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Faded Reflection

Gypsy Shadow Publishing

Heat Rating: STEAMY
Word Count: 65,000
Available Formats
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ePub
Mobi

Laura Williams takes a chance on Carl Gunderson, and it’s the most fatal mistake of her life. Carl is convinced Laura is the wife that he murdered—or thought he murdered. Apparently, he hadn’t left her for dead after all. Now she’s back in his life—and this time, he will make sure he finishes her off for good.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Her hands shook as she turned on the faucet. As the water poured down the drain, a shudder raced through her spine. For a moment, she was thrown back twenty years in time, when blood, her blood, went down a sink drain.

Pushing the memories aside, she cupped her hands under the water then splashed it onto her face. She knew her mascara was probably running now and her lipstick was probably smudged, but she didn’t care. She had to try to forget what she had just seen.

She looked up at her reflection in the mirror, directly into her green eyes. The images from the movie tugged at her, reminding her of how she’d gone through that exact same hell once upon a time.

She gritted her teeth, pushing that aside, too. “Stop freaking out,” she ordered in a hushed whisper. “It’s only a movie. It’s not real.” Sure, it was a movie, but it had been too much. She sighed. She should’ve suggested they see Goodfellas instead.

She threw water onto her face again, the force of her hands against her face reflecting her rage. The bastard was dead and buried. He could not hurt her anymore. He would never hurt her again.

He was gone, but the memories weren’t. The scar he’d left on her soul was still there, creating nightmares and horrific flashbacks.

“Laura!”

She swung her head up, ready to scream out of instinct. The person who had called out her name was not her father, it was her best friend.

Laura’s gaze softened as she relaxed against the sink. “Hey, Karen.”

“Are you okay?” Karen asked, searching her face for an answer.

Laura looked back at the water running into the sink, feeling her face flush with embarrassment. When she had agreed to meet with Karen to see a movie on her day off from work, she hadn’t expected to freak out over some scene. The last time something had gotten to her about her past was almost a week ago, and that was only after a patient in the oncology ward had let it slip that her father beat her. She had not reacted to that situation as strongly as she did to something similar today, but maybe seeing the actual violence was what brought it on stronger.

“Fine,” she said, shaking water off of her hands before turning off the faucet. She straightened, pressing her hands against her face as she closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, visualizing a sense of calm running through her. Then she smiled and looked at her friend. “I just freaked out a little bit. That’s all.”

Karen sighed, shifting her weight. She studied her, and the silence almost made Laura feel uncomfortable. Then Karen finally spoke. “I’m sorry, Laura. I didn’t know that was going to be in the movie.”

Laura forced her smile to widen. “Hey, no worries,” she said, walking over to Karen and placing her hand on her shoulder. “I can’t expect you to read all the reviews of movies that just came out before inviting your ultra-fragile friend along to see them.” Laura shook her head at those words. “I’m fine. Really.”

Karen relaxed, almost grinning. But Laura could detect that wariness in her friend’s eyes.

“Okay, cool,” Karen said. “Come on, let’s go eat. I’m starving.”

They’d agreed to have lunch at a Thai restaurant and from that point on, everything seemed normal again. The mood had lightened, and Laura even relaxed as she laughed over a funny work story Karen shared. But after they got into the car and Karen started driving her home, an uncomfortable silence returned. Laura could tell that Karen still worried about her; it was all in the careful glances she’d shot at her every now and then at lunch.

But maybe Karen wouldn’t push the subject. Maybe she would just keep her thoughts to herself.

“Did you ever get counseling?”

Laura bristled at the question, but pulled herself in before responding.

“Counseling for what?” she asked.

“You know what,” Karen answered, “the abuse.”

Laura sighed, keeping her gaze straight ahead. “You know I did.” Now she looked at Karen. “Your parents were the ones who drove me to all those appointments.”

Karen nodded. “Right. That one psychologist was such an asshole.” She shot a glance at Laura. “What was his name again? The one who made fun of you for having nightmares?”

