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First pages

-    1    -

Jonathan

{Our Earth}

People make mistakes. It’s the bane of humanity. We toil. We strive. We fight to make it through one day at a time. Life turns as it should until we make a choice—one choice that splits our life in half and changes everything.

I didn’t want to hold it against him. I never thought I would hold it against him. That’s not what Liv would have wanted. She was kind like that. Almost foolish in her belief that the good in a person’s heart would win against the evil.

I hated that about her.

I loved that about her.

Didn’t matter now. Everything that I’d ever wanted, every hope, every quiet dream, crumpled to ashes because of one man. He’d live with that for the rest of his life. And I… I was going to live without her.

I sat on the cold, hard bench that overlooked the courtroom. It was overwhelmingly brown. Wooden. That’s the word. Mahogany panels embraced the walls to the moldings on the ceiling. Wooden platforms shaped the judge and witness stands. Wooden tables. Wooden chairs. 

If I set this place ablaze, the entire room would go up in smoke. I pushed aside the thought because the image of my haggard self waving a blowtorch and setting it all on fire was too appealing.

Someone cleared his throat to my left. I glanced over and then looked away before my eyes landed on the guy. I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. I was alone, though I sat amidst a crowd.

A handful of onlookers leaned over the banister, caught up in the case. They were here for the newspaper. For the local news station.  For the fun of witnessing a man’s life unraveling before their eyes.

Did they know who sat beside them? Did they know how grave an occasion this was for all the people involved? They probably didn’t care. I envied them, envied that callousness.

For one magical moment, I’d like to slip out of my skin. Take on a whole new persona with a whole new backstory. No epic binds of love tying me to one woman. No sweet memories to mock me in the most inopportune moments.

If only such magic existed. But it didn’t. Even if it did, I wouldn’t use it to forget. I’d use it to bring her back to me.

“Harold Lamer,” the judge’s raspy voice calling the defendant demanded my attention. I glanced at the official sitting on his high perch. He had salt and pepper black hair, shaved low. A thin, oval face, a large nose, and circular glasses framing his brown eyes.

His expression was tired, disheartened. He’d seen this scenario playing out a hundred times before. Drunk driver. Innocent life taken. Nothing special there. Liv was just a number to him. A parade of black characters on a piece of white paper exposing the facts.

Fact 1: Harold Lamer drove under the influence.

Fact 2: Olivia Bolton was the unfortunate victim of his negligence.

Case closed.

“I find you guilty,” the judge pronounced, “on the counts of manslaughter by negligence, resulting in death by careless conduct, operating a motor vehicle with alcohol concentration above the prescribed limit, and two counts of negligent harm.”

A female cried out in the gallery below. My neighbors clung to the railings, nearly hanging off the balcony in their attempts to spy on the commotion. Their excited whispers and rushed scribbling into open notebooks warned that this event would be teased and titillated for all willing ears.

I remained in place, unmoved by her tortured cries. More than the weeping woman, Harold Lamer’s expression held me captive. I could see his Adam’s apple bobbing from here. He took a step forward and then hesitated. Glanced at the judge. Swallowed again.

“Order! Order in the court!” The judge hammered his gavel and pointed to the security guard already en route to the unseen woman in the benches below. Her shouts grew fainter and fainter.

Soon there was nothing but silence, a quiet more final than the pronouncement of the judge. I lingered in the stillness, teetering on the edge of sanity and grief while watching the emotions parading over Harold Lamer’s face—panic, sorrow and, finally, acceptance.

My hands balled into fists. Anger swept through my soul, devouring the calm I’d been clinging to by my fingernails. How dare he come to grips with his dismal fate so quickly? How dare he when I was staring down the barrel of a life without light, a life without laughter for Lord knows how long?

A vibration in my pocket alerted me to an incoming call. Glad for a reason to dip out of the courtroom, I slipped the device from my pocket and found a corner in the hallway.

“Hello?” My voice was unfamiliar to me. Rough. Painted in anger and insomnia.

“Jon?” A feeble tone scratched my ears. Davina.

“Is something wrong?”

“I’m fine.”

“Then you shouldn’t have called. I told you I’d swing by the hospital later.”

