Unforgivably Broken (The Broken Series Book Two), page 1
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To Mrs. Sandy Jones
You taught me that words can heal a broken heart,
a lesson I’ve always treasured in the hardest moments of my life.
“A building gets torched. All that is left is ashes. I used to think that was true about everything — family, friends, feelings — but now I know that sometimes, if love proves real, and two people are meant to be together, nothing can keep them apart.”
I don’t know how that tiny part of me knew that something was wrong before the text came through.
But I did.
And as I round the corner, the harsh reality hits me with the heat of the flames. I’m running, but I don’t even remember stopping the car. There’s a crowd nearby, blocking my way. Probably the neighbors, but I don’t really see them. I don’t even slow as I rush toward the house.
There’s yelling, someone pulling me, grabbing at my arm, but I wrench free, feeling so much heat I can’t breathe. I cough, barely able to see through the thick, black smoke that surrounds me.
I’m so close.
“You can’t go in there!” a voice yells, sounding hollow through the mask he wears. His arms are across my body, yanking me backward, away from the front door, away from the house.
“No!” I struggle, putting everything I have into breaking free of his grip, but another set of hands helps him.
“The whole frame is unstable. You can’t go in. It’s coming down any second.” As if on cue, a loud creak sounds, followed by a shower of sparks and ash as the front section of the roof collapses. I cover my head automatically before staring, my eyes scanning the front windows wildly. Or, what were once the front windows. Now, there’s nothing more than gaping holes, every piece of the house burning red, orange, and yellow.
“No!” The word is strangled as I tear free from the numerous hands holding me, scrambling toward the flames. They’re inside. I can feel it.
“Stop!” They tackle me, more of them this time, as they drag me back from the flames.
“My family is in there!” I thrash harder, running on full adrenaline as I watch the fire engulf my home.
“You need to calm down,” someone says as I realize the heat is getting less intense. They’re pulling me away from the house. It’s then that I remember the crowd.
How did I not think of this before?
I turn, looking away from the fire, trying to see past the firefighters to the cluster of people. Maybe they got out.
But the weight in my stomach tells me I’m wrong.
“Hunter Davis was taken into custody just hours after the body was discovered. Davis, whose two silver medals helped Team USA’s Men’s Gymnastics win bronze at the Olympics just months earlier, was named in a suicide note found in the girl’s bedroom. The note accused Davis of raping Hansen weeks prior to her suicide. The note also implicated the gym’s coach, Ensel Romanov, of having knowledge of the alleged rape and not notifying authorities.”
“What are you watching?”
Lili let out a small yelp, slamming her hand down on the space bar to pause the video as she spun toward where I was standing in the doorway.
“Jesus Christ, Zane. You scared the shit out of me.” She let out a shaky breath, her eyes drifting from mine as she avoided my question.
I blinked a few times, trying to clear the remnants of my medication-induced sleep so I could focus. My energy was shot and without my glasses, the tile of the kitchen floor seemed oddly slanted as I took the first few shaky steps into the room. Lili jumped up, moving quickly to help me to the table. It had taken some time to get used to not only accepting help, but needing it at all. It wasn’t a concept I enjoyed but after several fights with Tish, Paige, and even Lili, I was learning to keep my mouth shut and let them help. After all, as the shooting reminded me, I’m not invincible.
“What are you doing out of bed?” she asked, holding me steady as I lowered myself into the chair she’d just vacated.
“Woke up and you weren’t there. I got worried.” I focused on relaxing the tense muscles in my back. “What are you watching?” I asked again, hoping she wouldn’t evade my direct question a second time.
“Old news clips.”
She started to sit in the chair beside me but I grabbed her hand, pulling her toward me. “Come here.” She curled up in my lap, carefully keeping her weight on my right side as she tucked her head under my chin. She sighed, reaching out to press play on the video.
“This is not the first legal trouble for the River Bend Gymnastics Club. Four years ago, Coach Romenav was arrested on child pornography charges after an anonymous tip revealed nude pictures of an underage gymnast on his phone. The same day, the female gymnast, Kylee Camden, went missing. Camden, thought to be kidnapped, was well on her way to the Olympic Trials that year…”
A picture came on the screen then and the tension I felt radiating from Lili’s entire frame nearly overwhelmed me. Her hair was lighter, a dark blonde, and her face was much younger but in the eyes, I could see my Lili. The hardness I knew wasn’t there yet and her carefree smile made my heart ache. It was clear something had changed the girl on the screen into the one curled against me. That was a side of her I’d never seen and would never know.
Lili reached out, slamming the laptop closed, cutting the newscaster off mid-sentence as she spoke of the search for Kylee. I didn’t speak at first, giving her time to sort her thoughts.
“This is why your sister came?” I guessed, trailing my fingers slowly along her bare arm in a gesture I hoped would show that I wasn’t judging. I hadn’t meant to ask the question. I knew I’d told her that her past didn’t matter but after Kaitlyn’s appearance last week and Lili’s distance since they spoke, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious.
