Author Heather SunseriNews and Other Random Thoughts
So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my hopes, dreams, and goals for 2018.
As we talked about at the end of 2017, I plan to do a lot more “talking” on the blog in 2018 in hopes that you’ll jump in and share your stories with me along the way. Now, I know what you’re thinking… Don’t we already do that on Facebook? And the answer is yes, of course we do, but I’ve come to realize that 1) Facebook won’t be around forever, 2) many of you aren’t on Facebook, and 3) Facebook isn’t always the most positive place to hang out.
Which brings me to my second thought of the day.
I don’t know if you noticed, but 2017 was filled with a lot of negative energy. Online and off. I don’t know about you, but that negativity wore me out. So, I’m saying “NO!” to negativity in 2018.
I have some pretty large writing and publishing goals for 2018.
I’ve got a jam-packed publishing schedule, including Desired in Darkness releasing on February 5, a 6th Mindspeak book, and a brand new series that I’ve already started writing (and that you guys are going to love, love, LOVE!).
I also have some even larger business goals for 2018 that I’m currently working on while I finish up the edits on Desired in Darkness.
There are times in our professional lives that we need to mix things up and reach higher. And in 2018, I’m planning to do just that. I’m in the planning stages of starting a brand spanking new business that will allow me to serve other authors in huge ways. It’s always been my goal to give back to the writers and authors who have helped me along the way and I’m looking forward to meeting even more authors that I might be able to help.
I know that was vague, but I promise more information is coming soon.
Those are my not-so-random thoughts for today. I would love to hear what your goals are for 2018. Do you make resolutions? I’m not so much as a resolution-maker as I am a goal-setter. And I tend to set goals any time I finish a large project. And since I’m in the process of wrapping up Desired in Darkness AND a new year was starting, it seems like the perfect time to set new goals and make plans.
Leave a comment and tell us what your goals are for the coming year. Or share something big going on in your life. Let’s chat!
Oh, and be sure to sign up to get these random thoughts in your inbox. You won’t receive every post in your inbox, but you’ll receive the ones like this one inviting you to come chat on the blog. (Remember, this signup is different from the kinda-monthly newsletter.)
Killing would come easy this time.
I tracked my target through the scope as he entered his Ashton Heights apartment. My mark and his wife occupied the first floor of a duplex, and I had a perfect view into his living room. He set his keys on a small table, shed his jacket—revealing the Glock that rested in a holster on his right side—then walked over, leaned down, and kissed his pregnant wife. He’d been working overtime the last few weeks, trying to hunt me down, and had come home late every night, after his wife was already asleep. She’d waited up for him tonight, though.
After removing his holster, he nestled in beside her and gathered her into his arms, her back to his chest. As he rested his palm against her large belly, she tilted her head back, giving him access to kiss her again.
She’d be devastated when her husband died. But Mike Donaldson had made too many mistakes over the last two years.
Trying to find me wasn’t even his biggest.
No, his biggest gaffe was treating Brooke poorly after her husband was killed. Piece of shit fed. And even worse friend. It wasn’t Brooke’s fault her husband was murdered. He would have been shot even if she had been there to back him up.
But that wasn’t how Agent Donaldson saw it. He blamed Brooke for not being there for Teddy that night—even though at the time she was suffering her own nightmare over losing her baby.
He was lucky I’d let him live this long.
Until recently, Donaldson had been a non-factor to me, a mild nuisance at best. But now he’d become a full-fledged pain in my ass. Forcing Brooke to reveal my identity—that was an unacceptable move. He was getting too close. And I simply didn’t have time to monitor both his movements and Brooke’s. Besides, I had preparations to make back in Kentucky—preparations for Brooke’s and my future.
So Donaldson would have to go. Too bad his kid would have to grow up without a father.
His wife laughed at something, and they both rose to their feet. They stood there in front of the window, and Donaldson wrapped his arms around his wife, though it was a struggle with her large stomach in the way. He kissed her on the forehead, and she walked away. He was staring after her with… a look of regret, maybe? He probably felt guilty for how much he’d worked in recent weeks. As well he should. His wife could certainly do better than Mike Donaldson.
I could have killed him right then. I had the perfect weapon for it, and a clear visual. One shot. The silencer would muffle the sound. His wife would hear the sound of glass breaking, but by the time she realized the source, Mike would be dead.
