Nearly five years ago, my mom, dad, and sisters had been assassinated.
I should have died that night.
I still questioned my mental state because I had no proof they had been after me. But, since then, I’d been trying to outrun my past and the men responsible for what had happened that night.
Until I met him—Caleb Connor.
Caleb became my safety net, and I found I couldn’t pull away from him. Couldn’t run away from him. And, if sanity hadn’t been lost on me, I would have recognized he was the last person I should have let into my life.
The last person I should have trusted.
My life had been anything but normal until Paige. She was supposed to be an opportunity, my father’s next target.
I should have stayed away. It should’ve been that simple. But it wasn’t.
Paige was my main ingredient to changing everything, and in order to do that, I needed to get inside her head. It wasn’t easy, but when it happened, a line was crossed we’d never known existed.
Now, Paige had to confront her past and everything that tormented her at night because a look into the past was the only solution to everything we’d been afraid of questioning.
Who am I, and who is she?
***Not a standalone. Paige and Caleb's story continues in Book 2 and Book 3 of the series.
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It was like any normal night that summer.
Reese, Alaina, and I would be sent to bed before ten.
Mom was strict with our bedtimes, but we never obeyed. Alaina would be up, messaging her boyfriend — or so she said. At thirteen, she wasn't allowed to have a boyfriend. I wasn't either, and I didn't, but I would still be up late, practicing chords on my guitar or writing corny teenage lyrics. Reese, on the other hand, was the oldest, and if it were a weekend, she would be on a date with her high school sweetheart. But it wasn't a weekend, so she was lying in my bed with me, watching television as I strummed my guitar.
"It isn't fair that you have the musical talent," Reese said.
"It isn't fair that you're leaving me to go to college in two weeks."
"I know," she agreed, picking up her phone.
We went silent as we caught the moment of reality; maybe it would be something we could both look back on.
"Hey, let's go steal Laina's phone and text her boyfriend," Reese suggested.
"I'll be there in a second. I need to put Dad's guitar back in the studio," I muttered.
As she exited my room, I turned my attention to the Kim Possible episode playing on the television. The episode was almost finished. Kim was propelling off a building to save her best friend, Ron. He had tried but failed in his attempt to help fight the bad guys.
Five minutes later, I changed into my nightdress. With Dad's guitar in hand, I jogged a few stairs down to the first floor. Usually, I would switch on the lights before I came down, but a lamp was already on by the couch.
There was no need to tiptoe around the mansion late at night. My sisters and I even joked about having a party on the other side of the house without Mom or Dad ever knowing. But something was different about tonight as I walked through one of the three family rooms. Dad must have been working late. I could see the light glowing from inside his music workroom. Though with the studio door wide open, I didn't expect to find him inside.
He didn't mind what time we went to bed like Mom did. Although, when he saw I was up this late, he'd frown and then smile before hugging me good night.
A glass-breaking scream penetrated the walls of the house, and a weird stifled blow followed. Then there was silence. It was either Reese or Alaina. It hadn't sounded like they were playing. That scream was more like a cry for help. A signal to someone that something was wrong.
My feet stopped moving, the hairs on my skin stood as a chill passed through my body. I turned, still maintaining a tight grip on Dad's guitar. Two choices swirled around my head: go see what was wrong or leave Dad's guitar since I was already so close to the studio. I chose option two because, as much as I wanted to rush to my sisters, a gnawing feeling encouraged me toward the studio.
My dad was reclined in his chair, head hanging over the back, and there was blood. Glops of blood. On the wall. The floor.
My chest constricted. The organs inside my body shuddered as I walked toward him.
"Dad," I whispered.
Then, I saw it — a gunshot wound on the side of his head.
His lifeless gaze haunted me as I retreated my steps.
Mom, Reese, and Alaina.
Bending, I placed the guitar on the floor, not knowing what I was going to do, just that I needed to get help. My phone was in my room on the third floor, and judging from the scream earlier, I shouldn't go back up there. A killer was in our house.
My hands shook, and then I realized my whole body was shaking.
My vision blurred.
I looked back to my dad, my throat closing as I searched the blood- spattered desk covered with letters and music sheets — his office landline. Grabbing the phone, I pressed three digits as fast as my fingers could manage.
A rough male voice filtered into the studio from the living room. "We can't find her. The other three are searching the whole building from top to bottom ..."
"Nine-one-one. Please state your emergency," a female said in my ear.
My vision grew hazy again, watching the door. He would hear me if I spoke.
"What do you want us to do? We got everything else," the man said.
My breath caught. Mom. Reese. Alaina. I looked behind me. Dad.
"Killer," I whispered into the phone.
"Hold on. I think I heard something." The man's voice sounded even closer.
Tears spilled onto the keypad of the phone, and I crouched onto the floor as if it would make me invisible.
The deep voice spoke again, "No, I got her phone. Plus, we have the evidence to plant if it comes to that. It's too easy ... everyone will think they had kidnapped her ... I'll find her."
Terror gripped my heart. It was then I realized that I needed to get out of the house. They were looking for me. They knew I was here.
