Because I love you all- Finders Keep Her Teaser

When you’re a kid, adults tell you to enjoy every day because the older you get the faster time goes. I used to roll my eyes and think adults were full of crap. It seemed like Christmas was always light years away and summer vacation was just a myth. Then one day around age seventeen I realized I was going to graduate and it seemed like it was just last year that I entered high school. Time is a fickle thing. Time drives us and scares us, and it’s usually the one thing we wish we could get back.

Time is flying. Five months ago I released Hide and Seek Her. FIVE MONTHS. It doesn’t even seem possible that it was almost a half of a year ago. It makes me feel sad, happy, scared, and exhausted all at once. In five months time I published and released a book, made friends with people from places in the world that I didn’t know existed because of that book, finished book two and started book three, turned twenty-seven, celebrated one year of marriage, and it all seems like it happened last month.

I’d like to start this by saying how much I love you all. The support I’ve received from my small community is insane. (If you don’t believe me that my hometown is small, google both Glenmont and Millersburg, Ohio. People here still drive horse drawn “buggies”.) It makes me feel really happy to have the support of the people I do and to have met some amazing new friends along the way. The support online has been overwhelming. I’ve met wonderful bloggers, humans, friends and book lovers and have been lucky enough to form friendships with some of them. Laura, Yashira, Stephanie, Nadine, Jemma, Sarah and Ashleigh have become people I’m so grateful to have crossed paths with. Click on their names to be directed to their sites. You’re lame if you don’t.

I had no idea this world existed. I thought I was book obsessed and in love with fictional characters and that I was a little weird, but then I realized that it is totally normal 🙂 There’s an endless community of book lovers and biblipophiles out there and it’s awesome.

So how could I thank you all? I thought about the potential for a random giveaway but that seemed too obvious and I already have plans for a big giveaway when Finders Keep Her is released in December. December? YES, December. You’ll have an exact date very soon, but hey…everyone loves surprises so wouldn’t you rather just wake up some day to find that it’s live and available for purchase? Keep your eyes opened, I guess 🙂

So in regards to book two coming out in just two months, I figured I’d do this. Here is the prologue and first chapter for your viewing. I hesitated before doing this because I don’t want to give much away, but it’s the LEAST I can do to thank you all for the support, letters. emails, and kind words over the last five months of my life. You’ll have a cover reveal to feast your eyes on in November (and OHEMGEE am I excited for the cover)! You’ll also be able to pre-order your copy through Amazon and I plan on doing a huge flash sale one day to thank you all for the endless love and support.

So here you go – here’s the beginning of book two. Here’s Riley and here’s Jackson. Here’s my baby…I’m super proud of book two and super excited to be sharing it with you. Love you ALL. xxoo

Finders Keep Her

*TEASER*

Prologue

Riley

It was always really dark. It was always the same; I was little and clutching onto someone for dear life. I was scared, I was confused, and I never knew why. All I knew was the nightmares were always the same and I always woke up feeling like I was breaking a fever.

Sometimes I worried that the nightmares would never end. Sometimes I’d lay awake for hours clawing for air and try to convince myself it was over. I wondered if it would ever really be over. Probably not until I was dead and buried with a mind that could no longer wander, then I’d be at ease.

Dead like Emily.

I hated myself for thinking her name. It wasn’t fair, none of it would ever be fair or even okay.  Emily West was my older cousin. Emily West my very best friend, but she had her life cut short because of some rich asshole with a temper.

Emily was the reason I had friends at all; she was probably the reason why I was the way I was. When Vance and I were uprooted and moved across multiple state lines to my Aunt’s house in North Carolina, Vance stopped talking even to me. He would occasionally give me one word answers or hum to me at night if I had trouble sleeping, but Vance had closed himself off from the world. I wasn’t like Vance. I longed for an attachment to someone, I longed for the love I so desperately wanted from my brother. Lucky for me, I had an Emily. Emily had always wanted a sibling but that was something that unfortunately never happened for her, at least not until I came along and became a stand in for the brother she never had. When we arrived she was the happiest of anyone. She paraded around her home with the two of us in tow and showed us off like a new prize. I was happy and loved the attention while Vance simply tolerated her antics until he could sneak off when she wasn’t paying him any mind. Despite what he would say, Vance really thought highly of Emily even back then, but back then all Vance could think about was death and destruction.

