FROM WITHIN - CHAPTER 1
My lungs burned as I tried to force the air into my body. In through the nose, down into my chest. The lack of oxygen rambled deep beyond anything I had ever felt before.
The pain, the sharp shooting agony pierced my muscles was enough to leave me comatose. The need for sustenance threatened to take over when all I could think about was getting high. A drug I craved. Whatever the shit may be, I would inject it. Snort it. Smoke it. Calling on it to coat my nightmares, I allowed it the control I knew I didn’t have.
My body bowed off the floor. My back arched as the impending panic attack forced me to submit. To surrender. To give up the control. Become a slave to the nightmare that was my existence. It threatened to ruin me. The chains of my terror consumed me.
As much as I didn’t want to give in, I needed to. To be controlled. Possessed. Owned.
I allowed the warmth of pure submission to wash over my skin, heating my body from the inside out.
Breathing in a deep amount of fresh air, my muscles quaked and trembled, vibrating under my skin. Mumbled words left my dry parched lips. The sounds travelled around me, not making any sense. Gibberish. They reminded me of a man gone insane, haunted by the dreams possessing him.
Ice cold fear shot down the length of my spine, swimming in the recesses of my soul.
From the moment I gave in, I fell victim to the afterthought of true terror of hell itself.
The darkness inside, twisting and turning, swirling like a billowing pile of ash. I couldn’t control it, and a part of me didn’t want to.
Whatever this want, this need that was deep in my soul, it would ruin me in time, taking control from within.
The deep melodic vibrato travelled through me, bouncing off the cartilage of my bones. So smooth and compassionate, but the voice oozed power.
“Xander, come back to me.” A strong hand caressed my jaw. So gentle. Meaningful. Bordering on possessive. The touch eased the racing nerves roaring through my body but I couldn’t fight the urge to fall inside myself.
Caiden. Best friend. My savior in ways I couldn’t repay him. “Caiden,” I whispered.
“Yes. Come back to me, big guy.”
My eyes fluttered open, landing on a pair of the bluest orbs I had ever seen. “Caiden.” Swallowing a couple of times, I winced, my throat burning. Forcing myself to a sitting position, I leaned against the couch, letting my head fall back on the cushion. My muscles jumped, aching and protesting at the movement. I fought against the need to dive into the white powdery substance lining a plate on our coffee table. “How long was I out?” I asked instead, my voice hoarse.
“Not sure.” Caiden sat beside me, resting his thick scarred tattooed arms on his bent knees. Having been caught in a house fire as a child, sixty-five percent of his body was covered in scars. The guy was quiet and refused to talk to anyone about it, except for me.
My best friend and roommate, Caiden Yeo, handed me a bottle of water. “Drink.”
An unexpected tingle shot through my body at the soft but firm demand and I did as I was told. The cool liquid eased my aching throat but my muscles still jumped and twitched with every move I made.
After a couple minutes of silence, Caiden nudged me in the shoulder. “You look like shit.”
I scoffed and took another swig of the refreshing water. “I feel like it too.”
“What happened?” He took the empty bottle from me and placed it on the glass table in front of us. His gaze glanced at the drugs lining the top before he sat back, his brows narrowing.
“Not sure. Woke up this way,” I mumbled, scrubbing a hand down my face. Scratching the two-day old scruff on my jaw, I let out a deep sigh. My skin vibrated, my blood flowing through my veins. I itched for a taste. A hit. A warm body.
I turned towards him. “Am I? And you know this how?”
Caiden stared straight ahead, his face impassive. His scarred lips pressed into a thin line, showing no hint of emotion, at all. “I know you. Better than anyone. You do this shit all the time.”
My back stiffened. “You don’t know shit.”
“I wanted a high.” I waved a hand in front of me. “You knew this about me when you let me live here.”
“It’s bad, man.” His shoulders drooped.
Guilt ate at my gut but I refused to give in. Rising to my feet, I headed into the kitchen. My muscles and bones protested with each step but I forced myself to walk it off. “Whatever.”
“Xander,” Caiden barked, coming up behind me.
“What, Caid?” I snapped. “What do you want me to say?”
The corners of his lips tugged, his sapphire eyes softening. Brushing a hand through his short black hair, he waited, keeping his gaze locked with mine. “Tell me you miss her.”
My jaw clenched, tightening to the point of painful. It was so strong, it shot a sharp sting down the back of my neck.
“Tell me,” he demanded.
“Fuck. You,” I said through clenched teeth.
Caiden closed the distance between us and placed his large hands on my shoulders. His calloused fingers slipped to my nape, the pad of his thumb rubbing back and forth over my pulse point.
My heart picked up speed when he leaned into me, his mouth mere inches from mine. Although my brain screamed for me to push him away, my body and my heart told me I needed this. This power. This ultimate domination.
The scent of mint and musky aftershave wafted into my nostrils. From this close proximity, I could see the swirls of violet in the depths of his eyes. And then I saw it. A reflection of myself. Pain. So much pain.
