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Secrets and Sins:Raphael

By:Naima Simone

Secrets and Sins:Raphael
Naima Simone

       A Secrets and Sins novel (Entangled Ignite)

Chapter One

When a little girl fantasizes about who she'll be when she grows up, she  envisions a mother, wife, doctor, teacher, lawyer. Even a princess.

She doesn't see herself bellied up to the bar of a neighborhood pub a  week before her wedding day because she caught her now ex-fiancé in bed  with another woman.

But then again, Greer Addison reasoned, smiling at the bartender who set  down a napkin and glass in front of her, dreams had the tendency to  shift into nightmares. One minute life was expected, stable, a  black-and-white montage of predictability. Then the next it was chaotic,  confusing, a Technicolor whirlwind of lies, betrayal, and humiliation.

"Isn't that number three or four?" her brother, Ethan, asked, arching  his brow as she lifted the glass to her lips for a sip. "You don't think  you should slow down? Besides, you're going to get sick on that. At  least switch up to a vodka tonic."

Greer hummed in pleasure as the sweet chocolate flavor and the tart  vodka flowed over her tongue. Wow, she swirled the alcohol in the glass.  That's awesome. "It's number three, my pace is just fine, and I like  this." She smacked her lips. "Tasty."

"Sweetie." Ethan covered the hand on her lap with his. "Greer." Concern  and a terrible sympathy softened his handsome features. The compassion  in eyes as green as her own sliced into her heart like the most skilled  surgeon's scalpel. "He didn't mean it."

She downed another gulp, heedless of the velvety burn the large swallow  of alcohol blazed down her esophagus. If only she could smooth away the  jagged edges of her memories so easily.

Her father's vicious tirade assaulted her brain like shards of broken glass-sharp, cutting … drawing heart's blood.

What good are you? The one thing you've done right-the one time you were  useful to me, had finally done something to make me proud-and you screw  it up. Your brother's a fag, and you're a failure. A useless failure.

"Oh, he meant it," she murmured, setting the glass down on the aged,  scarred bar top. She stared down into the cream-colored drink with the  chocolate swirl she'd almost obliterated with two healthy sips. "We both  know how sincere he was."

Ethan's mouth momentarily tightened, as did the fingers gripping his  bottle of Corona. He wasn't a stranger to Ethan Addison II's-no "Jr."  for him-"tender mercies." After years of painful denial and struggling  to conform to the inflexible, rigid Addison mold, Ethan had finally come  out to his family. She'd been aware of his sexual identity … always had  been. But Ethan had always been her protector, her rock, her confidant.  Whom he loved and slept with had never mattered to her.

Their father had not been so open-minded. Or forgiving.

Three years later, and the last words he'd uttered to his son were, "I  raised a son, not a daughter. When you come to your senses and remember  that, you will be welcome back in this house and family. Until then, get  out."

That Ethan had actually stepped inside their parents' home to lend her  his support when she broke the news about calling off her engagement to  Gavin M. Wells revealed how much her brother loved her. Or maybe he'd  known she would need someone after their father finished slicing her  into pieces and put her out like day-old trash.

Probably both.

"It doesn't-" The cell phone in her jacket pocket vibrated. Maybe it was  Mom calling to tell her Dad had calmed …  She dug it out and glanced at  the screen. Her stomach clenched, twisted. Gavin.

Quickly, she stashed the cell back in her pocket, lifting the glass from  the bar with her other hand. The alcohol hit her stomach like a leaden  weight.

"Let me guess," Ethan said with a nod toward her pocket. "Gavin."

She nodded her head, emitting a short, brittle chuckle. "I only have one  thing to say to him, and since it's anatomically impossible, there's no  point in my answering and wasting my breath."

"Actually, I saw this video-"

She flicked her palm up. "Stop right there. T-M-freaking-I."

Ethan snickered, and a reluctant smile curved her lips. So her humor  button hadn't been permanently smashed to smithereens. Good to know.

