Authors: Ava Claire
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Anthologies, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Collections & Anthologies
Copyright © 2014 Ava Claire
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means whatsoever without express written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
The Beautiful Surrender Series
Waiting For You (Beautiful Surrender: Part One)
Waiting For Me (Beautiful Surrender: Part Two)
Waiting For Us ( Beautiful Surrender: Part Three)
Waiting For Forever (Beautiful Surrender: Part Four)
Waiting For Always (Beautiful Surrender: Part Five)
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'd never been shot, but I imagined this was what it felt like.
The numbness started at my center. It echoed through my muscles, magnifying the hollow ache in my bones. The silence was punctuated by the ringing, a dull buzzing that scratched and clawed. The fear in my blood raised the alarm. Something was off. Awry.
Then the pain rushed in.
It ricocheted from the point of impact, building and spreading like wildfire until I was consumed. There was nothing before the pain, and there would be nothing after.
Mackenzie's words were the bullet, and the round pierced me straight through the heart.
The baby I'd imagined faded from view, leaving behind nothing but a whisper. The baby I'd loved from the top of its perfect head to its tiny toes turned to smoke, dissipating and leaving gut-wrenching agony in its wake. There wasn't a piece of me growing by the second, a whole new life that I could help mold, to watch grow and flourish.
The love that filled me with such purpose and hope was ripped away, leaving me with a savage hole in my chest.
I wasn't the baby's father.
I blinked, the slightest of movements. A whisper really. But it was the scream in the silence that shattered the veneer of shock, and the sound that ripped its way from my mouth was a roar. From the way Delilah's assistant staggered backward and Melissa's hand jerked to her mouth, it must have been as animalistic and monstrous as it sounded in my head.
I advanced toward her, the color red drenching everything. Buckets of it turned everything in my sights crimson. I could care less that the girl's already pale complexion was unsettling, like at any moment she'd empty the contents of her stomach all over the floor. Anger turned her hair scarlet, just like Delilah's. Her wide eyes reminded me of the innocent victim role Delilah had perfected, turning the world into her stage. With each step the assistant took toward the exit, the flames inside me smoldered, burning hot until they scorched my bones.
"What did you say?" I spat.
I knew what she had said. Sure, her voice was high-pitched and mousy with the manic edge that usually drove me crazy, but I'd heard every word. She told me the truth that my ex-lover had kept from me. A truth that I hadn't even considered.
Yes—I knew what Mackenzie had said. The words were lashed across my consciousness. But I still needed to hear it again.
Her big brown eyes shot behind me, seeking refuge with Melissa.
"Don't look at her," I growled, snapping my fingers to make sure I had her attention. "I asked you a question."
We were practically back to the elevator. From the way she shook, I knew she could feel her proximity to the exit. But she'd have to turn and hit the button, and she trembled like she was worried the slightest movement would make me snap.
It was far too late for that. My sanity was already slipping away with each passing breath.
A swollen, pathetic tear streaked down her cheek. "Mr. Mason, I-" she croaked. An honest-to-God croak.
"Logan, leave her alone."
Melissa's voice was filled with authority, a power that took me by surprise. I glanced at her over my shoulder, locking onto her ocean blue eyes. A tsunami of condemnation whipped through her gaze, forcing me to take a breath. To take a look at myself.
When I faced Mackenzie and saw just how terrified she was of me, shame sparked in my chest. I didn't wear my fear on my sleeve in the old days; I tucked it behind an ironclad mask of indifference. But I knew all too well how it felt to be at someone's mercy. To be on the receiving end of cruelty.
I knew I should apologize to her and assure her that I had no intention of killing the messenger, but the anger still flickered in my gut, holding my tongue hostage.
Melissa's movements were quick and confident, stepping in front of me. Her voice was calm, the rhythm of it soothing the tension in the room.
"We appreciate you coming to us with this information, Mackenzie."
Mackenzie's eyes skittered up to me, glassy and disbelieving, then sank back to Melissa. "I just wanted to do the right thing. When Delilah told me that Mr. Mason was coming around, that he would provide for her child, I just couldn't go along with it anymore." She took a hesitant step toward me. No, not me. Toward Melissa. The girl was still solidly terrified of me. "I know I should have spoken up sooner-"
"And just how sooner would that have been?" I snarled, the calm splintering. "How long have you known that Delilah was playing me for a fool?”
When she looked up at me, chin trembling, face red with embarrassment, I knew I wouldn't have to extricate the truth from her. She'd spill it all without hesitation.
"How long doesn't matter," Melissa insisted. She stood beside the girl, putting a hand on her shoulder.
Mackenzie flinched, then relaxed, like she was finally releasing the massive weight of the secret.
"You can go,” Melissa said gently. “Thank you for coming by."
The girl decided to forego the elevator, dashing to the stairwell in a streak of black hair, stilettos, and fear.
The silence returned with a vengeance. It tore through my mind and stampeded through my muscles. It ripped and clenched my fists.
Melissa turned back to me and in an instant, the anger dimmed. I saw the memory of her wide eyes when she saw my bloodied knuckles. She took in the broken mirror and put two and two together. She was afraid of me in that moment. Afraid that she was in over her head. I promised I’d never let her feel fear in my name again.