I was Emily’s most favorite person in the world and she was mine. When we were young, we would spend hours playing games and telling stories. Our friendship spanned through our school years and we managed to be a part of the same group of friends although we were two years apart. She even had me date her friends so that we could go on double dates together. We were inseparable. Emily was my lifeline. She kept my grounded and in check when Vance could no longer do that because his mind was elsewhere and he was preoccupied. She was the only thing that ever made sense to me in the world.

Emily was taken away from me far too early in life. I thought I handled it badly, thought I was the one going crazy, but I was wrong. I wasn’t the one who had a personal vendetta against Jackson Greene the way Vance had. I wasn’t the one who wanted to murder her murderer. I wasn’t the one who made the decision to move back to the house we grew up in just to be near the asshole. Fate would have it that our home town would be the very place that the man who ruined our lives would end up living. Regardless of that I wasn’t the one who wanted to kill him, I just wanted to hate him and I wanted Emily back.

Apparently through his lack of speaking and sharing his emotions over the years, Vance’s dark side grew. I don’t think I could ever kill someone, even the man who took Emily from this world. I don’t think I harness the power or courage to end something’s life and I blame Emily for that. Emily breathed life into things. She was all that was good in the world combined into one being and she instilled happiness into everything she touched. Vance wanted to suck the life from her killer, he wanted him to suffer the way we had all suffered.

The nightmares dwindled over the years after Emily’s death became a memory, and they became less and less prominent. I think a lot of it had to do with Jackson disappearing. There was no longer a threat looming around the corners of North Carolina and I slept better. When he wasn’t a threat the nightmares of Emily and those of my past waxed and waned. They had waned for a while.

They waned until Vance had a run in with him attacking another girl. They came back with a vengeance when Vance told me he let Jackson get away…again. Once Jackson became a ghost, Vance turned to the house and took his stress and anxiety out on the beautiful home we had spent part of our childhood in that desperately needed repaired. I had never seen Vance turn something so dark and desolate into something so beautiful. I knew the reason, but I would never let on to him that I did. I knew it was much deeper than him just trying to keep his mind occupied and not dwell over Jackson. I knew about the girl he saved, I knew why he let Jackson get away.

Charlotte.

Above everything else I knew that Charlotte did something to his soul because from that point on it wasn’t as dark as it used to be. A little flicker of hope ignited somewhere inside of it and that flicker turned him into a roaring flame. Yes, it lit him up like a freaking Christmas tree and I really believed that his soul would never darken again.

At least those thoughts lasted for a little while.

They lasted until he lost another important part of his soul. They lasted until his truths came out to set him free, only his truths were not his freedom. His truths ended up being his own personal and lonely form of Hell.

Vance had turned back into the cloaked friend of death who scoured the Earth and hid in unpleasant places. Vance was in another dark part of his life but this time it was different; this time he looked broken and I had never seen him broken before. I had seen him mad, I had seen him vengeful, but I had never seen him broken. Charlotte had broken him and I wasn’t mad at her for it, I was mad at Vance for not coming clean from day one. Regardless of how I felt about the situation, I still felt terrible for him. Seeing him shattered nearly shattered my own soul.

Poor Vance. Poor Emily. Poor Charlotte. My life was full of people I was feeling sorry for.

Emily was gone and as time passed it became harder and harder for me to remember everything about her. Her voice faded over time, sometimes her features faded as well, so I clung to our childhood memories and the memory of the girl she was back then. Part of Emily faded away each day with the sunset.

Things were different with Charlotte. She was easy to remember and easy to think about. Charlotte was still alive. Charlotte had become the sunrise. She had survived the taste of death once and I knew she could survive again. She had a trait in her Emily did not have; survival. It was something that she was most likely born with.  The thought of something terrible happening to Charlotte made the nightmares reappear and they did so with a vengeance. A vengeance named Jackson.

I loved Charlotte. I loved Charlotte in the same way I loved Emily. She reminded me of her sometimes. She was good and sweet and warm. The nights when she ate dinner with Vance and I, made me feel like we were young again. We’d sit at the table and talk and laugh, and the light and airy part of Vance would bubble its way to the surface. Wholeness; that’s what I felt. Vance felt it, too. I imagined this was what our house used to feel like, when it belonged to my parents and we were just kids.

