Cracks in the Armor

Clipped Wings - 2.5

Helena Hunting

Kat, thank you, friend. You’re an inspiration.


Filets, you are an amazing group of women. I’m so proud to be one of you.

Nina, I’m not sure how I would have gotten through this without you. You deserve a superhero cape. With sequins.

Alice, thank you for having faith in my words and for getting them into the right hands.

Micki, you are fabulous. I’m so lucky to have made my debut in the publishing world with your guidance. Tatiana, Diana, Marla, and the rest of the behind-the-scenes Gallery team, it’s been a pleasure.

Alex, as always, thank you endlessly for your willingness to hash things out, to push me and in turn my characters, and for being such an awesome friend.

Johnny B, one day I’ll use the Oxford comma correctly; until then, your red pen can pretty up my pages.

Deb, you are phenomenal. Thank you for your encouragement and for believing in me, just like I believe in you.

WC Crew—thanks for all the laughs and the tears and the hugs and distractions. And the cupcakes. I’m so fortunate to have people like you in my life.

Brooks, there were some unexpected potholes in the road, but we made it!

To the bloggers, a remarkable community who share my passion for the written word. Thank you to all of you who have read, reviewed, and jumped on the tour. Getting to know you has been a blast!

Heather Maven, massive love to you, your generosity astounds and humbles me.

Fandom friends, it was your positive encouragement and unwavering support that helped give me the courage to keep writing.

To my family, who taught me to always have a fall-back plan—you gave me the courage to take the leap and the wings to fly.

Husband, I adore you. You have the patience of a saint. Thank you for catching all the curve balls.


I shot Sarah a text message, hoping she’d get back to me if she wasn’t at work. She’d been called in on short notice—again. It’d been hit and miss with her lately, with more misses than hits. Other than some brief stop-ins at Inked Armor, the tattoo place where I worked, I hadn’t seen much of her in the past two weeks.

“Everything cool?” Jamie asked as he pulled onto our friend Hayden’s street.

“Cool as it can be, I guess.” I returned my phone to my pocket.

“Lisa told me Sarah had to bow out again,” he said.

“Yeah. That boss of hers keeps calling her in.”

“Sorry¸ man.”

I shrugged. “It is what it is.”

Sarah had planned to go to yoga with Lisa and Tenley, but that was off the table now, thanks to work. Jamie knew how I felt about Sarah’s new job at The Sanctuary. So did Sarah. After all the shit that went down after the trial, she traded one strip club for another. She was the one with tuition loans, not me, and tips from The Sanctuary were too good for her to pass up. It sucked, but there wasn’t much I could do since I couldn’t afford to take on her debt.

I pointed through the windshield. “It’s on the left, number eleven-eleven.”

Jamie pulled into the driveway and parked, then he gaped at the two-story home with its attached double-car garage. “Wow! This is unreal.”

“Seeing H in a place like this makes me believe anything is possible.”

“Almost anything,” Jamie said.

“You think those two will ever make it official?”

“You mean get married?”


“I doubt it. Not with what they’ve been through.” He cut the engine and opened the door.

Hayden leaned against the trunk of his Camaro, phone in hand, smirk in place. He had to be texting his girlfriend, Tenley.

I took in the manicured lawn and the flower beds that lined the stone walkway leading to the front entrance, complete with blooming planters. It was the kind of house I’d find on the cover of some home reno magazine. Hayden didn’t do things half-assed, which had always been one of his biggest issues. He was all in, all the time. It seemed to be working for him now, though, since his recent choices weren’t damaging, like some he’d made in the past.

I followed Jamie up the driveway, and Hayden ushered us into the house through the garage. It led into a huge mud room that was insanely spotless. To the right was a closet. He opened the doors to reveal a collection of shoes and jackets. Winter coats were hung with his on the right and Tee’s on the left. Hayden’s shoes were lined up in perfect, evenly spaced rows. Tenley’s were less organized.

“You can put your shoes in here.” Hayden pointed to a mat on the floor.

Jamie arranged his all neat-like beside Tenley’s. I kicked mine off and tossed them in the closet, where they landed on their sides. Hayden glanced at them, a muscle working in his jaw as his fingers twitched, but he didn’t rearrange them like I expected. Instead, he shot me an irritated look, like he knew I’d done it on purpose, and motioned for us to follow him down the hall. It was a serious improvement over his past reactions. Tee had certainly mellowed him out.

