Below is a couple chapters from Surrender to You, the first book in the Pierced Heart series.
“Don’t you miss me?”
“You know I do. But you’re the one who left me…”
“I didn’t want to, but you refused to let me in. You’re the reason I left.”
“Doesn’t the pain I was in mean anything? I needed you and you walked out, even after all the promises you made.”
“I just finally went the direction you told me to go every day. I simply gave you what you wanted. I left because you told me to.”
“You leaving isn’t what I wanted! You weren’t listening! You never listened!”
“Maybe the problem was that you weren’t saying anything worth me listening to.” He turned and walked away with a shake of his head.
I slid to the floor, the knob of the kitchen cabinet slicing into my back, giving me another scratch on my body to join all the others that reminded me of the pain I couldn’t manage to get rid of as I sobbed into my hands.
* * *
The sound of my cell phone ringing jolted me out of the eerie dream I’d been having.
Rolling over, I picked up the flashing phone to see a random area code I had never seen before. Figuring someone from work could be calling me on a personal line, I slid the green phone icon across, putting the phone to my ear, shielding my eyes from the bright sunlight that filled my room at the same time.
Oh, god. That voice. It haunted me in my slumber, but hearing it for the first time in five long years sent my heart careening out of control. I hated my body for responding to it, for recognizing the need for him that I’d only admit to in my dreams.
Say something, fool. He’d been the one to leave in the end, hadn’t he?
I cleared my throat and scowled even though he couldn’t see me. “What are you doing calling me, Stefan? How did you even get my number?”
I’d changed it within hours after he’d left, never wanting to hear from him again. The jerk.
“Ellie, please don’t be like that. I’m not…” His voice broke and I felt my heart twist as I realized something was wrong. “I’m not calling you because I want to.”
Ouch. Well, he’d always been honest if nothing else.
“Why are you calling me then?”
“My mother…” I could hear him swallow, even as fear gripped my heart in acknowledgment of the bad news I had no doubt I was about to hear. “She’s…dying and wants to see you. She begged me and I couldn’t tell her no.”
Shocked, I didn’t know what to say.
Stefan’s mother, Liliana, had been a second mother to me. Really, she’d been a second mother to a lot of people. The nicest woman in town, she was the mom everybody who didn’t have a mom wished they had. She’d been best friends with my mother. Stefan and I became fast friends when our mothers ended up spending a lot of time together in the wake of both of their marriages falling apart.
Of course, one thing led to another with Stefan, and I ended up falling madly in love with my best friend.
Worst idea ever. Our relationship disintegrated, much like the ashes left over from a bonfire, and our friendship came to an abrupt end. An end that sent me fleeing across the country to escape the excruciating pain in my heart.
The horrible reoccurring dreams affirmed how much I still suffered from the explosive end to us. The fact I continued to dream about him tortured me day in and day out.
“Ellie? Are you still there?”
“Uh…yeah,” I replied while rolling out of bed. “I’m not really sure I can get the time off…”
He let out a deep sigh and I knew it was of irritation. It was a sound I’d heard all too often near the end of our relationship and I winced. I had always been disappointing him then and it seemed nothing had changed.
“I figured that in five years you’d have changed, even a little, but I can see you’re still just as selfish as always.”
His statement pissed me off. He had a way of doing that to me. Nobody else could ever come close to making me burn with anger as he did.
“Yeah, because you’re just mister perfect aren’t you? I have a life and a job. You know, to pay my bills with? I didn’t go to college and work my ass off to just lose my job because I need to immediately leave town!”
Now I was shouting. Taking a deep breath, I winced as he cursed on the other end.
“Look, I didn’t call to fight. She wants to see you. The least you could do is come home to visit her. I’m sure your work would understand. All you need is the weekend.”
They would if I explained. My boss loved me and he’d understand, but paying my bills had nothing to do with not wanting to go.
In truth, I didn’t want to see Stefan. I didn’t want to be near him because it meant I’d have to see his face and hear his voice in person.
But I couldn’t let Liliana down. She’d been there for me when my world fell apart. She’d kept my secret even when it had broken her heart and I wouldn’t let her down, even if her son had walked away when I’d needed him most.
“I’ll be there as quickly as possible,” I said softly, hanging up before he could reply.
