Demolished Hearts is releasing on…
October 23, 2018!! And I may have a surprise about reading it early in the months before it releases publicly!
The gripping panic took hold of my chest, bearing down so harshly I couldn’t breathe. Holding her tiny hand in mine, I struggled to not dash from the area. I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, scare her that way, so I simply picked up the pace and continued forward.
Looking back, I saw him watching. His intense eyes locked on mine, the chill of it left me staggering on my feet.
He shouldn’t be here. This was my town, and today was for the kids. The sun shone brightly, the warmth caressing our skin as the first signs of fall began to appear. The leaves appeared to be painted golden, red, and orange until one day they would all change and fall it what would seem like seconds. The grass was a dull brown, the lively green of summer and life faded away with the dropping temperatures.
I never would have brought her if I’d known he’d be here. The brush of our shoulders still burned my skin. The way his eyes registered recognition when he’d turned, grabbing my shoulders to balance me as he exclaimed his apologies. His fingers dug into my muscles, bringing back memories from that night. He’d lowered his gaze then, eyes flashing to mine as a slow grin spread across his face as he glanced at Ally.
“Sorry,” I breathed out, somehow, and pulled my daughter closer.
He opened his mouth to speak, but I rushed forward into the crowd. Away from him, from the memories, from the pain they created in the pit of my belly.
“Mommy,” my six year old said sweetly.
“Yes, baby,” I replied. Attempting to get a hold of the panic quickly taking over my body was more difficult than I expected.
“Who was that? Did you know that man?” she asked curiously. A child’s curiosity was magnificent and perceptive, and sometimes annoying.
“I ran into him on accident,” I replied. Not lying, but not telling her the whole truth either.
“Are you ok?” she asked quickly, eyes wide and concerned.
Turning back, I looked for him one more time. Not seeing him in sight, I relaxed and crouched in front of her. “I’m ok. It didn’t hurt.”
Snuggling close, she locked her tiny arms around me and hugged me tightly. “I love you, Mommy.”
Breathing in her scent, watermelon and toothpaste, I smiled as I brushed back her hair. “I love you more than anything, Baby Girl.”
“More than pizza?” she giggled.
Rolling my eyes upward, I pretended to think about it. “I guess so.”
“More than candy?”
I nodded. “Oh, yeah.”
“More than chocolate ice cream?” she squealed.
Scrunching up my nose, I sucked in a sharp breath. “Now, I dunno about that. I really like chocolate ice cream…”
She playfully pushed my arm. “Mommy!”
Giggling along with her, I tickled her side. “Yes, I love you more than chocolate ice cream.”
Wiping her brow, she sighed. “Oh, thank goodness. You had me worried there for a minute.”
I couldn’t contain the bustling laughter that rose and kissed her cheek. “You’re awesome, kid.”
She nodded. “I know.”
Keeping a look out, I allowed her to join in the fun with the inflatables. Crossing my arms, I basically kept guard over her while my thoughts took me to another time.
Seven years prior
“Dammit, Bree! You pushed me out of bed,” he slurred, pulling himself up on all fours, then using the bed to regain his balance.
“I did no such thing. Go back to sleep,” I mumbled from the couch.
His accusations grew more and more outrageous each time he drank. Another night of him drinking, another night of things being my fault. He was so drunk he rolled out of bed, but refusing to admit this, he blamed me.
“Fuck you, Bree!” he screeched. He sat on the edge of the bed, elbows resting on knees, murmuring and cursing me.
“Don’t speak to me like that,” I demanded. I was so tired of how he treated me. “You may drink and lose it all the time, but I deserve more respect than that.”
He didn’t know, but I was leaving him. I was in the process of saving my dollars. I would get away from him before things got worse. The fear that was slowly creeping in every time he was home was more than I could handle. Things would get worse, the abuse would turn physical if I didn’t get out.
“You’re a bitch,” he growled. He stood, staggering, then fell back on the bed.
Standing from my spot, I walked across the room and stopped at the bedroom door. “Why? Because you fell out of bed? Then so be it. You’re pissing me off with your accusations. Maybe if you stopped coming in here drunk and high all the time, you wouldn’t roll off the damn bed!”
He rolled to his stomach, opening his mouth to speak, but passed out before the words came. His head flopped on the bed and I wished it’d been on concrete instead of the plush blanket.
Another night of sleeping on the couch for me. I wouldn’t sleep in the same bed as someone who couldn’t treat me any nicer than that. If my strength could hold him, I’d toss him in the floor and lock him out of the room.
Instead, I curled up on the couch with a book, keeping an ear on the bedroom for any movements he may make. I’d be out of the relationship soon.