Laura frowned, looking away as the memory hit. “Zann.”

“That’s right, Dr. Zann.” Karen shook her head. “Man, what a creep.”

“And yet he went to Yale.”

Karen giggled. “So did we, but it’s not like we adopted a self-righteous attitude with everyone we work with.”

“Or in our care. I’m the one in nursing and you’re the one in computers. I work with people, you work with machines.” She grinned at Karen. “At least you can tell a computer off.”

Karen smiled at her before redirecting her attention to the road. “It’s good you can work with people. That’s like the number one way to have something happen in your day that could trigger something about the past.”

Laura tilted her head, considering this. “Well, I’ve been doing this for five years. It’s not like I’m not used to it.”

“But you’re still okay? Right?”

Laura remained silent, thinking back to last week. She’d only taken a few moments alone in the bathroom, practicing her deep breathing as she struggled with the memories flooding through her. She’d gotten through that episode well and she made it through today. “I’m fine.”

The conversation drifted for the rest of the ride home. But right after they settled onto the couch in Laura’s apartment, Karen decided to launch into another conversation that Laura really didn’t want to have.

“So, how’s the dating scene?” Karen asked with an expectant look on her face. She’d tried to sound casual, but the swift change in subject was too out-of-the-blue.

Laura laughed, shaking her head. “You’re amazing!”

Karen looked at her, dropping the strands of hair. “What?”

“You just went from talking about how I dealt with my past to asking about my love life—as casually as changing the channel.”

Karen grimaced. “Sorry. I was just curious. Unless you want to go back to talking about how you’re dealing with the past.”

Laura shuddered, shaking her head. “No, thanks.”

“So, apparently, you’re still dealing with it.”

“And in my own way.” She playfully hit Karen with a pillow. “And as to the dating scene, no comment.”

“No one new?”

“Nope, I’m free as a bird!” Laura proclaimed, holding out her hands with a false sense of excitement.

Karen shook her head, a look of disappointment spreading across her face. “You know he’s never coming back.”

“Who?”

Karen leaned closer. “Ron. That’s who.” She sat back on the couch. “The guy you fell madly love with, but who actually never made much of an appearance in your life.”

Laura pushed the comment aside. “I know he’s not coming back. It’s been three years. No email, no letter. Not even so much as a how have you been? on my answering machine.” She looked hard at her friend. “I know that, Karen.”

“But you still love him.”

Laura shrugged. “And he loved me.”

“He loved the idea of you.” Karen sighed, taking her hand. “Look, I know that was harsh. I’m sorry. I just don’t want to see you keep holding out hope that the guy you fell in love with will magically appear on your doorstep.” She squeezed her hand. “Laura, it’s time to move on. It’s been time to move on for quite some time now.” She frowned. “I know you still love him, but he doesn’t love you. And I want you to be with someone who does love you.”

Laura fought back the tears. She didn’t want to cry in front of Karen. She didn’t want today to be a day she’d be crying about her problems all over again.

Ron Halsbrook was supposed to be the guy she’d spend the rest of her life with. That was what she hoped for, anyway. It had been his good looks that attracted her to him at a rally, and the first time they’d made love made her feel like she’d finally found happiness with a man, instead of pain and fear. Laura frowned at the memory. That first time had been the only time. They’d never gone on another date and his messages on her machine dwindled to a big fat zero. Then he’d left New Haven, leaving her with no return address, and she hadn’t heard from him since.

And here she was after all that time, for three years now, still hoping he would make a re-appearance in her life. Three years she could never get back. She’d put her life on hold for nothing.

She came out of her thoughts as she realized Karen was hugging her now. She slowly placed her arms around her friend, becoming suddenly aware of the tears that had spilled down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Karen whispered. “That was really mean of me to say. I’m sorry.”

“No,” Laura said, still hugging her. “No, you were right. You were right, Karen. It’s time.”

##
Jeff Carson leapt up the stairs leading to his floor, ignoring the wind as it beat against his workout clothes, tossing his sandy hair into his green eyes. He smiled at Laura as she came into view to his left.

