Authors: Avril Ashton
Syren Rua is at war. He battles painful childhood demons and his intense need for the first person who makes him feel. As Faro, Syren makes deals with the worst while taking the steps necessary to bring his family’s killer to justice. He isn’t one to indulge in selfish needs, but he’ll make the time in this instance. Syren has been watching Kane Ashby, craving the grieving man for his own. He’s always stayed away from temptation, but that’s about to change.
Kane isn’t over the death of his longtime partner. He’s certainly not ready for a relationship, sexual or otherwise, but Syren isn’t a man who takes no for an answer. The unpredictable Syren offers nothing but secrets and brings with him memories so dark, they could wipe out any chance the two might ever have. Syren brings Kane’s heart back to life. But it is also Syren who could inflict the most damage.
A Sinner Born
is dedicated to those of you out there whose childhoods, like mine and Syren’s, were painted with the same particularly dark brush. We can either allow it to control every aspect of how we live or we can push forward, move through it and take back the controls. Never be afraid to fall to your knees. The getting back up is so much sweeter.
A Sinner Born
occurs within the same timeframe as
since the two stories are told concurrently to each other. While Pablo and Dev/Shane were falling in love, Syren and Kane were out there doing the same.
A Sinner Born
includes scenes from
, retold in Syren’s point of view.
As much as Syren expected the blow, the sting of the bull whip across the upper half of his back still hurt like the devil.
A moan fell unchecked from his lips and he swore inwardly. The last thing he wanted was to give Ricardo Delatorre more satisfaction than he already got from stringing up and whipping Syren until he bled or begged for it to stop. He’d never beg, so they always ended when the pain and blood made him pass out.
Behind him Delatorre cackled, an abrasive sound Syren went to great lengths to avoid hearing. The whip whistled through the air and came down on him, harder this time. Syren controlled his reaction, letting the tightening of his fingers on the ropes that held him suspended be the only outward acknowledgement of where he was and why.
Blood scented the air, a heavy, coppery tang Syren welcomed. With blood the end drew near. Sweat ran down his body, seeping into the freshly made cuts and the reopened wounds on his back. The blows didn’t let up, not for an instant. Sure strokes rained down on him mercilessly, not that he expected anything else.
Pain, fire-hot, grayed his vision. Nothing new to someone like Syren, nothing he hadn’t already felt, but it didn’t stop him from attempting to shy away. Hide from it.
He arched from the blows and they moved with him, catching him above his right shoulder. His legs collapsed and Syren hissed as the ropes jerked him upright, preventing him from folding to the floor. Tears blurred his vision, not that he could’ve seen anything before then. He squeezed his eyes shut, trapping the sign of his weakness. Thick fog crept up, spreading over his mind and body, numbing the pain.
Syren let it happen. He watched as if outside his body as he let go. His head lolled to the side and his muscles went lax.
The dark came.
He came back to himself to find his face buried in whatever softness he lay on. Syren held himself still and listened. Nothing moved, no one breathed or spoke, so he lifted his head.
Christ. It hurt to blink. To think.
His back flamed. Thank God he’d been positioned on his stomach. Gritting his teeth to smother a cry, he looked around.
He was in his apartment. How he came to be there when he’d been at Delatorre’s Hollywood Hills hideout was the million-dollar question. Thinking of his boss brought the memories of the recent whipping rushing back. Syren’s heartbeat picked up speed, climbing higher and higher until the organ threatened to leap out of his chest. He dropped back onto the pillow face-first and worked to control his gasping breaths.
In and out. In and out. Steady.
Cold sweat gathered at his hairline and turned his palms slippery.
Out then in. Out then in.
He breathed in the familiar scent of fabric softener his cleaning service used on his bedding.
Out then in.
He lifted his head again, taking more care this time and gulped air through his mouth. The dizzy spell receded and he moved to get off the bed.
He had to clean his wounds.
With anguished grunts, Syren crawled to the edge of the mattress, each move of his limbs stretching the raw cuts on his back. A shot of pain to his scraped-up right knee captured his attention and he glanced down his body, only then realizing his nakedness.
Syren froze, frantically trying to remember what he wore to Ricardo’s. A suit, of course, he always wore a suit, but—
“God.” The relieved word dropped like a bomb in the stillness of his bedroom. He was safe. There’d been no slip and his secret—well, that particular one—remained intact. Still only his. Syren didn’t know which secret he dreaded Delatorre finding out more; his true identity or the other one.
The other one he refused to name. Maybe if he did put a name to his obsession, his compulsion, he’d make it real. One more thing to cloud his focus, to take his concentration from where it needed to be. Ricardo Delatorre warranted all his attentions and the less time Syren spent worrying about hiding that other part of himself, the better.
He eased off the bed headfirst, shivering when his torso made contact with the cold floor. Pulling himself into a crouching position, Syren crawled across his bedroom floor to the bathroom with a slightly hysterical laugh. Delatorre would love this, him crawling, helpless. Syren had set himself up for a fall with the dangerous game he played and he knew it. He also knew he’d endure the whippings and more—hell, he’d already been through worse—to secure the future he’d bargained for and to avenge the death of his family. Four deaths—his parents, older brother and Syren.
His childhood and his innocence. Stolen. His future. Taken. The beatings were nothing, he’d take them any day of the week.
In the bathroom, Syren used the sink as leverage and struggled upright. Bracing a hip against the cold porcelain, he pulled sterile gauze and hydrogen peroxide from the medicine cabinet. The whippings were frequent enough now for him to keep supplies on hand. As much as he brought in money for Delatorre and maintained most of the business, Syren didn’t fool himself into thinking he was indispensable. The time rapidly approached when Delatorre would tire of playing with him and he’d overstay his welcome.
