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       Life Before Damaged, Volume 2, p.1

         Part #2 of Life Before Damaged (The Ferro Family) series by H. M. Ward
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Life Before Damaged, Volume 2


  Title Page


  Title Page

















  Life Before Damaged Vol. 2

  The Ferro Family


  H.M. Ward


  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2014 by H.M. Ward

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form.


  First Edition: December 2014

  ISBN: 9781630350536


  Life Before Damaged Vol. 2



  JULY 1ST, 9:02 am

  Mondays suck!

  Scratch that. Mondays after committing a crime, lying to everyone I love, nearly being charred to a crisp, being tortured by the most beautiful player in the world, and then being rejected by him—that is suckage of the worst kind. Thankfully, that’s not my typical weekend MO. I’m too cool for that. Or too lame? Oh, I don’t care, I’m just glad it’s over!

  After Pete left me alone in his study, practically climbing the drapes with desire, one of Pete’s servants brought in my freshly cleaned clothes. They returned wrapped in cream-colored tissue paper, tied with a blue satin ribbon, and stamped with the golden seal of the Ferro family crest.

  It was like getting a present. I’ve only seen swank hotels do that. My family has money, but the Ferros seem to have more money than God. I rubbed the pad of my finger over the golden Ferro crest, enjoying the way the texture felt on my skin. I bet it was gold leaf. Nothing’s too good for Ferro underpants.

  Still fondling the package, the intercom buzzed, scaring me half to death. “Your car is ready, miss. Come down when you’re ready.”

  “All right. I’ll be down in five.” Before I could say thanks, the intercom cut off and I was alone again.

  Pete didn’t come back to his rooms. He didn’t explain his sudden one-eighty. It’s been driving me nuts ever since. I tore the tissue paper and pulled out my clothes. While tugging my blouse over my head, I caught Pete’s scent. Who has custom laundry detergent? Oh, God, I was going to smell like him. For a brief moment, I wondered if I should frame the shirt or burn it.

  Before leaving the mansion through the back door to Pete’s suites, I glanced in the mirror. There was no sign of distress on my clothing, no smoky smell to indicate where I was that night. For a moment, I was thankful. Okay, it was more than that. I’d be dead if it weren’t for Pete, so no matter what made him run off, I couldn’t be mad. Besides, I’m dating someone and players aren’t my type.

  Pete’s chauffeur drove me to Erin's apartment, where she grilled me relentlessly, asking questions that I couldn’t answer. Finally, she gave up and fell asleep on the table, her face in a plate full of Cheetos.

  I’m thankful I didn’t have sex with Pete. I honestly don't think I could look at myself in the mirror had I gone through with it. I’m already overwhelmed by guilt over my lusty thoughts and can only barely handle the memory of his lips on my neck.

  Besides, I have to face Anthony and tell him what happened. I keep trying to blame my lascivious behavior on the state of shock brought on by the traumatic events, but my conscience knows better. I should come clean. I can’t have this cloud of guilt hovering over my head all the time. If the roles were reversed I’d want to know, right?

  Maybe this will be a good opportunity for us to talk about bringing a little bit more passion into our love life. God knows I wouldn’t mind. Starfishing wasn’t that far off. Sometimes I need more than gentle. I need to feel like I’m his. I need to feel desired. Right now, our sex life feels more like an experiment than an emotion, “Hey! What do you think will happen if I stick this peg into that hole?” It’s not sexy.

  In contrast, Pete Ferro is a modern Don Juan. Seduction is a game to him, and he loves playing. Pete knows women, he understands them, and, as a result, women are drawn to him. The man is catnip.

  I admit I fell for it, too. In the moment, it felt real, as if we had a connection. I thought being with a player would make me feel dirty, like a conquest or something, but it doesn’t feel that way at all. Every second feels heated and passionate, making me want to touch him, to taste his lips. I don’t hand out kisses freely. A kiss has to be earned. I don’t toss them away like tissues. I guess that’s what’s bugging me. It seemed real, from Pete’s smooth voice whispering poetry, to the way he stormed off at the end, but it wasn’t.

  Maybe it felt real for him, too; he just didn’t realize it until the end.

  I laugh at myself. Keep dreaming, Gina. Pete’s a player and always will be.

  But calling him a player doesn’t explain why he bolted. I went from feeling like a goddess to feeling like nothing in seconds. Poof! The illusion should have shattered, right? Yet here I am, still lost in it.

  I feel so embarrassed by the whole situation. I got played by a player and broke a cardinal rule—whether we actually had sex or not, I wanted to. That’s still cheating. I can't believe I moaned in front of him! Hopefully, our paths won’t cross again for a long time, and I can put this whole mortifying situation behind me.

  Have I said that Mondays suck?

  Sleep has been—how to phrase it—interesting since Friday night. The few hours of sleep I manage to get are plagued with vivid nightmares combining horror and eroticism into one gigantic ball of angst. I wake up a sweaty, trembling mess.

