Home > Past Due (Debt Collection #3)

Past Due (Debt Collection #3)
Author: Roxie Rivera

 

Prologue


Coming out of the haze of anesthesia, I heard harsh whispers over the rhythmic blip of machines. The memories flooded back as the anesthesia faded, and I became more aware of my surroundings.

Kidnapped.

Hit with a stun gun.

My heart racing erratically.

My chest burning.

Sweat slicking my skin.

Aston.

Running for our lives.

The Triad.

The Albanians.

Ben.

Besian.

My heart stuttering painfully.

My lungs aching.

My head pounding.

The ambulance.

Emergency surgery.

“Can you put your phone down for five damn minutes, Kim?” Spider, my stepdad, snapped.

“She’s asleep!” my mother hissed back. “What else am I supposed to do?”

“Not sit there sending dirty messages to your new online boyfriend! You better not be using Marley’s photos again! I swear to God, Kim, if you are I’ll—”

“You’ll what?” she goaded. “Huh?”

He ignored her and asked, “Where’s this one from? Nigeria? Russia?”

“Junior was from South Africa! Adrian is from Romania!”

“Oh, sure, sure he is, Kim. I’m sure Adrian is a rich Romanian businessman who needs your help moving all his money to America, right?”

“Actually, Adrian’s a crypto entrepreneur.”

“Uh-huh, I bet. I wonder how much this loser is going to scam out of you?”

“It’s not a scam if I give it willingly! Sometimes, my friends just need help!”

“Friends?” Spider laughed harshly. “Funny how your friends disappear after that Venmo clears, huh?”

“What do you care what I do with my money?”

“I wouldn’t care if it was your money, Kim. Considering you haven’t worked a goddamn day in your life—"

“You wouldn’t let me! You wanted me to stay home and take care of Marley so I did!”

“Did you, Kim? Then explain to me how you didn’t fucking handle this heart problem of hers when she was a kid!” Spider demanded angrily. “That doctor said she’s had this since she was born! It’s in her records that she needed to have it fixed!”

“They told me it wasn’t serious! I had a lot going on at the time, and the doctor told me it could wait.”

“He probably meant for a few weeks, Kim! Not twenty goddamn years!”

“She was fine! She never complained—”

“Would you have even listened if she had? Or did she feel like she had to hide how she was feeling because you always have play the victim about everything? You have to be the most selfish—”

“How dare you! I gave up everything to raise her! Everything! Selfish? Look in the fucking mirror, Spider! While you were off running drugs and guns and God only knows what else for the cartel and your club, I was home alone!”

Spider chortled. “Alone? You’re going to sit there with a straight face and pretend you weren’t bringing home every swinging dick that crossed your path?”

“Oh, because you were such a saint, huh? Judy, Vanessa, Marlene, Melissa, Luanne, Sabrina, Amanda, Dawn, Marcella—”

“You made your point!”

“That’s not even counting the one-night stands!”

“I get it! Okay!”

“And you have some nerve sitting there judging me for not being a better mother when you spent most of her childhood in and out of prison! If you cared so much, why didn’t you try harder to be there for her?”

“One of us had to make money! As fast as you spent every dime I earned, I had to keep working like a dog.”

“Work?” she scoffed. “Since when is smuggling drugs real work?”

“It’s more real than those bullshit makeup and diet pill scams you keep pushing!”

“Excuse me!” A forceful female voice interrupted their bickering. “I need you two to step out of the room.”

“She isn’t awake yet,” my mother protested.

“Well, when she does wake up, she needs to rest. We can hear you out at the desk! Get your things and go to the waiting room.”

“You can’t throw us out! I’m her mother!”

“She’s an adult. If she wants you back in here when she’s awake, I’ll send someone to get you.”

Embarrassed by their behavior, I kept my eyes closed until I heard the door click. When I opened them, I realized I wasn’t alone. The nurse who had thrown out my parents held her hand under the sanitizer dispenser mounted on the wall. As she rubbed her hands together, she turned toward me and smiled. “How you feeling, hon?”

“I’m so sorry,” I croaked out, my throat sore and dry.

“Oh, sweetheart, don’t you worry about that.” The nurse gently patted my hand. “They aren’t the first arguing parents we’ve had to toss out, and they won’t be the last.” She traced the IV line snaking out of my hand up to the pump where it disappeared. “Stress makes people act like that.”

I didn’t want to admit that they fought like that every single time they were in the same room. For as far back as I could remember, they embodied dysfunction. It was the reason I had moved out of my mother’s place as soon as I finished high school. I couldn’t handle the constant arguing and yelling and things being hurtled across the house.

“How are you feeling? On a scale of one to ten, how’s your pain?”

“A four?” I tried to judge my discomfort. “Mostly in my leg.”

“That’s normal,” she assured me. “It will be a little tender for a few days. The doctors try to be gentle when they’re sliding through that artery, but there’s always some bruising.” She opened the door on the pump and punched in a few numbers before closing it. “How about nausea? Do you feel like you might throw up?”

“No.” The thought of puking after having wires slipped through my veins and into my heart terrified me. What if I busted something open?

“If you do feel sick, let us know. It’s completely normal after anesthesia.” She took my pulse and checked her watch. “Heart rate looks good. Your breathing has normalized. Blood pressure is still a bit wonky, but we’ll get that handled. Let’s check your temp, okay?”

I opened my mouth so she could slip the probe under my tongue. A few moments later, it beeped, and she removed it with a frown. “101.7.”

“Infection?” I asked, already fearing the worst.

“Maybe,” she answered evasively. “We’ll keep an eye on it.” She ejected the temperature probe cover into the trash. “Do you want me to let your parents back in? One at a time?”

I weakly shook my head. “No.”

“Is there anyone else you would like to come sit with you?”

“My best friend went home to rest,” I explained, tiredly gesturing toward the dark sky outside the windows of the cardiac ICU. “There shouldn’t be anyone else in the waiting room for me.”

Even as I said it, I wished more than anything that there was. Not so long ago, I had been the one waiting all night and into the early morning hours to visit a patient who needed emergency surgery. Would he do the same for me? Would he sit there and wait for a chance, even if just a few moments, to come sit at my bedside? To hold my hand? To smile tenderly? To show me that he cared?

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