Authors: R. K. Lilley
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.
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.
Book Two in the Love is War Duet.
This is the conclusion of Scarlett and Dante's story.
He had done it again.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
, 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.
"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.
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.
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?"
"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.
I actually meant it.
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 literally baked every time she came over, no exceptions.
What the hell was up with that?