So, at least five guys including the one on the phone; although, it doesn't sound like he's here. And guns.
Why hadn't I heard the gunshots?
Wait a minute. Window. I can get out that way.
I looked at the window as my plan of escape formed.
"Can you repeat —" the operator started.
After setting the phone down, I dashed to the door, locked it, and hurried back to the phone. "About four or five men are in my house. They have guns. Please send help."
A hard thud shook the door, and I hit the speaker button. Rushing to the window, I spoke my address aloud. Then, I fidgeted with the lock on the window, seeming to forget how it worked. I heard the crack of the door giving way, but the window opened. Fear consumed me. He could outrun me or just shoot me. But I couldn't give up so easily.
I jumped, throwing myself at the mesh covering the opened window and fell through the large opening. Thinking there could be a vehicle waiting in the front, I scrambled to my feet, picking up speed as I sprinted down the side of the house in the opposite direction.
I could hear him behind me, gaining on me fast. I hopped on the steel fire escape ladder at the side of the house and climbed up. I didn't think about this being the act that would save my life because, at this point, I'd stopped thinking.
* * *
"The nurses said you haven't been eating," the psychologist noted.
"I want to see my grandparents," I said.
It'd been a month since I was admitted to the ward because I'd panicked. For hours. I couldn't control it or myself at the hospital when I heard everyone else had died in the house that night. Dad. Mom. Reese. Alaina. All dead. The nurses had called it a panic attack. But that was only the beginning.
"They are not your grandparents. Continuing to believe that isn't going to help you come to terms with the truth."
"It isn't the truth."
"Your name is Madelyn Wells. Your parents died when you were two weeks old —"
"No, it's Sawyer." I raised my voice. "My name is Paige Sawyer."
"Have you been taking your medication?"
And there it was — the crazy eyes. I knew she tried to hide that look, but I could see it.
"It helps." She placed her forearms on the desk and tapped her pen on the clipboard in front of her.
I stared her down until she looked at her notes on the clipboard.
I'd been seeing her twice a week. She looked the same every time. Same shoulder-length black hair parted in the middle. Prissy, dark skirt suits.
"It's been weeks since we went over that night. Let's go through what happened again." She tried. "The more you talk about, the more likely it will be for you to move past it."
"You haven't spoken to anyone since you've been here and haven't visited any of the support groups. Everyone here is trying to get better. Don't you want that?"
I let that sink in for a moment. "I would be better if everyone stopped lying to me, feeling pity for me, and looking at me as if I were crazy. I'm not crazy."
She chewed on her lip and jotted something on her notepad. She had the power. I gave it to her. My words were powerful. At fifteen years old, I'd begun to realize something; I could take that power away from her because I was the one giving it to her.
"I'm scared," I started. "I'm scared of the truth because how could it be possible that the people who raised me from when I was a baby were also my kidnappers and the people who murdered my real parents?" I flinched at the words because they weren't the truth. It was the lie they wanted me to believe, but I continued, "I know my symptoms. I'm not stupid, and yeah, I haven't been taking my medication because ..." I looked at my lap, twisting a loose thread on my scrubs around my finger. I'm scared the men might still be after me. Scared I could be next. Working up a smile, I found her eyes. "I wasn't ready, but I am now."CHAPTER 2
Four Years and Seven Months Later
Breathe. Punch. Breathe. Kick. Breathe. Uppercut. Breathe. High knee. Breathe. Head kick. Breathe. Superman punch. Breathe —
"Wells!" Graham's voice was a meek echo behind the blaring rock music.
I turned my head from the two-hundred-fifty-pound dummy to Graham, the owner of the gym. He was in his fifties with a full head of dark hair, dusted by a few grays. He was the mastermind behind what we called the Dungeon. The small back room in the gym with mats, kickboxing equipment, and a cage. Exclusive members trained here. But mostly after hours.
Removing my boxing gloves, I ran over to the sound system and nixed the music. "Yeah?"
"It's nine thirty," Graham said.
"Oh, no problem, Ham. I'll have it ready."
"Ham?" Roxie stood at the door with her bright pink gym bag slung over one shoulder. It was the only thing girlie about her muscular five-foot-seven physique.
"Yeah, because, you know, he goes ham on the bag," I said, doing a little punching motion.
"What? I've been training here for two years, and I'm just now hearing about this Ham nickname?"
"Are you trying not to get paid tonight, Wells?"
"What? No way." I turned to Roxie. "I meant, he likes ham, like bacon or when I say ham and cheese sandwich —"
"Working." I smiled, running up to the container of disinfecting wipes. The dummy was the last thing I needed to wipe down, and I had started to earlier, but then it'd looked at me the wrong way. Okay, so it hadn't looked at me the wrong way.
"I need a sparring partner tonight, Ham — Graham," Roxie said.
Graham threw his hands up in defeat. "Fine, just make sure the gym's ready for the five a.m. crew."
My heart swelled, and a smile stretched across my face. "Will do."
Roxie winked at me, catching her long black hair up into a ponytail and winding it around into a tight bun. She knew how much I enjoyed training with her group at night.
