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Skin of a Sinner: Chapter 33

ISABELLA

you something.”

I blink up at Mickey, wanting to stay like this for an eternity. “What is it?”

A lopsided grin splits across his face. “It’s a surprise.”

I groan.

“Hey,” he argues. “When have I ever done a shitty surprise?”

He has a point; I’ll give him that. “Remember when I was eight, you caught a mouse for me, and I needed a tetanus shot because it bit me.”

“I was ten years old,” he protests, then says under his breath, “I can’t believe you still remember that.”

I bite the inside of my lip and plant a kiss on his chest. “You should have been more specific in your question then.”

“Here we go.”

Hitting his chest playfully, I let him slip out of the sheets and into his pants. I follow suit, running across the room to fight the chill and jump into some warmer clothes. “No blindfolds this time,” I say.

He curses. I snap my head around to him, and he winks at me with a smirk drawn across his face. “I’m willing to negotiate.”

Taking Mickey’s outstretched hand, he leads me into the motel’s corridor with peeling wallpaper and spiderwebs decorating the edging.

“Should I be scared?” I ask, hugging his arm.

My body flushes with warmth when he kisses my forehead. “Never.”

“Not even a little?”

“Shut up, Bella.”

I giggle as I squeeze his arm tighter, refusing to let go when we reach the stairs.

Mickey smirks. “About the blindfold… how off the table is it?”

My skin blazes when someone walks past, and I hiss, “We’re in public.”

“Are you trying to change my mind? Baby girl, the thought of fucking you raw in front of other people makes me crazy.”

“What?” I squeak, hiding behind my unmade hair.

“Then there’s no doubt about who you belong to.” He winks and says under his breath, “And who’s going to be the death of me.”

I give him a nerve-racking chuckle that grates against my bones. Dear Lord, what does this man have planned?

I mean, what’s the worst it could be? My immediate thought is a dead body, but I really don’t know how much that fazes me anymore, despite how much I hate the thought. And there’s no way Mickey would show me a dead animal.

Christ, what if he made a super impulsive purchase and bought a cramped little sports car? Or like that time he bought three bikes because he couldn’t decide on one.

“Please, no blindfold,” I whisper.

Looking up at the ceiling, he groans. “I really can’t say no to you, can I?”

“I think you can.”

He squints, then bobs his head from side to side. “You’re right, I can.” As soon as we make it through the front door, he slides in from behind me, covering my eyes with his warm hands. “You said no blindfolds. Nothing about hands,” he says pointedly.

I make a noise of frustration, but my nerves are buzzing beneath my skin, so I can’t find the words to say as Mickey guides me forward. Pavement changes to gravel beneath my feet, crunching with each step we take until we come to an abrupt stop.

“You ready, Princess?”

No.

“Yes.”

I hold my breath as he removes his hands. My lips part on a gasp before I can hold it back.

A quaint sage caravan hooks onto the back of the pickup truck. Buttery cream and lace curtains peek out from behind the silver-trimmed windows. It’s the type of caravan you’d see on retro magazines and vintage-inspired mood boards.

I can already picture it nestled next to a tree by the beach while we both lounge on fold-out chairs. Or hidden away in the forest with fairy lights draped from the trimming as we picnic on the damp earth.

“Surprise,” Mickey whispers in my ear.

“Mickey,” is all I manage to say.

This is what I always wanted without truly realizing it: to be able to travel around the country, feeling sand between my toes, tasting freedom on my tongue. There would be nothing holding us back.

“I know,” he says smugly. “You don’t need to hold the applause.”

Turning in his arms, I face his stunning gray eyes that always seem to find me, even when I don’t want them to.

“It’s ten in the morning. How did you find a caravan?”

His eyes narrow into stilts before his lips spread into a smile. “Is that really the first thing that popped into your head?” He chuckles to himself. “You have such a beautiful mind, baby.”

“Don’t patronize me.”

He silences me with a kiss that makes me forget whatever useless question I asked. “It’s called the internet.” Strong fingers intertwine with mine, and he tugs me along. “Let me show you our new home.” Unlocking the door, he pulls it open to let me step inside.

He wears the same look he did when we rode to the horror house all those years ago. A smile stretched from ear to ear and the attitude of a kid who knows he did well and is waiting to drown in the ensuing compliments.

Quaint is the perfect word to describe the caravan’s exterior and the most inaccurate word to describe the inside.

The silver taps and handles reflect the morning light as if it hasn’t been touched since it was installed. A bed with a mountain of pillows sits at the back, beneath a window with deep green curtains. Perfectly white cabinets, smooth wooden walls, pristine marble countertops, and even the bathroom looks like it has never been used before.

