Welcome, and join us as we count down the final 10 days before Beyond Ruin by revisiting some of our favorite Mad, Dylan, Scarlet & Jade moments from the past six books! We’ll be posting an image each day on social media, but here on the blog we’ll be doing a longer excerpt and maybe even a few notes about the scene. 🙂 And today is…
Mad & Rachel Talk About Being Broken
Oh, Mad. I believe this was his first POV section, and of course it’s taking care of someone. Because that’s Mad, from start to finish–he just wants to take care of people. From the beginning of writing him I knew he was going to be a little different from some of the other heroes. Sure, he can throw down with the best of them. He can fight, he can kick ass, and he won’t hesitate to kill someone who has it coming. But Mad’s a protector. As hard as he’s tried to run from some of the uglier sides of his family’s political and religious legacy, he’s never hesitated to embrace the good parts–loving hard, fighting for what’s right, and protecting the people who need it. All of the people.
The end of this scene was always meant as a little bit of a hint, too... another person? Maybe not. But people…
Yeah, we knew where this book was headed a long time ago.
* * *
Rachel had slid into Sector Four so smoothly it was like she’d always been an O’Kane, but Mad could have watched her for thirty seconds and known she wasn’t sector-born.
She didn’t know how to hide her pain. Everyone who grew up in the sectors learned to sooner or later—it was your only defense against bullies, not to mention the cruelty of a world that favored strength over compassion. Not everyone grew up to be a good actor, but you stood a better chance of growing up at all if you refused to let anyone see when you were hurting.
Rachel sucked at hiding. As he approached, he watched her slam more dirty glasses on the counter, her movements so rough she snagged a fingernail under the edge of the plastic tray and snapped it off.
“Perfect,” she muttered in a defeated voice that pinched at his heart.
Blood pearled on her fingertip. Mad reached for her wrist, ignoring her start of surprise as he lifted her hand to examine the damage. Not too bad, but it had to sting like a bitch. “Bad day, darling?”
Her hand twitched, as if she’d barely stopped herself from jerking away. “I broke a nail, that’s all.”
Liar. Calling her on it wouldn’t help, so he rubbed his thumb over her palm and tilted his head toward the remains of the party. “You don’t have to clean this all up tonight, you know. Plenty of people’ll be around to help you tomorrow, if you want.”
“It’s got to be done.” The words were brittle. Pained. “May as well get it over with.”
Alone. It seethed under the words, and Mad would have had to be blind and stupid not to know why. With Jasper stepping up into a leadership role, Ace had been left without a partner. Cruz was the perfect replacement, a steady straight man to play off Ace’s lazily deceptive charm.
It had proven a killer combination in the past, and everyone had expected them to put aside their shit and get the job done. No one had expected them to hit it off—least of all the woman they’d been fighting over.
He gave her hand a final squeeze before releasing it to see to the tray. “Well, if you’re determined to do it now, you’ll have to put up with me helping. Besides, I don’t get to see much of you these days. Dallas has kept me busy.”
She joined him in unloading the tray. “Maybe we can rustle up another regular poker game. Think Jas wants to teach Noelle how to play?”
From what he’d seen of Noelle and Jas lately, any poker game with the two of them would involve betting clothing and eventually sexual favors. Fun as hell, but Rachel was still holding on to too much of that sweet Eden innocence that Noelle had been throwing away with both hands.
“Better off asking Flash and Amira,” he suggested instead. “She’s going crazy, waiting for that baby to join us. Or maybe Flash is the one driving her there.”
Rachel blew her bangs out of her face and sighed. “He’s worried about her, that’s all. Just scared.”
“I know. Hell, we’re all a little worried. Babies aren’t much of a thing out here.”
“Yeah.” Rachel picked up a dishcloth and twisted it between her fingers.
He watched her wrench it into knots, her grip white-knuckled, before closing his hand over hers. “What’s weighing so heavy on you, honey?”
She didn’t answer at first. Emotion played across her face—anger, hurt, bewilderment—and she whispered, “There’s nothing more important than the brotherhood, is there?”
