Present Day

MY MOTHER IS a bitch. Was, is, will always be. It’s never been a question of love. She’s my mother. I grew in her body—she loves me. But for her, it’s always about instilling something simpler. Something more primal.

It’s about survival.

You do what you have to do to get by and you don’t let anyone look down their nose at the decisions you make. Actually, if I were taking a page from the Kathy Forbes playbook, it would be to not even spare a passing glance at anyone else. They don’t matter. Only look forward. Only look up. Always be competitive. Always snatch up opportunities that come forth.

I realized the dose of tough love she was imparting when she moved onto her third husband. I was twelve years old, angry, and made up of half her DNA. Everything she was, was everything I would not be. By the time her fourth marriage was in shambles because I was irrevocably unhappy, I’d learned well. I knew I caused the fourth divorce, maybe even the third. I’ll give her the credit for that one, though. You don’t marry a vegan and request steak at the wedding reception. At the tender age of fourteen even I could see doom and gloom when shoved in my face.

When I reached adulthood I knew it didn’t matter what I said or did with regard to her past conquests. She ruined relationships all on her own. You see, it was all about the competition. The opportunity. From one relationship to the next, she took what she needed or wanted and then left. They say people come into your life for a reason. I know my father came into my mother’s life to give her me. I know husband number five came into her life to bring her back down to reality. He ruined her. He made her fall in love with him. Then he started giving her a taste of her own medicine. He threatened to leave her every chance he got. He still does it. If you’ve been there, you know it’s a horrible place to be. With the help of a wine bottle, and her emotional scars she morphed into a person unrecognizable.

I’m not sure what I want out of life, but I know it’s not what she has; a charade game and marriages of no consequence. When she finally did find herself it was too late. Number five locked her away and swallowed the key. I don’t visit. I can’t visit. All I know is she is a bitch who finally got something that drowns out what she couldn’t find. I can’t tell you what she learned along the way. All I can tell you is she survived. She taught me well because right now, in this moment, all I want to do is survive.

People always say life is too short to be unhappy. If you don’t like something, change it. There’s a beauty in change that can’t come from anything else. Like all positives, there are also negatives warring on the same front. Not that I’m an unhappy person, but I don’t deal well with change…of any kind. Changes in my cycle, changes in the weather, life altering, glaring mistakes that force a huge life change—all of these things are a recipe for my own personal kind of disaster.

It’s been one year, eight months, twenty-one days, and fifteen hours since the first time I laid eyes on Maverick Hart. It’s been eighteen days and twelve hours since I last heard from him. Numbers and time are tangible things I can make sense of. Nothing else in my life is that easy to compute.

Honestly, after meeting Mav, I don’t think I want easy anymore. Right now, I’m worried, but worried doesn’t even begin to describe the sick feeling coursing through my body. It’s not just my stomach that turns and flips with anxiety; every particle that makes up Windsor Forbes is affected. I’m not sure I’ll make it through this particular survival course.

The white, sterile hallway is cold. Goosebumps prickle my skin, and with each step forward toward him I feel dread. What will be left? Will he be the man I remember? Will he even remember me? I say a silent prayer, promising to give up everything if only he’ll survive this. I’d give up everything, anything for him.

The big, burly nurse comes out of nowhere, her sensible white shoes as drab as her grim features. “Can I help you with something,