Read Life Before Damaged, Vol. 1 Online

Authors: H.M. Ward

Tags: #New Adult Romance

Life Before Damaged, Vol. 1 (5 page)

BOOK: Life Before Damaged, Vol. 1
3.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


11:59 pm

Darkness surrounds me. My body feels sluggish, like it’s stuck in cement. I want to hold on to the comfortable lethargy that envelops me, but it's slowly dissipating against my will. I'm being rocked, back and forth, as if on a sailboat across the waves, with an intensely warm breeze blowing across my face. The rhythmic movement is calming. I must have fallen asleep on our sailboat, anchored somewhere along the coast of St. Lucia. Did Daddy take Mom and me to the Caribbean? I can’t remember. I’m vaguely aware of my damp clothing sticking to my skin.

Confusing images swirl through my mind. They morph and change, blending in and out of each other like in a dream. I see pictures of people laughing, neon colors being waved around, candles everywhere, fluffy leg warmers, people kissing in dark corners, a skintight black shirt with midnight blue eyes, and smoke.

Smoke. The fire.

Feeling panic crawl up my spine in a swift wave. There’s a fire. I’m trapped. I try to open my eyes, but they sting too much and immediately shut tight again. Forcing my eyes open again, I blink repeatedly. A blurry image slowly comes into focus through a watery film. Trying to piece all the information together doesn’t work. My brain moves in slow motion and I don’t understand. The smoke that filled my nostrils is gone and I feel soft fabric beneath my cheek—no wooden planks. Delirium has overtaken me. I’m hallucinating; I must be, because I seem to be in some guy's arms.

Am I dead? Is this the Grim Reaper? I thought he was supposed to be scary, but I’m not getting that vibe from this guy. He’s not a firefighter—no mask or costume. Wait, not a costume, what’s that called?

My head hurts, and thinking is making it worse. I try to take things at face value, or at least what seems most likely. I’m pretty sure my body is still burning in the building. I died and a beautiful death angel is looking at me with beautiful, heavenly eyes. I blink again, slowly trying to focus. The guy holding me is drop dead, smoking hot—no pun intended—gorgeous. I sigh contentedly and snuggle into him, as he holds me close to his chest. The rocking movement slows down gradually to a stop.

"Hey. You're awake." His rich voice rushes out in relief and concern, and the way his lips lightly turn up into a small smile makes my mind turn to jelly. Oh, wow! I know I should respond, say something, anything, but I can't. The connection between my brain and my mouth seems to be malfunctioning.

"Do you think you can stand?" Sexy Reaper guy asks with the best bedroom voice I’ve ever heard. Is it bad to think of him and bedrooms in the same thought? Goosebumps tingle all over, and with every coherent thought gone, all I can do is nod dumbly.

The words are right there, on the tip of my tongue, but he puts me down gently on my feet. Standing so very close beside me, he holds me in place, one arm around my waist, and one hand on one of my shoulders. As he loosens his grip and I try to stand on my own, I'm hit with the biggest headache known to man and I know in that instant, without a doubt, that I'm still very much alive.

Reality hits me in the face like a splintered two by four.

Fuck, that hurts! My head feels like it's going to explode. I'd take a hangover over this feeling any day. It feels like someone is scraping the inside of my skull with a fork. I desperately want to put both my hands on either side of my head and squeeze until my eyes pop out, but the world around me is spinning out of control. I sway, falling toward the ground, but, thankfully, I never make it to the cement. Sexy Reaper catches me, making sure I don't face plant.

My hands hit a wall of firm muscle, and excruciating pain shoots up my arms from my fingertips. I try to scream out in pain, but a horrible gritty squawk comes out instead. My voice is hoarse from my previous screaming and all the smoke. I sound like a dying dog. My throat and chest protest, and I'm assaulted with a bout of disgusting phlegmy coughing, making the pain in my head unbearable. I double over at the waist and I feel hands rubbing my back comfortingly until the coughing stops and I'm gasping for air. Ok, so no more screaming for a while.

"Whoa, steady there. Take it slow." The soothing voice helps to calm me and I try to breathe in the cool night air.

