Gambled

By: Cristin Harber


CHAPTER ONE



Afternoon light poured through the slats of the bedroom blinds. Brock Gamble had been home alone, drunk, for days. No wife. No kids. Just him and empty bottles of Jack and Johnny.

A freight train of nausea catapulted from his soured stomach, and he stumbled into the bathroom to dry heave, which was nothing new. Collapsing to his knees, his gaze tripped over the counter. It was free of all of his wife Sarah’s necessities. He twisted his head toward the bathtub, where no one had touched the bath toys he always stepped on.

His loneliness echoed around him.

Time ticked by while he climbed further into his personal hellhole. At first, this had seemed surmountable. Sarah would come home. It would blow over once he could explain. But then a week turned into two, and she didn’t.

I miss her so damn much. And the kids… The pain was incomprehensible.

One bad decision had led to another. When his family had been kidnapped, he hadn’t thought clearly. He’d betrayed one person after the next. His family when he hadn’t utilized any of Titan Group’s black ops resources. His mentor, Jared Westin, who’d taught him everything the military hadn’t. His men, the Titan team that bled loyalty. And he’d betrayed Sugar, a friend who he had abducted and offered in exchange for the safe return of Sarah and the kids.

It hadn’t worked. Big surprise. He’d been led around by his nuts instead of making tactical, strategic choices.

Regret hit him like a brutal tidal wave. The same wave pounded him day in, day out. As it threw another mighty punch of guilt and betrayal, Brock knew he’d throw up and pass out soon. Just to have the sandman visit him with nightmares.

Finally, crawling back to the bedroom, he stood long enough to scour the room for a liquor bottle. Something, anything, as long as it was mind-numbing.

He needed another swig, so he would either die in his sleep or, if not that lucky, be able to forget whatever dream would torture him while he slept.



***

“Mommy.” Kelly stomped in, followed closely by Jessica, who stomped just like her older sister. “Jess is copying me. She won’t leave me alone. Tell her to go away.”

Jessica stomped her foot exactly like Kelly had. “Jess is copying me. She won’t leave me alone. Tell her to—”

“Girls, find Grandma. Tell her that you need something to do.” If sibling antagonism was a sign of normalcy, Sarah’s kids were going to be just fine. They’d survived an abduction and moved in with her mother, leaving her husband… who knew where her husband was. He hadn’t come home, and she’d needed to get out of their house. Everywhere she looked was a memory of a life she didn’t want anymore. She wasn’t staying under that roof, married to a man she didn’t really know. The decision was far from rational, but she’d pulled stakes and left him a note.

I never asked questions about what you did at work because I trusted you. I don’t know you, and I don’t know how you live with yourself.

It’d been harsh. She’d been emotional. And if she had to do it over again, she would have said something along the lines of I can’t wrap my head around Titan, and how people you work with might want to harm us. I was in shock. Still am. You promised that whatever you did at work, we’d be safe at home, and I feel betrayed, confused, and vulnerable. This isn’t just about me; I have to keep our children safe.

It wouldn’t have mattered what she wrote, he hadn’t been there after she’d survived a shootout. He hadn’t come home to check on her, hadn’t called about the kids. Sarah had known that he ran off to save the world while working with Titan. That he did things that were questionable, but he promised it was for the greater good.

So many questions. So many overwhelming emotions. And none of it was worth sticking around for if his livelihood endangered their children.

Kelly and Jessica ignored her suggestion to find Grandma and took turns mimicking each other. Maybe it was their age. At eight and six, Kelly and Jessica were like Teflon. Nothing seemed to stick, at least on the surface, though Sarah was sure she should start squirreling away money for therapy. No family walked out on a dad and remained unscathed.

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