Breaking HerR. K. Lilley
TEASER FOR CROSSING FIRE
Copyright © 2016 R.K. Lilley
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of events to real life, or of characters to actual persons, is purely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction.
This book is dedicated to the men out there who aren't afraid to love complicated, difficult women. You aren't afraid of strength. You aren't put off by damage. You aren't intimidated by resilience. You don't see baggage as a deterrent. These are the things that make up a real man.
Also, you like more than an ounce of diabolical sass with your morning coffee.
Dammit. Yeah, okay, I see what I did there, too.
This has turned into yet another dedication to Mr. Lilley.
But, well, he is pretty cool.
Dear husband, you wanted more than a spouse, you wanted an equal partner for life, and you got it.
Ride or die, boo.
DESTRUCTION. BETRAYAL. RUINATION.
Book Two in the Love is War Duet.
This is the conclusion of Scarlett and Dante's story.
He had done it again. Ravaged me. Burned me. Broke me.
Given me air, only to leave me gasping, writhing.
But then something changed. Something that terrified and excited me both.
Something that utterly destroyed me.
Something that made me whole again.
Our love was cursed from the start. She didn't know it, but I did.
All she knew was that I'd lied to her, betrayed her. Done unforgivable things. Unavoidable things. Yes, I had broken promises as surely as I had broken her heart. But, just as every war has casualties, and every lie has consequences–every bastard has his reasons.
"The heart was made to be broken."
Anton was over at our place, trying to cheer me up again. He'd brought with him a Costco-sized bottle of Patrón.
It was a good effort.
In return for the tequila, I was making him seven-layer brownies. The two things didn't go well together, but I didn't care. I was only partaking in the one.
Demi's niece, Olivia, was also over for a sleepover. This happened whenever we were home for a good stretch. Demi was a devoted aunt and had a natural ease with children.
I was the opposite. They made me uncomfortable. I hadn't been good with kids when I'd been one myself. Growing up had hardly improved things.
Olivia was a lovely little girl, with Demi's coloring, black hair, and blue eyes. She was very well groomed. Someone, likely every someone in her life, took good care of her.
I wondered briefly what that must be like for a kid.
The girls were planning to take little Olivia to the zoo. They'd invited me, of course, and even Anton, but I was in no mood to be around children, let alone spend a day with one.
Besides, I had some very important, well thought out plans—to stay home and work on my day drinking.
I was doing a stand up job at it so far. Noon had barely come and gone and Anton and I had already progressed to doing shots.
I was in the kitchen, facing Anton across the island.
"Because tequila," we toasted and did another.
I finished that round first, setting my glass down triumphantly in front of him while he was still finishing his.
That was when Olivia skipped up, apparently bored with the cartoons she'd been watching while she waited for everyone to get ready.
She leaned against the counter to stare at me. She was a curious, precocious child. Everyone within her sphere adored her and she seemed to know it well. I guessed no one had ever slapped her for asking the wrong question, so she asked whatever thoughts came to her head.
"Hi, Auntie Scar." She beamed at me. She called all of the roommates auntie. I didn't know where she'd gotten the idea. From Demi, I assumed.
"Hi, Olivia," I returned solemnly.
As I've said, I'm bad with children.
"Hi, Mister Anton," she told Anton.
He blinked at her, scratching restlessly at his bearded jaw and looking as uncomfortable as I felt. Good. This was one of the many reasons I liked having him around. We were so much alike that he had a tendency to make me feel less alone.
And at a time like this, particularly, I needed to feel less alone.
I was not doing well.
This I knew.
Not sleeping. Not getting dressed unless I had to work.
Loafing around my house in my various cat T-shirts (today's gem was a picture of Grumpy cat and read #currentmood) drinking too much, thinking too much. Hating myself too much.
What Dante had done, how he'd messed with my head, yet again . . .
I won't say it hurt more than the first time, or even that it was more shocking. Once you've been broken, every break after, even when they hurt like hell, can never outdo the profound damage of the first time.
I will say that I did not bounce back right away.
It was that feeling again, an old, familiar one. It had always been there, but I'd buried it for a while.
You know that moment when you wake up cold, knowing you've kicked your covers off, and realize someone has tenderly tucked them back around your shoulders?
It was the opposite of that. It was knowing you'd never have that again, that no one would ever care enough to try to keep you warm.
Lately, the feeling was stronger than ever. Consuming. Debilitating.
