“You’ve ruined my life.” The break of the ocean waves outside of my apartment does nothing to soothe my anger.
His head cants to the side like he doesn’t understand. Blue-gray eyes make a weak case for his behavior. I used to fall for that puppy dog look. Not anymore.
“That’s it? You have nothing to say about ruining my life? You have nothing to say about your completely inexcusable, animalistic behavior?”
He shifts his large frame and scratches behind his ear before returning his focus to me.
Emotion tingles my nose as more tears fill my eyes.
“I worked so hard for this. My life was finally on track, and you’ve derailed it!”
Satan saunters off to the patio doors, leaving his back to me thinking he can ignore me.
“I hope you’re cursed with an eternity of anal itching, and I will make it my life’s purpose to ensure you never find anything to hump again. Do you understand me?” I hug my mangled hand to my chest. “Eternal anal itching. NO humping!”
He paws at the door.
“AND STOP SCRATCHING MY DOOR!”
Swarley whines. Why? I don’t know. Nobody broke his paw today.
Not all dogs go to Heaven, and when I murder my sister’s dog, he will not cross over any rainbow bridge. His human-hating soul will burn in Hell, but his body will live forever—with incurable anal itching.
Swarley whines again. Apparently his need to piss his name in the sand is more important than my need to hate him for chasing that stupid cat while the leash tangled around my hand.
I hate cats!
Dogs may be the worst. They disguise themselves as man’s best friend, but I know better. The last thing I need is one more friend with no self-control.
Pain slices along my hand, shooting up my arm, as a cold sweat breaks out along my brow from the nausea settling into the pit of my stomach. I admit it—if only to myself—I, Avery Montgomery, am a wuss.
I’ve cancelled clients because of an irritated hangnail. Menstrual cramps leave me bedridden for twenty-four hours. And I’m one of those patients who require nitrous oxide just to get my teeth cleaned. It’s genetic. There has to be a low pain tolerance gene.
Inches from the door, I drop to my knees and collapse into a fetal position on my side to keep from fainting. My long, blond hair sticks to my face. My hair—how am I supposed to do my hair with one hand? Bathe? Apply makeup? Latch my Chanel necklace or Tiffany diamond bracelet?
Dear Heavenly Father, I know my relationship with you has been a bit parasitic—my bad—and I need to get my derrière to church, but if you could find it in your unconditionally loving self to give me the strength to not pass out, I swear to never use your name in the throes of passion again. Okay … I won’t swear because I know you don’t like that since I’ve sworn on the Bible one too many times only to have broken those sacred promises, but you get my point. I’m going to do better. I feel certain this is a coming-to-Jesus moment.
The pain! It’s so insufferable. The X-ray showed no broken bones, but I’m certain the extensive ligament damage is just as bad, if not worse. No amount of physical therapy will correct this. I’m ruined. Disabled at twenty-nine. Well, it’s been a good run.
Swarley cries. I cry.
The remorseless Weimaraner scratches at the door. I claw at the cold tile with my good hand to get close enough to slide open the door.
“Go!” I grunt. “Go piss on someone else’s day.”
No leash. No supervision. Just miles of beach for digging holes. Go dig your grave, buddy. I’m ready to bury your ass. My sister cannot get upset with me for letting her dog drown or get eaten by a shark. My brutally mangled hand is his fault. I’m her sister. She’ll take my side.
Who am I kidding? It’s highly unlikely.
Holding my hand to my chest with the fragility of a newborn baby, I find my feet, wobble a bit, and collapse onto the kitchen stool.
“Hey, Siri, call Anthony.”
Siri doesn’t respond. Straining my neck, I lean toward my phone on the other side of the counter.
“Dammit, Siri! Call Anthony!”
The screen lights up. “I don’t see Dance with me Anthony in your contacts. Shall I look for locations by that name?”
“Okay, this is what I found on the web for colonoscopy.”
Swarley scratches at the door.
“For Pete’s sake, have all sharks given up red meat? Why are you still alive?” I slide open the door with my foot, grumbling.
