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Skin of a Sinner: Chapter 1


didn’t mean to wake you.”

It’s him.

He’s here.

He’s back.

No, no, no, this is wrong. This is all wrong.

He left me, and he didn’t say goodbye. He promised me that we would always be together, and he left. What is he doing here? Why is he here? Why—

Bile lurches up my throat as I spot the crimson splatter crawling up the wall, pooling on the wooden floor and painting his skin with the poisonous color. I’ve seen him stained with red, smelling like iron and danger, but never like this. Not with drops freckling around his steel eyes and dripping from his dark hair.

The liquid glistening from his black gloves and matting his shirt is a haunting contrast to the bloody knife in one hand and, in the other, a mask with bright red crosses through the eyes that watch my every move. Stitched lips stuck in a taunting smile dare me to make a sound.

I wish I had never come down from my room and ignored the cries of terror.

A scream catches in my throat, choking me, but I can’t look away from the mutilated fingers spread across the dining table. Or the pink concoction trailing down the side of Greg’s face, coloring the duct tape over his mouth.

Or the welts marring his body.

Long, angry red lines, two inches wide, crisscross over his arms and legs, some breaking skin. I would recognize those marks anywhere. I know how much each slash would have hurt.

This was done with a belt. Greg’s favorite belt.

The same belt that’s wrapped around his throat, turning his face a deadly shade of purple.

He did this.

Roman did this.

Greg was a piece of shit who deserved whatever was coming for him, but not this. The man who housed me for the past four years is—was—a functioning alcoholic who had no issues with tormenting his foster child, and letting his son, Marcus, play along in abusing me.

Slowly—so slowly, Roman sheaths the knife to his thigh and places the mask on the table, as if I am a frightened animal that might spook at a sudden movement.

“Go back upstairs. I’ll come to get you once I’m done.”

The deep timbre of his voice vibrates through every crevice of my being, commanding my attention. I slap a hand over my mouth to suppress a sob as I stagger back.

He’s real.

He’s actually real.

This isn’t some deranged dream. It takes everything in me not to retch. He was never meant to come back after he tore my heart from my chest and handed me to the wolves to feast on.

After twenty years, I’ve finally proven to myself that I can live without him. He’s shown me that he was nothing more than a tortured soul I grew up with because, in the end, he left.

Three years ago, to the day, he showed me that I was no one. That’s what hurts the most, because he wasn’t just anyone; he was everything to me. He was every smile that curved my lips, every laugh that rattled my chest, every dream that didn’t end in tears.

Everything meant nothing when compared to him.

But to him, I was nothing.

Roman sidesteps to block my view, but there’s no unseeing the damage he’s done to Greg… And Marcus. Oh God.

The sight of my naked foster brother, hanging from the ceiling by his wrists, is forever ingrained into my mind. Roman did that. Violets and blues blossom in violent splotches across every inch of his pale skin, so dark the red seeping from his cock blends in with the bruised flesh. Or at least, that’s where the appendage is supposed to be.

I know Marcus had one before tonight. I’ve felt it pressed against me when I didn’t want it to. I’ve endured it too many times. What does that say about me that I can’t bring myself to feel any remorse, only disgust?

I take one step back. Then another.

A sob breaks free from my lips, and then Roman’s hands are on me, keeping me there. His fingertips caress my face as he gently wipes away the tears he caused, replacing them with the blood tainting his gloves. I try to push him away, to slap his hands off me, but touching him only makes everything worse.

“No, no, shh. It’s okay. Don’t cry, alright? I’ve got you.” His voice is so much deeper now; there’s no denying the years that have passed.

Even though the sleeve of my shirt separates us, his touch sets me aflame. But I can’t look at him—the boy who hurt me more than anyone else. Hot tears burn my cheeks, pooling at the corners of my lips.

I gasp for breath as the scents of lingering bourbon, blood, sandalwood, and cinnamon engulf my senses. Even covered in blood, Roman smells better than his shirt, which I hide beside my bed.

Roman’s taller now, more foreboding, with lean muscles lining every inch of his body.

The muscles in his arms ripple when he moves. He pulls me closer, and no matter how hard I try to stop it, he’s too strong. He’s still everything to me. I hate it.

