Excerpts

** EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT FOR BOOK ONE IN THE SEASONS SERIES: WINTER (JAX & SKY) **

Chapter One

Jackson

“Jax, you got time to fit someone in? Just a quick script. Few minutes tops.” No I didn’t have any goddamn time. “I already said you’d do it.” You have got to be fucking kidding me. I looked away from the drawing I was doing for a client, frustrated. Reed was standing by the door, smirking. I didn’t like it. He wasn’t the one who scheduled people in. Rina did. And she didn’t come back here for a reason. She didn’t think the person or the tattoo was worth my time.

From Reed’s smirk I knew he was fucking with me.

And I didn’t have the time or the patience.

“I told him not to bother you.” Rina came up behind Reed and pushed him out of her way. “She could have someone else do her ink if she’s serious. Which I don’t think she is. She doesn’t appear to have any ink on her. She doesn’t look the type. Too prim and proper.” Rina turned away from me and looked at Reed. “Hundred bucks says if he does it, she bolts within two minutes of sitting in his chair.”

“Two hundred says that he will, and that she won’t.” Reed held his hand out to Rina to shake. She rolled her icy blue eyes and swatted his hand away. She turned back to me shaking her head. “She’s not worth your time, J.” She turned back to Reed. “Or your money.” Rina gave us each a pointed look before she went out the door.

I looked back at Reed. He was still smirking.

His look. Her words. Now I had to see who they were talking about.

I got up, and Reed started to chuckle before he turned and followed Rina out front. I put the drawing away for my next client and went to the waiting area.

And I knew who my newest client was without having to be told.

And Rina was right.

The beauty in front of me didn’t want a tattoo. I didn’t know what the hell she wanted. But it sure as hell wasn’t ink.

She didn’t belong here. Not with her Alice in Wonderland blonde hair, her sapphire-blue eyes, the creamy, unblemished, and inkless skin, or the flowery sundress that stood out in a sea of blacks and grays, rips and holes.

This angel was in the wrong place. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind.

I made my way towards her, and as I got near, I saw her unique eyes widen. I knew what she was seeing: two full sleeves of tattoos, a lip piercing, ear piercings, frosty eyes that have been compared to winter’s chaos. I knew that’s what made her eyes widen. What made them darken even more and her cheeks heat was everything else she was finally seeing past the tattoos, and the piercings, and the eyes – the dimples that were now carved into my cheeks with my hesitant smile, the messy hair that conjured sex and a woman’s hands running through it, gripping on, the black tee that hugged my muscles and showcased my ink, the faded jeans that were worn and frayed in all the right places and cupped and showcased the even better ones.

My hesitant smile turned into a full-blown grin as her blush deepened.

I knew none of this was a good idea. But she sure was gorgeous with that flush. A flush that was because of me.

“Can I help you?” I asked her when I was standing toe-to-toe with her. I knew my voice was gruff; my thoughts were fucking wicked. She was breathtaking up close. She might have been the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen some beauties.

And if I wasn’t sure about that, there was definitely one thing I was sure of. I knew I was right. She was definitely in the wrong place. She didn’t belong here. Just like she definitely didn’t belong in my head where visions of her naked and under me were starting to take center stage.

I needed to find out how serious she was and either give her the tattoo she wanted or get her the hell out. It’s been no more than five minutes and she was already having an effect on me. And not in a good way. She wasn’t one night stand material. She wasn’t someone you screwed for a weekend or a month and then got rid of. She was the forever kind of girl. And I had no room in my life for that.

“I need a tattoo.” The beauty tilted her head up to look at me as she spoke. She was definitely small. But she wasn’t small in all the right places. No, in those places, she was fucking perfect.

And I needed to cut off that train of thought quick. It’s already led me too far down a path I didn’t want to go. I looked away from her, but quickly looked back after my eyes landed on Reed. The fucker knew what would happen the moment I saw her.

Blonde.

Blue-eyed.

Sweet.

Innocent.

But so unbelievably gorgeous and magnetic that you forgot the rest.

He knew I would be attracted to her. But he also knew I stayed away from all women who look like her. Always. We’ve been best-friends since we were five. He knew all about Macey. Macey, with her blonde hair and blue eyes. The girl who tore up my heart and nearly killed me.

I loved blue-eyed blondes. Or at least I loved one. But I’ve stayed away from them. All of them. Far away. So what the hell was he trying to pull? He could’ve taken her. But he didn’t. He decided to fuck with me instead.

Rina knew better. She knew I didn’t deal with blonde, blue-eyed women. I only had to tell her once and that was it. It was a fucked up rule, but I was the owner, and what I say goes. For her and everyone else.

But fucking Reed.

I couldn’t turn her away. Not after I saw her. Not after I heard her voice. Not after I felt what I felt just by standing so close.

But I should.

Macey Reynolds, and what happened, nearly killed me.

This girl was never getting a chance.

I looked at Reed again. He really did know. He knew too much. So why the hell was he doing this to me? I’d never do this to him. And I’ve had the chance. To say her name. To bring her up. The woman he wants to forget. And I haven’t. I let her go like he wanted. But he couldn’t do the same for me and not have me thinking about Macey?

“Let’s go.” I grabbed the woman’s hand and pulled her behind me to my room with Reed’s laugh following in our wake.

Ow! What was that for?” Reed said loudly before I closed the door. I knew Rina must have done something to him. At least she was looking out for me. While my best-friend just hung me out to dry.

I turned and looked at – what the hell was her name?

I held out my hand to introduce myself to her. No matter how I felt right now, I was a professional. I owned this place. Not only that, but I was one of the best tattoo artists in the state. My client list was exclusive. My time was money. I was in high-demand. I had to turn people away all the time. I could have turned her away. But I didn’t. And now that she was in my sanctuary, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.

“Jackson Raines.” I waited for her to take my hand. And then she did. I felt the zing zip through me. I wasn’t shocked by it. I expected to feel something. I knew there was going to be something from the moment I laid eyes on her. “You can call me Jax.”

She shook my hand. “I’m Sky.”

Sky.

I kind of hated that I loved it. It suited her. Pretty. Unique. Sweet. Sexy. Vast.

“First tattoo, Sky?” Her name sounded perfect in my head, but it didn’t hold a candle to how it sounded rolling off my tongue.