I lowered the gun, watched him for about thirty seconds more, and then, with a shake of my head, placed my rifle in the trunk and headed home.
Winter had come early. I climbed out of my Mini Cooper in my new knee-high leather boots, zipped my leather jacket as far as it would go, and pulled my scarf tighter around my neck.
Out of habit, I glanced both ways down the street and along the sidewalks for any sign of Romeo. I hadn’t laid eyes on him lately, but that didn’t stop the little hairs on the back of my neck from lifting from time to time. Now that I knew what he looked like, he’d actually become more difficult to spot.
But not impossible. I’d spotted him about a month ago, in downtown Lexington, when Declan and I were walking into a restaurant to meet Aidan and Marti for dinner. I’d started to go after him, but decided not to give him the attention he was looking for. And so as not to ruin a great night out with friends, I kept it from Declan, and Aidan and Marti, and instead texted Mike Donaldson. By the time he called in an agent or a police officer—I didn’t ask which—to check it out, Romeo was long gone.
I grabbed my tote from the passenger seat, then crossed the road toward Julep Hill Inn and Café, where I was meeting Ty for breakfast. The cold air smacked against my face, making my eyes water. Snow was forecast for the weekend, which wasn’t good for those of us traveling to Virginia for the engagement party my parents were throwing.
I had been against having an engagement party at my parents’ home, but my mother and father had insisted. And when my grandparents called—each on a different landline extension inside the same house—I knew I was trapped. Who still used landline telephones anyway? Not to mention, my mother—whom Declan still hadn’t met—had called Declan directly to discuss the idea. And of course, he was on board.
We had yet to set a wedding date. We’d also yet to decide on a location, or anything else. The fact that we were getting married was enough for me. And Declan hadn’t pushed too hard.
Not yet, anyway.
I wanted more than anything to be Declan’s wife, but the stress that came with a wedding… and one involving my family? That I didn’t want.
Julep Hill Café was busy with the morning rush. Carrie Anne and Marti Cinnamond had put up the Thanksgiving decorations as soon as the last piece of candy had been handed out on Halloween night, and Carrie Anne had made the café cozy this morning with a fire in the fireplace to combat the downturn in temperature. The tables were full of people engaging in small-town banter over coffee and breakfast.
I spotted Ty at our usual table in the corner. And before I even reached him, Greta, Carrie Anne’s newest, straight-out-of-Texas employee, was pouring me a cup of coffee and setting a miniature pitcher of cream on the table.
“Carrie Anne should give you a raise, Greta,” I said as I set my bag in the extra seat. “That’s some good service there.”
“Well Ty here warned me you were comin’.” She gave me a big Texas smile. “He said, and I quote: ‘Brooke’s on her way. She’s grumpy if the coffee’s not waitin’ for her.’”
I angled my head toward Ty. “I am not grumpy.” To Greta I added, “Thank you.” I pulled my scarf off and shed my jacket, hanging both on the back of my chair.
“Do you two want a minute before you order?”
Ty looked to me. “I’m ready.”
I sat and grabbed the menu. “Then I can be, too. You go ahead.”
Ty ordered an omelet, and I ordered the quiche. We each got a bowl of fruit.
When Greta was gone, Ty stared at me over his steaming mug. “Where’s Declan?”
“He had an early meeting at the office. He was acting very strange about it, too.” I began doctoring my coffee.
“Just seemed to have a lot on his mind.” Declan had early business meetings all the time, but this morning he’d received a phone call early, something about an employee’s absence, and he’d seemed concerned about it. And he kept quizzing me about my plans for the morning. He and I were to meet back at the house around midday to pack and leave for Virginia.
I gave my head a little shake. “I’m sure it was nothing.”
“Well, James was running around the house frantically looking for anything we might need to attend a fancy party at the home of the director of the FBI. I told him I was going to work since the boss lady had taken the day off.”
I laughed. “He needs a suit. That’s it. And I don’t even care if he wears that. My parents might like to put on a formal affair, and I’m happy for an excuse to buy a nice pair of designer shoes for myself, but I could care less what everyone else wears. I just want your happy faces there to celebrate.”
“You don’t sound so excited about your own engagement party,” Ty said.
