Sunsets and New Beginnings, First Chapter

Chapter One

 

One week before Memorial Day…

Mandi Waters didn’t think her day could get any worse…until she opened her bedroom door and found she was sadly mistaken.

Her fiancé was sprawled across their bed, his arms stretched above his head and handcuffed to the brass headboard. Christy, her best friend—make that former bestie—was riding him like a rodeo queen, her legs hugging him like she was astride a bucking bronco. The only things Christy wore were Mandi’s pink cowgirl hat and a tiny tattoo on her ass. Mandi’s best guess? The ink on Christy’s ass simply read, slut.

“Yee-haw! Ride ’em, cowgirl!” Mandi yanked her hat off Christy’s head, swatted Tad with it, and then pitched it to the floor. Had she really just said that?

Mr. Bucking Bronco pulled his pride and joy out of Christy and pitched her off with one single upward thrust of his hips, sending the cowgirl rolling onto the floor. “Dammit, Mandi. What the hell are you doing home this time of the day?”

“I find you and this two-faced ho in my bed, doing the nasty, and that’s all you have to say, Tad?” She tossed her purse onto her small dresser. For the first time in all her twenty-four years, Mandi wished she owned a gun. Wasn’t losing her job at the little clothing boutique enough bad shit for one day?

“It’s not what you think, sweetheart. Christy and me…well we… umm… she handcuffed me and forced—”

I forced you?” Christy heaved herself off the floor and slapped him across the face in pure girl-done-wrong fashion, the irony that she was the girl who done wrong obviously lost on her. Are you crazy?” She grabbed her shirt from the foot of the bed and dragged it on. “Have I been forcing you to play hide-the-salami for the last three months?”

“Three months? You’ve been playing rodeo for three months?” She twisted the ring on her left hand. “Screwing a fiancée isn’t good enough for you? I’m surprised you even asked me to marry you.” And damn sorry, too, if this was his idea of marital bliss. It sure as hell wasn’t hers.

“Damn, Mandi. You are one stupid little Southern belle.” Christy stepped into her shorts and stuffed her panties into her back pocket. She smoothed her bleached hair. “You don’t love Tad and I think you’re the only one that doesn’t realize it.”

Mandi couldn’t move. It was as if her feet were glued to the floor. Her insides turned to mush and she broke out in a cold sweat as she forced the bile down and scrubbed her eyes with the balls of her hands. She was not going to cry. Not over Tad. He wasn’t worth it.

And Christy? She was less than worth it.

Tad twisted on the bed. “Wait, Christy! Get me out of these cuffs.”

“I don’t think so, stud. I’ll leave you like that in case Mandi wants to go for her own eight seconds of glory.” She strode out the bedroom door.

“At least give me the damned key.” Tad’s handsome face turned fifty shades of red as Christy slammed apartment door behind her.

Mandi stared at the guy she was supposed to marry. His precious manhood flopped to one side of his family jewels, looking as shriveled and defeated as his face.

“Mandi. Sweetheart. Get me out of these and I’ll explain everything. This is fixable.” He yanked the headboard. “You know I love you. Give me a chance to show you.”

“Oh you were giving me a show all right. Just not the right one.” She forced herself to move—to the closet, where she grabbed her suitcase then threw the small amount of clothes she owned into it, not even caring that they weren’t folded neatly.

Her life had gone from neat to a shit storm of a mess in thirty seconds flat.

“What are you doing, sweetheart? Come on, stop that and find something to get these cuffs off.”

Mandi ignored him and stomped her pink cowgirl hat flat as she passed it. She emptied her drawers and added the contents to the rest of her things. Next, she went to the small bathroom and poured her toiletries and make-up into the bag.

She stormed into the living room and grabbed the picture of her parents off the mantle. It seemed like it’d been taken a million years ago, back when they’d been happy. Aunt Abigail had taken this picture at the beach, the last time the three of them were together. She pressed a fist to her lips, fighting for control.

Mandi started towards the door, but stopped. Bear. She wasn’t going to leave him behind. He, at least, would never let her down.

She headed back to her former—as of five minutes ago—bedroom. Bear was perched at the foot of the bed. Sheesh, he’d had a full view of the rodeo.

She tucked Bear inside her purse. “It’s a shame he had to witness you in your finest moments.”

“It’s damned stuffed animal, Mandi. He doesn’t see shit.” Tad tugged harder on his restraints. “This isn’t funny anymore. Take these off.”

“Your slut-cootie girlfriend can unlock you.” She pulled the two carat diamond off her ring finger and laid it on his stomach. “Needless to say, I won’t be marrying your cheating ass.”

“Listen to me, please, sweetheart.”

“Not gonna happen. I hope you have the miserable life you deserve. On second thought, I’m keeping the ring.” She snatched it back. She’d earned it.