“I couldn’t wait.” She breathed loudly. The sound reminded me of Darth Vader for some reason. “What happened?”

“He’s going to serve his time.” I huddled against the wall and closed my eyes. “With your witness statement, the police and paramedic accounts and his own Breathalyzer scan results, he had no wiggle room.”

“That’s a relief.”

I frowned though she couldn’t see me. “You shouldn’t be worrying about this right now.”

“I hurt my ribs, not my brain. I’m just glad to hear my sister’s killer was brought to justice.”

“It was an accident.” The words burned my tongue. I shouldn’t be defending this low-life, this monster. He deserved to rot behind bars for the rest of his life. Even as I thought it, my heart rebelled.

Olivia… she would want me to extend mercy. I knew it. I just wasn’t strong enough to see it through or even to entertain the thought.

“You promise you’re coming as soon as possible?” Davina cajoled.

“We’re not ten years old, Dav. That voice doesn’t work on me anymore.”

“It was worth a shot.” Her candid reply made me smile. Davina’s always had a knack for pulling a grin from me even on my worst days. It’s why our friendship survived the ebb and flow of flying away for college and returning to Belize to carve our careers.

She’s as much my sister as she was Olivia’s.

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes. Has the doctor cleared you to eat dairy yet?”

“I’m not sure. Why?”

“I’ll bring a rocky road ice cream tub. I hear hospital food is less than ideal.”

“Would you, Jon?” Davina groaned. “Rocky road sounds divine.”

“I’ll be there soon.” I hung up and strode down the hallway when I bumped into someone small and soft. Thanks to quick reflexes, I narrowly avoided plowing the child down. “Are you okay?” I asked.

She looked up and the force of her big brown eyes took me aback. Her raven hair was long and thin, flying freely over her shoulders. The skin, above the collar of her prim and proper black dress and white folded socks, was a deep tan.

Thick black eyelashes fluttered up and down as she silently appraised me. She couldn’t be more than seven or eight years old, but she was as cute as a button and bound to break a few hearts when she got older.

“Mister.” Her voice was crystal clear. “My dad is in trouble.”

“Is he now?” I knelt and placed my arm on my leg. “What kind of trouble?”

“He made someone go to heaven,” she said. “He did something bad.”

My heart stuttered. “D-did he?”

“But my daddy isn’t a bad man.” Her eyes shone fiercely. “He’s a very, very good daddy.”

Stunned, I stared at the little tyke. She looked about ready to go to bat for her father. Before she could, a woman with thick black hair rolled into a bun and a black pantsuit that had seen a few too many laundry days swooped in and picked her up.

“Anastasia Lamer,” the mother scolded, “I told you not to run off.” Her eyes flicked to me. “I’m so sorry. I hope she didn’t bother you.”

“She was no bother at all.”

“I’m going to tell everybody about my daddy!” Anastasia sobbed, her gaze unwavering. “I have to.”

“Stop it!” The frazzled mother shook the girl like a rag doll. “Stop it, alright? Your dad is in a lot of trouble. There’s nothing we can do.”

My heart was moved despite my best intentions. They were a murderer’s family. A murderer’s wife. A murderer’s daughter. We were enemies by association simply because of whom we’d chosen to love.

But standing here before them, as both judge and jury, I realized that they were innocent as much as he was guilty.

Ignoring the mother’s glassy eyes, I spoke to Anastasia. “Your dad made a mistake.” She blinked slowly. “That mistake made something very sad happen, but that doesn’t mean your daddy isn’t a good daddy.”

She sniffed. “You promise?”

I nodded.

“Thank you,” Mrs. Lamer mouthed over the kid’s head. Taking her daughter’s hand, she returned to the courtroom to enjoy her final moments with her husband while he was close enough to touch without a barricade.

I watched them go. A niggling reminder that Davina was waiting for me at the hospital, that wedding guests needed to be officially notified, that the caterers and the wedding venue needed to be cancelled, and the millions of little details flew through my mind.

There was so much to do, and yet I didn’t want to think about any of it. A little girl was about to lose her father. Somehow, it made Olivia’s death all the more tragic. It killed my desire to remain in a world so bereft of hope.

