Sweet possession, p.32
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       Sweet Possession, p.32

         Part #5 of Sweet series by Maya Banks
Page 32


  “My father—my real father—left my mother when I was a baby. For a long time it was just me and her. We were dirt-poor but I was happy. She loved me and did her best. I adored her. She encouraged me to sing. In the evenings, I’d sing to her while she did dishes. She said she never got tired of hearing her baby’s voice. She always swore I’d be a star. ”

  She drew in a deep breath. “When I was nine, she met Danny Higgins. At first it was nice. She was so happy. So alive. I hadn’t realized how hard it had been on her until then. Suddenly she had help. She wasn’t alone. We moved in with him after they got married. He insisted my mother didn’t work. She’d worked two jobs until then. She worked in a local factory during the week and she waitressed in a café on the weekends.

  “I can remember thinking that it was the start of a great new life for us. Suddenly we didn’t have to worry about where our next meal would come from. She no longer had to bring home leftovers from the café, and for the first time ever, she bought me new clothes from the rack in a store instead of getting them from Goodwill or neighbors who gave us their kids’ castoffs.

  “But it didn’t last,” she said faintly. “Danny had a quick temper. It got even nastier when he’d drink. It was the whole cliché, stereotypical abusive husband. He’d drink. Hit my mom. Get sober. Apologize. I still think to this day she only stayed because I had a better life. Or at least she thought I did. ”

  Dread curled in Connor’s stomach. He had a very good idea of where this was headed and it made him ill.

  “Danny lost his well-paying job and he yelled at my mom that it was time for her to start carrying her weight. She went back to work at the factory. Waitressed on weekends. It seemed all she did was work. She’d come home tired and have to contend with Danny’s nasty moods. I did everything I could to make things easier for her. I cooked. I cleaned. ”

  “Jesus,” Connor muttered. “You were only a baby yourself. ”

  Lyric went on as if he hadn’t spoken. Her eyes were glassy and had a distant look, as if she were unaware that he was even here anymore. She was lost in her past. Reliving each and every moment.

  “Danny started paying a lot more attention to me. Got all lovey and affectionate. Wanted me to sit on his lap. Freaked me out but I was afraid of him. I’m sure you know where this is going. The whole thing could come straight out of some made-for-TV movie. Evil stepfather. Messing around with the stepdaughter. ”

  Connor had to bite his lip to call back the savage curse that threatened to boil out. She was so casual. So flip. As if because it happened to so many, it didn’t matter that it had happened to her.

  “He’d come into my bedroom at night while my mom was working, and he’d rape me. And the entire time he’d whisper how much he loved me and how beautiful I was and what a good girl I was. ”

  Connor closed his eyes against the sting of tears. God. No wonder she hated to hear those words. Especially during sex.

  “If you’re wondering why I didn’t tell my mom, I did. It took me a while to work up the courage. I waited until he had gone out and then I told her and I begged her for us to leave before he got back. She was devastated. I’d never seen her cry. Not through us being poor and hungry. Not when he hit her. She never cried until I told her what he’d done. ”

  Unable to keep from touching her and offering comfort, Connor stroked his hand over her cheek, smoothing away the tears that still crept over her cheekbone. He let his fingers trail into her hair and then he rubbed up and down her arm.

  To his surprise, she scooted closer, as if seeking the comfort of his body. She curled into his arm and laid her head against his shoulder. Maybe she could no longer face him and it was easier to let loose the poison of her past when they weren’t staring eye to eye.

  He wrapped his arms around her and entwined their legs, wanting no separation between them. Never once would he want her to feel like she was somehow less for what was done to her. He’d hold her forever if that was what it took.

  “I thought we’d just go. But I underestimated my mom’s anger. She confronted Danny when he got home. For the first time, she stood up to him. She told him she was going to have him arrested and that she hoped he rotted in hell. ”

  “Good for her,” he said softly.

  Lyric shook her head. “No. It was the wrong thing to do. We should have just gone. Left and never looked back. She wanted justice. I just wanted us safe. He flew into a rage. I think he forgot I was even there. I hid in the cabinet under the sink while he beat her to death. ”

  She made a sound like a wounded animal. The moan tore from her throat and her fingers dug into his skin. “There was blood. So much blood. I remember peering through the crack in the cabinet door, so terrified I could do nothing. I did nothing. I hid like a coward while my mother died. I let him kill her because I was afraid he’d turn on me. Or worse, he’d keep me and abuse me. So I sat there and listened to her screams. ”

  Connor pressed his mouth to her hair as nausea rolled through his stomach. He trembled against her even as he held her so close it was a wonder she could breathe.

  “Worse than the screams and the sounds of him hitting my mother was the silence afterward. So silent you could have heard a whisper. I stayed under the sink for three days. When they finally found me, my mom had been dead for over seventy-two hours, and I hid there and never did anything to help her. ”

  “Sweet mother of God,” Connor swore. “Lyric, you were just a child. A terrified little girl who’d already been horribly abused by the son of a bitch. Do you think your mother would have wanted you to die with her? Do you think she wouldn’t have wanted you to hide?”

  “I just know that I did nothing and I traded my life for hers. I could have run. I could have gone to a neighbor’s. I could have done something,” she finished with a sob. “Those three days were the worst of my life. I was alone in that house while she lay dead just feet away. Even after I knew he was gone, I couldn’t make myself leave my hiding place. I’ve never liked being alone since. It terrifies me. ”

  Connor gathered her close and turned her face up so he could kiss her forehead. He smoothed his hand over her hair and simply stroked as he willed some of the burning rage he felt on her behalf to calm.

