Solitude (Artistic Pricks Ink #3)

Solitude

An Artistic Pricks Novel

By Cat Mason

 

Artistic Pricks:
Gravity
Significance

 

Solitude © Cat Mason

 

 

All Rights Reserved. This work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, photographic) in part or whole without expressed written consent from Amy Cox a.k.a. Cat Mason.

This is a work of Fiction. All characters, organizations, brands, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual events, or persons living or deceased is completely coincidental.

Copyright © Cat Mason 2015

Cover Image and Design By: Katheryn Kiden

Editing By: Asli Fratarcangeli

Dedication:

Every book I write is special, but Mitch and Shelby have captured a very important place in my heart. Loss is something we all feel at one point or another in life. Without sadness, we can never truly grasp the importance of living life for all it is worth. Dream big, take chances, love with every ounce of your heart and live your life with no regrets. We only get one shot.

As the pages unfolded, I found myself falling even more in love with Mitch. In Significance, he got me, but in Solitude, I lost my heart over the man.

Shelby is by far my favorite female I have written to date and she will be a tough act to follow. The strength and sass in every curve she possesses gives her true immeasurable beauty. The unapologetic way she takes life by the balls is something I truly envy. She is empowering, and in writing Solitude, I can only say that the world would be a much better place with more women like Shelby Winston in it.

This book is dedicated to those who have truly loved and lost. For those who know the agony of feeling their heart break but go on day after day when so many are content to drown in their own solitude. For the ones strong enough to put themselves together after they've broken, and those who love them hard while holding the pieces together, I hope you enjoy reading their story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

Chapter One
Mitch

 

The machines beep and click, all doing their jobs to measure life. Helplessly, I sit by the bed watching her while she sleeps. The only movement her body makes is her chest rising and falling with each breath. My fingers brush over her wrist and I feel her pulse beat steadily beneath them. Yes, the monitor clearly says that Shelby’s heart is still beating, but I need the contact to remind me while it replays in my head for the millionth time.

I killed someone today.

I should have no problem with using a gun. Hell, when I was in the Navy, there were a lot of times when I found having a firearm in my hand comforting. Not anymore. Watching the woman you love die at the hands of the very thing you were taught to use to protect yourself with, changes things.

It changed everything.

I can count on one hand the amount of times I have felt helpless in my entire life. Losing Becky was one of them. Today, I have added to that list.

Shelby stirs, just as she has most of the night. According to Ember, Shelby’s nurse, she hasn’t been awake for longer than a few minutes before sleep takes her back under. Even though the doctor told us she was stable, I had to see for myself. I had to know that I wasn’t losing someone else.

Now, I can’t leave her.

Her head shifts from side to side as she groans, the look on her face as she sleeps is full of pain. Standing to my feet, I sit carefully on the edge of the bed and brush the pink and blonde strands of hair away, before leaning in. “You’re okay,” I whisper, needing to say the words out loud just as badly as I want her to hear them from me.

“Mitch?” she croaks, not at all sounding like the strong, smart ass woman who has been busting my balls for months. The piss and vinegar she is usually filled with is gone. She sounds fragile.

It shreds me.

Taking a breath, I lean back and meet her bloodshot blue eyes. Guilt churns in my gut while I think of all the things that could have been done differently. No one had to die, no one had to get hurt. “Hey, how ya feelin’?” I ask, starting to push to my feet.

“Thirsty,” she says, pointing to the Styrofoam cup filled with water on the tray beside me.

“Let’s get the nurse in here and make sure it’s okay first,” I reply, pressing the call button on the side of the bed, not wanting to take any chances.

Ember strides into the room, shoving me out of the way so that she can check Shelby’s vitals and take a look at the bandages covering her sutures. I watch every move she makes while firing off question after question, because Shelby isn’t asking any.

“Can you rate your pain on a scale of one to ten for me, Miss Winston?” she asks, scribbling on a dry erase board on the wall beside the bed.

“I feel like I’ve been shot. How high can you count?” Shelby replies with a laugh, only to wince in pain and grab her side. “Shit, that hurts like a bitch. Remind me never to get shot again, would ya, Mitch?”

I arch an eyebrow at her comment. Part of me is relieved to hear the bite of her attitude, but the other wants to kick her in the ass for joking about nearly dying. “Sure thing, sweetness,” I reply, rolling my eyes.

“Don’t call me that,” she snaps, making Ember chuckle.

Since Shelby’s vitals all appear to be good, she is given the go ahead for a few small sips of water. Ember administers a round of pain medicine into her I.V. and presses a few buttons while she continues to talk. Shelby is told to rest and I am warned to be gone before next check before she heads out of the room, leaving us alone.

“What are you doing here, Mitch?” Shelby asks, attempting to sit up. “You don’t have to be here.”

“Don’t move,” I scold, sitting back down beside her on the bed and grabbing the cup. Holding the straw up to her lips, I watch as they slowly part and she sips, before I continue speaking. “I’m here because I had to know you were okay. Needed to see it for myself.”

Her brow furrows, the wheels in her head are no doubt on overdrive. She watches me, carefully, as she drinks and I prepare myself for more of that smart mouth of hers. Once she is done, I replace the cup on the tray and brace for Hurricane Shelby to make landfall.

“Everyone’s okay? Kionna?” she asks, shocking me. “I don’t remember--” she begins, obviously replaying it over in her head.

I’m doing that enough for the both of us.

Taking her hands in mine, I’m careful not to touch her I.V. Shelby’s eyes go to our joined hands, widening before meeting mine again. I absorb the warmth of her skin, needing to remind myself that I am not sitting in the morgue with Becky. “Kionna went home with Luke. Let’s worry about you for now, huh? We can talk about everything later, when I know you’ll remember without medication fuckin’ with your head.”

