Read Bittersweet Symphony (The Damaged Souls series Book 2) Online
Authors: Belinda Boring
#2 in the DAMAGED SOULS series
PRAISE FOR BITTERSWEET SYMPHONY
“Just when you thought
couldn't rip your heart apart more, here comes
with the angst and tears.”
Lisa Markson, Romance Book Reviews.
“This is by far
best work. She took a rocker veteran, walked through his fire to help him to heal his heart and mind, and brought her readers along as well. This book is amazing!”
Cindy Mayberry, Amazon Customer.
does it again. This book will simultaneously rip your heart out and make you laugh. Her best work yet! Fall in love with Cooper and Caylee even more with every page. I need more!"
Stephanie Krause, Book Buff Reviews.
"I had very high expectations for
and I'm pleased to say
did not disappoint! My heart has been ripped apart and sewn back together with this one. I have laughed so hard, cried until I thought I would die of dehydration, and cursed the day Belinda was born. Do yourself a favor, and buy this book!!!"
Jessica Gibson, Bestselling Author of the Falling Fast series.
A Damaged Souls novel
Copyright 2016 Belinda Boring
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published by Blushing Heart Press
Edited by Airicka’s Mystical Creations .
Cover Design by Lacey Weatherford, Moonstruck Media Graphics
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Belinda Boring and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
To my dearest friend, Jessica Gibson
(aka Drill Sergeant Gibson)
I’m a rambler so I’ll keep this simple:
Thank you, thank you, thank you, and I love you to pieces!
“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”
I wanted to take a few moments to say thank you to everyone who played a part in getting this story published. I can’t begin to express how deep my gratitude is because it truly does take a village to release a book. When Cooper Hensley first showed up in my mind, I had no idea how incredible his journey would be and how cathartic it would be for me to tell it. A lot of tears have been shed through the chapters, a lot of laughter and smiles, a lot of heartfelt moments. If you find yourself at the end, ugly snot crying, that’s okay. I’ll be waiting in the wings with a box of tissues and hugs. Why? Because that’s exactly how it was for me. This story really hits you in the “feels”.
To my faithful beta readers who provided invaluable feedback—thank you!
To my veteran friends who allowed me to pick their brains so I could not only honor Cooper, but all those who serve—thank you!
To my author coach and dearest friend who didn’t take any of my stubborn excuses—thank you!
To my wonderful muse, Jensen Ackles—thank you! Hearing you sing at the Phoenix Supernatural Convention truly brought Cooper to life. Then when I met you? DAZZLED!
To my friends and family who listened to me talk non-stop about this story and held my hand when the emotions overflowed—thank you!
To my incredible husband who always knew I could give voice to this story—thank you! I’d say this was the end of my crying, but I’m about to start another book—you know how it goes!
And to my amazing readers—thank you! I hope you all enjoy reading about a wounded Marine who not only allowed himself to love, but who also learned to stop running from his demons and face them.
I love you all so much,
How do you piece together a broken soul—a spirit so crushed and battered from the weight of guilt and self-loathing that the only conceivable way to keep breathing—to keep placing one foot in front of the other—is to erect four solid, impenetrable walls to protect your heart?
That is, if there was even anything left worth saving.
Coming back from Afghanistan destroyed me and not in the way most people think.
War was brutal. It’s relentless. It’s constant.
I walked into that recruitment office with the patriotic ideals of youth and limped home with a heavy dose of reality. I still couldn’t quite pinpoint the exact moment when I noticed those beliefs started fraying around the edges. Only that, small piece by small piece, who I was growing up faded away, and in its place stood a man that couldn’t help looking at the world somewhat jaded.
Violence did that to a person.
Sure, there were many who valiantly worked to maintain that innocent part of themselves. There were many who I identified with—those who struggled and fought hard to at least hold on tightly to semblances so when they returned home, it wouldn’t terrify their family and loved ones.
That had been me—my naivety showing. Not only would my homecoming be a celebration of my service, but it would also be victory of spirit. I would still be me—Cooper Hensley—the boy turned man, someone who’d faced the enemy in a fight for freedom and won.
But that had all changed with one crazy fluke. The tether I’d been painstakingly holding myself together with, the one I religiously wrapped around my psyche each morning as I put on my uniform and took up my weapon, shook with hurricane force in the echo of the bullet that left me crippled.
Then it shattered into a million tiny fragments as I watched my best friend die in my arms.