“It’s not the engagement. It’s the party being thrown in my parents’ fancy Virginia home, and the hoopla my mother will most definitely bring to the event. Just wait. She’ll have me sitting for a formal wedding portrait in a hideous, oversized dress made of layers and layers of organza before the end of the weekend.”
“You don’t strike me as the frilly type.”
“Why do you think I eloped the first time around?”
“That’s the rub. Your mother is bitter that you cut her out of seeing her only daughter’s big day.”
“No, she’s bitter because I cut her out of planning the big day. Period. It has nothing to do with me. And now she thinks she’s been given a second chance. And she hasn’t once called me to ask what I want. Anyway,” I waved a hand, “I didn’t ask you to meet me for a therapy session. We have other matters to discuss.”
Ty lifted a brow. “We do? I thought you were taking the day off.”
“This has nothing to do with the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security.” I reached into my bag and pulled out a three-ring binder the color of a robin’s egg. On the front of it was a three-dimensional cardboard cutout of a headless woman in a wedding dress holding a bouquet of flowers.
Ty’s face lit up, and he clapped his hands like a child who’d just been told he was going to Disney World. “Are you going to let me help you plan the big day?” He scooted his chair closer. “This is fabulous. We can sidestep your mom and do the whole thing ourselves. What do you think about a sunset wedding behind Declan’s house in June?” He placed a hand over his heart. “A June bride.” He sighed. “We could rent a couple of the large tents, like the parties Declan has thrown in the past, for the reception…”
He trailed off when he saw my annoyed stare.
“Did you forget who you were you talking to?” I asked.
He nodded toward the binder. “That’s not a wedding planner?”
“Uh, no. It was. But I took out the inside and replaced it with my own… organizational material.”
I opened the notebook and began flipping through pages until I found the notes I’d taken during my conversation with Mike Donaldson, the FBI agent to whom I’d given all of my evidence on Romeo. “Mike called.”
Ty put a hand on the notebook and angled his head so that he could see the writing inside. Then he drew back. “Please tell me that you did not convert that powder blue binder into a case file for finding Romeo.”
I blinked a couple of times. “Okay. I won’t.”
He looked unsure whether to encourage me. “Does Declan know you’re still investigating Romeo?”
“Declan knows me. And I’m not investigating Romeo. I’m letting the FBI handle it. That’s why I told Mike everything. I’m just keeping what I know organized so I don’t forget anything.”
“Uh-huh.” Ty was in full-on disapproval mode. “So tell me. What did Agent Donaldson have to say?”
I ignored his judgmental tone. “Okay, you remember the photo that Anya Bhatia left for me to find—the one that first clued me in to Romeo’s real name.”
Ty nodded. “Of course. Woodford Clay Harrison.”
“Right. Well, Mike called me yesterday before I left the office to tell me that three of the seven men in that photo, not including Romeo, died fairly recently. One by an apparent heart attack, another in a terrible car accident, and the third, just last week, from carbon monoxide poisoning. And a fourth man, Christopher Calloway, hasn’t been heard from in a couple of months.”
“That sounds like a lot of bad luck for a small list of young, healthy men. I mean, who doesn’t have a carbon monoxide detector these days?”
“Right? I don’t know the details of their deaths, but isn’t that strange? What if—”
“No!” Ty leaned back and crossed his arms.
“No, what? You don’t even know what I was going to say.”
“I know you. You’re trying to turn those accidental deaths into murders.”
I pointed a finger at him. “You said it, not me.”
“Is that what Mike thinks?”
“He didn’t say. But I get the impression he was not-so-subtly requesting my help. He called me to see if I had contact information for a couple of the other men on the list—and he mentioned that Calloway is from the DC area, as if he was hoping I’d make a side trip. It sounds like he’s not having a lot of luck getting in touch with any of the men in the photo. Including, of course, Jeremy Lannister, who’s not exactly talking to authorities.”
“Because he’s in prison for shooting Bradley Archer, who happens to be the man who shot Declan.”
“Right. The prosecutors still claim they have airtight evidence that Lannister was involved in the shooting, but everything in my gut tells me that Romeo set Lannister up. Just like my gut is telling me that those men didn’t die of natural or accidental causes.”
“And how does your gut think these men died?”
“My gut says Romeo is killing them.”