Caiden glanced at my mouth before meeting my gaze. His lips tugged at the corners, the light pink scars reaching from his jaw to his left ear.
“Caiden,” I whispered.
“Whatever happens, will be because you want it. Because you need it. I won’t push you into doing anything you don’t feel comfortable doing. Everything will be consensual. If you want to stop, tell me.” He released me and left the kitchen, leaving me alone and confused as hell.
I frowned at the cold shiver travelling down my spine over his hands no longer being on me. He was my best friend. My brother.
My gut twisted.
Caiden had always been a ladies’ man but I knew he also had a thing for men. He had told me once that gender didn’t matter, the heart is what drew him in. I accepted his reasoning. Although I preferred females, I didn’t judge.
This little moment that passed between us was nothing. He saved me once again from losing myself. Nothing more. Nothing less.
I let out a deep sigh and grabbed a beer before making my way onto the balcony of our two-bedroom apartment. The clouds in the late afternoon sky darkened, opening up. The rain fell in sheets to the ground, the cool drops hitting my face. It soaked my clothes until they clung to my body.
Tilting my head back, I looked up at the sky, letting the cold water run over me. The tiny droplets hit my skin like shards of ice. Goosebumps spread on my skin, mixing with a twinge of pain the sky assaulted me with.
Panic attacks were the norm in my part of the world. I should be accustomed to them with how many I had experienced. But I wasn’t. Your soul gets ripped apart, tearing free from the torment of your mind.
Although the drops of rain bit into my skin, my body was on fire. Tight with a need for release.
It had been so long since I felt the warmth of a woman’s body. Yeah, I fucked. But those loose holes were nothing compared to her. Hope Charming. Childhood best friend. High school sweetheart. The fucking love of my life. And then her parents decided to move her across the damn country. Now, here we were, ten years later and I fucked through anything and everything, trying to fill a void. A piece of me she took with her. I drank, snorted, injected shit into my body in hopes to erase the memories of her. Her touch. Her smell. The supple swell of her breasts while they rose and fell. Her full lips parting with each bated breath, riding out the pleasure I gave her.
My dick lengthened, pitching a tent in my sweats. Fuck, I missed her. So damn much but I would never admit that to her or Caiden. Or anyone else.
A light knock sounded on the patio door, jarring me from my moment of self-pity.
Gripping the railing of the balcony, I squeezed until my knuckles turned white. And I waited.
“Xander?” came a female voice.
“What do you want, Embree?” I ground out through clenched teeth. Embree Young had been a welcomed distraction back in the day but now I couldn’t get rid of her and every time she wanted something, she was over. What could I say? I was damn near irresistible. I bit back a scoff.
I gasped, feigning shock and clutched my chest. “No. Is it?”
She smacked me across the shoulder. “Don’t be a dick.”
The rain lessened, turning into soft drops. The cool air travelled over my skin, igniting a layer of goosebumps to spread on my body.
“The rain smells nice,” I blurted.
“It’s water. It doesn’t smell like anything.”
I frowned. “Yes it does. It smells light. Uplifting.”
“You’re acting strange.” Embree shivered beside me and wrapped her fingers around my forearm.
I inhaled, scenting the air. I didn’t care what Embree thought. The rain did smell. Fresh. Crisp. Inviting. I knew of one person who would acknowledge that fact. Thank you, Caiden, for forcing memories of her into my mind. “Did Caiden call you?”
“Yeah. He did.”
“Did he say why?” I stepped out of her grip and headed back into the apartment.
“No. I’m assuming it’s so we can fuck.”
My back stiffened at the candid use of the curse word. Why I cared what came out of her mouth was beyond me. Hope would never swear as much. Such a good girl. God, no wonder her parents took her from me. I would have done the same shit.
A classy woman swore in the bedroom or if she was pissed off. Embree swore more than I did, the words pouring out of her gloss-injected lips. For some reason and I couldn’t figure out why, it sickened me.
“I’m not in the mood,” I grumbled, slumping down on the couch. Grabbing my pack of smokes, I tapped it against the palm of my hand.
“Come on, handsome. I need you and I know you need me. Let me make you feel better.” She knelt between my legs and brushed her hands up my thighs. “Please. I can make you feel good.”
My body reacted first when her fingers reached the bulge in my pants. Her hand squeezed me, wrapping around the fabric covering my length. Hardening under her touch, I couldn’t control the urge to push her face first onto the drug infested coffee table and fuck the shit out of her well used body.
A grin spread on her face, her thumb brushing over my tip. “Please.”
I grabbed her hand, tightening my hold until I felt the bones rub together under her soft skin.
She let out a whimper, trying to tug her wrist free from my grasp but my hold only hardened. “Xander.”
“I said, no.” I pushed her back and lit up my smoke, ignoring her pout and her braless nipples poking through her hot pink t-shirt. She was the reason for a fix. For an hour of pleasure. She was so loose, I would need to grow a couple inches around for me to get any friction from it.
