Priceless by Linda Kage - Read Online
Priceless
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Summary

Three things in my life were fact.
I needed Sarah to survive.
I needed sex to remain sane.
And I could never mix sex with Sarah.

I just knew—deep in my marrow—that if I did, I’d somehow lose her. All my deepest darkest secrets would crack open, bleed out, and ruin everything between us. I wouldn’t unleash the shit inside me on my worst enemy, let alone her. So she stayed strictly in the friend zone.

People probably thought I never went there with her because of her cerebral palsy, but f*ck them. She knew she was the most important person in my world, and I wasn’t about to risk hurting our relationship just to make my c*ck happy.

Until the moment she begged me to take her virginity.
Now it’s all about to hit the fan, because how the hell do you resist the one person forbidden to you when she says please?

--Brandt Gamble

Published: Linda Kage on
ISBN: 1310609764
List price: $2.99
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Priceless - Linda Kage

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Three things in my life were fact.

I needed Sarah to survive.

I needed sex to remain sane.

And I could never mix sex with Sarah.

I just knew—deep in my marrow—that if I did, I’d somehow lose her. All my deepest darkest secrets would crack open, bleed out, and ruin everything between us. I wouldn’t unleash the shit inside me on my worst enemy, let alone her. So she stayed strictly in the friend zone.

People probably thought I never went there with her because of her cerebral palsy, but f*ck them. She knew she was the most important person in my world, and I wasn’t about to risk hurting our relationship just to make my c*ck happy.

Until the moment she begged me to take her virginity.

Now it’s all about to hit the fan, because how the hell do you resist the one person forbidden to you when she says please?

--Brandt Gamble

On September 14, 2013, exactly a month after I pushed publish on my first true self-published book, Price of a Kiss, I received an email that started out a little something like this:

Dear Linda,

As an avid reader and wife, mother and attorney with severe cerebral palsy, I am begging you to please take the opportunity to write Sarah’s story. I am so tired of reading stereotypical romances where the woman with the disability is bitter, helpless, has no self-esteem and is just waiting to be rescued or miraculously healed. Well, the real world doesn’t work that way (even when it’s prettied up). Real life can be beautiful. I found a wonderful guy that thinks I am the sexiest woman alive despite my wheelchair. This year, we will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Our oldest son is 23 and in medical school, and our youngest is nearly 10 and a 4th grader....

Well, this is still one of the most meaningful letters I ever received from a reader along with the scariest, because holy crawfish, how was I supposed to say no to that? But then...eek, how was I supposed to write about a character who lived with something I knew nothing about, and do it any kind of justice?

Then I realized, oh yeah, I did that with every story I wrote! LOL.

So I replied to Ms. Mary Crawford and told her this was one request I couldn’t refuse. But I knew it was going to take me some time to come up with a suitable story line, a suitable hero for our precious Sarah, and a suitable way to work them into what later became my Forbidden Men series. And now, nearly three years later, I’m hoping and crossing my fingers that I have something to please and honor our very patient Mary.

I would also like to note how happy I am for Mary. In the three years it took lazy ol’ me to come up with something for her, I also nudged her into following her own desire to tell stories (yeah, look at me, taking the credit for all her hard work. Ha!), and she now has eight books published! Isn’t she amazing? Everyone, tell Mary how awesome she is!

Okay, sorry! Enough of my rambling. Let us now proceed with the story.

BRANDT

AGE 13

Get out of my bed!

Jolted awake by the hand shoving my shoulder, I bolted upright with a gasp. What? Huh?

An irate sister jostled me again. "I said out, you little dweeb."

Damn it. I collapsed back onto the mattress. She was home.

With a groan, I rolled over to flop onto my back and yawned up at the darkened ceiling of our bedroom as I tried to rouse myself enough to crawl off her bed. But against my will, my eyes drifted shut and sleep tried to reclaim me.

Brandt! Caroline snarled through an irritated whisper. I’m serious. Get out. What’re you doing on my bunk anyway?

What do you think I’m doing? You weren’t home, and Colton’s sick. I wasn’t sleeping anywhere near that kid when he had a torrential flood of green shit gushing from his nose. Besides, with his fever raging, he’d been hot as hell to lie next to.

