“I’m so sorry, baby, about everything you went through. I’d give anything if I could go back and keep that from happening to you.”

The sound of big, gulping sobs fills the room as she cries against my chest. “Do you think I’m ugly now?” she asks between racking sobs. My heart breaks at her question, and I wonder how to convince her that she’ll never be anything but beautiful to me, both inside and outside. No matter how much ugliness has tried to touch her.

“No, baby; God no. I will never see anything but beauty when I look at you. I am in awe of your strength. Few people could survive what you have and worry only about the feelings of others. You make me and everyone around you want to be a better version of ourselves just to be worthy of you. There is nothing in the world that your stepfather could have done to make you ugly. I hurt when I look at you because I know you are suffering. But when you are healed and ready, I’ll worship you, every inch of you, and I will only ever see you, Lia…only you.”

She relaxes into my arms and raises her head to kiss my neck. As I lay holding her, lost in my own thoughts, I hear her say the words that almost stop my heart. “I love you, Luc.” Her rhythmic breathing lets me know she’s asleep or close, and I wonder if she’s even aware of what she just said. I cycle between wanting to pull her closer and wanting to run away. Even though I know that deep feelings exist between us, I’m nowhere near ready to put a name to them. I don’t know if I’m even capable of entertaining it. Her emotions are all over the place right now, and it’s understandable that she would say things she might normally not. I swore I’d never give that kind of power to a woman again, and no matter how strongly I feel for Lia, I can’t break that oath, at least not right now when my world seems to be on the brink once again of descending into chaos. I decide not to mention it and hope it won’t become an issue between us. I can’t bear the thought of losing her, but right now, I feel we both have enough to deal with in our lives without adding the extra complications that love could bring with it.

Chapter Five

Lia

I’m being released from the hospital today, five days after my attack. Detective Michaels, as well as the nurses, have told me how lucky I am to have survived. When I look at myself, seeing my once-clear skin now riddled with black and blue marks along with the teeth impressions of a monster, I don’t feel lucky. I’m tainted with the type of dirty no amount of bathing can remove. My body, which was so familiar to me only days before now, seems foreign. The cuts and bruises will heal, I’m told; soon, there will be nothing but possibly a few scars left. I can put it all behind me and get on with my life as if it never happened. I hear some version of that almost every day. Do they really believe it to be that easy, or are they that fucking delusional? Would they be speaking these same patronizing words if they had been brutally attacked by someone who should have only protected them? Can anyone other than another victim truly understand the sense of betrayal and shame which comes from being sexually assaulted by a parent or stepparent? I have learned to live my life despite the fact that those feelings rise at times to suffocate me, the burn on my back a constant reminder of the atrocities that someone can commit against another.

The fact that my mother knows, has always known, is an even greater cross to bear. In my lifetime, I’ve never known what it was like to be loved unconditionally until I met Debra. She is a loud, brash, business owner, but she’s a fierce protector of those she loves. The day I walked into her restaurant, desperately needing a job, was one of the best days ever for me. Debra and her boyfriend, Martin, took me under their wing, and I wouldn’t have made it as far as I have without them. She visited me yesterday, and thankfully, she was one of the few people not to tell me how lucky I am to have made it. I don’t think I could have handled her sugarcoating things for me, because that’s just not who she is. Instead, she called my stepfather a ‘fucking, evil prick’ who needed to be taught a lesson. She was very detailed in what that lesson should entail, too. I loved her for understanding that I can’t sit around and just be thankful that my lot in life wasn’t as bad as it could be. She understood that I needed to vent even if I could only do it with insults.

And Lucian…I’ve alternated between wanting to hide myself away from him so he can’t see all the ugliness, which now seems such a dominant part of me and wanting to stay wrapped in his arms so he can protect me from the world as he’s promised to do. When he makes that vow, I know he genuinely believes he can keep me from harm’s way. He is loyal to those he cares about and gives more than he ever realizes to protect them. I don’t know the details, but I feel certain that he almost gave his life to save his friend, and possibly lover, Cassie. What I wouldn’t give to know what transpired between them. Is her story similar to mine? Is he drawn to me because I represent someone he couldn’t save in his past? I’ve spent a lot of time the last few days obsessing on what I don’t know about him. Maybe it’s easier to focus on his problems and avoid my own, or maybe I just need to understand the man who hasn’t left the hospital since I was admitted.

I’ve allowed myself to fall in love with Lucian Quinn, and at a particularly weak point during my hospital stay, I admitted as much to him. I pretended to be asleep afterwards, not wanting to face what was sure to be an awkward moment between us. I know he cares about me; no one would do all he has for me unless they felt something. Sexually, we catch fire when we’re together, never seeming to be able to get enough of each other. Even now, as broken as I am in both body and spirit, I long for his possession. He makes me feel beautiful and desired when we are together, something I’ve never had before. He is a brilliant, intense man and everything he touches flourishes under his hand, just as I do.

He has held me, comforted me, teased me, and took great care of me while I’ve lain in the hospital bed, with what has seemed like an endless stream of tears. I’ve wallowed in self-pity, something I’ve never given into before, no matter how bad my life was. His aunt talked to me yesterday about possibly taking some medication in the short-term until I have a better handle on my emotions. When I mentioned it to Lucian, he seemed upset. It was almost as if he took it as a personal challenge to help me take back control without medicating. He asked that I try to hold off and give myself time before taking any medications. It made me curious as to what his aversion to antidepressants was. Had he used them in the past and had a bad experience? From the way he had been fidgeting and pacing at times during the last five days, I had to wonder if maybe he wouldn’t benefit from something for anxiety himself. I was sure that he had been smoking, as well, though he had yet to admit it when I’d asked him about the smell. At first, I thought it was secondhand from Aidan, or even Max, but inevitably, when he walked outside, he came back smelling like tobacco. For all I knew, it was something he had randomly done for years. I’d never noticed the smell before, though, nor seen any hints of it in his apartment. Lucian was a man with many layers, and just when I thought I knew most of them, he showed me another.


Tags: Sydney Landon Lucian & Lia Billionaire Romance
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