She nodded slowly, moving carefully back to her spot against my chest, effectively hiding her face from me. “She wanted me to know Hunter’s trial is coming up.”
I rested my chin in her hair, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as the fingers of my other hand found hers in her lap. Engulfing her tiny hand in mine, I ran my thumb along her soft skin. As I tried to piece everything together, I wondered what about the news story had involved Lili. Obviously she knew Hunter, and knew him well enough that her sister tracked her down to let her know about the trial. That was, of course, before I’d seen the picture of her. Now I knew she had trained at the same gym.
“So, you know him?”
She nodded against my chest again but didn’t elaborate. I hated myself for the questions that were building in my mind. I wanted to ask her so many things but I refused to make her uncomfortable. She’d been open enough to watch at least part of the newscast with me but until she was ready, I wouldn’t push. I couldn’t. As I’d told Kas before, with Lili, pushing would send her running.
After several minutes of silence, I bent down, placing a soft kiss on the top of her h
She nodded, sliding off my lap before grabbing the computer. Staying beside me, she steadied me as we made our way back to my bedroom. Sitting had unfortunately made me stiff but I could tell my body was healing. Every day that went by was easier than the last.
When they’d first started decreasing the pain medicine in the hospital, I was surprised at just how tight my muscles had become. I knew the damage, of course, but knowing it didn’t help in the slightest when it came to the actual experience. Honestly, those first few days in the hospital, I wished I hadn’t woken up yet, especially when every single breath brought with it the agonizing memories of the bullet ripping through my body. I’d declined the counselor and still maintained that I didn’t remember anything after the gun went off. But, truth be told, it was a bold-faced lie.
I remembered it all.
From the terror of seeing the gun pointed at Lili, the burning pain of the bullet when it entered, the panic of not being able to breathe, to the moment I was sure I was going to die, I could remember every tortuous second. I could still see Lili’s face, terrified, covered in tears and blood. I’d wanted so badly in that moment to tell her I loved her. I’d been so certain of my death, but I couldn’t seem to make my body cooperate enough speak.
Shoving the memories aside, I released Lili and made my way over to the bed. She put the laptop on my dresser before climbing in beside me, situating the blankets and pillows around us in the way we perfected during the weeks in the hospital.
She curled into me, resting her head against my chest while I wrapped my arm around her shoulders. Her small frame made it easy to hold her tight. It still felt surreal to have her with me; to know she was mine. The way it felt to hold her, the ease at which we found this peaceful spot together, made it feel like there had never been anyone else.
And, in all honesty, there hadn’t.
“Do you need another pill?” Lili asked, lifting her chin to allow her eyes to search my face. I shook my head, already fighting sleep as my body relaxed with her weight against me.
“I love you,” I said through a yawn, pressing my lips to her forehead.
“I love you, too.”
“I was her mentor,” Lili whispered. At least, I thought she did. I blinked slowly, unsure if I had fallen asleep or how long the silence had stretched between us. It took a moment before my brain started repeating her words, trying to make sense of them. “Coach gave us each one of the younger kids. Teamed us up with them so they could see what it would be like if they decided to really fight to become an elite gymnast.”
I still wasn’t following but I didn’t want her to stop talking. I stroked her hair slowly, letting her know I was listening.
“Brooke Hansen. She was eight and a pain in my ass.” Lili let out a harsh laugh but I could feel the tremors starting to take over her body. I recognized the last name then. Hansen was the girl who had written the suicide note. “She never wanted to learn from me. She thought she knew everything. She was cocky and I didn’t really want to be there anyway.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. I didn’t know what to say at all. I had learned so much about Lili in the last twenty-four hours that I wasn’t really sure where to start. Honestly, I was afraid if I spoke, all the questions that were building up, multiplying with every new bit of information I learned, would come pouring out. I didn’t want that. I took a deep breath, determined to find something to say.
“Do you think he did it?”
So much for not asking questions.
She tensed, immediately causing the guilt to bubble up inside of me. Even her breathing paused while the weight of that question pinned us both down. Out of all the questions I had, I wasn’t sure why that was the one I had decided to ask. My mind seemed to be stuck on the fact that she was talking about the girl but her sister had come to tell her about the trial. I wanted to know more about that.
“I know he did.” I waited for more but she was silent again. I felt the catch in her breath and instantly knew she was crying. I pulled her tighter to me as I listened to her pain, letting those four words settle around us slowly. It took longer than it should have for the meaning behind them and her breakdown to register in my foggy, medicated mind.
She knew he did it.
She trembled against my chest and I tried to regulate my own breathing, keep myself calm as I forced down the rage at my realization. Closing my eyes, I repeated to myself that she was in my arms and she needed me. She needed me to be calm. I couldn’t lose it over this right now. I couldn’t even be sure I was right and there was no chance I would ever ask her that.
