When I first planned the Beautifully Broken series, I planned it as three books. Pax’s story, Gabriel’s story and Dominic’s story. But, as characters often do, Brand Killien wove his way into my heart, and yours, and he demanded that his voice be heard.
I received SO MANY E-MAILS from readers asking for more Brand, to hear his background, to see him get his Happily Ever After.
This story is for you.
Because you asked.
I’m dreaming of bullets and blood. Like always.
There are the screams, of course, because there are always screams. High-pitched and shrill, low and keening. They’re full of pain, full of anguish, full of torment. It’s a torturous sound and I twist and turn, trying to get away from it.
That’s when I realize something.
Outside of my dream, out where the silence is thick and heavy, there’s a sound.
A real sound.
The ring of a phone is breaking the silence apart, splintering the night into a million pieces. My eyes snap open, staring blearily at the clock.
A call at this hour is never anything good.
Old training kicks in and my senses numb, detaching me from the situation as I fumble for my phone. Whatever it is, I’ll be calm and ready. That’s who I am and what I’m trained to be.
Punching a button, I hold the device to my ear. I wait, expecting to hear my best friend, Gabe, his sister Jacey, or any number of our friends. I’m always the go-to person to bail someone out of trouble, mostly because I am calm and unflustered. I don’t judge people for their shit. For these reasons, I’m used to these calls.
But I’m not used to the voice who speaks in the darkness.
A thin, frail voice I haven’t heard in years.
The voice is like a punch to my gut and I’m instantly still, every nerve ending frozen.
“Mom,” I utter, the word foreign on my tongue.
She doesn’t acknowledge that I even spoke. She sighs, a shaky sound in the dark.
“It’s your dad. He had a heart attack tonight.”
She pauses and I say nothing, although my heart begins to pound, filling my ears with a rush, rush, rushing sound. My blood is ice being pumped through my veins, chilling my fingers and my toes, deadening every emotion.
I don’t answer her.
A silent beat passes.
Finally she speaks again, her voice tired and rough.
“He’s gone, Brand.”
I remain silent and frozen, unable to move, although my palms immediately grow sweaty, my breath rapid in my throat. I’m afraid if I speak, this won’t be real. It will be part of my dream, and when I wake, it will all go away.
So I don’t say a word.
“I need you to come home,” my mother adds.
Her call to action frees me and I’m able to move again. I nod, once, curtly.
“I’ll be there.”
Because this is real.
I hang up without another word, my hands shaky.
I stare at my left hand, at my fingers, thick and long. I’m a grown man. Yet the mere thought of my father instinctively causes my hands to shake, like the scared boy I once was. I allow myself to feel the impotent emotion for only one moment, before I channel the fear into rage, a blinding hot rage that I have every right to feel.
My father is dead.
I should be upset, devastated even. A normal person would be.
But in addition to my rage, there’s only one thing I feel.
“Nora, are you listening?”
I turn my attention away from the cars driving slowly by on the small town’s Main Street to look at my father. Maxwell Greene’s piercing eyes are trained on me now, the silver at his temples glinting in the sun, and I gulp.
“Yes, of course,” I lie.
He nods, pacified.
“Good. I know this last year of law school was difficult, but it’s over now. I want you to take the summer off, rest here in Angel Bay with your mother, then in the Fall, you’ll take over the legal team at Green Corp as planned.”
He’s ecstatic, of course, because it’s everything he’s ever wanted. It’s always been the plan, since the moment I started elementary school. Probably, actually, since before I was born.
“What about Peter?” I ask him hesitantly, picturing the middle-aged attorney who until now has been the Vice President of Legal Affairs for our company. He’s always been nice to me, always showed me pictures of his pretty wife and four daughters.
My father rolls his eyes. “He’ll be cut loose. He’s known this was coming for a while, I’m sure. Everyone knew you were at Stanford studying law. They can connect dots, Nora.”
He’s so blasé about ruining someone’s life. I swallow hard, fiddling with the straw in my glass of lemonade. The umbrella from our little bistro table on the wide sidewalk casts a shadow across my shoulders, and I almost shiver. I’m not sure if it’s from the chilly lake breeze, or if it’s from my father’s cold attitude.
He stares harshly at me now.
“Nora, you’ve got to grow a set of balls. There’s no pu**y-footing around corporate law. You have to kill or be killed. I need you to be a Greene and do what it takes. Be who I need you to be.”
His voice is even colder than his stare. I shirk away from it out of old habit.
“Okay,” I whisper.
My mother pipes up finally, from across the table, smiling a magnificent smile. Out of all of us, she’s always been the kindest. The sweetest. And she knows I need rescuing right now. I see it in her soft blue eyes.
“Ma belle fille,” she sings, reaching over and grasping my hand. “We’ll have a glorious summer. You can ride Rebel, you can rest on the beach, we’ll get manicures and pedicures… we’ll have tea and croissants. It will be lovely. You need the rest.”
My beautiful daughter. My mother’s French accent is as strong as ever, even though she’s lived in the states since she married my father twenty-five years ago. It charms everyone who hears it.
I smile at her, genuine now.
“Thanks, maman. I’m looking forward to spending time with you. I’ve missed you.”