  I see people burning—their bodies literally on fire—crying and screaming out in pain. Their arms reach for me, while their voices call for my help. I try to help them, but I can’t get close enough. I stumble through the smoke, panicked, unable to see. My lungs start to burn and I fall to the floor, clawing at the wooden boards until my hands bleed. The smoke swirls, and then I’m naked in Pete’s arms. He begins to kiss me, and my heart races in response. The other people begin to cry out again, begging us to help, and Pete tries to race off to save them, but I don’t want him to stop. Seduction spills from my lips like poison, deafening Pete to their cries. I sacrifice them all to claim that moment of ecstasy.

  No matter how my conscious mind tries to block out the past few hours, my subconscious throws open the door, welcoming the memories. They plague my sleep, drenching me in sweat and causing me to wake screaming. It’s getting harder to hide.

  Early this morning, I woke the household staff with my screaming, trapped in a nightmare and unable to get out. When my maid, Angelina, finally woke me, she just sat by my bed, watching me with concern in her eyes, but not pushing me to tell her about it. She won’t pry, but she knows something is really wrong, she knows something terrifying is keeping me from sleeping. She said she heard me talking, pleading. I have no idea what she heard, but Angelina assured me everything would be fine. I wi
sh that were true, but I’ll never be free from the guilt. It will haunt me until the day I die.


  10:27 am

  I'm sitting at my desk in the Account and Finance Department of Granz Textiles, using a pile of spreadsheets as a pillow. Too bad my desk can’t morph into a beast and gobble me up. I imagine desk drawer fangs munching on me in my minds eye. It’s cartoonish, and the image makes the corners of my mouth twitch. Damn, I’m crazy. The smoke must have killed off a few of my brain cells.

  I need a cappuccino, stat!

  Dad offered me a position here for my college internship and I, always the dutiful daughter, accepted without question. As a family, we all decided the best way to establish my place within the family business was to major in finance for my undergraduate degree. It had little to do with my aptitude for numbers.

  If I'd had the choice, I'd be working in either product development or design, researching the latest trends and wooing top fashion designers. Being an only child, the company will one day be mine. With that understanding, it is my responsibility to learn all the managerial aspects of the business as quickly as possible. Of course, from my Dad's point of view, having your own flesh and blood tracking the money is an added bonus. It helps ensure the company doesn't get screwed over by any of the staff and board. Who better than your own daughter to make sure every penny is accounted for?

  A knock on the door interrupts my working nap, and a perky woman in her early thirties walks into my cubicle holding a stack of papers and files. Charlotte gives me a friendly smile; her auburn curls bouncing, and takes a seat opposite me at the desk. Being the boss’s daughter doesn't automatically get you a corner office with a view, but it does get you a very efficient and friendly department assistant.

  Every Monday morning, after handing me the latest reports, she fills me in on the office gossip. I love hearing about Charlotte's carefree adventures and her romantic woes; she gets all dreamy-eyed as I describe the various social events I attend. It's a reciprocal case of wanting to know how the other half lives, each a little envious of the other.

  I lift my head from the desk, startled, a sheet of paper clinging unattractively to my cheek. I peel it off as nonchalantly as possible and slip it back into its neat stack. Charlotte snorts back a laugh. I manage a small smile, while smoothing a few stray strands of hair back into the tight bun at the nape of my neck and straightening the lapels of my suit jacket.

  "Good morning, Charlotte. How was your weekend?"

  Charlotte animatedly describes the restaurants she tried, the clubs she danced in, and the men she met. She constantly refers to them as "bachelor number so and so," as if they were contestants on a dating game.

  She finishes gushing about bachelor number four and asks, "How about your weekend, honey? Any fancy red carpet events? I feel jealous just imagining it!”

  "Nah. My weekend was pretty quiet," I lie, which is becoming increasingly easier. The thought makes me feel worse. Who am I and what the hell am I doing? Where’d the happy princess go? Nah, that’s a lie, too. I was never happy. I was just trapped in a tower, waiting for someone to come bust me out. Apparently I was too impatient, because I burned my castle down.

  As per our original plan, I spent the weekend at Erin's apartment under the pretense of helping her with an art project. That way, no one could notice us coming and going to the rave at unusual hours. When news of the warehouse fire went public, my parents called me to let me know. I pretended to be just as shocked as they were. My gut twisted into knots and hasn’t let go since. I’m going straight to Hell. There’s a pool in the eternal lake of fire with my name on it.

  Now I’m stuck with this sick feeling, waiting for the other shoe to drop. My skin is prickling and I jump at every sound. The cops are going to find me and then all Hell will break loose. That is, if I don’t confess before that. I don’t think I can keep this secret much longer. I refuse to keep my mouth shut if they blame it on someone else.

  Erin and I decided it was completely believable to say I hurt myself using a fussy blowtorch while helping with her new piece, a collage of broken glass, tile, and massive amounts of hot glue. Burns, bruising, cuts and scrapes are a continual consequence of Erin’s creativity; her hands and arms are always a mess. As for my constant cough? Let's just say that for once I am actually thankful for Erin's chain smoking habit. I always come back from her place wheezy and smelling like the bottom of an ashtray. It’s gross but it is the perfect explanation—at least that’s what Erin says.