“Mike has the weight of the FBI behind him in this investigation. Why call you?”
“Mike says the FBI has pulled back from the investigation and has ordered him to elevate the priority of other cases. He’s got limited time to devote to it now. Romeo’s been put on the back burner.”
Ty massaged his forehead. When he looked at me again, his face was soft with concern. “What are you doing, Brooke?”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at you. You’re hiding the fact that you’re still investigating Romeo by concealing it inside a wedding planner so that Declan won’t be angry.”
“That’s not why,” I said weakly. I closed the binder and folded my hands together on top of it. “I just don’t want to hurt him. But I needed to keep these details close in case Romeo continued to be a problem. How am I supposed to start my life with Declan when a stalker is still following me around?”
“Or,” Ty said, “maybe there is no stalker anymore. You haven’t seen him since you discovered his real identity.”
I felt guilty that for not having told Ty about seeing Romeo recently. “He’s disappeared before,” I said. “He always comes back.” That was the truth.
Ty placed a hand on top of mine. He started to speak, but Greta returned with our breakfasts. I slid the “planner” back into my bag.
“Sorry that took so long.” Greta set our food down in front of us and put a basket in the middle of the table. “Here’s some scones and muffins I made for the café.”
“You bake, too?” I said. “Carrie Anne really should definitely give you a raise.”
“I’m working on it.” She winked as she grabbed a pot of coffee and topped off our mugs. “Can I get either of you anything else?”
“No, thank you,” I said. Ty shook his head.
When Greta was gone, Ty placed his hand on mine again. “You’ll hurt Declan if you keep this from him. This is not your case.”
I stared deeply into Ty’s eyes. Ty was my best friend—the kind of friend who told me the truth even if it hurt me or pissed me off. “You’re right,” I said. “I know you’re right. That’s why I’m going to tell him everything as soon as I get back to Shaughnessy. Before we leave for Virginia.” With a heavy breath, I grabbed my fork and stabbed a strawberry. “It’s this engagement party. It’s got me all twisted up. And when Mike called, I jumped at the chance to get back involved with the investigation. Especially if the FBI is backing off.”
“You and Mike still think Romeo can tell you something about the night Teddy died.”
“I know he can. But that’s not the point at the moment.”
“And this list of men is the point?”
“Will Mike be at the party?”
“Yeah. As long as Marie doesn’t go into labor.”
“Mike’s going to be a daddy?” Ty didn’t even bother to hide his surprise at the thought of Mike becoming a father. He had never been a fan of Mike’s, especially after Teddy’s death, when Mike deserted me, blaming me for whatever had gone wrong that night. But I knew now that Mike had just been mourning Teddy in his own way.
“Yep. And he’s so excited. I could hear it in his voice. It’s a side to him I’ve never heard.”
“Well, if he’s at the party, I’m willing to hear him out on what he’s found so far. If he can convince me that there’s a chance that Romeo is actually murdering these men, I’ll help you hunt the rest of them down. They should at least know that a psycho killer might be coming for them.”
I placed a hand on his forearm. “Thank you.”
“But I do have one condition.”
I lifted both brows.
“You tell Declan everything. Don’t keep secrets from him.”
“I’ll tell him everything. Today. I wasn’t planning to keep it from him. Until now, it hadn’t been a thing to tell.”
“And…” Ty paused. “I know I don’t have to tell you that if Romeo is murdering those men, that explains his disappearance from your life, which means the vacancy could be only temporary.”
“No, you don’t have to tell me that.”
You’ve reached the end of this excerpt. Pre-order Desired in Darkness!
My daughter and I ventured to the mall on Wednesday to check out a “today only” sale on luggage. I try very hard to steer clear of the mall (and any place within a 1 mile radius) starting the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through January 2. The crowds, the “Today Only” sales that aren’t really today only, and the traffic headaches that come with venturing to the mall during the holidays just isn’t my thing. (I promise I’m not a grinch!)
But… the hustle and bustle that comes with rushing around and purchasing last-minute gifts, getting work done so that you can enjoy a few days off with family, and making that huge to-do list before family arrives serves a purpose.
I think that all that craziness leading up to the holidays helps us appreciate when the silent night finally arrives. I mean, that’s what all that pre-holiday anxiety and fretting is all about, right? Getting everything just so just in time to relax and be still.