“Yes.” She tucked a long strand of her golden hair behind her ear. My gaze was drawn to the trio of holes and the tiny diamonds that winked in each ear. They looked real. Everything about her looked real. And sincere. Flawless.

I couldn’t understand why someone like her wanted to change that.

I loved tattoos. They were my life. My livelihood. My passion.

But they weren’t hers. I could see it clear as day.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” I looked deep into her eyes searching for doubt, hesitation, fear. I didn’t see any of it. Which was baffling to me. It just didn’t fit.

“I’m sure, Jax.” I nearly groaned out loud at the way she said my name. I wanted to hear her say it again. I wanted to hear her scream it in ecstasy.

I wish she never said it at all.

I nodded my head at her and turned away. Looking into her eyes was making things worse. I needed this over, quick. She was burying herself under my skin. Thoughts of her were clouding my mind. And my fucking judgement. Before I knew it she’d be taking over my heart. And last time that happened I barely got it back. It’s never been the same.

But it started out the same way. With a look, a touch, a thought. Back then I was a teenager and knew nothing. Now I know everything. I know what this could lead to. What could happen. I wanted no part of it.

I got my tools set up and told her to sit. “Script right?”

I was curious about what she’d want. Someone like her, I was thinking a book quote. Maybe some Shakespeare, or something like it. Something poetic. Profound. Whimsical.

“Yes.” Sky sounded determined, confident.

Fine.

If this is what she wanted, I’d give it to her. And then I’d get rid of her. I had to.

There were a lot of details I needed to hammer out with her that way I didn’t mess up and ruin her beautiful body for the rest of her life, but there was something I wanted to know first.

I needed to know what she wanted inked on her – what words made her come here when she didn’t seem the type. When I would bet almost anything that this is something she really didn’t want even though she seemed steadfast in her decision.

“What words do you want?”

Shakespeare.

Fitzgerald.

Hemingway.

Mitchell.

Lee.

Poe.

Angelou.

Whitman.

Tennyson.

Harry-freaking-Potter.

What was it going to be? What earth-shattering, mind-bending, life-affirming quote would be inked on her skin as a constant reminder of how she was feeling right now for the rest of her life?

I waited. But Sky didn’t answer me. I looked over my shoulder at her. Her eyes met mine, defiant. I turned around to face her. I let her emotions slam into me. I felt my own heighten.

Why was she defiant? What was I missing? What was I feeling?

“What words?”

Her dark blue eyes flashed hot. She was angry. But I knew there was more. It felt like more.

“Fuck love.”

Her words were hard. Bitter. They matched her eyes.

She seemed too sweet and innocent to be so jaded and cold.

She seemed too young and inexperienced to have felt the depths and the meaning of those words that were uttered with such a complete and heartbreakingly accurate accounting of what a betrayal that emotion can be.

Her words. Her look. Her emotions.

I needed to make sure.

“What did you just say?”

She tilted her head up, she raised her chin in the air, and she narrowed her eyes.

The angel had a bit of the devil inside her right then.

She seemed possessed. Obsessed.

She wanted the words.

She felt them.

Fuck. Love.

___________________________________________________________________________

***Excerpt for Unbreakable Beauty***

Prologue

Ryan

Oh, God! Harder. Please.”

I pushed into her harder. Faster. I would deny her nothing. I would give her anything and everything she asked for. And then I would give her more. Even this.

I looked deeply into the moss-green eyes that captured me so completely months ago. Eyes that dared me to do things I should never want to do. Not with her. Her eyes blazed at me, for me, only for me. Beckoning me, bewitching me, begging me. Eyes that have seen things that they should’ve never seen, and yet they still held such life, such thirst for adventure – they held such a want for passion, for love.

How could I resist?

Especially when it was something I wanted, something I yearned for, something I bent for, bled for, broke for. I knew it was going to damn me to Hell for all eternity, but I couldn’t resist. How could I resist the temptation? The beauty – her beauty? How could I resist her and her openness, her desire, her need, her love? The bit of Heaven before the fall? I would gladly accept the inferno that this was going to unleash. I’d accept the wrath and meet my fate. I couldn’t deny this. Her. Myself. I tried. God knows I tried. But I couldn’t anymore. I wouldn’t. So I thrust into her harder, faster. I took her mouth the same way I took her body – deep, hard, sinful, over. I was claiming her and making her mine, the same way she had done to me long ago.

I heard the moan at the back of her throat at the same time I felt her walls clenching around me. I broke our kiss and looked at her face, still pumping deep, still giving her everything she’s asked of me. She was bathed in pleasure, in bliss.

Her eyes were closed, but I needed to see.

This first time together, her first time, I needed to see her go over. I needed to see everything. “Look at me, Beth.” Her eyelids fluttered open after a few seconds. Her eyes were gleaming and glittering, then they went hazy and hot.

A few seconds before I spilled myself inside of her I thought, I am doing this to her. I’m making her plead, I’m making her eyes turn molten and flame. I’m making her lose control, I’m making her want more. I’m making her burn and ache. I’m giving her that first taste of complete and total surrender, utter ecstasy, and helpless madness.

I’m filling her up and leaving her changed forever.

I’m making her want everything, with me, and only me. I’m all she wants, all she needs, all she sees, all she’ll ever feel and taste, all she’ll ever desire and crave.

All she will ever know.

And then I saw it. The moment it happened, I saw it. And I felt it. She was coming undone. And so was I.

“Ry–” Beth breathed my name on a broken cry. Her breathtaking eyes were locked onto mine but I knew she wasn’t seeing me, because she was shooting to the heavens and she was taking me with her.

I knew even before this moment that I have never felt like this before, with anyone, and I knew that I never would again. Only with her.

It would only ever be her.

What she does to me – what we’re doing now – I would feel the burn, the scorching hell. It would be epic and deserved for what I just took. But I would regret nothing. Because with her now – with her always – she makes me see that things can be beautiful, and this right here – right now – is the most beautiful of all.

“Beth,” I groaned.

Into the silence of my bedroom.

When I groaned her name it wasn’t just in my dreams, it was what woke me up. It was what woke me up for months now. The same goddamn dream because that’s all there was. That’s all there would ever be. Elizabeth Masters was not for me. Beth was not mine. She couldn’t be. She wouldn’t be.