When I look up, I blink and stare at the person beside me. The man's beautiful face is covered with soot. Drops of water roll down from his dark wet hair, trailing down his cheeks, forming lines across the black patches on his cheeks and along his jaw. His blue eyes stand out like beacons, flashing in the dark night, conveying a look of apprehension.

Pete Ferro.


, 12:27 am

"It's you!" That’s all I can manage to whisper, as mortification makes its way through my confusion.

The last time I saw him, he was packing his, uh, thingy into his pants and inviting me to join him and his date. A shadow of a smile lines his lips and a hint of a dimple threatens to surface. Oh, God! He remembers. His smirk is gone quickly and replaced by a frown. He tucks himself under one of my arms so that it's draped across his shoulders and places his hands on either side of my waist, offering me support.

"Listen to me. We have to get you some help. We'll straighten up very slowly. Ready?" Pete is all business and doesn't acknowledge my stupid-ass comment or the evening's embarrassing events.

It's you? Who the hell says that? Of course it's him! Who else would he be? Maybe he doesn't recognize me after all. I nod uncertainly, and he slowly helps to ease me back into an upright position.

As we slowly walk across the lot, I become more and more aware of my surroundings. The scene before me is utter chaos. I look around and see parked cars scattered everywhere, people running, hugging each other, the massive warehouse up in flames. The smell of the burning warehouse is sickening. The heat radiating from the inferno is scalding. Large columns of smoke swirl up toward the night sky, like a dreadful genie being released from an evil bottle. Horrified screams ring out, filling my ears as we walk. Emergency vehicles are rolling onto the scene, their lights flashing and their ear-splitting sirens drowning out all other sound.

It's a nightmare.

I collapse down to my knees, my shaky legs unable to keep me up any longer. The weight of reality is too much to bear. "What have I done?" My voice is barely a whisper, but at least I don't hack up a lung this time. Ashamed, I cover my face with my shaking hands to hide my tears. This is entirely my fault. All these people are in danger because of me. I look around, allowing the image of people huddled together screaming and crying, others running around frantically to be forever etched in my brain. I did this.

"Shhhh,” Pete says softly while rubbing my back. “We're almost there, just a couple more steps. You can do this." Pete is crouching in front of me. He waits a second before prying my fingers from my face. He sees me flinch and examines my hands, frowning once more. I cough in between sobs, trying to catch my breath.

“Okay, that’s it. We need to get you to the hospital now, that cough sounds really bad. Let me help you. Please.” The pleading tone in his voice snaps me out of my guilt trip.

That's when I notice the ambulance nearby. That's where he is taking me. I pull back. The sudden motion makes me fall flat on my ass. I yank my hands away from Pete's grip, trying to crawl backwards, not caring that the motion makes my hands hurt worse than they already do.

I can't go to the hospital. I can't. I just...

Pete notices my sudden panic and looks directly at me, eyebrows pinched together. He places his hands on my shoulders, preventing me from escaping. I can't breathe. I'm going to jail for this. I'm sure of it. All I wanted was to feel like my life was my own, just for a moment. All my life I’ve been my father’s daughter, my mother’s perfect clone. I wanted to be me tonight, Gina, whoever she is. I start to hyperventilate, bringing on another fit of coughing.

"Hey, are you all right?" I have to shut my eyes when Pete asks.

I can't deal with the guilt of the things I've done. I can't tell him the truth, but I can't let him take me to them either. I shake my head. "I can't go to the EMTs. They'll take me to the hospital. I can't go there. They'll know what I've done." I'm panicking, but I can't help it. I clasp my hands to my mouth, trying to control my breathing. This was not supposed to happen. No one was supposed to get hurt. No one was supposed to know. If I go to the hospital, Anthony is going to find out and he’ll tell my father. They’ll know that I was responsible for this. At best, I’ve burned down Daddy’s building. At worst, there are still people inside—trapped like I was. Oh, God. My lip trembles, and I’m about to cry when Pete squeezes one of my shoulders.

