Damaged 2

By: H.M. Ward

CHAPTER 1



After Sam leaves, Peter picks up his cell phone. His gaze lifts and meets mine. It's like his heart is caught in his throat. He's thinking something, but I don't know what. Those sapphire eyes lower when Peter looks at the phone cradled in his hand. "Let's take our time getting out of here and put some space between you and Dean. I need to make a call and then we can sort out the details. Okay?" When he finally looks up, I get the feeling that Peter isn't telling me something.

"Who are you calling?"

"My brother. I need to ask him something." Peter turns abruptly with determination across his face. His features harden, and he no longer looks like the man I know.

I don't snoop and linger at the door listening to that phone call. There's something between him and his brother, old scars maybe. I don't want to make Peter's life harder. Maybe I should go? I mean, this isn't his fight. It's mine. Just because I utterly failed last time doesn't mean that I'll get the crap beat out of me this time. I glance at my hands, which are covered in scabs. Damn it. I don't know what to do. I glance back at Peter's room.

The decision is taken from me when his door opens and Peter walks out. Tension lines his neck and shoulders. His jaw shifts from side to side as though the conversation he just had pissed him off. His eyes flick up from the floor and meet mine. "My brother's an asshole."

I smile at him. "So is mine."

Peter watches me for a moment and sighs. He runs his hands through his hair and stretches. The anger that was there washes away, but it's not totally gone. "I need to tell you something." The way he says it makes my stomach dip. The tone, the way he looks away from me sends a shiver down my spine. The words hang in the air like a bad omen.

Peter takes my hands and pulls me over to the couch. At first we're seated next to each other and he's holding my hand, but it's like he can't sit still. Peter is on his feet moments later, pacing. Every few seconds he tries to tell me something but can't choose the right words. Peter makes an aggravated sound in the back of his throat as he works his jaw. When he turns and looks at me, I know there's something wrong.

Peter's lips are parted as he stares at me. "I didn't want to bring this up, not now, but you need to know something about me." He swallows hard and looks away.

I push off the couch and walk over to him. "You can tell me anything." When I touch his arm, Peter flinches. The movement is so subtle but speaks volumes. It makes me nervous. Why is he acting this way? I kid to try to lighten his mood. "You're not the one who put the squirrel outside the bathroom window, are you?"

Peter snorts a surprised laugh and looks over at me. He takes me in his arms and pulls me to his chest. It feels so good, so safe. He kisses the top of my head. "Do you know anything about the Ferro family?"

His question confuses me, but I nod. "Yeah, who doesn't?"

"Tell me what you know." I step back and look into his face, but it doesn't clarify anything.

Oh-kay? This seems like a weird question, but I answer him anyway. "Well, they have more cash in their pockets than Scrooge has in his money bin. The mom is a hard-ass, the dad is a player with a new mistress every other week, and the three sons can't seem to stay out of trouble.

"The youngest, Jonathan, was in the paper the other day for doing something stupid, but most people forget that and get blindsided by his charm—and his looks. The oldest brother, Sean, is estranged; at least that's what the paper said. Same thing goes for the middle child." I have no idea where he's going with this. I stop talking and wait for him to clue me in, but he doesn't.

"What else have you heard?"

"Nothing really. The same stuff you heard, probably."

"I doubt it, but go on."

I give him a weird look and think back. "The oldest brother was accused of killing his wife. He was in the news for a long time until he got off. After that, Sean left the family and walked away from all that money. The papers started calling it the curse of the Ferro fortune or something like that. After the oldest brother left, the next heir was Pete Ferro. A few weeks later he was proposing to his fiancée in Rockefeller Center and…" I stop talking. My eyes go wide.

Peter's grip on my hands tightens. "Say it. Finish the story, Sidney."

Swallowing hard, I continue because it can't be, no matter how striking the similarities. "And she was killed. Pete was stabbed in the side. He seemed to drift for a while, not taking an interest in anything, until one day he disappeared. He walked away from the Ferro fortune completely."