It seriously sucked ass that I had to share a room with both my older sister and younger brother, but to have a single bunk bed to sleep on between the three of us was even worse. To top that off, the bottom twin-sized mattress Colton and I used had become a tight fit in the last year since we’d both hit a growth spurt.

When I’d seen Caroline’s empty top bunk, I hadn’t been able to resist hogging a mattress all to myself for a while.

Well I’m home now. She ripped the warm covers off me. So, move.

I cursed as the cool night air stole through me, settling straight into my bones, and tried to reach for the blankets again, but Caroline was having none of that. As we started a snarling tug-of-war, I muttered, Jesus, why couldn’t you have just stayed the entire night with your rich prick boyfriend?

The douche probably had a king-sized bed all to himself too. Bastard.

Goddammit, Brandt. She let go of the sheets so abruptly that I went sailing backward and landed with an oomph onto her mattress, all the covers piling on top of me.

Batting and spitting cotton out of my face, I lurched upright to give her a piece of my mind. She was the one who’d left me alone with a sick-as-hell eight-year-old so she could prance off with her new, jerk-of-the-century boyfriend. I deserved this bed for the entire night. But as soon as I opened my mouth to rant, she sniffed and wiped the back of her hand over her nose.

I squinted through the dark to see her face better and finally caught sight of the tears dripping down her cheeks. Fuck.

What’d he do? I demanded.

Nothing, she answered quickly. Too quickly.

Nothing my ass. I wasn’t an idiot. We heard all the juicy high school gossip down our middle school halls, and no one was talking about how the rich Sander Scotini was dating trailer park trash, Caroline Gamble. So that meant he was making her keep their relationship a secret. The jackass was using her big time. If she was crying, it was his fault.

Just...give me my bed back, all right? She sounded tired and beaten.

This time, I hopped over the side without complaint, landing on the floor next to her. Do I need to kick his ass?

She blurted out a hard laugh and wiped at her eyes. As if you could.

I straightened in indignation. "I totally could." Scotini might have five years on me, but no way could that douche take me.

When my sister surged toward me unexpectedly and wrapped her arms around my neck, I stumbled a couple steps back before I could catch my footing. We weren’t exactly the hugging type, so having her hug me now was...odd. But then she sniffed again, and her tears soaked through the shoulder of my shirt as she said, I love you, Brandt, and I found myself squeezing her back as my worry peaked.

Seriously, Care. What’d he do?

Nothing I want to talk about. She pulled away, wiping at her eyes once more.

Yep, I was definitely going to beat the shit out of Sander Scotini.

Thanks for giving me my bed back. She turned toward the ladder but before she could climb up to her bunk, Colton sputtered out a rattling cough in his sleep. Caroline stooped down to press her palm to his forehead. Sucking in a breath, she said, He’s burning up. Did you give him any medicine before bed?

Yeah, but... I shrugged. The medicine wasn’t working.

Caroline sighed as if she were seventy instead of seventeen. I shouldn’t have left you home alone with him.

I found myself shrugging again as if it were no big deal. The resentment I’d been feeling toward her all night for leaving me stuck with Colton just kind of slipped away. She was a kid too and shouldn’t have to put her life on hold just to take care of us. She should get to go out with a boy if she wanted to.

It was our fucking mother’s job to take care of the sick eight-year-old, except Daisy hadn’t been home in...oh, was it four or five days now?

Who knew?

Who cared?

Life was easier when she wasn’t around.

He’d still have a fever if you’d been here, I said lamely, trying to make Caroline feel better.

She heaved out another sigh and rubbed her face. I wish Noel was home.

Me too. Our older brother might’ve been stricter on us than Caroline was, but he had kept an order to things. Bills got paid, groceries never ran out, broken things were fixed, and sick members of the family healed quickly. Though he sent home every extra penny he made since he’d left for college and called on the daily to check in on us, things around here were definitely slipping since he’d been gone.

What? You think he could miraculously heal Colton? I tried to tease. Noel was awesome, sure, but he wasn’t that awesome.

Caroline sent me a dry look. At least I wouldn’t have to be the one to deal with this.

It was funny, I realized, or maybe it was just sad. But neither of us wanted our mother to come home to shoulder the responsibility. We hadn’t even considered her as a form of help.

