Authors: M. Sembera
A Marked Heart Novel
Copyright 2015 © M. Sembera
Edited by Lucii Grubb
Cover Design Copyright 2015
© M. Sembera
Broken Bird Media
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews.
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Marked Heart is a work of fiction. All names, Characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination.
Place name and any resemblance to events or actual persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
Lily vector art featured with quote provided by Naddya/Shutterstock
The Wren and Celtic Heart logo is an original piece of art created specifically for M. Sembera.
All Rights reserved by Broken Bird Media.
'We're not good for each other.' ~Liv
'Let's be bad then.' ~Braden
To my Mom, for showing me how to survive, overcome, and find the strength to persevere with love.
Table of Contents
A marked heart, longing for the one is nothing more than a restless heart, burdened by a lie.
The street lights flickered on as Braden came to a stop. Just ahead of him was The Dog House; the bar his family owned, his oldest brother Auggie tended, his sister in law Charlotte managed and the location of his sister Penny's engagement party. There he had his first drink, his heart broken, his ass kicked and his last performance as a musician. Taking a deep breath, he shook his head at himself. So much had changed over the last year. In a family where everyone has their place, he honestly couldn't see where he fit into it anymore.
Braden felt lost in the shuffle of life. All he ever wanted to do was sing and play guitar. He had been in love with the same girl since high school. Time after time he had listened to her lie, took her back after she had cheated and believed her when she said she loved him. But, he finally saw the light the night her husband gave him the beating of his life. He held it together for as long as he could but after his drummer and best friend betrayed him, by cheating on his sister with the very girl who had made a career out of breaking his heart, he didn't have the heart for it anymore. Even something as simple as listening to the radio became unbearable.
If it weren't for the fact that it was Penny and Seth's party, he wouldn't have shown up at all.
It started to drizzle, causing Braden to glance up and mentally reply, 'Alright, I'm going,' as he made his way to the open doors of the bar. He had only taken two steps when he saw his cousin's wife, Liv, walk out.
His sister Penny's voice echoed out of the doors, "Liv!" before he saw her step out of the bar.
Unaffected by Penny's shout, Liv continued swiftly walking in his direction.
"Braden, stop her!" she exclaimed before ducking back into the bar.
The moment his sister disappeared, Liv was right beside him. Before she could pass him by, he reached his hand out and caught the top of her arm.
Liv stopped. She continued to stare straight ahead, without moving or speaking, she just stood there. Braden let go of her arm, since it was clear she wasn't going anywhere, and stepped in front of her. She didn't have to say a word for him to know she was wounded. Liv blinked twice before glancing up at him. Even though her face held no expression, the look in her eyes made is chest burn and his stomach hurt.
In a split second, they were surrounded by his family. As they crowded around, the drizzle turned into a light mist of rain. Braden noticed Penny crying and Charlotte had tears in her eyes. Seth's expression was anguished as he kept his head down, staring at the ground with his arms around Penny. Looking to Auggie for an explanation, it took his brother several minutes to get the words out.
Wearing the same sorrowful scowl as when they lost their dad and when their brother Will passed, Auggie cleared his throat, informing, "Oran was on his way here and saw Kieran's truck rolled over a mile out from the farmhouse." Braden's heart sank as his brother shook his head and continued, "He took most of the guard rail with him but ya know, it's a pretty steep drop off."
Nodding, Braden glanced back at Liv just as their cousin Jackson walked up.
"They're fairly certain it was instant. The impact..." Jackson paused as his wife, Ren, stepped next to Liv saying, "I'm going to take you to our house." Placing her arm around Liv's shoulders.
There was no response from Liv, not even a flinch as she silently walked away with Ren while Penny and Charlotte followed close behind them.
The second, the girls were out of ear shot, Jackson continued.
"Most of his upper body was crushed on impact. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt."
Seth spoke up, asking, "Do they know what caused it?"
With a heavy sigh, Jackson replied, "They are assuming he was texting and driving. His phone was a few feet from the truck. It showed a partial unsent message from him and then a few from another number asking why he wasn't answering her."
"Her?" Seth questioned before asking, "He was texting Liv when it happened?"
"No." Jackson stated with a hint of disappointment in his eyes.
Instantly furious, Braden glared at Auggie as he questioned, "Is there anything we can do to keep Liv from finding out?"
"Ren could call in a favor, but I would prefer to take another route. They took it to the station as evidence for the police report. Anybody know somebody?"
Staring at all of them in disbelief as Seth replied, "If they let one of us pick it up, we could just erase it." Braden couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"That bastard was cheating on her and y'all are gonna cover his ass so she doesn't find out?"
"I never said that he was cheating." Jackson clarified before saying, "But, from what the officer read me, he was assuring whoever it was that he was going to leave Liv."
"And that's not cheating?"
Auggie quickly turned to him, griping, "Her husband is dead. How hurt do you want her?"
Irritation settled inside of Braden as he realized they were right. He disagreed with their decision completely. However, knowing that if she found out it would only cause her more pain, he relented.
Six months after his cousin Kieran's funeral, things had somewhat gone back to normal. Braden took a job at Stockman's Superior Warehouse and Supply, after his old friend, Pat Stockman, came back to town to take over his family's business. The job was boring and monotonous but the pay was great and more than enough to get him off of Penny's couch and into his own apartment.