What was the point?

I charged out the door, heading straight for the shiny, blue Acura MDX that Liv helped to pick out. Her scent lingered in the cab. Lilac. Her fingerprints smattered on the dashboard. My limbs were weak, but the memory of her drove me to turn the ignition and press on the gas.

I sped down the highway, glancing at the river that bordered the road. It flowed cheerfully, mockingly.

You can’t do this, it said. 

I wound the window down. The hot Caribbean wind tore at my silky blonde hair and attacked the collar of my pressed shirt.

Yes, I can.

I wanted to die, but when my car started drifting into the next lane and the approaching driver slammed his palm on the horn, protesting my stupidity, I yanked hard on the steering wheel.

My speed coupled with the trajectory of the car’s tailspin catapulted me over the cement blocks bordering the shores of the Belize River. I clawed for the door but before I could crook my finger around the handle, the car nosedived.

The vehicle sank like a rock, locking me inside as the water filled to the roof. I bobbed my head toward the surface, drinking in a huge gulp of air before diving and kicking the windows.

No matter how violently I tried, the glass wouldn’t budge. My air depleted, my limbs went weak and darks spots danced before my tired eyes.

Olivia’s face in the distance was the last thing I saw before everything faded to black.


-    2    -

Thea

{Earth 12}

I kicked my legs up on the rickety desk. It rattled and leaned dangerously to the left, but held firm. The yellowish-orange light cast from the ridiculous lava lamp Austin insisted we keep illuminated the cash filling two suitcases. 

“I thought you said the old lady didn’t believe you.” Austin inhaled a stack of bills and fanned it over his thin face. His eyes landed on mine and he smirked. “What did you tell her?”

“That if she wanted to keep her greedy granddaughters from her laundered art pieces, she’d pay for the premium insurance. The poor sap nearly wet her pants at the thought of anybody taking her fortune away. Even after death.”

“You are so talented.” Austin threw the bills into the air and whooped. “And I’m the king of the world!”

I slammed the chair legs against the dusty wooden floorboards and pinned him with a glare. “Don’t do that. Right now every penny counts.”

“Sorry.” He turned pale and gathered the fallen hundred dollar bills, piling them into a hill on the floor. “Where are we going to hit next? France? South America? The United States?”

We’re not going anywhere. I’m going home.” I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. “I’m getting old.”

“Old. You’re only twenty-six.”

“I feel old, Austin. Not everyone can be a tech prodigy with a baby face. I’m starting to wrinkle.”

“You can afford Botox. Heck, you can afford a new face.”

“I’m not wasting money on crap like that.” I planted my feet on the ground and stared into the distance. “I’m finally going to do it. I’ve finally got enough to buy an island off the coast of Belize.”

“Your home country?”

I nodded as a sappy smile grew on my face. “I’ll live there by myself where I can be alone for the rest of my life.”

Just mentioning my island retreat conjured images that I’d nurtured since I was twelve. Breezy days swinging in the hammock overlooking the beautiful Caribbean Sea. Watching the sunrise and sunset paint the endless horizon.  Enjoying the vibrancy of total solitude.

“But I can pop in and visit, right?” Austin wiggled his blonde-tinted eyebrows, his voice shattering my peaceful musings. I stared at his thin face shaded by small pink lips, a long, reed-like nose and a large forehead boasting those strangely colored brows.

It’s the most ridiculous fashion trend he’s tried, but he’s always been more adventurous in that regard than me.

“Nope.” I shook my head. “Not even you.”

“Come on, Thea. Don’t be like that. There are a bunch of rich, snobby clients just waiting for us to relieve them of their heavy loads. What kind of people would we be if we ignored their call for help?”

“I told you. I’m getting tired of doing this. Besides, we almost got caught in Italy. It’s smart to lay low for a while.”

“I got us out of it with my techy superpowers.” Austin scrambled to his feet and approached me. “People are getting stupider. I can smell desperation a mile away and you can manipulate that to get what we want. We’re the perfect team.”

“My mind’s made up.”

He pouted. “What am I going to do without you?”

