When I was seven, I was bored. That happened a lot when I was a kid since I’m an only child! 🙂 I whined to my dad, “I’m bored!” His response, with a magnanimous wave of a hand, “There’s a bookcase. Go get a book.” So, I grabbed the biggest, brightest book there (a college biology book) and began from the beginning. It took a long time, a looong time to finish that book. Never one to do anything by halves, I wanted to be an actress, a vet and an astronaut–simultaneously, of course–but decided to be a horse trainer instead. (Really? A horse trainer? Yes, what of it?) No, I’m not a horse whisperer. A horse doesn’t care what you whisper at it. A horse wants apples, carrots and cookies. Especially cookies. Just like people. 😉 I’m also not a cowgirl (cows scare me!) and I don’t race my horses. Sigh . . . I’ve heard it all a million times! LOL Anyways, my mom was a reader, books tucked everywhere around my childhood home, and my dad was a writer, little half-finished stories under the coffee table and between the cushions. I’ve acquired both habits on a grander scale (remember, nothing by halves? LOL) and have boxes of books above your head filling up a whole room and my computer hard drive filled up with bits and bytes of half-finished stories. It’s a disease, I kid you not!
Excerpt from Bittersweet: Sanctuary (The Bittersweet Series, Book 1)
(5 Years Ago…)
Hurry, hurry, hurry…
“Come on, honey. We have to go.” Dread curled low in her gut, the urgent words a catalyst for fearsome change. “Right now.”
When she pulled the covers back from the sleeping child, the ten-year-old’s eyes had snapped wide and the girl took a startled breath. No other sound escaped her small frame. She understood the girl’s fear. Their shared anxieties, more often than not, justified with grim result in the dark of night.
As the child nodded her assent, it struck her odd how they both woke from their enforced dormancy of slumber. Holding out to the last possible moment, sleep more a time of vulnerability than of rest and recovery, they both woke fully aware, senses edged like those of a wild animal threatened by some unknown danger. Survival of the fittest. The fastest.
The fucking scaredest…
The thin child clung to her waist a moment but with the speed of rising tension, shrugged into the clothes thrust upon her.
She whispered directions and helped the waif-like child stuff money into her pockets, the waistband of her tucked in shirt, and down the jacket sleeves. Settling the backpack full of more money and clothes on the girl’s narrow shoulders, she checked the straps for maneuverability and fit.
The girl would be the mule. The one carrying all their worldly possessions. She herself would be the defense. Light for speed. Only weapons and deadly intent.
The girl’s slight form turned to face her and she briefly considered the child’s quietness. The lack of questions about motives or plans. No need-to-knows…no what-abouts…just the willingness to submit. To obey. Certainly, not a typical kid.
‘Course, this isn’t a typical life we lead. Or flee.
“I love you, mama.”
Looking at the solemn expression on the child, she recognized the narrow glint of fight still sparking in those ancient eyes full of pain and degradation. The same glint fired in her own when she cared to look in the mirror.
“I love you, too, honey.”
A shudder of fear coursed through the small body when she grabbed the girl’s hand. Her breath squeezed tight in an agony of doubt. Indecision, denial, burning hatred…revenge.
Messing with your head, woman. Get to work. It’s only a job. Get through it and break down later.
Riding the wave of silent conviction, she breathed in the shuttered atmosphere of the mansion at night as they eased out the bedroom door. Shadows cloaked them as she allowed the air currents to wash over her, to touch any life force around her, making it possible for her to decipher any threat in the vicinity. The soft, bird-like flutters of the child behind her and her own strong heartbeat were the only indications of movement filtered through her heightened senses.
They crept down the stairs into the palatial living room. Every sound intensified to a keening edge, she felt every moment drawn out like the high note of a chorus ringing in her ears.
She waited for the crack. The break of the final note that’d send them crashing over the edge. Her thighs and arms screamed with the need to move quicker. To get out. Only the gossamer strands of restraint held in the small grip of the child behind her, wrapped around her heart, held her back.
Her nostrils flared at the rancid smell of violence. Old blood and fear. Imagined? She couldn’t convince herself of it. The cold, icy gazes of the carved alabaster sculptures on their marble pedestals and antique credenzas stood in silent censure to the ongoing brutality of the dwelling. Sneering, she struggled to hold back a snarl of contempt, wanting to break every last benign expression for their inaction. For watching and allowing.
Though the twice-damned bastard she’d married was out for the night, his many cohorts prowled the mansion, guns at the ready. Built like hulking trolls, she preferred not to tangle with them while distracted by the presence of her small charge. A tactical necessity, though she squirmed to release the buildup of adrenaline.
A sound caught her attention. Not even so much as that. A breath of movement. She knew he was silent as darkness, damn near insubstantial as a hidden intent. His mere thought preceded him like smoke on water.
No, no, no…you’re not supposed to be here, yet!
Denial skittered through her even as her heart clawed its way to her throat. Its furious tempo threatened to strangle her airways when she recognized the source, long ago learning to heed the warning of her intuition.
Backpedaling swiftly, she ran into the girl, spun around and shoved the slight form back up the stairs. “Hurry! Hurry!” she whispered frantically, their feet flashing in a blur of anxiety. “Back to your room. Hurry!”
She grabbed the backpack from the girl’s shoulders as they darted through the door and shoved it under the bed. “Here…” and she lifted the covers for the girl to leap beneath and then yanked them to her chin, effectively camouflaging her attire. “Change your clothes later. Don’t forget!”
The girl’s eyes rounded, frantic and fearful, as she nodded.
Abruptly, she tensed. He was there. She knew it. She could feel him.
Too late. Out of time. Time’s up.
Eyes, like a knife, slid into her back with palpable fury, cutting all hope from her heart. The air wafted currents of evil darkness over her.