* * *
Knowing exactly who had given him my phone number, I dialed up my mother.
“Hello! Waller residence.”
“Mother, it’s me. How many times do I have to tell you to just look at your caller ID?” Ugh, I knew I sounded like a bitch but Stefan calling me had just ticked me off.
“I just pulled the phone out of my pocket and opened it, not even bothering to look. It’s awfully early where you are, why are you calling me?”
“Oh, you know, because maybe you gave Stefan my number and he rang me up this early?”
I’m sure that if it were at all possible, steam would have come shooting out of my ears. “Ah? All you have to say is ‘ah’? Why did you give him my number?”
“He said that his mother insisted he call and tell you. I kept trying to tell you myself but you are always so busy, so I figured maybe you’d answer the phone if it were from an unknown number…”
When her voice trailed off, I felt annoyed. She always acted as if she were inconveniencing me and even though she wasn’t, I couldn’t seem to convince her otherwise. Then again, I had moved to the other side of the country so maybe I’d given off the impression I didn’t want to be bothered.
“So you’ve known for how long and it takes him calling me for someone to tell me Liliana is sick?”
She scoffed. “If you’d have answered my calls, I’d have told you sooner. It’s not exactly something I wanted to leave on voicemail.”
“Well, work keeps me busy. Some days, I don’t even get home until it’s way too late there with the time difference and all. It’s not like I don’t try.”
Liar, you don’t try. You were avoiding her phone calls. I hated when my inner voice scolded me. As if I needed another reminder of what a failure I was at being a daughter and a friend. Well, at everything really but now was not the time for a pity party.
“Sure sweetie, I know.”
I could hear the resignation in her voice and knew she just wanted the phone call to end. Much as she loved me, I’d been a pain in the ass for the last six years and she didn’t know why. She’d given up trying to get through as well and just let me go.
It was probably the best thing she’d ever done for me, even if I couldn’t find the words to tell her.
Sighing, I pulled out my luggage to start packing. “Where is she at? I’ll have to go into work and tell them what’s going on but I could be on a flight by the end of the day.”
“Well, there was nothing left to be done. She’s at home, with all her family there. I’ve been to see her a few times…try not to let your shock show when you see her. She is very emaciated.”
Gulping, I blinked rapidly to rid the sudden surge of tears to my eyes. “H-how long?”
No doubt hearing the catch in my voice, my mother’s voice softened. “The doctor said not long. She was given about three months to live just a month ago, but it doesn’t look like she will last much longer.”
I knew what she was saying. She was ready to die and chances were that Liliana simply waited for me to make my appearance.
That thought alone had the tears coming faster and I knew I had to get off the phone.
“Okay, I gotta go. I’ll see you when I get there.”
“Be safe, Elizabeth.”
Hanging up, I couldn’t prevent the sobs from coming full force.
I never talked to anybody from home after I took off, not even Liliana. My mother and I talked but through the years, that had become less and less. I had wanted to distance myself from all of them.
Now, I was returning, but not on my own terms. I needed to get there, deal with this and then leave as fast as possible.
Pulling myself together, I picked up the phone and made one final phone call to my boss, hoping that a phone call would suffice to excuse myself in case my trip needed to be extended.
The weekend stretched out before me, painful and torturous.
I needed to hold it together, no matter what.
* * *
As the plane touched down, I stared out the window, wishing my travels led me anywhere but where I grew up. That I wasn’t coming back to say goodbye to Liliana. That I wasn’t going to have to face Stefan again.
Clearing it with work had been easy. They loved me and they were sad to hear about Liliana, telling me to take all the time I needed. Even as I assured my boss I’d be back on Monday, he’d softly repeated the statement, making it clear that he knew my return may not be immediate.
I’d sent my mother a text message before the plane took off with my arrival time; she’d responded saying she’d be there to pick me up. I figured I would just rent a car, but she assured me I could use hers during the visit and I wasn’t one to turn down an opportunity to save money.
Finally able to get off the plane, I sat until the initial rush of people had passed, then grabbed my carry on from above and exited. Letting out a sigh, I entered the boarding area and looked around for my mother’s bright red hair. Not seeing her, I looked down at my phone and turned off airplane mode, seeing a text message pop up as I regained service.
“Looking for me?”
