In the vanity mirror of her old bathroom, Helena caught sight of her naked torso and wished she hadn’t. She’d known her body looked bad. But it was so much worse than she’d imagined.
Water rained from the showerhead, ringing against the old claw-foot tub, a sound that should’ve comforted her for its familiarity, but it didn’t. Not now. Not staring at the disaster that was her body.
Her skin bore witness to the brutality she’d suffered at the hands of the Sisters. Thick scars. Jagged scars. Smooth scars. Sunken-in hollows. Disfiguring and ghastly to look upon. The top of her left breast had a fat, puckered mark from one of the Sisters trying to bury a screwdriver in her heart.
Dizziness came over her. The world distorted, fading out of focus until the only thing visible was the mess of her flesh. Every damaged piece of skin flamed to life, burning and itching in an I-won’t-ever-let-you-forget of epic proportions.
She turned and looked over her shoulder at her back in the mirror.
The ability to breathe stopped. Both sides bore dozens, maybe hundreds, of scars from the gang shanking she’d endured. The raised, angry skin looked like a grotesque pair of fleshy wings had slipped down her shoulders to rest in the middle of her back.
The night of the gang shanking was one of her worst memories. She’d struggled and fought the Sisters’ hold on her until she couldn’t fight any more. After that, it had been about endurance.
It wasn’t until they’d left her alone, with only her blood to keep her warm, that she’d felt her consciousness fade and embraced death with wide, open arms.
She should’ve died.
She should’ve died after the first wounds.
She should’ve died after they left her lying there until morning.
But life was so much crueler than death.
She’d awakened in the hospital after that one. Cuffed to the bed. Every nurse, every doctor pretended to be unafraid of her. All of them failed. Because of course the CO stationed with her had told everyone why she was in Fairson. Murder.
Hospitals were just a different type of prison.
A sob launched out her throat, slamming her back to reality. She clamped her hand over her mouth, not wanting Thomas to hear.
She was not going to cry. Not again. But another sob threatened to erupt. This time she understood it was about more than the Sisters. It was about Fairson and being a felon and about how the wounds of her past would never heal.
Thomas would eventually find out she was a felon. Not just any felon. Convicted of murder. That was condemnation enough, but when he found out that she’d grown up in this house… That was too much of a coincidence for him to dismiss. He’d probably be frightened of her. Think she was plotting his death to get her home back.
She turned away from the mirror and got into the tub, closing the shower curtain around her. Water stung the cut on her forehead, and she realized too late that she’d forgotten to unbandage her hand. Oh well. She’d rebandage herself after the shower, and if she was lucky, she’d be able to sneak back to her camp, pack up, and leave for a hotel before Thomas woke.
A fresh, unused bar of soap sat in the soap holder. There wasn’t a washrag, but that didn’t matter. She lathered her body and even used the soap in her hair. When she finally felt clean, she just stood there, steeling herself for leaving this house and leaving Thomas. She wasn’t sure which upset her more.
So what if he’d been kind? Kindness had limits.
So what if she trusted him? Trust could be broken.
A floorboard squeaked right outside the shower. Ice-cold betrayal streaked through her entire body despite the warm water raining over her. And right here was an example of trust being broken. She’d trusted him to understand her need for privacy. Not try to sneak in some shower sexcapades. She hadn’t locked the bathroom door. She hadn’t even shut it. Did he think that was an invitation?
She opened her mouth to tell him to go away, but hesitated. He didn’t deserve her voice if he was going to—
The shower curtain was yanked back so violently the material ripped.
Adrenaline tore through her. She startled and turned and tried to cover the awfulness of her body with her hands. Indignation and hurt were naked on her face, but she didn’t bother to hide them.
A gun. Pointed at her heart.
A gun? Why would he have a gun on her? Had he found out about her? In slow motion, her gaze traveled up the dark-blue coat sleeve—why was he wearing a coat? Up his shoulder and on up his wrinkled neck…wrinkled neck? This wasn’t Thomas.
Finally, she looked at the person’s face.
A woman. An older woman.
Recognition was a nuclear bomb in her brain. Everything inside her felt weightless, as if she’d just been thrown out of her reality and was waiting for the crash landing.
Helena had loved this woman. Mrs. Ellis had been cool. Fun. Perky. Beautiful. Time had not been kind to her. Her face bore deep grooves of sorrow. Her hair had been a rich, reddish brown and always styled, but had faded to gray and shaggy. Her once-trim body, plump.
But the thing that hadn’t changed was the anger and grief radiating off her. The same anger and sadness she’d worn every day since Rory’s death.
Flashes of thoughts and feelings from the past came over Helena.
No one listening. Everyone blaming.
Truth denied. Lies believed.
Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
Hatred sparked in the woman’s eyes. Even the Sisters had never looked at Helena with such single-minded malice.
“It’s not fair”—Mrs. Ellis’s chin trembled as she spoke—“that Rory died and you lived.”
None of this was fair.
It wasn’t fair that Rory died.
It wasn’t fair that she’d been convicted.
It wasn’t fair that the Sisters decided to hate her.
Life didn’t care about fairness.
Helena should have been frightened. She was standing there naked with a gun aimed at her chest. But she felt disconnected. As if none of this mattered. If Mrs. Ellis shot her, would that be so bad? Hadn’t she wished for death hundreds—no, thousands—of times over the past decade? Hadn’t she wished that each attack by the Sisters would be the one she couldn’t bounce back from?