Beth got under my skin, messed with my mind, she got her tiny hands on my heart, and she buried herself deep into my soul. She didn’t just have my heart in her grasp, or my mind revolving around her always. She owned all of it. All of me.

It was hers. I was hers. And I knew it. But she didn’t. And she wouldn’t.

___________________________________________________________________________

Excerpt for Changed Beauty

Prologue

“Aiden!”

Aiden!

She screamed at me. She screamed for me.

I heard her struggling behind me, trying to get loose from the arms that were banded around her, but I knew he was too strong. He would never let her go. She wouldn’t be able to break free from him. And though I hated the sounds that she was making because of me, I resolved myself to be okay with them.

I didn’t want her to be a part of this. But she was. She was a part of what was happening.

I didn’t want her broken any more than she had been already, I didn’t want her in any more pain, but this needed to be done.

I didn’t want her to be afraid again, I didn’t want her to be afraid of me, but I couldn’t stop. I wouldn’t.

She needed to stay away from this because I was not stopping until it was finished. Until it was done. Until either he, or I, was done.

Her voice was getting hoarse, cracking, because she had been screaming my name over and over again.

She was breaking my heart.

Every time she screamed my name, every time she thrashed around and I heard her struggling, every time she choked on a sob trying to catch her breath it felt like her hands were inside of my chest tearing off little pieces of my heart that she had single-handedly put back together over the past few months.

She was ripping me to shreds after she had sewn me together.

The way she screamed –

Didn’t she understand I was doing this for her?

All of it –

It was for her.

And it was for me.

She pleaded, she begged, she –

But there was nothing I could do. Nothing.

I couldn’t stop what was happening. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t.

Punch after punch. Blood flying everywhere. Shouts to stop. Shouts telling me that it was over.

It wasn’t over. Not until I said so.

Punch after punch. Cries. Pleas. Whimpers.

After a while I heard Allie whisper my name through the chaos and the madness, but barely. Her soft plea in that moment did more damage to my heart then her screams ever could. It was all she could manage to do anymore.

She was done. And now so was I.

You’re killing him. Please stop. Please,” she breathed out one last time.

But the destruction wasn’t stopping because of her final words. It had already ended. I was done.

When I had heard her yelling before, begging him to stop, it killed me that I couldn’t do anything to help her.

Someone was hurting her. She needed me. It was my job to protect her.

I wouldn’t let anything more happen to her.

I promised her –

Not again. Never again. I loved her. She was mine.

But I did hurt her. I couldn’t protect her from any of this. I couldn’t protect her from what had happened. I couldn’t even protect her from the threats thrown her way. The promises that were made good on.

I couldn’t protect her from the hands that had been all over her. I couldn’t get rid of the screams that came from her. I couldn’t ignore all the tears that she shed. I couldn’t un-spill all the blood that was everywhere. Hers. His. Mine.

The sounds of breaking and shattering that would echo in her mind forever would always be a reminder of what had happened here today.

The pleas that went unanswered, my help that came too late, the knowledge of what had happened and what almost happened would always taunt, and burn, and fester.

The aftermath that always came after something like this would be never-ending, and all-consuming.

The devastation of tonight would be felt bone-deep. The changing that I didn’t want to happen for her, for us, would happen. It already did. It was all happening for me, to me, again.

And it had already happened to her.

I saw it in her eyes when I looked up before. She’d already changed. Like me. Except this time, it was so much worse. This time I was even more broken after the chaos. Because this time I was in love with the person who I just had a part in breaking wide open.

I didn’t just love her. I was in love with her.

I ached for her.

I bent for her.

I bled for her.

I changed for her.

I broke and shattered for her.

I breathed for her.

I lived for her.

I existed for her.

I would die for her.

And I would kill for her.

I thought I had been broken before. I thought I had lived through the worst. But I was nothing compared to this.

This … feeling?

It wasn’t broken. It wasn’t hurt. It wasn’t damaged.

It was shattered. It was decimated. It was obliterated.

I was barely able to move. I was barely able to find the strength to turn my head and look at her.

But then I did.

I saw the look in her eyes again, and I knew that everything was all over.

It was all finally done.

I was done.

Her eyes were lifeless when they looked into mine.

And it was fitting … Because I felt lifeless too.

 

Chapter One

 Aiden

 

“Daddy!”

“Stop it, Cal!”

“No! Please!”

“Stop it! No more!”

Screams, crying, breaking glass, and banging, finally made its way through the haze of sleep.

Running – I was running out of my bedroom and into our destroyed living room.

My eyes saw the broken, they saw the bleeding, they saw the bruises, and they also saw the one person who I loved more than anything in my entire life cowering on the floor beaten, battered, and defeated by the man I hated the most.

I promised my sister it would never happen again.

I swore to her.

But it did.

And I let it.

I fell asleep knowing our father wasn’t home yet, which meant he was drinking. I knew when he came home he would be looking for a punching bag to let all of his anger, frustration, disgustingness – his evilness out on.

I knew he would be looking for someone to tear down. To hurt. To destroy. To conquer.

I hated being that person, but it was better than a sister who never deserved anything but hugs, happiness, and love. It was even better than a mother who would never leave and continued to let all of the abuse happen to her children and herself.

I loved my mother – but I also hated her.

I hated her for the part that she played in all of it. But I did love her, and I accepted what should have been happening to me at the very moment it was happening to them, because she refused to leave and take us with her.

I accepted what should be happening to me, but was happening to them, because I fell asleep.

It wasn’t happening to me, but it was happening to my beautiful younger sister.

Again.

The first time I saw her bruised and bleeding, I knew it was happening to her too.

I thought it had only been happening to me and my mom.

I thought Lizzy was safe from his words, his hands, all forms of his violence.

But I was wrong.

From that day forward though, it never happened again. I vowed to her and myself that it would never, ever, happen again.

But it did.

Just now.

For years I had stepped in for her even though she begged me not to.

She pleaded with me that it was okay, that she was strong enough, that she could take it. That I needed to give myself time to heal and recover. That she could deal with our father’s brutality just like I did. But I would not let it happen to her ever again. Not her. Never her.

But I did let it happen.

I’d gone and fucked up again.

The damage of what I’d done was right in front of me, and I saw and felt a red haze cloud my eyes and my judgment because of it.

