Thorns and Forgiveness (Twisted Legacy Duet #2) by CoraLee June



Prologue





Vera


Ten years ago



I loved watching Mom apply her makeup in our tiny apartment bathroom. It was like watching someone spray paint the side of a brick building. She had all these fancy brushes and covered every inch of her face. I sat on the toilet, my legs swinging back and forth as I told her about Ronnie McIntyre pushing me on the playground. She smacked her ruby lips lined thickly, and stared at her reflection.

The way Mom celebrated her face felt revolutionary to me. She was always fussing about the advantages of pretty people.

“You tell Ronnie to eat shit the next time he pushes you, Vera,” she said while rolling another layer of mascara onto her clumpy eyelashes. “We don’t let boys push us around or hurt us. Garner women are strong, baby.” She finished putting on her mask and then frowned at her reflection for a moment too long. “We are fucking strong,” she whispered.

“Okay, Mom,” I promised, because that was the sensible thing for an eight-year-old to say. She continued applying her dollar store war paint.

“So strong…” she repeated, this time her voice bouncing off the linoleum floor with a vengeance.





1





Hamilton





My sluggish brain felt swollen and heavy. Every fucking pore in my throbbing body reeked of alcohol and regret. The pounding at the base of my skull assured me that I still had a pulse, despite trying to drown my pathetic heart with whiskey last night.

I wanted to cut off my circulation and numb my body from the ground up to escape the burning, throbbing, aching pain.

The older I got, the more getting blackout drunk lost its appeal. It was one thing to use alcohol like a weapon to get back at my father. I loved to indulge in destruction, then fuck some random girl on the living room floor. But this time, the only person getting stabbed with a broken whiskey glass was me. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Fuck. It felt like I had glass splinters in my brain.

My mouth was dry, as if I’d spent the last twelve hours chewing on cotton balls. My stomach churned. Shame like razor blades cut through me the moment I opened my eyes and saw my best friend’s face.

“Rise and shine, asshole.” Jess thrusted a platter of greasy bacon in my face, and I slowly sat up. The smell was too much. I was on my couch, buck ass naked and covered in a sheen of sweat. I needed to puke, shower, then eat.

“Good morning,” I replied, my deep voice like sandpaper on my vocal cords. “Has Vera called?”

Even though I felt half dead, she was the first thing on my mind. She was the only thing consuming my thoughts these days. I wasn’t used to thinking of anything but ruining my brother. The obsessive estrangement took a back seat the moment I met Vera Garner. But like a disease, my hate for Joseph bled through the one good thing in my life and ate at it, the cancerous loathing too powerful and potent to ignore.

And yeah, maybe I was being melodramatic. There was plenty of pussy out there. But Vera was different. This was different. Our whole goddamn story was more haunting than my nightmares, than finding my mother’s dying body in the upstairs bathroom, or having my arm snapped by my deranged brother. It was the kind of heartbreak that stuck with you.

When Jess didn’t answer me, I asked again. “Well? Did she call?” I wasn’t sure what answer I wanted to spill from my best friend’s lips.

Jess rolled her eyes and shook her head in annoyance. “Oh! You mean the girl I told you to be honest with when shit started to get serious between the two of you?” I wasn’t in the mood for my best friend’s I told you so lecture, but my head hurt too damn much to argue with her. Jess continued. “I thought you forgot about her. You know, since you were trying to bring home a blond divorcée with a hard-on for your last name at the bar yesterday.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose and winced. Shit. “I didn’t…did I?” It was fucking trash that I couldn’t even remember.

“No. She leaned in for a kiss, and you started crying like a little bitch about Vera. Her metaphorical dick went soft after that.” Jess let out a huff before setting the platter piled with bacon on the coffee table. “You know I don’t judge. If you want to fuck your way through town and drink yourself to death, go for it. I love you unconditionally, bro, but even I think it’s shitty. I thought we were going out for a couple drinks so you could get your head on straight and figure out how to get Vera back. I didn’t realize you’d go on a full fucking bender. And put some clothes on, I’m tired of your elephant dick staring at me.”