Warm water flowed over my head, past my shoulders, and down my back. I basked in the flow, wishing for more. According to the priests, holy water was meant to purify us, cleanse us of our sins. With the shit pool of degradation I was in, it would take a whole goddamned ocean, and that wouldn’t be enough to sanctify me. It was too late for that.
I’d never considered myself a sinner. Didn’t they have a signature look or some dumb-ass crap like that? But on introspection, maybe I was a man who had one foot in Hell already. Where was my redemption?
My thoughts snagged on the concept for a moment. What did it take to scrub a soul, purge it from blackness? Could a man outrun his destiny? I firmly believed I could.
I hoped I could.
I had my parents to thank for my fucked-up existence. Mom tried. She just wasn’t strong enough to raise a kid alone. That was the bullshit the social worker fed me. When I became a cop, I looked up the file on Mom. Supposedly, she died with a needle in her arm.
There wasn’t a thing on my father. I drew my own conclusions about him. The main one? He was a heartless jackass. The bastard left my mother with me—just a baby. I was determined not to follow in his footsteps. As a matter of fact, I made sure of it years ago. Whoever I married would have to be good with never having children.
Did Rachel want kids? If she did, we could adopt. A child that didn’t share my DNA had to turn out better, right?
Turning around, I rested my back against the cool, wet tiles and looked down. Just thinking about her stirred my dick—the last thing I needed. Although with my possible future, I should take any and every opportunity I could get for hetero sex. Shaking my head vigorously, trying to dislodge images that shouldn’t be in any straight man’s mind, I sprayed droplets of water like a drowned dog. Then I noticed my shower sponge on the floor like a blatant reminder of future endeavors.
Really, I should get out and get dressed. I’d been in the shower too long—my fingers were pruning. Sighing, I knew why I lingered—because I could. Truth be told, if I didn’t find some way to beat the rap, my days would be filled with quick moments under the nozzle with my ass in that position—solidly against a wall.
Despite the cold water, I remained in the stall. Cowardice? Definitely. Ashamed? Who would blame me? That shit wasn't supposed to happen to me.
I was a fucking cop! I was supposed to be one of the good guys! Yes, I made mistakes. We all made them, but I didn’t kill that girl. I sure as hell didn’t hack her body up.
And the ketamine?
Honestly, it wasn’t mine either.
Famous words of every person on death row. My destination, according to my lawyer. Never good when your legal rep didn’t believe in your innocence. Not the case with that amazing woman downstairs.
She came back. She was there for me. That should have meant something, but instead, the fact that Rachel left stuck in my mind and made my breath hitch. Why did she leave in the first place? Shouldn’t she have fought me? Told me how much she had to be with me in my time of need?
I guessed her action did mean a lot. My heart beating frantically had to be proof of something real. Did she have feelings for me?
I hoped she did. After all, I needed someone in my corner who cared. It sure the hell wasn’t Scott. That rat bastard would probably turn me in first chance he got.
Not true. Remember all that he’d done for you?
Scott was the brother I wished I had. He’d always had my back. So why is he doubting me now?
Because you doubted yourself—pure and simple.
Along with my insecurity, I had issues with Rachel. I simply distrusted her ability to help me.
Why? Because she was a decent woman who didn’t realize that she’d invited two monsters into her life. One of us tried to forget our hideousness while the other one got off on that shit. Simply wrong.
In all honesty, how was Rachel to know? She was one of those trusting souls who believed everything she heard. She only questioned things when shit happened. It was what I tried to get her to see about her neighborhood. Rachel thought she was safe. There were no safe places. Anywhere.
It was Rachel’s naivety that was responsible for all of that shit. I didn’t want to blame her, but how could I not?
Seriously, when I saw that infectious smile, I should have kept walking. So damned sweet, but it sucked me in—stole the oxygen in the room and left me clinging to her every word. Rachel became my weakness. Correction. My weakness had always been a kind-hearted woman. She was just more proof of my illness.
It was why I was drawn to April. She loved unconditionally. She loved a flawed soul like me. Damn, I missed that.
Would Rachel stick around if she knew the truth?
Goosebumps formed on my wet skin. Slowly, I reached over and turned off the faucet. Opening the shower door, I grabbed a towel and took a hard look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t like what I saw. Bruises covered my six pack. My neck was still red from that brute’s attack. The asshole promised if I came back inside he’d kill me. Other inmates boldly checked out my rear and threatened to bury themselves deep in my ass on my return. They would have succeeded had my lawyer not arrived and gotten me out of gen pop. The warden claimed that someone put the paperwork in wrong—I was supposed to have been placed in isolation.
Yeah, right. Mistake, my ass (pardon the pun).
I slid on a pair of sweats. Damn leg got caught on the ankle bracelet. My new reality truly sucked. I didn’t know whether to bawl like a child or punch a fucking hole in a wall. I eased the band over the monitor and then tugged on a faded T-shirt.
As I dried my hair, I thought about a way out of that shit. Of course, there was the easy way—off myself. Let the public believe the lies—I killed a girl, possibly killed more, and I took the coward’s way out. But I couldn’t do that. After April, I swore I’d keep my anger in check. I even saw a therapist, took meds for a while, and confessed my sins each and every Sunday. It was the least I could do after what happened.
Honestly, I was doing a damn good job. I avoided dating anyone who reminded me of April. No matter how much Scott wanted to set me up with someone, I turned it down. I checked in with an anger management coach monthly. Although I didn’t take the meds anymore, I meditated. Worked out. Whatever it took never to lose control again.
The DA would have a field day with that information. He’d claim my penchant toward angry outbursts was triggered. He’d tell a jury of my so-called peers—assholes who assumed I abused my privilege and wanted me dead as soon as possible—that I propositioned the young girl. When she turned me down, it instigated my rage. It would turn into the motivation for administering the drug and subsequent rape. He’d close the case by telling the courtroom that hacking up the body was a desperate attempt to hide my shame, absolve my guilt.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Rachel knocked on the bathroom door. “Matt, you okay?”
Leaning my head against the wood, I rested a hand on the doorknob. I needed more time. Clearing my throat, I lied, “Yeah. Just give me a few more minutes.”
That sweet woman didn’t deserve someone like me—or like Leon. We were cut from the same cloth—I was the shiny side while he was the darker. Nefarious acts were coded into our DNA. But while he basked in the evilness, I walked in the sunshine. I had to.
I took a deep breath and pulled the door open. Rachel sat on my bed. She was an angel waiting on a demon.
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