“Did you fix it?” I ask Mickey, slowly exploring the refurbished interior. Someone must have gutted this thing and slapped a new set of everything. I can’t imagine when he would have had the time to do it on top of fixing up the horror house.

He shakes his head, slapping my butt as he walks past me to fall onto the bed. “Come here,” he calls, holding his hand out for me.

Slipping my fingers into his, I let him pull me to his chest, acting as a barrier between me and the bare mattress. We lie there in silence as he draws patterns onto my back, swirls and love notes. The heat of his intense stare scorches the side of my face.

I was wrong. This whole time I was misguided in my views of Mickey. Roman Riviera isn’t a liar who abandoned me. I wasn’t nothing to him or a girl he would eventually leave.

I shift to look up at him. “Thank you,” I say without really thinking it through.

“For what?” He grins, ready to be showered in praise.

“For the caravan.” But that’s not what I’m really thankful for.

“Go on,” he fishes.

“You gave me everything else I needed when I was too focused on becoming someone else. And then for leaving,” I say. Mickey tilts his head to the side questioningly. “You gave me the chance to grieve the child I never was and become the adult I want to be.”

I was aimless, in the wrong job, living in the wrong house, surrounded by people who would rather see me fall. I was so bitter and angry from being forced into a version of myself I didn’t recognize, but I became friends with myself. And when Mickey came back, he set me free.

“But that’s not all I’m thankful for,” I add. “Thank you, Mickey, for coming back to me.”

“Always.” Soft lips press against my forehead before tucking my hair behind my ear. “Don’t thank me, Bella. It’s the only option I’d ever choose.”

“You saved me.” Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would have gotten out of there alive without him. Part of me was too scared to, and the other part was desperate to breathe, yet unwilling to gasp for air.

He smiles at me, and I smile right back. “I don’t see it that way.”

“You’re my knight in shining armor, Roman Riviera.”

He nods his head against mine. “I am. But you never needed saving. You just needed someone to remind you that you’re not alone. And in case I haven’t told you, I’m proud of you, baby girl.”

My cheeks heat bright red at his beaming smile. “I’m proud of you too, Roman.”

Since I was six, he has spent every waking moment looking out for me, finding ways to keep me safe. I couldn’t protect him when we were children, but I can now.

Without saying the words, I stare at him, hoping he sees my promise to him.

You’ll never go back in a box, Mickey.


The rhythmic hum of the wheels rolling over pavement stops, jarring me awake. My fingers dig into the new bedspread, still crisp and fresh.

Mickey set me loose at the department store to buy whatever I wanted for the caravan. The cupboards are now filled with food, cutlery, and clothes. Fairy lights are strung across the walls over drawings done by both of us. I’m still trying to figure out how much things will move around as we drive before I decide to get anything else.

He even relented and let me buy some bras.

As much as the saying, “home is where the heart is,” is true, you still have to make the house—or caravan—feel like a home.

For the first time in my life, I feel content.

The door squeals as he steps inside. He woke up earlier to start driving and let me stay behind to sleep. Well, it’s not like I even heard him get up. We started moving, and I connected the dots myself.

A couple of doors and drawers open and close while I feign sleep. The bed dips under his weight as he crawls closer, tucking me into his arms. “Morning, beautiful.”

“Morning,” I whisper, smiling against his skin.

I could get used to waking up with him around. Though I’d prefer if he’s the first thing I see when I wake up. Or, better yet, more nights with broken sleep because Mickey couldn’t wait to sink inside me.

“Did you think you could pretend to be asleep?” he muses.

Lifting a shoulder, I peer up at him through my lashes. “I would never.”

I yelp when he pinches my butt, bursting into a fit of giggles as his fingers dig into my sides. A bang hits the side of the caravan, making me jolt upright. Suddenly, I can hear sounds. People. Laughter and chatter filter through our home, stiffening my joints.

Mickey pulls me back to him, looking the most at ease I’ve ever seen him. His gray eyes gleam bright silver, and the curl of his lips holds nothing but joy.

I move to pull back the curtain, but he snatches my hand away, rolling on top of me to hold me hostage. “No.”

“Mickey!” I laugh, moving side to side. What is he up to this time?

Heat scorches my body when his hard length rolls against the space between my legs. The single move has both of us groaning as he winds his fingers into my hair in a claiming grip. “If you keep moving, we’re never getting out of here, and you’ll never find out where we are. Nod if you understand.”

I narrow my eyes. “I could also just say yes.”

