Authors: Sydney Landon
opyright 2015 Sydney
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Graphic Content Warning: This novel contains depictions of violence, sexual abuse and child abuse.
LSO BY SYDNEY LANDON
HE DANVERS NOVELS
HE PIERCED SERIES
Lucian & Lia Trilogy (Complete Trilogy): Pierced, Fractured, Mended
o my beautiful flower girl
sure you received my first or second letters, so I’m writing again. Things have been crazy since I saw you last, but I need you to know you have been in my heart and in my thoughts.
. It has been six weeks since I saw you last, and I miss the touch of your soft skin. I miss looking into your beautiful blue eyes. I miss your laughter and the crazy conversations we shared.
lease write back to me
. Let’s work out a place we can meet.
ll my love forever
fourteen the first time I tried to kill myself. I swallowed a bottle of my mother’s Ativan. Unfortunately, our maid found me soon after and put two and two together when she saw the empty pill bottle on the floor. Our neighbor, Dr. Holland, rushed over and forced me to drink something that looked like charcoal. There were more indignities involved that I won’t go into, but needless to say, it fucking sucked.
My father railed at me for hours afterward about the embarrassment I had caused him and how horrifying it would be if any of his friends or colleagues found out. My mother pissed and moaned about how I’d wasted her bottle of anxiety medication and how inconvenient it would be for her to refill the script again.
I promised I wouldn’t put them through that kind of trouble again and kept my word until I was seventeen. On that last attempt, I slit my wrists in my parents’ bedroom. Somehow, the irony of killing myself in the room of the people who I hated so much seemed symbolic. Plus, they weren’t due home for another day from their latest mini-vacation, so I never expected I would be saved.
Again, my father was pissed he had to call Dr. Holland. And my mother went on and on about how I’d ruined the carpet in the bedroom. She used the whole “incident,” as they’d taken to calling it, as an excuse to have all the carpeting removed from the house and hardwood floors installed. I could almost imagine the conversation she must have had with my father.
We need to be prepared in case Rose tries to off herself again. Just think of how much faster the cleanup will be next time.
In a strange way, I can almost admire how easily my parents, Hoyt and Celia Madden, bounced back from life’s little surprises. Other than being annoyed at having to deal with me, they were surprisingly unscathed when I “acted out.” Yes, that was the other term they used to describe their daughter attempting to take her own life. Something that should have been, at the very least, a cry for help was trivialized as nothing more than me going through
those awkward teenage years
. I’d started having panic attacks a few years before my first attempt, which should have possibly tipped them off that I was in distress, but instead, my mother had rolled her eyes and told me to start carrying a bag around in case it was the housekeeper’s day off. It fascinated me that she saw it as the housekeeper’s role to provide the bag, rather than her own. It also communicated her indifference and scorn loudly.
After the second attempt, I gave up on ending it all and just looked for ways to cope. I was every cliché in the book.
Poor little rich girl, what does she know about the real world?
A valid question maybe. I had, after all, been raised in a big house with actual staff that took care of all of our needs. I wore designer labels and expensive jewelry. I never wanted for material possessions because they were part of the package my father presented to the world. We were the Maddens. We were old money and prestige. The perfect family—or, at least, that’s the image my parents desperately tried to project.
Funnily enough, he may have wanted me to dress and act like a lady, but he had instilled in me a love of guns from an early age. Target practice was the only bonding experience I ever had with my father. I had been thrilled the first time he’d taken me with him until I learned it was just another area of my life where I was expected to be perfect. I was a glorified show dog, after all, and any shortcomings on my part reflected poorly on him. I would hazard a guess that I was probably the only little girl in my third-grade class who was an expert marksman. Instead of a doll for Christmas, I got a new handgun. I could go on, but you get the idea.
At eighteen, quite by accident, I found a way to rebel against my parents’ dictates, while still appearing to follow them. I cut my leg while shaving and marveled for days over the small imperfection that no one seemed to notice. As silly as it may sound, I felt I had control over something in my life for the first time ever. Thus began my voyage into cutting, or self-mutilation as the experts called it.
I took perverse pleasure in knowing there was a new cut on my inner thigh that no one knew anything about. I could sit at the dining room table across from my parents looking like June freaking Cleaver, and they had no clue as to the wounds I’d inflicted upon myself. I held the power over this small part of my life, and oh, did I relish it. I longed to tell them that their flawless daughter was in reality damaged both mentally and physically, but I knew if it did, they would take that from me as well.
