The Beast Within

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“I know you feel grateful to him, but you can’t build a marriage on gratitude.  He can’t possible want that.  Won’t want that if you’re honest with him.”

The little food she’d eaten burned in her stomach.  “I care about him.”

“And you’re dreaming about being eaten by wolves on your wedding night.  Look, if you can’t call it off altogether, just postpone it.  Indefinitely.  Tell him you’re not ready.  Just go on dating or whatever and give yourself time to figure it out.”

“Do you think he’ll be okay with that?”  Liv asked, grasping on to hope.  That seemed possible.  Workable.  It would buy her a reprieve.

But not from sex.

She should want to have sex.  It had been six months since she had, and her body should be eager, primed, on fire, yet she chilled out and dried up every time she contemplated it.

“I honestly don’t know.  Scarborough doesn’t exactly seem like a patient kind of guy to me.  He’s… brisk.”  Mary Fran made a face, her hand checking the back of her gold hoop earring.  “But it’s worth a shot when the alternative is a marriage you don’t want.”

Liv wanted to protest, but she couldn’t even dredge up a convincing enough voice, so she let her silence speak for her. 

Then Mary Fran spoke the words she couldn’t stand to hear.  “Just because you don’t have family doesn’t mean you’re alone.  Remember that.  You have friends who love you.  You’re not alone.”

Yes, she was.  She knew Mary Fran meant well, and she knew her friends cared about her.  But it wasn’t the same.  Since that horrible night twenty years ago when her parents had been murdered, she was alone.  Some of her teachers growing up, one couple out of the many foster parents, and a few close friends had all cared about her, but she didn’t have family.  Someone who was biologically or legally tied to her.

Orphan was a word she’d hated growing up and Sebastian and Scarborough understood that, owning the lonely label themselves.

“Are you sleeping with him yet?  How is that going?”

Looking uneasily around the crowded room, Liv pulled her dove gray crew sweater closer around her.  “No, we haven’t.”

“Why does he even want to marry you?”

The words were like a slap.  “Probably guilt because his brother not only wouldn’t commit to me he stole what little money I had and left without a word.  I mean, why else would anyone marry me?  I don’t bring a lot to the table, dead broke and emotionally stunted.  It’s pity, that’s why he proposed. Hello.”  Saying it out loud was liking taking a bullet, even as she hid behind sarcasm, but it was the truth.  It wasn’t like Scarborough was marrying her for true love either.

God, what a mess. 

Mary Fran’s voice softened.  “That’s not what I meant.  Of course you bring a lot to the table.  You’re generous and smart and compassionate, and you’re beautiful.  Any man would be lucky to have you.  But with everything that’s happened, I don’t understand the push for marriage… if Scar has feelings for you it would make more sense for the two of you to explore that slowly.”

“I think we both want security.”

For that reason, maybe more than any other, Liv would marry him.

He was giving her a home, a family, the possibility of children, a life she craved to the very marrow of her bones, and had since she was eight years old and had lost her parents in one swift brutal act of violence.

Scarborough was loyal and stable and motivated.

And he was the one man alive she trusted to keep her safe during her frightening all night black-outs.