Tarnished Stars : Pagosa Cliffs Book 1

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Sometimes the best intentions come with consequences we never see until it is too late.

Two years, two months later...

“I don’t want you to go, Thomas.”

“Irene, it will be fine. Most of the offensive line and half the special teams are going. It’s a kind of an end of the season team building thing.” Thomas tried to explain, but she was having none of it.

“Team building? Really? With none of the coaches?” Her look said she didn’t believe him.

“If you don’t believe me, then come with me,” he argued. “Please baby, don’t make me go alone.”

“Are the others bringing their wives?”

“I’m sure some of them are,” He answered but he wasn’t sure. The way she looked at him said he had given her the wrong answer.

“Joan isn’t going. Camilla is in Miami with her mom, and Lynette left Vinnie last week because he gave her an STD. The rest are single or divorced. All of Mike’s friends are losing their marriages because he wants all the married guys on the team to play bachelors with him, and I don’t want us to be next!” She snapped.

Thomas growled at her, then defended his friend. “Look, Mike isn’t trying to ruin their marriages. He is just trying to get over his divorce from that gold digging cow.”

Irene hissed, “You didn’t know Charlize and he’s been divorced for four years. He just playing the victim superstar to justify acting like all those rich frat boys we avoided in college. He’s got three kids he never sees, and he deserves to never see because he’s a...”

He interrupted, “What is your problem with Mike? You never even gave the guy a chance. He’s a good guy who’s had some bad luck.”

Irene interrupted him back, “No, Thomas, he isn’t a good guy and he makes his own bad luck. And it isn’t bad luck, it’s consequences.” She was shaking, she was so angry, “I was fine coming to Hawaii without T.J.. I was fine going to the house he rented for that luau until it turned into an orgy, then I wasn’t fine. I even pretended to be fine the day he took everyone on his party boat,but, in case you didn’t notice, half the girls on the boat weren’t just team fans. I think they were prostitutes and I am pretty sure a few of them were under-aged... And I really did not like the way ‘your friend’ Mike kept trying to get me to have another drink, and touch me every time you left me alone. I know what happens when a woman accepts a drink from a man who looks at her the way he was looking at me. I have taken care of too many of them when I worked the E.R..”

“F*uck Irene! Are you still on that? It was two years ago. He isn’t going to try to screw you now, he knows you’re my wife. He didn’t know who you were on New Year’s Eve and he was really drunk,” Thomas argued.

“And he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. If Nate hadn’t stopped him, he would have hurt me. He did hurt me when he slammed me into the wall and tried to kiss me.”

“He apologized.”

“Only to you.”

They were silent for a few moments, then Irene went over and put her hand over his heart, begging, “Why can’t we fly back with Bill and Sharon and the kids? Please Thomas, I don’t want you to go. Just come home. I don’t want to fight.”

“Then come with me. We’ve never been on a trip like this.” Thomas put his hand over hers.

“I have to get back to work next week and I am not going to be trapped on Magic Mike’s party yacht across the Pacific for two weeks. Mark my words, Thomas, that man is going to go to jail for rape someday,” Irene warned, pulling her hand away.

“Rape? Are you serious? Mike wouldn’t have to rape anyone, those women throw themselves at him. You’ve spent too much time in that damn E.R.. I want you to quit, it’s making you as paranoid as your sister was.” Too late he realized he shouldn’t have said that last part. “Irene, angel... I didn’t mean...”

The bathroom door slammed behind her before he could finish. Thomas groaned and scrubbed his face with his hand. Irene had always been super protective of her little sister, who had been left mentally unstable and scarred after being attacked by her ex-boyfriend Jay. She had missed a whole semester of school taking care of her sister after the attack and throughout the trial when their older sister Wanda refused to help. Ellen had been placed in a long term mental hospital, one day she had escaped from her ward and jumped from the top of the parking garage because a visitor to another patient had looked like her ex-boyfriend. Irene blamed herself for her sister’s injuries and death; she and Wanda had ignored the warning signs that Jay was abusive because he was handsome, rich, and from a good family.

He could hear her crying on the other side of the bathroom door and quietly opened it. She was sitting on the edge of the tub with her head in her hands.

Thomas knelt in front of her. “I’m sorry, baby. You... You don’t have to go, but if I am going to take Bill’s place next year as offensive line captain, I need to spend time with my guys.”

She wiped her eyes. “Just promise me you won’t... you won’t cheat on me. My father did that to Mama and I.. I couldn’t... bare it.”