I moved towards my father who was bent over my sister, his fist was raised, he was ready to strike her again. And I knew it was again because I saw her busted lip, I saw her bleeding nose, I saw her swollen eyes. I saw the way that Lizzy was clutching her left arm to her body.

As I neared him I grabbed him from behind, I jerked him around, and I started wailing on him the same way he wailed on me for years. I punched him over and over the way he did to me, the way he did to my mom, the way he had just done to my sister.

I wasn’t a scared boy anymore, or a young teen trying to do what I thought was right for his pathetic excuse of a family. I was finally doing what I knew to be right for myself and Lizzy, I was doing what was justified, what was deserved.

I didn’t care that my mom was now screaming at me – at me – or that my sister was pleading with me to stop.

I kept hitting him, and hitting him, until he was done.

Until I was done.

Until he looked far worse than my sister. Until he looked far worse than my mother. Until he looked far worse than I ever did at his hands.

I left him in a pool of his own blood, with his own cuts and bruises and broken bones. In his own pain.

I made my way over to my sister and I tried to cradle her in my arms without hurting her even more.

I didn’t know what to do for her. I would know what to do if it was me. But I didn’t know what to do with her being broken, and in pain, looking so small. She had tears coming out of her swollen eyes and rolling down her bruised, cut cheeks. I heard a whimper come out of her puffy, bloodied, cracked mouth, and I felt the haze take over again.

How the hell did I not kill him? How have I not killed him before this? How could my mom stay with such a monster? How could any of this have happened?

I was trying to comfort my sister, wondering if this time – if this was the time my mom would let us go to the hospital to get taken care of. I was wondering if this was finally the time my mother would stand up for her children. If she would stand up for herself. I was wondering if this was the last time any of this would ever happen. If we would finally be safe. Free. I was wondering too many things when I should have been paying better attention.

I should have paid attention.

Didn’t I learn my lesson when I fell asleep on the job of protecting my sister – the young, precious, and unbelievably damaged girl wrapped in my arms?

Didn’t I learn? Didn’t I?

I didn’t. I didn’t learn anything. Because if I did, I would have never turned my back on the one person I hated and feared the most.

“Get the fuck out of my house, and don’t ever come back.”

I turned my head and looked at my father, barely standing, holding a gun in his hand that was pointed at me. He was wobbling on shaky legs, making me extremely scared that he would shoot me accidentally because he was so unstable.

His unsteadiness was making me even more terrified that he would miss me and shoot my sister, who was still tightly wrapped up in my arms.

I didn’t have enough time to react.

Every single day for months – for years – I thought about my reaction. My lack of one. Everything.

I wished more than anything that I would have finished what I started. That I would have ended him once and for all. That I would have taken my chances.

But I didn’t.

I sat there while my sister started to tremble, while she started to shake, while she started to sob out loud uncontrollably. I sat there unmoving while he wobbled closer to us. I sat there while he placed the gun to my head.

I sat there when he said that I either get the fuck out or that he would kill all of us.

I sat there through all of it, doing nothing.

But then I finally moved.

I let go of my sister, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life, and I moved away from her.

As I was moving away I looked into her eyes that were practically swollen shut, and I could see the devastation in them.

Devastation because he got back up and he was doing what he was doing? Devastation because I was giving into his demands? Because I was walking away? Leaving? I didn’t know. I would never know.

I dropped my eyes away from hers because I had to. If I looked at her any longer I would stop. I would try to stay. And if I didn’t keep moving I knew based on past experiences, based on his threats and his promises, I knew without a doubt he might just kill us all like he said.

He was that type of evil. And the whole situation was just that bad. Even then I knew it.

What I knew then, and what I know now though –

I would have done things differently.

But you can’t go back.

Back then I moved into my room, grabbed a few things, and I left.

I just left. I fucking left.

I tried to justify my actions a lot of ways. I kept telling myself that there was a high rate of probability that he wasn’t joking. He could have killed us. He could have killed Lizzy. He would have killed Lizzy. He hated me so much that he would have killed her first just so I could watch. He was pure evil, and he was smart enough to know that by killing her first he wouldn’t even have to put a bullet in my head to kill me. I’d already be dead anyway if she was. So I made the decision.

When I let go of Lizzy, I made a choice. For her. For me. For my mom. And the man that I hated.  

It was the worst moment of my life.

I wanted to stay for her, fight for her, protect her, give her a life she should have had, but I knew if I stayed it wouldn’t happen. She’d have no life at all. And some life would be better than no life.

That’s what my teenaged-self thought.

In the span of seconds I weighed my options: I could fight, I could win, but I could also lose. Die.

Then what?

What should I do?

Should I leave Lizzy behind and pray that she didn’t endure the same thing that fucking broke me inside?

Should I leave and do what my mother couldn’t?

Tell someone? Try and make things right? Be a goddamn adult?

Or hope that she finally did it after I was gone? When she had no one between her and him anymore?

Would she finally realize then that she needed help? That he needed to be stopped? That it didn’t matter who he was, who we were? Would she realize that our last name and our family’s reputation was not more important than our lives? Than Lizzy’s life?

I weighed my options, and I made my choice.

In seconds.

Seconds.

Now, years later, I knew I made the absolute wrong one.

But back then … I thought I made the right one.

I met Lizzy’s eyes again as I left.

I looked into her ravaged green eyes and I made promises to her with my own. “I will not leave you here to endure all of this alone.” “I’m going to get help for us.” “I will make this right.” “I will take you from here and we will never look back.” “I will protect you and love you as you should be protected and loved.” “I’ll help you …”

. . .

. . .

. . .

I kept my promise to Lizzy months later after my father finally killed my mother. That’s when I went back home and I tried to provide the safety and stability that Lizzy needed.

After.

Too late.

I tried to give her all the love that I could. I tried to do everything for her. And I have been trying ever since. If only it didn’t take me so long. What the hell was I thinking back then? What the hell had been my plan? I actually thought I was a man when I went into the living room that night and beat the shit out of my father? Then what the hell was I when I left my sister at his mercy and walked out of the door? Because that wasn’t a man. 

I’ll never forgive myself for my actions that night. I will never forgive myself for believing all the lies I was told after that, lies that I should have seen through – they left him, they were safe, she was fine, happy, living, free. I’ll never forgive myself for what happened to Lizzy, for believing, for wanting to believe … I’ll never forgive myself … I’ll never …

“Aiden! Aiden, wake up!” I could hear Lizzy’s voice penetrating through my nightmare. A nightmare that actually happened.

