Beat of the Heart

Page 47

"I think they're kinda as pig headed as Hispanic men, right?"

"You could say that," she replied. She stooped down to gather up a few pebbles along the bank. "Regardless of those two factors, there has to be some reason I completely lost my mind for eighteen months, right?"

I shrugged. "I don't think you need to blame yourself. Shit happens."

"I wish it was as easy as that." Mia chucked one of the pebbles into the stream, sending ripples along the surface. "His name is Jason. He was the second real boyfriend I ever had-the first guy I really loved….or thought I did. At first, I thought him being possessive was sweet, even sexy. He called me constantly during the day to see what I was doing, he referred to me as his, and he wanted to spend every waking minute with me."

Mia threw another rock into the creek, casting greater waves across the water. "But then as the months went by and we got even more serious, things changed. At first, the abuse was just emotional. All the bullshit I have about my body-that all came from him. He was able to make me feel that because of my thicker body, I was totally undesirable to any other man and that I was lucky he stayed with me at all." Mia shook her head. "But then when guys would give me attention, I was too fucking stupid to realize it or that I could have someone else-someone better. Then the guys' attention would piss Jason off. If one dared so much as looked in my direction, he would freak out and threaten to kick his ass. Then he'd accuse me of flirting or dressing like a slut. Whenever I argued with him or tried to defend myself, that's when he got violent."

As she bent over to pick up a few more pebbles, I swallowed hard, my fists clenching at my side. My heartbeat drummed in my ears at the thought of any man laying a hand on Mia. I shifted uncomfortably back and forth on my feet, desperately wanting an outlet for the rising anger I felt thrumming in my blood. "What kinda shit did he pull?" I asked in a hoarse voice.

A sigh wheezed from her chest. "At first, he would cuff the back of my head hard or shove me into walls or furniture. After a few months when I still didn't break to his commands, he resorted to backhanding me."

The world tilted and spun around me at the image that formed in my head. At the same time, I fought to catch my breath as her words had the same effect as if someone were wrenching my beating heart from my chest. "Motherfucker," I hissed.

Mia threw her head back and met my gaze. "I never, ever dreamed I'd become one of those women-the cowering beaten and bruised creatures I'd see on TV or in movies. And it goes without saying with Italian tempers, there were a few in my extended family who were always so damn klutzy by running into walls or falling down the stairs." Gritting her teeth, Mia threw the next stone so hard it hit the rocks across the bank. "But that became me."

"What did Duke say?"

"He didn't know," she murmured softly.

"But how?"

"The more violent Jason became, the more I started to retreat from my family. I was finishing up nursing school then, busy with my clinicals, so it was easy to lie." With her hands empty of stones, Mia crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself . "But then it all fell apart around the time my cousin, Nicki, was getting married. She was like a sister to me, and as the maid of honor, I was spending a lot of time with her, which pissed Jason off. I wasn't supposed to be with anyone but him. One day we were out shopping together for wedding stuff before I had to go into work. Jason kept calling me constantly, and I could tell it was pissing Nicki off. She's the kind of girl who would answer my phone and tell Jason to go fuck himself."

"Sounds like my kind of girl."

Mia gave me a small smile. "Finally, I just turned my phone off. I was working nights, so I had to go by the house to change for my shift. Jason was waiting for me when I got home." Mia shivered violently, and I fought the urge to wrap my arms around her. "In the foyer, we had this giant, round mirror. I'd barely gotten through the front door when he came at me. I'd never seen him so enraged. Of course, he reeked of alcohol, so I don't know why I was so surprised. The next thing I knew he had grabbed the nape of my neck and shoved me with all his might into the mirror." Mia turned to me and pulled back some of her hair on the right side of her face. I'd never noticed it before, but in her hairline, there was a faint scar running from her temple, down to her ear. "My head crashed against the mirror so hard, it cracked the glass. Jason kept ramming me into it until shards fell to the floor." As she relived the horrific memories, her chest began to rise and fall with her heaving breaths.

Tentatively, I reached out to touch her shoulder. "You don't have to do this."

"No, I need to-not just for me, but for you. When it's all said and done, you need to know everything-to understand why I am the way I am with men." Tears pooled in her eyes. "More than anything, I trust you enough to be honest with you, AJ."

My heart ached for her. "I'm here, amorcito mio."

She drew in a ragged breath. "Do you remember that night when you asked me about the tattoo?"

I bobbed my head.

"You asked if I'd gotten it to cover the scars left by an accident. Well, that's partly true."

"What do you mean?"

Mia closed her eyes, letting tears trickle down her cheeks. "After the mirror shattered, Jason picked up one of the broken shards. He first brought it to my neck-told me if I ever didn't call him again, he would kill me. Then he said he wanted to leave me something physical to remind me of my mistake. It was summer, and I was wearing a tank top with spaghetti straps, which he said made me look like a whore." Opening her eyes, Mia stared out at the water. "He said he was going to cut me for every time he called me, and I ignored him." She glanced over at me. "That's where the five lines came from."

Rage burned through me, causing me to shudder from head to toe. My fists clenched involuntarily. "Give me his name. That's all I need. Not an address or a phone number. Just his name," I demanded.

"AJ," Mia protested.

"I mean it. I don't think I can rest until I track down that low-life piece of shit and take a piece out of his worthless hide for every time he hurt you."

"You don't need to do that."

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