Title: Beauty in the Ashes
Series: Beautifully Broken #1
Author: Micalea Smeltzer
Release Date: July 15, 2014
Standalone Dark Contemporary Romance
Some stories are a fairytale...but this isn't one.
Caelan Gregory’s life fell apart the night he went home and opened the door to find his whole family murdered. Since then, his life has held no meaning. He’s angry. He’s bitter. He’s barely human anymore. There’s nothing left to remind him of the straight A student, and football quarterback he once was…but he wasn’t a good person then, and he’s certainly not a good person now. He’s retreated into a world where all that exists is numbness and his passion for painting.
When Sutton Hale moves into the apartment across the hall from Caelan she’s not prepared for her reaction to him. Something in his broken blue eyes calls to her—after all she’s always had an irrational need to fix everything.
But Caelan doesn’t do relationships or feelings. He does drugs and alcohol. However, he can’t ignore his desire to get to know the raven-haired woman across the hall.
Two broken souls trying to mend one another.
But not everything can be fixed.
In the end, Caelan and Sutton will have to learn that there is beauty in the ashes.
Unedited and subject to change
I typed his name into the search engine, hoping I spelled it right, and waited for it to load.
Almost immediately a news article popped up.
I didn’t bother reading the tagline. I just clicked on it. It was an article about some high school, local to where we were now, and the football team. Skimming the article, I came across Caelan’s name highlighted. Apparently he was the quarterback. I didn’t know what the heck a quarterback did. I was not a sports person. Scrolling further down, I found a picture of the team. In the front, kneeling on the ground with his helmet in his hand was Caelan. His hair was even lighter than it was now. He was smiling widely. A huge, genuine, happy smile. There was a cockiness in the way he held himself. He was more muscular in this picture and a little heavier. Even in the picture, his eyes were piercing.
I pressed the back button, searching for anything else.
I stopped, an icy shiver making the hairs on my back stand on end when I read the headline.
Gregory Family Murders—One Survivor.
Swallowing down the sudden lump in my throat, I clicked on it.
I was immediately assaulted with a picture of a family—Caelan’s family.
They looked so happy. The guy in the picture, a teenage Caelan, looked nothing like the man I knew. His smile was genuine and he had his arm wrapped around a girl that had to be his sister they looked so much alike. With a gasp, I realized she was the girl in many of his paintings.
I forced my eyes away from him and his sister to look at his parents. They looked kind and so in love. His mother looked like she could have been a movie star with blonde hair that matched her children’s. Caelan had the exact shade of blue eyes that she had. His father had light brown hair and a proud narrow nose that he’d given his son, along with the same jaw and small dimple in their chin.
I couldn’t help but look back at his sister. Her golden hair was long, falling over her shoulders. She was smiling widely and her blue eyes were wide, sparkling with happiness and excitement.
It killed me looking at Caelan’s image and noting the differences in the man I knew now.
His eyes were cloudy looking and he certainly didn’t smile like that—so carefree and content. His hair hung limply in his eyes now, not styled back like in the picture. Even his skin tone was different now. While in the picture he glowed with a tan like he’d recently been to the beach, he was now so pale that he resembled a vampire…he kind of acted like one too.
The guy I saw in the staring back at me from the computer screen didn’t seem anything like the one I knew now.
While old Caelan glowed with warmth and light, new Caelan was dull and gloomy.
Scrolling past the picture, I began to read the article, and was quickly overcome with horror.
Eighteen-year-old Caelan Gregory walked in to what first appeared to be a home invasion only to discover his family murdered. Despite the fact that he was found covered in blood, he is unharmed and has been removed from the suspect list. Marcia, Paul, and Cayla Gregory all sustained multiple stab wounds.
I paused in my reading, stunned to have stumbled across the name I had been searching for.
The vibrant, joyful, smiling girl in the photograph had had her life cut tragically short in such a gruesome way. No wonder he cried her name in his sleep and painted her picture repeatedly.
Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to continue reading.
Police are not releasing further details at this time while the perpetrator is still at large. If you have any information concerning the Gregory murders, please contact the police immediately.