To me.

And to her.

I could feel that her small hands were shaking me, trying to get me up. I opened my eyes and peered up into hers.

No swollen eyes, no bruises, no bleeding, no cuts, no busted lips, no broken arm. Not today anyway.

It was in the past. I needed to leave it in the past. I needed to let it go. We both needed to keep moving on. The problem was I haven’t been able to. I could never get past it. I knew I never would.

I slammed the heels of my hands into my eyes trying to get rid of the images I have yet to get rid of after all these years. Images I know I will never get rid of no matter how hard I try.

“How bad this time?” Lizzy asked me quietly, worry and sadness all too apparent in her voice and in her eyes. Two emotions I never wanted her to have to deal with again. But I knew better. I also knew better than to lie to her. There was no point. She knew it was bad. She lived it too. What happened in my nightmare – my past – was as much her nightmare as it was my own. Even more so hers, and that made me feel even more sick, more helpless, more disgusted.

“It was the time he held a gun to my head and said he would kill all of us if I didn’t leave.” I didn’t need to tell her about the whole nightmare. She knew. As I looked into her eyes I knew that night is one that she would never forget. She wouldn’t forget it, just like she wouldn’t forget all the days and nights before, or the days and nights after, that my father hurt all of us.

Especially her.

Realistically I knew that everything that had happened was in the past. I knew I should leave it. I knew I should stop torturing myself by going over everything I couldn’t change. I wanted it to stay buried so it didn’t keep hurting me or Lizzy over and over again. It was supposed to stay buried. It was supposed to be buried forever. Our past should only be distant, disgusting, memories.

But I knew better than that now.

I would never be able to keep all of it buried no matter how much distance I put between me and Lizzy and all those horrible days and nights. I wish I could – for her and me – but I couldn’t.

Especially not now.

Because I received a letter in the mail a few days ago.

Our father was up for parole.

 

 

___________________________________________________________________________

 

EXCERPT FOR CHAOTIC BEAUTY …

 

 

Prologue

Why are you doing this to me?” I whispered, looking down at the floor. After everything, I couldn’t believe that this was happening. I didn’t know how to make any of it stop.

You? Why am I doing this to you? What about what you did to me?

I looked up and across from me. What I saw in his eyes made my heart stop.

Connor … Please.

“You ruined my fucking life. I wish I never met you.”

Please. Don’t.

I continued to stare ahead, my heart beating faster and faster. I could tell by the look in his eyes what was coming next. I knew what was going to happen. I just didn’t know if either of us would survive it. I looked deep into his eyes and I knew he was pissed, enraged, and murderous.

He was deadly in this moment.

It was terrifying.

I knew our time was up.

He was deciding for the both of us.

This was the end.

Of everything.

I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t stay silent. I had to fight for us. I couldn’t sit by and let us be destroyed. Again.

I saw everything in his eyes and I just knew …

“Connor, please don’t!” I yelled.

But it was too late.

I was too late.

He didn’t care that I screamed at him to stop. To not do it.

He didn’t listen.

He couldn’t have understood what he was doing to the both of us. He couldn’t have.

Right?

He couldn’t have known what he was doing.

. . .

. . .

He killed me.

The soul-shattering pain I felt in that moment destroyed me. The sound of the bang that changed my world reverberated off the walls and penetrated through my entire being. I saw the blood, I felt the destruction, I knew the agony that his one action was going to cause everyone.

How could he do this to me? To us? To our families?

I couldn’t breathe.

I couldn’t think.

I couldn’t move.

All I could do was feel.

And all I felt was broken.

I didn’t feel like I was whole. Like I was all together. Like I was human.

I felt like I was glass.

Fragile glass that had been dropped, that had splintered, that had cracked into a million tiny shards and could never be put back together again.

I was broken.

In pieces.

Shattered.

Destroyed.

Lifeless.

. . .

. . .

. . .

And then entered the chaos.

 

 

CHAPTER 1  – Connor

 

What the fuck is she doing here? And with him? She’s not even supposed to be in Baltimore. She’s supposed to be hours away finishing up her last year of college. She should definitely not be here with him. Her brother would fucking flip if he saw them two together.

Why the hell was she here … and with him?

Maybe I should text her brother and let him know. Or better yet, maybe I should take a picture of them two together and send it. He’d fucking love that.

Seriously though? What the fuck!

I pulled out my phone and sent a quick text. I wasn’t trying to be a girl and gossip, or be a goddamn narc, but really?

Really?

Me: Dude your sister just showed up at the shop, and Aiden’s with her. What the hell am I seeing right now? Isn’t she supposed to be at school, and nowhere near here? Or him? Why the hell is she here with him?

I stared at my phone expecting it to ring right back, like I’m some fucking teenage girl who texted her best friend a juicy story about their goddamn crush.

Jesus. What the hell is wrong with me?

Something pretty fucking big because I started rapidly typing on my phone again when he didn’t answer me right back. Did this guy not care that his sister is with Aiden? I know Aiden helped Liam out of a jam when Liam walked in on my sister being attacked and he practically killed the guy who was hurting her a few months ago – as he fucking should have – but still. What the hell was he doing that he didn’t jump all over this shit?

Me: What the hell are you doing?

I heard the beeps. Finally.

Liam: Your sister.

Holy Motherfuck! He better have been joking. They didn’t have sex. Ever.

Didn’t he know that there are just some things you never talk about? Like having sex with someone’s sister, when the person you are talking to is their brother?

Holy Christ.

I felt my phone vibrate in my hand, and all I could think was the asshole better be telling me that he was kidding.

As I looked at my phone I realized it was my sister and not her boyfriend.

Samantha: Liam told me what happened, and what he just said. What he said … that was NOT happening.

That better not be happening!

I took a deep breath and rubbed the back of my neck.

Shit, who am I kidding?

I’d like to say that Liam’s seriously corrupted my sweet, innocent, baby sister, and that he’s not a good guy, and that he’s definitely not good for her … but I know it’s not like that. They love each other, they’re happy together – and holy shit this is not a Hallmark moment. They are probably at their home laughing at this whole situation. And it’s really not that fucking funny.