“You’ve never turned me down before. What gives? Are you fucking someone else? You have a girlfriend? Tell me.”
I laughed at the incessant badgering. Yeah, like someone would want to date me. Inhaling the sweet familiar smoke I had become addicted to over the years, I leaned back against the couch, adjusting my pants.
“You’re hard. Why don’t you—”
“Because I’m not feeling it tonight. I don’t need to explain myself to you, Embree,” I growled. It was all the explanation she was going to get. Embree was the same as the crack I smoked. I hated it. Hated what it did to my body. But I couldn’t control the urge to pick up the pipe again and again. I chuckled to myself. What would Hope think of me now? Little Xander Brant growing up to become a junkie. My gut clenched, guilt swimming through the recesses of my soul, eating me from within.
“Shit, Embree,” I snapped. “I don’t want you. I’m done. Get that through your fucking head.”
“Fuck you, Xander.” She pushed to her feet. “I hope you choke.”
I chuckled harder, taking another drag. The burning amber glowed in the dim lighting. A shiver ran down my spine reminding me I was still in my soaked clothes. Shit. I was losing my ever loving mind.
“What’s going on?” Caiden demanded, coming down the hall.
“You called me but he turned me down.”
Embree’s whine irritated the fuck out of me. It was like nails on a chalkboard mixed with the sounds of a dying cat.
“Xander,” Caiden said, his voice firm.
That same unexpected flutter travelled through me at the deep tone but I of course, ignored it.
Butting out my smoke, I headed to my bedroom. “She’s all yours, my man. Have at it.”
Embree huffed, blowing a bleach blond curl out of her eyes and placed her hands on her hips. “I’m not a toy to be tossed around.”
“You’re a whore. You want to be treated like a lady, start acting like one.” I pushed past them, insults flying at my head from Embree. Again. So fucking classy.
“Chill the fuck out, Em,” Caiden barked and walked up to me. He placed a hand on my shoulder. “Xander, what the hell, man?”
I shrugged. “Not interested in it tonight.”
Caiden’s dark blue eyes searched my face. “You good?”
I brushed a hand over my head a couple of times before responding. “Yeah. I’m good.”
“You sure?” he questioned, his brows narrowing in the center.
“Yup. Perfect. Everything is fine in the world of Xander Brant,” I rambled.
I frowned at the nickname he had given me years ago. “You haven’t called me that since we were kids,” I pointed out.
His eyes twinkled, his scarred lips turning up at the corners. “Anything you need, I am here. You know that, right?”
“Yes,” I mumbled. “I know. Go have fun before that shit gets old.”
Caiden popped the collar of his black dress shirt and winked at me. “Embree, get your ass over here.”
She huffed. “Listen, asshole. I am not—”
“If you want to get fucked, you will shut up and do as you’re told.” Caiden headed into his bedroom before turning back to me.
Embree glared, walking past me and lifted her chin in a defiant way.
Caiden glanced at me one more time before closing the door. His eyes had softened, no doubt apologizing for fucking Embree. I didn’t care what he did. As long as he protected himself. Who knew where she had been hours before.
She slid through both of us like liquid cocaine, burning down our throats before settling into the pits of our stomachs. Embree was a fix I couldn’t kick until a moment ago. That thought threw me off.
My body trembled, my world tilting on its axis. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know how to fix it, whatever it was, but I knew I wanted…something. Anything. I found myself having a new addiction. Hope Charming. The thought of her had me on my knees, ready and willing for her to give me what I knew she could. What she wanted.
Ignoring the sounds of muffled whimpers and moans, I grabbed my running shoes. Sticking the ear buds of my phone in my ears, I stretched my arms above my head. My body cracked, shooting a sharp pain up the length of my spine. Fuck, that felt good. Not as mind blowing as sex but it was something. I would use Embree later, when I became desperate. Caiden would make sure of it. She was like a disease and I wouldn’t be cured of her until I found that one.
Shit. No way. Hope was nowhere to be found. Not in my little world anyways.
Heading down the stairs of our three-story walk-up, I pounded my feet into the ground. The fast bass of the heavy metal seared its way into my soul. The boom of the deep music kept in time with the thump of my heart, as if they were in sync. The music flowed through me, connecting with every fiber of my being.
Stumbling over my feet, I caught myself before falling face first onto the sidewalk. “Shit,” I mumbled.
I caught my bearings and took a deep breath. Even thoughts of Hope would put me on my ass.
Placing my hands on my burning thighs, I wiped my sweaty palms on my pants before rising back to my full height.
The city was quiet in the mid-afternoon. A crack of thunder erupted in the distance, sending a shiver over my body.
The moment I hit a block into my run, I rounded a corner and was hit full force with a scent. It was so strong, merely an inch in front of my face. My head whipped around, my eyes dancing back and forth. No one out of the ordinary stood out before me. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched. The back of my neck tingled, the hairs standing on end. An ice cold sheen of sweat covered my skin and that was when I recognized the smell. Peaches and cream.