  I’m still too mentally vacant to think for myself. Lame, I know, but I’m not like some web-slinging superhero that can act like nothing happened. I was trapped in a burning building. I could have died—would have died without Pete Ferro there to save me.

  I struggle under the weight of my lies. Each additional deceit is like a huge weight added to my aching shoulders. At this rate, I'll look like a hunchback by graduation. I can walk across the stage with my knuckles dragging on the wooden floor.

  The thought conjures the warehouse closet, and a phantom stabbing sensation prickles through my nail beds. I feel like I licked a light socket, and my heart rate shoots through the roof. I laugh to cover it, to hide the way my voice will shake when I answer her.

  “I spent the weekend hanging out at Erin’s apartment, an activity my parents would rather not hear about. We can just skip it.” And we’ll skip the Pete Ferro part, too, and his luscious man scent. A smile tugs at my lips remembering it, and how much he likes his body-wash.

  Looking disappointed by my lack of juicy gossip, Charlotte stands to drop a stack of files on my desk, and misses the dopey grin on my face. "That's too bad. I was looking forward to hearing more about that dreamboat doctor of yours." She lets out a wistful sigh and bats her eyelashes dramatically while pretending to melt. "But it's nice of you to help your friend with her project. Anyway, here are your reports. I need to get back to my desk, the phone is ringing off the hook this morning because of… well, you know. Oh, by the way, your father would like to see you in his office when you have a moment."

  "Thank you, Charlotte. You're the best." I smile at her as she exits my cubicle, waving her goodbyes as she walks.

  My father.

  This whole fiasco has been hard on him. I fell asleep late last night to the sounds of him yelling on the phone in his study. When I came down for breakfast this morning, Mom told me he'd already left for the office.

  Another tidal wave of remorse hits me hard. Daddy has to keep his stress under control. His doctor has warned him that his heart can’t take more abuse. What if this brings on another heart attack? Dad is already high-strung, and has more than he can handle on his plate. Something like this could easily push him into another attack if he can't expel his stress. I’ve caused this, and I can’t figure out how to help him, how to fix it.

  My head falls back on my desk with a thud. I don’t even know who I am, what I’m capable of, or what I’ll do when push comes to shove. I’m weak, a follower. I’m not this woman who’s been tapping the inside of my skull, fighting for control of my mouth. She wants to spurt the truth and damn the consequences. That’s not me, so I push her to the back of my brain. Freud would have called her my Id, but she’s more of a bitch than anything else.

  She’s also the one who kept you alive the other night—her and Peter. I shake the thought away.

  "Great, now I’m arguing with myself.” I don't want to face my dad, but the quicker I get this over with, the sooner I can go back to my numbers and lose myself in work. “Rip off the Band-Aid. Walk in there and spill your guts, Gina.” I try to pump myself up, but volunteering to get my head ripped off isn’t exactly the kind of thing I want to do today.

  As I approach his office, I hear Dad’s deep angry voice booming through the walls. When I hear the topic of discussion, I stop in my tracks.

  "I want names! Is there any way to accelerate the investigation? Detective, I want the identities of every si
ngle person responsible. Assure me you've started arresting people!"

  Detective? I swallow a big lump in my throat, realizing he's talking to the police. The lump gets bigger when I hear a real voice answer him. Crap, he's not on the phone. The police officer is here, in his office. I try to stay my trembling hands, but it's impossible.

  "We haven't made any arrests yet. The people in charge of the rave were obviously professionals, Mr. Granz. As soon as the fire started, they most likely disappeared from the scene. They left their equipment behind, but the serial numbers have been removed. There is no evidence to link back to them—not even a fingerprint.”

  Daddy gets more irate. “What do you mean there’s no way to find them? Are you telling me they’re ghosts? That’s bullshit!”

  The detective’s voice is careful. “Oh, we’ll find them. I guarantee you I won’t stop until we do. The process of interrogating witnesses has begun, and we’ve already spoken with the people that were taken to the ER. Some names are coming out, and we are making progress. Some personal items were left scattered in the debris. We'll analyze them and attempt to discover the identities of other people present. If you can provide us with a list of current and past employees, we will cross-reference the lists and see if we can find out who gave them access to your facilities."

  For once, being a shy, socially awkward unknown has its privileges. Thank God no one there knew me aside from Erin... and Pete. Shit! Why did I give him my real name? He’s a Ferro and can’t be trusted. Damn, damn, damn!

  "Of course. You have my complete cooperation, but as soon as you have names, I want to know. I need to know who is responsible, and I want them to pay for this! Do you have any idea what this scandal will do to my company, to my family? I want the people involved, especially the person who let them inside, punished to the full extent of the law. And I can promise you they will have to deal with me in court as well. I’m not going to let some social deviant ruin my family over a goddamn party!"

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