Son of a…
At the deep voice, shock and irritation flooded through me. Turning to my right, my eyes landed on Stefan Pierce standing there with his hands in his pockets, the scowl on his face at odds with the gleam in his dark blue eyes. I couldn’t tell if he was happy to see me or royally ticked off. Probably the latter, since he’d no doubt been wrangled into coming to pick me up from the airport.
I, on the other hand, would be having a nice long chat with my mother when I got home.
“Nope, I wasn’t. I guess I’m gonna be renting a car since the person who was supposed to pick me up didn’t show.”
Now it was his turn to be shocked and I had to hold back a smile as his mouth dropped open just a little. Before he could say anything, I started to walk away, heading toward baggage claim.
“Didn’t you bother to check your text messages? Or did you just assume nothing ever changes?”
I stopped abruptly and whirled around. “Wow, you’re a bright one aren’t you? When would you have liked me to check my messages, on the airplane? Perhaps you didn’t notice I was looking down at my phone about to do that very thing when you said, ‘looking for me’ so arrogantly?”
He blinked. “I wasn’t —”
“Yeah, you were. Now get lost.”
I was being rude, but I didn’t care. I didn’t want to see him at his mother’s house, let alone have him pick me up from the airport. What the hell had my mother been thinking? Did she want me to turn right around and go back to my apartment?
Stefan chose that moment to stalk toward me, stopping within inches of slamming into me and grabbed my upper arms with his hands.
“What’s your deal? Don’t you think I’ve got enough shit going on without you giving me attitude?”
Surprised by the gentleness of his grasp, which happened to be at odds with the muted irritation in his voice, I stood mute and really looked at him.
He hadn’t changed much over the years. He had never been very athletic, preferring simple things like bike riding to playing sports and enjoyed conquering computer games in his spare time. At only five foot six, I’d always found his height perfect because I could still wear heels and not feel either too short or too tall next to his five foot ten frame. His dark red hair was closely cropped and a small smattering of freckles graced his nose.
It was then, while looking at his face, that I saw he hadn’t shaved today — and the lines of worry that hadn’t been there before. He didn’t look as youthful, the years having taken their toll on him. But at thirty years old, he still looked pretty damned tasty.
Ugh, did I really just admit that to myself?
Lifting my arms, I pushed against his chest. “Get off me!”
He let go easily, the scowl returning to his face. “Apparently not. Get your bags and lets go.”
Huffing, I crossed my arms and glared. “Screw you. I told you I’d get my own damn—”
Leaning in, his mouth inches from mine, he hissed. “Shut up and get your fucking bags. You aren’t wasting money on a car all because you wanna be a spoiled little brat. Your mother told me to come get you and I’ll be damned if I don’t deliver you safe and sound like she asked me to.”
Rendered speechless by the banked anger in his voice, I glanced around to see the baggage claim area almost empty and a cleaning lady staring at us with curiosity. Walking over to the belt and picking up my bags, I lifted my chin defiantly and headed toward the doors, holding my tongue.
Stefan said nothing else to me as he led me to his car, which certainly filled me with relief.
The only positive thing that had come out of this was that we would have our words on the way home and not in front of his mother.
Not really looking forward to it even with the upside, I placed my luggage in the trunk and slammed it shut.
With a glare at me, he climbed into the driver’s seat and in one more act of rebelliousness, I climbed into the back seat.
The long thirty minute drive ahead of us was going to be really slow if Stefan tortured me by being quiet.
While waiting for him to speak, I realized he had no intention of speaking first. Instead, he would use my aversion to silence to goad me into saying something. Probably an apology for my behavior but if that was his hope, he’d have better luck running for office.
Sighing exaggeratedly, I shifted in my seat, trying to get comfortable. I had a feeling that my inability to relax inside his vehicle had less to do with my accommodations and more with my ire at the man in the front seat ignoring me.
Five whole minutes passed and the itch to speak wouldn’t go away, so I gave into the urge even though I knew I’d regret it.
“If you hate me this much, why did you agree to come get me?”
The car was dark so I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me, but his response came swift and soft. “I don’t hate you, Ellie. Even if I wanna wring your neck, I could never hate you.”
“Really? You sure fooled me. Both in the past and just back there at the airport. I saw the look in your eyes.”