I’d broken my promise.
I relaxed my hands, forcing the calm over me. She was still on high alert, her pretty face practically streaked with war paint. Her round blue eyes were crystal slits. Her high cheekbones were sharper than any blade. Her lips were a troubled slash as she glared at me. Challenged me to keep it up.
I felt the smile waiting beneath my frown and tried it on for size. "You can relax. No mirrors in my immediate vicinity."
Her frown deepened. "No mirrors—just a girl for you to bully and frighten."
I hurled the smile from my face. "She knew the truth from the beginning, Melissa. Back when Delilah was traipsing around town holding her baby bump, Mackenzie was the one I had to deal with. She had countless opportunities to come clean-"
"You can't live in the past, Logan," Melissa interjected. "Now, and the future, is all we have."
She moved closer, not caring that I could go nuclear. When I looked into her eyes, I didn't see my mistakes playing on loop. I saw love. I saw hope.
"You have to decide what comes next. What Delilah did-" Her voice shook with anger. "It was evil. But you don't have to skin her assistant alive. Or go after Delilah. This is your chance to show her that she can't turn you into that guy from the headlines."
The calm receded almost instantly and the fury rushed back in. "Headlines." I stormed away from her. Left her standing there with stars and gumdrops and unicorns in her eyes. She worked in marketing and public relations. She should know better than anyone that I couldn't just brush this off. My public image had been butchered in the media. Sure, I was the boss and no one uttered a word loud enough for me to hear, but their looks formed the letters and sounds that chipped away at the foundation of the business I'd built.
You're nothing more than an animal. Just like him.
It always came back to her. The hate burning like acid. Hate I had every right to feel towards her for what she did to me.
The mother that never showed me an ounce of love and compassion.
And the betrayal that turned me into a man that didn't do love and attachment, before Melissa.
I went to the liquor cabinet and pulled out the bottle that would turn the burn into something numbing. Help me catch my breath. It was all coming apart at the seams, pulling me into the pit of memories. I knew once I opened the door and went back to that place, there'd be no return. But I had tunnel vision, and all the reasons to keep the cork in the bottle disintegrated as I threw the bottle back and let the fire race down my throat.
If she knew what was good for her, Melissa would have followed Mackenzie. I almost opened my mouth to tell her so, but she picked up the bottle. She poured the amber liquid into a glass and brought it to her lips.
She winced, running her fingers through her hair. The golden locks drifted over one shoulder as she looked at me. It would be easier if she were judging me, easier to put the walls up before I let her get any closer. But it was too late to go back. Too late to not let her in. Keeping her at a distance, my beautiful, fierce submissive who opened her body and soul to me, was not an option.
I emptied my glass and poured myself a second. I waited until I knew my voice was steady before I pretended I was alright. "I feel like I should be making some sort of joke."
Melissa raised her chin, but her eyes were locked on her glass. "There's nothing funny about what Delilah has done."
Hurt sliced my chest, but I snuffed it out as best I could. "Some might say I deserved it."
Her gaze shot upward, like I'd just uttered the most ridiculous thing she'd ever heard. "How could anyone think you deserve this?"
"I turned sex into a transaction," I answered, my voice hollow. "Nothing monetary, but it was a service. They gave me their submission, and as my submissive, I gave them the escape they craved." The hurt I put aside ravaged its way across Melissa's face. The glass was forgotten, and I took her face in my hands. "What we have is different. I knew it was different the moment our lips touched."
Her eyes sparkled, the emotion rippling there turning playful. "Good answer."
I didn't fight the smile this time, letting it curve my lips, taking in the warmth of her, the warmth of happiness before the bitterness reclaimed me. The happy place where she was mine and nothing else mattered was a mirage in the face of what Delilah had done. It dropped the past before my eyes. I couldn't look away. I had to face it.
My throat was dry. As badly as I wanted to quench my thirst with every ounce of liquor in my cabinet, I filled my glass with water instead. I looked around at all the things in my apartment. The vast, empty wealth. All the things I bought to fill the void.
"When I was twenty-three, I was just getting started. A couple of business decisions put me on the fast track. I was laying the foundation of what Mason Acquisitions is today. When I hit twenty-four, I made my first million and I met someone. Elizabeth Kensington." I snorted, the name alone bringing back memories of the woman. Her curly, wild hair. The bohemian personality that drew me to her like a moth to the flame. Once I made a Forbes list for my wealth, it became difficult to pick out the people who gave a damn about me and those that gave a damn about my bank account. It was a skill I was adept at now, but back then, Elizabeth played me like the ukulele she used to strum every night. "She was studying sociology and seemed content to live on nothing but love and passion."
Using that word after what she did made me feel sick, and then I remembered Melissa and our colored history with that word. But she wasn't up in arms, her eyes turning from blue to green in a show of envy. She was just perched against the counter, listening intently.
"Life happened, and we grew apart. I tried to end things and she proposed to me." I took a long, steadying gulp of water. "The funny thing is, if she'd asked a few months earlier, it would have seemed like the best idea I'd ever heard.
“I declined, knowing that it signaled the end of us. And I didn't expect a clean break. I still cared for her deeply. But what I didn't expect was for her to use the final weapon left in her arsenal to hurt me: my mother."