For me, still on my to-do list are the following items: baking sugar cookies with the kids, planning the Christmas Eve meal, the Christmas Day meal, Christmas morning breakfast/brunch, shopping for all of those items, purchasing new lights for the tree on my front porch that decided to stop working, restringing that same tree, polishing a couple of silver ornaments that I never got around to polishing when the tree went up, wrapping the rest of the gifts,
sending out Christmas cards (not going to happen), and many other things I’m sure I’m forgetting at the time I’m writing this.
With all those items still to be done, I’m thinking the craziness and never-ending to-do list not only helps us appreciate the silent night when it finally arrives, but it also serves to help us to be extra thankful during the season. At least it has helped me to take a step back and be extra thankful for of the thoughtful people in my life.
Will all of the things on my to-do list get done? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m pretty sure I’m letting the tree on the front porch go. I’ll worry about that next Christmas. And the meals? I promise, we’ll eat, but I’m not striving for perfection at this point. And I don’t think my family is expecting perfection.
There is a certain beauty and peace in imperfection, after all.
While my daughter and I were in the mall on Wednesday, a young woman walked into the Teavana store where we were sniffing and analyzing teas (that were on sale today only). The sales person asked, “Is there anything I can help you with today?” And the girl proclaimed on a heavy sigh, “I’m supposed to buy a gift for my boyfriend to give his mother. I don’t even know her or what she likes, but here I am.”
My daughter shot me a look, her eyebrows lifting. We were both wondering the same thing: Why was this poor girl responsible for her boyfriend’s mother’s Christmas gift? She was obviously not happy about the fact that the task of shopping for a woman she barely knew had fallen on her. But, and I’m guessing here, she loved/liked her boyfriend a lot and was trying to do a favor for him, even if that favor was causing her a small amount of grief.
I found myself wanting to grab her hand and offer her some encouragement. In the wise words of my late mother: “This too shall pass.”
And as I sit here this morning, December 22, I’m struck with all sorts of thoughts of my mother and the things she did for her family when I was young. While I rush around for the holidays and often feel that I am the only one in the family who is worried about ALL THE THINGS coming together for the actual holiday, I remember how she did the same thing with what appeared to be such ease and grace when I was young. And I’m struck by a single bible verse in the middle of the story of the birth of Jesus:
“Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.“
Though my mother probably complained a bit more than Mary, I know that she did all the things many of us are trying to do this holiday season – the shopping, the meal planning, the decorating, the wrapping, the baking, etc. And I know that like us, my mom didn’t do everything perfectly. But that’s not what I choose to remember. I choose to remember the grace, the beauty, and the smiles of Christmases past.
So, when I read that small verse inserted in the middle of a perfectly imperfect story of the birth of Jesus Christ, I’m reminded that Mary didn’t have everything perfectly planned out for the birth of her son. Yet, I believe she was thankful for the shelter, the swaddling cloths, and for everyone who visited and brought gifts.
I, too, am thankful this Christmas season. And I’ve reached the point of the season that I don’t want to worry about all the things that won’t get done. I want to take a step back and be thankful for what has gotten done and for all the people in my life who will celebrate the glorious beauty in the imperfection of life.
And right now, as I sit in a mostly silent house, I think I will go and hang those silver ornaments that are not polished on my tree. And I will take a step back and admire their imperfection.
I hope you have a very Merry Christmas. Here’s to all of us celebrating imperfection and giving thanks for the people in our lives who are willing to take on the burdens of providing even a piece of what will make our holidays nearly perfect.
In case you missed the news in the newsletter, I’m writing a 6th Mindspeak book! I know, right???
I’m in the process of rereading the Mindspeak series (all FIVE books). And because it’s been a while since I’ve written inside the Mindspeak world, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite scenes and see if you agree.
If you’ve never read Mindspeak, you can use this as a sample of the book and decide if you want to give the book a try. If you have read Mindspeak, this will bring back memories.
First up? This scene gives us major insight into who Jack is and tells us what makes Lexi want to steer clear of the guy who has mysteriously slipped into her life and her boarding school. This scene is from Chapter 3. If you haven’t read Mindspeak yet, it is currently free everywhere.
