Home > Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(8)

Undeserving (Undeniable #5)(8)
Author: Madeline Sheehan

Frank was a man who liked order. He liked everything in its rightful place. He liked his hair just so, his clothing to fit a certain way, his wallet always in his right back pocket, and his keys in his front left pocket. Everything in its rightful place. Everything and everyone.

Frank liked his wife at home, caring for their young son. He liked coming home to a clean house and a hot meal. And he liked his club and all their business partners in their respective roles, working in perfect sync, the cogs turning like a well-oiled machine.

This madness inside him extended to all facets of his life. His clothing had to be folded a particular way, the different foods on his plate could never touch, and then there was his unexplainable aversion to even numbers. He typically did certain things in groups of threes—looked at something three times, said a word three times, usually silently, or touched something three times. It was a never-ending cycle of constantly counting, enough to drive a sane man mad… or keep a mad man sane.

He’d often speculated that growing up as a ward of the state, never having had a place to call home, might have caused this incessant, demanding need for order in all things. If it hadn’t been for his friendship with Preacher, the only constant in his hectic young life, who knew what kind of person he would have turned out to be?

Preacher.

Frank picked up his pace as the buzzing in his head grew louder, his heart pounding as a surge of anxiety-fueled adrenaline coursed through him. Preacher was not where he was supposed to be. Something was leaking inside Frank’s well-oiled machine. Cogs were rusting, and one had stopped turning altogether.

Frank hadn’t exactly minded when Preacher had gone and gotten himself locked up. In fact, in a lot of ways, he’d preferred it. For the two years Preacher had been in prison, Frank had known exactly where to find his friend when he’d needed him, and had been secure in the knowledge that, once Preacher’s sentence was up, things would return to normal.

Only… they hadn’t.

Preacher had been released from prison, and right off the bat, everything had been different. Angry and sullen, Preacher had refused to come to the club, refusing anything and everyone. He drank incessantly, slept constantly, and when he wasn’t drinking or sleeping, he was fighting with everyone. Then one day he’d upped and left. Vanished in the middle of the night without a word to anyone.

Weeks had passed, then months, and with every passing day without word of his whereabouts or his return, Frank had felt the crack in his control begin to splinter in every direction. His moods had been unpredictable lately. His usual methods for keeping control of himself weren’t working properly. Preacher consumed his thoughts day in and day out.

Where was Preacher?

Was he ever coming home?

Frank didn’t want to lose control. He liked being in control.

His hands clenched into fists, his short nails pressed painfully into his palms. His pace continued to increase.

He needed his fucking control. Because if his world couldn’t stay together, he couldn’t stay together.

If he was a drinking man, Frank supposed he’d be drinking right now, but he wasn’t. Booze, drugs… he didn’t like anything that messed with his head. If a man couldn’t think clearly, he wasn’t useful, and if a man wasn’t useful, that man had no business breathing.

What he needed was to figure out how to get Preacher home. Hell, first he needed to find Preacher. Without Preacher…

Blinking, Frank shook his head quickly. One, two, three, four—

He cursed and tried again.

He was already fraying.

A door slammed closed, echoing across the quiet street. Frank went instantly still, blending into the shadows as he observed a young black woman descend a nearby stoop. Wearing a slinky red dress and matching heels, she paused on the last step, rummaging through her purse.

Frank cocked his head to one side, a burst of excitement and anticipation heating his chest. It hadn’t been all that long since his last, and he knew he shouldn’t be craving it again so soon, but—

Frank calculated the distance between them, wondering if the door she’d just come from was locked. He glanced to a small alley some twenty feet away and wondered about the apartments above. Were they occupied? Were the windows open? He wasn’t a man who particularly liked taking chances. He liked plans. Carefully crafted, calculated plans. Spur of the moment shit like this was just further proof that he was losing his grip on control.

Unable to ignore the relentless beat of need pounding inside of him, Frank moved closer to the stoop. The move freed him from the shadows, and the woman looked up, her gaze widening.

Fear. That was fear gleaming brightly in her eyes. Another craving rippled through Frank.

The door opened again. A young man in a suit jogged down the stoop, offering his arm to the woman. Frank veered away quickly, crossing the street at breakneck speed.

Sloppy, he thought to himself. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

He turned down another street, still silently berating himself. A yellow cab blew past him, splashing his pants with water. Gritting his teeth, Frank quickened his stride.

Everything was wrong. The noise in his head was building to a crescendo. He could feel the beat of his heart in every part of his body. Even his skin felt wrong, too tight. His insides too cold.

Noisy. Everything was so goddamn noisy.

He slowed his steps to run a hand across his stubbled jaw. He needed to shave. He needed to shave right now.

The noise in his head intensified, so loud he could feel it. Pulsing and expanding, it pushed painfully against his skull. Frank slowed as he rubbed furiously at his temples. Amid the panic, rage—hot and white and quivering—was building low in his belly. He couldn’t control it; he couldn’t control anything anymore!

The sudden sharp, biting sound of heels clicking the pavement brought his spiraling thoughts slamming to a halt. Everything froze and then slowly started back up, sluggish at first, as if he were stuck inside a slow-motion action scene. The footsteps grew louder, faster, and then all at once everything suddenly sped back up, came into clear, crisp focus.

His breathing shallow and his heart racing, he started to jog. Anticipation was building again. That delicious warmth was filling him. His hands twitched. He turned the corner—

“Shit!” A slight woman teetered precariously on her heels before him. Frank reached out and grabbed her arm, keeping her upright. The smell of her hit him like a brick to the face. Stale beer and unwashed skin and something else—an underlying rot.

She was a working girl who looked to be in her late twenties, wearing a tiny little yellow number that left very little to the imagination. Not that there was very much of her to see.

She was too thin, wasting away. Black hair hung thin and limp around an angular face. Bloodshot eyes were ringed in smudged eye makeup. Red lipstick had smeared pink across one jutting cheekbone. There were dirt stains amid small scrapes up and down her pale legs, as if she’d spent the entire night on her knees in back alleyways.

She had been pretty once, maybe even beautiful, but the years hadn’t been kind to her. He turned her arm, eyeing the track marks along the crook. She hadn’t been kind to herself either.

“How much?” he asked.

She attempted seduction as she smiled limply. “Depends on what you want,” she slurred. “You want my hand, that’ll be ten. You want my mouth, that’s twenty. You want my pussy, that’s gonna run you a solid fifty.”

Excitement surged and Frank’s fingers flexed, digging into her arm. She didn’t appear to notice.

“I’ll give you a cool hundred to do whatever I want,” he said.

She blinked. “You an ass fucker? Or you wantin’ to piss on me?” She shook her head and sighed noisily. “Man, I want the money up front.” Dirty fingers, topped with cracked and broken fingernails, beckoned him to pay. A thin gold chain glinted from around her wrist, a small charm in the shape of a heart hanging from it. He took a half second to eye the jewelry. It looked real, and he wondered why she hadn’t pawned it. Did it hold some sort of emotional value, or had she stolen it?

Releasing her, Frank dug his wallet from his back pocket and drew two bills from inside. She made a grab for the cash, and he quickly flicked it just out of her reach and jerked his chin toward the small walkway between two nearby buildings. “In there.”

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