Home > Branded (The Ignite Trilogy #2)(2)

Branded (The Ignite Trilogy #2)(2)
Author: Tara Sivec

Why the fuck didn’t he leave the other night?

I didn’t mark my body for attention. It’s not a cry for help or a result of some lingering childhood trauma, regardless of what one or two of my former shrinks might lead you to believe. I like pain, that’s all there is to it. So many things about life can make you feel dead inside, and the sting of burning flesh and the throb of pain makes me feel alive.

My name is Seraphina Rosalia Giordano, and I like to brand myself.

I realize that sounds a little sick and twisted when you say it out loud, but I don’t mind. I like people thinking I’m a little fucked up in the head. It forces them to keep their distance and helps avoid attachments. There are only two people I just couldn’t shake and my best friend, Finnley, is one of them. Honestly, she’s the only person I didn’t mind allowing into my life because she’s genuinely good, through and through. She’s never tried to use me for her own personal gain and she would give you the shirt off her back if it meant your happiness. Still, I’ve never let her see the truly dark side of myself. That’s something no one needs to see, especially someone as decent and sweet as Finnley. When we met, I almost hoped that some of her goodness would rub off on me, but even at fifteen years old, I was already a lost cause.

For the first time in my life, staring at the scars on my hips, running my fingertips over the small circles of rough, uneven skin pisses me off. My best friend, who means the world to me, almost lost everything in a horrible house fire four months ago. Her estranged husband died, the love of her life almost died and she did die. For seventeen seconds, Finnley’s heart stopped beating. When she came back to life, her legs, her hips and part of her stomach were covered in burns. Burns she never asked for and scars that she’ll have for the rest of her life because of some sick fuck who couldn’t let her go. Finnley, ever the optimist, is just grateful to be alive, but I’ve seen what those scars have done to her self-esteem.

Then you have me, a woman who willingly puts these marks on her body just to feel alive. I should be disgusted with myself; I should hate myself more than I already do. Unfortunately, all the guilt and self-flagellation have only made me angrier. I can feel the rage simmering just below the surface, building up inside of me, making me crave the burn. I know that eventually, I’ll be forced to light a cigarette and add a few more ugly marks to my skin just to relieve the pressure. It’s been so long since I’ve done it; I’ve been distracted with Finnley and trying to be a good friend to her. I’ve been at war with myself for months, not wanting to dishonor her by adding to my scars and yet, needing it so much it almost hurts to breathe.

My hands itch with the need to feel the searing burn on my flesh. My throat tightens with a locked-away scream, dying to get out and take all my frustrations with it as I blister my skin. The pack of Marlboro Smooths and the yellow BIC lighter are only seven steps away from me in the top drawer of my nightstand, taunting me. Seven steps across my plush, cream carpet where I can flick my BIC, take the one drag off a cigarette needed for the end to glow with red embers and then…bliss.

Instead of doing what I need, what I want, I walk seven steps in the opposite direction, stopping in front of my closet. Tonight is Finnley’s night and I refuse to voluntarily mar my skin with the kind of scars she has to look at day after day on her own body, wishing they weren’t there. I have so many reasons to add another brand to my body, especially after what happened the other night, but I won’t. I will take a deep breath, put on the dress I bought for the art gallery event tonight in Finnley’s honor and proudly stand by her side as the rest of the world is introduced to the beauty that she creates. My best friend is an artist and tonight, we are celebrating her recovery and her first show. I will don a smile, drink champagne and pretend like everything is okay. I spent the first eighteen years of my life learning how to hide my pain and the marks my father left on me, and then honed my skill for the next fifteen, concealing the misery and the darkness inside me; tonight will be no different.

And yet, I know everything is different now. I crossed a line two nights ago and I can never go back. I should have known better than to let him back in, the him in question being the second person – and the only man – that has crossed my path in my thirty-three years that I just can’t shake.

I’m not the woman he used to know and the things that happened in this very room just forty-eight hours ago are proof of that. I wanted something and I took it, just like he did when we were eighteen years old. He wanted to know what my fantasy was and I told him. He was only too happy to oblige, although looking back on it now, I’m sure he had no idea what he was getting into. If I close my eyes, I can still feel that hard, firm chest that I rested my back against, strong arms holding me in place and callused hands sliding over my breasts. If I open them again, I see someone else’s head between my thighs at the same time. I always wanted to know what it was like to be with two men at once, and he gave me my fantasy.

I’m not a slut, let me just remind you of that. This wasn’t some skeezy, porn-style double-penetration. One only held me, his dominant presence a soothing, calming foil to the other, a man whose touch brought me more pleasure than I’ve ever felt before. On the surface, it felt exactly how I thought it would feel, but on the inside, the experience left me feeling hollow…empty. I had more orgasms in one sitting than I’d ever had in my entire life and my body was on fire as one licked and pushed and sucked while the other’s hands roamed over my shoulders and slid through my hair. The fire was all on the outside, though. My skin was covered in sweat and flushed with pleasure, but on the inside, I was a cold block of ice that nothing could thaw, not even multiple orgasms.

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