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Authors: Belle Aurora

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Contents

COPYRIGHT

DEDICATION

PROLOGUE

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

Chapter Twenty Three

Chapter Twenty Four

Chapter Twenty Five

Chapter Twenty Six

Chapter Twenty Seven

Chapter Twenty Eight

Epilogue

RAW

Published by Belle Aurora

Copyright © 2014 Belle Aurora
First published 2014

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author, addressed “Request: Copyright Approval” at [email protected]

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Belle Aurora is in no way affiliated with any brands, songs or musicians or artists mentioned in this book.

Formatting by Frankie Rose

[email protected]

Dedication:

To anyone who has ever loved unconditionally.
To all the people who have loved someone that did not deserve it.
And finally, to every person who has followed their heart down the path less travelled.

This is for you.

Twenty years ago…

I can hear them again.

My neighbors are fighting. The little boy screams for him to stop.

I kneel down by my window. Closing my eyes tight, I cover my ears and sing to myself.

I don’t like it.
 

Then, nothing.

I listen hard, then uncover my ears.

Turning around, I stand a little, peek over the edge of the window, and see him walking fast by the side of my house. He stumbles, falls, and crawls out of my sight.

He’s hurt.

My heart races.

I could get in a lot of trouble. Daddy would be real mad.

Kneeling down out of sight for a moment, I stand quickly and creep to the doorframe.

I listen. Hard.

The TV plays and I hear him snore.

Hope ignites.
 

Tiptoeing down the stairs, I sneak into the kitchen. Getting a chair from the small dining table, I stand on it and reach for the top shelf.

I get what I need, slide the chair back in, and make my way to the back door.

My hand reaches for the knob, grips it tight, then…I still.

I could get in a lot of trouble for this.

My heart beats out of my chest.

Turning the knob, it squeaks a little, and fear washes over me. Stopping, I turn it so slowly that it takes forever to make the rotation.

Finally, I feel the latch click over, and I pull the door open. Taking off my slippers, I put them in between the door and frame so the door can’t close.

Barefoot and dressed only in my white nightie, I tread softly through the backyard, the soft grass cold under my feet, following the sound of the heavy breathing and soft crying.

Finding him at the back of the property line under a tree, I see him cover his face with his hands. His body shakes.

Even hidden away in the dark, he doesn’t want anyone to see his tears.

He’s trying to be strong.

My heart hurts.

Slowly walking closer, I step on a twig. It breaks, and his face snaps up to look at me.

Jumping up like a jack in the box, he yells out, “Get away from me.”

Not coming any closer, I put down my supplies and whisper, “You’re hurt.”

He watches me carefully, looking between the things I’ve brought and my face, as if searching for some hint of this being a joke.

He scowls and says quietly, “I’m always hurt.”

Even in the dark, I see the hatred in his eyes. It shines bright as day.

I see his cheek become darker. Stepping forward with wide eyes, I tell him, “You’re bleeding.”

Reaching up to his cheek, he touches the wound with his fingertips, pulls it away, then looks at his blood. He rubs it between his thumb and middle finger slowly. Caressing the blood, as if in apology.

I stutter, “I- I can help you.”

Lifting his cold eyes to me, he spits, “No one can help me.”

He can’t boss me around.

Placing a hand on my hip, I glare at him and whisper-hiss, “I could get into a lot of trouble. My daddy would be real mad. And…and I came to help you.” Suddenly scared for myself, I say a hushed, “Please, let me help you.”

I need to get back inside before my dad finds out I’m not in bed.

My face must show my fear because his posture relaxes a little, and he asks, “Why would you help me then?”

I’m not sure.

I shrug. “You’re hurt.”

“No one else cares if I’m hurt.”

My heart races.

I whisper, “I do.”

We stand there, staring at each other a long time.

Finally, he comes closer to me and asks, “What’s your name?”

“Alexa. Alexa Ballentine.”

He nods, but says nothing.

“What’s your name?”

He kicks at a stone. “Doesn’t matter. You’ll forget it once I’m gone.”

My stomach aches. I need to know his name.

Stepping closer, I promise, “No, I won’t.”

Lifting his head, he runs a hand through his messy brown hair to keep it out of his face. He watches me a second more before he utters, “Antonio Falco.”

I want to say it’s nice to meet him, but it doesn’t feel right.

Shuffling around from foot to foot, I ask, “How old are you?”

He leans back on the tree trunk. “Eight.”

He seems older to me.

He asks, “How old are you?”

“Six.” Pause. “I’ll be seven soon,” I lie.

His brow furrows. “You look older.”

Wow. I just thought the same thing about him.

Not thinking, I blurt out, “Why does your daddy hurt you?”

