Betray (verb): to deliver to an enemy by treachery
Sold to a sex trafficker by her drug-dealing boyfriend, Phebe Lawson possessed first-hand knowledge of the secrets of betrayal. She’d given up all hope. Her life no longer held any meaning. She would have wished for death to come and take her away, except, she knew wishes were wasted on people like her. Until the day he entered her life. He was a beacon of light in the bleakness she called existence. His arrival sparked a longing inside her that, maybe, hope wasn’t a useless emotion after all.
Heal (verb): to make sound or whole
Donovan Jeffries was the charming one. The flirty, social Dom of the local BDSM club, Eden. He thought he’d found the perfect submissive. Until she betrayed him with another. He closed himself off, vowing to never give his heart to another woman. Until the day she entered his life. Her despair touched a part of his soul he’d thought forever lost, and he would move heaven and earth to piece all her broken parts back together.
*this book contains dark elements that may be difficult for some readers*
Cold. I was always so fucking cold. I took three showers a day to try and get warm. I ignored the voice inside that said I was taking them to wash away the uncleanliness.
Stop it, Phebe. It’s over. You’re safe now.
That was something else I did every day, although it was definitely more than three times. I constantly reminded myself that I wasn’t back there anymore. With him. In that cell. That I was safe. Even if safe was a relative word.
I mean, what does safe truly mean anyway? My body might currently be protected, but there was no doubt my mind was far from fucking safe. From secure. Tendrils of thought were moments away from snapping, but I held on for dear life. I pushed that shit back to the deepest recesses of my brain. Slammed the compartment door closed and locked that bitch up tight.
Grass tickled my feet as I strolled barefoot through the backyard of the house I was staying at, the sensation reminding me of a happier time. A time of innocence. A self-deprecating laugh bubbled out of me at the thought. There was nothing innocent about me. Not any longer. I couldn’t even remember a time that I wasn’t tainted.
Ignoring that thought, I continued my walk, the birds singing in the trees around me, the faint sound of a dog barking a few houses over, the sunlight peeking through the tree branches to produce random patterns of light on the ground.
I wrapped my arms around myself as I shivered despite the heat and the layers of clothing I wore, my toes tracing one of the patterns. It could be a scorching summer day and even wearing a winter coat and sweatpants, I still wouldn’t be warm. I was doomed to be perpetually cold. And even though the ground was damp, never again would I take for granted the feel of grass under my feet, a beautiful flower, or the sunshine above me.
I also didn’t care how cold it was outside, I needed to be out here, in the fresh air where I felt like I could breathe. I was constantly being smothered living inside. I needed out. Behind me a door opened, the sound causing me to jump.
Would I ever stop jerking at the slightest noise?
I knew it was ridiculous, but I ignored the soft sound of footfalls coming closer to me. Maybe if I didn’t acknowledge her, she’d go away. Wishful thinking, because, yes, I knew who it was. I’d excelled at quickly identifying footfalls. I’d memorized each one during my captivity, so I always recognized who was coming for me.
At the beginning of my relationship with Kieran, I’d been a social butterfly. I’d had tons of friends, even if they weren’t always the right kind. Although, thinking on it, maybe they weren’t really friends after all. Regardless, I’d loved being around people. Going to the clubs and having a good time. Now, the thought of being in a room full of people gave me chills. I didn’t want people touching me or looking too closely at me. I shivered, again, despite the heat.
“Hey there.” The woman’s voice came from a close enough distance to make me a little nervous, although I could tell she tried not to startle me. It was sad, really, that a person couldn’t even stand five feet from me without making me twitchy. I hated this feeling and all the people who caused it. Knowing it was futile to ignore her, I slowly turned toward the interloper.
A beautiful red-head named Bridget stood there looking stunning in a vintage blue and white halter rockabilly dress that hugged her in all the right places. Bright red Mary Jane high heels complemented the outfit. I almost envied her style and confidence. Every time I saw her, it reminded me of all the nice things I used to have, which only made me bitter and liking her more difficult. If it weren’t so sad, it would be comical to see how far I’d fallen.