Distantly, she heard the little girl whimper—my heart, my soul—but all focus zeroed in on the menace behind her even before visual confirmation.
She turned. Her husband stood in the doorway, dim light from the hall haloing his malignant form. He looked from her, to her clothing, and then to the girl, wild-eyed and shaking in the bed.
Goddamn you to hell and back for torturing us. For torturing me. For allowing me to think I had her free from you.
With a small smile of indulgence and curt nod, giving the impression her mental words were the chemical process, the radioactive decay unleashing him, he leapt across the room as if sinister thought held no earthly bounds. Alighting before her, settling to the ground like an inhuman demon of flight, his hands wrapped around her throat before she thought to react.
The sound of the girl’s scream whipped through her body, evidence of the child’s raw fear glimpsed before she clapped her small hands over her mouth and swallowed it down.
Conditioned reflex took over. A palm shoved into the man’s nose broke his grasp. Her throat spasmed a few non-breaths before the damn thing realized it was free and allowed her an agonized, raw inhalation.
Movement flashed in her lower vision. Blocking the lightning fast blow to her stomach, she whirled away and threw a kick towards the man landing on his thigh. Not her intent and not goddamn good enough.
The momentum of her thrust was used against her and in that half-moment of instability, whereas another opponent would just block the kick, he grabbed her leg and shoved her to the floor. Breaking the fall with her forearms prevented a concussion but she then had to cover her head as he dragged her backwards in a sudden breath-stealing heave. Lamps flew across the room and books crashed to the floor in a detonation of sound as she slammed through the table legs. Starbursts of light strobed behind her eyes while she shook her head to clear the dizziness.
Vaguely, she kept hearing more screams of panic, “Don’t, father! Stop it! Stop!” but the booming in her ears felt louder. The crash of thunder and lightning.
Instinct and agility kicked in, acquired from years of primal struggle with this man, allowing her to curl forward on her body length and grab the back of his leg. He careened sideways as her precise finger pressure and weight buckled the knee.
A brief flash of surprise caught her off guard. A flare of satisfaction.
You are slow tonight, my husband.
Though her chances were still nil next to none, she had caused him to lose balance, something rarely seen.
The bruising grip on her thigh let up and he stumbled back, arms wide, before regaining balance. She fell with another breath-stealing thud along her spine but then leapt to her feet and out the door trying to take the fight out of the girl’s room.
Halfway down the hall, not even hearing his feather light tread, she hissed in pain at the grip in her hair. The skin on the back of her head stretched and tears sprang to her eyes as her stride faltered to a bone-grinding halt. Striking back with an elbow, she landed a blow to his stomach. His grip loosened but not long enough for her to struggle free.
He yanked her back sharply against him and grappled his arm around her throat, strangling and dragging her flailing body across the carpet towards their bedroom.
Like a rabbit in a snare, a strangling animal in a trap, lack of air took her to the edge of oblivion. Her legs thrashed and kicked hollow booms of impact against the banister and walls trying to get leverage for release. Her hands clawed into his arm as the primitive need for air overtook her ability to reason.
“Father! Please! I just wanted to see my mother. I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” The little girl screamed her terror in a frenzy of tears and panic. “I’ll do anything you say. Please stop. You’re killing her!”
He released the elbow lock around her neck and tossed her across the room with casual, cruel intent. She landed in a tangled knot against the wall, bruised arms and legs pointing every which way. To add further insult to injury, the picture frames on the wall above her head fell in a cascade of impact upon her body. Frames and glass flew apart as if waiting for this moment to lose their cohesive bonds. Blood welled from new wounds as a harsh bark of air convulsed her lungs. The grotesquely alien sound shocked her…shamed her…
She looked up to see the dispassionate visage of the man she married turn on his daughter and raise his hand to strike her with offhand indifference. The girl stood her ground and stuck out her chin, tears in her eyes.
Hate sliced through her like a hot sword, severing whatever connection she had with humanity in that moment. A blistering, burning sweep of rage and denial. Not this time, you bastard!
With a wild curse of the already damned, she launched herself from the floor, lifting her leg to snap a kick like a thunderbolt towards his body.
I am your justice. I am your hatred. I am your creation…
But in his explosive reaction, hands moving in a blur too fast to see, too screaming, goddamn fast to block, she levitated over his head and crashed to the floor with a resounding, house rattling boom. The glass in the window above her, half the size of the wall, rattled in its frame at the strike of her body against the floorboards.
She staggered to her feet, hands wiping at the blood spewing from her nose. She turned and stared in horror…too late to duck…too fucking late to react. The kick shot out and in a crawl of half-seconds, split infinitesimally smaller, freeze framed for her to later review at her torturous soul condemning leisure, she felt her body lift through the air, balance a moment in arc, and then crash through the huge window. Somewhat disappointed, she had thought it would prevent her fall, even as the shards of glass fell like rain around her.
The scene stuttered forward haltingly, distantly, as though it was a movie and the old-time projector was failing. As if she were looking out the back window of a car watching the moment gradually diminish with distance and time.
The man reached for her in belated, open-mouthed shock, the first emotion to cross his face after the initial moment of satisfaction at the girl’s bedroom door. She watched as the little girl, eyes wide with stark horror, screamed her denial in a frenzy of anguish.
Even in that moment, teetering on the edge of oblivion, when his hand brushed hers trying to pull her to the relative safety of the room, she blocked his grip with instincts honed by fire.
Hell will freeze first…and then she wished she could take it back.
My punishment…my failure…for leaving her with him…
Her downward spiral halted abruptly with the impact of the earth’s surface and felt anticlimactic. Momentarily confused by the fact her descent to the underworld wouldn’t be nonstop, she listened to the screams of a wounded animal before realizing the sound dragged from the pits of hell emanated from her own lungs.