At the bottom of the page there was an asterisk and I squinted to read the small font.
*At this time the Gregory murders still remain unsolved
It was dated only six months ago.
I pushed away from my computer and went running for the bathroom. I collapsed to my knees, heaving over the toilet bowl. Nothing came up though.
No wonder Caelan acted the way he did. I knew there had to be a reason, but this was beyond anything I had believed. This was…there were no words.
I couldn’t imagine losing your family in such a grisly way.
I mean, I had lost my real family in a fire, but I’d been a baby. I hadn’t known them. To come home and find your family like that…it had to haunt him. How could it not?
I suddenly, desperately, needed air.
I headed for the door that led to the roof, not wanting to stand on the street and have to face anyone. I couldn’t handle it right now. I needed to be alone to breathe in the fresh air and gather my thoughts.
When I stepped onto the roof I stopped in my tracks.
“Not now,” I muttered, recognized Caelan’s familiar shape.
The door slammed closed behind me so it was too late to turn tail and run.
His head turned in my direction as I took a few more steps closer.
A gasp escaped me as my eyes zoned in on him.
“What are you doing?” I asked him fearfully as I watched him walk the side of the roof like a balance beam.
“Testing death,” he answered simply, “daring it to take me…to sweep me away.” He purposely leaned further over the side where he could fall to the street below.
“Don’t do that!” I cried, running towards him. I reached out to stop him, to do something.
He looked down at me and stopped moving, but he still stood on the ledge.
“Don’t worry, I won’t jump. I never do,” he laughed humorlessly. His eyes were vibrant and there was no slur to his words. For once, he wasn’t drunk or high on Lord knows what. “Staying alive is the punishment. Death is the reward.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you’re alive,” he spread his arms wide, and where he stood with the sunset behind him it made it look like he had wings, “you feel. Feelings are a painful son of a bitch. But death, that’s easy. It’s peaceful. It takes away your pain and reunites you with the ones you love.” He looked up towards the sky, his lips lifting in a small smile. Knowing about his family, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was imagining their faces.
“But isn’t life worth fighting for?” I responded, squinting from the brilliance of the sunset.
“Life is about surviving,” he crouched down, still on that damn ledge. I was so afraid that at any moment he would lose his balance and fall three stories below.
“Would you call what you’re doing surviving? I call it being a coward!” I stomped my foot, my fists clenching in frustration.
“You have no fucking idea what I’ve been through,” he growled and spittle flew from between his lips. “What I saw…” His voice dropped below a whisper. “I have to numb myself so that I don’t remember.”
“What happened to your family, it was awful Caelan, but they wouldn’t want you to have turned into this,” I waved my hand at him.
His eyes threatened to pop out of his head and his face turned so red I thought a blood vessel had ruptured.
“Oh shit,” I mumbled, realizing my mistake.
I wasn’t supposed to know about this.
“How do you know about my family?” He roared, jumping off the ledge and stalking towards me. I found myself backing up. “Tell me!”
I flinched from his tone.
I swallowed thickly, moisture clinging to my eyes. “I-I was curious. So, I—uh—Googled you.”
“Haven’t you ever heard the saying, ‘Curiosity killed the cat?’” he pushed me roughly so that my back was against the wall beside the doorway leading to the roof. The brick stung my hands where they’d scraped against the rough surface but I refused to show any sign of pain or emotion. “You had no right to research me like I’m some fucking science experiment. I know what I am, and I know why I’m this way, I don’t need you to save me. I’m beyond saving, Sutton,” he pointed a finger as he pulled himself away from me. Shaking all over, his jaw clenched tightly, he growled, “Stay away from me.”
I turned my head, watching as he roughly swung the door open, and descended down the stairwell.
I knew after that experience I should have felt afraid, but I didn’t.
If anything, I was only more determined to know him.
I wanted to see him smile again like he had in those photos—and I wanted those smiles to be directed at me.
Micalea Smeltzer is a bestselling Young and New Adult author from Winchester, Virginia. She’s always working on her next book, and when she has spare time she loves to read and spend time with her family.