NICK O’Connor Brothers, #3
I’ve never liked lies. I’m an honest guy: I say exactly what I’m thinking without any filter. Without considering the consequences.
That’s why people always think I’m an idiot. Someone who only wants to have fun, who never has any problems.
Someone who never worries about the future.
I’ve made my decision.
I’ve chosen myself and left everything else behind.
But what happens when karma comes back to turn your life upside-down? When you find yourself standing in front of someone who could break down all of your walls?
The only woman capable of looking past the façade, and seeing Nick O’Connor for what he really is: a liar.
Would it make sense to keep lying? And, for the first time in my life, could I live with just being Nick?
It’s a dangerous game, a match to be played.
The last match. My match.
I’m Nick O’Connor, and the whistle’s about to blow: I’m about to face the biggest match of my life. But will I be able to fight until the end? Or will I give in, like I always do?
Because I already know I’m going to lose this challenge. We both will. Because she deserves everything. And I have nothing to give.
EXCERPT ~ PROLOGUE
Two years earlier
I roll over onto my right side, burying my head under the pillow to try and escape the morning light bursting through the window. Nothing seems to be muffling the drill that someone seems to have installed into my brain. I peel one eye open, trying to decide whether to keep sleeping or listen to the alarm bells in my stomach and run to the bathroom. Nausea creeps up my throat, suffocating me. It was a terrible decision to get drunk last night like some stupid student on their first night out.
I grumble as I roll onto my back, pulling the pillow away from my face and opening both eyes. I stare for a few seconds at the ceiling, before turning my head to the side; first right, then left. Dozens of cardboard boxes fill the almost-empty room. The only things left are the bed I’m pinned down to, the bedside table next to it, and a wardrobe in the corner, where her white dress is hanging.
Images of the night before start to take shape in my mind, making me jump out of bed and head straight for the bathroom to throw up last night’s alcohol, hopefully along with my stupidity.
I splash some cold water onto my face and dab it dry with a white towel dotted with pink flowers. I close my eyes, hoping to send myself back to sleep right there on my feet in her bathroom. Maybe, if I’m lucky enough, the flames of hell will devour me and pull me into the ground.
I let the towel fall from my face and take a look in the mirror above the sink.
Yep, still me.
The world’s biggest arsehole.
~ ~ ~
I poke my head into the kitchen, where she’s staring fixedly out the window. I clear my throat, making her turn to face me: what I see in her eyes only confirms what I already knew.
I approach the table and sit down, dropping my forehead onto its cool surface and closing my eyes again. I try to work out how this happened, how I took that wrong step; how I managed to screw up not only my own life, but someone else’s too. I can’t quite work out how I got from giving her a hand to sending everything up in flames.
“Nick.” Her voice is a whisper, but it pierces my heart.
“How the hell did this happen?” I ask weakly, without lifting my head from the table.
Lauren comes over and sits across from me, pushing a cup of coffee towards my hands.
I accept it and lift my head, taking a few sips as I try to ignore the mounting nausea. She lifts her knee up onto the chair and hugs it to her chest.
“I can’t remember, Nick. I don’t remember anything. The last thing I can remember is the taste of Tequila on my tongue.”
I nod. My memory is more or less the same.
“Then, this morning…”
“Were you dressed?” I ask her, stupidly. “When you woke up this morning, were you…?”
She shakes her head, embarrassed.
“Fuck!” I swear, letting my head fall back onto the table.
“Maybe nothing actually happened,” she tries, but I don’t believe her.
Tequila is a terrible influence.
“Jesus, how could I?”
“It was a strange situation, we were both drunk.”
“Lauren.” I lift my gaze to meet hers. “He’s my brother.”
The pain in her eyes almost makes me tear up – but now’s not the time to be a little baby, to panic and start crying. It’s time to act, to take responsibility for my actions and meet my fate.
Hell gets closer and closer every day.
“We could just pretend nothing ever happened.”
“We can’t lie.”
“It wouldn’t be lying. It would just be leaving out a few details.”
