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The Arrangement 19 1




  The Arrangement 19

  The Ferro Family

  H. M. Ward

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2015 by H.M. Ward

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form.

  H.M. WARD PRESS

  First Edition: June 2015

  ISBN: 978-1-63035-072-7

  Author’s Note

  The Arrangement Series is different. How? The story is organic--and growing swiftly. Originally intended to be four serial novels, fans of the series demanded more Sean & Avery, spurring an entirely new concept: a fan-driven series. When fans ask for more, I write more.

  I am astonished and humbled by the response this series has received. As the series grows, I am constantly fascinated by the requests and insights from readers. This series has sold over 10 MILLION copies! The average length of each book is 125 pages in paperback and can be read in a few hours or less.

  This series intertwines with my other work, but is designed to be read independently, as a quick read between other titles.

  You can join in the discussion via my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/AuthorHMWard.

  For a complete listing of Ferro books, look here: www.SexyAwesomeBooks.com & click BOOKS.

  Thank you and happy reading!

  ~Holly

  CHAPTER 1

  Time stops as clouds of smoke drift toward us in slow motion. Ashes flutter through the air, landing on my shoulders like blackened snowflakes. We instinctively throw our helmets to the ground, shedding dead weight for what's to come. My heart pounds in my chest because I know what’s going to happen. Sean is going to run back inside. There’s no way he’s going to leave knowing his mother is still inside the mansion.

  Before he has the chance, my feet are moving, gaining traction quickly. My arms swing by my sides, elbows tucked tightly against my ribs, as I summon every last bit of speed I can muster. I move away from Sean, racing toward the side lawn that will wrap around to the room where Constance takes her breakfast. She had to be in that glass room. As the bomb went off, I heard the glass shatter, an explosion of wind chimes hitting cement. There’s no way she’s alive, but for Sean’s sake, I hope she is.

  “Avery! Stop!”

  Sean’s voice rings out behind me, but I can’t stop. I don’t answer. My feet move, pounding the grass faster and faster. I hit a patch that’s too slick. My foot slips to the side and before I can correct it, I hit the ground, tackled from behind. I slide on the damp grass and stop abruptly.

  “Stop! Just, stop.”

  Sean rolls me over, and I want to cry, seeing his beautiful face contorted with fear. Terror seeps into those sexy blue eyes. His dark lashes flutter as he holds me down, pressing my body to the ground beneath him. He sucks in air, trying to catch his breath.

  In that moment, I’m aware of little things--the way a bead of sweat rolls off his temple and falls, hitting my skin like a grenade. His breath is warm and perfect, coming in fast puffs as his chest expands against me. His hands are rough, and there’s a gash on his palm that covers his fingers in dark red blood. He doesn’t seem to notice the wound.

  Sean places his hands against my face, holding me still. His lips part as if he wants to speak, but nothing comes out. He’s looking at me as if I were his soul and he was about to lose it. His hands slip over my cheeks, shaking before taking a deep breath and pressing his forehead against mine.

  “Avery, I can’t lose you. Don’t--” His voice is too light, too high. The sound cuts off. Sean blinks, and it’s easy to see how glassy his eyes have become. My lip quivers as I throw my arms around him.

  “I can’t lose you either. You can’t run inside. Sean, if something happened to you. This is my fault. I--”

  But he doesn’t let me finish. He lowers his head and presses a soft kiss to my lips. When he pulls away, the trembling has subsided. The steady feel of his hands returns and I know he’s taking all the emotion swirling within and banishing it so he can get through this moment. He’s in survival mode, and I know he has to do it, but every time he goes back to that place within himself he risks never returning.

  I can't fathom a life without emotion, without feeling. No matter how hard I try to disconnect my feelings from my body, I can’t. They come rushing to the surface at the worst times.

  Like now.

  I pull Sean into a tight hug and kiss his face. Sweat clings to his grimy skin as the dust cloud settles over the lawn. I pull back and look at him.

  “Promise you’ll come back. Promise me.” I swallow hard, waiting for a response.

  Sean’s sapphire eyes lock on mine. Deep within those pure blue orbs, promises mingle with pain. Darkness lies in wait, ready to reclaim him. He can’t fight it anymore. It’s time to choose between saving Sean from his demons and becoming a monster to save his family. I know his choice.

  He pushes off the ground, his expression pure steel, and I can no longer read him. His voice is deep and dangerous. He points toward the other end of the driveway.

  “There’s a car in the gardener’s shed down by the road. I can see it from here. They overlooked it. Take the car to Trystan’s and stay with him until I come back.” The way he says it is final. There is no other choice. He won’t let me go with him. When I don’t follow his order to walk away, anger flashes across his eyes. “Avery, I said go!”

  Swallowing hard, I fold my arms over my chest and hold his gaze.

  “No. I’m staying with you. I won’t leave you here, and you're wasting precious time arguing with me.”

  “You can’t be here. If Vic Jr. comes--”

  “If he comes, I’ll kill him myself.” Wow, that sounded scary. When did I become a badass? The tone of my voice makes Sean raise a brow.

  “I won’t let him hurt you.”