I loved Charlotte but not the way my brother did and not in the way you love a girl and want to marry her. I could tell by the way he looked at her that she was the reason he stayed in Locke’s Point. He could have easily gone back to North Carolina or picked another place to go, but he didn’t. He stayed here and regardless of what he would say, he stayed because of her. She was the only thing holding him to the planet. It was a shame that he had a history with Jackson Greene and a history with Charlotte even though she didn’t remember it. It was more of a shame that he didn’t come clean from the beginning because now, Charlotte was gone. She was gone the minute she found out the truth.

That wholeness was gone. Empty had become the corners and the overall feeling inside the walls. The ceilings seemed higher, the halls seemed longer, and the echoes of wholeness were everywhere.

The house was quiet at night and it felt like it was haunted. I spent too many nights lately waking up with a cold sweat and a nightmare fresh in my mind. I always dreamt of dark places, of Emily and Jackson but now I dreamt of Charlotte, too.

Vance was nonexistent in life. Vance had become an empty vessel that just meandered around. He wasn’t speaking much and when he did, his words were short and clipped. The angry side of Vance came back into view but this time it was mixed in with a deep sadness that seemed to take over him entirely.

He barked his orders into the phone in the morning when one of the companies would call and need his direction. He became less and less inclined to deal with them and often pawned them off on one of the higher ups that he hired and sometimes even me. He spent most of his nights awake. I’d hear him pacing back and forth in his room and once or twice I think I heard him cry. That did something to me.

In all of my life I had never seen my brother cry. I was convinced he was void of the emotion that triggered tears. Shortly after Charlotte left, he finally had the courage to come out of his room and I noticed a sadness about him that I had never seen before. One night I couldn’t sleep and when I found my way downstairs and decided on a late snack, I happened to notice him sitting on the back porch looking out at the gardens. I almost went out to talk to him but that was when I noticed he was shaking. When his head sank into his hands, my heart sank into my stomach. I knew if Vance caught me watching he would be a ball of fury. He never wanted anyone to know he had a heart, and catching him vulnerable would prove he did no matter how he defended himself. I snuck away from the window and retreated to the comfort of my bed, but the image of my brother so wounded was just as haunting as my nightmares.

I couldn’t help but think about Charlotte. Sometimes I would have myself nearly convinced to go pick her up at work and tell her how much I missed her and how she needed to come back and work things out with Vance. Deep down I knew the two of them wouldn’t make it much longer without the other, but I also knew not to meddle with fate.

I worried about her more than ever. When Vance finally did speak a little and dish out some of the information about what happened between the two of them, I was finally able to figure out that Jackson had reached out to Charlotte. That’s when the nightmares returned to full speed. I worried about her being alone and Jackson swooping in and attacking her. I worried about her worrying. I didn’t want Charlotte to end up like Emily. The bottom line was as clear as glass though; I didn’t want to lose another person I loved.

I couldn’t kill for anyone that much was clear. I couldn’t kill for Emily all those years ago and I couldn’t kill for Charlotte, but I’d do anything I could to protect her. Even if Vance and Charlotte weren’t in each other’s lives, I made a vow to myself to protect her anyway I could. Even if it meant I had to be a little bit of a creep and check in on her from time to time; if that’s what it’d take I’d do it.

Nights like tonight were hard. I woke up clammy and disoriented and found myself dwelling on the past and fretting about the future. Vance was a lost cause right now and maybe within the coming weeks that would change but for now I would do my best to watch out for Charlotte and be a friend to her. Since I never had the chance to be the one to protect Emily, maybe this was my second chance; it just came in the form of someone else.

Yes tonight was hard because I thought by now there would at least be some progress between the two of them. I had hoped that by now one of them would have caved and called the other or they would have ran into each other in town somewhere. It had been two months and neither one of them had budged. I missed my friend. I missed Charlotte, but beyond that I missed Vance and I missed the man he was when she was a constant in his life.

I didn’t want the dark side of Vance back. I didn’t want the dark side of the world to come back. I wanted the light that Emily had lit the world with to come flowing back into the corners that were dim.

Tonight I would try to fall back asleep and hopefully find peace. Tomorrow or someday soon I would just have to make waves. Even if I would upset Vance by communicating with Charlotte or seeing her, it was a risk I would take because I was going to be damned if I lost another friend.

I needed to find Charlotte. I needed to still be the friend I was to her. I needed to keep her safe because truth be told the real problem was still out there.

Chapter 1

Jackson

 

 12 years in the past

“Dad, what do you mean you don’t know?”