Warm lips press against my forehead, as a cry rips through my throat. The memory of the last time I felt them is ingrained into my mind, etched so deep that it isn’t just a mark; it’s who I am.

“Don’t touch me,” I plead, attempting to push him away. He doesn’t move an inch, holding me tighter, like he’s worried I’ll be the one to disappear.

If he keeps touching me, I’m afraid I’ll forget how deep the wounds he left behind are.

“You were always a heavy sleeper.” He chuckles to himself as if it’s an inside joke.

The gloved hand caresses my cheek as he presses his forehead to mine. The touch is so loving and tender, as if I might actually mean something to him. But I should know better—I have to know better. I won’t survive if he leaves again.

As I tilt my head up to look at him, his lips stretch into a sinister smirk. Glancing at Marcus and his missing appendage, Roman pulls out the knife and nudges the back of my trembling hand, saying, “Would you like the honors, Princess?”

Marcus’s cries are muffled by the tape covering his mouth. The sound breaks my trance, and when I pull away from Roman this time, he lets me.

I wish I had the strength to hurt Marcus the way Roman is, not just for vengeance for everything my foster brother put me through, but to prove to myself that I can take care of myself in every possible way.

I wipe away the tears with the back of my hand, spreading the congealing blood he left behind on my cheek. My other foster brother Jeremy is safe at camp, but what about… “Where—where’s Millie?” My foster mom stood by and watched, but she doesn’t deserve to be tortured for it. She’s a victim too.

He shakes his head, a pinch between his brows, looking at me as if he was hoping to hear something else fall from my lips. “She’s okay.”

“What does ‘okay’ mean?” I step back when he reaches for me, and the frown deepens.

I turn around. Surveying. Studying. Holding back my meager dinner that’s rising up my throat. I’ve seen him beat someone into a pulp with his bare hands. I’ve watched bones break beneath his baseball bat. But this?

He’s done it now. He’s gone too far this time.

There’s blood everywhere. Ripped flesh, torn appendages, and missing limbs. This isn’t just murder; this is the definition of a bloodbath.

“What have you done?” My voice quivers as I knock my knee against a shelf.

The room sways, and I can’t breathe. He steps in front of me, but that just makes the dizziness worse. I can’t look at him. I need to go back to pretending he doesn’t exist.

“What have you done, Roman?” I tremble, trying to stop my lungs from burning, but the match has already been lit, and there’s nothing to stop it from spreading like wildfire. “What—what is this? What are you—I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”

I fall onto my knees and clamber backward, choking on air before I empty the contents of my stomach onto the floor. He grips my arms and pulls me to my feet, making me dry heave against his chest. “Deep breaths, Bella. Don’t look, alright? Just focus on me.”

He feels so warm and comforting, like I’m finally back home. But it’s all wrong. I thrash in his grip, desperate to get away. I can’t do this after all the pain he’s put me through and everything that happened. He was the only thing standing between me and the demons on the other side.

Demons like Marcus.

Roman left me to fend for myself, and I almost died because of it.

There was a time I was willing to give him every fractured piece of my heart. I thought he loved every broken part of me. He said I was perfect.

But Roman Riviera is a liar.

Every family before this one got rid of me. My mother is gone. I wasn’t enough for my father. And, God, I thought there was a chance I could be enough for him.

“No.” I gasp. “No!” Stop touching me. Nothing makes his hold on me falter, keeping me prisoner in the arms of the man who is my reminder of every part of me that I lost the day he left. “You’re crazy. You’re fucking crazy.”

“I prefer the term ‘artist,’” he quips.

Is he seriously joking right now? “What is your fucking problem? Why are you here? You left, so you should stay gone.”

I was getting better. Every day, it was getting a little easier. I found hope—feeble as it was—that I would one day turn my back on this town and scrub every stain from me, once and for all.

I found a purpose in looking after Jeremy, my little foster brother. It wasn’t much, but I knew even the smallest voices could make the largest impact. Whatever came after was worth making sure Jeremy went to bed unafraid of waking up in the morning.

The muscle in Roman’s jaw feathers. “Go back to bed. I was hoping to finish up without disturbing you.”