Nodding, she sighs in relief, a tear slipping down her cheek. “I thought… I mean she…” Closing her eyes tightly, she covers her face with her hands.

“Hey,” I say pulling her hands away. Cupping her face in my hands, I brush my lips over her forehead quickly. The gesture seems to surprise her just as much as it shocks me. “You’re okay, Kelly is…”

The mention of her name causes Shelby’s entire body to go rigid. “She’s gone,” I choke out, the words hitting me like a runaway train. I killed someone. I picked up a gun and emptied it into a woman’s chest. Sure, the police said it’s cut and dry self-defense, but murder is murder, no matter how you sell it. How am I any different than the bastard who killed Becky?

Shelby says nothing. Her entire body goes limp as she breaks down. Sobbing, she releases all the fear and adrenaline she has held onto. I feel it roll off her body in waves as she shakes.

Wanting to comfort her, carefully, I wrap my arms around her and hold her as best I can without moving her. Surprisingly, she doesn’t fight me like I thought she would. Instead, she sinks into my embrace. I don’t know how much time passes, but eventually her crying turns into whimpers, until her breathing evens out and I know she has fallen asleep.

I force myself to breathe, telling myself to exist in the here and now. I try focusing on the fact that Shelby is going to be okay, but fail miserably. I should leave. I need to untangle myself from the cables and lines she is hooked up to so she can rest without my ass taking up half the bed, but I can’t make myself move. I know the moment I leave this room, and am alone, I’ll lose it.

How many times will I break before the pieces are too broken to pick up?

The holes that exist within me only get bigger with each passing day. With every blow life throws, it reopens my old wounds, over and over. Am I destined to relive all of the pain, again and again, for the rest of my life? Haven’t I endured enough to last me a lifetime or ten?

Visions of Kelly standing before me, as I empty the clip, play in slow motion in my head. The way her small frame jolted with the impact of each bullet before crumpling to the floor, mixes with Shelby lying lifeless, and Becky dying in my arms.

I look down at the scrubs I now wear, since my clothes were covered in Shelby’s blood, blinking furiously in an attempt to focus on this moment in time, instead of the aching in my chest. The white cotton I wear may be clean, but a simple change of clothes can’t force back the memories. Soap and water isn’t going to wash away the blood, death, and pain I see. I doubt there is anything to erase the guilt that feels like it’s crushing me.

I know it’s normal to feel some sort of regret for taking a life. No one has the right to decide the life or death of another human being and I do feel remorse to a point. My problem is: how do you even begin to explain that, a lot of the guilt I feel, is because when they said Kelly was dead, instead of Shelby, I didn’t feel regret for taking a life.

I felt relief.

If that doesn’t make me some kind of monster, then I don’t know what would.

 

Chapter Two
Shelby

Two months later.

 

“Fucking prick!” I shout, yanking open the door to Artistic Pricks Ink. My eyes immediately land on him standing at the large, black, rolling tool box he keeps his supplies in. His back may be turned to me, but I know the very second he hears my voice, the cocky bastard smiles. “The word of the day is strangulation.”

“Aw, who pissed in your cornflakes this mornin’, sweetness?” Mitch asks, closing the drawer. Every time he has used that little nickname for me, since I woke up in the hospital, has me ready to drive my foot up his ass. Turning around to face me, the smile damn near splits his face as he crosses his arms over his chest. “Maybe you should take a drive or something and relax. You look tense.”

I’ve never met a man who has the ability to drive me as unbelievably crazy as Mitch Taylor. Ever since Luke hired me to fix the disaster that was his filing system, Mitch has made my life a constant battle for sanity. I think he gets off on testing me and the system I have in place for the shop to run smoothly. He’s arrogant, and so full of shit, it takes everything in me not to smother him in his sleep when he naps in the back between appointments.

It doesn’t matter that he is gorgeous. Sure, his brown eyes are almost gold and the way they light up when he smiles; that fucking sexy smirk is enough to soak the panties of every woman for a good ten miles. He knows it, too; the cocky bastard. The women who come into the shop fall all over him, dying for a piece of the manwhore of Artistic Pricks Ink. Mitch never says much, but I know deep down he eats the shit up with a goddamn soup ladle.

I hate him.

Yeah, sure, he saved my life, along with Kionna’s, and has been there every step of the way as I recovered from my injuries. That doesn’t mean I have to be okay with liking him. He is a bossy, overbearing, maniac. He drives me to the edge of my sanity and I can’t be responsible for my actions when he is around.

You know you have a loyal friend if they’ll take a bullet for you. But what happens when someone you consider a pain in your ass kills for you without batting an eye? I have yet to thank Mitch for what he has done for me, but I’ve been a bit busy trying not to shove his balls down his throat.

The struggle is real.

Dumping my bag on my desk, I stomp across the room and into his station. He doesn’t move, just watches me with that fucking shit-eating-grin on his face and it only pisses me off more.

Shoving his chest, I glare at him. “After the ridiculous night I had last night, I actually had planned to. Do you know how much fun it is to get in and find the seat and mirrors all set for someone nearly twice my height? Oh, or to get up two hours early so you can take it in to be serviced only to find that it’s already been done! The mechanic just loved that shit,” I bite out, shoving my hand into the front pocket of his jeans.

“Whoa,” Mitch laughs, pushing my hand away. “Hands off the merchandise, woman. A simple ‘thank you’ will do just fine.”

“Give it to me,” I ground out.

Amusement dances in his brown eyes, “Well, this has escalated quickly.” Winking at me, he turns toward his light box. “You didn’t even say please or buy me dinner first.”

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