I pulled a headphone from my ear and listened. I heard only the drip of a leaky faucet, so I shook off any paranoia. The sound must have been a locker closing. Another swimmer getting in an evening swim.
Shrugging, I started toward the exit again. The lights went out. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. My body froze, muscles tightened. Swallowing hard, I removed my ear buds and stuffed them in the pocket of my hoodie. “Hello?”
Nothing. The door to the pool area creaked opened and closed. The only light shone from an exit sign above the door to the hallway.
I stood, unmoving. Listening for footsteps. Anything. Maybe a custodian who didn’t realize someone was in here. I took another step.
The crashing of lockers cracked the silence, like a sudden clap of thunder in the dead of night. I flinched. My heart raced as if I had just finished a fifty-yard sprint. Paralyzing fear never won races. With my eyes finally adjusted to the dim light, I ran.
I swung open the door and almost pulled it from its hinges. I flew into the hallway, plowing into someone walking by. The person grabbed my arms and attempted to stop my forward motion, but it was too late. I knocked into the figure so hard that we both tumbled to the ground, tapping heads along the way.
I reached out a hand to break the fall and my arm got trapped beneath both bodies.
“Ow,” I moaned. “I’m so sorry.” I raised my head and met stormy blue eyes. “Jack?” Of all the people… A lightning bolt of pain shot through my arm, and my head ached.
“What is wrong with you?” Irritation wove through each word. He lifted his head, our faces only inches apart. The annoyance slowly faded, replaced by a bemused smile.
I breathed hard. Rolling off, I held my arm close to my body. “Ow,” I groaned again. The pain was enough to make me lightheaded. Had I just broken my wrist? Heat spread upwards to my cheeks.
Jack pushed himself up and then lifted me easily. “Why are you in such a hurry?” he asked.
“Someone was in there.” I inhaled and let the breath out slowly. Embarrassed, I pretended to cross my arms, while in actuality, I cushioned my arm against my ribs. I didn’t want Jack to know I might have just broken it.
Concern blanketed Jack’s face. “What do you mean? In there?” He thumbed toward the locker room. “Who?”
“If I knew, do you really think I would have bulldozed you?”
“Well, let’s just have a look, shall we?” His voice was calm. He pushed through the door to the girls’ locker room.
I followed close behind him. A cold sweat broke out across my forehead and down my arms.
He flipped on the lights. “Is anyone in here?” We searched around every corner until we reached the opposite side of the showers and through the door to the pool.
“No one’s here.” He turned his eyes on me. “Why don’t you tell me exactly what happened?”
By then, my heart had slowed. Whoever had been in the locker room was long gone. Then it dawned on me. “I’m such an idiot.” I laughed. “Great. That’s just perfect.”
“What’s perfect?” he asked. A line formed between his eyes.
Briana. Exactly the sort of thing she would do. Put me on edge; try to knock me off my game. “Nothing. I’m sorry. Someone was just playing a bad joke on me. And I think I know exactly who.”
“Who?” he asked, not convinced.
I shook my head. “Not your problem. Really. I think someone was just trying to scare me. Do you mind if we just forget this?”
He seemed to let it go. We walked back the same way we came. “You missed dinner,” he said when we reached the door to the hallway again.
“I’ll live.” I hated my aloof tone. But what? He was tracking my eating habits now?
I entered the hallway, followed by Jack.
“Well, well, well. What do we have here?” Kyle Jones, captain of the swim team, stopped in the middle of the hallway. A smirk spread across his face.
“Hi,” I said, cringing. Though Kyle was a friend, he was also friends with Briana, and I didn’t really need anyone knowing I had paranoid fears of that girl. “Have you met Jack?”
“I don’t believe so. Hey, man. You’re the new guy, right? How’s it going?” Kyle shook Jack’s hand.
“Great. Nice to meet you.” Jack stuffed both hands in the front pockets of his khakis.
“Kyle is on the swim team with me.” As I’m sure Jack could tell by the Wellington Swim Team sweatshirt he had on. “And my really good friend.”
Kyle nodded, his dark brown hair hung in a messy shag around his face. His grin and the way he folded his arms across his chest told me he couldn’t wait to get me alone and ask me what was going on between me and the new guy.
