What’s Left of Me
by Jennifer Loring
Series: Book Two in the Firebird Trilogy
Tagline: “There is always one more secret…”
Publisher: Limitless Publishing
Release Date: July 26, 2016
Recovering from years of living the superstar hockey life wasn’t easy, but now Aleksandr Volynsky finally has everything…
He’s married to the love of his life, expecting a daughter, and has a new job as an assistant coach with his old team, the Buffalo Gladiators. His happiness is short lived, however, when a sexual assault allegation surfaces, and Alex is forced to cooperate with an investigation for a crime he didn’t commit.
Stephanie Hartwell is juggling her dream job with marriage and motherhood, but she’s not convinced she’s doing any of it well…
Stephanie’s stress level goes from bad to worse when she’s diagnosed with a serious illness. Battling declining health and the critics who question her commitment to Alex in light of the allegation, she makes a decision that could change their relationship forever.
Alex is afraid he’s about to lose everything—especially when he sees Stephanie’s friend kiss her…
Devastated that his life is spiraling out of control again, Alex turns to his friend, Natasha, a Russian pop star. Convinced that Stephanie and her friend Brandon are having an affair, Alex resumes his self-destructive behavior.
What Alex doesn’t know is Stephanie has been conducting a secret investigation of her own. She learns the truth behind the sexual assault—a truth no one, especially Alex, expects.
With everything now out in the open, can Stephanie and Alex commit to a fresh start for the sake of their daughter, or will the ghosts of their pasts finally tear apart everything they have left?
Stephanie sat at the tiny, square kitchen table in a tiny, square studio apartment. Dust lined the moldings and the slats on the blinds, darkened the forgotten crevices on bookshelves and in the entertainment center. The white walls were dingy with age and disregard. Thick, acrid tension clung to the air and crawled into her throat, into her belly, curdling her insides.
“Um…can I get you something to drink?”
Shiny, dark hair poured over Courtney’s shoulders and down her back. Black liner emphasized her large brown eyes. More makeup than that was superfluous, and she knew it. Her clothes, while not tight fitting, revealed enviable curves in all the right places. Pretty, and young. She’d been barely legal with Alex.
“Why do you want the money?”
Courtney’s hard eyes adopted a haunted expression. “I don’t know how else to get it. It would take me decades to save enough. My mom is in hospice, and the medical bills—I mean, she lost the house, and now I’m in this shithole—” She swept her arm. She was biting her lip, but the tears came anyway. “I had to drop out of school, so I’ve got those loans too.”
“So you decided to blackmail my husband.”
“He’s the only person I know who has the money, and I had this video… It’s fine if you think I’m a slut. So does everyone else. I’m not a sick kid, so who gives a shit about me, right?”
“Let me see it,” Stephanie murmured.
Courtney wiped her eyes and cleared her throat. “Even I don’t want you to see it.”
“That bad? Was it…” Stephanie barely mustered the courage to ask. “Consensual?”
Courtney darted her gaze away. “Most of it.”
Oh, God. Stephanie forced down her gorge.
“Everyone has secrets, you know? There’s a side of him he doesn’t want you to see.”
“It was two years ago.”
“How much do people really change? They say they do, but all they’ve done is put a coat of paint on a house with structural damage.”
“You know he’s bipolar. When he’s hypomanic, he takes risks. Mostly sexually.”
“Maybe. Or maybe it brought out a part of him that was there all along.”
No. Not the Alex I knew. Know. “I want to see it.”
“You don’t.” Courtney sighed and set a laptop on the table, opened the lid, and clicked a few buttons. She turned it so it was facing Stephanie. “I’ll be outside.”
Courtney stepped into the hall. Stephanie stared at the dark, grainy image in the media player. She could make out two pale shapes that resembled human bodies.
She took a deep breath to steady her shaking hand, then tapped Play.
It was Alex all right. Despite the poor quality, his voice—and the body whose every ridge and scar she knew intimately—confirmed it. The old Alex, bigger, uninjured, and unaware of the havoc his neurochemicals were wreaking on his brain. She’d allowed for some foolish hope that both Courtney and Alex were mistaken, that they had mutually misremembered it. Each second that crawled by, she wished for the strength to stop watching, to give Courtney the money and piece their lives back together. There was no good reason to view this except to permanently warp her vision of the man she had sworn to protect from himself.
Ignorance was bliss. Knowledge was power. She could not have both.