“You need medical attention. Besides, it can't be all that bad. You get caught at an illegal party. So what? What's the worst that can happen? Daddy will take away the keys to your Mercedes?” When I open my eyes again, the look he gives me is too much. It's patronizing, like he's seen much worse and I’m freaking out for nothing. Hell, I know he's had more than one brush with the law. The man leaves a wake of destruction in his path, wherever he goes. Yet here he is, offering his help. He uses one hand to push my wet ratty hair out of my face. I really don't deserve any of this. I don’t deserve his concern. He doesn't know what this means for me. The repercussions will be disastrous. It was only supposed to be a party.

I think back to all my regrets I’d felt while I was waiting to die in that storage room, how I'd wished I'd been more daring, how I’d wished for the opportunity to do the right thing. The honorable thing to do would be to go to the EMTs, have the truth come out, and suffer the consequences, but I can't let the evening's events be all for nothing. I need to claim my life for my own. I almost died tonight, and was given a second chance at life. I'm not throwing it away by going to jail.

Grabbing Pete’s hand, I do the first thing that comes to mind. I need to call in a favor, and it just so happens that it's from a Ferro. Who knows, I may regret this later, but I don't care. I can't think that far ahead. I have to leave before the police get here and start taking people to the station for questioning. I ignore the pounding in my head, and the fuzzy dizziness threatening to throw me back down. I stand up and pull him away from the ambulance. It's time I finally take charge of my life. With a new sense of resolve, I look him in the eye.

"You don't understand. I need to leave now. No one can know I was here tonight, and it's more than what you think. Please. Will you help me? Take me away from here?”


1:49 am

It must have been the way I said it, because he looks around, puts his hand on my back, and nods, convinced. With a more hurried stride, he leads me to the far end of the lot on the opposite side of the street. The parking spaces next to the building still hold a few cars trapped between the fire trucks and the building. The cost of the fire damage is going to be astronomical.

In the back of my mind I say a prayer, begging God that everyone made it out alive. I’ve talked to God more tonight than in the past five years total. At the end, it seemed like the only thing that mattered. I thought I was toast, but this lunatic next to me ran through fire to pull me out.

Who does that? Is Pete an adrenaline junkie? I stop myself. I shouldn’t judge. But the thought lingers in my mind, as my eyes trail up his trim frame. I should thank him, and stop acting like he has ulterior motives. The guy isn’t a criminal, and he risked his life to save mine.

Pete’s skin is covered in black soot and dotted with burns. He has a cut above his eyebrow and blood smeared all the way to his temple. His hair and clothes are damp. The fabric of his t-shirt clings to his body, moving with him as he walks, clinging to each muscle.

We stop at a sleek, black, two-seater vintage convertible, and he pulls a set of keys from his pocket. Pete opens up the passenger door, “Watch your head.”

I see what he means. I duck to avoid the leather roof, and ease myself into the low, sporty convertible. My hands are so torn up from clawing the floor and the door of the storage room, putting on my seat belt is a challenge. I begin to think about being trapped in the storage room, and chills run up my spine. Pete yanks open his door and slips into the seat next to me, startling me out of the memory.

Inside and out, Pete’s car looks like an early 1960's vintage sports car, but it has lots of new technology, too. I stare at the custom stereo, a thumb drive sticking out of one corner, and I wonder what kind of music he listens to. It says something about a person, but I don’t ask. The clock flashes info at us, until Pete tells the car to stop talking to him.

The engine purrs to life, and, in a matter of moments, streetlights whip by. I stare out the window, resting my head against the cool glass. Although it leaves a sooty faceprint, it helps to alleviate the constant throbbing behind my skull. Better a faceprint, than an assprint. I giggle to myself, and wonder where that thought came from.

As Pete bobs and weaves through traffic, heading back onto Long Island, we sit in comfortable silence. The inky sky is perfect, save a spattering of stars. I stare at them, wondering if this is my last night of freedom. I deserve whatever happens to me. Hosting a rave was reckless. I know exactly what my father will say when he finds out, and I will deserve it. I just want a few more minutes to process everything and stop shaking. My hands won’t stay still, even though I’ve tucked them in the crooks of my arms. It makes my nails throb, but pretty much everything makes them hurt.

BOOK: Life Before Damaged, Vol. 1
3.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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