Get some sleep, I said, awkwardly patting Caroline’s arm. Maybe it won’t suck so bad in the morning.

As if. She snorted, letting me know she totally didn’t believe my words any more than I did. But she climbed up onto the top bunk anyway. ‘Night, bubba.

‘Night. I helped pull the blankets up over her and then I stood there a moment, watching both her and Colton on their respective mattresses—safe and sound, for now—before I turned away and slogged from the room.

To the couch it was for me.

I had no idea how Noel had lived for eighteen years, sleeping on that uncomfortable hunk of junk. It was too short and hard as a rock. I didn’t even like to sit on the ratted piece of furniture.

Realizing the front room was too cold to sleep in without some kind of blanket, I shivered and rubbed my arms before I backtracked to the second bedroom in our single-wide trailer. But I paused just outside the door, hesitating to push my way inside. Daisy wasn’t home, yet it still felt strange going inside her domain to fetch an extra blanket where they were stored in her closet.

All the sex and drugs she did took place in her room. Noel had made sure she’d kept all her shit behind this closed door, and for some reason she’d followed his edict even after he’d moved off to college...or maybe she wasn’t aware he no longer lived here. Whatever. This room was Daisy’s den of iniquity, and it smelled gross.

I wrinkled my nose as I crept inside. No idea why I was tiptoeing; no one was here. But I did anyway.

Wanting to get in and out as quickly as possible, I dashed to her closet, slid open the door and yanked the first blanket-feeling thing I found down as soon as my fingers sought one in the dark. On my race back to the exit, however, I miscalculated in the dark and cracked my shinbone on the baseboard of her bed.

Motherfucker. Dropping the blanket on the bed, I skipped in a circle on one foot as I bent my knee up to my chest and clutched my throbbing leg.

Unable to keep my balance, I plopped down on the edge of the mattress and hissed through my pain until I thought I could stand again.

Instead of pushing to my feet, though, I glanced back at the rest of the unmade bed behind me. All that expanse of available sleeping space...just going to waste. Most of the sheets were rumpled up in one corner and who knew what she’d been doing the last time she’d been here, but temptation seized me anyway. I didn’t even care how rank the place smelled of ass and stale alcohol. There was an empty, soft mattress right here, just waiting to be used.

The likelihood of Daisy returning home before morning had to be about one in, oh, a million. And the couch didn’t smell much better, anyway.

I was so tired, and my ass had already sunk into the lush softness. It would be easy to just stretch out and... Ahhh. Bliss. I tugged the fresh blanket I’d just fetched from the closet over me and closed my eyes, sighing as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Unconsciousness claimed me within moments.

It was a good sleep too. I wasn’t roused by coughing from Colton next to me or the squeak of Caroline’s bedsprings above me. It was just quiet.

Nice.

Peaceful.

My dreams turned toward pleasant things. Since I was waking up with morning wood pretty much every day now, a hazy vision of Jamey Hester, who sat next to me in English class, sprang up in my head. In real life, she wouldn’t give a trashy Gamble like me the time of day. I was too poor, cussed too much, got into too many fights. What the fuck ever. But in my dream, she liked me just fine.

Her hand wrapped around my junk, right through my boxers, and I gasped from the pleasure, arching my back off the bed. Fingers squeezed appreciatively and pumped, making my balls tingle in a way that let me know I was seconds away from coming.

Damn, baby. You sure are a big one, aren’t you? Jamey cooed, except she didn’t really sound like Jamey. She sounded more like—

My eyes flew open.

Daisy loomed above me, looking down at me until all her hair flooded around her face. The blanket no longer covered me, and her hand was...Jesus.

What the fuck? I lurched up and scrambled away from her, dislodging her grip on me with my haste.

When my back met the corner of the wall, I sucked in a breath and shook my head, unable to stop gaping at the woman who’d given birth to me. My shin ached from smacking it into her bed earlier, letting me know I was definitely no longer dreaming, and my mother was honest-to-God kneeling right there on the bed in front of me.

Still. No way had she just been giving me a hand job. That part must’ve been in my dream. It had to have been. I shook my head again, trying to wake fully.

What’re you doing here? I asked without thinking.

She let out a husky laugh. "Honey, this is my bed. You’re the interloper. Then propping herself on her hands and knees, she began to crawl toward me. But I don’t mind if you stay."