“Brat,” he mutters, kissing me for one heated second and consciously putting space between our hips. “I pulled out clothes for you. They’re on the bench.”

My brows hike up my forehead. “You’re dressing me again?”

His mischievous grin morphs into a devilish smirk. “You look good in my clothes.” He winks. “But you look better without them.”

I’m pretty sure I saw the front of my brain with my eyeroll. “That’s the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard.”

He scoffs. “Shut up. You’re, like, twelve.”

I bite the inside of my lip. “Twelve and three-quarters, actually.”

Mickey snorts before helping me to my feet. I use my inhaler, and then we continue with the mindless, nonsensical back-and-forth while he dresses me, helping me step into jeans, pulling on my Mickey Mouse shirt for me, and lacing my sneakers. In the reflection of the mirror, I catch the deeply pinched brows and his murderous eyes as he braids my hair. A bomb could go off outside, and I don’t think he’d notice.

He fusses with the ribbons and symmetry for a couple more seconds before nodding to himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s giving himself a mental pat on the back.

Suited up and ready for my next surprise, Mickey graces me with my unobstructed sight this time, fueling the excited thrum coursing through my veins.

The humidity sticks to my skin as we step into a big parking lot that tickles a distant memory. Families file out of their cars, giggling and donning backpacks, threading between cars, heading in the same direction.

Rounding the caravan, I freeze in my step.

Disneyland.

Mickey is taking me to Disneyland just like Mamá did on my birthday. There’s nothing I can do to stop the heat pricking my eyes and trailing down my cheek. I only have a few memories from when I was younger, like watching Mamá cry when she hugged Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

I pull him into a bone-crushing hug before he can move. Everything he’s done, he’s done for me. How was I ever so blind to see that?

Peppering kisses all over his face, I chant, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

He laughs, beaming down at me. “You can make it up to me later.”

Gladly.

A group of teenagers runs past us, darting for the entrance. My muscles itch to do the same, and I decide not to fight it. How much of my childhood was lost hiding away in the bedroom, crying over parents I’ll never have, or taking care of the other kids in the house while I was the one needing care? My inner child deserves to live.

I start dragging Mickey along as he chuckles at all my huffing. He isn’t moving fast enough. “Come on!”

He smiles at me. “It isn’t even open yet.”

I snarl. “We need to get to the front of the line.”

With a relenting sigh and a knowing smirk, we jog the rest of the way until we get to the queue. Once we’re inside, he tags along behind me without question, going from ride to ride and feeding me copious amounts of ridiculously over-priced food.

“Those gloves would be perfect for you if you ever fight again.” I giggle, loving the grumpy look on his face because of how ridiculous he looks with sleeve tattoos, wearing an orange-and-black tie-dyed Mickey Mouse t-shirt—we’re matching—black jeans, combat boots, murderous gunmetal eyes, a Daisy Duck backpack, mouse ears, and the big four-fingered Mickey gloves.

He’s my own personal homicidal Mickey Mouse. He’s all mine.

“The material is itchy,” he grumbles.

My sloppy, curled fist hits his chest half-heartedly. “Extra padding for when you punch people.”

“It’s uncomfortable.”

Grabbing a creepy Mickey Mouse mask from off the shelf, I put it against his head and tip my head to the side. “Mmm, no. I prefer your other mask.” I return it to the shelf just as the alarm on his phone goes off.

He doesn’t move a muscle as I strip him of the gloves, light-up lanyard, and the feather scarf I wrapped around his neck. I barely notice his burning stare, too excited for the grand finale. Shifting my weight, I wince from the pain radiating down my legs and up my back. I could really use a massage.

Turning his head to give me his non-face-painted cheek, I give him a big, fat kiss before pulling him out into the night. During the day, the park is stunning and otherworldly. It’s nothing short of magical at night, from the twinkling lights and the music streaming through the warm air.

“Come on!” I squeal when Roman slows.

He sighs dramatically, but his lips are drawn in a menacing grin when I snap my attention toward him and his negative attitude. I don’t see him moving until I’m pressed against his chest, feet dangling in the air, and arms automatically locked around his neck.

“Put me down!” Please, don’t put me down. I’ve been running from ride to ride and standing all damn day. My feet hurt, my muscles ache, and there’s a pinch in my lower back. I’m not going to let my pain ruin our night, though.

He shakes his head. “I haven’t been able to hold you all day.”

Lie. “You hug me every time we wait in line.”

“Not enough.”

“Fine,” I relent, trying to hide my smile in the crook of his neck. Mickey always knows what I need without me needing to say it. “You can carry me, as long as you walk faster.”