His laugh, deep and rumbly, caught me off guard and made my stomach flip. Just as I remembered it, which only made this that much worse. I wanted to close my eyes and just disappear as thoughts of wrapping my arms around him to hold him close swirled in my head.
I hated the feeling, inconvenient and unwanted at this point.
“I’m glad I could be a source of amusement for you,” I bit off, glaring at him even though he couldn’t see me, trying to make myself feel better. Surely being mean and rude would be better than giving into the urge to touch him.
“You are surely mistaken about that look, honey,” he said with another chuckle, taking the exit off the highway.
“I am not your honey!”
“No, you’re definitely not at this moment. I didn’t think it was possible but you might even be more bitter now than right before you skipped town.”
Now it was my turn to laugh.
“Are you fucking kidding me right now? How would you know I skipped town since you left first!”
“I don’t kid. You know why I left, you’re just too damned stubborn to admit it to yourself.”
“You left because you couldn’t deal with real emotions. You were a coward.”
He said nothing, pulling into an empty lot a few minutes later to park. Switching on the overhead light, he took off his seat belt and turned around to face me, lifting one brow. “Really? I was the coward Ellie? Who was the one who told me day after day ‘go, leave, you don’t really want me, I don’t believe you love me’ etcetera? Why do I get shit for the crappy way you treated me every single day for a year?”
My pulse took off, heart slamming in my chest, and I knew I couldn’t back down now. I’d teased the lion out of his cage and now it was all going to blow up in my face.
Way to go, Ellie. Brilliant.
“I don’t know what the hell you are talking about.” Damn my faltering voice. “I was depressed and you left me. We barely talked and were supposed to be planning a wedding and you just shut me out.”
“No!” Stefan yelled, smacking his hand against the seat and causing me to jump. “You shut me out, Ellie! You walked around like a damn zombie and expected me to just act like everything was normal! What the hell was your problem? After all this time, if you wanna act like this, tell me what your fucking problem was!”
Tears clogged my throat. I couldn’t answer him; it just wasn’t that simple.
I shook my head, refusing to answer. In an extra effort to escape the heat in his gaze, I turned my head to stare out the window.
“That’s what I thought,” he muttered, letting out a growl of frustration as he turned back around.
The uncomfortable silence I’d been trying to avoid arrived with a vengeance as he turned off the light and continued the drive.
I should have just kept my mouth shut but around him, that had always been difficult. Especially when all I’d wanted from him was for him to love me unconditionally. I knew now it didn’t exist and therefore, would never happen.
The next words he spoke came as he pulled into my mother’s driveway. “You should come by the house at eleven. Try not to be late. You can disappoint me all you want, but you will not disappoint my mother. And try to be civil. She doesn’t need to hear this bullshit.” His hands gripped the wheel tight, even as his words came out soft, almost pleading.
“I don’t think I’m the one who needs to learn to control my temper,” I couldn’t resist retorting. His high and mighty attitude was getting on my last nerve and I didn’t have many left at this point. “You always were the hothead.”
“That’s rich coming from you. At least I have a heart.”
His words stung, poking at the very heart he denied me having. I knew if I said anything in return, I’d say something I regret.
Getting out of the car, I closed my door as the trunk popped open. Stefan didn’t bother getting out of the car and I was glad for his stubbornness. It only made it easier to get back to ignoring him.
Slamming the lid shut the same way I had at the airport, I picked up my bags and stalked up to the door.
I didn’t dare look back, yet I didn’t hear his car pull away until I stepped inside.
* * *
I arrived at Liliana’s house at exactly eleven-oh-one.
Yep, my actions were childish but after his parting words the previous evening, I just wanted to irritate him even more.
I didn’t have a heart? He hadn’t seemed to think such a thing when we’d first met. He was just trying to hurt me and wouldn’t succeed. I’d be here for Liliana and then I’d leave, never having to think of him again.
Problem was, I wasn’t all that sure he would be willing to leave my dreams that easily.
Walking up the steps, the door opened as I reached it. His sister Penelope — or Penny, as she’d often reminded me to call her — stepped into the doorway and gave me a soft smile.
“Elizabeth, how are you?” As she pulled me into a hug, I tried not to stiffen up in surprise. “Mother will be happy to see you.”