“You’ve got loads of cash.” I jerked my chin to the suitcases. “You can do anything you want.”

“Money isn’t everything.” I slanted him a look and he snorted. “Alright, money doesn’t pay for true companionship. I’m going to beg until you change your mind.”

“I’m not changing my mind, Austin.” I pulled my duffel from beneath the bed. The contents of that tiny bag contained all the possessions I owned in the world. I always packed light in case there was a need for a quick getaway. 

Grabbing my bracelet from the depths, I clasped it on my wrist. Whenever I worked a case, the bracelet remained hidden. Taking it out and wearing it brazenly was my own version of a celebration since I didn’t drink or, in Austin’s case, buy vintage superhero figurines after adding another notch to my successful con belt.

The sudden wail of an alarm filled the room. I whirled on Austin who sprang into action and grabbed his tablet from the dusty dresser next to the radio.

“What is it?” I demanded.

“Shush.” He grabbed the studio headphones that was a staple around his neck and slapped it over his ears. Austin listened keenly for a moment and then threw the headphones down. “We need to get a move on.”

No other explanation was necessary. The kid had gotten me out of sticky situations before. I trusted him with my life and my freedom.

He picked up one suitcase while I grabbed the handle of the other and stuffed it into my duffel bag. Together, we stormed out of the grimy apartment and headed down the fire escape. As our feet clanked down the steps, Austin clued me in to the threat.

“I decrypted the local police scanner so I could hack into their database for alerts related to us and our mark.”

“Mrs. Sheevly.”  I groaned, imagining her wrinkled face, poof of gray hair and lazy blue eyes. “She was on to us.”

“According to the report she filed, the woman who sold her insurance left her a phony telephone number and address.”

I jumped the remaining stair and landed on the street. My long, brown hair whipped my cheek and I stopped to frown at him. “I thought you were maintaining the telephone lines?”

He shrugged. “I stopped when we got the money. I didn’t think she’d try to contact us so soon.”

“Great.” I threw my hands in the air. It’s too late to book a flight or a room on a ship. We shouldn’t be running off into the night. We should stay put and make a plan.”

“That’s… gonna be a problem,” Austin mumbled, staring at his tablet.

“Hey! You!” A voice barked. I glanced up at the thick police officer in the blue top and dark blue khakis. The streetlamp overhead illuminated my face, chasing away the shadows of the night. His eyes widened and I realized my folly too late.

Ducking my head, I pulled the bag over my shoulder and hissed. “Run!

We took off, heading for the street where several more uniformed officers waited, unknowing to us, in the shadows. 

“Over here!” Austin dragged my arm and pulled me down a dark alleyway as the cops gave chase. My heart thumped hard in my chest and the duffel was especially heavy as it slapped my back.

“How did they find us?”

“Can we discuss the semantics later?” Austin huffed, his skinny legs kicking up behind him. “Let’s figure out how to get out of this alive first.”

I yanked his shirt. “The river.”

A bolt of lightning flashed, illuminating the faces of the police officers hard on our tail. The front man was a tall blonde with a chiseled jaw and a commanding air. His broad shoulders strained against the blue shirt he wore and his long-legged strides were powerful enough to scare me. Though I couldn’t see his eyes, I could feel the force of them on my back.

He was a man on a mission.

My gut warned that he was bad news.

“Austin,” I whispered, my arms pumping at my sides, “I think we should split up.”

“Good idea. You have a case?”

I nodded. “You?”

“Yes.”

“I ditched my phone. Write to my old place in Belize when you’re safe somewhere. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can. Alright? Go!” We split up. I took the left lane while Austin took the right.

The strong wind blew against my face. I glanced over my shoulder. The officer yelled again. “Stop!”

Yeah, right. Like I’d follow his order, no matter how deep and chocolaty his voice was.

The cop hesitated for a split second and then followed me down the dark path alone. The rest chased after Austin, their smattered footsteps echoing through the night air.

We were in the shadier part of town, following the coastline that I could hear but could not see in the darkness. The apartment near the abandoned port had been the perfect spot to lie low after a con—it was deserted, close to the water, and easy to traverse.

