Authors: Jenika Snow
Cover Artist: Jay
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WARNING: The unauthorized
reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.
No part of this book may be used or
reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the
case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All
names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events,
locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
deserves a happily ever after.
HIS GREATEST PAIN
Not Just Friends, 2
Copyright © 2015
soft sound woke Lauren, and she slowly opened her eyes. Her room was dark, and
she was on her back, staring right at the ceiling. Maybe she’d been dreaming?
Closing her eyes again and turning onto her side, she started to feel herself
drift back to
when she heard tapping on her
window. Her heart started pounding hard in her chest, and she opened her eyes,
not moving, but staring at her window. The curtains that covered the glass were
sheer, and she saw a big dark figure through them. The moon must have been full
because it was bright enough to make out the shape.
it’s me.” The voice on the other side of the window was soft but very deep, and
she recognized it right away, recognized Ace calling her by the nickname he’d
given her so long ago. He was the only one that called her Poppy, after her
the blankets off of her legs, she stood and walked over to the window. Grabbing
the edge of the curtains she pulled them aside and saw Ace standing there, his
eye swollen almost all the way shut, on his cheek smeared blood, which had
clearly come from his nose, and a split bottom lip.
gasped, quickly opened the window, and helped him inside. Her mom and dad were
just down the hall, and although they thought of Ace as part of the family for
the last couple of years, and knew he had a bad family life, having a boy in
her room in the middle of the night would still piss them off.
Ace.” She pulled him in for a hug, and although he was only thirteen he was
already over six feet tall. He was a big guy for his age, and that also had him
standing out in school, being an outcast not only because he kept to herself,
but also because he was so much bigger than anyone else. Right now he seemed so
weak and vulnerable, so breakable. They both slid to the ground, with her arms
still around him, and the wind lightly blowing in her room from the still
didn’t know where else to go,” he said in an almost detached voice.
grabbed the side of his face that looked unharmed, turned his head toward her,
and looked at his wounds. You know you’re always welcome here. This is a safe
fighting back doesn’t help when he’s drunker than piss,” Ace said, his eye not
swollen shut still red-rimmed from his emotions. His dark hair was a mess
around his head, and she ran a finger along the strands that fell over his
needs to be done,” she said softly. “Let me call the police, Ace. He can’t do
this to you—”
shook his head while she still spoke, placed his hand over hers that was on her
face and stared into her eyes. “That won’t help, Lauren.” He said her real
name, and that told her he was being serious in this, determined for her to
understand. He applied pressure to her hand. “You know my dad has a lot of
connections, knows people that can get him out of this shit, and besides, the
last time the cops were called it was a lot worse.”
she knew that his father, despite being a drunken asshole, had friends in the
police department, as well as legal buddies that had apparently helped him out
of all kinds of situations. How anyone could live with themselves and help a
child abuser infuriated Lauren. But Ace had told her that his father could make
anyone feel sympathy for him, playing on the whole his wife was gone, he had to
do everything alone, and that he was dealing with an unruly teenager.
hate seeing you like this.” She felt tears well in her eyes. There had been
several times she’d been tempted to call the police, had even picked up the
phone to do it so many times she’d lost track. But then she thought about what
Ace had told her about the last time the police had come to his house, or even
when child services had been called. It had been pure hell for Ace after it was
all said and done, and she was at a war with herself on what to do.
what Ace hadn’t known was she’d gone to the police once, asked them anonymously
what “her friend” should do, and unless there was a record or physical signs of
abuse, not much could be done. Especially when Ace had a record at school of
fighting, which cemented his father’s story of Ace being unruly.
can I do, Ace?” She was crying now.
lifted a finger and wiped her tears away.
don’t want you crying for me, Poppy,” he said softly, smiling a little. “I
never want you crying for me. I’m not worth it.”
cried harder after he spoke. Pulling him into a hug, she held him for several
moments, smoothing her hand up and down his back, and just showing him without
words that she loved him and he was important to her. “You’re so wrong about
that. You are worth it, Ace. You’re worth so much.” Pulling away, she got to
her feet and helped him to stand. She pulled him toward her bed, and once she
was lying down and he was in front of her, his back to her chest, she wrapped
her arms around him.
feels so good having you hold me, Poppy,” he said softly.
feels good having you close, too, Ace.”
took her hands in one of his, kept them close to his chest, right over his
heart, and exhaled. She smiled, but it was a sad, watery one. Holding him
tighter, she rested her head against his back, closed her eyes, and wished like
hell things were different. She wished like hell she could be a better friend
to him, because he deserved so much better than she was able to give him, so
much more than she had given to him.