Her chocolate brown eyes were filled with pity, even though she tried to hide it. She’d been stopping by every other day since I got here. In fact, I saw her more than Connor or Webber. I wasn’t sure if it was intentional or not. Connor had been right though. Other than the protective detail I never saw, but knew stayed close by, I was here alone. With my thoughts. My nightmares. Which was both a blessing and a curse.
“Hey,” I intoned almost listlessly, attempting a small smile.
“I was just checking to see if you were still doing okay on groceries or if there was anything else you needed. I’m running to the store today and wanted to make sure I picked up some things for you.”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.” Food tasted like saw dust anymore anyway. I ate enough to keep me from starving to death, but nothing tasted right. The way it used to. My entire life, right down to the food I ate, was forever tainted. I didn’t think there was anything that would change that.
Bridget looked like she wanted to say more on the topic, but I turned away, going back to drawing patterns with my toes. I wasn’t intentionally trying to be rude. I just didn’t feel like talking anymore. She cleared her throat uncomfortably behind me. She also didn’t take my less than subtle hint, because she began to speak again.
“Connor’s lawyer friend, who is taking on the case against your boyfriend, is heading over here. I just wanted to let you know that he should be here soon. I’d imagine it’s going to be hard for you to discuss certain things, so I’m available if you need someone to be there with you. For support, you know.”
“I don’t want you there.” I inwardly winced at my harsh tone. I turned back around to face her. Pity had been replaced by hurt. “Shit. I’m sorry. I appreciate you wanting to be there, but I’d rather you not. I’ll be okay. Thanks for the offer.” God, I was such an asshole.
Bridget nodded in resignation and turned to go back inside the house. I went back to my wandering, stopping once in a while to just absorb the sunlight shining down. I usually stayed out here long after the sunset. Mostly because otherwise it meant returning to the house and the claustrophobic feeling that came over me whenever I was in there. It was smothering. Eventually, I made my way over to the yellow Adirondack chair next to the man-made mini pond, full of bright and colorful koi fish.
Surprisingly, I must have dozed off, because suddenly every nerve ending came alive and the hairs on my arms stood up. My whole body froze, my fight or flight mechanism engaging and deciding what I needed to do. Even my lungs seized, the ability to take a breath a function I no longer had control over. My eyes snapped open, and my gaze automatically honed in on the man standing inside the open doorway of the house.
He was dressed casually in a pair of khakis and a turquoise short-sleeved polo. His short, golden blond hair reminded me of sunshine, while his close-cut beard was slightly darker than the hair on his head and looked amazingly soft. I couldn’t tell the color of his eyes from this far away, but I imagined them to be cerulean blue like the sky on a bright and clear day. He remained motionless, but something in his posture beckoned me to come to him. A tug pulled at my chest like a string was attached to the two of us. Fear, and, oddly, utter fascination, kept me immobilized.
Rational thought tried to pervade my brain that if this man wished me harm he wouldn’t still be standing there. Plus, it would have been nearly impossible for a single man to get through the dense amount of security that Connor had placed around the house.
When Bridget stepped into sight and gave blondie an elbow to the side, he turned only his head in her direction and stared her down. The muscles shifted in his face into an expression I’d never seen before, but something about it terrified me, yet had my heart racing with an emotion I didn’t recognize. Not Bridget, though. She didn’t bat an eye, merely crossed her arms over her chest, raised a single eyebrow, and stared right back at him. He gave a sigh of pure exasperation I could see clear across the yard before turning and disappearing back into the house. Bridget followed behind him.
It came to me then, that the gentleman must be the lawyer Bridget was telling me about earlier. A resigned burst of breath disappeared in the air. Now or never, I thought as I reluctantly pulled myself up from the hard wooden chair and trudged a path up to the house, that invisible string, again, taut with tension.
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