Holy shit, I squawked, digging my back deeper into the wall.

It wasn’t quite morning, but the sun was beginning to rise outside the window. It let in just enough gray light to let me see how bloodshot her eyes were. The woman was probably high as a kite, doped up with who knew what mix of drugs.

Do you know who I am? I had to ask because, hell, even as fucked up as she was, she had to know this was wrong. Right?

Colton, right? she asked as she paused before me and snapped her finger. "No, you’re Brandt. Brandt..." she cooed, reaching out to trace a finger over my erection through my shorts.

I shoved her away, and she slapped me. Hard.

The instant sting made my eyes water as she pointed a finger at my nose.

Don’t you shove me, you little asshole. I brought you into this world. I can take you right back out. You hear me?

Gulping, I nodded uneasily.

She smiled as if everything was good again. Licking the corner of my lip, I tasted blood and glanced toward the door, wondering how easy it’d be to slip past her and make a run for it.

But she murmured, Now where were we?

I jumped when she grabbed me again, which only made her laugh and press against me harder.

Gritting my teeth, I clenched my hands down at my side and tipped my head up toward the ceiling as I squeezed my eyes shut, trying not to feel what I was feeling. But no one had ever touched me there before. The contact made my boner grow harder as all the while, the sick unease in my stomach grew queasier. I swallowed repeatedly to keep from vomiting as an unnatural chill swept through my limbs, making me tremble uncontrollably.

I didn’t try pushing her away again; this fear that she’d call the cops and I’d get thrown in juvie for physical abuse rose in my head, freezing me from swinging.

I wanted Noel.

Or Caroline. She was right down the hall. I could yell for her, and she’d fly out of bed to rescue me. But then what? What if Caroline called someone for help, and Social Services split the three of us apart? I wasn’t about to lose Colton and Caroline. They were the only two people I had right now.

How old are you now, Brandt? Daisy asked as she used all five fingers to grip me tight.

Tears tracked down my cheeks. I shook my head, denying the reality of what she was doing. I hated how good it felt. Hated how scared I was. I just wanted to redo last night and wake next to a snot-nosed Colton instead of this.

Well, you sure are big for however old you are, she murmured, watching herself fondle me. Your daddy was the biggest I ever had, did you know that?

Why the hell would I know that? A kid should never know something like that. Besides, this had to be the first time Daisy had ever spoken to me.

She’d talked about me to either Noel or Caroline over the years, demanding they shut me up if I was crying or telling them to take me somewhere else if she wanted me out of sight. I honestly couldn’t remember a time when she’d directed a single word to me.

To me, Noel and Caroline were my parent figures, so Daisy didn’t feel like my mother at all. Too bad that didn’t make her touch any less creepy. I was so freaking skeeved out I was shaking erratically. Paralyzed with fear.

I actually remember who your daddy was because he was hung so well, she went on as if she had no idea I was freaking the fuck out. I couldn’t tell you who fathered any of the other brats. But you. Yeah, you definitely have to be Derick’s boy. Hey...what’re you crying for?

I opened my eyes and glanced down. She seemed honestly confused as she watched me with a slight worried pinch to her eyebrows.

Please stop, I whispered from dry lips.

But the bitch only laughed. Oh, baby. She ran her second hand up my leg until it disappeared under the hem of my shorts. Trust me, you don’t want me to stop. Haven’t you ever had a blow job before?

Just as she lowered the waistband of my shorts, I smashed my fisted hand against my mouth to muffle the sob that emerged. My eyes slashed to the half-closed door of her bedroom, praying Caroline would rush inside and save me, and yet wishing she never ever found out what kind of horror was going down.

Because what followed was definitely the worst, most mortifying thing to ever happen to me.

SARAH

AGE 13

One Month Later

Reese was mad.

I’d only ever seen my babysitter as bright and bubbly, always cheerful and energetic with what seemed to be a perpetual, ready grin. So when I turned my head on the mattress where I lay to send her an elated smile, I was stunned to find her lips thin and pinched with anger.

She folded her arms over her chest as she watched my legs bicycle kick in the air above my hips.

