Stolen By A Sinner: Chapter 36

Gabriel

When I get home, there is barely enough time to shower and dress in a clean suit before the party starts.

I hate that I couldn’t get home earlier and missed most of my grandmother’s birthday.

Hurrying to the entertainment hall, I hear the buzz of voices from the guests that have already arrived. When I walk into the room, there’s an audible pause before the guests continue their conversations.

My gaze sweeps over all the people, and not seeing Lara, I walk to where my grandmother is standing next to Emre.

When I reach her, I pull her into a hug. “Mutlu Yıllar, Babaanne,” I wish her a happy birthday.

“I was worried you wouldn’t make it,” she chastises me.

“I hate all the guests but wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Turning around, I search through the crowd. “Where’s Lara?”

“I’m not sure,” my grandmother starts to say, but then exclaims, “There, by the door.”

My eyes snap to where Lara is standing, and I lose the ability to breathe.

Holy fuck.

She’s styled her hair in soft waves, and makeup highlights her cheekbones and lips. The fucking dress fits her like a second skin, showing every damn curve of her body. “Jesus,” I mutter as I walk toward her, thankful for the shawl over her shoulders.

I clearly didn’t think this through when I bought the dress for her.

Lara looks like a goddess and nothing like the maid I stole from Mazur.

I hate that other men will get to see her in the dress.

When I reach her, I take hold of her chin, tip her face up, and plant a possessive kiss on her lips so everyone will see she’s mine.

Pulling back, I say, “You look breathtaking, Ödülüm.” Taking a step backward, my eyes drift over her body. “I hate that other men will see your beauty.” Locking eyes with her again, I order, “Don’t you dare leave my side tonight.”

“Okay.” She smiles, and I almost bark for her to stop because it makes her eyes sparkle like stars.

I’m probably going to kill the first fucker who looks at her.

Christ, help me.

Taking her hand, I link our fingers and pull her to my side. “I’d much rather take you to my bedroom and strip you out of that dress than attend this party,” I mutter under my breath so the guests near us won’t hear.

Glancing down at Lara, I see the excitement on her face as she looks at the décor, the food, and the guests.

It’s her first party, asshole. Let her enjoy it.

I lead her to my grandmother.

“Lara, you look beautiful,” my grandmother beams. Her eyes dart between us. “This is the best birthday gift ever. It’s all I wanted.”

“It’s a lovely party,” Lara says, the smile not leaving her face.

“Pfft.” Babaanne gestures between Lara and me. “I’m talking about you and Gabriel. I’m happy you’re a couple.”

Happiness shines from Lara, making her sparkle like a diamond. “Me too.”

“I’m going to make the toast.” Giving Lara a pointed look, I say, “Stay with my grandmother.” I glance at Emre. “No one comes near her.”

Evet,” he mutters as he moves in behind Lara.

I walk to the small podium and tap on the microphone. Everyone goes quiet and turns to face me.

Christ, I hate this.

Clearing my throat, I say, “I want to thank you all for attending my grandmother’s eighty-fourth birthday. She doesn’t look a day over forty-eight, right?” There’s a chorus of agreement.

A server brings me a flute of champagne, and I hold it up. “To the most amazing woman who raised Emre and me. Happy birthday, Babaanne.”

Cheers erupt from the guests. I take a sip of the bubbly liquid, then make my way back to Lara.

“Short and sweet,” Emre jokes.

I give my cousin a scowl. “The next time you give the toast.”

“There’s no next time, remember,” he chuckles.

The music resumes, and setting down the glass on a nearby table, I hold my hand out to my grandmother. “May I have this dance?”

“Of course.” She places her palm in mine, and I lead her to the middle of the room. Pulling her into my arms, I look into the eyes of the woman who dried my tears and guided me through this life. It’s rare for me to say the words, but as I start to move with her over the floor, I murmur, “Seni çok seviyorum.” (I love you so much.)

She gives my hand a squeeze. “Gözümün nuru.”

Hearing her call me the light of her eye, a smile tugs at the corner of my mouth.

I glance to where I left Lara in Emre’s care and frown when I see Arnold Forbes, a wealthy businessman, talking to them.

The moment the song ends, I take my grandmother back to Emre and pull Lara to my side.

“Gabriel, so nice to see you,” Arnold says, holding his hand out to me.

I take it in a firm grip. “Likewise. I hope you enjoy the party.”

Pulling Lara to the floor, I ask, “Can you dance?”

“No.”

“Just follow my lead.” I tug her to my chest, then smile down at the nervous expression on her face. “I won’t let you trip.”

“Okay.”

Her eyes are locked on mine as I start to move, her body obeying mine.

Lara’s smile is filled with wonder as I steer her across the dance floor, then she murmurs in absolute awe, “I’m dancing.”

The music builds to a crescendo, and I spin her away from me. The shawl takes flight before floating to the floor. Suddenly Lara stumbles, and I dart forward to catch her by her shoulders, so she doesn’t fall.

“I’ve got you,” I chuckle.

Lara stands frozen, her lips parted, her face pale.

Tilting my head, I try to catch her eyes. “Lara?”

The next moment I hear gasps, my eyes snap up, and I notice the guests are staring at Lara with horrified expressions.

What the fuck?