  “Then don’t send me off alone. Sean, come with me.” I reach for his hand, but he pulls away.

  “I have to get my mother out of there.” He watches me for a moment, before grabbing my wrist. “Stay close behind. Do not run in front of me or you’ll get a bullet in your ass. Do you understand? I’ll shoot you myself if it keeps you from running inside. Do not take off again. Understood?”

  As he speaks, my stomach flips and the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. He means every word.

  CHAPTER 2

  I nod once and look back up toward the house. There hasn’t been a sound since the last explosion, which is weird. Rescue vehicles should be tearing up the sunrise with noisy sirens, but it’s quiet.

  Sean leads the way toward the back of the house, stepping over blown-up bits of wall, beams, and what looks like a piece of the front door. The splintered wood is smoldering, sending up a black beam of repugnant smoke. The scent makes me gag as we pass. Sean suddenly pulls his shirt off and rips it in two, then hands one piece to me.

  “Tie it on and make sure you cover your nose and mouth, there is too much smoke and ash in the air. If it gets to be too much, tell me and we’ll turn back.” He looks over his shoulder at me and I know he doesn’t want to do this. If we step back into this house, it’s possible neither of us will come out.

  I do as he says and take the torn piece of fabric and tie it behind my head, adjusting the front to cover my face just below my eyes. Sean turns around, making sure I’ve done as he wanted. A giggle escapes me when I see his beautiful blue eyes peering over the top of the fabric.

  “You’re laughing?” He sounds surprised. I shove the smile off my face, but it lights up aga
in. I shrug.

  “I’m an emotional lunatic. I can’t be held responsible for my giggles. Besides, if I didn’t laugh right now, I’d cry instead.” Sean rolls his eyes and is about to turn back toward the smoking house when I catch his arm. “Hey. Don’t do that to me. You deal with stress your way, and I deal with stress my way. If it helps me to think that we look like we should be robbing a bank and riding off on horses, then let me.”

  I rise on my tiptoes, in his face and seriously scolding him as I speak. I can’t see anything except his eyes, which seem pissed off. It isn’t until he laughs that I back down. Sean clears his throat.

  “I love you. Be the lunatic you are. Fly your freak flag, Avery. That’s one of the reasons why I love you. I’m just worried I’m too late. Mother wasn’t supposed to be here.” Sean turns back to look at the house. His eyes scan the tree line surrounding the property. His eyes stop and narrow, watching a single spot intently as if he sees something.

  I grab his forearm and tug. Sean's eyes glance back at me.

  “Thanks, partner.” I tip my fake ten-gallon hat toward him. I swear I hear a giggle come from under his mask, and I know he smiles because the corners of his eyes crinkle. I love making him smile.

  He takes my hand.

  “Let’s get inside before another bomb goes off. There was supposed to be one more, according to Masterson. It should have exploded by now.”

  “Maybe it’s a dud?” Can that happen?

  “Possibly, but we can’t risk it by lingering here. It’s possible the bastard rigged the final bomb to explode when the medics show up. It would kill any survivors and ensure Vic’s control. Besides,” his voice sounds cold and lifeless, the Sean I knew before all this started, “it’s what I would do if I had to eliminate an entire family at once.”

  My stomach twists in response to hearing him admit it. He’s no longer the shy Sean that hides behind those dark lashes. That man is long gone, and in his wake is a being more monster than man.

  It kills me to hear him talk like this. I need to get us out of this situation and get him away from here. There was a good reason Sean was on the opposite coast, a good reason his stays in New York were short: he was avoiding losing more of himself. Every minute he stays here, another piece of his soul chips away, lost forever. Nothing I can do will change that. Sean would trade his life to save his mother even though she doesn’t deserve it.

  Part of me expects to walk into the solarium and see her standing in that blood-red robe without a scratch, amongst the rubble, still perfectly pressed and pristine, a teacup in her hand.

  If she had anything to do with this, I’m going to strangle her myself.

  Sean turns away and heads toward the solarium. We skulk around the property, staying in the gardens that are near the house, but not so close we’ll get toasted if another bomb goes off.

  The early morning shadows stretch across the lawn, shading us. The dappled light makes us harder to see, but it also masks anyone else who might be out there. I keep scanning the trees, looking for the man who did this--looking for a sibling I never knew existed.

  When I was younger, I would have been thrilled to find out I had a brother. I always wanted someone else to play with, but my parents never had another child. To find out that my dad wasn’t my father was rough, but finding out my real father was a murderer and my new brother is just as bad--well, it sucks.

  I want a refund. I didn’t order this life.

  This will change me. There’s no way to avoid it. I’ve taken enough classes to know what happens to a person when their past is ripped away and replaced with one they don’t want, filled with people they don’t want to know. Although I didn’t take SO YOUR REAL DAD IS REALLY A MURDERER 101, I know I'll fight an emotional battle I can’t win. No matter what, blood is blood. My father was a twisted killer, and my brother is just as bad.

  We step into a clearing, and the sight of the once grand solarium jerks me from my thoughts. It’s cracked open like an egg with smoke billowing out the remains of the roof. Twisted metal hangs from the top of the dome, dangling pieces of broken glass still clinging desperately to the frame. Every few seconds the deathly silence breaks with sounds of fire crackling, glass breaking, metal clattering. In between those sounds is nothing but silence.

