Home > Stutter (Bleeding Hearts #2)

Stutter (Bleeding Hearts #2)
A. Zavarelli

Chapter One

Ryland

Obsession was a fickle beast.

One minute, it was bloodlust, and the next it was sunshine wrapped in silk. I’d never been one for poetics or waxing philosophical, but I could write a bible about Brighton fucking Valentine. The red-headed bombshell came into my life and tipped the whole world on its axis.

Obsession.

It clawed at me and burrowed deep into my skin, eating at the layers of self-entitlement I’d constructed over the years.

I was entitled to my rage. My hatred. I was entitled to purge the world of the very life essence I despised with the fire of a thousand suns. And, finally, I was entitled to her.

But in the end, she had been right. I couldn’t have them both.

Cue the cruel and mocking laughter from the puppet master of this fucked up sideshow.

My plans had been derailed and replaced with something else. For purposes of description, I’d call it an unexpected hiccup. But not weakness. Never weakness.

I fucking despised weakness. Weakness was my father, Michael Lockhart. Weakness was the man I’d been six years ago, unable to save Sophia. Weakness had no place in my heart or my mind, and that was the conundrum. In this case, x plus y did not equal z. There was no simple solution. There were no trivial plot points in Brighton and I’s story. No insignificant drivel to drive a wedge between us. Only the hard shit. The impossible choices.

To be horrifically frank, there was only one solution that gave me what I wanted in this scenario. It involved sacrifice. And if you were familiar with my shenanigans and had a lick of sense about you, you’ve surely surmised that I was a selfish bastard by now. You’d be right. A man like me didn’t make sacrifices. Not anymore. Men like me took. And the world bent over and gave it up without a fight, because, well, we were just that goddamn charming, right?

I was raised in a good family. Practically came out of the womb with a silver spoon in my over-privileged mouth. Michael groomed me to be an esteemed businessman like him, all the while my mother doted on me and told me how handsome and sweet I was. I had it made.

But it was an illusion, you see. They had it all wrong. I wasn’t sweet. And I would never do business like my father.

When they were dead and buried in the ground, I’d embraced a new motto in life. Fuck anyone who gets in your way before they can fuck you first. Ruthless. Those were my business practices. I ruled with an iron fist in my personal and professional life. I was accustomed to getting my way by now and I wasn’t at all ashamed of it. Why should I be? After all, everybody secretly wants things to go their way. Spare me the self-righteous bullshit and just acknowledge it’s a cold, hard truth.

I’d always had a dark side. Dark fantasies. When my grief was so thick I could practically choke on it, I used it as an excuse to indulge. A nip here, a belt mark there, a little rough spanking every now and again. It was all child’s play until Brighton came into my life.

She made the beast rear its ugly head. Stirred fantasies in my mind I would have never otherwise entertained. Owning her wasn’t enough. Controlling her didn’t douse the inferno blazing inside me. No, I needed more from her. I needed everything. Body, mind, soul.

Cruel?

You’d be the judge on that. Was it cruel if someone asked for it? Begged for it, even? She always begged. Even now, I could hear her whimpering for me. Christ, those noises she made. A one-way ticket to heaven.

If we were going with cheesy metaphors, Brighton was undoubtedly an angel. That milky skin, those rosy cheeks… the way her lips parted just so when I touched her in all the right places. And where did that leave me for wanting to corrupt something so pure? Surely, that would be the devil.

I’d tainted her. Debased and degraded her. And I’d enjoyed every moment of it. I wouldn’t lie about that. My moral compass was broken, sure. But there was something still intact. Something that I’d sort of wished would disappear. Most people would call it a conscience. To me, it was nothing more than a hindrance.

But that was neither here nor there.

Truth be told, none of it made a lick of difference anymore. Good, bad, right, wrong. It all faded and blended together into one giant hole of blackness since she’d gone.

I had a theory about Lucifer. About his true intentions. But as I mentioned before, I wasn’t one for waxing philosophical. So instead, I’d like to skip ahead to the most important question. Could the fallen ever really be redeemed?

The last five years had been a series of carefully orchestrated events. Every move, every strategy had been poured over in painstaking detail before it was set into motion.

Pieces on a chess board.

A collision of fate and circumstance. I’d planned for every hitch. Every contingency. Except the one that blindsided me like a vat of acid to the face.

I fell in love with her.

Had it been anyone else spouting such out of character nonsense, you probably wouldn’t have batted an eye. But for a man who already had such obsessive tendencies, it was a recipe for disaster. It was, in fact, the reason why I was sitting in this upscale boutique on a Wednesday afternoon when I should have been working.

The woman across the desk had been sporting fuck-me eyes for the last twenty minutes while I stared off into the empty abyss. She’d informed me that the menagerie of glittering jewels laid out before me were all precious gems. I’d concluded she didn’t know the meaning of the word.

Don’t get me wrong. The jewels were nice. Exquisite even. They reeked of sophistication and money. And therefore, they were completely worthless. Anything this pretentious would smother the very life right out of Brighton’s innocent soul. She wouldn’t wear any of it, and this had been a wasted trip.

How did I ever think this was a good idea? I shook my head in disgust and pushed the velvet display case back to the attendant seated across from me. She wasn’t pleased by this.

“Perhaps if you told me what you were looking for, Mr. Bennett.”

I closed my eyes, and all I could see was Brighton crushed into that pocket of metal. Blood. So much fucking blood. Hollow breaths. Smoke and water. Her tears and my dread, so thick it suffocated me. These images haunted me day and night.

Did I deserve them? You’d probably say yes, and again you’d be right. I knew that now. But did it matter?

Little too fucking late.

I needed a drink. Maybe a priest. Something to numb my blackened soul and vanquish this nightmare.

“What does one get for the woman they almost killed?” I asked.

The attendant’s head rattled with nervous laughter, her eyes darting about. She thought I was joking.

I wasn’t.

“What says, I’m really fucking sorry and I need you to believe me?”

The insufferable giggling persisted, only to be followed up by a fluttering of lashes. She didn’t get it-I was really asking her. Desperation had a strangle hold on me.

She finally got a grip of herself and pointed to the gaudiest ring on the display case. “I like to say bigger is better in this case.”

I frowned at her salacious tone and actually shuddered. For all of my faults, there was one thing that remained steadfast in my intentions. I only wanted one woman, and it wasn’t the one sitting across from me.

“I’ll think it over.”

I pushed back my chair, and the attendant scurried to her feet. “Just let me know if there’s anything special you’d like. I can find it, I’m sure of it.”

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