Six years later
toward Ace’s small apartment, Lauren felt her worry for him fill her to the
point she felt sick. The last call she’d gotten from him was at three this
morning, but she hadn’t gotten it until just a little bit ago, when she’d woken
up. She knocked on the door, didn’t hear any moving on the other side, and
tried the handle. Of course it turned from being unlocked, because Ace just
didn’t care, not even about himself.
already had his own place, albeit a
pretty shitty, rundown apartment that was cheap and dirty. She hated him living
here, hated that after all that he’d been through this was where he was. But
right now she couldn’t do anything but be there for him as a friend. She still
lived with her family, was working on her associate’s degree to help run her
mother’s bookstore in town, and once she had everything settled she could help
him out more. That was if he even wanted her help. He seemed to push her away
more times than not anymore, especially after they graduated and she started
college. She knew he thought he wasn’t any good for her, that his past put this
wall between them. He was so wrong.
loved him like a brother—well, more than that, if she were being honest, but he
was too damaged, too broken, and she knew he wouldn’t welcome that kind of
love. His father had ruined that for him, maybe not forever, but for the
made her way further into the house, and stepped over the empty beer bottles,
her heart sinking at the sight. This was her friend, her best friend, and the
only person she’d ever truly felt connected with. Ever since she’d seen him
that first day he’d shown up at their school she’d felt connected to him. Ace
was not the type of boy that showed his emotions back then, and he was the same
way now. But even though he was harder, stonier, and had this heavy weight that
always seemed to surround him, she just wanted to … protect him.
bedroom door was closed, and she just knew what she’d see on the other side,
but she had to make sure he was okay. He was on a path of destruction, and it
seemed like nothing would ever help him climb out of that pit.
the door, she took in the scene. He was in the center of his small bed, the
sheets pooled around the bottom of the mattress, and Ace lying in the center of
the bed naked. He was breathing, thank God, and was alone, another thankful
thought in her head. She knew he brought women home, but she also knew it wasn’t
just about sex for him. It was about forgetting his past, a dark past he’d
shared with her before, when they’d gotten close, so close she knew her heart
would break in two if she lost him. But she also didn’t want him to be lonely,
and for that she felt like a failure to him.
further into the room she grabbed the blanket from the bottom of the bed. She
glanced at his body, all hard muscles, tattoos lining his flesh, and the scars
that he was trying to hide. But no amount of ink would get rid of his scars on
the inside or outside. She covered him with the sheets, giving him some decency
and privacy. He groaned and rolled onto his side, facing her. The scent of
booze came from him in a strong gust. He was probably still so drunk, probably
only having gone to bed a short time ago.
pushed a strand of his hair away from his forehead, the lock soft. She stared
at his face, and saw the relaxation on his expression. Right now he was at
peace. Even with his eyes closed she knew he had the most beautiful light green
eyes, ones that could suck a person in with their brutality.
breathed out and dropped her hand back to her side. All the horrible things
she’d been told about what his father had done to him, about the burning with
the cigarettes, the beatings, the locking him up in closets when he was “bad”,
all of that broke her heart over and over again. She loved this man more than
life itself, but she wanted to protect him, and professing her love, wanting
him in more than just a friendly way when he needed to get his life
straightened and healthy wasn’t going to help anything.
love you,” she whispered, smiling when his eyebrow twitched. She ran a finger
over the dark
, and leaned down to kiss him on
Ace said in a soft, still sleepy voice. He slowly opened his eyes, blinked a
few times, and then he sighed, as if he were in pain. “I hate you seeing me
like this.” He scrubbed a hand over his face. “I called you last night, didn’t
did, but I’m here now. I didn’t get the message until just a little bit ago.”
pushed himself up, moved a hand over his hair, down over his face, and
scratched his chest.
looked at his chest, at the tattoos that he was still working on getting, some
of them partially done, and still needing to be colored in. There was a long
knife scar on his side, and she knew it was from a time his father had
home drunk and attacked Ace. She felt so much pain for
him, wished she could take it away from Ace, but all she could do was
here when he needed her. He breathed out, saw her looking
at his scar, and when she reached out to touch it he grabbed her hand in a
He sounded pained now, and she wanted to wrap him in a hug. They may only be
nineteen, and he may play the strong guy that didn’t let anyone in or hurt him
anymore, but she could look in his eyes and see how much he was hurting.
hate that you won’t let me help you, Ace.” They were close, so close, but she
knew he had this darkness inside of him that slowly ate him away, that made
this wall around him that kept people out.
was silent for several moments, and when he cupped her cheek in his big hand,
and she leaned into it, she swore she saw a wall break away.
so fucked up, but I try and pretend like I’m okay.”
nodded and covered his hand on her face with her own. “I know, but I’m here.
You know that, Ace.” She squeezed his hand. “You have to stop this, Ace. You
have to let me help you.”
nodded now. “I know, but I don’t want you contaminated by the toxicity that’s
inside of me.” He breathed out roughly, closed his eyes, and shook his head.
“But then I get drunk, think about you and how important you are to me, and I
do stupid shit like call you. Hell, I don’t even know what the fuck I said in
smiled even though his eyes were closed. “You said you missed me, but that you
were so tired.” Replaying what he’d said in her message made her sad, because
he’d sounded so sad in it. That was why she’d gotten so worried. “Why do you do
this to yourself? Why don’t you just let me be here with you when you feel out
then, right in front of her and shocking
broke down. He cried, his big body shaking. She climbed on the bed right next
to him, wrapped her arms around his much larger frame, and just held him.
wasn’t in a good place right now. Hell, she didn’t know if he’d ever been in a
good place in his life, but she’d help him get there. Lauren would not leave
his side, not for anything in the world. They were in this together until the