*Just to advise this is only an excerpt. The Scorched Rose is available as paperback, Kindle and on Kindle Unlimited. Only the first few chapters will be published here. Much love and appreciation to you all.*
A single rose rested inside a serene garden.
This rose wasn’t like any other flower, nor did it have the desire to be anything but itself. It was simple yet fragile. It stayed in the rich soil and soaked in the sun as it grew and blossomed.
Another rose was planted beside it. This rose was also unique. It was vibrant, colorful and each petal was perfect as though they were meticulously crafted and delicately placed on the stem.
People would stop and admire this rose in absolute awe and adoration, while completely ignoring the other flowers in the garden.
The first rose didn’t mind, for she herself had adored the flower, like many others. She knew she wasn’t as bright, nor exquisite, she was, simply put, beautiful in her own way.
The two grew fond of one another and vowed they would protect each other from those who wished harm upon them.
But nature had other ideas. A looming storm grew closer. While the first rose remained untouched, the second was violently torn from the garden much too soon before her time.
The remaining rose was ever so heartbroken and alone. Whatever light had infused the flower was replaced by a burning fire. Even though the flames were bright, the stem which kept her grounded grew dull and started to deteriorate. The rose began to fade and wilt.
But by chance, a single man had ventured into the tranquil garden and found the lonely rose. And as each day passed, the man took care of the flower. He nurtured it back to health and the rose began to grow.
What was once dark and void of life was finally able to breathe again.
I loved dancing.
Being older than my sister by three years, I wasn’t much of a club-goer. But whenever I found myself beneath strobe lights, music vibrating from the soles of my feet to the tips of my fingertips, I smiled. Closing my eyes, I felt elated and free of any self-doubt. All my inhibitions exhaled from my body like steam swiftly blowing out of a bathroom after a scalding shower.
I glanced at my sister Nell, and her two best friends. They were gracefully moving their bodies in time to the even beats and laughing. The elevated DJ glistened as the flashing lights illuminated his face. He looked quite young, and I wondered if he was even old enough to be at the club. We were out celebrating Nell’s graduation from college. She’d spent the last six years getting her Master of Arts in English literature after she finished school at 18. Nell was always good at writing stories ever since we were kids. Our nights were spent in our bedroom, hiding beneath the blankets with battery-operated flashlights in our hands. She told me extraordinary tales she had strummed up in her head and I was enthralled by the fantasy worlds she created. Nell was so vivid with her descriptions that the places always felt incredibly real. So, it didn’t surprise me when she told me the direction she wanted to take with her life.
I was proud of her. If our mom were still alive, I knew she would be as well. Our father was older and had dementia. The doctor suggested we put him in a facility that could assist him. It took a while to take their advice because Nell and I both hated the idea of him not being with us in the home we grew up in. By the time he went into the facility he had worsened beyond any help we could offer. We were out of our depths, struggling to breathe while also trying to keep our father safe from himself. He wasn’t dangerous by any means, however, when you’re constantly forgetting that the stove was on, or walking out of the house in the middle of the night unaware, we realized it was time.
Every Sunday, Nell and I would visit our dad and bring him his favorite sugar cookies from our local bakery. Sometimes he would remember us, and sometimes he would stare right through us, not realizing that we were his daughters whom he adored so much. Our worlds shattered just that little bit more every time he forgot. It was heartbreaking.
“I need a drink!” Nell said, fanning the sweat dripping over her flawless makeup. Somehow she still managed to look like a Victoria’s Secret model.
Even though we were sisters we didn’t have similar features in our appearance. Nell had mom’s brown eyes, but mine were like our dad’s. The color of Tahiti waters. Probably my favorite feature about myself. Nell was lucky enough to snatch the same height as our father, while my head fell just above her shoulders with a shorter frame. Everyone always thought Nell was the older sibling. Her legs were long and toned. She had natural strawberry blonde hair which moved in slow motion every time she shook her head.
I was different. My hair was chocolate brown with sun-kissed streaks running through various strands. I also sported a slightly curvier body with rounded hips and voluptuous breasts, another feature I favored. My stomach wasn’t as flat as I wanted it to be. Nowhere near it, but I was working on it by visiting the gym whenever I had a chance (Ha!). I jiggled a bit. Left, right, and center. Not to mention my ass; it was round and full, and I think I liked that part too. Nell exhumed a confidence I wished I had possessed. It was the only thing about her that I was envious of.
The four of us left the dancefloor panting and found ourselves at the bar, desperate for something to drink. If I were alone, I knew it would take a while for the bartender to even glance my way. Since my sister and her friends were there with me, we were pretty much served in seconds.
It was my third drink of the night. As much as I wanted to celebrate the entire evening getting wasted, I did have to get up early for work the following morning. I was a chef and worked at one of the most popular hotel chains in Chicago. It was recently renovated, but a few rooms still needed to be upgraded, including all the boardrooms. My Saturday shifts consisted of cooking personalized omelets and poached eggs amongst other things, as well as preparing the array of fruits and condiments at the buffet. I loved it and didn’t want to complain because I was doing the very thing I had dreamed about doing since I was a kid. The pay wasn’t too bad either. Saving money since I was old enough for a job was second nature to me because I knew I wanted to buy a place of my own one day. I was almost there.
My sister, her friends, and I raised our glasses and clinked them together with smiles. We congratulated Nell on her success, kicked our neck backs, and downed the shots in one go, so the liquid singed our throats.
“What’s Adriano doing tonight?” Harper asked Nell.