As our eyes lock I realize that this is his story. My jaw quivers and I don't know what to think. Part of me wants to yell at him for not telling me that he's Peter Fucking Ferro, but the other part is afraid. The Ferro brothers have a reputation, and he's one of them. I stand there too long and blurt out, "You're Pete Ferro."

He's watching me; his blue eyes are locked on mine. Peter nods slowly. He rubs his thumb over the back of my hand. "Yeah, I am." I blink, too shocked to speak. "It's not something I talk about. It's part of my past, Sidney. When I lost Gina, I walked away from everything. Sean was gone and my parents aren't exactly helpful. My mother's solution to everything is to see a shrink. I tried that. I decided the best way to get on with my life was to start over, so I did. I took Gina's last name and finished my doctoral work." He shrugs like it isn't a big deal. "Then I came here and met you."

"You're Sean Ferro's brother?" He nods. It feels like I'm lost in a dream, being sucked in deeper and deeper. "How? How could you…?" I falter. I don't know what to say. I can't say what's racing through my mind. How could you help cover up a murder? How could you be related to someone like that? How could you be the Pete Ferro, the player, who is so much like his father?

People said Peter didn't love Gina, that it was a marriage/business merger, but that's not true. Peter did love her. I hear it in his voice. That night haunts him.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you before now. I didn't want them to find me. I wanted a chance to start over. You can understand that."

"That's not the same. What I did is not the same! I ran from someone who was hurting me. How could you help him?" How could you help your brother cover up brutalizing his wife? The question is lodged in my throat. I can't spit it out because it strikes too close to home. Something snaps inside my mind. I feel duped, like he tricked me. The public perception of Peter is nothing like the man I've fallen in love with. One of them is fake, but I don't know which one. It makes my heart race, and I'm scared that I've lost him, that Peter was never really mine—that my Peter doesn't exist.

I rip my hands out of his grip and start backing away. The look on his face isn't comforting. Peter doesn't correct me, which makes it worse. "Who are you? Do I know you at all?"

"Sidney, you know me—"

"Then why does it feel like I don't? Why does it feel like you've been lying to me this whole time?" Tears make my eyes sting, but I don't let them fall. "I have to think. I have to go."

Peter darts in front of me and blocks the door. "I can't let you leave. Not with Dean out there waiting for you."

"Am I really safer in here?"

Peter flinches as if I slapped him. He steps away from the door and opens it. "You know who I am better than anyone else. Names don't matter, not to me. If you think I've misled you on everything and that I've been lying to you since the beginning, then walk through that door and don't come back." His gaze narrows as he waits for me to decide.

I don't know what to think, and I can't believe he said that to me. I'm speaking without realizing what I'm saying. It's all gut instinct, and right then my guts feel like they've been spinning in a Gravitron for twenty years. "Names mean something, Peter, or you wouldn't have hidden yours from me. You're not the man I thought you were. I can't even—" I shake my head and push past him.

I walk out the door and fly down the staircase. I don't stop. Peter calls after me from the landing above. I jump into the car and peel out of the parking lot as fast as I can. I need to think, but I can't. Everything I know about Peter Ferro is crashing into everything I know about Peter Granz. Nothing fits—there's no thread, no continuity. My mind reels, searching for a thread—anything—when it snags on something Peter did. At the time I thought it was good, but it cinches Peter to his past, binding them together. It's the whispered threats to Sam and the way my brother went white as a sheet. The things the Ferro family can do, have done, makes my tears turn to big, ugly sobs.

I pull into a parking lot and slam my hands on the steering wheel. Another liar. Another man who made me think he's one person and then turns out to be someone else. It feels like my heart has been ripped out of my chest. I can't breathe. I tip my head back and scream. If Peter said any other family name, I'd be stupid for walking away—but he said Ferro. That family is so messed up. It doesn't make me feel sorry for Peter; it makes me feel played. He used me. Peter wove a web of lies and I laid down in the center.

Peter's been lying to everyone about everything. I wonder if Strictland knows who he really is, if she caught it when she hired him. I would have never put them together. The Pete Ferro I remember from the countless sightings was surly, rude, and nothing like the man I've spent the past three months with.

I'm done with this, done with him. I can't take the heartache.

I can't.

I won't.

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