The light came on as soon as we entered the kitchen, and I blinked against the brightness of the overhead track lighting. I got an eyeful of dark wood cabinets, granite counters, and a brushed steel backsplash. Modern, with a hint of classic style. It was totally Hayden. Now, I wasn’t much of a cook. I could screw up frozen pizza if given the opportunity, but even I could appreciate the awesomeness of Hayden’s kitchen.

Jamie let out a low whistle. “Impressive.”

“F’real,” I said in agreement.

“Thanks. I like it.” He smiled, something we hadn’t seen as much of in the past few months.

I’d been to Hayden’s digs before the reno. Some rooms had been taken down to studs. The finished product was a testament to the changes Hayden and Nate had made. Not just in the house, but in his life as well. After Tenley went back to Arden Hills, Hayden had been desperate for a way to keep himself from falling off the deep end again, so when he wasn’t at Inked Armor, or at Tee’s apartment pining for her, he’d put time in here.

He and Tee had moved in only a few weeks ago, and Hayden got shifty when things weren’t up to his standard of tidiness. As a result, we weren’t allowed to come by until the house was set up. He’d been a bitch to work with lately because of it. All the chaos in his personal space made him a serious pain in the ass. They’d finally unpacked enough for us to get an invite over.

Hayden walked around the massive granite-topped island, frowning as he moved the fruit bowl in the center an inch to the left. I took in the unlimited cupboard space. I had a total of six cabinets in my kitchen.

“Where’s your fridge? I asked, searching for a stainless steel industrial-sized monster.

“Check this out.” Hayden’s grin widened as he opened what looked like a pantry cupboard to expose the ridiculously well-organized interior of a fridge.

“Nice,” Jamie said with approval.

Hayden slid open a drawer beneath the upper cabinet of the fridge and retrieved three beers. Popping the tops, he passed one to Jamie and then to me. We clinked before the first swig. In his extensive renos, Hayden hadn’t cheaped out on anything; he had an inheritance in an unknown amount to work with. His parents had been murdered, and he’d inherited everything. Not that it made the loss any easier on Hayden. It had messed him up pretty good for a long time.

He managed better now, no longer flushing his money down the toilet like he had when they first died. I was proud of him for what he’d done with the place, and how far he’d come in the past year. He definitely deserved what he had. But sometimes I wished some of that good shit would happen to me.

If I was honest—which I wouldn’t be with him—it was hard not to be jealous. I hadn’t dealt with any of the extremes he had; not the severe losses or the huge gains—like finding Tee had been for him. I just had a steady supply of crappy, followed by periods of mediocrity. Sarah was the best thing that had come my way in years, but she worked so much I didn’t see her often. Being alone was worse, though. Especially now that Hayden couldn’t be my wingman anymore.

“You want the full tour?” Hayden asked once he’d shown us all the cool stuff in his kitchen.

“Sure thing,” Jamie said, and I nodded, going along for the ride.

The main floor was open concept. The dining room was to the left of the kitchen, the living room straight ahead. Hayden’s massive flat-screen hung on one wall.

“I’ll need you to take a look at that later.” Hayden gestured to the entertainment system below it.

I paused as we passed, checking out the pile of cords shoved between the unit and the wall. “What’s going on there?”

Hayden didn’t so much as glance in the direction of the TV, but I could see that jaw working again. “Tenley was trying to be helpful. Come on.”

Jamie and I exchanged a glance, but neither of us said a word. It must have been driving Hayden mental. That he’d waited this long before he asked me to fix it showed exactly how important Tenley was.

We followed him upstairs. There were two spare bedrooms, fully outfitted with queen-sized beds. Some of the decorative elements were clearly a product of Tee’s involvement. Aside from some gradient of black to white, the only colors I’d ever seen in Hayden’s condo were dark blue and red. Any deviation from them had to be Tee’s picks.

Hayden’s master bedroom was so big that it dwarfed the massive, solid wood king-sized bed frame. TK, their little orange furball, was curled up in the middle of the pillows. She lifted her head at the disturbance, mewed, and then tucked her face under a paw.