Ace and Cruz, then. It must seem like that from the outside, like they’d fallen together and left her behind, and the guys would close ranks behind them. Which was true.
To a point.
Cruz was new, but Ace had been around long enough to know what would happen if the O’Kane women decided he’d done Rachel wrong. “You’re forgetting sisterhood.”
“Touché.” She swallowed hard and looked up at him, her gaze bordering on pleading. “What would you do?”
There was no answer he could give that would fix things, and that hurt most of all. “I always do the same thing. Love everyone who crosses my path. Love ’em as much as I can, for as long as they need.” He brushed his thumb over her cheek and tucked a lock of hair back from her face. “You’re not me, honey.”
She leaned in to his touch. “I could be. Is it easier?”
“It’s the easiest thing in the world.” He curled an arm around her and tugged her against his side, a little comfort to soften the truth to come. “But it won’t heal what’s hurting you.”
Rachel poked him. “It’s not so bad. I’m not brooding, or anything. Much,” she added ruefully.
He poked back, throwing in a tickle to make her smile. “Nah, you’re just smashing around and ripping your fingernails off.”
“What do I care, anyway?” Rachel hid her face against his shoulder, belying the defiance of her words. “I’m free. I can do whatever the hell I want.”
“Sure you can. Lord knows it’s a pleasure I’ve enjoyed to its fullest.” He rubbed her back, sliding his fingers along her spine in long, soothing strokes. “You’ve never done that, have you?”
“What? Thrown myself into affairs?”
“Is that what you want?”
“Maybe.” She tilted her head back and met his gaze. “I’m tired of doing things my way. It’s not working.”
The moment was so delicate, and the familiar temptation rose. Rachel was sweet-natured with a delicious edge of sass, and he was as fond of her as he was of all the O’Kane girls. There was an invitation in her eyes, whether she knew it or not, one it would be no hardship to accept.
He knew how to play a good hero. Sweep in and rock her world, and it wouldn’t have to be anything more than the same easy pleasure he’d shared with Trix already that night. Two friends getting each other off.
But she was right. Brotherhood mattered, and Ace was still in love with her.
Smiling, he rubbed his thumb along her jaw. “You’re dancing. That’s new. Have you got anything else you’ve always wanted to try?”
She blinked, the moment dissipating like smoke. “I haven’t decided yet.”
Mad laughed—and put some space between them, just in case. “Well, there’s your first step. Put that big brain to work on figuring it out.”
“Right.” Glass clinked as she lifted another tray and then put it down again. “Did I do something wrong? Did I hurt him somehow? I don’t—” She dug her teeth into her lower lip with a wince. “No, forget it.”
He couldn’t leave that unanswered, brotherhood or no, so he caught her chin. “People always think the broody bastards like Bren are the broken ones, but being tough is how you survive in the sectors. It’s the easygoing ones you have to watch out for, because they’re the ones so scarred up on the inside that they can’t feel, or they’re so far past broken they just don’t care.”
Rachel exhaled on a shaky sigh and reached for him. “Mad…”
He’d revealed too much. He’d only meant to reassure her, but now she was giving him that look, the one he was so desperate to avoid that he’d sworn Dallas and his cousin and every damn person who knew his history to secrecy.
“Uh-uh,” he said lightly, intercepting her hands. “You’ve already got one busted old sector bastard on your plate. Don’t get greedy, love. I’m someone else’s project.”
“It’s not funny.”
It was for him. It had to be. “I know, but laughing at inappropriate things is what I do.”
She relented with a soft smile that quickly turned wicked. “Is that why Trix kicked you out of her bed early?”
“Who says I ever got there?” Relieved that they’d skirted dangerous territory, he threw her a rakish wink before turning to gather up stray liquor bottles. “You’re not the only one who likes to put on a show.”
She laughed, and Mad relaxed, safe in the knowledge that maybe he’d helped a little, and he’d only lied once.
Ace might still have a chance, but Mad had promised himself long ago not to let any woman make him her project. Some scars were too deep for another person to heal, no matter how much they loved you.
He was an O’Kane. That was enough.
* * *
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