My brother’s voice was higher pitched than mine and I don’t know where he got that from. Most of the men in my family all had deep voices, hell I had a deep voice and I was sixteen.

My Dad didn’t respond to Daniel’s nagging. Instead he propped his newspaper in front of his face and shook it to straighten it out. Daniel’s face soured and he stormed off into the other room without so much as a second look back.

Daniel was graduating this weekend and it sounded like my Dad was too busy at work to show up. It didn’t matter that I would be there because Daniel never liked me that much. He blamed my mother leaving on me. He said it was because I was such an asshole growing up. That really left a bad taste in my mouth and the more I heard it the angrier I would get. I finally got him to shut up about it when I was ten and he was twelve. I punched him square in the jaw several times until our butler George pulled me off of him. He had to have surgery just to be able to eat and my father tanned my ass and gave me a purple eye to match Daniel’s purple jaw.

Daniel never nagged me again, in fact he hardly ever talked to me unless he had to. Good. I didn’t need someone ordering me about or questioning my motives or plans. I might have been young but I already knew I was getting the hell out of North Carolina and I was bound for greatness. I couldn’t understand why I knew this but I did and that was confirmation enough for me. There was something very deep inside of me that made me feel like I was the most important person on the planet. I wanted somehow to convey that to everyone I came across, and I was pretty sure I had done that to Daniel. Jackson Greene being present at his graduation would be the equivalent of a stranger being there. He didn’t care, I didn’t care, but I’d go to spite him, I’d go to be the better man. (Because I was.)

Even though Daniel nagged me about it before I beat him enough to shut up, I knew my mother didn’t leave because of me anyway. We didn’t have the best relationship or the relationship she and Daniel had, but that had nothing to do with her disappearance. My father was the one to blame for that. They never could get along. I snickered to myself.

I sat in the kitchen and finished my cereal as my father continued reading his paper and ignoring me. Jack Greene was a wealthy man and known throughout the Carolinas as one of the most sought after businessmen. He was the CEO of several hotels in the southern United States and he also inherited a huge chunk of change from my great-great grandfather who struck it big in the oil business.

My mom, Amelia, was persistent about having two children although my father only wanted one. He wanted one son to take over the empire he created. Unfortunately for him, Daniel turned out to be the least liked boy in the Greene family. He favored my mother’s side and was tall and gangly and more book smart than common sense smart. He had no interest in sports or business at all. He lacked every credential a typical Greene would be known for. My mom became pregnant with me and although I was much more like my father’s side than Daniel would ever be, I still wasn’t the apple of ol’ Daddy’s eye. My mom tried to make me into a perfect mold for my father to contort any way he wanted, hell she even named me Jackson, her stupid play on “Jack’s son”. She was hoping my birth and my demeanor would save their crumbling marriage, but Jack already had a mistress on the side and by the time I was four years old Amelia had plans to leave and run away with an Italian chef whom she met with friends on a “girl’s trip” a year or two after I was born.

By the time Daniel was eight and I was six, my mother couldn’t control me and Jack made it clear that he liked neither of us. Amelia left that year and I transformed into a smart-mouthed hurricane. I succumbed to a lot of hits and kicks from Jack over the years following her absence because my behavior was “inappropriate” for the Greene family. Daniel rarely got any type of physical abuse, but he took the brunt of the verbal abuse which was usually enough to bring the pussy to tears. When Jack learned that his words couldn’t stop me from acting like a little shit, he took to his belt or hand instead. I’m pretty sure I only cried that first time. After that, I could care less.  At least when he was beating the shit out of me, he was paying me some kind of mind.

As though he could sense that my mind was wandering, Jack lowered the newspaper and stared at me with his deep brown eyes that we both shared. Another Greene trait that I so luckily inherited unlike Daniel and his hazel gaze. I had dark eyes to match my dark soul, just like good ol’ Dad.

I stared right back at him and twisted my mouth into a sarcastic smile.

He shook his head and lowered his paper. “Why is your brother such an unhappy, whiny, teenager?”

I shrugged my shoulders and continued to chew on my cornflakes – loudly because I knew Jack hated it.

He shook his head when I didn’t answer and smacked me with part of the paper.

“You hear me talking boy? A shrug isn’t an answer.”

I sat my spoon down and sighed loudly. “Probably because he’s so much like Amelia.”

