Beneath This Mask (Beneath #1)(17)


by Meghan March

I stuck the bills in my purse. “Well, I tried to give it to you, but you wouldn’t take it. So I guess that’s your problem.”

“You are so damn stubborn.”

“I’m not the one who won’t take the money.”

Simon growled. Like, actually growled. I laughed, thankful for the distraction.

“What am I going to do with you, woman?”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something.”

“Oh, I know what I want to do with you. But you’d go running for the hills if I told you.”

After this morning, that was doubtful. “Try me.”

He shifted in his seat. “I’d rather show you.” He gave me a meaningful look. One full of seductive promise.

Heat rushed through me and took up residence low in my belly and between my thighs, only to be doused when we pulled into a parking spot in front of the clinic. Jesus. My libido was inappropriate and schizophrenic.

As if he knew what I was thinking, Simon added, “We’re going to continue this conversation later.”

“Mr. Duchesne, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Please, have a seat.”

I supposed that my sitting down on the plush leather couch meant Dr. Carlson was officially my new psychiatrist. I also supposed I should be grateful that he’d agreed to see me on such short notice.

The session started as I imagined most sessions with a shrink did.

“Tell me what brings you here today, Mr. Duchesne.”

“It’s Simon, please.”

“Of course, Simon.” He waited with his pen poised over a manila file filled with sheets of paper. It was somehow comforting to know that he was still old school. The sound of someone tapping away on a keyboard while I spilled my darkest secrets would have annoyed the shit out of me.

“I have nightmares. Trouble sleeping,” I admitted.

“How long has this been going on?”

“Just over four years.”

He flipped a page, probably looking at the life story I’d been required to commit to paper before my appointment. “You were a pilot in the Navy?”

“Yes.”

“And the source of the nightmares?”

I told him much the same story that I’d told Charlie a few days before. It was easier the second time. Probably because she hadn’t judged me. Hadn’t responded with platitudes. She’d just let me get it out. I also told him about how I’d pinned her to the bed when she’d woken me in the midst of a nightmare. My stomach still knotted when I remembered how she’d carefully backed away from me afterward.

“I understand, given the high profile nature of your family, why you’ve opted not to seek treatment at the VA.”

This part made me feel like a hypocrite. Because most veterans didn’t have the financial means that I did—and would have no choice but to seek treatment at the VA. But I also didn’t want them to just write me a script for psychotropic drugs and send me on my way. I explained my reasoning, and he only nodded and continued with his questions.

“Have you told anyone this before?”

“Yes, just recently.”

“And how did you sleep after that?”

I thought about the last couple of nights, both of which I’d slept through without nightmares.

“Better.”

“I’m not saying you’re going to be healed just by talking about this with someone a time or two, but it does help. And making the decision to come here today was a big step.”

I continued to answer the questions he posed, and Dr. Carlson jotted down more notes. When the session was almost over, he laid his folder aside and studied me.

“While it is my opinion that you have PTSD, I think it’s a relatively minor case. From what you’ve told me, you function very well, and I believe the biggest block you’ve been facing is that you’ve refused to discuss your experience until recently. I’d like to see you twice a week to start, and then we’ll see how it goes from there.”

“What about what happened with my … girlfriend?” I liked referring to Charlie that way. Too much. It was way too soon, but that was where this relationship was headed, if I had anything to say about it.

“I don’t have any concern that you’d hurt someone, including her. I would suggest she not try to wake you from your nightmares, however.”

We shook hands, and I left, feeling lighter than I had in years. Hope was a heady thing. Now I just needed to track down one mouthy, tatted-up girl who’d been MIA since Tuesday.

On Friday afternoon, fifteen minutes before closing, the door to the Dirty Dog swung open with a whoosh. I looked up and almost dropped the stack of jeans I was holding.

Simon filled the doorway, his big body blocking out most of the late-afternoon sunlight.

“Well hello there, handsome,” Yve said. And he did look good. The light gray suit, crisp white shirt, and navy tie were understated yet sexy.

Simon nodded in response and looked pointedly at me. “You avoiding me?” he asked.

“What are you talking about?”

“You haven’t been answering my calls or texts.”

Oh. I’d called the clinic so many times over the last few days that I was burning through my small, monthly allotment of minutes way too fast. To conserve them, I’d kept my phone off the rest of the time. It was a double-edged sword, because with my phone off, the clinic couldn’t reach me—so I overcompensated by calling every few hours for an update. I’m pretty sure the woman who answered the phones was ready to strangle me.

“Sorry, I haven’t been keeping my phone on.”

Simon took it in stride. “Got it. I was starting to wonder what was up.”

I set the jeans down on the shelf where they belonged and arranged them into a neat stack. I had to keep my hands busy or else I might twirl my hair or something stupid like that.

He came closer, and I could smell the woodsy scent of his … cologne? Aftershave? Deodorant? Whatever it was, it made me want to rub up against the five o’clock shadow shading his jaw.

“I was hoping I could give you a ride to go visit Huck. I hear he’ll be coming home in a few days.” Warmth bloomed in my chest. He’d been checking on my dog.

I looked up at the Kit-Cat clock on the wall. It was quarter to five, and I had a shift at Voodoo starting at seven. Without a ride, I’d be cutting it close to see Huck. I’d been pedaling my ass over to the clinic every day after work, but riding through the somewhat sketchy area without Huck by my side freaked me out, especially when it started to get dark.