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Drowning to Breathe(7)

By:A. L. Jackson



“You would never hurt her.”

Biting laughter rocked from me, because no, I’d never purposefully hurt her. Never. But that didn’t mean my mere presence didn’t beg for trouble. Chaos and mayhem and violence attached to my name.

“Look at me, Shea.” I stretched my arms out to my sides like an offering.

Shea knew what was underneath. All the scars and hardened body that came from living a hardened life.

It was the truth of who I really was.

“Look at me,” I said again. Defeat filled the words.

Tears Shea hadn’t been able to stop the entire night rolled faster down her angel face.

Did the fact I had the urge to cross to her make me a sick bastard? Push her against the wall and kiss the hell out of her until neither of us could remember our lives had just gone to shit? Get lost in her sweet touches and soft seduction?

But maybe it was time both of us started facing our reality.

She took me by surprise when disappointment coursed from her. “You think I don’t see you?”

Slowly, she shook her head. “Do you want to know what I see when I look at you, Sebastian? I see someone who takes the burden of the entire world and places it on his shoulders because he somehow thinks he deserves that weight. The one who’d bear it all if it meant those he loves would suffer a little less. I see someone who’s made mistakes just like the rest of us. Just like me. I see someone who maybe on the outside looks a little frightening. But what I’m frightened of most is how intensely he makes me feel.”

She touched her chest. “I see a man who’s loyal. Devoted. One who opened himself up enough to a love a little girl who isn’t even his. I see the man who caused me to fall so hard I didn’t know what hit me. I see a man I’d needed so badly, yet hadn’t even known it until he showed me what I was missing. I see the one I love.”

Shea’s words assaulted me, battered me with her unending belief and light. Like she was lifting me above the dark she threatened to drown me in.

An enigma. This girl I had no clue if I even knew. My savior. My ruin.

She didn’t stop. She just kept firing away.

“I see the only one who I want to do this with. Am I scared Jennings is using you to take Kallie from me? Yes. I’m terrified for her. But I also know he would have found another way, and I know it’s time I faced it, and I want to face it with you at my side. I don’t care what the rest of the world sees. All I care about is what you mean to me.”

My chest tightened, welling with emotion. Because fuck, I wanted to believe that, too.

“What if none of this is good enough?”

“What if it is?”

Trying to block it, I shook my head.

No.

God, she made me weak.

My voice grew quiet. “How could I put Kallie’s future on the line, knowing what I’ve done? I’m guilty, Shea. All those accusations…they’re true, and there’s nothing I can do to dispute them.”

They went so much deeper than the courts had record of, too. All the bullshit I’d gotten away with when I was nothing but a punk kid out trying to make it big, me and the rest of my crew out to conquer the world one fucked-up mistake at a time.

Worst part?

Jennings knew. Didn’t matter he was the dirtiest crook there was. He held all the cards.

I just didn’t know how deep his deck went until tonight.

“It doesn’t matter,” she whispered, her voice all wispy with hope and faith.

I looked up at the fucking gorgeous girl who, with just a glance, swallowed me whole.

Annihilated me with a touch.

The one I was willing to lay it all down for. My life and my heart and my future. But I was willing to break my own damned heart if it meant she got her little girl back.

I forced myself down the stairs, turning back just in time to watch as I broke Shea a little more. Always knew I would. Disappointment and hurt amplified her fear. With all of me, I wanted to wipe her pain away.

Expose her beauty and belief.

Live in it.

But I didn’t know how to stay.

Things had spiraled since the fateful moment when Kallie had almost drowned two days ago. It felt like a fucking lifetime, worn tatters of days strewn across too much time.

This goddamned perpetual tragedy that just wouldn’t quit.

I turned away.

“Sebastian…don’t leave me. You promised me…you promised you’d never leave me again.” Desperate feet pounded on the steps behind me. “Please…look at me.”

I couldn’t. If I looked back again, I would only cave. Give in, because I was already gone.

“Look at me!” she begged from behind. Fingers scraped down my back, trying to latch on.

Pain.

I fisted my hands, trying to catch a fucking breath, to drag the air in and out of my punctured lungs.

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