Jack smirked and let out a small laugh. “At least I’ve got one son who isn’t a complete idiot.”

That was enough of a compliment for me and I smiled to myself.

I didn’t mind publicly bashing my mother, especially to Jack because he hated her just as much as I did. We may have had different reasons for why we felt that way but we shared a common emotion for that woman, and it wasn’t love. My reasons were dark and dreary and his reasons were simple; he had loved another before her. She was his second choice, and he had never been faithful to her. Sometimes their relationship reminded me of a twisted version of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. He was such a wealthy, powerful, and handsome man and my mother was such a flirtatious dreamer. Those types of relationships never work out well. Their divorce was solidified proof of that theory.

I smirked to myself and Jack lowered his paper again and raised an eyebrow at me. I shook my head and lifted my bowl to my mouth and finished the remainder of my breakfast. I wiped my face with my sleeve and rose to my feet.

“What exactly are you doing today?”

It was Saturday. I stretched and ran a hand through my shoulder length, dark brown hair only because I knew the length it had grown to pissed Jack off. “I’ve gotta work at the shipyard.”

Jack pierced his lips together and I could see the intensity behind his eyes. He was thrilled that I went out on my own and found a decent paying job when I turned fifteen but he wanted me to be doing something a little more respectable than unloading cargo at the port. Greenes were better than bottom feeders. At least I had a job though. That was more than any of us could say for Daniel.

“Well you can fit a haircut into your day I’m sure.”

I tensed, I was not cutting my hair because I didn’t want to give him the luxury of knowing I listened to him or gave one ounce of care to what others thought. I was very much my own person and if I wanted long hair, then I was surely going to have it. I stormed out of the kitchen and didn’t say another word.

I hated working at the shipyard but at least it kept me busy. I was going to start my junior year of school in the fall and according to Jack, it was my last chance before he would send me to a boarding school somewhere in the mountains. I had been expelled from several local schools in the area because of fighting. I wasn’t proud of it. I hated when I got kicked out of a place, but I wasn’t the type of person to be told what to do, or how to act…ever. Daniel and I never went to the same school other than elementary because Cherry Grove High School wouldn’t allow me to attend as a student because of my record of fighting. They also solidified their decision to keep me out after I was caught stealing from a local shop during busy season. In my defense, I was only stealing because the dumbass behind the counter wouldn’t sell me anything because my name wasn’t on Jack’s credit card and I didn’t have an ID. I got beat seven ways to Sunday after that, but Jack always gave me cash to carry from that point on. I ended up with community service and a fine thanks to who my father was. According to him it could have been much worse.

The only school I had left to go to was some shitty ass little dump outside of Wilmington. Whatever, beggars couldn’t be choosers. I’d give it a fair shot, but I knew deep down if anyone pissed me off or set me off, then I’d most likely be packing up and heading North for the remainder of my days.

I worked late that day and by the time the sun started to set, I had shared a couple of beers with one of the older guys in the yard who always gave me one and said even a young kid should know the taste of a beer after a long day in the heat. When I arrived home, Jack was pissed off and shouting into his phone about something. He looked like he had had a few drinks himself and his brandy glass sitting on the end table was a dead giveaway.

He threw the phone down when I walked in and started spouting off about some stupid shit about me gallivanting around town and having no respect for curfews. He lunged at me and punched me square in the stomach. I doubled over and felt like I was going to throw up. He hadn’t hit me that hard in a while. Lately he had been taking his anger out on Daniel verbally. When I stood back up, he grabbed my face and pulled it to his. I could smell the alcohol on his breath and I winced.

“You little shit, look at me when I’m talking to you!” His words slurred a bit as he shoved me back.

“You’re the only bit of hope I have. Daniel’s a lost cause and although I don’t expect greatness from you, you’re all I have to carry on the Greene name and some sort of legacy.” I collided with the wall and he shook his head.

I tried to leave the room then because I could feel the anger rising inside me. The last time I felt this way was the time I nearly distorted Daniel’s face forever. Jack caught me by my shirt and shoved me down on the floor.

“No son of mine is going to walk around looking like a fucking piece of trash.” Before I could get up, Jack grabbed a tuft of my hair and twisted it in his hands. I unwillingly let out a howl, and the force he used to tug at it shot through my entire skull. I kicked my feet as he dragged me into his study.