I feel a tremor rock through her body, drawing my attention back to her. “Lara, are you okay?”

Slowly, she nods.

Nisa appears out of the crowd, her face tight with worry as she picks up the shawl. “Lara?”

What the hell is going on?

Noticing everyone is staring at Lara’s back, I move around her, then shock shudders through me with the force of a tsunami.

Jesus fucking Christ.

Thick welts cover her skin in haphazard patterns.

Whip marks.

Having tortured people myself, I know exactly what kind of force it takes to make those kinds of marks. How the skin splits open as the metal spike tears through it.

A violent rage forms a red haze around my vision.

The excruciating pain she had to endure.

“You’re okay,” Lara whispers as if she’s trying to reassure herself, her voice void of emotion. “You’re okay. It doesn’t matter. You’re okay.”

“Fuck,” I snap, and quickly shrugging off my jacket, I wrap it around her shoulders.

“Leave,” I shout, glaring at the murmuring guests.

The entertainment hall clears at the speed of light.

I wrap my arms around Lara, and lowering my head, I say, “Everyone’s leaving.”

She doesn’t respond. When it’s only my family and us, I pull back and frame her way too pale face. “Lara?”

There’s a vacant look in her eyes as if all the life has been drained from them.

“You’re okay,” she keeps whispering. “You’ve survived worse. You’re okay.” The words are so soft I almost miss them.

My heart. She’s shutting down.

“Don’t you dare shut me out.” Grabbing her by the shoulders, I shake her hard. “Look at me, Lara!”

Allah Allah,” Nisa murmurs, distraught with worry.

My grandmother moves closer, a trembling hand covering her mouth.

Finally, Lara’s eyes focus on mine, and I frame her face again, pleading, “Let me in. Don’t hide this from me.”

Her features contort with heartache. “I ruined the party.”

“You did no such thing.” I lean down, not wanting to lose her attention.

Her eyes start to shimmer with unshed tears, but she clenches her jaw to keep from crying.

“Jesus, Lara, you’re killing me. Just let it out. Let me help you carry this.”

She shakes her head and tries to pull away from me. “Don’t you fucking dare!” I snap.

Instantly, she stops, then she gives me a pleading look, her chin quivering.

I’m fucking determined to get inside her head. Pressing my forehead to hers, I order with every ounce of dominance I have, “Let. Me. In.”

There’s so much pain on her face, it cracks my heart right down the middle. Suddenly a sob bursts from her, and she slams into my chest, burying her face against me.

My arms form steel bands around her as she finally gives in and breaks.

Looking at my family, I murmur, “Leave us.”

One by one, they walk out of the room, giving us privacy.

I lower my head and say, “I’ve got you, baby. Let it all out.”

Her sobs are pure fucking torture. I pull the jacket away from her, dropping it on the floor. Moving my hand to her back, I gently caress the marks left on her skin by that fucking mad man.

“Mazur did this to you?”

She nods, burrowing as close to me as possible.

With the height I have on Lara, I can see a part of her back and notice some welts are still healing.

“When was the last whipping?”

I think I already know the answer but can’t brace myself in time as she says, “When… I was late… with the… food.”

I close my eyes as a wave of suffocating regret hits.

She was beaten like an animal because of me.

My voice is hoarse as I whisper, “I’m so fucking sorry.” I press a kiss to the side of her head, then pull back so I can see her face. Tears sparkle over her cheeks, each one cutting into my soul.

When her eyes meet mine, I repeat, “I’m sorry for the part I’ve played in all the pain you were forced to endure.” Leaning down until there’s only a breath between us, my voice is tight as I say, “I’m sorry for not finding you sooner.”

Lara throws her arms around my neck, holding me as tight as she can. “You don’t care… about the… marks?”

The way she hiccups through the sobs just shreds my heart.

“Of course, I fucking care but not for the reason you think.” I brush a hand up and down her back, wanting her to know they don’t change how I feel about her. “I hate that you suffered. I swear I’m going to fucking whip Mazur to death so he can feel what you felt.”

She starts to calm down but doesn’t let go of me. I hold her for as long as she needs and wait for her to pull back.

She gives me an apologetic look, then glances around the empty room. “I really ruined the party.”

“You didn’t. The people were aggravating the fuck out of me. You just gave me an excuse to get rid of them.” I brush my thumbs over her cheeks. “Once you’re ready, the party will continue.”

“I need the shawl.”

I crouch down, and picking up my jacket, I shrug it back on as I say, “You don’t need it.”

“But…”

I shake my head. “You have nothing to hide, Lara. You’re fucking beautiful, so lift your chin high and wear your scars with pride.” I frame her face again and look deep into her eyes. “You bled for them, and they show how amazingly strong you are. Never hide them.”

“What about other people?”

“Fuck them all.” I press a kiss to her lips. “Only I matter, and I love every inch of you.”

Once the words are out, we both freeze. Lara’s eyes widen on mine, her lips parting.

Your timing fucking sucks, Gabriel.

Letting out a chuckle, I pull back. “Well, that’s out in the open.”

With total disbelief, Lara asks, “You love me?”

Do I?

I search my heart and can only find one answer. “Yes.”

For a man who doesn’t like expressing his emotions, I’ve said those words twice in one night.

And I meant them both times.

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