Winner of the 2016 National Indie Excellence Award for Suspense
Winner of the 2016 Colorado Book Award
Finalist 2016 RONE Award
2016 International Book Award Winner – Mystery/Suspense Category
Though they seem to have everything, Hannah Parks has watched her husband, Dallin, become increasingly distant. Her hope is buoyed when the couple decides to start a family, but what Dallin reveals in his sleep one night rocks Hannah to her core. As she starts to investigate a much darker side of Dallin than she ever knew existed, Hannah peels away the layers of a diseased relationship closely tied to her own abusive past. When Dallin attempts to have Hannah abducted, she is forced to run, doing so with the aid of a man named Blackan ex-con and expert at helping people disappear. Together they must keep Hannah safe from her husband's far-reaching grasp, all the while trying to solve the mystery behind Dallin's sudden violence. Does Hannah's dark family history hold the key to her survival?
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The Comfort Of Black
By Carter Wilson
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2015 Carter Wilson
All rights reserved.
Seattle, Washington Early November Present Day
Hannah and her husband hadn't had sex in six weeks. Six weeks and three days, the longest span of abstinence in their entire relationship. Hannah knew, because she kept a calendar. Since the first time they had made love she made a little mark with a pen in her Day-Timer, black hashes adding up over the year, whiskers of sexual memories.
The past two years had been filled with ever-increasing gaps. Dallin was thirty-three and Hannah thirty-four. There was no good reason for gaps at that age, she thought.
He was working late. Or he was tired. Or the most common reason of all: he was stressed. That one, in particular, made no sense to her. What better cure for stress than sex? But she didn't understand, he would say. It's not like that. Do you know how much pressure I'm under? I can't just perform on command.
Bullshit, she thought. Two years ago I couldn't walk across the bedroom in a pair of baggy sweatpants without you attacking me.
But he had been distant recently, the kind of distant older couples might call comfortable. There was no comfort in it to Hannah. To her, it was simply confusing and sad. How long could a person blame every other part of life for the simple fact that, perhaps, they were actually falling out of love?
The increase in gaps didn't completely overlap with their decision to start a family, but there was a relationship between the two. She had questioned if he even wanted a child, and though he insisted he did, there was no denying they were doing less and less of what it took to actually make one.
But tonight she could put a mark in her calendar.
Dallin thrust up into her. She lay on her stomach on the king-size bed, the comforter pushed aside in a mound, half-hanging off the bed, spilling on the floor like a snow drift. Hannah turned her face to the side, one side hot from the blood pulsing through her cheeks, the other cool from the Turkish linen. Her eyes were closed. Dallin's fingers clutched hers—almost painfully—as he pushed up into her from behind. His thrusting came erratically, almost desperately, until he slowed to a stop. Hannah started to open her eyes when he shifted his weight. She felt his tongue draw a line from the small of her back to the valley between her shoulder blades, and then she understood. He needed to consume her.
When things were good, times like tonight, she never felt so desired by a man as she did by Dallin. When he was like this, he would prolong his pleasure by stopping himself and exploring her body with his tongue, toes to earlobes, as if he couldn't get enough. Sometimes he bit her, other times his fingers would dig deep into her skin. Never too hard, but deep enough. Deep enough to let her know he craved her more than anything else could be craved.
This was the Dallin of two years ago. All Hannah wanted was that version of him, all the time. She wanted to clench her entire body, keep him close, not let him disappear back into interminably long days of corporate importance. She no longer wanted to compete for her husband against his own success.
Dallin put himself back into her and pushed deeper, creating a rhythm she knew to the exact beat. She felt drops of sweat from his face drip onto her back ... one ... two ... as his pace quickened. He grunted as he moved quicker, his hips moving faster and pushing harder against her, almost violently, until she knew he was going to climax. She wanted to hear him say her name as he came inside her. She wanted it but she would never ask. She needed him to want to say it.
Dallin's body shuddered, tensed, and then eased. He came, but hadn't said a word. She felt him roll off her and collapse onto the sheets, and she remained trapped under a thousand-pound silence.
The idea of how good a drink would taste struck her. A Manhattan. Margarita. Even just a glass of pinot. It was so predictable, the urge for a vice at the slightest hint of unease. It was an urge of habit, and not just because alcohol was commonly a post-sex consumption. It was because alcohol itself was a habit, and her one drink a day had grown to three or more. But she hadn't had a drop in a week, knowing she could soon be pregnant. The seven days without alcohol had been maddeningly difficult, forcing her to label her habit a problem, but that was all over now. She had a reason to be sober.
Hannah finally opened her eyes and looked over at her husband. She reached out with her hand and brushed back his hair, which was just showing signs of early gray.
"I love you," she said.
"I love you, Hannah."