“Get your hands off me!” I screamed and continued to kick but Jack twisted my hair harder in his hands and I yelped again. I was normally so quiet when he did anything to me. Usually no reaction was better than a reaction with Jack. Typically, he stopped quickly when I didn’t make a sound, but tonight he was enjoying this, my howling and yelling only added to his need to hit me harder. He twisted my hair in his hands again and I yelped which caused an arc to his fist as it collided into my stomach again. I tried to get away, but he pulled me along the floor and his grip was just too damn tight.

When he had me where he wanted in his study, he flipped me on my back and started cursing and kicking me. I tried to scramble away, but he grabbed my hair again and in one swift moment, I heard his scissors slice and that was it. I watched as pieces of my dark brown independence fell around me. The bastard wasn’t going to let me be anything I wanted and he sure as shit wasn’t going to let me look anything but clean cut.

He could take whatever he wanted from me. My trust fund that he threatened to take away when I never listened or even my car when I broke curfew, but there was one thing I would not let him strip me of. My identity.

I felt the bile rise in my throat and I pushed myself up off the ground and slammed my fist into his face. Jack fell backwards and knocked over a chair. I had fought with Jack before; wrestling matches where he held me in a headlock while Daniel screamed from the staircase. Shouting matches that turned into him dragging me out of the room by my neck and me kicking him in the shins. In all my days I had never let my fist collide with his face though, and judging by the looks on his, this would be the last time it would ever happen.

Jack was bleeding and he held his hand over his nose and cackled lightly as he stood up. “You’ve done it now boy.”

I didn’t move as he neared me, I didn’t want to. I was afraid I was going to attack him. The anger inside of me was stronger than normal and I had the sudden urge to break his neck. The asshole cut off my hair. The one thing that belonged to me and was mine to do whatever with. The one thing that truly pissed him off, was now eliminated from my life. It was just hair, right? No. It was part of what made me me and now, now I was just Jack’s little puppet.

By the time he neared me I was fuming but I didn’t have time to dwell. He knocked me out cold and I fell to the floor. Before I completely went out for the night I heard him murmur to himself though.

“You will always be too much like your mother. You’ll always be the furthest thing from my mind.”

 

The Now

I woke up early that morning as the remnants of dream faded away with the dusk. I ran my hand through my hair quickly; it was still long. It was still there. I was still here.

I had been sleeping wherever I could for weeks. I had slept on beaches, in old run-down buildings and houses. Wherever there was an empty spot, I crashed. People didn’t think too much of it really. Most of them regarded me as some kind of homeless person and it was solely in regards to my looks. My long hair fell in waves around my face and it still looked greasy even when I had it tied back. Most of the time they ignored me or thought of me as the drifter on the beach, but after a few weeks, people started really noticing me and I didn’t like that. It was probably because drifters didn’t hang around Locke’s Point for longer than a week or two at a time.

It was time for me to break down, get a hotel and a shower, and clean myself up. When people noticed me it meant it was time for me to close up shop. I liked blending in outside because I could move around and hide in plain sight. That worked for a while until I noticed a few wandering eyes stop wandering when they met my own. No one had recognized me yet, at least not to my knowledge, but it looked like I was raising questions in their mind. That was a bad thing for anyone who was trying to remain undetected.

It was risky for me to come back here. If I had a close friend, he would have beat me bloody if I would have even mentioned it, but to my knowledge I didn’t have any friends. I kept people at a safe distance because I had no desire to really keep any of them close to me, well except for her.

Charlotte.

She was my “everything” and my reckoning at the same time. I needed her. It was too hard to explain it to anyone because no one would ever grasp it. No one had ever had her before to understand the need that accompanied her. Therefore, no one could understand me.

Well maybe except for him.

Vance Wait had been a problem in my life long before Charlotte complicated things. Vance Wait had been an enemy since Emily, but Vance now knew what it was like to find something as unique as Charlotte and then have it ripped from his life.

I didn’t like that. I didn’t like that the bastard knew what it was like to love her, and I’m not talking about the type of love you have for a crush, or a really good song. I’m talking about the deepest, most sincere type of love you could experience.

The type of love you kill for.

I’d never experienced anything like it before.

Never. Ever. Never. Nope.