“It’s not a detail, Lauren: it’s a fucking nightmare. For me, that’s lying. I can’t do it. He deserves to know the truth.”
“He won’t be able to bear the truth.”
I sigh. “I know.”
“So why do you want to do it? Don’t you think he’s already suffering enough?”
“That’s not my fault.”
Lauren drops her knee and stands up.
“I couldn’t do it, Nick.”
I nod, closing my eyes.
“I couldn’t marry him.”
“You could’ve told him that instead of ditching him at the altar, disappearing, forcing me to come and look for you.”
Lauren steps away from me and turns to look out the window.
“I didn’t want to hurt him.”
I laugh bitterly. “Well, you really chose a good way to do it. Couldn’t you have told him a few days before? Or maybe not said ‘yes’ when he fucking proposed to you? You know what Ryan’s like. You know how much he loves you, how much he believed in you. Christ, Lauren!” I jump to my feet, losing my patience.
I pace around the kitchen, trying to find an escape route from this disaster – but it doesn’t exist. There’s no way out.
There’ll only be pain, again.
Only for him.
~ ~ ~
I gather up my stuff, phone in hand. I have at least twenty missed calls, seven of them from Ian alone.
My fingers trembling, I press the ‘call’ button and bring the phone up to my ear. He picks up immediately.
“Nick, Jesus Christ!”
“Did you really think that was a good time to disappear? With everything that was going on?”
“Ian…” My voice gets weaker and weaker.
“Where the hell are you? Mum’s panicking, no one can find Ryan and–”
“I’m at Lauren’s.”
His silence is proof that my brother knows me better than anyone.
“Don’t go anywhere,” he says. “I’m on my way.”
~ ~ ~
“I’m sorry, Nick. For everything.”
I turn and hug Lauren, holding her tight. “Will you be okay?” I ask, worried.
Lauren has been part of our family for ten years. She and Ryan were high school sweethearts, and her family lived around the corner, just a few yards from my parents’ house. Despite her horrendous decision and her shit timing, I love her like a sister and always will – even if she never marries my brother.
She nods, slowly pulling away from me.
“How about you?”
“I’ll be alright, as always.” I cast her a fake smile and leave her to go back inside.
I’m not worried about me. My one thought is him, my little brother, and how he’ll ever be able to bear this.
Lauren didn’t turn up to their wedding. Lauren doesn’t love him anymore. Lauren lied. Lauren hurt him – and I’ve just added salt to the wound.
I turn and head down the steps; but as I lift my gaze and meet the hate in his eyes, I realise that the pain will never go away.
Ryan storms towards me, his arms tense at his sides and his hands balled into fists. He glares at me, his eyes full of resentment and anger.
Lauren has taken his huge heart and smashed it into pieces. Turned it to dust.
“How the fuck could you?!”
His fist makes direct contact with my nose. I don’t fall to the ground, but I get pretty close. Ryan grabs the collar of my tuxedo. He’s still wearing his groomsman’s suit, identical to mine.
“Ryan, I didn’t—”
Another punch, this time much harder, lands straight on my jaw. I lose my balance and fall back onto the pavement. Ryan throws himself on top of me, sitting on my torso and pinning my arms to my sides with his legs. He hits me, over and over – and I let him. I let him get it all out, hoping that his anger never ends. I deserve this, and I don’t know where we can go from here.
Just as I’m pretty sure he’s going to kill me, I suddenly feel his weight lift from my body, letting me breathe again. Ian is holding Ryan’s arms back, trying to keep him still and save my life. Trying to save the remains of this family. But Ryan is strong, furious and distraught, and not even Ian’s muscles can hold him back.
He wriggles out of Ian’s grip and launches himself at me again, trying to throw his fist into my face, but Ian’s not giving in. He punches him right in the face, making him fall sideways, before sitting on him, pinning his arms down and squeezing his thighs against his waist.
All around there’s yelling: my brothers, Lauren, the neighbours who are all rushing to help, and my heart, which screams without pausing for breath. Just like my brother.
The brother I betrayed.
I close my eyes and let myself go, hoping that I’ll wake up somewhere else, and never come back.