Owen Sawyer. Just thinking his name pierced my heart, refreshing the pain of failing him.
But it was bigger than even that. It wasn’t just failing him or his family.
No matter how many therapists I saw, their advice never touched the epicenter of destruction that day left behind. My body had healed, and in its own twisted way, my mind had learned to adjust and keep going.
It was my heart that refused to recover and instead of accepting there had been nothing I could do, that I’d done everything in my power to prevent the attack, it was my guilt and self-hatred that kept churning.
It wasn’t even about the
anymore. Those didn’t matter. The truth was plain and simple once you stopped playing games with yourself.
The truth was Caylee Sawyer had lost her husband and whole world on that damn street in Afghanistan and Owen’s blood was on
For months I would see it—the bright red ichor of freshly spilled blood. Owen’s life essence coated my hands as I tried to staunch his wounds, ignoring the blinding agony in my own body.
Fuck. Just thinking about it now caused a lump to form in my throat so big it was almost impossible to swallow.
So how did you mend a broken spirit when you carried the weight of so many people’s suffering on your shoulders?
Simple: you didn’t.
At least that was what I thought.
The change was almost too faint to notice at first but it began with
Again, it had always been about
Whether she knew it that night when she came to the bar and approached me after the show, I didn’t know. But she started something inside me that I couldn’t fight or resist until it was too late. With her smile, her forgiveness, her friendship, Caylee Sawyer saved me then and every day that followed.
Patiently, she showed me that the grief I’d buried within a lifestyle of
still needed an outlet—to be acknowledged.
To be released.
She saved me, or so I thought.
No, in the beginning, she’d been the spark that reignited my life again.
Caylee Sawyer wouldn’t truly save me until much later.
Until I was finally ready to let go and heal.
Fuck, I loved her.
“Ugh, for the love of all that is holy, can someone please take these chopsticks from me!” Rebecca groaned, eyeing the container of food before her, a look of disgust scrunching up her features.
Chuckling, I scooped up another large mouthful, silently daring her to keep eating. An unspoken challenge had been issued between the four of us over the last few weeks. With Caylee and I now officially dating, we’d started doubling up with Rebecca and Marty, which was perfectly fine with me.
Caylee no longer scared me. The idea of us being couple didn’t either.
The apprehension I still felt brewing on occasion was simply my inability to relax and enjoy the moment. I’d spent so much time keeping people from getting too close that I’d forgotten what it was like to actually let someone in. For the most part, Caylee was so patient and understanding that I was basically a boyfriend virgin.
Flirting came naturally.
Sex I knew.
It was the smaller things—intimacies couples shared together—learning each others likes and dislikes, daily conversations that were often reduced to goofiness that caught me off guard.
Old habits died hard and thankfully she hadn’t run screaming from me. Instead Caylee had courageously stood her ground in that stubborn way of hers.
She didn’t need to tell me to take my head out of my ass. Sometimes, all it took was a soft sigh when I dodged questions, or when I forgot that she really was interested in how my day had gone and whether I liked mayo or mustard on my sandwich when she brought me lunch.
Trivial things, but together, they all added up to something—this feeling that had lodged itself in my chest, taking up permanent residence.
I liked caring about someone—in discovering what made her tick. It wasn’t the same as being friends. It was better.
And as a guy . . . the sex was phenomenal. I guessed all those magazines articles professing that it was better with someone you felt a deep connection with were right. Leaving the hotel later that morning, we’d promised to take it slowly and not rush straight into being hot and heavy.
That had lasted all of a day—Caylee being the one to make that first move.
Even now, I teased her. I was her booty call. And damn if it didn’t feel right.
“No, seriously, if I eat another bite, I’m going to explode. Blood and gore will be hard to get out of the carpet and it’s not covered under our security deposit!” Dramatic as ever, Rebecca turned to Marty and slid the remnants of her meal over for him to finish. “We eat waaaaay too much Chinese, people. Time to get creative and change up the menu.”
“We tried, remember? You snarled at us and shoved the delivery menu in my face,” Caylee countered, used to her crazy roommate’s antics.
“Well, stop listening to me. I’m weak. I don’t know what I’m doing,” Rebecca retorted as her hand began not-so-subtly inching back toward her abandoned plate. “See! Ugh, I need an intervention or something. My love of food is dangerously bordering on the unhealthy.”