With Emily it was different. I think I lusted after her. I only killed her per say because she wouldn’t shut up. I didn’t kill her because I didn’t want her to be with anyone else. I didn’t kill her because I knew that was the only way to keep her out of anyone else’s hold. I killed her to save face. I’d be living in cement walls behind steel bars and eating dried up stale meat right now if she had gotten away. It’s not my fault that she screamed so loud about telling her father It’s not my fault that she wouldn’t listen; those were traits she was born with. It might be my fault that she stopped breathing, but essentially what really killed her were her own reactions.

I killed Emily to protect my own life. That really could be justified as self-defense.

I tried to end Charlotte’s life because she couldn’t be with anyone except for me; I wouldn’t allow it. That was the way it was. She belonged to me. I belonged to her, and if I had to utilize death to prove that, then so be it.

Unfortunately I never had the chance to finish what I started. She defied death every stop of the way. Vance saved her, and every time I had a chance from that point on, he was there. Like her own personal shield. I hated to break it to him, but even he couldn’t shield her from me. At the end of the day she still belonged to me.

Now though, now I was lucky. Vance was gone. They hadn’t been with each other for weeks. She was so…affected by it all that it made me literally sick. Seriously, I threw up one morning after watching her mope around her house. It made me physically ill to see her so hung up on someone else, someone that wasn’t me.

Had she really forgotten how important I was to her? Had she forgotten everything our life was, everything it had been? After a few days, she became the dark shadow of herself again, the girl I had created. She was looking around more frequently. She wasn’t talking to people unless she had to. She was a loner again, and that was how I liked her.

Vulnerable.

Scared.

Broken.

This was proof that she needed me. She needed me to remind her what it was like to have me in her life. She didn’t even have to think when I was with her. I did that for her. She just had to breathe, and remember that she was breathing for me.

I think it was two weeks ago when I made my decision. For the last year, I wanted to finish what I started. I was going to end her life because I had really decided it was the only way things would work. It was the only way I’d get the authorities off my ass. They’d stop searching for me if the person I was hunting was dead. Besides that, I needed to prove to her and to everyone else, that she was bound by fate to be with me and if she couldn’t, well then she had no reason to live.

I really thought death was her only option.

It was two weeks ago on Sunday when I changed my mind.

She was looking around as she walked through the parking lot at her work. Why on earth she felt the need to work on Sunday was beyond me, but I didn’t care to investigate. I was peering at her from the top floor of the warehouse next door. It provided me with a perfect view of the lot and her car and I could watch her come and go as I pleased without ever being detected. I had stayed here for a few nights, until a couple of local kids snuck in to get high, then I packed up and found another place to crash. During the day though, no one ever dropped by, so it was perfect for watching her.

She stopped walking because it had started to drizzle. It was almost a mist, not quite even that, but slowly the heavens opened up and the rain began to fall around her. She tilted her head upwards as the droplets plummeted towards the earth and clung to her like they needed her to remain liquid. She raised her hands and felt the rain and then she started to laugh. She was laughing so hard she was crying. She was bawling her eyes out and it mixed with the rain and swallowed her whole. She looked younger, she looked lost and unsure of where to go next, but she looked pleased about it. She looked like she accepted that she would be unsure and broken forever. She looked…familiar.

She looked like the girl I met in Birmingham all those years ago.

She looked like the past. The past I so desperately ached for.

Somewhere deep in my mind, a memory triggered and I felt like a twenty year old boy again. I was at that party, watching her, breathing her in. She was radiant. She was pure, I could tell that by her shy smile. That was the moment that I decided I needed her. I spent the rest of the night pulling her in. I knew I was a looker, I knew I could captivate her and I made it my goal. I sucked her in, I went home with her, and I embedded myself in her soul the best way I knew how to; by taking a part of hers and leaving with it. I knew I’d find her later, knew I couldn’t live without her, but I was still running back then. I was escaping my past with Emily, I was escaping Jack and the stigma attached to him, and I was escaping everything else when she landed in front of me. I didn’t want to escape anymore after seeing her. I wanted her to be my escape. I decided to stop running then, and I had been running for a while.

I’d spend the rest of my life making sure she was mine; that much I was certain of. Charlotte Lyons was going to be my new favorite thing. Charlotte Lyons was going to belong to me. I was so glad I found her that night.

I sucked in a huge breath of air and let it fill my lungs as the memory played out. I exhaled as I watched her from the warehouse window.

I couldn’t kill Charlotte.

Not now.

Now, she was alone again and she had turned back into to the person she was when I met her. Recent life experiences had left her lonely and cold. She was shy and unsure of her life, just like back then.