I probably would’ve thought it was funny if I said it about his sister, but this? Too fucking far.

Shit.

I should’ve expected that shit from him. A lot has changed in the past few months for all of us, especially with me and Liam.

Six months ago my sister and I didn’t even know who Liam was. Now my sister was in love with him, he was in love with her, they were living together, and all that other shit. When I saw him come into The Brew that first day and saw Sam’s reaction to him, and his to her – not only that day, but the few times after – I knew that something was going to happen between them. I just wasn’t sure that whatever it was would be something good.

I may have acted like a total prick when it came to the two of them in the beginning – maybe just a little – but everything worked out for them in the end. I knew that not everything for them was rainbows and roses. One thing in particular had turned their world upside down.

It turned my fucking world upside down too.

I thought I was starting to fall for someone.

I actually thought there might be a “one” after all, like my sister claims.

What a fucking joke.

A few careless words.

A few heated statements.

That’s all it took for her to hit the road, and leave everything we had built behind.

I’m happy that she never knew how I felt. The only person who really knew how I felt was my sister. And there was no way she told her boyfriend, because if she did, I would never hear the end of it. He would be all over my back the same way I was with him. It was his sister after all.

Talk about a fucking nightmare.

“Hello Connor,” her voice whipped out coolly. I looked up from my cell phone to see that she and Aiden had made their way over to the counter. Fucking perfect. Instead of being a gossiping bitch and texting Liam, I should’ve gone into the back and did some inventory and let someone else handle this shit.

Wait. What?

Did I seriously just say that I should’ve ducked and covered? That I should’ve run away like some scared little girl?

What is this fucking woman doing to me?

The tone of her voice still rang in my head. Her voice didn’t match her appearance. For a voice so cold, she sure did look all warm and soft, and absolutely mouthwatering. I had firsthand knowledge that she was all warm and soft, and I knew she was absolutely breathtaking both inside and out. Her long dark hair was silky and soft, and she used to love when I’d run my fingers through it. Her body was a fucking eleven, and the confidence that rolled off of her in waves is enough to bring any man to his goddamn knees.

It’s what brought me to mine.

Her baby blues were the killer though. Those pale eyes of hers that make me think of hazy, hot, summer days are unbelievably expressive and captivating, but looking at them now they are like shards of ice. They are dull, spectacularly hard, and something else I can’t quite figure out. They aren’t the eyes I remember. They aren’t Riley’s perfect sea-inspired eyes.

It’s not right.

What’s also not right is the way she’s speaking and acting.

Why the hell is she the one who gets to act cold and distant?

Fuck that. Time to turn this shit around. I got this.

“Hey, Riley,” I said to her, all polite and shit. Then I turned my head a bit to her left and said, “Aiden.” I nodded my head up and down as a way of greeting.

No need to let her know that her being here with him was pissing me the fuck off. No need at all.

My simple un-dickish greeting made me proud of myself. It was simple and clear enough that if you read between the lines, it meant ‘hurry up and order your shit and get the hell out of my store,’ without me actually saying it and being a complete prick.

I was definitely proud of myself.

“Not working at the Firehouse today?” Riley asked with her unique voice that I hadn’t heard in months. A voice that I had fantasized about since the first moment I heard her speak. A voice that was currently still cold and icy, and not at all like her.

Apparently she didn’t care to read between the lines.

There was only so much I could take. I tried to rein it in, I tried to play it cool – but fuck that.

“No why? Did you plan on avoiding me some more? Sorry to disappoint you, babe. I’m here today.”

Since I was looking at her closely I saw her eyes switch from cold steel to a wicked blue flame, all in the span of seconds. She definitely didn’t like that I suggested she was avoiding me, and she really didn’t like that I called her ‘babe.’ She used to like it.

She used to fucking love it.

She didn’t say anything though. She just stared at me. I actually tried my best, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I smirked at her. I knew I was right. She was avoiding me, and had been for months. We both knew it. This awkward shit was all her fault, not mine.

After a few seconds I saw the blush creep into her cheeks. I knew it. She was affected.

Probably just as much as I was.

Her eyes gave her away, as did her blush, and the tightening of her mouth.

She might have avoided me, tried to pretend just now with me, but she definitely wasn’t done with me.

You should know better than to play this game with me sweetheart. I made up the rules for this one.

But if you want to play, we’ll play.

“Hey man, can I get a large black coffee?” Aiden interrupted my thoughts.

I took my eyes off Riley to look at him.

He and I had a past. A past I thought we buried. But looking at him now, and knowing he was with Riley … It stirred up some old shit for me.

He looked different than the punk teenager I beat the shit out of years ago after a misunderstanding that was mostly my fault, or the swaggering jerkoff who sauntered into Molly’s and nearly wrecked Sam’s relationship with Liam a few months ago after being gone for years. He no longer had his piercings in his ears, his eyebrow, or his stupid fucking lip. He no longer had his tattoos showing for the whole world to see. Apparently Aiden was all business today, and that made me even more pissed off to see him with Riley, because this Aiden looked perfect for her. He looked exactly her type. He looked like someone who belonged with her.

“A large black coffee,” Aiden said again louder this time, as if I didn’t hear him when I made no attempt to move and get him his drink.

Screw him.

Did he seriously just speak again? Did he not see that there was something going on here between me and Riley? Did he not hear what I just said to her? He needed to disappear.

Now.

“Yeah, me too. I’d like a small coffee though,” Riley practically whispered, causing me to look back over to her.

I would have taken some satisfaction in the way her voice sounded now, all small and not as confident as it normally is, and definitely not cold like before, but how could I feel satisfied when Aiden’s here with her? Just when I thought him and me patched things up for that one night all those years ago, he had to do something that planted him firmly back on my shit list. I didn’t even care why he was here anymore. He just was.

And that royally pissed me off.

I wish that my sister didn’t have school and that she was here today. She should be here dealing with this shit. She could ask them why the fuck they were together. I didn’t even know that they knew each other. I saw them together in the same room once, and they never said a word to one another.

So when the fuck did all of this happen?

Goddamn it.

This shit going on with me needed to stop. This shit wasn’t me.

I continued to stare at them, not saying a word.

What the hell was I doing? I must look like a complete idiot.

Well you know what? I feel like one right about now.

And that pissed me off more than anything else so far.

But then it hit me.

