Long ago, Heather left her old life behind. Now, she has everything: a marriage to a handsome executive, a managerial human resources position in a powerful multinational, and a beautiful daughter. And she will do anything to keep it that way. But everything has a price. When a bullet ends the life of another womanan ex-employee whom Heather helped fireit sets off a chain of events that jeopardizes everything for which Heather has worked. Events of Heather’s past soon collide with her company’s wrongdoings, and she must risk everything to expose them. But all she’s ever known is the peril of being visible. Frightened and desperate, Heather calls upon her constant childhood friendsfriends who long ago saved her from a life of painand, together, they will once again face the events of a traumatic night that each has sought to forget. Because sometimes the only ones who can save you are those with whom you share your deepest and darkest secretsthose who know that fear is the price of silence.
|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
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He had been following the bird's husband all day. He wanted evidence. A foot in the door. A chance to say to her all the things he had been rehearsing in his head for years.
In the end, he had known where her husband was going. He had waited for him outside his mistress's apartment, where he had found a well-concealed and well-used hole in the bushes that bordered the parking lot's chain link fence. He imagined the bird's husband had left work without a care — imagined how his tousled hair and carefree whistle would have proclaimed it to the world. And now her husband had arrived.
He smiled to himself. He felt like he was back in a time when his life had meant something; a sense of renewal fluttered at the fringes of his heart.
Taking three steps at a time, the bird's husband climbed the stained and crumbling concrete steps to the second-floor apartment in the rundown complex. It was the kind of day when the thinnest of cottons sticks like sweat-shredded tissue. A row of drooping flower heads hung from a sagging flowerbox at the apartment's window.
He pulled his clammy shirt from his chest, and then his boxers from his thighs, which clung defiantly to the seat of his pants. He had killed most of the day waiting, and now the time was at hand. All he had to do was stay there until her husband emerged and he would take a series of pictures. He could imagine every little moment — each one framed, each one a moment of betrayal. How would she react? He could not give up now, no matter how tired and uncomfortable he was.
Retrieving a tiny camera from his pocket, he checked its settings. Next, he pulled a well-used, crumpled bag from his waistband and checked its contents. Needle, spoon, lighter, tiny white rock. His hands shook, but he touched each item reverently.
He leaned back, closed his eyes, and sat tight as the minutes turned into an hour.
He almost missed the bird's husband leaving. He opened his eyes in time to see him coming down the stairs, but his opportunity to snap pictures died before he could turn on the camera.
He rubbed his eyes. A haze had seeped in, was lending an orange hue to his surroundings. The halo from the outside apartment light lent a pall to the impending night and a low rumble in the distance promised a break from the day's heat.
Unfurling his aching joints, he rose to follow, but his mark was younger and quicker than he was — the bird's husband vanished before he could get out of his observation spot.
He was still standing there when a black car with tinted windows pulled quietly into the empty space. Sleek and expensive, the engine cut noiselessly. He moved to sit, but tin cans and bottles clanked and he froze mid-movement, lest he was found out. He watched as two men emerged from the car. One, in an elegant trench coat that fell crisply to his shins, led, glancing around him as he took the battered steps to the woman's apartment. The other, sheathed in black leather, followed, his head bent with purpose.
* * *
Tanya paced, her steps following the same worn pattern in the carpet the string of previous occupants had left. Her loins still throbbed and her heart raced; she tingled with the love she felt for her man. Her man had promised he would leave his wife. He would take care of her and the baby — their baby. She gathered her arms around herself, caressed her belly, imagining its hardness, and smiled. Everything was falling into place.
He had a good job, but she still needed hers back. She needed to bide her time until he could disentangle himself from his loveless marriage. Until then, she needed to work. But how could she convince her boss to let her back in? She would not grovel. No! It was unbelievable the way he had treated her. She wasn't trash he could just kick to the curb. She had worked hard to get to her position and all she had wanted was a promotion. Instead, he had come up with some bullshit excuse to fire her for lack of performance, and that stupid witch in human resources had signed off on it.
She knew where the bitch lived. She could go and show her some old-fashioned revenge from the 'hood. She gnawed on her lip. Only she couldn't — not really. That had never really been her life. That was a life from which she had run. She had to get her job back. She couldn't go back to that life. She had worked hard to get out of her New Haven neighborhood, far from the snickers, far from her fear and want. Even though she was trapped here for now, she couldn't go down from here. Her man would save her. She just had to hang on for a little while.
Her boss would relent. He would have to. After all, she knew everything, and that knowledge was worth a lot. He was a lousy lover and a lousy boss and an even lousier human being. She could start with exposing him for sexual harassment. A hint of what she was capable of, in case he didn't take her seriously. And she could save her trump card, the dirty truth about the company's dealings overseas — his dirty dealings. So many people dead, and even more dying still. He knew it too. He was a bastard willing to sacrifice everything — and for what? For his selfish pride? So the stockholders and board would laud him for their short-term gains? They didn't have to know about the dead. Out of sight, out of mind. But she had copies of everything.