Yes, I’m quite aware of how insane it sounds to be frightened of losing the ability to cut myself, but it was the only piece of free will that I’d been left with. Until I met Jake Ryan during my second year of college. He was thoughtful, considerate, and gorgeous. He was my first official boyfriend and lover. My parents had been okay with him because his parents were a part of Asheville society, but they made sure to point out that he wasn’t future husband material. They had bigger aspirations for me. I was just thrilled to be living what felt like a normal life. I also had a real friend in my new roommate, Lia Adams.
For what seemed like but a moment, but was actually a couple of years, things were good. My parents were still overbearing, but since I didn’t live
them, I was somewhat removed from their demands. I was no longer cutting either as Jake knew all about it and had pleaded with me to stop.
But I should have known it wouldn’t last. My roommate and best friend, who had so recently become involved with Lucian Quinn, a very rich and powerful software magnate, was brutally attacked by her stepfather in the basement of our apartment building. Around the same time, I discovered that Jake had been cheating on me for months. It was over. The beautiful illusion I’d been living shattered, and I returned to the only way I knew to cope.
“Rose! Are you asleep with your eyes open?” I come back to the present with a jolt as my friend, Lia, snaps her fingers in front of my face. “Is everything all right?” she asks, looking at me in concern.
“I’m fine, chick.” I give her a reassuring smile, dropping my shield into place automatically. Lia is the closest thing I have to a sister, and I love her dearly. She knows me well enough to sense there are areas of my life I keep locked away, but she doesn’t push me. After all, Lia understands secrets far too well. An abusive mother raised her, and her stepfather had terrorized her. The fact that she is sitting before me now looking beautifully relaxed and happy is a testament to her strength and resilience. Of course, being married to Lucian and having a gorgeous baby girl probably helps greatly. Surprisingly enough, I’m not jealous of her perfect life. If I feel anything when I see her and her doting husband together, it’s a pang of sadness that I’ll never have the same. Instead, I’ll likely be stuck in some loveless marriage to please my father. “So how is that hot hunk of a hubby this morning? You have that relaxed, sexed-up look going on.”
Lia blushes, which somehow amazes me. After all she’s been through in her life, I wonder how she can still maintain some degree of innocence. She tosses a Splenda packet at me while rubbing her face. “He’s fine. He got up with Lara during the night and let me sleep.”
Wiggling my eyebrows suggestively, I say, “So you gave him a great big reward for being a good boy?”
“He supplied the ‘big’ part,” she zings back before clapping a hand over her mouth. “You’re rubbing off on me.” She sighs ruefully.
I laugh, easily pushing my own problems aside as I enjoy my girl time. “Worse things have happened, my little virginal friend.” When she opens her mouth to dispute my statement, I add, “That’s not a literal title. You’re just still so easy to shock, which is unbelievable considering who you’re married to—sex on a stick.” I lick my lips and grin as she narrows her eyes. The kitty does have claws when it involves her man. Those two are so in love with each other that it should be sickening, but instead, it’s almost comforting to me. Despite everything they’ve been through, they found and recognized their soul mate in each other.
Ignoring my description of her husband, Lia takes a sip of her latte before saying, “I saw Max yesterday.”
My hand tightens around my cup before I can stop it. I see Lia’s gaze take in that telltale sign. “How’s he doing?” I ask, careful to keep my voice steady. Max Decker is Lucian’s lawyer as well as the man I have lusted after for well over a year. I doled out some jail-yard justice when I found out Jake had been cheating on me. I smashed up his car and shot out his tires. Lucian sent Max to bail me out of jail. Then I proceeded to torture Jake a few more times, just to spend more time with the oh-so-sexy and handsome lawyer. Am I proud of it? Well, yeah, actually I am. What I hadn’t expected, though, was that I would develop real feelings for the aloof lawyer. Jake might have been the only guy I’d ever had sex with, but even with my limited experience, I knew Max desired me. He may have tried to deny it, but he couldn’t hide his body’s responses. Something always stopped him from giving in, though. Shadows in his beautiful gray eyes seemed to match my own. I hadn’t seen him since Lia’s daughter, Lara, was born, and God, had I missed him.