"Just Anton," Anton finally corrected Demi's niece, bringing me out of my musings and back to the present.
Anton's day drunk was starting to show in the form of delayed reactions.
"My mommy and Aunt Demi told me it's rude to address an adult by just their first name."
Anton and I exchanged a glance. How strange it must be
to be a child with so many adults around that cared about every little nuance of your life.
"How about Uncle Anton?" she tried. "That counts."
He'd been taking a drink of water when she said that, and he started to choke at her words.
It made me smile, probably the first time I'd done so in days.
Finally he managed to get out a scratchy, "Mister Anton is just fine."
She nodded and bestowed a very charming smile on him.
"What's that?" she asked me, pointing to the giant bottle of Patrón.
"Grownup stuff," I told her, assuming that would settle it.
"Can I try some?"
I made a face at her that made her giggle. "Are you a grownup?"
"Yep," she said quickly.
"Grownups are at least twenty-one years old. Are you twenty-one?" I asked pointedly.
"Yep," she quipped back, the brazen little liar.
"Uh uh," I said.
She nodded at the oven. "Can I have some of those when they're done?"
I shrugged. "I guess."
"Auntie Farrah said you don't like kids. Why don't you like kids?"
"Because they ask too many questions."
"Why else don't you like kids?"
"Because they're selfish and mean," just sort of slipped out.
Her eyes widened, watered a bit, and I saw that I'd taken the teasing too far.
"You think I'm selfish and mean?" she asked, voice tremulous, like the very idea might make her cry.
Dammit. "No." I actually meant it. "Not you. I can just remember . . . other kids . . . that were," I finished lamely.
"If you don't like kids, how come you bake me something nummy every time I come over?"
I mulled that one over. I did. I literally baked every time she came over, no exceptions. What the hell was up with that?
"It's a coincidence," I told her. "I bake all the time." That was a lie, but she was eight.
If you couldn't lie to an eight-year-old, who could you lie to?
She beamed at me. "You like me. I knew it."
I curled my lip at her and she giggled. "You're alright," I allowed.
"I like you," she offered. "You're really pretty, and you smell nice."
Dammit. Damn Demi and her incorrigible, likable niece. "You're really pretty, too," I begrudgingly returned.
She acted like I'd made her day with that, doing an enthusiastic happy dance that involved a lot of twirling and hand waving.
Was she trying to win me over, or was she really this freaking adorable?
I didn't know, but in spite of myself, I was charmed.
Still, I'd never let her close, never let myself get attached to a kid like that. Even the thought of it spun my mind into dark, fathomless places that I knew well to steer clear of.
Luckily, they all left for a day at the zoo soon after that, and I was spared much more of Olivia's infectious charm.
And dammit, she almost convinced me to come with them. If I had been about two shots more sober or three more drunk, she'd have had me.
Nearly as bad, I packed them a cute little care package full of brownies like I was Betty fucking Crocker.
Of course Anton gave me shit for it. I couldn't blame him.
I shut his teasing up with another shot. It was a sore spot, but in all fairness, lately every damn spot on me was sore.
It was some time later that my phone rang. I was at functioning, non-slurring levels, my day drink game strong. Anton was putting up a good fight, the only signs of how messed up he was, was that he was over-enunciating, and his comeback time was slowing from whip-fast to slightly below average.
I glanced at my lit phone face and grinned wickedly.
It was bloodthirsty, so much so, Anton, even slowed Anton, caught on fast.
"It's him, isn't it?"
I chewed my lip and nodded.
He meant Dante. Of course. Since the funeral and the disaster that followed, he called often, and sometimes I'd answer. It was a toss-up with me whether I'd chew him out or just hang up.
Sometimes he called to discuss what Gram had left me in her will, but I'd have none of it. "I told you, give it to one of her charities. I don't want anything. I won't take anything." I'd never once let him finish his sentence when he brought this up. I'd been called a Durant charity case my whole life, but I'd be damned before I'd become one.
Sometimes he just asked me how I was. Like he just wanted to talk, to check up on me. As if he had that right. The bastard.
Those calls ended nearly as quickly as the first kind.
The worst shame of all this was the angry five minutes I spent getting myself off afterwards.
I wasn't sure if it was a comfort or a curse that I was absolutely sure the bastard was doing exactly the same.
Sometimes he didn't even speak. Sometimes he just listened on the other end. This call started as one of those.