“Mommy, look!” Ally yelled from the top of the bounce slide.
I smiled as I watched her slide from the top to the bottom, her arms waving in the air while she squealed in delight. The smile etched on her face reminded me so much of the man I’d fallen in love with. Especially since he was near. Leaving early felt like defeat, like I was letting him win, but the increasing urge to run was taking over.
“Ally!” I called. “Last time.”
She groaned and her face fell, but she nodded. Her light brown hair swished around her face and she fought against it, smacking herself in the mouth. Biting my lip, I contained the laughter because I knew if she saw, there would be hell to pay.
“She looks like me.” His voice washed over me, hitting me with such shock and force, I felt as if I’d be drenched in ice water.
“Why are you here?” I seethed.
“You know, I thought you were lying,” he chuckled. “Actually, no, I didn’t. I didn’t want anything to do with you, so I ignored you. You hurt me, Brianna.”
His use of my full name reminded me why I’d insisted everyone call me by my shortened name. “Please leave.” Curtly, I snapped my gaze away and held up a finger indicating Ally could go again.
He brushed his hand against my elbow, a small, simple touch. It was so familiar, so electrifying, I shivered.
He trailed a finger over my forearm. “What is it, Brianna? Do you miss me?”
Disgusted, I shook my head. “No. The shiver wasn’t out of desire. It was out of….” I didn’t want to let him know it was from fear. That I was remembering our last encounter and it terrified me to have him so close to me.
He smirked, his green eyes giving me the once over. “I want to meet her.”
“You can’t stop me,” he threatened. “I’m her father.”
“You’ll have to prove it,” I smirked. “If you’ll kindly take your hands off of me before I call the cops for assault.” I directed my gaze to where his skin torched mine. “Don’t follow me.” I jerked away from him and out of his reach before I hurried to Ally.
“Let’s go, baby.” My voice was steadier than I thought it would be.
“Mommy!” she groaned and huffed and puffed. “I want to stay!”
“You can’t hide from me!” His voice echoed across the area causing heads to turn and people to ponder whom he was speaking to.
I refused to give him the satisfaction of turning around, instead gripping Ally’s hand tighter in mine. We hurried from the park, taking a longer way to our car than necessary. Every so often, I turned to ensure he wasn’t following. The last thing I needed was him knowing what car I drove or finding out where we lived.
Once I’d settled in the car and made sure Ally was buckled, I gripped the steering wheel and fought back tears.
“Mommy, I don’t understand why we had to leave,” Ally whined.
The soft words from her tiny voice broke me. Tears spilled out of my eyes and my body shook with sobs. My daughter gasped, her small hand touching my back as she leaned over the chair. “Mommy??” she asked, her voice high pitched and scared.
“I’m fine,” I lied. I wiped my eyes and face dry and sucked in a deep breath. “Let’s go home.”
My eyelids were heavy with tears and I furiously attempted to blink them away. I took the long way from the area, making sure we weren’t followed. I relaxed, only a bit, and rummaged through my bag for a tissue.
My relationship with Andy was nothing short of perfection in the beginning. He romanced me, wooed me, and loved me. He hid who he was from me. Who he really was, that is. He was abusive, angry, and a drunk. Once he convinced me to move in after dating for three months, I was 16 and fairly dumb, he revealed his true colors. A cloud of anger surrounded him and every movement he made. The slightest change or movement would set him off. More than once he came home with his eyes bloodshot and his behavior proved he was high.
I hadn’t stayed long, but what I’d felt for him was so real, so deep. And I’d gotten pregnant. We were together for five months total and I’d lived with him for two months. As soon as I brought him home, my mother and father said I was a disgrace and kicked me out of their lives.
Lucky for me, my older sister, Julie, already had her own place and came to my rescue. She was five years older than me and while she was concerned for my wellbeing, I knew she was also proud of me for keeping the baby and bettering my life for both of us.
Allyson Marie Denton was born seven months after I left Andy and my world was forever changed. My heart was literally her. Every decision, every move I made was for her and her benefit. And now, almost 7 years later, the very person I never thought I’d have to worry about was trying to weasel his way into my life.
Ally screamed as I slammed my foot into the brake to stop the car. We hadn’t been going very fast, maybe 20 mph, but it was enough. The car jerked and the sound of metal on metal filled the air. Tires squealed and our bodies jerked up on impact.
“Ally! Are you ok?” I cried, unbuckling so I could face her.
Tears spilled and she nodded. “Mommy? Are you ok? What happened?”
