Ember (The Everyday Heroes World) - Jo-Anne Joseph

Chapter 1


Strange, isn’t it? One day you’re an element of an equation, and the next, you’re on the outside looking in. It’s like that kid walking past a limited edition toy in the store window every day for months, and then, just when his folks agree to buy it for him, the damn thing gets sold, just like that. The boy walks into the store, a big ass grin on his face, only to have the shopkeeper give him that look, a mixture of an apology and guilt. There is something fucking devastating about that.

I guess in retrospect, I have myself to blame. A man owns up to his faults, and I have too many to count.

Did I expect a girl like Hannah to stick around an asshole like me? Maybe the point is that I did, and that’s probably why she left in the first place. I’m the selfish dickhead who expects people to tolerate the shit I put them through. Still, as I take another swig of my fourth beer and watch her drape her curvy body on another man across the rowdy bar, I wonder, for the briefest of seconds, what if.

What if I’d treated her like my woman instead of a long-term booty call. What if I introduced her as my girlfriend to my friends, instead of just Hannah. After one year together, it’s the least I could have done. But biting the bullet and making it official was something I could not do.

I have come to understand that life is a series of what if’s. And there isn’t much I can do about the Hannah scenario. That bridge, as they say, is burned to shit.

I should feel worse about it, right? I mean, any decent man would, but I don’t. I am not wallowing. I am out with the guys kicking back with a few beers because that is all I do when I’m off duty. If I’m frank, I’m relieved. It’s like a weight has lifted off my chest. Hannah was suffocating me. I ripped and clawed as she clogged up my airways until I finally broke that noose and came up for air.

Expectations. A list of impossible to fulfill desires that some women keep, they build them from all those romantic movies and books, then expect us guys to live up to them. Those men on TV don’t have to deal with half the shit we do. They’re three-dimensional characters, imagined and brought to life by those writers, artsy sorts.

“Having second thoughts yet?” Aidan Wild’s voice cuts through my thoughts. I follow his gaze to the wild redhead, with wide hips. Hips I’d gripped onto time and time again.

“Like fuck I am.” I scoff, polishing off my beer, looking away from the spectacle she’s making for my benefit. I keep telling myself that she knew what she was getting into, but there is no such thing as casual hook-ups with women like Hannah. Half her friends are married with kids, and the other half is engaged to partners they have been with for fuck knows how long. In the Latina community, it’s what you do. I half expected her father to knock a few of my teeth out when we split. I suppose he didn’t because he considers me family.

“What the fuck am I supposed to think? You’re staring at her for the last half an hour. You could change your mind, you know, put a ring on it.” He has a cocky grin on his face I want to punch off.

“Why are we friends again?” I ask.

“Because nobody else tolerates your ass.” He looks at his watch. “I gotta get home, or Ocea’s gonna have my balls.”

“She already does, man. No use denying it.” I tip my half-empty beer bottle toward him. Aidan is one of the lucky ones. Sure his life hasn’t been perfect. He lost his folks tragically when he was just a kid. But he found peace, a place to call home, which is basically living the dream compared to my shit fest. Men like Aidan deserve to be happy. They have sexy wives waiting for them at home, babies on the way.

“You gonna be alright tomorrow? You know Preston will understand if you can’t make it.” His words pack a punch. This is the kind of thing you can expect when you’re the wildcard. The guy that fucks up over and over again until the world kind of gives up on you. I hate being that guy, but I