A Love Against the Odds Novel
Hope curiously eyed the gaudy purple and pink plastic engagement ring on Thea’s finger. Her boss held her hand up in the air and gazed lovingly at it while wiggling her fingers. Bright, adoring eyes met Hope’s.
Thea gushed over the ring as she continued the story. “And I’d given it to him as a gift, never once realizing he’d use it to ask me to marry him. He bent down on one knee, looked me in the eyes, and promised me forever right in front of this old building.” Thea finished.
Hope had zoned out halfway through the story. Not that Lex’s proposal wasn’t adorable, but Hope often found herself drowning in memories of the past whenever Thea brought up marriage. The idea was to leave the past in New York, but Hope was finding that extremely hard to do with all the wedding talk. She smiled, though sure it hadn't reached her eyes by the solemn look her boss gave her.
“Oh, shit,” Thea exclaimed as she came around the corner. “I keep forgetting that you—”
“Stop.” Hope waved a dismissive hand at her words. “You get to enjoy this. Lex is amazing and nothing like Mark.” Sighing, Hope crossed her arms over her chest. She hadn't meant to make Thea feel as if she couldn’t talk to her because in reality, Thea was the only person she had in her life right now who she could openly converse with.
Thea’s soft voice met her ears. “I know, but it’s like talking about getting pregnant around someone who can’t carry a child. You want to be excited, but you also don’t want to hurt that person.”
“I know, and that puts a damper on your good news.” Hope shook off the sadness threatening to overwhelm her. Thea’s engagement was amazing news and Hope was acting like a big ass wet rag. Pushing back the agonizing memories, she smiled again, this time conveying her happiness for a friend who’d saved her ass. “Let me see.”
Thea moved closer, placing the God-awful ring out for her inspection, a wide smile on her face.
Thea’s nose wrinkled and her forehead dipped. “I know, right?” Hope looked up to her. “Ugly, isn’t it?” Both women laughed at the truth because the ring was fugly. Thea took her hand back and sighed dreamily.
Glancing to the door, Hope groaned. “Oh no. I think today is going to be one of those days.”
Thea followed her gaze. “Oh God.” Running to the door, she unlocked the locks and guided in the man with a bloody arm. Behind him, a crowd of people entered, some looking as if they would drown in snot while others seemed angry and annoyed. Hope loved her job and she’d always enjoyed the feeling of a good day’s work. The past six months, the clinic had been a way for Hope to temporarily forget the past. And since Thea had been kind enough to keep her employment hush hush, Hope had been able to work without the fear of one day looking up to see Mark standing outside waiting for her, but all that had changed when a state inspector had come and demanded to see everyone’s license. After that, Hope had applied for her job with Thea using her real name and back came the fear of Mark finding her.
As Hope took the first woman’s information, a biker the size of a mountain pushed through the doors of the clinic. Blood gushing from his nose. He held a hand to his side while blood seeped through his clenched fingers. Rolling her eyes, Hope pointed to the side door where the MC had claimed the waiting room as their own. Locals who weren’t affiliated with the gang sat to the open waiting room to the right, and the MC took residence in the small room to the left. He nodded his head in understanding and made his way to the door.
“Ma’am, if you could fill this out please and I’ll be right back,” Hope said to the woman she’d been triaging before the huge, bloody man entered. Miss Collie was in to have her cast taken off, and since it wasn’t the least bit serious, Hope made her way over to the bleeding man who still hadn't opened the door and went inside to the MC’s waiting room.
“Sir?” she asked as she made her way up behind him. Unfortunately, since Thea’s grandfather had ties with the MC before he passed, most of the gang came to her clinic when in need of medical help that didn’t require the coroner. At first, Hope had doubts, but then when she got the text from Mark threatening her life if she didn’t return to his side in New York, Hope decided that it wasn’t so bad that these huge, gun-toting men were often here.
The man turned to her, dark eyes meeting hers. “Didn’t want to get blood on the door.” His deep voice and heavy Irish brogue caught her off guard. This man was new, or at least had never been in the clinic while Hope was here. Since she worked seven days a week, Hope assumed he was one of the lucky few in the MC to have not gotten stabbed since she’d been in Blackwater.
Hope glanced to his bloody hands and then to the door. “Oh, okay.”
Lucy, the clinic’s receptionist, burst through the doors, apologizing for being late as she headed to the counter. Hope started to open the door to the waiting room for him, but thought better of it. Now that Lucy was at work she could just take him back and get him stitched up.
“Well, come on. Let me see how serious these wounds are.” He followed her the few feet back into one of the rooms. Hope hadn't bothered getting him to fill out any forms. The MC members never filled out the patient information form and always paid in cash. Hell, Hope thought the clinic would go belly up without the cash the men brought in.
Sliding a pair of purple gloves on her hands, Hope pointed to the paper-lined bed. “Have a seat.” Making her way to the cabinet, she searched for and found a pair of sterilized scissors. Normally, Hope would ask the patient what happened, but when it came to these men, the fewer questions you asked the better. However, there were a few she always had to ask.
“You allergic to anything?”
“No, ma’am,” he answered.
