Authors: Eve Cates
a contemporary romance
Copyright 2015, EVE CATES
All rights reserved
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means without the prior written permission of the author of this book.
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead is purely coincidental. The church and its associated works mentioned are purely a creation of the author. Any actual places, products or events mentioned are used in a purely fictitious manner. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various places/products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission and is by no way sponsored by the trademark owners.
en years before...
“Shhhh, Willa, you have to be quiet.” A chemical smell – burnt and sickly sweet – hovered in the air as my mother’s shaking hand stroked my hair. She was lying beside me on the floor, her head down, her voice hushed as she tried to reassure me, her fourteen-year-old daughter, that everything was going to be all right.
Nothing was right about what we were going through.
My father had crawled forward slightly, trying to watch without being seen as the man – our aggressor – walked back and forth, waving his gun about, yelling.
Three people lay crumpled on the food court floor in front of him. Examples of what would happen if we tried anything to stop him or did anything that annoyed him. The blood from their fatal wounds pooled on the ground around them, streaking off between the grooves in the tiles. A river of red.
The first had been a man who begged the gunman to let the children go.
The second had been a woman who screamed when the first man fell dead to the floor.
The third...I wasn’t sure what the third did. But it was a young guy – maybe college age – who he forced onto his knees before pulling that trigger. He didn’t even hesitate.
The gunman yelled into a cell phone, telling them he was going to start shooting people if they didn’t give him what he wanted.
I didn’t know what he wanted.
What did he want?
“Do you think I'm
?” he screamed as he grabbed a woman by her curly blonde hair and dragged her, screaming, her gym shoes squeaking against the tiles as she tried to make it stop.
Please. This needs to stop.
The gunman pushed her up against the floor to ceiling glass leading to the outside and pressed the gun against her head.
She kicked and screamed, thrashing from side to side. Her shoes, they kept squeaking.
Chemicals. Burning. A collective intake of breath. Sobs.
No more squeaking.
“Perhaps you’ll take me more seriously now.”
The woman’s body slid down the glass, leaving a red streak in its wake.
Blood. Blood. Blood.
My adolescent mind couldn’t handle the horror happening before me.
Something inside me cracked.
High pitched. Horrible screaming.
It was coming from me.
I couldn’t stop.
My father clapped his hand over my mouth, pulling me against him, shushing me, calling me his baby, begging me to calm down.
I did. I tried.
But the gunman was already angry.
With wild eyes, he appeared before me, grabbing my hair the way he’d grabbed that woman’s. My father pushed against his chest and pushed against mine, trying to separate us. My mother tried to pull me back.
Tugging. Crying. Shouting.
I saw the back of my father’s head open before my eyes as the matter that controlled his life evacuated his skull and coated my face.
My mother screamed, rushing for my father as he slowly fell to the floor. So slow. Everything was happening so fast and so slow all at once.
My mother’s eyes went wide as a hole appeared in her forehead.
I reached out, dropping to my knees, a wretched sob catching in my throat and coming out in a strangled howl.
A gun pointed in my direction.
My heart and my breath in my ears.
THUMP THUMP THUMP
His eyes wild. Crazed.
Cold metal against my temple.
WHOP WHOP WHOP
He turned his head.
A helicopter hovered at the window.
They were too late.
I closed my eyes.
Come on, Willa. I’ll hardly even be there. I travel half the year, and I party the rest of it. It’s more a place to store our stuff, and really, it’s my house too. So you can’t say no.” My brother’s voice entered my ear via my cellphone, trying to convince me to let him take over one of the spare rooms in the house we’d both inherited after our parents lost their lives a decade ago. I’d been living in it on my own ever since I finished college. And my brother, Dave, felt that it was time my situation changed.
“I know it’s your house too, Dave. It’s just that we haven’t lived together in years. I’m used to being on my own, and I kinda like it.” I quickened my pace to cross the busy Santee St, so I could get back to work. It was Tuesday afternoon and the sun was bearing down on me, heating the chestnut hair on the top of my head and causing me to squint even though I was wearing dark glasses over my blue eyes.
“I get it, Will, but our landlord is selling our place and we at least need somewhere to stay in the meantime. I know it will put a lot of stress on you, but can you...”