She could expose them all to the world. All she wanted was her job back, and the promotion she deserved. She wanted a life like the one her coworkers who went home to something more than peeling bathtubs, worn carpets, and barred windows had. Damn it! She wasn't asking for anything she didn't deserve.
The soft knocking at the door interrupted her thoughts. She crept to the peephole. Maybe he couldn't leave her after all. She smiled and her heart skipped a beat. She would make sure he never left again. She would make him throw caution to the wind. Make him dump his two-bit, whiny mouse of a wife to the gutter. Her heart softened. But she would love the woman's daughter like her own, and they would have more. After all, the little girl was half of him, and she would cherish whatever there was of him in this world.
She lifted the peephole cover.
The prism morphed the two men outside into an unpleasant blob, but she recognized one of them: it was her boss.
Her joy seized into ice. She was not in the mood for his sick sex games. No doubt this was his way of turning the tables and letting her know he was still in control. If it got her the things she wanted, though, then it was all the same. She would still be in control anyway. She held the cards and he knew it. She had seen it on his face when she threatened to expose their affair to his boss.
She pulled her robe around her and quickly removed any evidence that someone else had been there. Quietly, she put the dirty wineglasses into a cabinet — she would have to wash them later — but the sleeve of her robe caught the cabinet knob and ripped as she moved. A tiny thread clung to the metal.
He knocked again. She sensed the impatience this time. She opened the door and both men waltzed in and brushed her aside. The stranger grabbed the door from her and shut it. He put a leather-sheathed finger to his lips.
"What are you doing here?" she asked. "It's a little late and I need to be in early tomorrow. I have someone I have to talk to."
"We need to discuss our little ... disagreement."
"What's there to discuss? I deserve my job back, with a promotion." She thought she saw a smile, but that only increased her sense of rising hysteria. She clenched her teeth; it did nothing to calm her.
The stranger moved to the window, peered out the threadbare curtains, and pulled them shut. She wondered if they knew no one would pay them any mind anyway. Her neighbors were notorious for "not hearing or seeing anything," even when it occurred under their nose. But wasn't she just as guilty?
"That's a little bold. I'm not sleeping with you both tonight." She hated the catch in her voice. He would think her weak. Men like him could always smell fear.
"Of course not," her boss said. "You've already done that ... sleeping with that imbecile from Origin Sourcing Corp. Tell me. What do you see in him? Georgetown doesn't have a thing on Harvard." He snickered. "Of course, it has plenty on Southern Connecticut, doesn't it, sweetheart? It must have taken a lot for you to crawl out of that slum you called home."
He caught her slap mid-air, then squeezed her arm until the tears dimmed her vision. "You will give me all the information you stole from the office." Each enunciated word sliced like a knife.
Tanya shook her head.
"Don't shake your head. I know you have it. Angela caught you making copies." He pulled her closer. "Hand it over now and there's a chance you'll get out of this," he spat. "You might not have your job, but you'll have something worth even more."
Tanya pulled back. "I don't know what you're talking about. I suggested I might go to your boss and the board and tell them you've been sleeping with me. It's only a case of sexual harassment. I don't know about anything else."
He grabbed her again. "Bitch!" His spittle landed on her cheek and burned. "Do you think you can deceive me? Soon I'll be CEO, and no whore from the gutter is going to stop me."
He pushed her into the arms of the stranger. Tanya's robe opened to reveal her nakedness.
"I don't care what you do with her," he said. "Just make it quick. I have no use for her anymore. She's used goods and too much of a liability."
Turning his back to her, he rummaged for the contraband file. She tried to close her robe, but the stranger grabbed her hand and slipped his leather fingers into her easily, finding the lingering evidence of her lover. She squirmed. He pulled his fingers out and rolled his wet leather fingertips together. Fire rose and prickled at her face.
Her boss straightened and looked. She knew he would have to watch. Like he always did. He sneered. "What did I tell you? Fuck her at your own risk."
The stranger pushed her over the sofa and, pulling a rubber from his pocket, rolled it on with the quickness of habit. He ripped the robe from her, covered her mouth, and penetrated her backside. He tore at her with each thrust. His cruelty was too much to bear.
Her boss watched as he continued to search. He found her briefcase leaning behind the old credenza she had found at a garage sale. It was her first piece of furniture; she had bought it with her first paycheck. She remembered it had been a beautiful day — a day full of promise. She tried to go there, but it felt distant and apart from her. Like maybe there had never been anything but humiliation, and she had been a fool to believe otherwise.