He tipped her chin up. “I promise, I would never cheat on you. Vinnie was an idiot, that’s why we call him Meathead. And Luke... well, he knows Camilla was the best thing that ever happened to him. He is supposed to be getting on a plane to Miami right now. So don’t worry, we all know Mike has problems. I’m just trying to be a good friend. You and Thomas Junior are my world. Who knows, maybe with my bonus we can buy a nice boat and call it Tank loves NeNe.”

She scowled at the nickname her brother had always called her, “You can have a boat for the bath tub, first we have to pay off the house and fill up T.J.’s college fund.”

“You never let me have any fun,” He pouted so boyishly, it made her laugh.

“You’re spoiled enough.” She ran her fingers through his blonde hair, it was just long enough to start to curl. She looked sad and afraid at the same time. “You promise?” Her voice was a fearful whisper.

Thomas took her hands and kissed them, vowing. “I would never be fool enough cheat on the most beautiful woman in the world. Let them all be jealous, you’re mine and I’ll never want another.”

“Come on, Tank, Meathead!” A taunting Mike yelled at Thomas and Vinnie as they sprinted down the dock toward the ‘No Regrets’. Tank made the jump to the boat but Meathead hit the water. Laughing, Tank tossed his bag of ice onto the deck where it exploded around the feet of a dozen giggling girls and laughing football players. He turned and offered Meathead his hand and pulled him out of the water, Luke helped them over the rail.

“I can’t believe you two actually went to get bags of ice, the kitchen has everything. It’s nicer than the one in my house.” Luke slurred, his glazed eyes showed he was already drunk and it wasn’t even 10AM.

“Are you fu*king kidding? Mike said the ice maker broke.” Vinnie demanded and Tank laughed.

“They just wanted to see how fast you could run, Meathead,” Tank announced and dodged the massive fist thrown at his shoulder.

“You’re an ass, Tank! Not all of us run 10Ks for fun.” Vinnie snarled but smiled down at the redhead hugging him, offering a beer.

Tank could almost hear Irene declaring that her breast were as fake as her hair color. They had made it to Cabo San Lucas this morning. A new group of girls had come on board to party with the NFL players but Tank wasn’t interested, he was getting on a plane first thing tomorrow. They had been at sea a lot longer than he had thought they would be, and he wanted to get home to his family. He spent the day with Luke, talking about family, and how important it was, the same way Bill had talked to him his first year.

As he sat on the upper deck with Mike drinking Sangria and watching the sunset, they discussed about the upcoming early training camp and the changes coming to the team. He never remembered going back to his room.

Tank woke up spooning Irene, he loved the way her braids smelled of coconut oil. He had been away for too long. He felt hungover, so he buried his face in her braids and fell back asleep. A while later he felt her get up and leave, so he rolled over. Last night had felt so good, but she probably had to go to work and take T.J. to preschool. Sighing as he sank deeper into sleep, he was looking forward to the next few months of playing Mr. Mom. It was so good to be home, like he was being rocked to sleep in his bed.

“Dammit Tank! Get up! If you miss your plane, your bi*tch wife will kill me for sure,” Mike yelled at him.

Tank sat straight up, confused and hungover. He fell backwards. “Gawd, what the hell was in that sangria last night, I thought I was already home. Now I just want to die.”

“Hey man, you had the best time you’ve had in three weeks last night. It was good to see you just loosen up and relax. But seriously you gotta go. I have a car waiting to take you and Luke to the airport.” Mike grinned at him. “Some of the other guys already headed there to find flights out.”

Tank sat up and was surprised that he was naked under the sheets. “Just let me grab a shower, I’m packed.” He rubbed his head. “I didn’t do anything stupid last night, did I?”

Mike shrugged, “Nothing I wouldn’t have done.”

Tank eyed Mike as he wrapped the sheet around himself. “Seriously?”

“Nah, man, I’m just kidding, you just got chill and hung out with me and my friend. Hurry up, I’ll get Luke up so you can go. I don’t want you wife to have another reason to hate me, and she will if you miss your plane.” Mike shut the door a little too loudly for Tank’s head.