?” I cut him off. “We? Who is
“Oh. Me and my roommate. I thought I told you about him – André – he’s the guy I worked with on that asylum seeker documentary I did late last year. He’s actually on assignment until the end of the month, and he is seriously
at home. You’ll only cross paths with him when he returns for fresh clothes. He doesn’t hang about. But, he always pays rent and his half of the bills on time.” My brother was a camera operator for a film company that produced various documentaries and provided photography services for publications like
. They did stuff like
Hunt for the Giant Anaconda
The Climb: Mount Everest’s Deadly Challenges
. He was a thrill seeker, and always had been. If he hadn’t always been that way, I’d think it was his reaction to our parent’s sudden death. But, unlike me, he’d continued on with his life without too much of an alteration to his initial course.
“You can’t honestly be asking me to live with some guy I’ve never met? Dave. I can’t handle–”
He cut me off. “Willa, I give you my word that he’s a stand up guy. I’d never ask you if he wasn’t. Please. Just help so we aren’t put out in the street, and if you aren’t happy after say, a month, we’ll find somewhere else.”
I stopped under the shade of a building and folded my free arm across my waist, feeling a knot building inside my stomach, but knowing I didn’t really have that much of a choice. I mean, I couldn’t really allow my brother to become homeless. And like he said, the house
“Fine.” I sighed.
I could hear the smile come through in his voice. “Thank you. You’re a lifesaver.”
“Sure, Dave.” I began walking toward my office tower again. “When should I expect you?”
“Well, that’s kind of the other favor I have to ask...”
I stopped again. “What now, Dave?” I couldn’t hide the exasperation in my tone. I loved my brother, really I did. But, he had a habit of always asking just that little bit too much, and always putting himself first.
“I’m kind of at the airport right now...”
“Jesus Dave. How long are you gone, and when do you need to move out?”
“Next week and three months.”
“Next week you’re back?”
“No. Next week I need to be moved out. I need you to go to my place to meet the movers and pack the last of our stuff. I was doing it all myself, and I was already supposed to have called you, but I got this call and it’s such a great opportunity, Will. I have to go.”
“I get it. I get it,” I said with a frustrated sigh, holding my hand up to silence him, even though he couldn’t even see. “I’ll get some emergency time off work and sort it out.”
“Thank you, sis. You are the absolute best. I’ve already told the Super that you’ll be coming.”
“Already? Jesus, Dave. What if I’d said no?”
“Hey, I knew you were awesome. I had faith that you’d help your big brother out.”
“All right,” I chuckled, unable to stop the smile from spreading across my lips. As much as my brother annoyed me, I still loved him, and of course I was going to help him out.
ave was four years older than me. Close enough to have a bond from a young age, but far enough apart that his adult life separated us once he’d gone away to college and started hopping around the globe, filming the things most of us will never see with our own eyes. We were still close, don’t get me wrong, but we didn’t have that same closeness we’d had when we were kids. He wasn’t even in the same state as me when our parents died. He was already at college then, and while he returned for their funeral and called regularly to check on me, he wasn’t there – he hadn’t been a great presence in my life during a time of great change. We didn’t know everything about each other anymore. And I very rarely got to see him – not even on holidays. Now, it was mainly just a phone call here and there, a postcard and maybe a visit at some random point once every year or so.
I’d actually never even been to his Chicago apartment before I hopped a plane from LAX to go and pack it up. It made me realize how far apart our worlds had actually become. He’d spread his wings and flown, while I remained in the nest, too afraid to take the jump and see what was out there.
“I thought Will was a boy,” the Super said when I’d asked for the key to Dave’s apartment.
“It’s short for Willa,” I retorted. “Didn’t Dave say his sister was coming to pack up his apartment?”
He sucked his teeth and took his time dragging his eyes over my curves of my body. I’d been blessed with an ample bosom and round butt, which helped attract all the wrong kinds of guys. Much like the guy in front of me. Creep.
“He left a note saying to give them to Will.”
He was still staring at me, well, still at my chest specifically.
“Thank you,” I said with as little feeling in my voice as possible as I snatched the keys from his hand. Then I took a hold of my bag and returned to the elevator bay, riding it up to the fifth floor where my brother’s apartment was, nestled among a floor filled with five others. When I opened it up, I placed my bag on the floor, half expecting the apartment to resemble the boy’s dorm at college. But, it was much tidier, with only basic furnishings and no decoration whatsoever on the white walls. But, there were lots of books and papers, and Xbox games and DVDs adorning the shelves. Typical for boys. The only things they cared about were their widescreen TVs, and sure enough, there was a massive one dominating one side of the room – right next to what looked like the only packed box and a half empty bookcase. Typical. Dave was the most disorganized man on the planet.