Austin and I had spent hours casing the neighborhood, memorizing the streets, strolling the lanes, and paying attention to the shadows. I knew every stray cat that purred on top of the piles of putrid garbage cans, every hobo and drug addict that did their business in the darkness of this forsaken route.

Taking a sharp left turn, I chuckled when I heard the police officer’s steps growing fainter. I ducked into a corner and counted a minute in my head before springing up and going in the opposite direction.

The pier rose in my view, a beacon of hope and refuge. Victory filled my veins with adrenaline, but my celebration was cut short when someone skidded in front of me. I slammed to a stop, barely managing to keep from sliding on my behind. My eyes darted up and I gasped when I realized whom I faced.

What? This can’t be.

The officer smiled, the devilishly sexy grin curving his pink lips and drawing attention to his sparkling blue eyes.  He was even more imposing up close and if life hadn’t made me tough, I would have turned myself in right then and there.

Instead, I turned on the charm. “Good night, officer. Can I help you?”

“Don’t be smug.” He spoke into the walkie attached to his shoulder. “We’ve got her, boys.”

The walkie spurted. “We’ll be there in two minutes, Smoak.”

I backed up slowly. My tennis shoes pressed on the wobbly pier. The officer followed me, his movements slow and unhurried. He had me trapped. There was nowhere to run, not unless I planned on swimming in the freezing harbor.

It wasn’t a bad plan. I was an amazing swimmer, but if the officer and his friends descended before I could make a clean break I’d be done for.

Shoot, Thea. Think!

“What’s your name, handsome?”

“My name’s not important. Yours is.” He arched an eyebrow. “Jenna Usher. Sharon Leslie. Denise Winona. Ring any bells?”

I widened my eyes as I backpedaled. “I’m afraid not.”

He dipped his chin and seared me with a heated gaze. “I’ve spent far too long chasing you around. Why don’t you tell me your real name while I’m asking nicely?”

My tennis shoes caught air and I wobbled my arms to keep my balance as I teetered on the edge of the pier. A glance over my shoulder revealed the dark depths of the black sea. The stars were shining brightly. Too brightly.

What wouldn’t I give for an out right now? It would take a miracle and unfortunately, I couldn’t hurl that from my back pocket.

As if God heard a con woman’s prayer, thunder boomed and the moon plummeted from the sky. Darkness descended like a guillotine. Without waiting around for explanations, I grabbed the opportunity and dove off the pier.

I landed with a splash and swam as fast as I could. The officer followed, the strength of the waves he created slapping my face. The water was freezing cold and the current stronger than I thought.

“Stop!” he yelled. “It’s dangerous!”

I kept on going, kicking my feet against the flow that clamped around my waist and dragged me down like a hungry monster. I gulped a mouthful of water and panicked, unable to stop the tide of regrets that swept through me when I realized that this was the end.

The end?

The thought filled me with determination. No. I couldn’t go down without a fight. I pushed against the current and struggled to reach the surface, only to be shocked by what felt like a hundred joules of raw electricity. 

My eyes widened and my chest expanded. My lungs filled with a new tank of oxygen despite the fact that I had yet to resurface. In the distance, I saw what looked like a car floating in the murky water.  The windows shuddered. A person was trapped inside!

I glanced behind me. No one. The cop must have resurfaced. I was this guy’s only hope. Should I put a pin in my getaway to save a life? Was this random stranger worth my freedom?

I groaned and dove toward the car, my duffel bag falling to the sandy floor in my haste. Didn’t matter in the moment. Money could do many things, but it couldn’t bring back a life. I’d rescue this guy and get the heck out of dodge. Never to be seen or heard from again.


-    3    -

Jonathan

The sun exploded into the darkness, crackling with a frightening power that snapped my eyelids back like rolling cartoon shades. Water gurgled from my throat and a tiny hand slammed my chest, forcing the water the rest of the way until it spurted from my lips.

“That’s disgusting!” A familiar voice moaned as I coughed. “You spit all over me!”

My vision focused on a slim woman flinging her arms out at her sides in thinly veiled revulsion. Her long, brown hair cascaded over one shoulder, the strands thick and coiled. She knelt directly in the path of the sun so her face was cast in shadows.