She remembered the first time she heard him say it. Her move from a life in Redemption, Kansas, to Seattle for college hadn't been insignificant. She'd grown up in the arms of white, small-town, God-fearing America, never having traveled to more than the neighboring states for the first eighteen years of her life, never having flown on a plane, never knowing the world she had only read about. But how she had read. Anything and everything. From Jane Austen to OK Magazine. Stephen King to Fitzgerald. Hannah dreamed of traveling the world, but the rare trip to a crowded mall in Kansas City overwhelmed her. What she couldn't experience in life she tried to compensate for in academics, and so Hannah had nearly perfect SAT scores and an emptiness in her soul because she didn't know how any of her knowledge mattered.
Billy never understood Hannah's attraction to books when she was a little girl. You want a story? Here's a story. I work my ass off twelve hours a day so you, your sister, and your momma can sit around and read books and go shopping. The-fucking-end. How's that for a story? It didn't matter if any of it was true or not, but that was Billy. What he said was the truth to him, and with a man like Billy, little else matters.
You're just a rube, Hannie. That's what all those folks in Seattle gonna say about you. Just a rube from Kansas, all she is. That's what Billy would have said about Hannah's decision to move, but Billy was no longer around, and Hannah never had to listen to him again. Billy had been out of her life since Hannah was fifteen, sent away to prison for beating her to near death. That night, Thanksgiving 1995, was the last time she had seen him. That was the night Hannah finally decided to do something about Billy. On that night Hannah touched the lighter to the gas, but Billy pounced before the flame reached him. On that night the fire did not start, and Billy beat her far beyond what he had ever done to her mother.
Billy was gone, but Hannah's fantasy of a perfect world never came. Three years later, Hannah's mother killed herself, binging on gin until blood filled her eyes. Her mother had always blamed Hannah for Billy's absence, blamed her for breaking up a violently dysfunctional family that was all she knew. And after Billy was sent away, there was nothing Hannah nor her younger sister could do to stop their mother's downward spiral of self-destruction. Hannah never understood the addiction to abuse her mother inhabited, but some things just defied logic. Like Hannah's own love of booze despite it having been her mother's choice of suicide weapon.
Soon after her mother's death, eighteen-year-old Hannah and fifteen-year-old Justine took the modest insurance payout and left Kansas for Seattle, trading in a small town for a big one. The following four years changed her in ways she never imagined, and she stayed there after graduating, using an English degree to keep her dream of being a writer alive while she made money working the front desk of a four-star hotel in downtown Seattle.
Dallin had said her name when he checked in that day, eight years ago. She had looked up from behind the counter and saw him. Crooked smile, moppy black hair, Black Lab energy barely restrained. She had been thrown off by his use of her name before remembering the small gold name tag pinned to her uniform. He had flown in from Boston, he told her. A meeting with potential investors for an idea he had, something he started working on his senior year at M.I.T. If they funded him he'd be moving out here, to Seattle. Sometimes a guest would tell their life story during check-in, but Dallin's was the first to which she had truly listened. He compelled her in that indefinable way that couldn't just be ascribed to purely physical attraction.
Tonight, Hannah lowered her hand to her husband's chest, brushing through the thin layer of hair with her fingertips, feeling his skin cooling, the softness associated with drying sweat. She thought about how he had changed in those eight years. He had grown heavier, more muscular, due to a love affair with exercise he'd begun four years ago. At his peak physical shape, his chest and arms had grown larger, his stomach muscles more defined. Six days a week. That was his exercise routine, or at least used to be. His rapid success in the world of Internet security had eaten at this aspect of him as well. The last year he'd had many more early mornings at the office rather than the gym. He'd lost some of that muscle and his frame was thinner and more angular than ever before. Not quite skinny, but close.
The initial seed funding had been just a stepping-stone to get him started out in Seattle. Hannah remembered when he had come back after his first trip. Stayed at her hotel again. He had walked up to the front desk and said he'd just gotten a check for two million dollars and he was going to take her out to dinner.
That had been a really good dinner.
She had used her day off to help him look for an apartment.
He kissed her that day for the first time, kissed her in the empty walk-in closet of a loft apartment downtown, a stolen moment while the rental agent took a phone call in the hallway. She didn't know how to react, so she just dissolved into his lips, breathing him in, feeling him bite softly on her lower lip. She hadn't seen it coming, which was often the best kind of kiss there was.
After their first kiss ended, Dallin had simply looked her in the eyes and said, "I'm going to be wildly successful, and I want you to enjoy it all with me." It seemed an almost obnoxious statement, but to Hannah it wasn't. He was telling the truth. And she wanted him. She wanted it all. She had replied with one word.
A week later they made love in that closet.
The distant memory made her smile tonight as Hannah stroked her husband's chest and looked down on his face. He looked back with half-open lids.
"I'm sorry," he said.
The words were so soft she wasn't certain what he'd said.
