“I was created in an act of violence. I just survived an act of violence. I just committed an act of violence against someone else.”
Recent high school graduate, Crimson Sage lived the all-American suburban life in Virginia—until her perfect world is shattered. Now Crimson and her little brother Ethan are forced to leave the only home they’ve ever known to move across the country with a grandfather they’ve never met. Anger, fear, and depression become her constant companion as Crimson tries to deal with not only the death of her parents, but the truths she learns about herself—that the man she’d always believed to be her father, wasn’t, and that she’d been conceived in an unsolved rape. Crimson would have continued her downward spiral if not for the intervention from Josiah, her grandfather’s foreman. Josiah forces Crimson to face the fact that she is still alive and has a life left to live.
As Crimson rediscovers who she is and what she’s truly made of, she finds strength, love, and acceptance in the arms of Josiah. And she’ll need all of it, because in addition to facing the ugly truths about her past, Crimson must also face some new challenges—one that wants to destroy her budding relationship with Josiah; and another that wants to destroy Crimson herself.
I knew I was the one who began this conversation — I’d spilled my guts, shared my awful past with him — but I no longer wanted to talk about Billy or my past. I looked away briefly and then right back at him. Josiah’s eyes were on me — those piercing blue eyes. I abruptly changed the subject, needing to be on firmer ground, “What are your tattoos anyway?”
Josiah grinned, his gaze intently fixed on me, then asked, “Are you trying to get me to take my shirt off?”
I blushed and stammered, “No! I… I just wondered is all. Keep your clothes on.”
Josiah chuckled darkly and then was quiet. He was on his feet in an instant, his tall frame dwarfing mine. He lifted his arms above his head and in one smooth motion, peeled his shirt off. I stared at him in fascination. He was more beautiful, more rugged, more untamed than I’d imagined. My eyes roved slowly over him, his chest, his arms, his shoulders. He was fairly muscled — not body-builder hard, where everything looked direct and intentional, proportionate. He was an artful display of a working-man’s roughened and toughened body. Cut. Chiseled. Rugged. Beautiful. A sprinkling of dark red hair curled across his chest.
On each pectoral plane, right above the nipple, a sun was tattooed in shades of black and yellow. The center of each sun had some sort of design in it — I couldn’t tell what it was until I got to my feet.
Josiah stood still. He didn’t move, even as my fingertips lightly grazed over his skin. My stomach tightened as I realized the center of each sun was a scar. My gaze flickered up to his in question.
“Courtesy of my mother, for my fifth birthday. I’d asked for a cake. She burned me instead.”
I swallowed back nausea, my throat tight. I steadied my breath and looked at his arms, his neck. Josiah turned around. Wings. Wings were tattooed across his back and shoulders. The tattoo began just to the outside of his spine; the leathery wings were extremely detailed in shades of black and gray and blue. The wings had hooks. Claws? I’m not sure what they’re called, but those claws curled up the back of his neck and around to just under his ears. At the points just over his shoulder blades were two more burn marks; these were bigger, more defined. The tattoo artist had done an amazing job incorporating the scars into his work. Gently I grazed one fingertip along the wings, up his neck then down to the scars.
Josiah glanced over his shoulder at me; his eyes sparking with some inner turmoil, some heat. “Those were from Dad. He wanted to get me something, too.”
“That’s sick,” I whispered past the lump in my throat. How could anyone do that to his own child?
“Billy helped me get the ink done when I turned eighteen, to mark myself over their ugliness, with something of my own choosing.”
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. Why do people always say they’re sorry, even when they’ve done nothing wrong?
“I told you, it’s gotta be nice to know you’re wanted. I was born to both my parents — who never cared a crap about me. The state had to take me away from them. A stranger took me in. You were born to a mom who loved you and wanted you. Circumstances took that away from you. I learned to live, to survive. You will, too.”
“It’s hard,” I said, my eyes drifting over the muscles under that ink.
Josiah turned to face me. Now my eyes were staring at his chest. “I know,” he said. “Giving up is easier. But giving up is for cowards. You’re not a coward. You’re a fighter — you just never knew it before.”
Though I already knew the answer, I asked the question anyway, “Are you a fighter?”
“I learned to be.”
“Will you teach me?”
“You’re welcome.” His voice was soft, almost gentle, but with a piercing quality to it, reaching deep inside me, bringing me to the brink.
I felt like I was on a cliff, on the edge of a precipice, like a huge abyss opened before me and right now I couldn’t even see the bottom. His voice pushed me closer to that edge, pressing me on. I wanted to take that step, to listen to the urging and trust him, but I had to know something first. “Why?” I whispered. “Why are you helping me? Why did you wake me up and make me choose?”
Josiah stared at me for one long moment, his blue eyes gazing into mine. They flickered down to my mouth before returning to my eyes. “Because you needed to know you were still alive. Because I saw something I recognized in you.” He paused then said, “Because if you didn’t wake up, I’d never be able to do this.”
Josiah stepped closer to me, our bodies a whisper apart; my eyes focused on the suns on his chest. He raised his hands to my shoulders, trailed them up my neck, to my jaw, my mouth. He grasped my chin and lowered his head to mine. His lips were firm, gentle, hot, and a little dry — they possessed mine effortlessly. His hands moved around to the back of my head, wove themselves through my hair, gripping me, holding me.
Whoa. I was definitely alive. In this moment I was glad I was alive. My world, my awareness, my focus narrowed to him — his mouth on mine. The feel, the taste, the texture of him. I kissed him back, let my hands travel over his shoulders and feel his strength. Josiah gave that strength to me; he enveloped me in it, surrounded me with it. I completely trusted him.
“I’m a reader, a writer, a woman in love with her man.”
A child of divorce and abuse, E. L. Irwin found escape in reading and writing, and through the school of hard-knocks, learned to be a fighter. She’s a self-described romantic-rebel who wears her heart on her sleeve and tends to shoot from the hip on subjects that matter. She enjoys riding horses, wearing heels, shooting her X D.40, tattoos, and of course, a good book and hot coffee.