I don’t know where the thought came from, but I couldn’t help smirking again.

It was just too perfect.

I needed the ball back in my goddamn court, and now I knew just how to do it.

“Hey Aiden …” I said, making sure I added a good amount of questioning in just those two little words.

He looked at me wearily.

Yeah. You should be worried.

“Yeah?” he finally asked.

“You have a sister right?”

God, I was such an asshole.

This was the same road I traveled with Liam all those months ago when I forced him, Sam, Riley, and me into a group date. I knew he wanted to date my sister, but that wasn’t fucking happening until I figured him out.

Or so I thought.

Whatever.

I can’t get into that shit now.

I had bigger issues to deal with.

Like Aiden and Riley.

Together.

Aiden just stared at me, and then glanced at Riley. I glanced at Riley too. From the way her eyes were shooting blue flames my way, and from the way her face seemed unnaturally pale all of a sudden, I knew that she knew what I was doing.

“Yes, I do. Lizzy.”

Aiden told me what I already knew. I’ve talked to her a few times actually. Samantha introduced us when Elizabeth came in by herself without him. She was a sweet girl and an absolute knockout, but to me, she was nothing more than a sweet, gorgeous, girl. He didn’t have to know any of that though. Neither did Riley. She sure as shit didn’t need to know anything.

“Lizzy, huh? How old is she?” I asked, faking complete ignorance.

“Stop it Connor,” Riley said quietly. “Just stop it.”

Aiden looked towards her, finally clueing into the friction between us. I’m surprised he couldn’t feel the tension and figure all this out before now.

He was supposed to be a detective?

“Seriously man, what’s the deal?” Aiden asked me, looking between me and Riley again.

Riley spoke up and saved me from having to answer Aiden, which should’ve been a good thing because I really didn’t have an answer for him – I had no clue what the fuck I was doing – but it wasn’t a good thing. It was definitely not a good thing.

“You know what? Just forget it. We’ll go somewhere else,” Riley said, before she grabbed Aiden’s hand and started walking with him towards the door.

I stood there frozen staring at them.

She grabbed ahold of his hand.

They were fucking holding hands.

He was fucking touching her.

And they were leaving.

Together.

What just happened? What did I just see?

What the fuck just happened!

I didn’t give a shit what it made me look like, I grabbed up my phone and started dialing Liam’s number.

Hell with that whole texting shit.

I needed to fucking talk to him.

Now.

© 2015 Tara Sosa

 

 

___________________________________________________________________________

 

 

EXCERPT FOR UNEXPECTED BEAUTY  … Chapter 1

Chapter 1

 

Oh good Lord, who is that? As I look across the room I see the most unbelievably good looking man I’ve ever seen, and my thoughts completely ran away from me. I envision him and me all tangled up in my sheets. Him professing his undying love and devotion to me, and only me. Him saying he loves me, and he wants to marry me. Me walking down the aisle towards him in my wedding dress. Him playing football with our son in the backyard, while I watch them through the kitchen window as I’m rocking our daughter to sleep.

Holy. Shit.

Where did those thoughts come from? I don’t even know him, but that doesn’t even matter. That’s not the point. I am way too young for thoughts like that. Right? Happily-ever-after? I have no relationship experience – because I do not want any – and even if I wanted the experience it wouldn’t be with someone like him.

Especially like him.

I don’t want to be tied down with a husband and kids, or even a boyfriend, no matter how gorgeous this man is with his short black hair, ice-blue eyes, and tattoos covering both of his well-muscled arms. Tattoos? When did I mentally start drooling over tattoos, huge muscles, men with black hair and ice-blue eyes? When did I mentally start drooling over a man, period? This isn’t me. I’ve come too far to let thoughts like that into my head. Been there, done that. Moved on.

Get it together already!

Oh, no. No, no, no.

Why is he heading straight for me?

I put a smile on my face as he approached, and waited to see what would happen next.

Before I knew it he was in front of me.

“Hi,” he said with a smirk, as if he knew exactly what I was thinking, revealing dimples and a set of straight white teeth in the process.

Of course he would have dimples.

Apparently, I’m also a person who now mentally drools over dimples too.

“Hi,” I replied in a voice that sounded strangled and small.

Holy shit!

When did I get knocked off the confident, self-assured, I am an adult woman and can handle anything, pedestal? When did a smirk, dimples, and all that awesome beauty turn me into a bumbling girl who is finally talking to her varsity football captain, completely out of her league, smoking hot teenage crush?

Awesome beauty?

Who even thinks that shit? Holy. Fuck. Where the hell did my goddamn confidence go? Who is this girl?

Just have a normal conversation with him. You do it with men all the time.

Before I could manage to get myself together and say anything else he asked, “Do I know you? Have we met before? You were staring at me pretty hard, so I figured I had to have met you.”

Of course after he said all of that he plastered his smirk back on his face.

I felt a blush heat up my cheeks at having been caught staring at him. I instantly become pissed at him for not remembering an encounter that never even happened, and also for being able to embarrass me and piss me off all at the same time.

It’s good to know that I wouldn’t be someone he would remember.

Why would I be? Look at him.

Where in the hell is this coming from? Jesus Christ.

He looked at me waiting for a reply while I was having a complete mental breakdown in my head. Perfect. What should I say? Definitely something that gets him the hell away from me before I completely lose it.

“I must have been lost in thought and staring into space. Sorry about that. I definitely wasn’t looking at you.”

Yeah, take that, you condescending, arrogant, smirking, beautiful jerk. I saw the smirk leave his face. Finally.

“Ouch. Okay then. Well I’m Liam by the way. Now you’ve met me. Feel free to stare at me all you want.”

Did he just say that? With a straight face?

Are you kidding me? Stare all I want?

Did I not just tell him I wasn’t staring at him even if I was a big fat liar? Who did this guy think he is?

“And you are?” he asked. When I stared at him without answering, he just continued on. “Okay, well you don’t have to tell me your name then. I’m definitely going to stare all I want even if I have no idea who you are. I’ll just make up a name for you.” He looked me up and down, slowly, and I felt my blush deepen even more. My body also started to feel like it was tingling in places that should not be tingly.

“How about I call you … Red?”

“Red?” My hair is dark brown like my eyes. Where the hell did he get ‘Red’ from?

“Yeah, because right now your face looks as red as a fire engine.”

