Torture to Her Soul (Monster in His Eyes, #2) - J.M. Darhower

To anyone who has ever fallen in love with the last person they should ever give their heart to.

This is for you.

Secrets are a funny thing.

You keep them bottled up, hidden thoughts nobody else hears. It makes it hard for others to get close to you—for them to ever really know you—when you hold the deepest parts of yourself back, only letting people graze the surface.

But some secrets, I think, are better left unspoken.

Sometimes secrets have the power to kill. The power to destroy. We each hold nuclear weapons inside of us, our fingers always hovering over the buttons for detonation. Most of us press them. Some of us don't.

I wish I had that kind of restraint.

I envy those who keep everyone at an arm's distance.

I'm weak.

Too fucking weak.

I let her get too close to me.

I heard this saying once, long ago, that I've never forgotten: three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead. I've spilled many secrets in my life, secrets that always ended up with somebody dying. Sometimes because of me, and other times... well... because of me. I think about them when I lie in bed at night, see their faces when I close my eyes, relive the moments the buttons were pressed and everything around me imploded.

I'm a haunted man.

Darkness surrounds me.

Figuratively.

Literally.

It's dark.

It's that heavy sort of darkness, the kind you can feel when you breathe, the denseness filling your lungs and slowly suffocating you. There's no relief in this darkness… only more torture. Sweat coats my skin as the summer humidity clings to the air, making it hard to find a shred of comfort. I toss and turn, restless, in and out of sleep, losing seconds, minutes, hours...

Every time I look, the clock in the bedroom reads something different, the glowing red numbers taunting me.

11:43 pm

12:11 am

1:45 am

2:09 am

Rolling over onto my back, I squeeze my eyes shut, throwing an arm over my face, trying to force myself to stop looking at that damn clock. It dictates my life and I hate it. I fucking hate it. The silence is strained, the noises from the old house settling exaggerated to my ears. There's nothing peaceful about it.

Another creak.

A wooden floorboard groans.

The bed shifts suddenly.

I move my arm and open my eyes, my gaze hitting the ceiling when I'm jolted. I find nothing but darkness above me, the glow from the alarm clock in my peripheral.

Slowly, turning my head, I look at the time again.

2:45 am

Another noise.

A loud click.

My heart skips a beat before hammering hard in my chest.

I know that sound.

It's not normal.

Unnatural.

The cocking of a shotgun.

I sit up, blinking rapidly, desperately seeking out whatever's in the darkness, but it takes too long for my eyes to adjust. No, her eyes adjust before mine, and she sees it… she sees the predator.

She realizes we're the prey.

"Naz!" Her voice is a panicked scream. "Oh God, Naz!"

I'm frozen. It's only a second. Just one second delay until my vision finally adjusts. I stare at the familiar face—a face that smiled at me hours ago, like there was nothing but love between us. A face, I realize, of a man who held secrets. A man I didn't really know.

The face of my best friend.

It's only a second, but it's a second too long.

A second of hesitation that takes away everything I love.

BANG

The noise explodes into a fiery light that jars me, thrusting me to consciousness. I sit straight up, once more smothered by the darkness. I gasp for air, sweat pouring down my face. I blink rapidly, the scene greeting me again and again every time I close my eyes.

Blink.

Blink.

Blink.

Fuck.

No matter how much I try, I can't forget it.

I can't stop seeing it.

I can't stop reliving it.

The bed beside me shifts, and for a moment I convince myself it wasn't real. It was just my imagination. That's it.

It didn't actually happen.

I'm okay.

She's not dead.

But when I look over, it's not Maria's eyes that regard me, not her face I see, and reality comes crashing down all over again.

It wasn't a nightmare.

No, it was a memory.

Karissa eyes me cautiously in the darkness, but she says nothing. She doesn't try to console me or ask what's wrong. She doesn't have to.

She probably already knows.

She knows me.

Sighing, I look away from her as acceptance sinks in, instinctively glancing toward the stand beside my bed, seeking out an alarm clock I haven't owned in twenty years. I wonder what time it is now… wonder if it even matters anymore.

Time stopped