Unapologetic (A Novel), page 1
River Ellis was a whirlwind of an experience when life was monotonously bland, harshly unforgiving and unequivocally foul. He showed me a world that wasn’t gray, nor black or white. We were bright and colorful, purely unadorned and raw, stripped of superficial perceptions of life.
He was my childhood friend. My lover. My partner. I loved and worshipped him with entirety, with every pulse. With every bated breath in my body, I was his and he was mine. We burned brighter than the sun, and together, we clashed, fell, and soared. Together, we made the perfect harmony.
Then everything changed the moment he decided to chase his dream. While he became riveted in Hollywood’s glittery façade, I found myself alone, whereas he lived his life to the fullest. I became the shadow of his past, dimming in the sunlight that we once orbited and gravitated. Gradually, as time passed, the inevitable happened. Then darkness completely filled my life, cloaking me and embracing me when I became fragile and utterly broken, teaching me the hardest lesson of all.
It’s better to have loved with my all and having had the chance to know what it’s like to find something so beautiful than endure a lifetime of never knowing it at all.
It made me fathom that such beauty shouldn’t be held on to. You shouldn’t choke it, stifling it until life drained away. Instead, you had to let go, set it free, and let it ride the waves so other people could experience that one of a kind rapturous, profound mystery as I once had.
Love was blinding and beautiful, but it also was a casualty. And after the tumultuous breakdown I had, I’m earnestly devoted in avoiding it at all cost.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
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Copyright © 2017 by Pamela Ann
To my sister,
Your first love isn’t always the first person you kiss,
or the first person you date.
Your first love is the person you will always compare everyone to.
The person that you will never truly get over, even when you’ve convinced yourself you’ve moved on.
Ten years ago…
Being unwanted was a sufferance I was familiar with. It hounded me from the moment I was born and every waking moment since. No one really wanted me—not even my parents. My mother was so aghast that she took her own life—dying was much more a comfort than taking care of the baby she bore.
As a child, I learned how to mask my emotions. Though shattered and broken inside, the mask I wore protected me from inquisitive eyes, especially from those who lavished on inflicting pain. Even though I was only eleven years old, I had learned that showing emotions made people uncomfortable, fickle, and they would use it to their advantage, as a weapon against you. In the end, it was best to stay guarded, grounded, and unmoved from the madness of my environment. It was what I did best, the unperturbed, emotionless Cara Quinn.
“Hello, I’m Mattie, and this is my husband Tony. You’ll be living with us from now on.”
Hesitant with this new acquaintance, I glanced toward Lisa, the social worker, who gave me a warm encouraging smile.
“Hello,” I murmured back as I scrutinized the middle-aged woman. She had a warm smile, as did her husband, but they all had that warm and sunny façade in the beginning, so I was holding my reservation.
This had been the third home I had been transferred to. A place where kids who weren’t adopted came to for a last chance of normalcy of what they call “home.”
Even at the tender age of eleven, I knew adults couldn’t be trusted. The last home proved that. Had it not been for Lisa’s prying and poking, the abuse would have continued. It was a horror of a place where the wife turned a blind eye on her husband’s rage and sadistic tendencies. She had once reasoned that had I not been in the picture, she would be the one on the firing line. Therefore, it had been better me to get the beating than ruin her delicate face. It had been the main and sole reason she had taken me in—to save herself.
“We prepared lunch for your arrival, sweetheart,” Mattie interrupted my thoughts as she took hold of my hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze before guiding me toward the living room where she had placed a small feast on the glass coffee table.
I quietly ate my mac and cheese while Lisa and the Shaws discussed me. This was a process I was so accustomed to that I became immune to it. So, while they chatted, I was lost in thought, before a small boy waved at me from out of nowhere, sporting an infectious smile from the across the room. Then he quickly disappeared out in the garden. I assumed the other kids were out playing as well because, coming from the squeals and laughter, they seemed to be having great fun. As the fun grew louder out back, Mattie Shaw encouraged me to step outside and join them while they finished up the paperwork.
The woman seemed so sincere that I was a little shocked to find myself walking toward the garden. The kid I saw earlier spotted me immediately, hastily gunning toward where I rigidly stood, awkward and unsure.
“I’m River.” He showed perfectly even teeth with a dimple on his left cheek. “Will you be my new playmate?”
I wasn’t much of a friendly person, and I liked keeping to myself, but for some odd inexplicable reason, I somehow didn’t want to disappoint and ignore him.
“I don’t play well with other kids.”
It had happened after I had gotten bullied and blamed for all the other kids’ faults. Somehow, the adults never believed me when I reasoned that I didn’t cause broken furniture, setting the playhouse on fire, or stealing money from their wallets. I had done none of those, yet I had gotten all the blame. River looked like he would be the same type of troublesome kid that would get me moved to another home. You see, kids got very territorial when they felt threatened if the administrator or the foster parents became keen on the new kid.