"Sweetie." He sobered, his gaze solemn and filled with compassion. "You have to talk to him sooner or later."

"Not now." She shook her head. Hurt and the greasy glide of humiliation  pitched and rolled in her belly. She turned her head, stared out the  latticed windows. The red and orange electric flame effects from the  fake fireplace danced in the dark windows, adding to the multicolored  flicker of Christmas lights from the office building across the street.  She loved this time of year. People were kinder, the world was prettier,  more joyful. Her love for the holiday season was the reason she'd  chosen December 23rd as her wedding date. It'd seemed perfect.                       


What bullshit.

"We were friends," she murmured. "Before the dating, the engagement, and  wedding plans, we were friends. If he didn't want me, he could've come  to me, been up-front. Instead … "

The images of "instead" rose in her head, wavering, solidifying, then  evaporating so another picture took its place. Aubrey straddling Gavin,  her auburn hair streaming down her bare back as she undulated on top of  Greer's fiancé. Gavin rising, face twisted in sensual pleasure,  passionately kissing the woman Greer worked with at her father's bank.  His blank eyes and gaping mouth as his gaze connected with Greer's in  the doorway of his bedroom.

"Instead he was a cowardly sack of shit who couldn't keep his dick in  his pants," Ethan snapped, disgust dripping from his ice-cold tone.  Again, championing her.

She sighed and rubbed a fingertip over the old, tiny sickle-shaped scar  on her chin. A childhood habit she'd acquired and never rid herself of.

"Pretty much," she murmured. "But you know what hurt me most?" she  asked, meeting the concern and anger simmering in her brother's eyes.  "Yes, the lies and the cheating. But if I'm brutally honest with myself,  I'd admit his quick capitulation with the six-month no-sex agreement  should've been my first clue something was wrong."

Noah Granger, her best friend, had scoffed when she'd told him about her  idea of a period of abstinence and rededication so she and Gavin could  experience a true wedding night. He'd warned her no sane man would go  for it, and when he'd learned of Gavin's acquiescence, he'd bluntly  informed her he smelled a rat-and the rat wore Gavin's toothy Colgate  grin.

"Greer, it's not your fault."

She shrugged a shoulder. "I know that here." She touched the side of her  head. "But here?" she asked, placing her fingers over her chest. "Well,  it's taking a little time catching up with logic. I know Gavin and I  didn't have this grand passionate affair." And she hadn't desired that  from him. All her life, she'd stood by and watched her mother demean  herself out of "love" for her husband, a distant, cold man who wouldn't  know affection if it sidled up and peed on his Brooks Brothers pants  leg. "Our relationship was built on sincere friendship, compatibility,  and respect. I honestly liked who he was. How many people can say that  about the person they're involved with?"

"I can," her brother said quietly. "And I want to jump his bones every  time he walks through the door. Sorry, sweetie. But what you described  you can find at the pound." A sneer tipped the corner of his mouth. "And  at least if a dog humps the wrong person, all you have to do is swat  him on the nose to get him to quit."

"Nice," she drawled, but the quick moment of levity faded, and the pain  and disillusionment rushed back in, eager and greedy to reclaim its  stake. She sighed. Rolled her shoulders back as if she could shed the  weight of her fiancé's and father's betrayals as easily. "Jesus," she  muttered. "Next thing you know I'm going to be crying in my cups.  Literally."

"You should probably eat. Y'know, to float on top of all that alcohol  you've downed. Here." He slid a battered laminated menu toward her  across the bar top. "Pick something out. I'm going to step outside to  return Jason's call, okay?"

She nodded, shooing him away as she bent her head over the bar's  offering for dinner. After a few moments, she growled low in her throat,  frustrated. When she was this tired and stressed, her concentration was  nil to none. Trying to read the list of dinner food was pointless.  Shoving the menu away, she reached for her glass again.

"Why, Ms. Addison," a voice heavy with amusement drawled from behind  her. "A dive bar?" A taunting tsk. "I do believe you're slumming."