I couldn’t utter even a word. I was that frozen, that stunned. Because my mother should’ve been dead.
It was one thing to think Willow resembled my mother on first sight, because after a moment I’d realized she couldn’t be my mother and that my mother was actually, you know, dead. It was another thing, though, to come face to face with said dead mother.
Who was not dead at all.
“Bella?” Willow asked, breaking the silence and looking at her older sister with uncertainty. “Are you... Rae is...”
“Yes, Willie,” Arabella spat, glaring daggers at me. “When I was nineteen and very stupid, I slept with that idiotic Brian O’Reilly. Because of my pregnancy we got married, much to his stupid mother’s dismay, and after the girl was born we got divorced, obviously, and now dear Brian is rotting in jail.”
That made my heart almost stop. “My... My father’s alive?” So many thoughts ran through my head, so many stories I was told by Gran throughout the years about the parents who were supposed to be dead and had loved me so much.
If their love to me was like Arabella’s rage, than I don’t think Gran told me the truth. Okay, obviously she didn’t tell me the truth.
“Of course he’s alive, you spiteful child,” Arabella barked. “After he beat the shit out of me I got him into jail – where he deserves to spend his remaining time.”
My parents are alive... My parents are alive... My parents are alive...
“But don’t think I’m going to get to know you or something ridiculous like that,” she said with haughtiness that made my chest tighten. “I hate you. You’re nothing to me. We’re going to share the same mansion and that’s all. Don’t talk to me, don’t even breathe the same air as me. I detest your existence and wish you were never even born. But of course you’re alive and all that shit, so just give some respect to your mother and keep your distance.” She looked at me in a way that made me feel so small, so useless, next to her. “I don’t want Brian’s offspring to fuss all over her ‘mama’ - “ the hateful way she said that last word made me shiver “ - so stay the fuck away from me, you disgraceful child.”
And in those words she turned her back to me and went over to Willow to talk about something. But Willow, like everyone else, couldn’t listen to here, much less focus on her, when I was standing there, apparently Arabella’s daughter, with frozen posture and eyes wider than ever.
I felt numb. I could still hear her telling me she hated me, that I was nothing for her. I felt cold, I felt unwanted, I felt... numb, most of all. I was so fucking numb.
My parents were alive. My mother was here, standing feet away, looking as if she didn’t just meet her freaking daughter. My father was out there somewhere in jail, dying there, probably.
And in this whole mess, what pricked me the most as the fact that my grandmother didn’t tell me a thing. She told me my parents died in an accident, that nothing but ashes remained from them. She told me she was the only family I had left, that I should rely on her.
But here was my mother, alive and breathing and all, and my grandmother didn’t tell me.
I didn’t look at anyone. I just turned around and walked to the elevator. When it came, nobody tried to stop me from going up to my room and when I reached it, I sat with me back to my canopied bed, my head in my hands.
I thought that Willow’s appearance, Chase’s broken heart, Isobel’s confrontation, Mr. Moore’s murder, Echo’s disappearance and Gunner’s attitude had been too much.
I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. Because none of that compared to what I’d just gone through.
All of the others were facts. My parents being alive was a revelation – of the worst kind.
My grandmother betrayed me. My mother despised me. My father was in jail. And I? I was just like a pawn in their schemes. As though my feelings were nothing to either of them. Not to my mother, not to my grandma.
My body shook and I knew I was going to cry again, though I couldn’t help but think I was such a crybaby. A pathetic crybaby, at that.
But mourning for something that had never been at the first place was idiotic. Even for me. Yet I couldn’t do anything else. And as tears streamed down my face, I didn’t stop them, knowing I needed to get it all out.
It started raining outside, making me think it was really cool that both me and the weather felt the same. It was really ironic, actually.
My weeping wasn’t as heartbroken as it’d been yesterday. It was actually quiet, tears of mourning instead of broken hearts. I just sat there, letting the tears fall in a silent attempt to find peace. I didn’t even try wiping them away. I needed them to flow out, so I would straighten myself against everything and most of all: Against my own mother.
It was a long time until someone opened the door. Heavy steps, then the bed moved a little as someone sat on it. “I’m sorry, Rae,” I heard my grandmother, and another, soft tear fell. “I’m so sorry for lying to you. But let me explain, and I’m sure you’d understand.”
I said nothing. My throat just couldn’t work right now.
Gran sighed. “I’ve never liked Arabella Andela. She seemed like a greedy little gold-seeker. I told my Brian to never have anything to do with her, but Brian didn’t listen. My son is very stubborn, you see, and once he sets his eyes on a prize – and Arabella was a prize in his eyes, seeing as she was really beautiful in her youth – he won’t waver. And so he ‘succeeded’ in seducing Arabella, which wasn’t any hardship, really – Brian is older than her by at least nine years, and was a very successful businessman, which meant he had a lot of money – and she got pregnant with you. My capable Brian of course took responsibility for the pregnancy and made her marry him, which was Arabella’s scheme to begin with. She wanted to suck dry every bit of money my Brian had. And so they got married, much to my resentment, and Arabella gave birth you a few months later. That was when she realized the amount of responsibility that came with a baby. So she wanted out, wanted to flee.