Killing Charlotte would kill me too. I realized this because at that moment I realized how important it was that she belonged to me. She had no one else at this point, so I could easily have her for my own. That was why she survived; not because Vance kept saving her. She survived because we weren’t supposed to live without the other.

We were what made the world spin. Without each other, we were nothing. Literally…nothing.

We didn’t matter, we didn’t have a purpose, unless we had each other.

That’s what all of this was for, what it had always been for.

A revelation.

All the anger that had been imprisoned within me over the last year and a half faded and I was overtaken with the need to take her away and keep her alone with me until we were both ready to kiss this world goodbye.

I rocked back on my heels and grabbed my chest.

This was the deepest form of love one could have for the other. I just needed to prove that to her.

She always did so well when I would hit her before. It was like when I was a kid and Jack hit me; she just took it. She never fought back, she never screamed, and she always came back to me. Always. Until that one time. That time that she begged me to stop which in turn made me hit her harder. The result of that was devastation. I had successfully lost her and now I wanted her back.

She wasn’t going to be easy to convince. She hated me, she hated everything about me, but you have to love something to hate it.

I could get her back to love.  I just needed to plan how.

That realization happened two weeks ago and I was still watching her. I had been hiding for a year trying to find her. I found her and now I knew what I had to do to keep her. I needed to take her away and convince her that we really did belong together.

I hadn’t thought of any ideas yet but I wasn’t too worried. The more time that went on, the less and less happy she became. People are easier to convince and manipulate when they can’t hold themselves up on their own.

She needed me. She just didn’t know it yet.

My revelation was still fresh in my mind as I rose to my feet and dusted myself off. It was time to get on with my day and start making headway with my plans.

I gathered my bag and the few articles of clothing that I kept with me and decided that it was high time to get myself cleaned up and get my shit together. It was mid-afternoon and I had been asleep in some small park on the outskirts of town for a few hours. I did better sleeping during the day and watching her at night. No one could see anything in the dark, but I could see everything.

I headed back towards Locke’s Point and laughed at how easily I could be detected. They all thought I was so smart. Why would a man who nearly killed a woman come back to the town he committed the crime in? They had searched for me all over Alabama and partially in Texas since that’s where I lived for a short time, and that’s where I purchased the phone I used to call Charlotte in the summer.

I shook my head at my own stupidity for making that call but she was falling hard for that idiot Vance and I couldn’t let her forget about me. It had been a momentary lapse of judgement and lucky for me it never amounted to shit. It did remind her I was still here though.

I walked alongside the road back into town and knew that if I was spotted I’d be screwed, but I had the feeling no one would recognize me. I walked down the beach the other morning and not one person looked at me like I was the man that their town had been on high alert for. A couple people looked nervous when they met my gaze, but again it could be because I needed a shower and I looked homeless.

When I neared the edge of Locke’s Point I decided to stay as far away from the main drag as I could. Sure, it would mean a further walk to her house at night, but I was less likely to be recognized. There were a few small, tan colored hotels that desperately needed renovated on this end of town but I knew that would never happen. This end of town was reserved for the drunks, the divorcees, or the occasional drifter that could afford a twenty-dollar-a-night room.

I picked the smallest, shitty ass dump on the outskirts of town that looked like one of those places in the movies about serial killers and stalkers. Fitting, I thought to myself and smiled. It had a bed and shower which was all I needed. The bored kid at the check in desk didn’t even bother to check my ID. He just handed me some papers to sign and gave me a key for room six and waved me in the direction of it.

“I’ll be here for several days.” I spoke softly as I pushed the hotel policy and registration information towards him and walked out of the lobby.

I heard the kid move the papers on his desk. He was no doubt reviewing the registration form and I imagined his mouth dropping open when he sized up the wad of hundred dollar bills I placed on top of it.

I pictured his face when he saw it and chuckled to myself. It was probably more than this place brought in all throughout the off season. I imagined his face as he read through the form I had “filled out”. I wrote nothing down, no name, no contact number, no address, nothing. There was nothing but cold hard cash to go on and he didn’t seem to be the type who would question it or even care.

“Welcome to the Traveler’s Inn mister…uhm…Smith.” His voice was shaky but he wasn’t going to say anything else.

I laughed as I spun the key around my finger and walked towards my room.

(Copyright 2015 H.B. Stumbo)

One thought on “Because I love you all- Finders Keep Her Teaser

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