“You think?” I murmured, finally reaching that sweet spot where I wasn’t too full but perfectly satisfied. Casting a sidelong glance at Caylee, I was lucky enough to catch a few moments to watch her before she felt my stare. I would never get enough of her.
Rebecca could complain all she wanted about needing an intervention, but not me. I could sit here forever and quietly study my girlfriend, noting the differences in her moods, paying particular attention to what pleased her.
I had a few expressions already memorized—seared into my mind forever. They were those private, cozy moments where it was just us two—alone and so caught up in each other that our bodies did all the talking for us. I wasn’t embarrassed to admit that, either. I liked knowing that with a certain caress or flick of the tongue, I could drive her absolutely crazy. I got off knowing I could play her body with the same finesse as my favorite guitar propped up beside my bed back home.
What could I say? I was a musician through and through. I enjoyed making sure I was in tune with her and I was addicted to the way she all but thrummed beneath my touch.
Caylee must’ve felt my gaze, guessing where my thoughts had strayed, because her lips curled softly into that smile of hers that instantly had me reaching for her. I couldn’t resist it. In fact, I’d given up trying to.
Lifting her onto my lap, she didn’t fight against the sudden seating change. Instead, Caylee wiggled in an attempt to get comfortable.
The movement almost drove me crazy.
“Darlin’, if you keep that up, we might have to skip desert and call this dinner date done,” I murmured into her ear, brushing her hair away with a puff of my breath. Goose bumps prickled across her skin, letting me know exactly where her own thoughts had ventured. That gorgeous blush spreading across her fair cheeks wasn’t because she knew how desperately I wanted to ignore the others and escape into her bedroom, but because she was trying to fight off the exact same temptation. As she continued to squirm, her perfectly round ass rubbing against my crotch, it was near impossible to concentrate, let alone stifle the rising moan in my throat.
She giggled. “We have company.”
My fingers brushed over her hip, slipping under the hem of her shirt. It was her turn to react, her involuntary gasp music to my ears. “So behave.”
“Are we interrupting?” Rebecca snorted, drawing our attention back to the room. It had been her idea to enjoy dinner sitting around the living room coffee table, cross-legged with the colorful pillows they usually kept on the couches. It had felt strange earlier, but even I could see the benefit of sitting so informally.
There was no way I could be seated so comfortable with Caylee in my lap, my arms around her, if we’d been in the dining room. Marty appeared to be enjoying that same casualness as well—stopping in between bites to kiss his girl.
I found it disgusting, the sound of their lips smacking noisily together, overwhelming the soft music Caylee had playing in the background.
He kept going back for seconds and thirds.
Caylee rolled her eyes at me when I’d mentioned that some of us were trying to eat. She said that my un-romantic-ness was showing, something that required the reminder of how romantic I could be . . . privately.
Marty had responded by shoving his tongue halfway down Rebecca’s throat, causing all three of us to gag and groan—Rebecca the one complaining the loudest.
“Dude, that was like kissing a slug! Don’t ever do that again!”
Of course, my best friend shrugged it off, a smart-ass smirk on his face. “That’s not what you say when it’s just us, sugar lips.”
The pet names they had for each other were nauseating. “Well, pudding pop, I’m saying it now. Ugh, I almost drowned in your spit!”
“Fortune cookies!” Caylee exclaimed, lifting up from my lap so she could grab the small paper bag with the restaurants logo embossed on it. “How about we see what the future has in store for us?
“Sex!” Marty and I said in unison.
“Men,” Rebecca grunted, turning her nose up at Marty for a brief second. “Always thinking with your penises. Seriously, you guys need to find hobbies or something.”
Caylee nodded in agreement, turning a little so she could look at me. “Exactly.”
“Honey, you are my hobby.”
“Is that so?” She cocked her eyebrow, and I knew if I didn’t tread carefully, she’d be kicking me out at the end of tonight to go home alone.
Blue balls sucked. Big time.
“I just mean I like spending time with you.”
“And you enjoy doing me, right?”
“Oh dude, you are so screwed,” Marty whispered, cut off when Rebecca elbowed him hard in the side. He quickly camouflaged the ragged
from the hit by grabbing her face, kissing away her protests.
Who was I kidding? I had it just as bad for Caylee. I’d do anything to see her smile and not have her mad at me.
“You know how I feel,” I muttered, holding her gaze as I silently begged that she didn’t make me vocalize it. It was one thing to feel it, to say it quietly to her while we were alone, and completely another thing to proclaim it in front of everyone.