“I’m okay,” I replied as she released me, smoothing my blouse back into place. “Is she awake?”
Once I’d stepped inside, Penny shut the door, nodding solemnly. “Follow me.”
It had been a long time since I’d been inside this house.
Five long and lonely years, to be exact.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing to me was that nothing had changed inside the house, yet it felt different. Most likely it was the fact I had become a different person, changed in many ways from the girl who’d come crying for help. This house had been my safe haven, until it had housed the biggest secret of all. I’d become a burden to it, the walls that kept my secrets and now, the only other person who’d understood it all lay in bed dying.
As we reached Liliana’s room, I wondered for the first time if she had felt the weight of my secret all these years too.
Penny opened the door and stepped back. Walking through, I noticed that she didn’t join me just as I spotted Stefan standing over by the window. Turning at the sound of me clearing my throat, he glanced at the bed before looking back at me.
“I will wait outside,” he declared, walking past me without another word and out the door.
I approached the bed and sat in the chair. Then my eyes met Liliana’s and I grabbed her hand with mine.
Squeezing her hand, I sniffled and willed the tears to wait until I was alone. “I’m here.”
She gave me a weak smile and squeezed my hand back, albeit weakly.
“You…are still…as pretty…as always. I’m glad…you’re here.”
The words came out in between short breaths and I tried to look past the obvious agony she was in. “You don’t have to talk,” I assured her. “I know you must be in so much pain. I’m sorry for not calling…”
Right now I truly was and I hated myself. She had done so much for me and yet once I’d left, I’d never called her, not once.
“Don’t…worry. I…understood. But you have…to tell him. He…deserves…to know.”
My eyes filled with tears as I shook my head, trying to deny the emotion the mere thought induced. “I can’t.”
“That is my…final wish. That…you two…would make up. You…owe me.”
Closing my eyes, I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know what to say. Five years wasn’t long enough. In my mind, not even twenty years would be enough and the pain would be a fresh wound the very moment the words left my mouth. I’d done so well at piling other crap on top of it, at making sure those memories would never hurt me again. She asked too much.
“How could you ask this of me? You know how much it killed me…it still kills me.”
“I love you…and him. You both…deserve happiness. Quit…being a fool.”
“Lily…” Though I tried to sound firm, my voice cracked under the weight of her demands. “Please, I—”
“Don’t. I will tell…if you don’t.”
At this she closed her eyes. As I released her hand and placed it gently by her side, Stefan spoke from behind me.
“What was my mother talking about?”
Standing up, I took a deep breath and walked to the door without answering him.
He followed me and closed the door, taking my arm in his and steering me up the steps to the second floor. The touch of his hand on mine had me sucking in a breath and I tried to appear unaffected.
“Boy, you’ve gotten brave, haven’t you?” I asked sarcastically and he glared, directing me into an empty room and shutting the door behind us. “Get your hands off of me!”
“I’ve only got one hand on you, but I can use the other to spank your ass if you don’t shut up, if that’s what it would take.”
Mouth dropping open, I gaped at him. A beat later, I gasped. “You wouldn’t dare.”
Quickly shutting my mouth, I swallowed my smart-ass retort and jerked my arm out of his hand.
“Now…tell me what she was talking about.”
Averting my gaze — really, I wanted to look anywhere but at his eyes — I crossed my arms over my chest.
“No, Stefan. It is none of your business.”
“Bullshit. I heard enough to know that you better tell me or she will, so out with it.”
I did my best to give him an icy look as I met his eyes with mine. “Go ahead. I’m leaving the day after tomorrow, so I don’t give a crap. It won’t change a thing.”
He took a step forward and I backed up. It wasn’t long until I felt the wall against my back and he placed a hand on each side of my head, leaning in. Our faces were so close our mouths nearly met. When he spoke, I shivered, his minty breath tickling my lips.
“I’m not letting you leave until you tell me.”
I knew he wasn’t bluffing, yet I had no plans to back down, especially from Stefan. We were both stubborn and it showed. “Make me.”
The words were out before I could stop them. His eyes widened, the dark blue depths flaring with a look I knew all too well even as his mouth split into a wide grin.
“You know me, never one to turn down a dare.”
His right hand gripped my hair near the nape of my neck as his lips descended upon mine.