“Brian loved her. Truly loved her, I think. He would’ve done anything to assure her happiness and if she had wanted a divorce, so be it. But when they started the progress to get divorced, my beloved Brian lost his common sense. He didn’t really want to let her go because he loved her, was obsessed with her – she made sure of that – and started going crazy. Unfortunately, one confrontation too many, he slapped her across the face when she yelled at him to give her all of his properties and money. Then... Then Arabella told the police her husband was beating her, and she efficiently made him go to jail, took all of his estates and also the industry she’s running today and became one of the richest woman in the state. She abandoned you, saying she didn’t want any remaining of Brian at her possession, like you were some kind of an inconvenient object. Of course she overlooked the fact you were her own daughter, too.
“And so I took the custody over you. You were three by then, and I decided to protect you from both my son and his divorced wife. So I lied to you, saying they were dead instead of the villains they really were. You wouldn’t have peace if I told you otherwise; An evil mother and a crazy father? You wouldn’t have liked it at all, would’ve probably felt disgraced about it all. So I lied, thinking that maybe by the time I told you the truth, you would be mature enough to understand. I just never counted on the fact you could meet your mother again.”
Silence fell after she finished, and I felt the same numbness from before. So my grandmother wanted to protect me from knowing that I had such awful parents.
And my whole life I lived with the knowing that they were dead when they were alive and demonic. Well, that’s just fit to my whole stupid life.
Grandma sighed. “I know you may need... Time, to process all that,” she said, hesitant. “Then just so you know, I’ll be here when you’re ready.”
I said nothing and I heard her sigh again and standing up. After a few moments, I was alone in the room again.
I put my head on my hand and just sat there on the floor, numb. But then I started laughing, and I just laughed for good ten minutes. Because this whole thing was just absurd. Surreal, even. I mean, my parents had just come to life. My whole life I’d been living in a lie. Well, doesn’t it sound too dramatic?
But drama seemed to play a big part of my life nowadays.
Eventually, I stopped laughing or crying. I just there and looked outside the balcony window. The rain kept on falling, but now I watched it with some feeling of... content. Like something hard from my heart took off. Maybe I’d needed to meet Arabella and to hear about what really happened to my parents. Maybe it was all for the best. Maybe now I could stop thinking about how it would’ve been if I had parents – I was always curious about it, even if I still had Gran. I loved Gran, even now, and I never thought about replacing her with my parents.
Now I knew I wouldn’t ever want to replace Gran with my parents – dead or alive. They were the worst.
Someone slid into the floor next to me and strong arms wrapped around me and pulled me into a warm, muscular body. I let Gunner embrace me tightly, and found myself smiling a little, despite the whole grim situation. But the smile was gone when he kissed my temple with soft, warm lips.
“You know,” I said, feeling him tense a little in surprise that I was willing to talk. “I wish my parents would’ve stayed dead, at least in my mind.”
His hand tightened around me. “You don’t really want that, Rae,” he said quietly.
“I do,” I said, and I meant it. “I was happier knowing that my parents were dead and not those... people. Sure, now I’m somewhat relieved, but I could’ve lived with the wonder what my parents were like, if those said parents are actually those two.”
“Rae...” he murmured as I leaned my head on his shoulder and let him caress my hand, my hair, my head. “I’m sorry you had to find it out like that.”
“It’s okay, Gunner,” I said. “It’s not your fault. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to try and get closer to that awful woman.” Then I thought about something and chuckled weakly. “Well, it’s fit that my aunt is Willow and that you, basically, dater my aunt.”
He made a face. “It sounds really bad.”
“Yeah,” I admitted. “Let’s not think about it that way.”
“Agreed,” he said and then kissed me. It wasn’t a deep kiss, only a brush of the lips but it made me feel whole again. For me, it was obvious that Gunner and I were meant to be. Screw everyone who said otherwise.
We stayed together for a while, just holding each other, and then he suggested going out on a date, away from the mansion and my newfound mother. I agreed and he told me to pretty-up. So after he left I showered and put on one of the few dresses I had, which was dark scarlet and made me look a little curvier and taller, which I really needed. I put on black tights and my favorite boots, and then tried to decide how I should do my hair. Eventually I just braided it as neatly as I could. I put a little make up on in a way Gran taught me once that made me look better, and after I finished with this, I took a deep breath. Just as there was a knock on door.