Oh. My. God. I guess I got my answer.

Did I seriously think he was gorgeous before? No. No I did not. Definitely not. No way in hell. Time to move along, and get the hell away from this guy.

“No my name is not ‘Red’ and you’re seriously a jerk,” I told him with narrowed eyes and a snotty voice.

Jesus, am I really going to act like a teenager now too? I couldn’t come up with anything better than that? I’m surprised my dumbass didn’t add a foot stomp to complete the trifecta.

“Sorry, Princess. Oh wait, is it Princess?” he asked me in a deadpan tone, but I knew he was mocking me, and he knew that I knew. It made me upset that he called me Princess. Only one person called me Princess, and it definitely wasn’t Liam. And it would not ever be Liam.

I couldn’t answer him. I really needed to get myself together after he said that.

My silence didn’t seem to bother him in the least. After staring at me for a bit, he just continued on by saying, “I’ll take that as a no. So no ‘Red,’ and no ‘Princess.’ How about ‘Sweetie,’ or ‘Baby?’”

Seriously, where the hell did he come up with this stuff? Did this actually work with other girls? Please tell me it didn’t. That would just be too fucking sad. I looked at him, really looked at him one last time because I knew this would be the last time I was seeing him – and for as much as I was bothered by him, he really was pretty to look at, so I just had to. All I said was “nope,” before moving around him.

Just as I thought I was in the clear, is when I heard it. It was sudden, loud, and completely direct.

“Samantha.”

I whipped around to look at him, but it wasn’t Liam who said my name from behind me. It was a different tall, muscular, heavily-tattooed, dark-haired, blue-eyed man. This one just happened to be my brother.

Liam didn’t know that though from the way he was looking between me and my brother. The smirk that seemed to be glued to his face the whole time he was talking to me was no longer present. His face now resembled stone. His eyes were hard, no longer the glittering blue of a few moments ago – the exceptionally glittering blue that I knew I could get lost in if I gave myself the chance. His arms were also now crossed over his extremely broad chest, making his muscles stand out and his tattoos look even more incredible in the tight black t-shirt he was wearing. Also, if I wasn’t mistaken, it looked like he was clenching his jaw. Now that was interesting.

There was no way I was letting Liam find out that this other guy was actually my brother. Let him think this was my boyfriend. Let him think that I already have a tattooed, muscled guy who might actually look better than him – even if it is my brother – and grossI can’t believe I just thought that.

Let him think that there was no way that offending blush that graced my face before was for him, because I had something already that was just like him. Let him think that there was no way that I was drooling and fantasizing things – dirty and confusing things – about him. If his rigid body is any indicator of what he is thinking, please let him just continue to think whatever that is. Let him just continue on thinking whatever it is he is hopefully thinking, while I figure out a way to get Connor to not say anything bad, and the hell away from this guy.

I only had one option to go with.

With a blinding smile I said, “Hey, Connor. I was just going to find you.”

Of course my asshole brother had to ruin everything.

“Why the hell are you smiling like that? You’re creeping me the fuck out. And yeah, Mom wants to see you in the back. Have fun with that shit. She’s being really bitchy today.” He smirked at that last part. He fucking smirked before walking off. Of course he did. He gave me a smirk that reminded me all too much of Liam in that moment. Liam, who I knew was listening to our conversation, even though I didn’t look over at him once the whole time Connor was talking.

As a final parting shot before he went out of the door, my brother said way too loudly, “Yeah, whoever this guy is that you were drooling over before, don’t let Mom or Dad see him.” He said that while pointing straight at Liam.

“That shit will not end well.”

He was still standing at the door, not freaking leaving. Why was he not leaving? What could he possibly add to make this any worse or inappropriate considering he was saying all of it in front of not only Liam, but all the rest of our customers?

“He seems marginally better than the last few douchebags that showed up here looking for you though. Or that one prick from school, remember?” Once again he was pointing towards Liam as if I had no clue who he was talking about.  Connor just had to add what I already knew. “That shit definitely didn’t end well. That little prick still hasn’t learned yet … but he will.”

And with that, he finally left. He left me with Liam, and all the now amused customers who were conveniently staring at me. At least they seemed amused and not upset. Jesus.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

Connor just went to the very top of my shit list.

 

****

 

After I took a few moments and got done killing Connor in my head, I finally looked at Liam.

He sure didn’t look like stone anymore. He sure wasn’t clenching his jaw, flexing his muscles, looking confused, or like he was going to beat the shit out of someone. Nope, not him. I’m pretty sure that’s how I looked now though, thanks to my dickhead brother.

Liam looked like he couldn’t wait to say a whole bunch of new things to me.

Perfect.

Smirking again, he walked over to me. “Samantha, huh?”

I didn’t say anything. I just waited for something.

What exactly, I didn’t know, but I knew there was something.

“Nice to meet you Samantha … but I still prefer ‘Red.’ It suits you. You sure as shit are as red as an apple right now,” he said before laughing, turning around, and heading towards the door.

Jesus Christ, I should not appreciate a laugh like his, especially when I am the reason that I’m hearing it. I do though. His deep laugh makes my stomach flutter in a way that I know it shouldn’t.

My gaze stayed on him. I know I should’ve looked away, but it was impossible. He stopped at the door, and he turned to look back at me.

Great. He caught me staring at him, again. He grinned at me, and then he winked.

Holy – “I’ll see you around, Samantha,” he said. Then he opened the door and left.

Jesus.

Why did I feel like when he left all of the air went out of the room with him? He was a jerk. He was an arrogant, obnoxious, condescending jerk. Also, why did I feel like when he said he would ‘see me around’ it sounded like a warning? Like nothing good for me was going to come from seeing him again?

Seriously.

What just happened?

Why do I feel like whatever it was, it was something significant? Did I want it to be something significant? No. Yes? Definitely, not. No way.

Jesus Christ, what is wrong with me?

I need to forget this ever happened.

I needed to forget all about Liam, I needed to forget all of the memories that were coming back to me that I thought I had buried long ago that were now running through my head thanks to him, but most importantly I needed to get rid of all of these fantasies that I had no business having of some cocky guy I didn’t know and had talked to for only a few minutes.

Best way to do that that I could think of, at least for now anyway … I needed to go deal with my Mom who was apparently in bitch-mode.