But that voice…

“I rescued you? I must be crazy.” She slapped her chest and the sound of wet cloth slurping against skin seemed especially loud amidst the whirr of traffic and activity meandering from the highway.

My head lolled on the emerald grass. The scent of damp earth filled my nostrils. Trembling fingertips curved into the patch of green and dug into the dirt beneath. I needed to ground myself. Needed to pick through the kaleidoscope of information flooding my brain to make sense of delusion and reality.

Footsteps approached and the woman whipped her head up, cursing softly. “Police. I’ve got to get out of here.”

“Wait.” I snatched her hand, but I miscalculated the strength of my grip and instead of keeping her in place, I pulled her down. The shadows fled as she barreled closer to me, her lips parted in a surprised little gasp.

My eyes seized on a picture that my brain had trouble processing. Oval face. Flawless brown skin the color of my favorite brand of caramel. High cheekbones. Intelligent, almond shaped eyes. Temptingly lush pink lips. 

Shock scooped my heart out of my chest and knocked it around like a tambourine. I froze, unmindful of her hair tickling my nose and the tiny drops of water that dripped from the ends of it.

Her gaze flicked to my mouth before she stiffened up and tried to yank her hand away. “What are you doing?”

“Olivia?” I croaked, unmindful of the paramedics descending the embankment to get to us. Tears flooded my eyes and if there weren’t so many people lining the highway and officials picking their way toward us, I’d say I’d died and woken up in heaven.

Panic flashed in her gaze and she stared at the medical team gaining ground. We were half-hidden by a cement ledge that had been forgotten during construction, but it wouldn’t be long before we were discovered.

Her voice quivered slightly. “Look, I could have left you to die down there and I didn’t. That has to count for something, huh?” She tugged her hand again. “Please. I’ll tell you my name if you let me go.”

She was talking gibberish. It didn’t matter. All that I cared about was Olivia. She was here. In the flesh. Her slim wrists were real. I could hold on to her. See her. Hug her. Kiss her.

Spurred by the thought, my arm curved around her neck. In one smooth move, I drew her down to my chest and slammed my lips to hers. Desperately. Angrily. Punishing her for leaving me, thanking her for coming back.

Her body trembled and she made a half-hearted attempt to move away. I grunted low in my throat. The thought of letting her go drove me wild, pushed everything but the sensation of her lips from my mind.

I wrapped my arms more firmly around the dip of her waist and yanked her down so she lay on top of me. Her legs found purchase in the grass between my thighs and her hands smacked on the ground on either side of my chest.

I pinned her there, caging her in. A niggling reminder that we were out in the open where the public could spy us if they wanted to wiggled through my brain. The crowd would eat this up. And it wouldn’t stop there. They’d be pulling for their cell phones. Posting my passionate display on the web for all to see.

Dad would disown me. Drive me from the company for sullying the family name. Mom would cry on my behalf as she watched my father forsake me. Sullivan would high-five me in secret. Marcus would complain that I’d embarrassed him.

I should stop. I should… but I really didn’t want to. She smelled so good. Like flowers after a light rain. Like second chances. Like a miracle packed up in a gorgeous package.

Stop? I could get lost in her, lost in the love that made every waking minute since her accident feel like I was swimming against a strong tide.

Olivia moaned softly. Her forehead brushed mine, and she started kissing me back. I hadn’t realized, until that moment, that my embrace had not been returned. My breath hitched. Froze. Then adrenaline flooded me all at once and my body lit up from the inside out.

She crushed her mouth against mine, attacking me with the kind of fervency I had never encountered from her before. Wherever she had gone, wherever she had been, it drained the demure, shy side of her and left a vixen in its place.

Her lips were soft, wonderful. As sweet as I remembered. Her kiss was the opposite. She was eating me up like a prisoner devouring her last meal, her fingers digging into the collar of my shirt and threading through my hair. Heat from our embrace rivaled the heat from the sun. I was pretty sure I could kiss Olivia forever.

She seemed as eager to comply when, without warning, she tore her mouth away and scrambled closer to the shore, nearly tumbling back into the river. I shot up and extended an arm to help her when she gained traction and stayed upright.