I opened the door and Gunner stood there, wearing black tailored trousers, white buttoned shirt, and black jacket. He looked royal and handsome and sexy and the way his eyes appreciated my own body told me he thought so about me, too. I smiled at him, and he returned the gesture, eyes still raking over my body.
We walked together outside, luckily not encountering anyone on our way, and entered Gunner’s black SUV. He drove us downtown while we kept the conversation light. We arrived the location a few minutes later, which was a high-classed restaurant. We entered it and had the luxury to sit in a private compartment.
After we placed our orders, Gunner looked at me intensely. “I want you to tell me what your grandmother told you,” he said, and then sighed. “But you don’t have to if it saddens you.”
I shook my head. “I want to tell you,” I said, and it was the truth. Gunner would understand. He understood everything about me.
And so I told him every little bit the Gran told me, even when it was really hard. When I finished, Gunner took my hand with his on the table, and just held it to give me comfort. Instinctively he knew me so well. He knew words wouldn’t get through, wouldn’t help, and so he grabbed my hand and washed me with warmth and kindness.
I smiled slightly at him. “I’m fine now,” I said softly. “It was just really hard to process it all. I don’t think I’ve processed entirely, still.”
“I can relate,” Gunner’s face darkened. “What I really don’t like is that Arabella is staying with us now. I don’t want her to hurt you.”
“She won’t,” I promised. “I’m strong. She’s nothing to me. For me, the title ‘mother’ never existed. I have only grandmother. Mother and father? For me they’re nonexistent.”
Gunner grinned a bit at that. “That’s what I love about you,” he said, greenish-blue eyes boring into mine. “You’re so strong, so capable, and I just love it.”
I blushed. “Y-You don’t mean it...” I mumbled.
“Oh, but I mean every word,” he leaned in. “You’re the strongest woman I’ve ever encountered.”
My blush intensified. “Jez is way stronger than me,” I blurted coyly. “Besides, I don’t see myself so strong. Actually, I’m pretty weak.”
“If you were weak, you wouldn’t have been capable of making the decision to erase your mother from your life when you’ve just found her.” He said pointedly.
I sighed. “If you think my being strong is lovable, then your stubbornness is definitely not.” I said dryly.
In a quick movement he was sitting right next to me, his arms around my shoulders and his head in my face. “You don’t think I’m lovable?” He said, playing with me.
I smirked. “Definitely not. I mean,” I added, “yeah, you have a great body. Okay, scratch that. You’re undeniably sexy. But... you’re not lovable.”
His forehead touched mine. “Oh?” He said in a silky voice that made my loins clench. “So I’m just a hot bode for you? Your private sex toy?”
My lips twitched, feeling more light and happy than I’d felt throughout this day. “I should tattoo on your butt ‘Property of Rae’.” I told him.
“So my girlfriend has a secret fantasy,” he said right against my lips. “Does it make me a psycho if I find it sexy?”
I giggled. “Will you actually do it?”
His eyes penetrated into my soul. “I may have thought about it before you so generously suggested it,” he said, hint in his voice.
My eyes widened. “I knew you had tattoos,” I said in triumph, but then frowned. “You didn’t tattoo my name or something, right? That’s just too stupid to comprehend.”
Gunner smirked and then leaned in so his lips were at my ear. “When I have you in bed, sexed-up and pleasured, I’ll show you.”
Those damned sexy words made me flush and my cunt to suddenly wet. Oh God, this man is gonna be the death of me.
Afterwards, Gunner returned to his seat and our food arrived. Throughout the meal we talked about everything. Likes and dislikes. Favorite things in our lives. Our past life, like Gunner’s relationships with his step-siblings and my relationships with Isobel, Echo, and even Chase. We even talked about silly things, things that I didn’t think I’d get to talk about with Gunner, of all people. We even gossiped – especially on Jez’s and Danger’s relationship. We’d both placed bets of how long until they fight. They both had the devil-may-care personality that could’ve made them the most perfect couple just like it could’ve made them the worst couple ever. After that we talked about Ryder and Irie, who were still going strong together. From what Gunner told, Ryder was head over heels for Irie, who was just as crazy about him. They were a good couple, really.
When the dessert arrived, Gunner fed me with one spoon, making me all sticky with ice-cream and whipped cream. He even amused himself by splashing even more cream on my nose. When I was about to scold him in annoyance, he slid next to me again and licked my nose and every other sticky place on my face. Then he kissed me, and I felt like I was home again.
And when our date ended, Gunner dutifully escorted me back to my bedroom. We parted with the most sweetest of kisses, no secret between us anymore, and half an hour later, when I lay on my bed, I closed my eyes, remembered the kiss and the wonderful date and everything crazy that went on today, from Arabella to my grandmother’s story, and fell asleep, feeling satisfied, relieved and... sad.