Beneath These Scars (Page 49)

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

I tried to push myself to my feet, but my arms shook too badly, so I settled for rolling over onto my ass. I wasn’t the only person who lived in that building. Mrs. Jones, the elderly woman downstairs, and Astrid Thomas, a middle-aged postal worker, were also still inside.

Tears burned down my face as I pushed myself to my feet and ran toward the flames, but arms caught me before I made it two steps.

“Whoa, girl. You need to stay the hell back. Fire department is coming.”

It was a man’s voice in my ear, and I didn’t know who he was and didn’t care. I babbled incoherently about the other women, and he just held me against his chest and rocked me until sirens pierced the morning air.

It didn’t dawn on me that I was homeless and owned nothing until the firemen sat me down with volunteers from the Red Cross. My brain hadn’t made it that far. I was still seeing the flames and feeling the heat on my back. I was too busy being grateful that I was alive.

“Do you have somewhere you can go, dear?” the volunteer asked. “If you don’t, that’s fine. We can put you up for three nights at a motel here in town. We’ll also help you get started on replacing some things by giving you a debit card with some money on it.”

“I’ve got some money.”

The kind woman, Donna, patted my hand. “I know, dear, but it’s going to go much faster than you think, and this isn’t much anyway. We wish it could be more, but a couple hundred dollars is all we’re able to allot you because you’re single.”

“It’s fine. I don’t need it.”

“Just take it.”

I was too exhausted to argue with her. A sleepless night plus the physical, mental, and emotional trauma of the morning had taken its toll.

I just focused on the positive side—I wasn’t dead and no one else was either. Numb, I nodded as I learned that Mrs. Jones was in Florida visiting her sister. She’d left four days ago and I hadn’t noticed. Astrid had quit the postal service and taken a job working third shift at a factory. Again, I hadn’t noticed. But both those things had saved their lives. Only dumb luck and the grace of God had saved mine.

Donna and her husband—the volunteer team assigned to me—went through the whole spiel about if there was anything salvageable, there were places that specialized in items damaged by smoke, and if I had medications or glasses that had been lost in the fire, a Red Cross nurse would help me get them replaced.

But other than three nights at a motel and the debit card—both of which were more than I expected—I was basically on my own. They gave me a list of social welfare agencies in the parish that could offer assistance, but I wasn’t going to be the girl living off taxpayers and the charity of others when I could find a way to provide for myself. My mama had always been so proud that our family line had never been the welfare kind. I wasn’t sure when she decided being a mistress was more respectable, but it was certainly an older profession.

As I was finishing with the Red Cross, I realized I had no idea what the hell I was going to do. My car was still in the shop, I owned nothing but the contents of my purse and the clothes on my back, and all I wanted was a shower and not to cry in front of these perfect strangers. I’d been holding it in ever since the man in the alley had set me aside to answer the questions of one of the fireman. Based on my answers, it seemed that either arson or an accidental gas leak was the most likely culprit.

The thought of arson brought my mind right back to Jay and my blood ran cold.

Did he want me dead? Probably. But this wasn’t his MO.

Jay would prefer to watch the life drain out of me with his own two eyes rather than let a fire do it for him. He’d want to make me hurt. To make me suffer. I knew that much about him, and I doubted he’d found Jesus in prison.

I stepped out of the church where the volunteers had brought me—it seemed that this was standard procedure because it was too distracting to answer all of their questions while sitting in view of the remains of what used to be your home—and I looked both directions down the street. I had forty-seven dollars in my wallet, my credit cards, and the Red Cross debit card that I could use once they activated it in a few hours. It wasn’t the money that scared me right now, although they were surely right. It was going to be expensive to replace everything I had. Thank the Lord for renter’s insurance.

I was only a block from a CVS and a twenty-four-hour gym, where I was pretty sure I knew the manager. Either way, after hearing about my hellish morning, I couldn’t believe someone would refuse to let me use a shower.

After checking out of CVS with the basics, I pulled my phone from my purse. It was off. I turned it on to find I had a dozen missed calls from Lucas Titan, ten from Jerome, another six from Elle, and four from Charlie.

I swallowed. Apparently everyone had heard about the fire. The calls that surprised me the most were those from Titan’s household. Why did he bother? He’d thrown me out last night. Surely that had been a period on the end of whatever the hell we’d been doing, even if I still wasn’t exactly sure what had made him react the way he had other than his general asshole tendencies. But last night it had seemed like more. I’d jabbed one of his buttons and he’d reacted.

So the question was now, who did I call first? I owed them all a call, but I was too damn exhausted to tell this story over and over again. And especially to admit that I thought maybe my newly paroled ex-husband might have just tried to kill me. Fun times.

I stared at my phone, my brain working in sluggish circles, until the screen came to life again.