Lucian jerks as if I’ve struck him, and then his eyes scan the area, gently touching the exposed skin before looking up. “I…can’t make out anything, baby. It just looks like a bunch of cuts and scratches to me. What—why do you think there is something there?”

Tears fill my eyes and slide down my cheeks as I whisper, “He said he was going to mark me so you and the rest of the world would know what I really am—a whore. He was going to cut the word into my stomach. I…remember him holding me down and feeling the pain of something digging into me. That’s the last thing I recall, though.”

Lucian looks completely devastated as if my words hit him hard. I see his eyes fill with rage before quickly turning to anguish as I sob in earnest. “Oh, fuck, baby,” he rasps as he drops the rail all the way down on the bed so he can climb up next to me, gingerly taking me in his arms. “I’m so sorry,” he whispers against my head as I cry into the soft skin of his neck. Within moments, he is soaked from my tears. He murmurs low words of comfort as he strokes my hair like a child.

“Please don’t leave me, Luc,” I plead, not caring if I sound desperate because I am. In this moment, as the memories come crashing down on me and my body aches from all the damage inflicted upon it, he is all that is keeping me from insanity. Without him, I would fall to pieces and it’s unlikely I’d ever return to myself.

“Oh, Lia, I’m not going anywhere. The only way I’ll leave this hospital is if you’re with me. You’re mine; I’ll never let anyone hurt you again.” His words are spoken softly, but the steel behind them is easily discernable and immediately comforts me. We lay that way until my sobs have faded into sniffles and then just the occasional shudder. I have started to doze when the door opens and I hear a snort.

“Lucian Quinn, what are you doing in bed with my patient?” I stiffen in his arms until he chuckles lightly against me.

“Sorry, Aunt Fae, I couldn’t resist. I’m lying on top of the covers, though, so don’t get too excited.”

At his words, I look closer, recognizing his aunt. I’m immediately filled with embarrassment and shame at having her know what has happened to me. No doubt, she thinks Lucian is crazy for getting involved with someone so messed up. I can’t even bring myself to meet her eyes when she stops at my bedside. “Honey, it’s great to see you awake. We’ve been so worried about you.” The concern and lack of judgment in her voice brings my head up, and I see only something that looks like affection on her face. How could she possibly feel that way toward me after what has happened? Shouldn’t she be warning Lucian to run as fast and as far as he can?

“I…thank you,” I answer shyly, fighting the urge to cry once again. I’m not used to kindness, and I find I want to soak it up like a sponge. This woman raised Lucian after he lost his parents, and it’s obvious she loves him. My own mother never loved me a day in my life nor has she ever been concerned for my welfare. She’s actually been the driving force behind every threat I’ve faced.

She walks over and looks at the monitors, which display my vitals. “Now that you’re awake, I have to let the police know. They’ll want to come take your statement.” When I tremble, Lucian pulls me closer and his aunt pats my hand comfortingly. “There is nothing to be afraid of, Lia. They just need as much information as possible so they can find the person who did this to you. Remember, you’re the victim here. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

With those words, I start crying again, wondering if I’ll ever stop being the pathetic person I’ve turned into. Lucian and his aunt talk softly as he continues to hold and comfort me. I want nothing more than to go home with him and forget everything. I don’t want to admit to anyone what my stepfather did to me. Feeling dirty, I’m consumed with the urge to be clean, to wash away his scent, which suddenly seems to be everywhere. I struggle against Lucian’s hold, focused on nothing but scrubbing myself clean. “Shower,” I say to him desperately. “I have to shower, now, please.” I’m sobbing the words as he and his aunt try to calm me. I hear her say, ‘sedate’ and freeze. I vaguely remember that happening another time as Lucian held me. If I can just make them understand that I just need to make myself clean again… “Luc.” I turn my head until our eyes are locked. He looks so upset; I almost end my quest, but God, I need it so badly. “I just need to wash him off me. Please, I can still smell him on my skin. Just…I have to be clean.”

Lucian drops his forehead against mine, and we are communicating without words. He realizes what I need, and I know that nothing, even his aunt, will stop him from giving it to me. “Unhook her, Fae.”

“Luc, we need to wait until tomorrow. Lia, it’s really not a good idea to rush…” Fae’s words trail off as Lucian gets off the bed and calmly starts pulling the covers from my body. I hear her bite off a curse, which would have probably been highly frowned upon by the hospital administrators. “She’s taking a shower right now no matter what I say, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” Lucian answers firmly, giving no room for arguments. “I could really use your help, though, because I don’t want to mess anything up.”

His aunt brushes his hands aside as she pushes the call button on the side of the bed for the nurses’ station. When they answer, she requests immediate assistance and in less than a minute, another nurse is standing at my bedside. “Wendy, Miss Adams is going to take a shower so we need to start unhooking her. Lucian, please step out into the hall until I call you.” As both Lucian and I protest, she looks meaningfully at the catheter hanging at my bedside, silencing our protests immediately. He all but runs from the room, prompting his aunt to laugh. “Something about the threat of seeing that gets to them every time.”

I feel my face heating. It might be comforting to know my nurse, but in this instance, I’d have rather have a stranger than Lucian’s aunt touching my private areas, even if it is with complete clinical detachment. “Thank you,” I murmur shyly as I’m finally free from everything that had me tethered to the bed. My body is throbbing like a toothache, but I’m determined to see this through. I have to. When Lucian’s aunt asks me if I’m in pain, I say no. She looks at me as if she knows it’s a lie but doesn’t call me on it.

Tags: Sydney Landon Lucian & Lia Billionaire Romance