“This isn’t a negotiation, Princess.”

“We’re going to miss it!”

“Maybe if I throw you over my shoulder, I won’t hear you complaining.”

My jaw drops. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Oops. Did I say that out loud?”

My gaze narrows. “Prick.”

“You love me for it.”

The only certainty in life is death. But that rule doesn’t apply to me. I love Roman Riviera, and that’s the only truth I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.

My feet don’t hit the ground until banners swing on either side of the bridge and the palace is close enough to touch. A mirage of colors lights up the castle: blue spires and pink walls, and an ethereal hue covering the fortress bricks.

With Mickey’s hand clutched in mine, he weaves us through the throngs of families, staring people down (yes, he’s glaring at kids with no shame) until we reach the very front, where he folds up a jersey for me to sit on.

A band marches past and dancers and gymnasts twirl and smile as their gowns ripple and sway. I glance up at Roman behind me to find him already looking down at me.

Averting my attention back to the show, a blush heats my cheeks. His eyes belong to me, even in a place with colors and music. I peek another look and giggle silently at his crossed arms and unamused stare as he watches the performance. When he catches me looking, his face softens, lips curling up into a soft smile.

He holds out his hand, and I take it without hesitation, leading us away from the crowd until we reach a secluded spot by the front of the castle. Light colors the contours of his face, glimmering against his hypnotic eyes.

“Dance with me, Princess.”

“I can’t dance,” I breathe, holding on to his hand because I never want to let go of him.

His lips tip up into a grin. “Neither can I. Dance with me anyway.”

“I’ll step on your toes.”

The apples of his cheeks catch the light. “Then I’ll say thank you.”

“They’ll bruise.”

“You won’t see me complain about having your mark on me.”

“Bruises aren’t love marks.”

He leans forward until his hot breath feathers against my ear. “Do you want to test that theory? Give me thirty seconds, and everyone will take one look at your neck and how irrevocably mine you are.”

“I’m not yours.” I am his. Wholly and completely.

Liar,” he whispers.

“I’m not a liar either.” Lie.

“You’re right. You’re Isabella, my sweet, sweet Bella.”

“I’m not.”

Leaning his forehead against mine, he says, “You can think that, but just know I’m yours.”

“Liar.” Biting the inside of my lip, I smile.

“I am. But not to you. Never to you,” he promises. “Dance with me, Isabella. Let me hold you.”

“I’ll trip.”

With each excuse, his eyes darken. “When have I ever let you fall? If you did, I’d be right there beside you. We’re Romeo and Juliet.”

Frowning, I chuckle. “They killed themselves, Mickey.”

“Do you doubt what I’d do for you, Isabella? If you’re in a grave, I’m in one. I promised you forever. We won’t end in death.”

“That’s so morbid.” My smile spreads until I can’t take it anymore. There’s nothing that could bring me down from this high.

“You make me crazy.” Warm hands wrap around my wrists to bring them up around the back of his neck. “Now, Princess, make me the luckiest man in the world and dance with me.”

“I—”

“The next word out of your mouth better be yes. I’ll repeat myself a third time for you. But there will be repercussions if I have to say it a fourth time.”

I pinch the back of his neck as his arms wrap around my waist. “If you had let me finish, you’d know I was about to agree.”

The last thing I see is his grin before his lips meet mine, languidly moving as we sway out of time with the music.

At this moment, the world around us ceases to exist. There’s no darkness hidden within our pasts or people surrounding our present. There’s only us, standing together in the light, ready for whatever we might face.

Wants and needs are usually two separate things, but they’re the same thing when I’m with Mickey. Mamá was right; I would be part of a family. I just didn’t realize that my childhood tears of yearning for one were for nothing, because my family is right here in front of me, in my arms.

“You’ll never feel alone again,” Mickey whispers against my lips, bringing a smile across mine.

“I don’t need your promises anymore.”

“You never did. That doesn’t mean you can’t want them.” Fireworks explode next to us, flashing purples and greens against our skin, but my attention is fixed on the man I’ve always loved. “I’ll make you another promise: From this day on, there will only ever be us. Everything we do, we do together,” he says. “I love you, Isabella Riviera.”

I grin. “It’s Garcia.”

“Not anymore, it’s not.”

I kiss him before saying the words that have lived in my heart since I was six years old. Giving him every crack in my fractured heart. Fate, that’s what this is. Two lost souls finding each other in the darkness and knowing they’ll always have a place to call home.

“I love you too, Roman Riviera.”


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