Maybe this was as it should be. She’d gotten to visit Rory’s and her grandparents’ graves. She’d gotten to see the house, spend time here. She’d had great sex with a good man.
Oh God. Thomas. Had Mrs. Ellis hurt him? Helena looked beyond Mrs. Ellis and out the open door into the bedroom. Empty.
Thomas. Wherever you are, don’t come in here. Keep yourself safe. She sent the thoughts as if they were a psychic email and hoped he would get them.
“A parent isn’t supposed to bury their child. You know why? Because they carry most of your heart inside theirs.” Mrs. Ellis beat her chest with her fist, thumping her breastbone loudly. “Every day, I live only half a life. The other half is in the ground. Because of you.” Her words were a wail of grief.
I didn’t do it. Helena screamed the words in her head. The same words she’d screamed a million times during the trial. And just like back then, no one—except her grandparents—believed her.
“The Sisters were supposed to take you out on your first night in Fairson.”
Take you out on your first night in Fairson.
Almost as if it was set on delay, Helena’s brain plugged into what the woman had just said. A deep hurt resonated through her body, heating her face. Mrs. Ellis knew the Sisters? Knew they’d tried over and over to kill her?
“I wanted you punished.” Mrs. Ellis spoke the last word through teeth gritted so hard, Helena could hear them grinding. “I want to see what they did to you.”
Helena hesitated to remove the shield of her own arms and hands. But what did it really matter? Mrs. Ellis was so lost in her suffering that nothing Helena could say or do would ever change the woman’s opinion of her. She dropped her arms and stood up straighter. Let the woman look at the damage her hatred had bought.
Mrs. Ellis’s eyes widened as they roamed over Helena’s body, taking in all the destruction. “Turn around.” Her voice straddled some elusive line between satisfaction and hatred.
Helena turned in a circle, warm water hitting the cold side of her body. Then she faced Mrs. Ellis again.
“Good.” Tears welled in the older woman’s eyes, then slipped down her cheeks. Grief came off her in typhoon-sized waves, threatening to drown Helena. “All these years, I always thought the Sisters must be pansies for not killing you that first week, let alone over the past ten years. But now I see they tried. Boy, did they try.” A terrible smile stayed on her lips. “When Arnold would get home from work, the first thing he’d do was tell me about your day.”
Arnold? Wasn’t CO Holbrook’s first name Arnold? So Mrs. Ellis and CO Holbrook were…together? And responsible for the past ten years of her suffering? She should feel outraged, wronged, kicked-while-she-was-already-down, but there was a place beyond those emotions…a place where none of the past mattered because the future would never exist and the present was about to end.
“There were days you went on about your life as though you hadn’t killed Rory. And there were days you should’ve died. Arnold couldn’t believe that you just kept on surviving. Twice over the years he made certain you’d die. But you didn’t.” She sucked in a resigned breath. “The past ten years of your life taught me one thing: You want something done right, do it yourself.”
In slow motion, Helena watched Mrs. Ellis squeeze the trigger.
The gun went off. The sound thunderous. The impact devastating.
Helena’s body slammed back against the wall. Why didn’t she feel anything? As if answering her question, pain exploded in her chest, a deadly mushroom cloud that devoured all sensation, leaving nothing except abject agony.
Her legs folded beneath her. She fell, banging her temple against the rim of the tub on her way down. Lights and colors glittered in front of her eyes, but she didn’t feel anything beyond the misery in her chest.
She stared at the white porcelain. Her bathtub was going to be the last thing she saw on earth. It reminded her of that white place in her dreams. If these were her last seconds alive, she wanted to remember the good things. She thought of her grandparents. The way Grandpa always smelled of pipe smoke even though he swore he’d quit smoking. The way wrinkles and age spots didn’t dim Grandma’s beauty, because love always shone in her eyes.
Best of all, she remembered Thomas as she’d last seen him. So innocent in sleep. There was goodness in life. And she’d found it in him right before she died.
Thoughts became harder to think, fraying and dissolving before she could form them. The end really was near. She could feel it this time. Feel death’s warm arms wrap around her and lift her from the tub. Holding her, hugging her, comforting her, taking all the pain away.
Seeing is believing…
Thomas Brown can’t see color, but he can see people’s true souls. His
abilities allow him to work with criminal investigators and deliver justice
to families of the wronged. And he’s starting to accept that his life will
forever be in black and white…
Then he encounters Helena Grayse, and everything changes. She
brings vibrant color to his world, and he brings acceptance and belief
to hers. But Helena’s past is quickly catching up with her, and Thomas
is in the crosshairs.
As an enemy hidden in plain sight threatens their every move, they’ll
have to rely on their love to beat the darkness.
Fatal Dreams series:
Race the Darkness (Book 1)
Hunt the Dawn (Book 2)
Never Let Me Fall (Book 3)
About Abbie Roads
Abbie Roads is a Miss Brightside mental health counselor by day, but a lover of dark and dangerous things at night. She writes paranormal romantic suspense, always giving her characters the happy ending she wishes for all her clients. Her novels have been finalists in numerous RWA contests, including the Golden Heart. Race the Darkness was named a Publishers Weekly Top 10 Fall Romance for 2016. Abbie lives in Columbus, OH.