His jaw steels and he explains, “He’s my step-dad.”

Hearing a noise in the house, I turn, and my eyes widen in terror. Turning back to Antonio, I whisper, “Please let me help you.”

Lowering his eyes, he murmurs, “Okay.”

Relief and joy swirl through my body.

He steps forward into the moonlight and I gasp. The top of his cheek is gaping.

I swallow hard, trying not to be sick.

Taking some cotton and antiseptic, I warn, “This smelly stuff stings.”

But when I dab it on his wound, he doesn’t even flinch. His eyes never leave mine.

Taking a band-aid, I open it and place it on the top of his cheekbone. It doesn’t do much. The wound is too big. But he still mutters, “Thanks.”

Another noise in the house makes me jolt. Looking into his brown eyes, I whisper urgently, “I need to go. I’ll see you another time, Antonio.”

He looks down at the ground. “No. You won’t.”

And I didn’t.

Not ever again.

Sydney, Australia. 2014.

The knocking on the door won’t quit.

Burying myself deeper into the mattress, I pull the covers tighter around me and sigh dreamily.

Knock knock knock…

“Alexa, get your arse up! Did you forget what today is?” That sounds like Drew.

My eyes snap open and I gasp.

“Shit.” I jump out of bed as if I was ejected. “Shit!”

Running down the hall to the front door, I undo the latch and swing the door open. An annoyed looking Drew stands there. He takes one look at my body and his mouth gapes.
 

Brow furrowing, I look down and yell, “Shit!”
 

I don’t like to sleep in anything too bulky. A spaghetti-strapped tank and panties are my usual bedding combo. Running back to my room, I hear Drew chuckle and I shout, “Laugh it up, Drew! You’ll get yours.”

Drew is a fellow case worker, and I forgot – I fucking
forgot
– that we need to be in court early this morning.

I moved to Australia from the US when I was eighteen. My foster mom took care of me from the time I was sixteen, and when her health started to decline, she wanted to move to be closer to her family. Being Australian born, that’s where she was headed, and I accepted that I was losing my mama.
 

Only, that’s not what happened.

After days of being depressed over her impending departure, she stated, “You need to pack your things into boxes so I can send them ahead of us. You should only keep a suitcase full of clothes. I’ll make sure I don’t send everything too early, but I still want our stuff to meet us when we get there.”

My head snapped up.

Say what now?

Mom’s face fell at my dumbfounded expression. “You don’t want to come with me?”

Blinking a few moments, I let out an excited shriek and jumped on her. “Yes! Yes! I do, Mama!”

Thus ending our little miscommunication.

Undressing, I spray my body with deodorant for a good thirty seconds before tossing the can aside and rummaging for something decent to wear. I settle for a long-sleeved white shirt tucked into black slacks, and add a thin black belt.

Definitely courthouse chic.

Slipping on a pair of low heels, I swipe the sleep from my eyes, release my hair from its ponytail, shake it out, and look at myself in the mirror.

Not bad. It could be a lot worse.

Pursing my lips, I nod my head in affirmation.

It’s going to have to do. I don’t have time right now.

Stepping out of my room, Drew turns to me and does a double take. His blue eyes widen. “You seriously got…” he gestures to my entire body, “…all of
that
done in not even five minutes?”

Rushing to grab my purse in the kitchenette, I say, “Uh huh.”

He shakes his head, muttering, “I gotta have serious words with my girl. Seriously, though. Who needs two hours to get ready to go to the movies?”

That is a long time.

Finally having located my purse and files, I walk back out to him. “Don’t start anything that’s going to backfire. She only takes so long because she wants to look nice for you.”

Walking to my front door, he scoffs, “I prefer her without all the shit all over her face.”

Stopping in my tracks, I place a hand on my hip and tilt my head. “Have you told her that?”

Drew’s lips purse indignantly.
 

Just as I thought. No. He hasn’t.

Lifting my brows and pointing my finger at him, I instruct, “You need to tell her that.”

We exit my unit and head out to his car. On the way over to the courthouse, he asks, “You know what you need to say?”

Nodding, I tell him, “It’s straight forward. In and out. Tahlia takes better care of herself than her parents do. And besides that, she’s seventeen. If she wants to be emancipated, I think she’s got a great chance. We’re not talking about a thirteen-year-old here. We’re talking about a seventeen-year-old who left home at fifteen, got a job, and found a place to stay. On. Her. Own. She’s responsible, and…” turning to Drew, I add with a smile, “She’s such a nice girl. So sweet and charming. I think she’s got what it takes to stay out of the system.”

Drew turns back to the road, smiling, “I think this one’s in the bag.”

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