Brown eyes wide and chest heaving, Liv held a hand to her lips. “Did you just…? Did I just…?”

Her expression when she looked at me, a mixture of disbelief and anger, was the first sign that something was wrong. Something was… off. Before I could decipher exactly what it was, a voice shouted in the distance.

“They’re over there!”

Liv swiped the back of her hand over swollen lips. She held her arm out like a woman addressing a rabid dog. “Don’t follow me.”

“Wait!” I climbed to my feet, but she was already turning and nimbly hiking up the embankment.

A hand gripped my shoulder and whirled me around before I could stop her. “Sir, are you the driver of the vehicle that crashed?”

“Yes.” I brushed off the short, stocky man dressed in a thick blue jacket with the emergency medic logo on the side.

He kept on my tail. “Are you hurt? Was there anyone else in the vehicle?”

I ignored him. “Olivia!”

Clearly annoyed by my snub, he jumped ahead of me and blocked my way. “Sir, you need to stay still so I can check you over.” He jerked his chin. “The police are waiting to question you as well. You’re not going anywhere.”

Police questioning? I didn’t have time for that. Liv was getting away. I shoved the paramedic in the chest and dug my hand into the mountain of dirt that brushed the side of the highway.

Sweat poured down my face and burned my eyes. Panic beat my heart like a congo drum. I cupped the railing on the side of the road when my legs were dragged violently out from under me. Policemen pushed me to the ground and turned me over with the finesse of angry chefs dressing raw turkey.

They dragged my hands behind my back, and a cry of pain exploded from my lips. Clenching my jaw against their rough handling, I strained against the cuffs they shackled to my wrist and yelled for her, unmindful of the onlookers who were receiving a treat far more entertaining than the passionate kiss a moment ago.

“Calm down, sir.” The paramedic leveled warm brown eyes at me. His hair was thinning in the front, a stark contrast to the full and bushy beard surrounding his red lips. Ruddy cheeks beamed in the sunlight and I wondered how he could tolerate the heavy jacket he wore on this scorching day.

“You don’t understand.” I pleaded. “My fiancée, she—” The words died in my throat when I realized how incredible they must sound. What could I say? My fiancée who died three days ago had returned to rescue me?

How could I expect anyone to believe me? What was left of the love of my life remained in a vase at the crematorium, waiting for me to spread her ashes over the Blue Hole as her will requested. 

I couldn’t tell the truth. They’d think I was crazy. News of my mental instability would hit the tabloids and finally be picked up by the national television stations. The reporters would hound Davina, and the rest of Olivia’s family, and the pain of their loss would be dug up all over again.

“What about your fiancée?” The paramedic’s eyes twinkled. He seemed unnaturally cheerful in the face of my distress. Was it thrilling to see a man brought to his very lowest? If I wasn’t handcuffed and kneeling in the damp earth, I’d punch the smile right off his face.

“Nothing.” I tried to get to my feet. The medic reached out to help me, but I shook him off and glared. I sensed that he was a man of authority despite the fact that the lawmen were the true officials in charge.

“Let’s get you up then. We’ll take you to the hospital to get you checked out first.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Caribbean native, Nia Arthurs writes with the intention of keeping readers on their toes. Always a romantic, she blends heartfelt storylines with her vivid and sometimes disturbing imagination to create characters and plots that lovers of contemporary romance and romantic suspense will enjoy again and again.

Q. Why do you write?
A.
I write because the voices in my head beg me to. Also because I can't imagine doing anything else with my life.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
I have an unhealthy obsession with Korean dramas, and it definitely affects my writing. A recent production involving a young man who travelled to another world where he had died in high school tugged on my heartstrings and I knew I wanted to explore the themes in my next work.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Love is a choice. Not just a gooey, fluttering feeling. Not just a word tossed around to express a deeper stage of affection. My characters rediscover what it means to love, and I hope you join them on that fast-paced journey.

Next in:
Romance
Midnight Talk
One woman loves him, the other loathes him.
Mirror Sacrifice
The lines between present and past will blur.
The Last Generation
What would you sacrifice to save the world?