Call me a coward, but I didn’t like being that vulnerable.
Just with her.
“Lucky for you I do.” She pressed her palm over my cheek, her eyes twinkling. “I like doing you, too.” It took a second for me to realize what she said before everyone burst into laughter. “But just in case, you get to choose last.”
In the center of her other palm rested five fortune cookies.
“So who gets the last one?” Rebecca asked, already reaching for one, plucking it up with her fingers.
“We’ll see what happens,” Caylee answered, offering next to Marty, then taking one for herself. “Two left . . . your choice, Cooper.”
In my mind I knew they were just cheesy one-liners some company created, and not sage pieces of wisdom that would somehow guide me through my life. I didn’t believe in stuff like that anymore. It had been a long time since I’d even opened one, usually tossing mine aside or refusing all together.
Fortune cookies were for people with hope. While Caylee had definitely brought sunlight into my life, there was just too much darkness for her to completely obliterate it with her presence.
Besides, it wasn’t up to her. Some experiences I would carry forever—burdens I could never get rid of. I’d accepted that a long time ago and made my peace with how different life was now. She definitely made things bearable, giving me a chance to catch my breath and pretend that I was normal.
could be normal.
Was it even possible to be truly happy after everything that happened?
For split seconds, in moments where I could forget, I caught hints of possibilities. There were different kinds of joy. I just needed to find mine.
Something told me that in order to discover it, I needed to let this beautiful creature in—truly in—into my life, my thoughts, and my heart. There was a real risk that once she witnessed for herself just how dark things could be, she’d run away screaming. I wouldn’t blame her and I wouldn’t stop her.
Hell, there were days I couldn’t stand myself. It was a lot to take on. I knew it and I hoped when she realized it, that she’d at least leave me better than how she found me.
That’s when I laughed because who was I kidding? I was already in too deep. I’d fallen for her that night on the church steps, hearing about her damn candles. I’d tried fighting it, putting up a tougher exterior, informing her of how damaged I was.
Yet here she was—in my lap. Happy.
How the fuck did that happen?
“Okay, open your cookies everyone!” Rebecca exclaimed, frantically ripping the wrapper off and cracking her cookie in two. All around the table small slips of paper fluttered to the surface. “I’ll read mine first.” Coughing, she cleared her throat, glancing around the group like she held the secret to life’s greatest question in her hands. “Now is the time to set your sights high and go for it.”
“I guess this means you’ll quit settling for Marty and go after your dream guy then,” Caylee said, cracking up at the indignant expression on Marty’s face.
“What makes you think I’m not the guy of her dreams, huh?” he fired hotly. “I’ll have you know I’m quite the catch.”
“Of course you are, honey,” Rebecca crooned, patting his hand lightly. “Although . . .”
I hadn’t even heard what was running through her mind and I was laughing hard. “Maybe you should go get him a beer or something stronger before you crush his ego.”
It was Caylee who got up and ran into the kitchen, coming back a few moments later with a bottle in her hand. The second Marty read the label, his eyes widened. “Not you too!”
“Huh?” I asked, already reaching for the beer.
Conceited Asshole Lager.
It was perfect.
“Seems like you inspired a line of beer, bro.” I smiled, not bothering to hide how funny I thought this was. “I bet it tastes like month old gym socks.”
Popping off the top, he flicked it at me, annoyed when I swatted it away with ease. “Ha-ha, very funny. Smart ass.”
I raised my hands up in defense. “Hey, it wasn’t me who got it for you.”
“No, it was just your girlfriend. I thought we were friends, Caylee. Why would you hurt me?”
“Actually, it was your girlfriend who saw it at the store and bought it for you. I’m just the one who delivered it. If you’re upset, maybe you need a little alone time to discuss?” She’d said it so sweetly that I knew Marty couldn’t argue.
“Honey, you know you’re my guy,” Rebecca continued, rubbing his knee while he took a swig from the bottle. He was just acting. I’d seen him play the victim before and it always ended with his retreat, Rebecca in tow with a silly grin covering her face. It was a game they liked to play, one I didn’t always understand, but what they did behind closed doors was between them.
Which made me wonder. “So, who would be your dream guy?” Caylee’s sharp look told me she also agreed I was being a shit stirrer. Shrugging, I tugged gently at her hair. “What? I’m curious.”