“He’s Max,” she says simply. “You know, he’s rather surprised me, though, with how he much he enjoys Lara. He’s not in the least bit afraid to pick her up. In fact, he goes straight to her when he visits.”
“Really?” I ask in shock. I can’t imagine my uptight lawyer going goo-goo over a baby. He doesn’t seem the type at all.
“Oh, yeah.” Lia shakes her head. “The first time she spit up on his shoulder, I held my breath. I mean I wasn’t worried about him freaking out or anything, but I did think he might be upset over staining his expensive suit. But he just shrugged and shifted her to the other shoulder while I wiped it off. Luc said he still had the jacket on that afternoon and hadn’t even gone home to change.”
“Wow,” I murmur, “that’s actually kinda sweet.” Dammit, I didn’t need another reason to be infatuated with Max Decker. Next, she was going to tell me that he loved dogs and carried his elderly neighbor’s groceries for her. Thinking of him as cold and distant was the only thing that kept me from embarrassing myself by chasing after him.
“He asked about you,” she casually tossed out.
It took a few seconds for her words to register. When they did, I could only gape at her. Shouldn’t this have been the first thing she mentioned instead of dead last? My cool seems to desert me as I ask far too eagerly, “What did he say?”
She grins as if to say, “gotcha,” before saying, “He wanted to know how you had been. I told him you were doing well. He also asked if you were working anywhere and I um … kind of said that you were coming to work with me soon.”
“You did what?” I sputter. Maybe she didn’t want to admit I was doing nothing but sitting in my apartment every day because my father doesn’t think I need to waste my time on some “menial temporary job.”
Lia carefully sets her cup down before giving me her big, hopeful, puppy-dog eyes.
Shit, she’s up to something. I’d know that look anywhere.
Lia’s father, Lee Jacks, recently purchased a medical staffing company in desperate need of new management and a change of direction. He wanted Lia to take over the daily operations of the company and apply the knowledge that came with her new degree in business analysis. “I want you to come to work with me.” When I open my mouth to automatically object, she holds up her hand to stop me. “Please don’t say no yet. You and I both have the same degree, and together, along with Lee’s help, I know we can do it. You’re my best friend and the sister I always wanted. Say you’ll do it, Rose,” she pleads.
My heart feels as if it will jump out of my chest. She can’t possibly have any idea how much I want what she’s offering. To work alongside her while we attempt to revive a struggling company would be a dream come true. This is the type of opportunity I should be jumping at. Isn’t this why I spent four years in college? Instead, excuses pour from my lips. “I couldn’t possibly … I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet. You should hire someone with more experience. I mean you know what they say about friends working together.” I do my best to ignore the voice in my head screaming, ‘Say yes, Rose. Say yes!’
She stares at me with a raised brow as if waiting for my tirade to die down. “To use one of your favorite sayings, I’m calling bullshit. I saw the look on your face. You want to do this, so why are you trying to talk yourself out of it? Have you already taken another job?”
“What? No,” I answer far too quickly. Dammit, I should have said yes. That would have been less awkward. Now, she’s staring at me intently, and I find myself shifting uncomfortably.
When her chin wobbles, I know I’m screwed. “Don’t you want to work together? I can’t think of anyone in the world I’d rather have by my side than you—my best friend in the world. Heck, my only friend for so long.”
And there it is—the kill shot. Even though I have no earthly idea how I’ll manage it, I can’t say no to her. I have a mother and a father, but in my heart, I know she is all I really have. The one person who loves me just as I am. I can’t let her down, no matter how much this new job pisses off my father. If I’m actually making my own money, what else does he have to hold over my head? A small flicker of unease moves through me as I think of walking away from my family. They’ve made me doubt that I can ever stand on my own and be anything other than their trophy daughter. Somehow, I feel as if Lia’s offer is so much more than a simple job. She is giving me a chance to prove to myself that my life doesn’t have to go as it’s been scripted. The prospect is both exciting and terrifying. I know with a certainty, though, if I don’t take this opportunity, I’ve as good as given up. Releasing the breath I hadn’t even been aware of holding, I say with much more confidence than I’m feeling, “So when do I start, boss?”
Lia jumps to her feet and squeals loud enough to attract the attention of everyone nearby. “This is awesome. You won’t regret it, Rose, I swear. We’re going to take that company right back to the top.”
And that, right there, is why I love having Lia as my friend. She does believe in me. She does see me as more.