My sister slammed the shot back down against the illuminated marble bar, then toyed with the white gold pendant around her neck. It was identical to the one around my own. “He said he’s going to some club with his friends, but I’ll probably catch up with him later.”
Adriano was my sister’s boyfriend. Things seemed to progress quickly between the two of them. I could tell he was smitten with her since they first met a few months back.
“Don’t forget to use protection.” Mila smiled. “He seems like the type of guy who could get you pregnant just by one smoldering look.”
We all laughed. Mila wasn’t wrong. Adriano was pretty darn hot. Not my usual type of guy, but I couldn’t deny that his dark eyes and thick black hair was attractive. But he was my sister’s boyfriend, and I had no intention of gawking at him like her two friends clearly had.
Nell was everything to me. Since our mom died and our father could barely remember us, she was the only family I had left. Ever since we were kids I knew I had to watch over my baby sister. She was my life, and I loved her more than anything in the entire fucking world.
“Enough about Adriano,” Nell said after her laugh faded. She leisurely flung her arm around my shoulder. “We need to find someone for Ella, here.”
Mila and Harper both smiled again, nodding.
I rolled my shoulder and Nell’s arm gingerly fell. “I’m fine,” I said, not very convincingly I might add. “I’m happy being single right now.”
Except I wasn’t. I mean, sure, I didn’t need a man to be happy, but I couldn’t lie and say I wasn’t lonely, because I was. There were times when I had cried myself to sleep because of the constant empty bed space next to me which seemed to mirror the void in my heart. I just wasn’t prepared to admit that to Nell, her friends, or anyone else.
“I see right through you, sis,” Nell said. “Adriano has a brother I haven’t met yet. He’s only a couple of years older than him. Maybe I should set a double date or something?”
My ears pricked up to the idea. It wasn’t really a question, but more like a statement. One she seemed to have liked by the smile which brightened her face.
“Two sisters going out with two brothers?” I shook my head. “That doesn’t sound like a smart idea.”
“No, but if he’s anything like Adriano in the sack, you won’t give a shit if it’s smart or not.”
Her comment about me clearly needing to be laid didn’t go unnoticed. I craved sex, big time, even though it wasn’t something I had a lot of experience in. But while there was no man, there was also no body part of him to satisfy me. I had to make use of my trustee hot pink vibrator that I had tucked in the second drawer of my dresser. It was carefully placed between two of my laced bras that I hadn’t felt comfortable wearing, and had given me the basic satisfaction I needed. But was it enough?
Nope. Not at all.
I playfully rolled my eyes and pretended that the idea didn’t sound as tempting as it did. “No, don’t set anything up,” I said. “I’d rather just meet someone organically.”
But I hadn’t. Not in a long time. My ex-boyfriends were far in between. Well, there were only two of them. Maybe guys could see the lack of confidence I had and found I was just unapproachable. Or maybe they thought I wasn’t attractive enough. Either way, they weren’t lining up to the brim for dates with yours truly.
Nell smiled. It wasn’t one to say she agreed with me, but one I knew that meant the conversation wasn’t over. Part of me hated that she didn’t want to listen, and the other part was wondering how big Adriano’s brother’s dick was.
I really do need to get laid.
My 4:00 am wake-up call had made it difficult for me to get out of bed. I stayed at the club for another two hours after we had our third shot, and I was exhausted when my phone’s insufferable ringing echoed in my ears. After a few minutes of stretching and taking in some deep breaths, I finally managed to roll out of bed and into the shower for a quick wash.
By the time I took the train in to work I had some much-needed coffee in my veins. I started prepping the food I needed for the live cooking, while also managing to load all the fruits, yogurts, cereals, and condiments into the buffet area. I was grateful that I had my colleagues working with me that morning as I was too exhausted to do it alone. My feet were dragging across the floor as I walked, and honestly, I was almost regretting my choice to stay out as late as I had the previous night.
“How are you doing over there?” Alexis asked as she sliced the fresh mushrooms for the omelet trays.
I glanced to the side and smiled. “I probably should have called in sick. That’s how I’m feeling.”
Alexis used the knife to scrape the mushrooms from the chopping board into one of the stainless-steel dishes. “Why didn’t you?”
“I need the money,” I said.
In addition to wanting my own place, my father’s medical bills were piling up. I needed to make sure I could afford those. Nell helped as much as she could, but now that she finished college, she would be able to find a permanent, full-time job. That would probably take a bit of pressure off me.
By the time 7:00 am came around, a few people were already waiting outside the gates, drooling at the aroma of bacon and eggs. As soon as the host pulled on the metal bars, we were serving. Breakfast lasted till 10:00 am. I was thankful that I wasn’t rostered on for the seafood buffet lunch rush which I knew would be worse, and I didn’t have the energy for that.
I untied my apron and hung it up on the hook. After saying goodbye to Alexis, I grabbed my bag from the cabinet and left. As I stepped out of the kitchen area, two men who I hadn’t noticed before caught my attention. Both wore the same dark-colored pressed suits with navy shirts underneath and had similar ties, one a shade lighter than the other. There were no conferences booked in, so I wasn’t sure what they were there for. When they both stood and walked in my direction, staring right into my very soul, I knew they were there for me.
The man on the left with the darker tie cleared his throat before he spoke, “Ms. Parsons?
I nodded. “Yes, that’s me.”
He reached behind his impeccably well-formed body and pulled out an I.D. badge.
Detective. What the fuck?
“I’m detective Gibbs from the Chicago Police Force and this is my partner, detective Avery. Can we please go somewhere private and talk?”