  “My testimony put him in prison for life. Because I was a minor and was so traumatized by the event, they sealed the records and I was born again, so to speak. New name. New life. No one knew of my past. Not even my string of foster parents. They only knew I had been sexually abused and my mother had died. I chose Lyric to honor my mother’s vision of my future. I was determined to become a singer for her. ”

  “And you did,” he said softly. “You became the best. ”

  She let out a pitiful laugh that sounded more like a sob. “No, not the best. I’ve lived my life afraid that someone would find out about my past. ”

  “Baby, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You were a victim. ”

  She shook her head adamantly. “I don’t want anyone to know. I’ve never told anyone. Except you . . . I couldn’t bear it to be splashed across all the papers and magazines. ”

  “Is that why you give them so much else to talk about?”

  For a long moment she remained silent. “Maybe. I don’t know. That sounds like an excuse. I don’t always like the things I do, and yet I still make stupid choices. It’s sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, I guess. I’ve tried so hard to project this give-a-shit attitude. Maybe I’m preparing for the day when someone does find out about my past. I don’t want anyone to ever see me that vulnerable. ”

  Did she have any idea how very vulnerable she sounded right now? Something inside him came loose and the ache in his chest intensified. He hurt for the child who’d suffered so much. He hurt for the young woman who still hurt, for whom those horrible days were relived on a daily basis.

  “I didn’t want anyone to judge me. If I thought so badly of myself, how much worse would others feel about what I’d

  “Honey, you didn’t do anything,” he said gently. “You survived a horrible experience. How is that bad?”

  When she didn’t answer, he once again tilted up her chin so she could see his eyes. “Lyric, I’m not judging you. I don’t think badly of you. I hurt for you. I’m angry as hell at the son of a bitch who terrorized you and took your mother from you. But I love you. Your past doesn’t change that. Love doesn’t come with conditions. It just . . . is. ”

  “No one but my mother has ever loved me,” she said quietly. “I don’t know how to react, Connor. I’m worried I’ll piss you off. Or maybe you’ll get tired of my stupidity. I’m worried I can’t give you what you need. What you deserve. ”

  He smiled and rubbed his cheek over her forehead. “Why don’t you let me worry about what I can handle?”

  “How can you love me? You didn’t even like me at first. ”

  “If you’re asking me to explain how or why people fall in love, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I watched all my friends fall hard for the women in their lives. I secretly thought they were all morons. They completely lost their shit. I never understood it. Until now. Now I can see exactly what they were thinking and feeling. Because I’ve completely lost my shit over you. ”

  She laughed softly and buried her face in his neck. He could still feel the dampness on her cheeks and he cupped the back of her head, stroking and soothing away her grief.

  “I want to be right for you, Connor. I want it so bad I ache. ”

  He kissed her again, compelled to keep touching her, to keep the link between them. “You are right for me, Lyric. Just as you are. ”

  She shifted a bit and snuggled deeper into his body as if seeking refuge. He wanted to be that refuge. Her safe place where she was protected from the world.

  “You know what I’d like?” he asked softly.

  “What?” she whispered back.

  “I’d like for you to sleep with me. Just like this. You in my arms where I can hold you all night. And I’d like to wake up in the morning and have you be the first thing I see. ”

  She nodded sleepily. “I think I’d like that too. ”

  He smiled and reached behind him to turn off the lamp. Then he turned back to her and settled her against him once more. When he was satisfied that she was snuggled as tight as possible into his arms, he laid his cheek on the top of her head and processed everything she’d told him.

  Lyric slipped into an exhausted sleep within moments of him turning off the light. But Connor stayed awake long into the night.


  Connor awoke to the sound of his cell vibrating on the nightstand. He blew a strand of Lyric’s hair from his mouth and smiled at the fact she was draped across him like a blanket.

  Her body was soft and warm and her cheek was pressed to his chest. Her upper body was covering him entirely and one leg was slung over his.

  He could wake this way every morning and die a happy man in sixty years or so.

  The phone quieted and then immediately started again. Connor cursed under his breath and eased his arm over so he could reach the phone.

  “What?” he demanded in a quiet voice.

  “Connor Malone? This is Lieutenant Donnelly. We spoke yesterday regarding R. J. Miller and Trent Carnes. ”

  Connor grimaced. It was awfully damn early in the morning to be calling with case updates. “Give me a second,” he murmured.

  He disentangled himself from Lyric, who woke and stared up at him with sleep-clouded eyes. He leaned down to kiss her. “It’s nothing. Go back to sleep. I’ll be right back, okay?”

  “Okay,” she mumbled.

  He moved from the bed and walked across the room toward the bathroom so he wouldn’t disturb her.

  “What do you have for me?” he asked the lieutenant.

  “Your guys confessed. It was pretty pathetic really. ”

  “What the fuck were they trying to do?” Connor demanded.

  “They saw the writing on the wall. They weren’t happy that Ms. Jones had started pulling away from them. Their words, not mine. They hatched this ridiculous plan to make it appear that there was a threat against her. Their hope was that they’d provide support and protection, thus making themselves invaluable to Ms. Jones. ”

  “What a bunch of dipshits,” Connor muttered. “What will happen to them?”

  “We can’t hold them on much. The best option will be for Ms. Jones to take out a restraining order on them. We can arrest them for harassment, but they’ll likely be out on bail in less than a day, and no way is the DA going to pursue this beyond probation and maybe a little community service. They’ll plead out and be on their way before the ink is dry on the paperwork. ”

  “Figures. Thanks, Lieutenant. I appreciate your taking care of the matter. ”

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