinkly little girl suggestive of a cross between a peanut and a red potato rested on her bare belly. A knit cap kept Anya’s head warm. Alex sat on the edge of the visitor’s chair, his eyes bloodshot and his quivering fingers twined in front of his mouth. He’d done an admirable job of coaching her. Only when the doctor asked if he’d like to cut the umbilical cord did her six-foot-five, two-hundred-ten-pound husband fall into a dead faint. Fortunately, the doctor had caught him as he swooned, and with the nurse’s help lowered him into a chair. Alex had managed to cut the cord a few minutes later.
“Do you want to hold her?”
He swallowed hard and nodded.
“Go on.” Stephanie smiled. “Say hello to your daughter.”
Alex lifted her like a sacred relic, cradling her head as he slid back into the chair. With Anya nestled in the crook of his arm, he traced a fingertip over her spotty cheeks, over her puckered lips. “Hi, Anya,” he whispered. “It’s Papa.” He touched the palm of her hand, and she curled her little fingers around him. Then, finally, she opened her eyes. “Oh,” he gasped, his smile incandescent. “She has your eyes,
“And your hair.”
Alex, laughing, closed his eyes and pressed his lips to Anya’s forehead. “She’s so beautiful. We made this beautiful little girl.” He scooted the chair closer so he could cup Stephanie’s face with his free hand and kiss her, then rubbed his nose against Anya’s. “I’ve been waiting a long time for you, baby girl.”
Anya sneezed; her arms and legs shot out as she arched her back. She retracted them and began to cry.
“Did you scare yourself? Shh. Papa is here. I will always keep you safe.” Alex plucked her blanket from Stephanie’s bed and swaddled her in it. He stroked her cheek, and she turned open-mouthed toward his finger.
To watch him hold their daughter, a tiny doll in her father’s arms, was to glimpse the nature of love itself. He had been born for this. Someday, Anya would understand how lucky she was. How lucky they were to have achieved this moment at all.