This was my safe house, and these were my family. They just didn't know it.
"Hell yeah," Andy said, marching into the room. "Just the motivation I need tonight. You know, Paige, it would really help me to know when to ask you out if you worked a less flexible schedule. Are you free Friday night?"
Andy was a six-foot UFC middleweight champion. All his fights ended with a knockout. Lethal.
So, I wasn't joking when I said, "Sorry, but maybe if you were a ballet dancer, things could work out between us, but seeing that you aren't ..."
"Ballet dancer? Over this?" Andy flexed his tattooed biceps, and Popeye the Sailor Man looked like he'd swallowed a can of spinach as he enlarged.
"She doesn't date clients," Graham said, sitting at a small desk in the corner.
My boss was right. I didn't date clients or anyone. Period. Dating meant I would have to talk about myself — my past, my family, my life, why I took three metros to get home when I only needed one.
Shit. Breathe, Paige. Breathe.
"And don't even ask because the pretty blonde is sparring with me," Roxie announced, walking toward me.
Three more members had arrived and were stuffing their gym bags onto the wooden shelves.
"You good?" Roxie asked.
"Yeah, I just remembered I didn't do a class assignment I'd thought I did." My go-to answer. I'd been using that excuse for years since my anxiety began happening. It was the easiest explanation to remember when I pulled myself out of it.
* * *
A little after midnight, I closed the gym and headed home. And, like a thief in the night, I entered the old brick building, watching either end of the corridor as I pushed the key into my lock. A menacing doom crawled over my spine, and I hurried inside. My apartment leases were kept at six months or less, so I could contain this feeling because any longer than six months, and I knew they would find me.
The men. The killers.
Pulling the handgun from my backpack, I closed one of the locks on my door. My backpack was my lifeline, it always held a change of clothes and my toiletries. Some nights my anxiety — it — would be so bad, I would opt not to return home. But when I did return, I would investigate. I turned. The coat closet first. Then the kitchen cupboards. The bathroom cupboards. I left the shower curtain open for this reason; a figure standing in my bath behind a curtain was almost too scary to bear. Next, it was under the bed and then the closet, which I also left opened. The window, the fire escape, and back to the front door. Close one, two, three, and four latches. Reentering apartment routine completed.
I almost felt safe.
But knowing they weren't here, inside my studio apartment, was something. I switched on the pipe in my bath and caught the first whiff of lavender. After a few minutes of soaking and reading, a car honked, making me jump. Crazy because, in the city of Boston, honking horns were standard. But that was how I knew it was going to be one of those nights. The nights where just the sound of the AC switching on would make my heart race.
In slow motion, I exited the bathtub, dried myself, and slipped into shorts and a tank. My body remained on high alert as I went to my door to listen to the other side. After two minutes of listening and not hearing anything, I went to lay down.
As I was about to drift off, I could feel them. Climbing the fire escape, dressed in all black, moving with precision from years of practice, years of patience, waiting for the right moment to come back and finish what they'd started. At the sound of a door closing, I reached for the compact 9mm under my extra pillow and scrambled out of bed. Whatever happened, I needed to see them coming. Needed to stay vigilant.
Normal people called it paranoia. I called it advantage. Because I could feel it in my gut. They'd found me. They were coming. I used to pray that the men who had killed my family would get caught. Some days, I wished I could kill them myself. I hadn't had the heart to do it back then, and I still didn't know if I had the heart. The one thing I knew was that it was safer to keep running, even with the constant battle in my head.
The sane voice encouraged, It's time to pack up and go, while the other revenge-centered voice crooned, Stay this time. You are ready. They did this to you. Take back what they took from you.
Inhaling, I pushed my curtains aside. Nothing in the darkened alley. Walking to my front door, I lifted the paper covering the peephole. No one I could see in the empty hallway. I turned my back to the corner between the coat closet and front door and slid down to the floor, gun still in my hand and knees to my chest.
I could run as fast as I could and never escape the fear.
Fear would always find me because it was threaded deep inside me.CHAPTER 3
As two baristas hustled behind the coffee shop's counter, fulfilling orders for the morning zombies streaming inside, I pulled my phone from my pocket and waited for my name to be called. Last night had been the longest fucking night I'd had in a while.
Scrubbing a hand over my eyes, I scrolled through my Contacts and clicked on Calvin's name and shot off a text.
Me: Eyes have to be on her at all times. We need to work out a schedule.
I looked over at the people placing their orders.
The first thing I saw was the honey-blonde waves caught in a ponytail and then the tiny, silver loop pierced on the innermost part of her ear. Her head turned, and before I could look away, her eyes captured mine. A couple of seconds passed, enough to make me come to the conclusion that either she liked what she saw or she was trying to figure out why I was staring. And, after keeping watch on a roof all night, I was sure I wasn't shit to look at, so it had to be the latter.
The cashier tried to get her attention, but her eyes were still on me, almost as if she didn't realize she was doing it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Trust"
Copyright © 2018 Casey Diam.
Excerpted by permission of NLM Romance 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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