  Sean doesn’t stop at the twisted threshold. Instead, he ducks through the bent, blackened metal and walks inside.

  “Mother! Where are you?” He calls out, but there’s no answer.

  My heart pounds in my ears as Sean releases my hand. He steps forward, crunching glass beneath his feet. He lifts burnt palm fronds and large pieces of shattered pots, digging a path to the other side of the room. The part of the solarium attached to the house still stands, glass roof intact. If he can get to it, he can see the spot where his mother habitually takes her breakfast each morning.

  I keep thinking about what he said. She wasn’t supposed to be here.

  Images flash through my mind of a younger Constance raising three little boys. I wonder if Sean played out here as a child. I wonder if, as he steps down and hears glass break beneath his feet, a childhood memory shatters with each step.

  I glance around the room and try not to choke. Ashes are floating through the air, making it difficult to see. I walk carefully, looking around as I do so, hoping for any sign of his mother. Sean continues to clear a path toward the bistro table on the other side of the room. I linger behind him, scanning the debris for signs of life.

  “Constance? Are you in here?” I call out, hoping for an answer, but no one replies.

  Sean bends over and lifts a beam that was once part of the rafter. The muscles in his neck are corded tight as he tries to move it. He looks over at me and pulls down his mask.

  “I can’t get through.”

  “Sean, she’s not here.” I don’t want to say it, but there’s no indication that Constance was out here, other than the noises on the phone. “Maybe she was inside?”

  Maybe she was the one who did this. I think it, but I can’t say it. Not yet.

  “No, her voice," he says, shaking his head. "She was here. The glass and the way the sound came through the headset. She had to be in this room. There was too much glass.”

  He closes his eyes for a second, then tips his head back and looks up at the sky, before wiping the sweat off his face. His chest is glistening with a thin sheen of sweat. It’s insanely hot in here. There are small fires burning all around us, mostly in little piles where I assume Constance's plants caught fire. Sean puts his hands on his trim hips and looks over at me. His stomach is ripped, tense, and ready to do whatever needed. I manage to make my way over to him and put a hand on his arm.

  “Sean, she’s not here.”

  “She has to be. She wouldn’t have…” Sean shakes his head as his words die in his mouth. He works his jaw and looks like he’s about to scream when we both hear a faint sound. We twist toward the noise and then look back at each other.

  “Did you hear that?”

  Sean nods and puts a finger to his lips. He waits, and we hear it again. It sounds like someone is crying, softly, weakly. Sean crouches and peers through the debris. I copy him and scan the room. That’s when I see it--a broken teacup in the rubble. The handle is missing, but the base is intact. I stiffen when my eyes notice the other part.

  “Sean.” I grip his bare arm and crouch toward it. “That’s? Is it?”

  Sean is still. I don’t know if he doesn’t see it or can’t believe what he’s seeing. A few feet in front of us, hidden between shards of pottery and under a fallen pane of glass, is the handle of the cup, a single finger wrapped around it. The finger is thin and feminine, its nail polished blood red.

  I gasp and stare, as my stomach twists, threatening to spew any contents on the floor. This isn't happening. It can’t be. Trembling, I scan the room for the rest of the body. Sean still hasn’t moved; his eyes lock on a spot to my left, not far from the first piece of the teacup. Under a massive metal beam, once bel
onging high in the rafters and now resting uselessly on the floor, is a pale arm. Blood covers the palm, pooling in the center like a liquid gemstone.

  “Mom.” He says the word like he’s conjuring a ghost and rushes toward her. Sean touches his mother’s arm, telling her she’ll be all right, as I watch in horror.

  Constance's body is under that beam. The only parts sticking out are her forearm and wrist. Sean tries to push the beam off of her, but it doesn’t move. He tries again and again to get it to budge, but there’s no way it will budge without a crane.

  He tells her again, “I’ll get you out. You’ll be all right.” Sean pushes his shoulder to the metal and tries to lift it again. He grits his teeth and veins pop up all over his neck and chest as he does it. The beam begins to shift. Snapping out of my shock, I drop to my knees and take her limp hand.

  “Constance! I’ll pull you out! Hold on!”

  Sean’s face is dripping with sweat. His body is strained and shaking as he tries to lift the beam higher, but he does it. Every muscle in his body quivers as he manages to lift it off the ground.

  I don’t hesitate. I take hold of Constance's wrist and pull. The opening is small, but it provides enough to get her out.

  Sean screams in pain as he tries to hold the beam up for another second. I pull on her arm expecting her to shift, but she doesn’t. The beam must be on her shoulder or something because it takes a lot more force to get her to move. Tears prick my eyes, and I try to blink them away, but it just clouds my vision.

  Sean’s yell makes me try harder. I dig in my heels and lean back, giving it everything. Broken shoulder or not, there’s no way she should be this stuck. When the beam lifts that final bit, her arm breaks free. I fall back expecting to see a rumpled Constance Ferro on the floor in front of me, her face bloodied, her gown torn. I expect broken bones and a face that will need stitches.

 
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