But if I found out I was right…
Lili squirmed, making me realize my hold on her was tighter than I intended it to be. I loosened my grip, pressing my lips into her hair as I took two more deep breaths. Ignoring the ache in my chest, I let the flow of extra oxygen help to clear my head. I focused my mind on relaxing my muscles. The shock of her statement — or was it a confession? — had adrenaline rushing through my veins, keeping the pain at bay. I knew if I tensed up, the ache would be tremendous once the natural pain relief burned itself out.
I could feel her shaking, her shallow breaths telling me more than any words could. She tried more than once to speak, her face buried in the crook of my shoulder as she quietly sobbed. I’d rarely seen Lili cry, but full blown sobbing? It practically ripped me in two. Seeing her in so much pain ramped up my anger but it also subdued my temper, keeping me grounded in her and this moment. I repeated my mantra. She needed me right now but she needed me calm.
Finally, once I could breathe evenly, I reached across my body. Using the side of my finger, I lifted her chin so I could see her beautiful face. I studied her eyes. Even without my glasses, I could see how much darker they were when they were full of tears. There was pain in them but it was the uncertainty I saw that finally helped me find my voice. “I told you before. I love you. Nothing will change that. You don’t have to tell me anything.” I wiped at the tears on her cheek with my thumb, hating that something I couldn’t fix — some invisible demon from her past — was causing her this much pain. “I’m right here, Pix. I’m not going anywhere.”
Rolling onto my side, I ignored the stab of panic at the lowered capacity of my lung. The scar tissue made it more difficult to breath at this angle but as I pulled her to my chest, feeling her cling to me as though I was a life preserver, I knew I would deal with whatever pain came from this moment. If my physical pain could help remove a part of whatever emotional turmoil she was dealing with, I would take it.
I woke slowly, finding myself muddled in that place between awake and asleep. Feeling fingers on the bare flesh of my side near my hip, I let out a gasp. The memories rocked me to my soul and I slid away, hearing Zane’s hand land heavily on the sheets. I blinked to clear my eyes, clenching my jaw while I worked through the panic and remembered where I was. Zane. Zane’s hand. Not Hunter’s. I was safe here. Even waking up in Zane’s arms couldn’t hold the unease at bay for long.
I used the heels of both hands to rub at my eyes, ignoring the trembling in my body as I got myself back under control. My body had finally healed from Jordan’s attacks and my spirit was on its way there as well, thanks in large part to Zane. But, Kaitlyn’s arrival had added more pressure against the dam holding back my past.
Zane inhaled and I looked over, seeing his hand stretch across the sheets, obviously looking for me. His eyelids fluttered but didn’t fully open and I reached over, locking my fingers with his. His body relaxed against the bed again and I watched as his breathing evened back out. He worried about me, even in his sleep. The thought brought back a small piece of the security I always felt in his presence.
Once I was sure he was asleep, I grabbed my phone and pulled my robe on, deciding I needed to do something to get my mind off everything that had happened. I slipped into the hallway, frowning when I heard sounds coming from the kitchen. Fuck. Apparently, it wa
A part of me, the vindictive and bitchy part, wanted to go into my room — her room — and lock the door to make this phone call, but I knew it would only cause more issues. Instead, I moved to the other end of the hallway, leaning against the wall near the living room as I dialed Shannon’s number.
“Well, what do we have here? You finally ready to come back to work, slacker?” She laughed through her question and I sighed at the utter normalcy of the conversation. She asked me this every time I called.
“Actually, yeah. That’s exactly what I need.”
There was silence for a second and then she laughed again. “Perfect! Nikki is off tonight and my new girl could use all the help she can get.”
Relieved, I dropped my head back against the wall. “Thanks, Shannon. And thanks for holding the job for me. I promise things are getting back to normal now.”
“Hey, I told you to stop thanking me. I’ve had my string of assholes and I know what it’s like to need someone to give you a break.” Shannon’s voice took on the mothering tone she used when she came to the hospital while Zane was hurt. Nikki had filled her in on the things that had happened in the few weeks before and Shannon took it upon herself to make sure I was taking care of myself during all of it.
“I’ll see you in a few hours then,” I answered, unable to help the relief I felt. It’s not that I wanted to be away from Zane, I just needed to get back some sense of normalcy in my life. I had to work on locking everything away again in order to move forward.
I headed toward the kitchen, hoping to have a few minutes with Kas. But as soon as I entered, I saw Paige dropping into a chair at the table with her breakfast. I steeled myself for the barrage of her nasty comments, knowing there was nothing I could do about it. I grabbed a glass, wanting to just get some orange juice and head back to the bedroom, but Kas called me over to the table. After the understanding all of them, other than Paige, showed with Kaitlyn’s arrival, I knew I owed her some answers if that’s what she was looking for.
MAEGAN ABEL SERIES:
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