And here, I’d been so proud of myself. I could actually control some kind of movement. For a second, it’d been the best moment of my life. I’d just wanted to share my feat with my favorite person. But the rage emanating off her made my joy plummet.

What had I done wrong?

Worried, I stopped kicking, but the therapist on the opposite side of the mattress from Reese instructed in a calm, even voice, No, don’t stop yet, Sarah. Just keep going. Think about how you feel as you move. And then try to slow the pace, putting the least amount of effort into it as possible.

I blew out a breath and turned my attention up to the ceiling, away from Reese’s anger, so I could concentrate on moving my legs. Just as they wobbled rampantly, Dr. Besby murmured, Don’t worry about that. It’s fine. Just keep going if you can. You’re doing great.

After I completed a minute of slow reps, Dr. Besby told me to reverse the kicking and bicycle my legs in the other direction. That’s great, he congratulated. Now picture your favorite kind of ice cream.

Bringing up a mental image of two scoops of Neapolitan on a waffle cone, my eyebrows knit with worry when my mental fantasy slotted Reese into the chair at the table across from me as she licked her own cone full of orange sherbet.

Why was she so mad? What if she never wanted to eat ice cream with me ever again?

See how well she’s doing even after she took her mind off her actions, Dr. Besby told Reese. That’s a significant improvement from her last session. Have you been trying to get her to stand on her own and bear her weight on her feet?

Yeah, but she loses her balance as soon as she lifts her head, Reese answered.

Was that the problem then? I turned my attention her way, wondering if she wanted me to be able to stand on my own. But when our gazes met, she flashed me a huge Reese-smile. There was a kind of sadness in her eyes, though, even when she held up both thumbs, telling me how proud she was.

Not to worry, Dr. Besby said. These things take time. Just keep practicing with her every day, and before you know it, she’ll be able to keep her head up, look around, and maintain stability all at the same time. The real milestone will come when she can shift her weight from leg to leg while doing all that. That’s a must for independent walking.

Hope lit Reese’s face as she darted her eyes toward the therapist. "Wait. You think she’ll actually be able to walk someday?"

I didn’t realize I was holding my breath to hear that answer myself until Reese grabbed my fingers supportively. I clutched them like a lifeline.

But Dr. Besby winced. I think...such a large delay in starting her on physical therapy has hampered her a lot. After some time, she should be able to take a few unassisted steps by herself, but I doubt she’ll ever be able to throw out a wheelchair or walker for good.

Both Reese and I sighed in frustration, until Dr. Besby added, You have to admit, though, her being able to get in and out of the wheelchair, use the restroom, and take a bath without help would be a huge achievement.

Okay, he had a point there. Still...it would’ve been nice to hear he could heal me completely.

You need to remember, Sarah’s cerebral palsy might be a disorder of involuntary muscle movements, but it still came from brain damage. If we concentrate on healing the part of her brain that harbors muscle control, she’ll always have some limitations, but you’ll be able to tell a notable difference over time.

Oh, I can already tell a difference. Reese’s smile was completely genuine this time as she glanced my way. Her posture’s improved and she can keep her head up for longer periods of time. In my book, you’ve already performed a miracle, Dr. Besby.

The therapist flushed and averted his gaze to study my kicking legs. Sarah’s the one who’s done all the work, he mumbled, trying to ward off the praise.

I think he had a crush on my babysitter. I was tempted to tell him to back off; she was already taken, dating my brother Mason, and someday I was going to make her my sister-in-law. So he’d better just keep his hands to himself. But I kind of liked how much he’d helped me too, so I didn’t want to scare him away.

Okay, you can stop now, Sarah. He sat his hand on my knee and sent me a warm smile. That’s enough for today. We’ll pick up here tomorrow. Sound good?

Oh! Uh... Reese squeezed my fingers and coughed delicately. Can we skip tomorrow? Sarah, um...she won’t be available then.

What she really meant was that my mom would be home.

My mother didn’t exactly know about these physical therapy sessions. When Reese had discovered the home visits Dr. Besby was offering, she’d brought a pamphlet straight to Mom, so excited to sign me up for them. But Mom had vetoed them, saying she could never afford such one-on-one care.

So...Reese had gone behind her back with the help of Mason and somehow funded and set up the therapy without Mom’s knowledge. I had a bad feeling my brother had either forged Mom’s signature a few times or illegally signed something as my guardian. Whatever the case, I wasn’t supposed to let Mom in on the secret.