“Mommy accidentally hit the car in front of us.” My words and voice were soft and calm, but inside I was shaking. “It’ll be ok. Stay here.” My heart hammered against my chest and I got out of the car. The guy I hit was inspecting the cars. He was tall, probably 6’2”, with dirty blonde hair and a strong build. He looked familiar, but in my frantic state, I didn’t bother to figure out where I knew him.
“I’m so sorry!” I cried. Tears fell freely now, but I sniffled and wiped them away. Today sucked.
“Hey, it’s ok.” He turned and grinned, his blue eyes dazing me slightly when they connected with me. “Hey! You’re Francesca’s friend. The one with the little girl.”
Studying his face, his features so remarkably like Cade’s, I was stunned I hadn’t noticed before. “Yeah, Bree. You’re Cason.”
“Yeah.” He nodded and his stance was relaxed, but his eyes looked me over and I felt heat spreading through my cheeks. His gaze lingered on my hips, then my chest, then my mouth, before finally settling on my eyes. I wasn’t sure how he did it, but I felt like he stripped me bare and left me quivering for more with his gaze alone.
What was wrong with me?
“Are you two ok?” he asked, leaning around me to look in the backseat of the car.
“Yeah, I’m having a really bad day and I’m so sorry. I didn’t notice you’d stopped until it was too late! Your car!” I spun in horror and looked at my crushed bumper. “My car!”
“Hey, hey, hey,” he said, putting a strong, warm hand on my upper arm. “Calm down.”
Frantic and scared, I shook my head and crouched between the cars. Running my hand over the dented area, I let more tears spill. “I can’t afford this,” I murmured.
He lowered himself beside me and a whiff of his body spray, citrus or something similar overwhelmed my nostrils. His presence overwhelmed me, his large, muscular frame making me feel small and weak in comparison.
I wanted to lean into him.
He wrapped his arm around me and pulled me up. “Cade and I can fix this. You don’t have to afford anything.” He secured his finger under my chin and directed my gaze to his face. “Are you ok, Bree? You look like you’ve been crying a lot.”
I diverted my gaze and stuffed my fists in my pockets. “I’m fine.”
He mimicked my moves and scurried away. “I understand. We don’t know each other well. I’m sorry you’re having a bad day and I’m happy to fix the car for you. Cade and I love stuff like this. We used to fix cars up all the time growing up. Well, when he was sober we did.”
Cade was Cason’s brother and a recovering alcoholic. He was newly married to Francesca, a close friend of mine. I’d met Cade a few times and he was a nice guy. Anyone could see the love he had for Francesca. Every time he looked at her it was like he was seeing her for the first time. I’d never had anyone look at me the way Cade looked at Francesca.
“Mommy!” Ally called from the car. “Come back!”
Cason held out a card. “Here. It has my office number, but my cell is on the back. Call me and we’ll figure out a time for us to fix it, ok?”
I nodded, unable to speak. Why was he being so kind? What would he expect in return for fixing the car?
Cason patted my arm and smiled. “I hope your day gets better, Bree. I’ll talk to you soon.”
He walked away then, his legs taking steps equal to at least four of mine. Holy cow, he really was tall. Taller than Cade. I felt myself relax and got back in the driver’s seat. “Ally, are you ok?”
“What took so long, Mommy?!” my mini squealed. “You were gone forever. I have gray hairs.”
I chuckled, remembering I’d said the same thing to Daphne not three days ago when she was late to our house for dinner. “Oh, yeah? Well, I guess we match now.”
She giggled. “Can we go home now? I’m hungry.”
I snapped my seatbelt and instructed she do the same. Driving home was a slow and careful process. I was distracted and even more upset than I had been. I really shouldn’t be driving, but who could I call? Julie was at least an hour away since she’d moved and there weren’t many others I could depend on.
Of course, I had Francesca, Daphne, Kylie, and Ava, but only two of them were close enough I would trust them with my daughter. So I wasn’t comfortable enough with calling them for help.
But, really, I wasn’t comfortable asking anyone for help.
It was a serious fault.
I steered my car onto the road where our low-income housing unit was located. Driving past my neighbors made me realize why this place had such as stereotype. Dirty looking men without a shirt, kids who looked like they hadn’t showered in days, two pregnant teenagers from one family, and nosy people who ratted out everything you did to the office.
I truly despised living here, but until I could afford to get a better place, we were stuck. I worked at the used bookstore in Knoxville, where I spent my days stacking, sorting, and loving on books. It was a great job, I loved it, and hoped to eventually run my own place. A bookstore, animal shelter, or something similar where my days could be spent doing something I enjoyed.
Parking the car, I grabbed my bag, hopped out, and opened Ally’s door. “Come on, kiddo. Let’s cook.”
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