Hope was long past the shock she’d initially felt the first time she’d interacted with a MC member. She hadn't expected the manners, nor had she expected them to pay, but they did, and they weren’t raucous as she expected them to be.
Finding the wound on his side needed to be treated first, she asked, “Can you lift your arm for me?” When he did, Hope cut open his shirt and inspected what she found to be a knife wound. Unfortunately, she was familiar with them in her personal life and had plenty of times accessed her own wounds and stitched herself up. His wound, like hers, was shallow and non-life threatening. A few stitches and he’d be fine. Then she could treat his nose.
“I don’t need any stitches, Doc.” His gruff voice met her ears as she was bent down, cleaning his side.
“Yes, you do, and you are getting them.” Rolling her eyes for the second time today, she ignored the growl emanating from his chest. At 5’5” and one hundred twenty pounds, Hope didn’t stand a chance against the mountain man, but she learned a few things in the past few months working here. The first and most important was to never show weakness or attraction. Once you did that, your ass was grass and the men, while not complete assholes or angels, played on those two emotions. Find one sexy? Well, you’d most likely end up on your back and his old lady. Act fearful and they’d talk you out of all sorts of shit. Hope didn’t have time for any of that shit. And while her ex-husband had put the fear of God in her heart, she was resolute in the fact that these men wouldn’t do the same. On top of that, she and Thea were off limits to the members per some scary man named Gator.
His laughter pulled her from her thoughts. “Damn, Doc.”
“Not a doctor, just a nurse,” she said, then winced. She wasn’t just a nurse and she hated using that word. Doctors and nurses worked hand in hand and Hope thought neither would be as effective without the other.
“Well, nurse …” He ducked his head down, trying to read her name badge.
“Hope,” she filled in for him just as she stuck the first injection of lidocaine into his skin.
“I’d rather you fuss with my nose. My face is my money maker.”
Hope couldn’t help but laugh. This man, while not ugly, would be no model. His face held a crooked nose, lush lips, and wide, dark eyes. Maybe he could model tactic wear for the military? Hope glanced up as coal-colored eyes shined with mirth.
“Oh really? And here I thought it was your great fashion sense.” Hope rose and plucked at the bloodied Foreigner shirt.
Glancing down, the huge man smiled. “Yeah, that, too.”
Hope set up her equipment and got to work. The man, who told her his name was Spooky, asked her out a few times before realizing it wasn’t going to happen. That should have been Hope’s first clue that her ex, Mark, wasn’t the man for her. Even from the start of their relationship, Mark couldn’t take no for an answer. He’d asked her out twenty-two times before she finally broken down and said yes, hoping to have a cup of coffee and call it a day. Back then, she didn't know that was a form of a systemic pattern of hostility, and she had been naïve enough to consider it charming. She’d been a damned fool, but had learned too late. As early as their first date, Mark showed signs of being controlling.
Hope finished up with Spooky’s stitches and nose, then sent him on his way. After cleaning up the room, she headed back out to see Lucy wrestling a line damned near out the door. Being the only low income clinic in Blackwater had them both working ten to twelve hour days. Hope jumped into the madness until the line had dwindled and the sun was no longer in the sky.
Before long, Hope said her good-byes and made the fifteen-minute trek home to her small apartment. Heading up the flight of stairs on achy, swollen feet, Hope froze when she made it to the top of the landing. There in front of her door sat a blue and white package. Hope’s heart jumped into her throat and her head went fuzzy, throwing her back into the past. After every beating she’d taken from Mark, he ended up handing her the very same Tiffany-colored box. She’d had so many different ‘I’m sorry’ trinkets, she was able to sell most of them in order to live in Thea’s place back in New York. Hope remembered every wound each trinket paired with. And on one night, when Mark had been particularly angry and giving, he broke her ring finger and then rewarded her with a three-carat diamond stating, ‘When that nasty mistake heals, you can where this.”
Hope opened her eyes, confused as to when she shut them as well as confused as to how she’d ended up on her knees in front of the box. With trembling fingers, Hope reached out and opened the box. Inside was a diamond studded choker. Beautiful white diamonds sparkled, surrounded by blood red rubies on a platinum setting. She reached out, touching the trinket as tears welled in her eyes. Covering her mouth, Hope held in a strangled sob. She didn’t want to leave Blackwater or Thea behind, but once again Mark had found her. As his face flashed in her mind, Hope had the sudden urge to run.
Instead, she reached into her purse and pulled out the Glock Thea had taken her to buy. Turning, Hope scanned the area, looking for Mark or anything out of place. How had he found her? She’d been so careful up until a few weeks ago.
The night was still; crickets sang and the wind howled. Hope turned back to the box, noticing a note tucked between the gauzy paper. Kneeling down, she used a pinky nail flip the card open and read.
I’ll give you to the count of three to come home to me.
Hope sucked in a deep breath, hoping to clear her vision. I cannot pass out, she chanted over and over. Again, she looked at the beautiful choker. Such an ornate yet delicate trinket lay in the box unaware of the message it conveyed. How strange that something so gorgeous was used to send such an ominous message. Because Mark’s gifts were always purchased in correlation to the part of Hope he planned to break. Hope dropped the gun, her hand flying to her neck.