Authors: L.G. Castillo
Secrets & Surrender 1
BROKEN ANGEL SERIES
STRONG & WILDE SERIES
[Cassie & Cody’s Story]
SECRETS & SURRENDER SERIES
[Mandi & Nic’s Story]
Copyright © 2015 by L.G Castillo
SECRETS & SURRENDER 1
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without express written permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Image and Cover Design:
Editor: Kristie Stramaski with EKS Edits
rowing up with a secret meant living in the shadows, keeping your heart closed off. It was a world I had let only a couple of people into—until I met Nic. If I’d known the sacrifices he would make to bring me into the light of his love, I never would’ve surrendered to him. At my feet, laid the one person who had given up his life for me. I stood helpless underneath the bright Texas sun, undeserving of his love, waiting for the inevitable dark clouds to roll in and pull me back into the dark where I belonged.
Kneeling, I placed a hand over Nic’s chest and the other on his head. Strands of silk fell between my fingers. Even now, I was surprised by the softness of the man who was in my arms. I must’ve touched him hundreds, if not thousands, of times since we’d first started dating. Regret and guilt warred within me: regret for the time I wasted pushing him away and guilt for failing to keep him out of my life.
He stirred, the movement causing a wet warmth to spread underneath my hand.
“Don’t move,” I whispered, silently wishing for magical powers to take away his pain.
A deep guttural sound escaped his perfectly shaped lips. Sweat beaded his brow, plastering his dark hair against a pale face. He was so beautiful—too beautiful for me and my crazy life. I’d been right all along. I never should’ve have given in to him. I should’ve stood my ground and said “no.”
Tracing the stubble along his jawline, I choked back a sob at the sight of his heartachingly handsome face twisted in agony. There wasn’t a woman alive who could say “no” to Nic Marcelli, and I wasn’t any different. He’d had his charm on full blast since the day I’d met him. And that day was the happiest and the most miserable I’d ever been.
“Mandi...” His voice was a hoarse gasp. “Juan?”
“Shh. Julian’s with him. He wasn’t hurt.” The pad of my thumb gently stroked his velvet skin as I prayed desperately that this was all a joke, that this was just his way of trying to get me to touch him, just like the first time he’d tricked me into kissing him.
I took in a shaky breath, ignoring the screaming sirens. I closed off Julian’s voice as he argued with the police, who were dragging Juan into the patrol car. I wanted to escape all of this mess, run away with Nic, and pretend the past few days hadn’t happened. I leaned over him, hovering inches above his face. My hair fell in long cascades, making a dark curtain, separating us from the chaos.
I kissed his soft lips and waited, waited for arms to suddenly wrap around me and pull me into his, waited for a flash of his lopsided grin and teasing eyes to open.
There was nothing...just a ragged breath, a slowing heartbeat, and cold horror seeping into my chest.
“Don’t you die on me, Marcelli,” my voice cracked the same words I’d said to him the night he stole my heart at Koppe Bridge.
Long dark lashes slowly opened. “You’ll...go out...with me?” he gasped.
“Yes, you silly man.” I cleared my throat, attempting to make my squeaky voice steady and strong. “Stay with me, Nic. You hear me. It took me forever to train you. I have you doing the laundry. You know how hard it was to do that?”
There was a ghost of a smile. “Pink boxers.”
I let out a chuckle, remembering the first time he’d done the laundry as a surprise for my mom. I’d fallen behind on the housework because of finals, and Juan was complaining that there were no clean clothes. Nic had tossed in a load into the washer, including the red bath towels and Juan’s boxers.
“Yep. I’ve finally taught you how to separate the colors from the whites and the wonders of fabric softener.” I couldn’t hold back the tears flooding my eyes. They streamed down my cheeks. Even in pain, Nic managed to say something to make me laugh. I couldn’t lose him. God, please don’t take this man away from me. Everything we’ve been through, everything we’ve fought for, it couldn’t end like this. We deserved our happily ever after.
“Mandi.” His lids struggled open until I was finally looking into pools of amber. “I love you.”
“Damn it, Nic! Don’t say that. Tell me tomorrow. Tell me next week. Hell, tell me next year when we’re celebrating our anniversary. I don’t wanna hear it now because you are
dying. You are not—Nic!”
His head fell back and his eyes fluttered closed.
“Nic! No! Nic!”
I shook him, yelling his name over and over again. When he didn’t respond, I shook harder. “Don’t leave me. I love you. Please, Nic, I can’t live without you. You’re my life. Come back to me. Please.”
I looked up, frantic for someone to help me. Juan sat in the back of the patrol car, his dark eyes a mixture of hurt and shock.
This was my fault, all my fault for bringing in someone from the outside into our family. All my life I’d taken care of my family. I’d kept their secrets, and now, when I’d given in and surrendered myself to love and let Nic into my heart and our family and our secrets, I was being punished for it. In the end, I’d lost everything.
My breaths came out in spurts and dark spots flooded my vision.
I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t be in a world without Nic.
I laid my head over his motionless body, wailing into his chest and wishing I could turn back the hands of time. If I had a second chance, would I have had the strength to keep Nic out of my life?
I closed my eyes and remembered the first time I met the only man that could ever make me want to surrender my heart.
he Ford Pinto shook as I pressed my foot down on the accelerator, singing my favorite
song at the top of my lungs. “You’re the wobbly one. Oo, oo, oo. It’s sunny.”