Two boys and one girl, who were also in the backyard, didn’t come over and introduce themselves as River had. Instead, they warily watched me, studying me like a new animal in the kingdom.
Withdrawing from their austere faces, I went back inside without bothering to say good-bye to any of them, including River.
While the adults busied themselves, I politely asked where my new room would be. Lisa had previously informed me that I would be sharing a room with another girl, so that mean-looking kid would be my roommate. Hopefully, she would stay out of my way, because I abhorred drama and the nauseating squeals of pubescent teens.
After a short description of where my room was located, I carried the small duffel bag in my hand that consisted of all of my belongings. Stopping at the opened door, I glanced about the peach colored room. The size was bigger than what I was used to, the ambiance warm and inviting. Mrs. Shaw even had rainbow decals on the walls to make the room bright and welcoming.
I strode toward the opposite side of the room where the plainly laid out lavender colored bed was situated against the wall. The other girl’s bed had all sorts of dolls on it. I found myself staring at it, wondering why girls bothered playi
Drawing my eyes away from the display of girly stuff, I placed my bag on the bed and began to pull my clothes out. Piece by piece, I hung them while tiptoeing on a chair, when I lost my balance and roughly landed flat on the floor.
I heard River enter the room, yet I was too ashamed to meet his gaze. My eyes watered, but I steeled myself from shedding any tears. It was my first day here, and if they witnessed how weak I was by proving that I was a crybaby, I wouldn’t last long.
The thought of moving again made me ill. And for some reason, after witnessing how Mattie and Tony interacted with the other kids, their concern and warmth seemed sincere enough. I wanted to be a part of that, even just for a little while before I was moved again.
Unexpectedly, River sat next to me on the floor then set his little, dirty hand on mine. “I’ll hold your hand until you’re okay.”
For a kid, he was different. I never thought I could be friends with anyone, but it seemed I found one in him.
“Thank you for being so kind to me.” Shyly glancing at him, my stomach felt warm when I saw that particular dimple of his when he broke into a smile.
“You’re family now, so we always have to look out for each other,” he stated softly, like it was something to believe in, something to fight for.
I sat there, gazing around at my new surroundings and, for the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere.
Tonight had been much more of a success than I had ever anticipated. All the waitressing and odd jobs I had to work, sacrificing ungodly hours just to get by living in this expensive city while chasing my ambition had finally come to fruition.
The night air was crisp, still, and dangerously inviting. It cleared my senses from the stifled surroundings I had been in moments before. Heaving out a breath of relief, I stared at the darkened hills surrounding me as images of my struggles flashed before my very eyes, leaving a yearning for something I had lost. This was my dream come to life. Yet, it didn’t feel as good as I had imagined. It should have been sweet, triumphant even, but somehow, it lacked those gratifying aspects.
The stellar reviews for the online streaming show was plentiful, but as much as I wanted the praises, I didn’t know how to handle it. Obviously, it wasn’t a mammoth success compared to blockbuster films. However, shows with well-thought-out plots and an outstanding cast were being recognized through the recent years more than ever. Not to mention, it was an amazing platform to show one’s craft and potential.
I was lucky to have been casted in Clover, surrounded by people with like-minded souls. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I was happy, enthralled. Amongst it all, however, I couldn’t deny the blatant fact that something was amiss.
Feeling beyond dejected, I considered heading back inside to rejoin the party, when I felt the hairs on the back of my neck spring to life. This meant one thing and one thing only.
He had finally found me. He was here.
We were entwined in almost psychic ways. And God help me, after two years of absence, the pull was just as powerful as I had remembered.
Biting back a disgruntled groan, I remained unmoving, composed and immobile, waiting with bated breath for him to break the charged silence that seemed to choke the life out of me.
“Cara Quinn, I’ve found you at last. Congrats on the new show, by the way.”
Ah, Satan had definitively arrived.
I had often wondered how long it would take him to seek me out once those promotional billboards were plastered all over Sunset Boulevard. It didn’t surprise me that he had shown up for the show’s party. This was, after all, his oyster, and I had just stepped into it. His glittering jungle of beauty, vanity, and narcissism.
River Ellis was Hollywood’s newly minted favorite bachelor. Dangerously handsome with his dark looks, equipped with a chiseled body and a stellar ability to act with profound complexity. Not to mention, he could sing in a deep, throaty voice that went straight into one’s soul. He was the ultimate package, so it wasn’t a shock that he had made it in this industry without breaking a stride.
His supporting role in a major production film was his huge breakout into the star he was today. He simply had it in him. He was born for this acting lifestyle; whereas I, it had to be thoroughly developed through drama classes. And of course, with the help of Mrs. Newell.