"What?" she whispered. Seconds passed.
He didn't answer.
"Sorry for what?"
Silence. His breathing slowed and his eyes were closed. Dallin was either asleep or didn't want to answer. Hannah didn't press it. He had been saying sorry a lot lately.
Sorry for being gone so much.
Sorry for long silences and touchless nights.
Sorry for letting you drink so much.
Sorry for not being the husband you need me to be.
Sorry for not giving you a baby yet.
Whatever he was sorry for tonight, Hannah decided she would accept it without explanation. She wanted to stay in a good mood. A hopeful mood. A Dallin-of-two-years-ago mood. It was strange, she thought, the power of transient happiness. The feeling of clinging to a brief moment of peace and assuming the rest of her life could possibly feel the same way. Such feelings gave people hope, Hannah thought. They also made the inevitable fall more horrifying.
Minutes later he was asleep, his breathing steady and deep. Hannah got up to use the bathroom. Zoo was there, paws on the toilet seat, leaning in for a drink. The dog pulled away at the sight of her and gave Hannah his famous Blue Steel thousand-yard stare, a look that had earned him the name after the character from the movie Zoolander. Neither a happy nor an aggressive look, Zoo's gaze was simply vacant, distant, and posed, as if the dog were frozen in place by a fashion photographer's directive. Hannah reached down and stroked Zoo's neck, which broke the stare into the closest thing to a smile the dog could give. Hannah had wanted a large dog, but it just wasn't practical in a condo, even a condo of this size. In short time she discovered a good mid-size dog was perfect, especially when the dog was a mutt—the animal shelter had guessed some kind of Airedale and Jack Russell mix. Zoo could be perfectly cast as a happy-go-lucky stray from the 1920s.
She returned to bed and Zoo followed. Hannah placed her head on Dallin's bare shoulder as Zoo leapt to the foot of the bed, circled three times, and collapsed in a tight ball near her feet. As Hannah listened to the steady rhythm of her husband's breaths, her mind took her to thoughts of a baby, wondering if tonight was the night she'd become pregnant. She counted the months in her head. August. It would be an August baby. She would go through the heat of the summer, though that was never much of a problem in Seattle anyway. She would start showing in, what, March? With her slight frame it might even be sooner, and she couldn't wait until it was obvious, where others, strangers even, would remark on it, asking her when she was due. Was it a boy or girl? Have you picked out names yet? As tedious as her friends told her all the questions were, Hannah knew she would never tire of them. Ask away.
Sudden thoughts pierced her brain like a bullet, shattering and dispersing all the good thoughts she clung to about having a baby:
What if your baby turns out like Billy, Hannah? What are you going to do then? You going to try to set your own baby on fire?
She tried to force the thoughts aside and focus on happy ones instead, of shopping for baby clothes and preparing a nursery. A baby shower. Holding her baby for the first time against her chest, feeling the tiny mouth take her nipple, needing her. As she lost herself in the convoy of thoughts that would take her until she fell asleep, she almost imagined it was Dallin's voice she was hearing. But it wasn't her imagination.
He had said something.
"What?" she asked him. She raised her head and looked at his outline in the silky moon- and city-light that filtered into the room through sheer, spilling drapes. She wondered if he had woken to explain his earlier apology.
He mumbled, twitched. His left arm lifted a few inches off the mattress and then fell. Then his right. He repeated a few words, which sounded like yeah, but she couldn't be certain.
He wasn't talking to her. He was having a dream. His twitching became more animated, and Hannah wondered if she should wake him.
Dallin had never spoken in his sleep before.
It certainly doesn't seem like a nightmare, she thought. He doesn't seem scared.
"You like that, don't you, baby?" The words, mumbled through a state of suppressed consciousness, surprised Hannah. It sounded like a sex dream. Was he reliving the past hour, or was she just being naive? She liked to think it was her face he was seeing. She liked to think he wanted her even in his sleep, and though she shouldn't grow jealous of his dreams, she worked hard to convince herself he was thinking of her and no one else. Hannah felt herself turned on by it. Maybe he was growing hard in his sleep.
She reached under the sheets to find out and discovered he wasn't. Maybe she would crawl under the sheets and go down on him, making him hard. Then she would mount him, and he would wake up to find his dream coming true. How amazing would that feel, she wondered, to dream about fucking your wife and to wake up and that actually be happening?
And he would come inside her again. Another chance.
As she slipped off her thong and pulled back the sheets to put her mouth on him, Dallin's limbs shook more violently. He was no longer twitching, his whole body seemed in a spasm. Hannah placed her hand on his chest, as if her touch could calm the shaking body. But Dallin came to life in his sleep, his arms suddenly flailing, his fists clenching, his head snapping from side to side.
Excerpted from The Comfort Of Black by Carter Wilson. Copyright © 2015 Carter Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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