In the shower, Tank felt like he could still smell Irene’s hair oil, then suddenly his stomach flipped and he vomited around his feet. As he finished heaving, he vowed he would never drink again. He dressed quickly and hurried to catch the cab. Mike waved goodbye from the upper deck, yet another beautiful woman on his arm. She looked a little like Irene but Tank couldn’t tell what her hair looked like under the headscarf she wore. He just shook his head as he waved. Mike had dated five different women who had the same skin tone as Irene, he wanted what Tank had and always told Tank how lucky he was to have such a beautiful, loving wife. It made Tank wish that Mike would find a nice woman and settle down. Luke looked as bad as Tank felt as the taxi drove them to the airport.

Tank’s headache had mostly subsided when they landed in Houston. He walked Luke to the gate for his transfer to Miami. They man-hugged and Luke boarded, then Tank took a cab home. He was making dinner when Irene walked in with Thomas Junior.

“Daddy! Mommy said you weren’t coming back.” His son threw his arms around Thomas who looked at Irene, he was confused.

“No, I will always come home to you, Lil’ Man.” Thomas hugged his son who was crying.

“T.J., go put your backpack away and wash up for dinner,” Irene said coldly.

As soon as their son was out of earshot, Thomas snapped at Irene, “Whatthafuk, Irene! Why the hell would you tell him something like that?”

“Language, Thomas.” She snapped. “I told him the truth. I didn’t think you were coming back. You’ve been gone almost a month, no calls, no text, nothing! And then you just waltz in here like nothing is wrong! Like you haven’t been out at sea partying for a month with your whore mongering wide receiver.”

“It was 22 days, and we hit weather. I had Vinnie text you that my phone got washed overboard. I haven’t been partying, half my time was spent trying to talk Luke into fighting for his marriage with Camilla like Bill asked me too, she’s pregnant.” Tank snapped. “And begging Vinnie not to throw himself overboard.”

“I know she’s pregnant, I knew before she did. And I never got any text from Vinne, or Mike, or you, or anyone. All I saw was the news at noon that the ‘No Regrets’ got raided by Mexican authorities and I thought you were in jail with the rest of them.” Irene snapped.

“Angel, I...”

“Don’t call me that. You cheater.” Irene screamed at him.

Thomas took a step back, “I promised I wouldn’t cheat on you and I didn’t. I bought the first available ticket home as soon as we hit shore. I got on a plane first thing this morning with Luke. Please, Irene. Where is this coming from?”

Irene sobbed into her hand and turned her back on him. “It has been all over the news. They think there was an under-aged girl who ran away from Hawaii on Mike’s boat, and then they had a press release that several of the women suspect to be onboard were known prostitutes. The authorities have been looking for the boat. It wouldn’t answer radio calls and so they were afraid something bad had happened. There are calls for the commissioner to suspend everyone on board if the investigation says it is true.”

Thomas’ jaw dropped. “Irene, I don’t know about any of those women being prostitutes, but they all got off the boat and flew back to Hawaii yesterday. Mike, Luke, and Vinnie brought back some new women they met at a restaurant. There was a party last night, but Mike and I just sat and talked about life after Luke went to bed. Luke was upset because we couldn’t get a flight to the states yesterday because they were booked up. So we went first thing. I don’t know anything about not answering the radio calls or an investigation or under-aged prostitutes, I swear.”

Before Irene could respond the phone rang, and she answered it. She turned, handed it him to the phone and he caught her arm, keeping her near him as he listed to his GM demanding he come straight to his house first thing in the morning. After hanging up, he pulled her into a hug. She stood stiffly, not hugging him back.

“Irene, I swear by all that is holy, I just wanted to get home to you. You were right, I shouldn’t have gone. I’m sorry. I am so sorry. I didn’t cheat on you, I would never do that. I wanted to come home so badly yesterday that I dreamed I was already home and sleeping next to you. I missed you so much. You don’t know.” He turned her face up toward his and wiped away her tears.

“I would never do to you what your father did to your mother, what Vinnie did to Lynette and the kids. I... I watched him drinking hard and going off with half the girls on the boat and always he was back in an hour or two, drinking again and cursing himself. I watched my right guard self-destruct on this trip, and I couldn’t help him. I don’t ever want to lose you the way he lost Lynette because I know I’d do the same thing. You are my life and the only one I will ever love. You were right... I shouldn’t have gone with Mike. You were right, he makes bad choices, but I saw that he is hurting and doesn’t know how to stop. I’m glad I was there for him, and for Luke too, but... But as soon as we were a day from port, I knew I should have gone with you. I was a fool.”

He could only hope she believed him, as she put her forehead on his shoulder and cried her heart out.

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