Everyone seemed impressed with how well Liv was taking the loss. She was at Legacy Ink, the tattoo shop that now belonged to her since her husband was dead, all day every day with the exception of Sundays. Since Kieran's death, the shop thrived in his absence. He was happy for them although he could have done without knowing why it was suddenly so popular. Apparently, getting tattooed by a skilled red head, while enjoying the view of the dark haired assistant with criminally tight pants and full sleeve tattoos, was a huge turn on. He guessed he would have seen the draw himself, had it not been for the fact that it was his sister Penny and Liv.
No matter what everyone else thought, he felt differently. Her voice wasn't the same and even though he hadn't seen her since the funeral, somehow he felt like he was carrying her sadness with him. Braden made a habit of calling Liv to check on her every evening on the way home from work. Each time hoping he would hear something that would alleviate the heaviness in his heart.
Blowing in his hands to keep them warm, he knew he should have warmed up his car before getting in. Braden's 1970 Chevrolet El Camino was his baby but on cold nights like tonight she really showed her age. It was April for cryin' out loud, and only forty two degrees. Pulling the hood of his dark gray hoodie over his head as he crossed his arms across his chest, Braden mumbled to himself about how much he hated cold weather.
When warmth finally started to flow from the vents into the cab, he shook off the stiffness from his shivering, pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, and dialed Liv's number.
After seven rings he heard her voicemail, "Speak your peace."
Even though their nightly conversations mostly consisted of 'Hey', 'You need anything', 'Nah', 'Later', it bothered him that she hadn't answered. He tried again.
"Speak your peace."
Why wasn't she answering?
"Speak your peace."
She always answered.
"Speak your peace."
Heated from frustration, Braden flipped the vent away from him and sent her a text.
B: Answer your phone.
B: Hello! Liv!
He made one last attempt to call her.
"Speak your peace."
Hot enough to feel himself starting to sweat, Braden cracked the window, allowing cold air to rush in, before backing out of the parking lot. Switching between feeling panicked and being pissed off as he drove, he headed straight to her house.
All of the lights in the house appeared to be on and her car was there. Stepping onto the porch a twinge of uncomfortableness made him pause. He could hear music muffled by the house, coming from inside. What if she had company? He tried to shake the thought off, then laughed to himself as he decided, if he walked in on her getting down with some guy, it would be her fault for not sending a courtesy text. He leaned down, grabbed the spare key from inside a pair of cement boots that sat right next to the welcome mat, and unlocked the door. '21 Guns' by Green Day assaulted him the moment he opened the door. Now he had two missions.
"Liv!" he tried hollering over the music before deciding she would never hear him.
He could barely hear himself when he yelled.
Glaring at the closed door of the old marking room where Kieran had marked a lily on the left side of his chest, because sometimes, Braden really was a dumbass, he noticed the music wasn't as loud in the back of the house. Her bedroom door was cracked and the light was off. Leaning his head close to the opening, he listened for any extra sounds. If she was with someone and it was that quiet, the guy obviously wasn't doing a good job. Really, he'd be doing her a favor and as a reward he might 'accidentally' see her naked. Pushing the door open, he stepped in and found it empty.
Standing in Liv's dark and empty bedroom, he suddenly noticed how cold it was in the house. Where the hell was she? Sticking his hand in his pocket to give calling her another try, he came up empty and realized he'd left his cell phone in the car. Turning to walk out, he noticed something flash by the bathroom door. Making his way over, Braden saw a thick hot pink sweater and pair of jeans lying on the floor with her cell phone hanging out of the pocket.
Mission number two was accomplished as he picked up her phone and swiped her play list closed. The instant silence relaxed him. Until, he stepped into the bathroom and flipped the light on.
"Liv!" he blurted, seeing broken glass on the floor and her slumped over in the bathtub.
Her skin was blotchy and had a purple tint to it. With only her underwear, a black tank top and long socks that went to the bottom of her knees on, he started to feel sick. She was way too thin, making him wonder when was the last time she ate. How had anyone not noticed this? Crunching over the broken glass with his shoes, he crouched down and placed his hand on her shoulder. She was freezing. An empty bottle of Ever Clear rolled from her lap down her legs as he gave her a little shove.
"What are you doin' to yourself?" Braden questioned as she came to, reaching for the empty bottle.
Quickly pulling his hoodie off, he draped it over her back and around her shoulders.
Braden stood up and grabbed a towel off the rack before stepping to the side and laying it over the broken glass. Leaning back down, he pulled her up and out of the bathtub. Doing his best to carry her, as thin as she was, she was drunk, and a drunk person is nothing but dead weight. Her feet drug across the bathroom floor, until, they reached the carpet of her bedroom. He stopped for a moment to get a better hold on her. Heaving her into the air, he held her against himself as he walked her to the bed. After dropping her on her bed, Braden reached over to pull the comforter around her when he felt her pull the front of his shirt. Looking down at her, the light from the bathroom allowed him to see all the pain and anguish in her eyes.
"Braden," she breathed before tears rolled down her cheeks.
He was so stunned, it took him a minute to react. In all the years he'd know Liv, he'd never seen her even look like she might cry, not even at Kieran's funeral.
Pushing her farther onto the bed, Braden sat down, pulling Liv onto his lap and the comforter around them both. He wrapped his arms and legs around her trying to warm and sooth her at the same time as she curled up against him. Her body shook as she cried and he couldn't help the sting in his own eyes. For the first time in what seemed like forever, Braden felt like his life had meaning. He had a purpose.