What Colin doesn’t know can’t hurt him.

At least that’s what I tell myself about the secrets I keep. I don’t have a choice, not if I want to keep my daughter safe. And keep him Colin safe too. There are enemies in the shadows waiting to strike from all sides. I’m holding them out with my bare hands, but it’s hard not to get crushed in the process.

And the truth has a way of coming out.

If I’m not careful, the past I’ve been working so hard to hide, the pain I’ve been fighting so long to outrun, will wipe out the man I love.

“At once gritty and tender, stark and hopeful.” ~ Cara McKenna, author of Hard Time



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Excerpt from Hard

I decided to tell Colin about the cops. After dinner.

It didn’t take a domestic goddess to realize a man was more amenable on a full stomach. Plus, spazzing out as soon as he got home just reeked of insecurity. However accurate that might have been, I wanted to show him I could deal with this. No problem. Detectives questioning me before snack time? Easy.

So when Colin came through the back door, I just called over my shoulder. “Hey, you. How was your day?” I dropped a spoonful of cookie dough onto the sheet. Look at me, so domestic.

“Not great,” he answered.

I froze, but the lump of dough slid from the spoon and landed on the tray with a plop. Colin was like Shelly. A faker. He said great when he meant fine, and fine when he meant total suckage. Not great was practically a cry for help.

I turned around. He looked like…Colin. Sturdy, steady. Dependable. Or maybe it’s just that I had depended on him so much that I wanted him to be that way for me.

I walked over to him and reached up to cup his jaw. “What’s wrong?”

“Where’s Bailey?”

“Napping.” I smiled. Physical comfort, I could give.

“We need to talk.”

My smile fell. So much talking today and none of it good.

“Is there something you didn’t tell me about Andrew?” he asked.

Alarm bells clanged. There was a lot I hadn’t told him about Andrew, actually, but I had a feeling I knew exactly which thing he was talking about. The question was, how could he know? “Like what?”

“How long did you and Andrew date?”

Shit. He knew. But how? And perhaps more importantly, how the hell could I get around this? I tried to collect my thoughts, my lies. Lying about this felt more natural than not, but I wasn’t prepared for this direct questioning out of the blue. I wasn’t prepared for all this fucking security to shatter. It was too soon. I’d had just a taste, and it was too fucking soon.

“Colin,” I tried. “Has something happened?”

“Answer the question.”

I felt panic rise in my chest, and I tamped it down. “I’m not going to answer the question until you tell me what is going on. Something had to have happened. You’re acting weird.”

“I spoke to Andrew today.”

“You did what?” Jesus Christ. Colin and Andrew together. This was a cluster fuck of the first order. Fuck, fuck, fuck. “Why would you do that? What did he say?”

“We had to find out if he was going to pursue this.”

I tensed. “What did he say?”

“He said he was sorry.” He paused. “He acted like I was going to hurt him before I even threatened him. Why would he think that, Allie?”

The room blurred. “Because…you’re a mean son of a bitch?” I hoped repeating his own words back to him would distract him. At least enough so I could breathe again. Actually the whole not breathing thing was good. Kind of dimmed the panic of the whole Colin and Andrew thing when I thought I might pass out.

“I don’t think that’s why,” he said, so far away.

“I don’t…” My voice faded, and so did I. I wasn’t sure how I’d finish that thought anyway. I don’t know why Andrew does anything. I don’t want to think about that. Don’t make me tell you. Don’t hurt me.

I was nothing good or special. I had never deserved this knight-in-shining-armor treatment. I knew it, and now Colin would too. I felt his touch on my arms, warm and sure. The next thing I knew, I was sitting down on the couch with Colin beside me.

The stillness in the room belied the way my world was crashing down around me. I hadn’t wanted this moment to come, but it had. Of course it had.

The sound of my breathing roared in my ears. Colin’s warmth seeped into my skin, but not deep enough. I wasn’t stalling. I was bracing myself.

“If I tell you,” I said, “you have to promise me something. You can’t hurt him.”

“Fuck no,” Colin said.

“I’m serious. I can’t…I can’t deal with that too. You have to promise. And you can’t ask anyone else to hurt him either. Swear it to me.”

He looked down, and I heard him swallow. I knew he wouldn’t want to. I thought maybe he’d refuse and just go beat Andrew up anyway, knowing that if I feared it, it would probably be deserved in his eyes.

“Please.” I put my hand on his arm. “Please.”

He looked up. “Okay. I promise.”

Thank God.

“I didn’t exactly tell you the truth.” What a way to start. God, I really deserved what was coming to me.

I turned to face him and pulled my leg up underneath me. Might as well be comfortable for this. There would be few enough comforts left afterward.

I told him everything. Or really I’m not sure what I told him, so lost was I in my story, my shame.

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The Chicago Underground Series

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