Her red hair hung in a loose bun at the back of her head, strands of it tangled in the silver earrings dangling from her ears. She fumbled with her keys, leaning on her door as extra support for the overstuffed brown bags of groceries against her chest.

As he strode toward her, the bags slid from her arms to the ground.

“Dammit,” she muttered, letting go of the key to pick them up. She sighed at the sight of what was left of her dozen eggs.

“Having some trouble?” he asked, stepping up to her. He hurriedly bent over in front of her to rescue anything still edible, carefully placing her cottage cheese, skim milk, yogurt, and bag of frozen vegetables into one good bag and hoisted it and another into his arms.

Laura grimaced as she scraped the egg mess onto the torn bag. Jeff moved a strand of her hair to rest behind her right ear.

She looked up at him and smiled. “Thank you.”

The groceries restored to their bags, Laura stood in front of Jeff, fumbling with her key again. He stared at her, watching the little expressions of annoyance and confusion that crept across her face as she fumbled with her keys. Five years as neighbors and he saw her every day, but every time he saw her again was like seeing her in a new light. He was five years older than Laura, but the two of them got along well and they didn’t seem to have any major differences.

Not any personal differences, anyway; the physical ones did stand out. He was taller than her, and his build was more athletic compared to her small frame.

Finally, the lock turned and the door shook as it opened.

Jeff evaluated the doorframe as she went inside. “Better get that looked at. It’s not safe to have a bad front door.”

He entered the apartment and walked to the kitchen, where Laura busied herself with putting away her groceries.

“How long has it been like that?” he asked, setting the two bags he carried onto the white marble countertop.

Laura shrugged as she put her bran cereal into a cupboard. “A couple of days.” She closed the cupboard and went to the other bag, removing a head of lettuce, bag of carrots, and a plastic bag containing two peaches. “I was going to ask Simon to look at it for me.”

Jeff grimaced as he removed two cans of tomato soup from a bag. “Simon may seem like the new manager who could, but trust me, he couldn’t fix a door to save his life. I’ve had the misfortune of seeing his handiwork. You know, I could fix it for you sometime.”

“No, Jeff. It’s okay.” She reached into a cabinet beneath her sink to set two cans of furniture polish inside, turning her head to smile back at him. “Thanks, anyway.”

“Sure,” Jeff grinned.

“Hey, Jeff.”

He looked across the kitchen to see her wiping an area of her countertop with a washcloth. Had there even been a speck of dirt on there?

“Bring me those eggs?”

“No prob,” he said, hurrying to the egg mess outside the door.

“Um, Jeff, maybe take some cleaner with you?” Laura called after him, holding up a bottle of disinfectant.

But Jeff was already out the door and scooping up the mess with his hands.

##
Laura breathed heavily, gripping the armrest of the passenger side door of the car she rode in. A stream of lights from cars flew past the windshield and to her right.

“Everything’s gonna be perfect now, Laura,” the voice said. “You’ll see. Just stick with me.” A dry chuckle followed. “Everything will be fine.”

She closed her eyes as she braced herself against the seat, steadying her breathing. “Yes, Ron,” she whispered. “I know it will.”

“And you will always be mine.” The voice grew colder now, menacing as she felt an icy hand on her arm. “You will always be mine.”

She slowly opened her eyes, looking down at the hand on her left arm. Her heart froze as she saw the arm covered with rotten skin, maggots burrowing inside as white bone peeked from a small area of the wrist.

She slowly turned her head to the left, the sheets of light seeming to sweep past her as the car continued to speed along the highway, faster and faster.

A rotting corpse sat in the driver’s seat, one hand clenching the steering wheel as the face gazed only at her. The flesh was severely decomposed, the eyeballs missing and the head completely hairless. A series of worms slithered along the upper chest and a ball of smoke exited the back of the skull.

“Always mine!” it cried in a shrill voice. “Always mine! Always mine!”

Laura awoke, screaming.