“Lexi was assigned to be my tour guide.” Jack gave me a sideways glance, answering the question I suspected Kyle had. His eyes drifted down to my arm that I still held close to my body. I squirmed under his scrutiny.
“And she was showing you the girls’ locker room?” Kyle asked.
Fire crept up my neck and exploded across my cheeks. “You know me. I like to be thorough.” I flashed an unspoken “thank you” to Jack for not telling Kyle what had happened. I didn’t need Kyle joining the growing list of members in the Lexi’s a Freak Club. Jack was already president. That was enough.
“Well, I’ve got a trig test to study for,” Kyle said. “I’ll catch you two later.”
I gave him a low wave with my good hand as he passed us and continued toward the boy’s dorms.
Alone again, Jack brushed his fingers along my hurt arm. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I tried to keep my tone even. The truth was my arm radiated fire. “Thanks for not revealing to Kyle that I’m an idiot.”
“What? Because someone purposely tried to scare you while you were alone in a locker room? That makes you an idiot?”
“And they were quite successful. I feel stupid, that’s all.” I looked down at my pink toenails peeking out from my sliders. When I lifted my head, Jack’s eyes burned into mine.
“How’s your arm?”
I squeezed my eyes tight. Caught. I tried to move my fingers, but pain stopped me. “Broken?” I sighed. “Which is just perfect. How am I supposed to swim with a broken arm?”
“Your face is pale.” He reached his fingers to my face. “You’re clammy. And you have a knot on your forehead where our heads hit.”
Thank you for that thorough examination.
He reached for my other arm. “Let’s go.” He glanced down the hallway in both directions before leading me back into the girls’ locker room. His eyes were wide, crazed.
“What are you doing? Where are we going?”
He said nothing as he led me around the corner close to the bathroom stalls and I let him. This guy, who showed up yesterday, was going to murder me right here inside this locker room, and no one was going to find my body until morning. By then, he’d be long gone.
I wasn’t usually one for melodrama, but…
Jack faced me. “I’m sorry. You’re not ready for this, but you’ve left me no choice.”
“Not ready for what?” My chest rose and fell.
“Sit.” Jack walked over to the sinks and splashed water on his face. He stared at himself in the mirror like he was mentally preparing for something.
“Excuse me?” I examined the tile floor. A used Band-aid littered a nearby corner. “I’m not sitting on this disgusting floor.”
He closed the distance between us. His fingers wrapped around my good arm. “Sit.”
I should fight him. Kick him in the shin. Punch him in the face. Something. Instead, I leaned against the wall, and holding my elbow, he guided me down the wall.
He knelt on one knee in front of me. “You’re going to have to trust me.”
“Trust you?” My breathing sped up. I searched his eyes and found a warmth there that I struggled to believe. “I barely know you.” I wanted to trust him, but fear wrapped itself around my heart and squeezed. My arm throbbed.
“I know.” His voice was calm. “This isn’t ideal circumstances, for sure.” There was zero humor to his voice. I sensed something, though. Regret, maybe.
“What are you going to do to me?” A tear escaped down my cheek, and he wiped it away with his thumb. His touch felt gentle.
“I want you to take a deep breath when I say ‘now.’ You are going to feel intense pain at first, but then it will be gone. Try not to scream. Okay?”
I shook my head. Try not to scream? “No, it’s not okay. Don’t—” I wanted to scoot away from him. Run. But he didn’t give me time to think.
“Now! Deep breath.”
I did as I was told and sucked in the deepest breath. My eyes locked onto his as I held it.
Jack wrapped both of his hands around my broken wrist. Pain exploded through my arm. I was paralyzed by the fire beneath his palms.
He closed his eyes. Tears escaped mine. My mouth went dry.
Almost as suddenly as the blast had shot through my arm, the ache dulled. Jack let go of my arm. I released my breath. I was close to passing out from the lightheadedness and pain. Jack’s hand supported the side of my head, lowering me to the cold floor.
He stood and darted to a bathroom stall. I wasn’t sure, but it sounded like he threw up. He returned to the sink. I heard running water. My vision was fuzzy.
Next, I felt the coolness of his fingers linger around my forehead. I tried to focus on his eyes, but couldn’t.
“You’re going to be fine.” One arm slid under my legs, the other hugged my back, and he lifted. He bent his head into my neck, his breath next to my ear. “I’m sorry.”
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