Swarley saunters into the living room and plops down on his designer dog bed that I bought him before we broke up. Yeah, we’ve broken up. This will be the last time I dog-sit.
I wiggle my toes before using them to slide the door shut. I need a pedicure. The robin’s egg blue polish has a few chips in it. And it’s been two weeks—two weeks—since I’ve had one. Don’t even get me started on the gnarly callous forming on my pinky toe.
As the whirling nausea subsides, I shuffle around the counter to my phone and call Anthony—my everything. He’s good at making money—you-could-never-spend-it-all-in-a-lifetime kind of money—and I like the challenge of trying to spend it all in one lifetime. We are a perfect fit.
I went from a lowly massage therapist, barely scraping by each month, to managing L.A.’s newest boutique spa that Anthony funded just for me, his angel. We’ve traveled the world together via private jet, luxury cars, and fancy yachts. Marriage is next. He’s hinted to it so many times, especially when I’ve suggested moving in together. His parents are devout Catholics, and he wants to please them by “doing things the right way.” I can wait.
“Anthony, why aren’t you answering your phone? It’s almost eight, and I’ve had the worst day of my life. I need you to send a car for me. I can’t drive.” I sniffle. “Sw-Swarley ruined my hand!” A sob breaks from my chest because I’m in pain, my sister is gone, Anthony won’t answer his phone, and I may never give another massage again.
Swarley cocks his head at me. Maybe it’s an apology. I can’t forgive him. Not yet. At the moment, he’s nothing more than another selfish male in my life, reacting on impulse with no consideration for my feelings.
Except Anthony. He cares.
It took many failed relationships, cheating asshats, and broken hearts to finally find a man who really cares about me. I think it’s because he’s older and more mature. He comes from a strong family. And I’m young, beautiful, and fertile—his words, not mine. Although, I didn’t argue with him.
We’re going to have three kids, a Teacup Poodle that doesn’t need to be walked on a leash, a tummy tuck and boob job after our last child, and I’m going to be the center of my family’s world.
After an hour with no callback and no driver buzzing my door, I kick Swarley out to the sharks again, but he comes back unscathed. I dump some food into his bowl just before heading out to catch an Uber. Maybe my neighbor, Ronnie, will let him out later if I offer a free—No … Son of a biscuit! I can’t offer a chair massage. Swarley robbed every bit of bartering power I have.
A half hour later, I arrive at Anthony’s sprawling estate—the castle where one day I will be his queen. The driver pulls forward so I can enter the code to open the security gate. I wonder if I will ever stop having these pinch-me moments that this is my life. Swarley’s run-in with the cat probably ruined my chances of ever giving someone a good massage again. I will miss some of my favorite clients, but taking care of the day-to-day tasks around here will be a full-time job.
“Anthony?” My voice echoes across the cathedral ceiling as I shut the front door. The grand marble entry gives way to an even grander split staircase.
“Miss Montgomery.” Kim, Anthony’s full-time cook, greets me in the foyer, curling a strand of shoulder-length black hair behind her ear. I envy her perfectly straight hair, flawless Asian skin, and shy demeanor.
Her presence calms me. I hope when I move in here, Anthony keeps her here to cook for our family.
She frowns as her gaze affixes to my wrapped hand hugged to my chest. “Oh, dear …”
“My sister’s dog chased a cat on our walk. He didn’t seem to care that the leash was wrapped around my hand. Supposedly, it’s not broken, but I wonder if they read the X-ray wrong. It’s the worst pain imaginable.”
Kim grimaces. “I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you. Me too. Where’s Anthony? I tried calling him.”
“He’s in his office.”
“Thanks.” I take a few steps toward his office and turn back to Kim. “You’re here late.”
“Mr. Bianchi requested I make some meals and freeze them since I will be on vacation next week.”
“Oh. Lovely. Where are you going?”
Kim’s expression morphs into something between nervous and scared. “Um …”
I shake my head. “Sorry. It’s none of my business. I hope you have a nice trip. We’ll probably eat out most of the time.” I gesture to my hand. “Clearly I won’t be doing any cooking.”