Without disturbing me.

So what? Is he only here so that he can leave me again? Have I always been a tool for his own sick enjoyment?

Back to bed.

Without disturbing me.

The words echo over and over, building and filling until it tips over the brim.

I’m so foolish for thinking he might be back for me. That he might stay. I should have known better. He always had a thing against Marcus. He’s just tying up loose ends. Why am I not surprised?

I shove him in the chest. Hard. It’s not enough for him to let go, but it catches him off guard long enough for me to slap him. “Fuck you, Roman. I hate you.”

The excited sparkle in his eyes disappears, recoiling from my words. He knows what it means for me to say his name. “You don’t mean that—’

Leave,” I hiss, finally looking at him and his beautifully savage features. Why won’t Roman fight me back? Why the hell won’t he react to my hits when it’s clear he doesn’t care about me?

Marcus’s muffled screams fuel my fire—every time I was silenced, every time I had to sit there and just take it, deal with it—I want to let it all out. I want this place to burn.

Fuck Marcus. I hate him, too. He can die along with his pig of a father, for all I care.

Did Roman think he could show up here after three years, torture and slaughter my foster family while I sleep upstairs, and then just leave? All over again. Through the tears, I can only make out the outline of the sharpened edge of his jaw and the dip in his cheeks. Even the shape of him is too much.

“I don’t want you here.” Lie. “You’re a monster.”

“It’s me,” he pleads, cupping my tear-stained face to pull me closer. “It’s your Mickey.”

I kick my legs out, hoping to make an impact with something—anything. “I don’t know who you are anymore.”

“Bella—Bella, please. It’s me. Mickey. I’m back. I’m going to get you out of here.” His touch is all-consuming. The scent of his cologne seeps into my mind, and I want to give in so badly.

“You abandoned me!” I’ve said it enough times to myself that I sound like a broken record. Saying it out loud to the culprit feels like finding a trove of rot and dead bones that should have stayed buried.

“I know. And I’m sorry, I—’

“Sorry,” I echo. The tears stop, as I see him with complete clarity.

All the words bubbling in my chest want to pour out—all the times I’ve had to say, “thank you,” and smile at men after they hurt me. I’m so fucking sick of it. He doesn’t get to say sorry and expect everything to be forgiven.

Sorry?” My breath comes out in short pants, and he lets go of me, knowing what’s about to happen. He always knows. “You’re sorry? Sorry? You don’t get to be sorry!” The more I say the word, the less believable it sounds. “You don’t get to come here and act like everything is alright. Do you even know what they did to me? You left me for dead, Roman. You’re a coward.” I shove him, even though he’s not holding me anymore. “A fucking coward!”

He doesn’t back away as he should. He doesn’t give me the space I need, but instead continues staring at me with those steel-grey eyes that darken every time his olive skin touches mine. As he moves only slightly, our bodies are still only a hair’s breadth away.

It feels far too good to let out the anger that’s been simmering in my veins for years. Only, I’m not sorry Roman is taking the brunt of it.

My voice comes out raw as my chest heaves. “I can’t believe I trusted you and gave you all of me.” Shove. “I regret ever laying eyes on you.” Shove. “I regret speaking to you.” Shove. “I regret ever meeting you.” This time, when I shove him, he doesn’t budge. His arms encircle my waist, and he presses his cheek against my head. “I hate you, Roman. I fucking hate you. You’re the worst thing to ever happen to me. I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.”

I repeat myself.


And over.

I don’t know how long I spend yelling, kicking, and scratching. He takes every bit of it without letting me go, not even for a second, rubbing soothing circles on my back. His tender caress continues even when my body is drained of energy and all my fight evaporates, leaving me limp in his hold as he whispers, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to leave you. I’m back. There’s nothing that will separate us now.”

I’ve stopped hearing Marcus’s cry in the background. I don’t have the energy to care that my foster father is dead in the seat, only a few feet away from us. Or that the man who tormented me for the past three years is bleeding out.

I’m so exhausted from everything.

When will it be enough? When will I be able to truly live?

But only two words are swirling through my head: He’s back.

I want to believe him.

But Roman Riviera is a liar.


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