SERIES READING ORDER
With the woman he loves—the woman he failed— fading away before his eyes, Mikhail Kennedy knows he needs to do something drastic to save her. To save himself. If she flinches away from his touch one more time, his guilt-ridden heart is going to shatter into a million pieces.
Madelaine O’Brien knows she’s drowning. The after effects of what happened to her are slowly killing her will to live; yet, she can’t find the strength to stop it. Keeping everything a secret is the only option. Her internal battle to fight off her feelings of contamination and shame is hard enough without needing to explain to the Black Shamrocks MC what really happened with her crazy ex-boyfriend.
When Mik comes home and tosses her motorcycle helmet into her hands, declaring that they’re going to ride for as long as it takes for Maddi to open up to him, she realizes this is make-or-break. The trip is either going to push their relationship past the point of no return or it’s going to be their chance to set about SOOTHING SUFFERING.
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“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~Kahlil Gibran~
Turns out that there is a fate worse than death. After watching my mother fade away before my eyes, I decided that I would do everything in my power to live a long life. Death is scary. Death is the end.
Now, every time I look at my scarred and broken body, I close my eyes and I pray for death. It doesn’t scare me anymore; if anything, I look forward to the day that I can close my eyes for the final time and never have to think about Brendan Taylor and what he did to me, ever again.
The sweet respite from the voices in my head—the ones that keep telling me that I’m still Brendan’s slut—can only be achieved by embracing the end of my life. That final barrier, the one that stops me from following through on my desire to die, is getting thinner by the day. With every memory that masquerades as a nightmare, with each flinch away from Mik’s gentle touch, with every single glance he sends my way that’s filled with guilt and regret; I edge one step closer to finishing it all.
I refuse to let them see just how close I am to giving up. There’s nothing they can do anyway. My bed was made when I chose to let my pride get in the way of admitting my mistakes. If I’d spoken up, none of this would have happened.
I should find it ironic that the person I hurt the most is the only one stopping me from taking my life. Except, I don’t.
He’s always been the one.
Even when I was too stupid to realise it. If it wasn’t for that loving glimmer I glimpse in his gaze when he looks at me, I’d do it. Instead, I hold onto that love and push through another day.
For how much longer?
I don’t know. All I know is that today isn’t the day I put an end to my pain.
A heavy hand lands on my shoulder. Lost as I am in my own world—a world filled with painful memories that make the fear that is now my constant companion kick up a notch—I don’t recognize the owner until I’ve flinched away from their touch, putting space between myself and the person I perceive to be my newest attacker. Swinging around with looping punch that would have my self-defence instructor shaking his head, I follow with an ear-splitting shriek that makes me cringe.
“Fuck. Lainey. It’s me.” Mik holds his arms out in front of himself. He looks me dead in the eye and waves his hands as if he’s trying to settle a spooked horse. Even his mouth is shaped in a circle as if he’s about to tell me to “whoa”. My heart’s trying to pound out of my chest, fearful trembling seizing control of my body, while heat rises up my neck and warms my cheeks. I feel like a damn idiot, but I can’t seem to stop overacting to the smallest thing. “I thought you heard me coming, Angel. I’m sorry.”
His apology makes me feel worse. Adding his slumped shoulders and strained expression into the mix only drives home how much he’s suffering with me. The green flecks in his hazel eyes have been dulled by the pain he carries. Every time I flinch away from him, the light in them—that cheeky spark that used to illuminate his face—dims a little bit more.
“It’s all good, I was daydreaming,” I say in a voice that doesn’t sound nearly as breezy as it did in my head.
Forcing my stiff, shaking body to loosen, I fake my best smile and close the distance between us in three steps. Ignoring how my hands tremble, I press my breasts against his hard chest and wrap my arms around his neck. Bringing his head down to mine, I press my lips against his and initiate a kiss that’s deeper than the quick pecks that we’ve exchanged since I was released from hospital eight weeks ago. Mik was rigid when I put my arms around him; yet, he manages to take it to another level altogether at my touch. His arms hang at his side and he doesn’t return my kiss past allowing the initial joining of our mouths. Feeling like I trying to make out with a statue, I pull back an inch and sink my teeth into his bottom lip with deliberate viciousness.
“Fuck!” He yelps, the blank expression on his face changing to one of annoyance.
Gripping me with infinite gentleness by the tops of my arms, he moves me back so that he can look down at me. “Why’d you fucking do that?”
Pushing away the embarrassment that’s threatening to overwhelm me—first from my overreaction to his innocent touch and secondly from his refusal to kiss me back—I shake my head at him. Wrenching out of his grasp, I sit on the dining table in the same spot I was before he interrupted me.