And then he found it. He pulled the file from her briefcase, sifted through the tidy pile, and smacked it against the palm of his hand. She should've done a better job of hiding it. But she had never imagined this as a possibility. She should've known better. She felt her leverage slipping from her.
She squeezed her eyes shut, but tears slipped through anyway. The disappointment and hurt fused into one, and she thought her heart might break and she would die.
Her boss nodded to the stranger, who slipped out before he was done — except that he wasn't. He threw her up against the wall and penetrated her from the front. The brutality of it made her cry out. He slapped her and thrust harder. He stayed that way, a grotesque grimace smeared across his face. She felt the blood flow between her legs. Ruined. She was ruined. Her baby destroyed. She watched as her boss's crotch bulged, but he didn't move to take part. He nodded again to the stranger, who finished his task.
The stranger smiled as he hiked up his pants. He retrieved a pistol from his pocket. Wrapping his black leather-sheathed hand around hers, he forced her index finger into the trigger hole.
"What, what're you doing?" If only she could stop the thumping in her ears. She couldn't hear. She couldn't anticipate what would happen next so she couldn't figure out a move to escape. The noise was maddening.
"You're going to kill yourself. Your lover came. You quarreled. He forced you to have sex. Then he left you for his wife. It was too much to bear."
"You're crazy. No one will believe it."
"They will when they read the note you leave behind." He raised the piece of paper. Her signature swirled at the bottom.
"I didn't sign that."
He laughed. "Angela has many gifts — and she's loyal."
She needed time. Time to grasp the situation. Time to make him see that this wasn't necessary. "I don't understand. I thought you cared about me. I care about you. I promise I won't say a word about anything to anyone." Tears streamed down her face. She hated the way he looked at her. Like it meant nothing. Like she meant nothing. Surely they had meant something to each other. Surely her life meant something. "Please. I love you."
But he only smiled and scanned her broken, naked body. His eyes shimmered. He had turned the tables on her. She tried to cover herself, like that was possible. There would never again be anything capable of hiding her shame.
She watched as he smoothed the suicide note on her dining room table and then nodded to her tormenter.
It was a slow nod.
She thought of her mother. All the hours she had worked to give her only child a ticket out of the 'hood. Mostly, she thought of the moments with her when she had just sat and plaited her hair, humming tunes of her own childhood, her hands caressing her every moment. Her hands were callused from work, but her touch was so gentle that it reminded Tanya of the underside of a cat's belly — like the one that would meow at her window until she opened it and let the cat sneak into her bed. She could still feel the softness as she rubbed her face along its exposed undercarriage. Her heart pounded, and she could swear she heard its purr silencing the sounds of chaos out on the streets.
She thought of her room in her old neighborhood and was surprised to realize that she could only remember it as a refuge now. They had always been safe in her room. Even now, she could smell the cotton of the well-worn quilts that her mama's mama had sewn by hand from cast-off pieces of fabric down in Georgia. She had once thought of her room as a prison, but it had only ever protected her from the carnage outside the window.
She heard the thunder grumble in the distance — a beautiful and exciting sound. It sounded clearer than it ever had. Sharp. Insistent. She had always loved storms. She would miss the electric air that held the promise of roiling clouds, wild lightning streaks, and rain — rain that would wash away all the heat and bestiality of the day. She smelled it. Water and green leaves and clean earth and clear skies. It was like the smell of basil and grass and lavender as one. She thought of the dogs that barked and drove the neighbors nuts but also nuzzled her hand as she walked home and sat expectantly, tails wagging, waiting for her to scratch and hug their guileless little bodies. Mostly, she thought about all the little things she had taken for granted. She hoped she had lived her life in a way that would have pleased her mama's God.
There had been a few transgressions lately. She had allowed herself to be uppity. Maybe that was why God had left her. She begged His forgiveness now. She asked that He comfort her mama. She would need it. She was her only child; it might be too much for her to bear. She had already suffered so many losses in her life.
Last, Tanya thought of her baby. A life barely imagined who would never see the beauty of the world.
She thought all these things in that brief moment. In some ways, she knew it was the most beautiful moment she would ever have.
She screamed, but the gunshot slammed through her temple and cut the sound cold.
* * *
He let her drop and neatly posed her hand next to her temple. He removed a hankie from his pocket and wiped the blood from his face, then methodically folded the cloth and slipped it into his pocket. He knew how to start early so there was no trace of his presence.
He took a quick look around, but there was no evidence that they had been there. Nothing was out of place. It felt oddly wrong. He retrieved a pair of folding scissors and a snack bag from his other pocket. Precisely and with a skill that could only come with habit, he snipped off a large tuft of her hair, carefully avoiding the scalp. It was the only clue he would leave, and he knew the police investigation would hinge on it. He smiled. His favorite targets were randomized to make the real ones, the ones for which he was paid, appear similar.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Entangled Moon"
Copyright © 2018 Frey.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
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