Nevertheless, he was just River to me. The man I grew up with in a group home, the one who had protected me when I was bullied, the one who I had loved with my entirety yet had let me down in all ways possible. And he was one of the reasons I came here … just so I could prove my worth, to him and to myself.
Pressing my lips together, I spun to face the man I had loved with no rhyme nor reason once upon a time. River Ellis still looked gorgeously lethal, but I knew better.
Instead of the usual heart palpitation and breathlessness I was so accustomed to whenever we were together, this time around, I felt nothing. My heart didn’t jump for joy. It was cold, cold as ice, though I could swear that, if he kept roving those hawk eyes all over me, I would thaw out.
“Why bother coming here at all? If you’re here to taunt or mock me, I’m not in the mood.” I wanted to easily dismiss him so he could leave me be. Knowing how the man functioned, though, he wasn’t going away just because I shooed him off. No, this man was as stubborn as they came. Just like Satan, he was sinful, just as deceiving, and ruthless to the core.
Through the blanket of darkness, I could see his eyes peruse me, studying me with blistering intensity, like I was some unique specimen. My daring black cutout dress made me feel naked when those laser-like eyes roamed over my body.
“They did say success sometimes makes people bitchy. Don’t let it get to your head, Cara. You’re better than that.”
His distasteful retort didn’t rile me up. It left me more guarded.
“Thanks for the lecture, but I must get back inside,” I said while giving him a death glare. “Enjoy the party.”
River’s dark eyes sought me out. I could feel his anger vibrating against the energy between us. It was charged, as suffocating as it was threatening. “I came back for you, Cara, but you were gone,” he hissed out between clenched teeth. “You up and left without warning.”
Why? I wanted to interrupt, but I didn’t bother. Whatever for? Why make the effort? After he had strung me along for a future that had never happened, I saw no point harping on the past. Life was less complicated without him in it. And I wanted it to stay that way. If he had any designs in keeping me in his life while he pranced around tinsel town, hopping from one bed to the next, he could think again. I had no desire in being part of his long list of harem.
“You’ve congratulated me, and I thank you for that, but honestly, River, I have nothing else to say to you. Goodnight.” I gestured for him to step aside, meaning to walk away from him, but he hastily grasped my arm, stopping me in my tracks.
“You can dismiss me all you like, but you can’t run from me forever. I’ve found you after almost two years without hearing from you, Cara. Don’t be stupid to think that I’m easily going to let you go. No. Not this time. Never again.”
I wasn’t his property. I could do as I pleased. Those days were long gone. He had me, and what had he done? He royally messed it up like any playboy would. Idiot me had eaten up whatever promises he had thrown my way. That naive girl had long since died, along with our wretched memories.
Recalling how he had mistreated me stung to no end. For some time, I had been relieved to have escaped them—him. Now it seemed that it was time to face the tune of my past.
Scrutinizing him with pure and unreserved disdain, I stood my ground and found strength to fight fire with fire. “Not let me go, River?” I questioned with disbelief. “I’m with Parker now. I’ve replaced you, just as you thoughtlessly did me.”
His grip on my arm tightened, clearly stung by my words. “No matte
If his purpose was to disarm me, he had better try again.
“It’s much too late for any of that.”
Once upon a time, hearing him utter those words would have made me run back to him in a heartbeat, but a lot of time had passed. Now, I could honestly admit that I was immune to his empty promises. That was all he could ever offer me, nothing more.
“I need to get back inside. Parker will be looking for me soon.”
He looked perplexed as he held his breath, staring down at my determined face. He was so close I could feel the warmth from his body, slowly breaking down my barriers. His sex appeal was unparalleled. He radiated potent sex, and as much as I hated to confess it, he still affected me. Undoubtedly, he was still the sexiest man I had ever gazed upon. At that slight admission, an unwelcomed tremor zinged all over my body. Ugh, not now. Damn hormones.
“Meet me sometime later, just this once … to talk. Nothing more, I promise.” His voice was low and steady, while his body was in complete restraint, trying to hold back from something. It reminded me of a caged animal; ready to pounce.
“And why would I be so stupid as to do that?” Talk? He meant closure, right? Surely, I could handle finally closing the lid on my past? But I wasn’t too sure, not when he could demand my body’s attention by simply gazing at me.
“Because we owe it to each other, and to the seven years of love and friendship we shared,” he stated resolutely, with an acute emphasis on the word “love,” as though I were too dense not to comprehend.
Oh yeah, love. He spoke so freely of the word that I thought he knew what it entailed. Apparently not.
River was going to dredge up everything—the good, the bad, and the downright rotten. I sensed it. I knew him enough to know that he wouldn’t hold anything back.
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