I glanced over at my home fry, Cassie Strong, the whites of her knuckles popping out as she clutched the door handle. We’d been best friends since eighth grade, when my parents decided Koppe, Texas would be a way cooler place to live than Los Angeles.
“What’s wrong, Cassie? You look a little green.”
“You-you-you said you passed the driver’s test, right?”
“Uh, okay.” She gulped and then her eyes suddenly widened. “Watch out!”
Turning my attention back to the road, I swerved, missing the car in front of me by an inch.
“The speed limit’s forty-five, not five!” I yelled out the window.
Shaking my head, I wondered why people drove so slow in this town. It wasn’t like LA, where the roads were basically one big parking lot. With all the open roads in Texas, you’d think people would take advantage of it.
The driver, an old woman with black-framed, oval glasses perched on her nose, gave me a slight nod and turned her attention back to the steering wheel.
“Well, how rude. The least she could do is move out of the way if she’s not willing to go the speed limit.”
“Mandi!” Cassie said, exasperated. “That was Mrs. Matthews. She can’t hear you. She’s partially deaf. Besides, we just passed a traffic sign. The speed limit is twenty.”
“Oops.” Giggling, I gently lifted my foot off the gas, and glanced into the rearview mirror. Mrs. Matthews’s curly gray hair barely peeked over the dashboard. All I could see was the steering wheel rotating back and forth as the car rolled down the street at a snail’s pace.
“Are you sure no one’s at the ranch?” Cassie asked.
“Yep. I was just there last week. It was totally empty. Do you want me to turn around? We don’t have to go see it.”
When Cassie’s father died last year, she and her mother had moved to Houston. Her mother wasn’t able to afford to keep the ranch she’d grown up on. It was horrible for Cassie, losing her father the way she did. Deputy Strong was well respected in Koppe and was missed by all. Even though he died a hero’s death, it didn’t take away the pain that lingered on Cassie’s face. I did everything I could to be there for her. Money was tight for both of us, so we were limited to occasional phone call and letters.
“No. I want to see it...I guess. I feel close to Dad whenever I’m here.” She gazed out the window, staring sadly into the horizon for a moment before placing a smile on her face. “Hey, I wanted to give your parents a thank you gift for letting me stay over. What should I get them?”
“You don’t have to do that. You’re family.” I gave the Pinto a little gas when the traffic light turned yellow. I may have pressed a little too hard because the car lurched forward and Cassie gasped, clutching the door handle tighter.
“Mandi, the light’s yellow!”
“Shouldn’t you slow down?”
“Uh, no. Yellow means go faster.”
As we sped through the now red light, there was a sudden drop, followed by a clang. Cassie squealed, bumping her head against the roof of the car. “Sorry about that. Damn potholes.”
Cassie stuck her head out the window. “I think you broke the car.”
I glanced at the rearview mirror. There was a large piece of metal sitting in the middle of the street. “Hmm, that’s not good. We’ll pick it up on the way back.”
When we finally arrived at Cassie’s old house, the energy in the car shifted, and she grew quiet. Her breath hitched as she stared at the house. The grass was over grown, and weeds were around the flowerbeds surrounding the house.
“Are you okay?” I asked softly.
“Yeah, I just wasn’t expecting it to look like this.”
She climbed out of the car and walked to the porch, her hand sliding up the rail. Flecks of white paint floated onto the stairs. “It’s so strange.”
“I can feel him...my dad.” Turning, her pretty brown eyes gazed out into the horizon as if searching. “It’s like if I look hard enough, I’ll be able to see his patrol car driving up the road, and he’ll honk, just like he used to.”
“If it hurts too much to be here, maybe we should leave.”
She shook her head. “It’s not that. I mean, it does hurt, but it feels like home here. It’s like he’s here with me. I don’t get that feeling when I’m in Houston.”
I had no idea how she did it. She was so strong. Everyone thought that I was the strong one. Probably because I had a loud mouth and I didn’t hold back what I was thinking, especially when it came to anyone hurting my family or friends.
“Hey.” I gave her a nudge. “My parents were serious about you living with us until you graduate.”
“They’re so sweet. But I can’t do that. You all barely have room and then to add me on top of that?”
She wasn’t kidding. There were five of us squeezed into a two-bedroom house. “They love you, Cassie. We don’t turn away family when family needs us.”
“Yeah, but what about Juan? I hate the thought of taking his room.”
“Oh, please! Juan sleeps on the couch more than he sleeps in his room anyway. Besides, we can’t really call it a bedroom, you know.” Juan’s room doubled as the laundry room. The small room had a cot he used as a bed. He complained about it all the time. I once told him that I’d gladly trade places, but he’d have to sleep in the same room with our baby sister, Selina. That shut him up real fast. I guess he didn’t like the idea of changing her diapers.
“Come on. Say ‘yes.’” I tugged her ponytail playfully.
I could tell by the expression on her face that she wanted to give in. She just needed a little nudging.
“You know,” I glanced at my nails, keeping my voice nonchalant, “I could use some help with Selina and Miguelito. Senior year will be totally hectic with classes and all the college admissions essays I have to write, not to mention applying to every college scholarship I can find. I’m not sure when I’ll find the time to do it all, not if I have to take care of them after school.