by Marie Hall
Ryan Cosgrove and Liliana Delgado are on a collision course with destiny. They don’t know it yet, but before the night is over their lives will be forever changed.
Spending Valentine’s Day at a burlesque bar, hadn’t been Liliana’s ideal way of spending a Friday night. She’d much rather be back on campus doing homework… until she meets Ryan. Tall, athletic, and gorgeous, Lili can’t keep her eyes off him, and despite his gruff manners and drunken disposition she’s intrigued.
Ryan’s got demons, and they’re deep, dark, and eating him alive. Regardless of his attraction to the petite brunette he’s tired of fighting, of pretending the last fifteen years haven’t been a daily struggle just to get out of bed every morning. That night he decides to end his pain, to leave it all behind and float away into the blessed darkness of oblivion. But fate has other plans for him, Lily finds and rescues Ryan, determined she’ll not only save his body, but his soul too.
This is their moment…
* * *
Rolling over, I stare at the woman with her arms draped over my chest. I don’t know her. I never do anymore. And I like it like that, so much easier to kick them out in the morning.
I can’t sleep.
Why the hell did I come back to Austin?
Moving her arm away, I sit up. The silver dog tags around my neck wink from the sliver of moonlight spilling through my window. It’s too early. Running fingers through my hair I push aside the curtain and stare up at the sky.
It’s bursting with stars.
When I’d flown back to the states I knew I couldn’t live anywhere near my folks. In the four years I’ve been away they’ve never tried to contact me once. So when I’d returned, I didn’t felt the need to tell them so. Far as they know their wayward child is still a Marine and still fighting in Afghanistan.
Texas is quiet tonight– only the low rumble of thunder in the distance and gentle hum of cicadas out my window disturb the peaceful night.
She snores and I glower.
I can’t think in here.
The room is hot and stifling; the AC froze up last night.
Walking toward the kitchen, I grab my skull and rub. She has to leave, first second she wakes up. I can’t stand her in my house anymore, filling the rooms with her awful stench of smokes and sweat and beer.
Grabbing a mug out of the cabinet I put some water to boil and then look for the tea bags. A bedroom door opens. It’s my cousin, Alex.
We look nothing alike. I’m dark, he’s blond. Got it from his mom. Slimmer than me, but still athletic, he’s also taller by a good six inches, and the only member of my family I can still stand. He’s also my roommate.
Which, so far, no one knows about. Small miracle that.
Because, though I’d been so sure I wouldn’t live anywhere near my parents, somehow I wound up only thirty minutes away from the home I’d grown up in. Thank God Austin’s so huge.
“Dude,” he rubs his eyes, “it’s four fucking thirty in the morning.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I wave him off.
When his eyes adjust he blinks and then grimaces. “Clothes, Ryan. Damn. First you wake me up, then you walk around buck assed naked in my house. Gives a man nightmares.”
Snorting, I walk to the dryer in the laundry room and pull out a pair of track pants I’d washed but hadn’t yet folded. Putting them on, I hold my arms out. “Better?”
“Not really.” Walking up to the stove he glances at the kettle. “Making your wussy tea again?”
I don’t bother answering. Yeah, it’s not the most manly thing, but I like chamomile. It calms me, and right now I feel anything but. There’s a raging fire burning in my gut, beating in my skull. Tomorrow’s the day.
I fucking hate Valentine’s Day.
The kettle whistles and my hands tremble as I pour the water into my mug.
I feel his eyes on me.
He sees too much, knows almost everything.
Sometimes I think I am stupid to keep him around. But no matter how much I try to shake him, Alex never leaves.
I swear he planted a beacon in my ass right before I left to the Marines, because fourteen hours after landing back in Texas, he found me. Told me I was stuck with him and we never talk about the rest.
Though sometimes he likes to push things a little too far.
“So tomorrow,” he says slowly.
Jaw clenching, I pretend not to hear him and drop the tea bag into my mug.
“Are we doing it again?”
“What the hell, dude?” I growl, shoving passed him as I walk to the kitchen table. “Can’t a man just drink his tea in peace?”
“We have to talk about this.”
“No the hell we don’t.” I take a sip even though I know the tea’s not ready.
The water’s so hot it burns my tongue immediately, but it barely fazes me. The throbbing helps me to stay centered and focused on the now. Not the past that haunts my every waking moment like some damn specter in a horror movie.
I turn to him the second he sits. His hair is poking up everywhere, his eyes still semi-swollen from sleep and glinting with worry.
“Man, how long we gonna keep pretending this never happened?”
Every muscle in my arm tenses. I want to hit him. To smash my fist through his nose, break it in half, crack his jaw the way his dad had done mine. I’d learned things in the Marines. How to fight, how to kill.
I’m not the same kid who’d left, the one who’d screamed and cried like a little bitch because I’d had an owie.
“I’m not talking about this. We still on or what?”
Alex sighs. A heavy sound that speaks volumes– that says he’s tired, but he still holds out hope that someday he’ll reach me.
I want to laugh. There’s no more hope. This is who I am now.
“Yeah.” Alex finally nods, running his fingers through his hair. “Yeah, we’re still on. But I get to pick the place this time.” He narrows his eyes. “And the second I say you’re done. You’re done. You got it.” His voice shivers with the faint stirrings of a snarl.
“It’s cute the way you think you can intimidate me.” I snort. “You don’t have to come with me, but I’m going either way.”
I drink my tea, staring at him hard over the edge of my mug.
“I said I was going, don’t be such an ass, Ryan. I just care, man. Okay, that’s it.” He shoves away from the table, disgust written all over his face.
The door slams down the hall.
I could have told him to save his care for someone who matters. That I’m not worth caring about. That there’s nothing left in me anymore. I’m a used up, hollowed out, shell of a man.
But I swallow the words like I swallow everything else.
Because I’m good at that.
About Marie Hall
Marie Hall has always held a dangerous fascination for creatures that go bump in the night. And mermaids. And of course fairies. Trolls. Unicorns. Shapeshifters. Vampires. Scottish brogues. Kilts. Beefy arms. Ummm… Bad boys! Especially the sexy ones.
Then the day came she realized apart from the sexy bad boy she married, there’d be no vampires/shapeshifters/mermaids/fairies/or even stinky trolls in her future unless she wrote about them. More often than not she can be found roaming the wild, lush tropical forest she calls her backyard (a.k.a. Hawaii) and day dreaming constantly about her latest project.
Her Mad Hatter is the first book of her Kingdom Series.
She loves to hear from her readers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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