“Why did I do that?” I mimic his confused tone. “Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because my boyfriend refuses to kiss me.”
The aggravation leaves his rugged features, sympathy taking its place. It’s the one emotion I can’t deal with; one that he should know better than to send in my direction. The small amount of spirit left in my psyche—the tiny part that survived my ex-boyfriend’s onslaught—flares to life, heating my indignation, and giving me the ability to lash out at him.
“You know, if being with me is too much for you to handle, the door’s that way.” I spit the words at him with a certainty that doesn’t reflect my inner fear that he’ll take me up on my offer. Pointing in the direction of the front door, I continue. “Don’t let it hit you on your fine ass on the way out.”
Swinging back to my feet, I step up into his personal space and glare at him through narrowed eyes.
“We both know I’m damaged. Hell, nobody’d blame you if you walked. Nobody wants a woman as scarred as me.” Putting space between us, I wave my right hand over my abdomen. “Inside and out.”
Turning my back to him, I make my way to our bedroom. Once I’ve slammed the door shut behind me, I flick the lock before throwing myself face down on our king-sized bed. The tears that are constantly trying to escape from my eyes—the tears that I have to fight everyday—run down my cheeks. The only time I let them fall is when no one else can see them. When I’m alone, they’re stronger than me. So much so, that I should be out of tears to cry since it feels like it’s all I do lately. Keeping my anguish to myself is becoming too much. It’s making me treat Mik like shit, when he’s the only one who has a chance of understanding how I feel because he’s the only one who knows the full truth of what happened to me.
The guilt that my behaviour brings just adds another layer to what I’m already struggling under. If I’d listened to him, none of this would have happened. If I’d gone to him after the first time Brendan hurt me, it wouldn’t have got so bad. If I’d listened to the voice in the back of my mind that told me to tell him the truth, I wouldn’t be broken now.
The handle rattles as Mik tries to open the door, interrupting my mental blame game. He raps his knuckles against the hard wood. “Lainey, let me in. Fuck me dead, I’m trying my best here. If I try to touch you, it makes you freak out so when you kissed me I didn’t have a fucking clue how to react.”
I hear a soft thud, and I can picture him resting his forehead against the door. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I sit up and stare at the wooden barrier that separates us. Wiping my face, I press my lips together so they’ll stop trembling while I breathe deeply through my nose, making my lungs expand before letting the air out slowly. It’s a technique my therapist reckons will calm me, although it hasn’t worked so far.
“Angel. Talk to me. Tell me how to help you. I’ll do anything you want.” He pauses, a loud sigh coming from the other side of the door, telling me that he’s not only confused—he’s hurt and frustrated with me for shutting him out.
I open my mouth, unsure what words are going to leave my lips when I speak, when he interrupts me with the words that are the main reason why I can’t confide in him. “Fucking hell, Mo Ghrá. I know this is my fault and I’m fucking sorry. More than you’ll ever know.”
My mouth closes of its own volition. I throw myself backward on the comforter, landing on my back as the tears call an end to the brief reprieve they’d granted me. Flailing my hand toward the head of the bed, I reach for a pillow. Jamming it over my face, I open my mouth and scream … and scream and scream. My mind joins in, shrieking two sentences at me over and over in a matching rhythm to the cries that my pillow is muffling. It’s not your fault. It’s mine.
Mik must mistake my silence for agreement. A louder thud makes the door shake—I’m not sure if he’s hit it with his head or his fist—before I hear him walk away from our bedroom, his heavy biker boots sounding against the jarrah floorboards. My attention is drawn from my screams as I listen to see if he’s leaving the house. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. After the thirteenth step, there’s a resounding bang as the front door is thrown open, hitting the wall behind it. I jump in fright when a louder boom echoes through the house as Mik slams the door shut behind him. Barely five seconds later, I hear his Harley roar to life before the squealing of tyres heralds his departure from our street.
With straining ears, I listen as the rumbling engine gets further away, the sound receding until I can’t hear it anymore. Rolling onto my side, I pull the pillow against me and curl into the foetal position around it. Burying my face in its softness, I drag in a ragged breath and Mik’s scent overcomes me. I must have grabbed his pillow. The familiar smell makes me long for him. Yet, I know that after my actions this afternoon, this might be all I’m left with. An empty house, a broken heart and body, and the slowly disappearing scent of the man I love. It’s with that thought that the never-ending tears pick up pace and begin pooling on the pillow as a liquid tribute to my sorrow.