"If it isn't my heavy breather again," I said lightly into the phone. "Is there some particular word you're looking for, to get off faster?"
It was a joke, at his expense, but he seemed to take it seriously.
"Say Dante," he told me gruffly.
"Dante," I said gamely. Because tequila. "You're the bane of my existence. Stop calling me."
There was nothing but his disturbed breath on the other end.
"Even that did it for you, huh?" I took the dig at him with relish. "You dirty, old pervert."
"You're in a mood," he finally noted. He sounded rough. Rough as in terrible. I wasn't the only one drowning my sorrows with a bottle.
But he was right. I was in a mood. And it didn't bode well for him. "Why are you doing this?" I asked him, keeping my tone level. Mellow, even.
There was a long pause on the other end, but he surprised me by finally answering, "You keep answering. If there's a chance you'll answer, I'll never stop calling."
He was right. I'd stopped taking his calls years before our last disastrous reunion. Why couldn't I seem to do that now?
My self-destructive meter was running at full, and I hadn't found a way to bring it down since the funeral.
Maybe a bit of revenge would help.
One thing was for sure. It couldn't hurt.
I didn't really need to, we'd plotted it out several times prior, but just to be safe, I mouthed at Anton, "You ready?"
Anton grinned and gave me a thumbs up.
I held my hand toward him to let him know that he should wait.
"Okay, fine," I finally responded to Dante, my voice hardening, going from light to dark. "I'll stop answering, so you stop calling. This is pointless. Stop wasting my time. I've moved the hell on."
My nostrils flared as I pointed at Anton.
"Come back to bed, baby," his perfect actor's voice rumbled loudly at the phone, right on cue. God, he was good. He sounded sleepy, horny, just fucked, and ready to fuck again. The man deserved an Oscar for that one little sentence.
On the other end Dante made a noise, something indecipherable but unmistakably, unpleasantly, unbearably filled with pain.
I think I had the phone to my ear, staring into nothing for at least five minutes after he hung up. I wasn't sure what I was feeling. Which was the problem. That little stunt had been designed to torment him, but, above all, to improve my mood.
Why had it done the opposite? Why did hurting him always hurt me?
"You know, we could just do it," Anton said sometime later.
I stared at him. "What? Sleep together?"
He shrugged. "Why not? What would be the harm? We're so much alike, it might actually turn into something, and if it did, it might be something good. And if not, no harm, no foul. We'd stay friends and forget about it, end of story."
I mulled that over, but I knew myself too well to fall into that trap. I decided to let him have the full, brutal truth of it, the fatal flaw in his harmless plan. "Here's how that would play o
ut: the sex might be good for me, would be great for you, but the only way it's great for me is if I'm picturing you as someone else . . . Someone I hate. And then, in the morning, you'd be hopelessly in love with me, and it'd get weird, because I fucking hate it when guys fall in love with me, and then I wouldn't enjoy hanging out with you anymore. How sad would that be for both of us?"
"Is he really that good?"
"He's the best I ever had. And the worst thing that ever happened to me."
True love is a bitch.
"And it's really that . . . hopeless? You can't even get off without him getting in the way?"
I was well aware of how pathetic, how epically fucked up it was, and hearing it aloud hardly helped.
"It's hard to explain," I warned him. "But, basically, yes. I can't even eat a fucking apple because of him."
"What?" he asked, sounding baffled, which was understandable.
"He even ruined apples for me," I explained.
"What?" he repeated.
"I have a memory, a very clear one, of biting into an apple—we grew up surrounded by orchards—and so we got the best apples. And I just have a memory of eating one fresh off the tree, sharing it with him actually, and thinking it was the best thing I'd ever tasted."
"Okaaay . . . And?" he prompted.
"It was a . . . special day, and every time I ate an apple after that it all came fresh to my mind.
So when it ended between us, horribly, I could never . . ." There was nothing quite so demoralizing as recalling your sweetest memories and feeling utterly bitter.
"That blows." His voice was succinct. He poured us another shot.
"They were my favorite fruit," I lamented. "Love sucks."
"And now your favorite fruit is the lime that chases our next tequila shot."
As far as pep talks went, it wasn't the worst one I'd ever had, so I toasted it. "Bottoms up."
"She burned too bright for this world."
I'd always had a soft spot for her. Since I could remember her flashing eyes and stubborn face were dear to me.