Three Broken Promises

By: Monica Murphy

Prologue



I don’t want to let her go.

She’s going to leave me and I can’t stand the thought. I’ve been coasting through life, confident with the fact that she’s always there. Working with me, living with me, talking with me, laughing with me, and sometimes, in those rare moments we never discuss, late, late at night when we’re all alone, crying with me.

Lying in my bed, wrapped around me like a vine wrapping around a trellis. Her hands in my hair and her breath on my neck, making me feel so alive I want to tell her how I feel. Tell her what she makes me feel.

But I’ve never had the courage to confess.

Now, she’s leaving. Wants her freedom, she claims. As if I’ve been holding her down, holding her back. I’m offended, when I know I shouldn’t be. She’s not ungrateful. She appreciates everything I’ve done for her. And I’ve done a lot—probably too much.

Guilt eats away at my insides. I started doing everything for her out of that sense of guilt. Truthfully, it’s my fault she left her family. My fault she ended up all alone, on her own, struggling to make it, subjecting herself to things no woman should ever have to do. Until I swept back into her life like some sort of Prince Charming on my mighty steed, saving her from a world of shit.

As time went on, the guilt I felt slowly but surely morphed into something else.

Something real.

I have to be honest and tell her how I feel. I need her. Desperately. Losing her would be like losing a part of myself. I can’t risk it. I think . . . holy shit, I’m pretty sure I’m in love with her.

But I’m the last guy she should be with. I have this way of ruining those I’m closest to. No way could I do that to her.

No way can I let her leave me, either.





Chapter 1


Jen

“So why a butterfly?”

I lean forward, my boobs smashed against the back of the chair. I’ve been sitting here for what feels like hours, a needle pressing relentlessly into the sensitive skin on the back of my neck. The needle’s buzz fills my head, drowning out all the chaotic noise that usually occupies it.

I much prefer that incessant buzz. Easier to deal with compared to the endless stream of questions and worries that run through my brain.

“Yo, earth to Jen.” Fable waves her hand in front of my face, then snaps her fingers twice. Brat! I wish I could smack her but I’m too busy gripping my knees, bare-knuckling them like a little wimp.

“What?” I grit out from between clenched teeth, wincing when the needle sketches over a particularly sensitive part.

Oh, who am I kidding? All the parts are sensitive. Time to face facts. I’m a complete weenie. I thought getting a tattoo would be a cinch. I’ve dealt with a lot of emotional pain in my life, but not too much physical. What’s an hour or so sitting in a chair under a needle?

Apparently, it’s pretty shitastic, considering how much it hurts, and how much I have to gird my loins to get through it all.

Gird my loins—something silly my mom used to say. Back when she was happy and carefree and our family was whole.

Now we’re broken and distant. I don’t talk to my father. Mom calls when only she’s crying and drunk.

It sucks. That’s why I had to get away from my family. I have other reasons for wanting to escape this place now.

“I want to know why you chose a butterfly for your tattoo. What’s the meaning behind it?” Fable asks, sounding beyond irritated with me though she’s smiling, so I know she’s not. She came with me downtown to Tattoo Voodoo, the little shop she recommended for us to get our tattoos.

She got one too but she’s already finished, considering it was only a line written in elegant, simple script. A surprise tattoo for her boyfriend, fiancé, or whatever you want to call him, though considering they can’t keep their hands off each other for too long, I’m guessing he’ll discover his “surprise” sooner rather than later. Drew Callahan is so madly in love with her, it’s sort of disgusting.

But it’s also cute. Super, super cute, especially since it’s a line from one of the poems he wrote for her. How they make Fable swoon, and nothing makes that girl swoon. She’s pretty hardcore. She’s had to be, what with the things life has dealt her.

I could take a lesson or two from her. I’m too soft. I let people in.

And then they stomp all over me. Or worse, ignore me completely.

“Freedom,” I finally tell her, exhaling loudly when the buzzing stops and I feel the washcloth brush across my freshly tattooed skin. “I’m ready to break free of this stifling cocoon called my life and find my own way, instead of relying on someone else. A butterfly’s a perfect representative of that, don’t you think?”

I can practically taste it. Freedom. I’ve always relied too heavily on others. My friends. My family. My brother especially, not that I can anymore considering he’s been gone for awhile now. I might have run away that one time and tried to make it on my own, but I failed.

Spectacularly.

Not this time around, though. I’ve thought things through. I’ve saved money. This time, I have a plan.

Sort of.

“You really believe leaving is the best thing for you?” Fable asks, her voice incredulous, her expression . . . sad. She’s my closest friend, the first real friend I’ve made since I fled my old life. But even she doesn’t know everything. She’d never look at me the same if she knew. “Do you want to leave because of what happened to you before?”

Nodding, I wince when the tattoo artist—Dave—wipes the washrag across my skin yet again. “Finished,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Yeah, I can’t deny that my past comes into play.” I’d told Fable what happened for the most part when I worked at Gold Diggers, that sleazy strip club on the outskirts of town. My family doesn’t know, and I swore Colin to secrecy. The public story is that I was a cocktail waitress. The private story is that I stripped.

The secret, no-one-else-can-know story is one I can hardly think about, let alone admit.

“We all have a past,” Fable points out. She has a pretty bad one, not that anyone calls her on it. Drew won’t allow it.

“I know. I just . . . I can’t stay here forever. Even though you want me to,” I murmur, sending a pleading look in Fable’s direction. I don’t want the lecture again, especially in front of our new friend Dave. I don’t think I can stand it. I know she means well, but the words she says halfway convince me I need to stay every single time I hear them.

“I’m not the only one who wants you here,” Fable points out, brows raised, a knowing look on her face.

Her statement doesn’t need an answer. I know who she’s referring to. He’d want me to stay indefinitely, but I haven’t even told him I’m leaving yet. I’ll let him know tonight.

Hopefully.

He provides the place I live, my job. He does it all with no strings attached, or so he claims. Really, I believe him. A deep, dark secret part of me wishes there were strings. Plenty of strings that tie me to him, bind us together until we’re so connected that we’d become one long word. Not just Jen. Not just Colin.

JenandColin.

No way is that gonna happen.

So if I can’t have him—and really, I shouldn’t want him, or have allowed myself to become completely dependent on him for far too long—then I’m going to claim my freedom completely.

Stupid and risky and totally freakin’ scary, but . . . I need to do it. Recent events have pushed me into doing it. My past has come calling in the form of a customer at The District just a few nights ago. He came into the bar and ordered a drink. Thankfully, I was able to avoid him and he left without incident.

This could happen again, though. Having the man there was a reminder that I can never escape my past. I don’t want Colin to know what I’ve done. He won’t like me anymore. He’ll look differently at me.

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