“The ring is a fake!” Tad yelled. “Bogus, like our relationship. Do you really think I’d ever marry someone like you, Mandi? Your clingy, needy ass makes me sick.”

She threw the ring at him. Like dredging through quicksand, it seemed to take hours to get to the front door. Still, she managed to keep her head held high, and her back straight, when all she really wanted to do was curl up and cry.

She held her breath, closed the door behind her, and leaned against the wall. She willed her heartbeat to slow. As much as she hated Tad right now, his words still stung. If he was going for the kill, he’d succeeded. She stood with her back against the wall and cried until she ran out of tears.

It was humiliating, and she needed to leave in case Christy came back. She couldn’t face the woman again. Mandi reached for her suitcase at the same time her building superintendent arrived.

“Miss Waters, I’ve come to give you this.” He handed her an envelope labeled, Final Notice. “Sorry it’s come to this. I’ve also filed for an eviction notice. You seem like a nice person. If you’d only come to me or at least responded to my non-payment notices, I could’ve worked something out. Made your rent payments easier.”

“I don’t understand. What are you talking about?” She never missed a payment in her life. Even it meant eating PB and J.

“You can’t ignore late payment notices without consequences. You left me no other choice.”

“But, Mr. Stanley, I’ve always paid on time. I give my half of the rent to Tad and he—Oh no. He didn’t pay you, did he?” Her heart sank. No wonder Tad had insisted he write the check every month. She’d been subsidizing him without even knowing it. “I’m sorry, Mr. Stanley.”

Mr. Stanley pointed to her luggage. “I see things haven’t worked out between you and Mr. Lansing.”

“Not even close.” Thank God for big favors.

 

“I wish you well, young lady.” He tapped the paper he held. “Sadly, this will go on your credit report. But if you work hard, someday your credit history will be cleared.”

 

Damn Tad for more than just cheating. “I appreciate the advice.”

 

There was no way on earth her credit would be restored for years to come. She needed to go somewhere quiet, make a phone call, and check on the single credit card she had. Tad had ordered carry-out for them with her card number several times. What if he—? No, surely he wouldn’t…would he? That’d be stealing.

 

“Good luck, Miss. Is Mr. Lansing inside? I still need to serve this final notice in person.”

 

Mandi grinned for the first time today. “As a matter of fact, he is. I believe his new girlfriend has him tied up right now.” She handed him her apartment key. “Maybe give him a couple hours and then let yourself in. I promise he’ll be happy to see you.”

 

“Something tells me you’re out for a bit of revenge. I guess you deserve that much.” He slipped the envelope inside his shirt pocket and patted it. “As long as he’s okay in there, I can give him a few hours.”

 

“Thank you.” A little payback could go a long way.

 

“I’ve got a daughter about your age and wouldn’t want to see her taken advantage of.” Mr. Stanley handed her a hanky. “Can I call you a cab?”

 

“I’m good.” She left the building with no real plan. It’d been the day from hell. She called her credit card company when she got outside. Yes, Tad had run her credit card over the limit. They’d cancelled her account last week after sending several notices. Plus, they expected her to pay it off. And Tad had the nerve to call her clingy and needy?

Mandi dragged her suitcase to the bank. Once inside, she took her place in the long line. Her turn at the window arrived. “I’d like to close my account, please.” Mandi handed the teller her debit card.

The woman punched the keys on her computer. She glanced up at Mandi and hit a few more numbers. “I’m sorry, Miss Waters. It seems you’re overdrawn. We sent a notice last week. I’ll get a manager to speak with you.”

Mandi’s heart sank. Tad had taken her measly savings? She could feel a hundred sets of eyes staring at her, burning holes in her back. People were in a hurry. They didn’t have time for this crap. Neither did she.

A man in a dark suit, white shirt, and red tie, came to escort her to a corner cubicle. Great, she was now in the dunce corner.

She explained the situation with Tad and how he’d used her bank card over the weekend. She’d been at work and he needed to buy a few things for the apartment—so he’d said. “I guess he took out more cash than I’d approved.”

“Miss Waters, you should never share your password with people.” The bank manager shook his head.

“He was my fiancé. I thought I could trust him.” Was it necessary for the banker to rub her face in the mistake she’d made?

“Clearly, you were wrong.” He shuffled a few papers. “Let’s see what we can do to fix this mess.”

After many tears while working out the details with the manager, she left.

She’d lost her job, her fiancé, her best friend, her home, and every penny she had except what was in her purse, all in one day. And now, she was on the verge of losing her dignity, maybe her sanity. She’d been so irresponsible.

Mandi stopped and pulled out her wallet. “Oh hell no.” Fear curled up her spine. Had Tad taken the rainy day stash from her wallet? She squeezed her eyes shut before looking and said a short prayer.

She opened her wallet and with one eye still closed, peeked. “Thank you, sweet Jesus.”

That thought lasted half a second; after all, how far could one get on fifty dollars?