A bright, perfect day in usual, rainy England, which seems wrong, given the reason we’re here today. My knee-length black dress is sticking against my skin with sweat as I fidget in the pew. My curves are not hidden, even beneath the bland, thick material. I have no tights on, it’s too hot to wear them. I cross my bare, golden legs, lowering my head to ignore those prying eyes watching our every move. Instead, my gaze catches on the scuff on my heel, and I wonder idly if it will come out.
It’s a small, unimportant detail, but it stops me from concentrating on anything else…like the pain inside.
A hand reaches over and rests on my knee, stilling my shaking. I lift my head slowly and meet Blake’s dark, angry eyes. His lips are curved down in frustration and grief. His tattoos are all covered today, apart from the ones on his knuckles. He appears uncomfortable in his suit, but it fits his trim, muscular body perfectly. Any other day, I would have been drooling over him, over all of them.
Liam leans against my other side, so I turn my head and meet his dark gaze. His usually smiling lips are set in a firm line as his big, sad eyes meet mine. His unruly hair is slicked back, and he’s wearing a suit too. The top two buttons of his shirt are undone to expose his tan skin. Next to him is Kingston, his huge body stretching his suit to its limit as he sits awkwardly in the small seat. Emmett and Kathy sit beyond that, their faces tight with grief.
On Blake’s other side is Leo. His head is gleaming in the bright sunshine that’s streaming in through the beautiful stained-glass windows. His smaller, muscular body is not at all hidden by his suit either. All of us are in black, all mourning.
We sit in the front pew, which is usually reserved for family because that’s exactly what we are…we’re his family.
Although we hadn’t known each other for long, he was like a father to me. He welcomed me into his family. He raised these boys, he taught them pride and strength, and he loved them when their own relatives would not. He was the beating heart of our family.
And now he’s dead.
No, don’t think, don’t feel, I tell myself, my eyes catching on the gold cross attached to the podium at the front. There’s a microphone perched on top, and the vicar is already there in his funeral clothes. The old brick under my feet is slanted, and the ancient, small town church has a rustic beauty to it. There are years of memories here, all the weddings, the christenings…the funerals.
And just like that, my pain is back, and try as I might, I can’t distract myself from it.
My heart is shattered in my chest, and each breath stabs those broken pieces deeper until I feel like I’m bleeding. A pain like this doesn’t just leave emotional scars. I should be bleeding… It should have been me. Not him, never him.
But as usual, he protected me.
My stomach rolls as bile rises in my throat. I’d been so sick when I heard. We’d been at home when the call came. I was numb when I answered. I barely remember telling the boys, just my mum hugging me as I sat stiff as a board. I couldn’t believe it, nothing made sense, until it hit me all at once. I sobbed and threw up when the numbness wore off. That was over a week ago now. We had to wait for the police to be done with the body before they released it. They wouldn’t even allow us to see him. They said it was too disturbing.
He was burned to death.
They told me he didn’t even feel it, that he died instantly, but that doesn’t make it any better. He should be here, and it should be me in the plain, dark wood coffin on the pedestal before us. I want to scream, to cry, to rage at the universe. But I have, me and my loves. The boys are trying to hold it together for me and the cameras outside, those fucking pesky paparazzi won’t even give us time to grieve.
We are headline news, plastered over every front page and social media site. Everywhere I turn, some news agency posts about us, or even worse, they display Mark’s face. They do the same with the