He gathered the supplies on the edge of the sink and hesitated for a second before yanking away the black plastic he’d taped over the bathroom mirror and all the other mirrors in the place.
Quickly turning his back, he gazed at the wounds over his shoulder. They weren’t as bad as they felt when compared to those from before. He quickly cleaned the ones he could reach by dabbing at them with gauze soaked with the peroxide, and tipped the bottle over so the liquid could reach those he couldn’t. He shivered when the cool antiseptic danced along his skin.
When he finished he promptly covered the mirror.
His legs wobbled only a little, but he managed to remain upright and with measured footsteps made his way back to his bedroom. He yanked open drawers, selecting clothes to wear as his phone vibrated across his nightstand. Syren ignored it, holding up the purple robe in his hand instead. He smiled and gathered the material close to his chest, inhaling it before he pulled it on.
Then he removed the blade taped to the underside of his sock drawer.
Syren dropped the slender knife on the bed and walked out the room. He looked the place over thoroughly, making sure nothing was amiss. He double-checked the locks and closed all the blinds, and then he turned on the music player. He’d left the tape in from the last time and immediately, soft, mournful instruments filled the room. In the bedroom he spread two thick black towels in the middle of the bed then climbed on and sat on them cross-legged.
With a twist of his finger he unsheathed the weapon and swiped the sharp, gleaming blade with alcohol swabs before tipping his head to the heavens. As the music in his living room swelled, so did the tears, because that music never failed to bring the memories. And those were the only times Syren felt anything. The only time he felt human. The only time he felt alive.
Wait for it.
He swallowed and braced himself. The music climbed higher, reaching for that particular note and when it achieved its goal, Syren struck.
He sank the blade into his right hip. Deep enough to draw blood, but not enough to do serious damage—he’d leave that to Delatorre. The pain wasn’t immediate, but when it finally hit the sensation yanked away all his air. For a moment he thought he’d finally die like that, with the pain scraping along his nerve endings. He tried taking deep breaths but his heavy lungs wouldn’t allow it. Shards of light pinged behind his eyelids, moving to the music. The palpitations in his chest actually burned, but Syren didn’t shy away this time.
Unlike before, he welcomed this pain, meeting it head-on because he knew what lay beyond it. The payoff wasn’t long in coming. Warmth surrounded him. Time and place fell away. Laughter filled his ears and sunshine kissed his skin.
Tears rolled down his face and Syren smiled.
This euphoria made any pain worth it, made his sufferings appear bearable, and worth it too, in that instant. The only time he got to really remember who he’d been before it all crashed down on him.
If nothing else the innocent little boy laughing in his head needed to be fought for. Needed to be avenged. There was nobody else left to remember him, to fight for him.
Syren promised. He’d made a promise and he fully intended to deliver.
Warm liquid coated his fingers and slid along his skin. Syren opened his eyes and glanced down at the glistening red as it disappeared into the blackness of the towels he sat on. Perfect choice in color.
His phone went off again, startling a gasp as it vibrated on the nightstand. Syren twisted around, wincing at the pain, and picked it up, scowling when he saw the caller’s identity.
“Thiago.” He answered the phone with the expected purr in his voice. Within his four walls he was Syren Rua, but out there in the world and especially with the Delatorres he was Faro, and as Faro he had a role to play.
“Are you well?” The concern in Ricardo Delatorre’s only son’s voice always surprised Syren when he thought of exactly how callous the father was.
He nodded then spoke. “I’m fine.”
“He was rough this time. Too much so.” Thiago grunted in Syren’s ear. “Why do you do it?” he asked in perfect English.
Syren moved the phone from his ear and frowned. Had Thiago met his father? Did he think if Syren had a choice he’d volunteer for that prick to do what he did? He released the knife and held up his bloody hand. It didn’t waver.
“Did you bring me home?” He hated those moments when he wasn’t alert. Hated that he needed someone else’s assistance to do anything.
“Along with my driver,” Thiago answered. “He helped me get you presentable and into the car.”
“Ah.” Then Thiago would have brought him up to the apartment himself. They’d done that particular dance many times before, after all. “Thank you.”
Thiago ignored his words of gratitude. “Why do you do it, Faro?” His voice dropped an octave and Syren braced for the familiar words. Thiago didn’t disappoint. “Be with me. I’ll protect you from him.”
The same old refrain never failed to bring a genuine smile to Syren’s face. Protect him. Thiago thought he needed protecting and was willingly signing up for the job. Too bad he was years too late. Back then Syren had needed protecting from Ricardo Delatorre. Now, not so much.
He used the towels on the bed to wipe the blood off his fingers as he gave Thiago his token response. “I can’t ask you to choose your father over me. I got myself into this mess and I’ll get myself out.”
“It is a mistake, Faro,” Thiago said forcefully. “You underestimate him. He will not be so easily stopped next time.”
Honestly, how had Ricardo ended up with a bleeding heart like Thiago for a son? No wonder the two men never got along.
“It is my mistake to make, Thiago.” Syren kept his voice firm. “Remember that and let’s finish this conversation.”
The length of the ensuing silence made Syren think Thiago had fallen asleep on him until the other man cleared his throat.
“Very well. If that is your wish.”
“It is.” Syren rolled his eyes heavenward. “Is there anything else?”
“Yes,” Thiago spoke grudgingly. “He wanted you to take me with you on your trip to New Orleans tomorrow.”
“Not a problem.”