At first, it’d been thrilling to keep the news from her. But now, a few weeks after the sessions had started and I’d already improved so much, I was kind of scared. What if she did learn about them and stopped them, and I never got any better than I was now?

I wanted to be the best I could possibly be.

After Reese worked out a new time to meet later in the week and Dr. Besby went on his way, she turned to me with a cheery smile while she rubbed her hands together. I don’t know about you, but all that talk about ice cream made me crave a heaping bowl of orange sherbet.

I laughed. How had I guessed she’d want that flavor?

As she helped me into my wheelchair, I wondered what it’d be like if I could climb in by myself or downgrade to merely a walker someday. I could get around so much easier that way. I would love to ditch them both, but honestly, I’d take any improvement I could get. Sometimes I got so frustrated about things I couldn’t yet do.

Once we made it to the kitchen, Reese hummed to herself as she fixed me my favorite, Neapolitan, before she got her orange sherbet. Then she sat across from me and went about cutting my ice cream into bite-sized chunks.

I said nothing about how humiliating it was for her to baby me this way because at least she let me eat it myself. My mother still hand-fed me when she was home, oftentimes pureeing my meal to make me drink it through a straw. It might take me twice as long as a normal person, but I could definitely feed myself. I had lots better control over my arms than I did my legs.

So I have a surprise for you, Reese started with a wiggle of her eyebrows as soon as we dipped our spoons into our respective bowls. I told you my parents got me a new laptop last week for my birthday, right? she started, only for her cell phone to ring.

Ack. Hold that thought. Popping to her feet, she hurried to her purse, dug her phone free and checked the screen. It’s Eva. I better take this. Be right back, kiddo.

She strolled into the other room as she answered, and I found myself abandoning my bowl to roll closer to the doorway and listen in on the conversation. Eva was her pregnant cousin who’d moved up here from Florida a few months after we had and begged for a place to stay with Mason and Reese. She was beautiful and flashy and had always been nice to me, so I liked her, but I knew my brother wasn’t a fan and only let her stay to make Reese happy.

Curious what she wanted, I stopped just on the other side of the doorway out of sight. It’d become a habit for me to eavesdrop over the years. I don’t think people realized I understood as much as I did, so they didn’t bother to tell me much. Ergo, I usually stole my intel by lingering in passageways, just out of sight.

Yes, of course, Reese was saying. You know I’ll always attend a doctor’s appointment with you, E. You don’t even need to ask. This one’s another sonogram, right? Ooh, how exciting. Yep, I’m free that afternoon. She paused a moment, then rolled her eyes, Yeah, the therapy sessions are going great. Wait until you see Sarah again. It’ll shock you how much she’s already improved. I just... She shook her head and pressed her hand to her brow. I can’t help but get livid every time I watch her work her heart out.

I held my breath and leaned closer, scared to hear why she was so mad at me, but also determined to know what I was doing wrong so I could fix it.

I just... She shook her head and gritted her teeth. "I want to strangle Mason’s mother. How could she not want something that’s obviously good for her daughter? I know this is probably a crappy thing to say, but I swear, she wants Sarah to stay as dependent as possible just so she can keep getting government-funded checks. I mean, God forbid Sarah learn how to manage on her own so that she can someday move out and live independently. Do you know Dawn still feeds her blended food through a straw?"

I blew out a breath as Reese raged on, relieved to learn her anger wasn’t directed at me. I was used to Mom’s ways, but the longer Reese was around us, the more it bugged her.

"And get this, Dawn hadn’t even heard of the Anat Baniel method? It’s like she doesn’t want to learn any more about cerebral palsy than she has to. And guess what else. I did, like, five minutes of internet research to discover there’s a World CP Day every year on the first Wednesday in October and March is CP Awareness month. Dawn had no idea when I told her. No. Idea. How could someone treat her own daughter this way?"

Satisfied I wasn’t the object of her anger, I rolled back to the table and returned to eating. When Reese appeared a few minutes later, she looked refreshed, as if her rant had actually helped.

Her smile was a lot happier when she grabbed her book bag off the floor and pulled it into her lap as she sat back down.