Hey all. Avery here. This is the first time that I've ever posted on this blog, so I wanted to introduce myself. I write stories about wounded heroes, be it physically or emotionally. So if that's your jam, I've got you covered.
Some of you may be familiar with my stories, others may not. I'm only going to be posting the first four chapters of this book as a sample.
I'm not a huge fan of trigger warnings but due to domestic abuse, I feel it's necessary in this case: This material contains sensitive issues that may be disturbing for some readers. Certain scenes will portray detailed domestic abuse, physical violence, and intense, complex grief issues.
I'll be posting two chapters this week and two next week.
My most recent book, Hush Darling (featuring a Deaf hero), is set to release on September 28th.
So, without further ado, here are the first two chapters.
Hush Darling, Chapters One and Two
CHAPTER ONE - GIA
No. Please God, no.
I sat there on the cold ceramic, panties bunched around my ankles, and blinked at the pink plus sign on the stick.
It had to be wrong. I’d taken enough of these tests over the past six months, each negative. An answer to my prayers, buying me just a little more time.
Because I could not have a child with this monster.
I continued to sit there and stare at the little stick, as if somehow the result would change. My heartbeat intensified the longer I stared, sweat forming on my brow. “No,” I mouthed, “I need more time.”
My lip began to quiver as tears welled in my eyes. I’d secretly been taking birth control. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
“Gia?” Two swift knocks came at the bathroom door, causing me to jolt. “You done yet, tesoro?” My husband’s thick, Italian American accent boomed from the other side. When he and I first met, the term of endearment rolling off Angelo’s tongue was sweet music to my ears. Now it was nails being driven into my coffin.
“One minute,” I shouted back, scrambling to wipe, pull up my panties, flush the toilet, and turn the water on full blast to drown out any noise I hoped not to make.
Lifting the lid off the tank, I carefully retrieved the negative test taped to the inside, swapped one for the other, and quietly as possible replaced the ceramic lid. As meticulous as Angelo had become with tracking my cycle, he thankfully didn’t like to watch me do my business. He considered it ugly, un-feminine, and degrading. It was the only area of my life where I had any sort of privacy.
I ran my shaky hands under the tap, scrubbing them with soap, as if it would somehow wash away the lie I was about to tell. As I continued to rinse, I calculated the money I had stashed. The black Louboutins sold for $200, my Coach handbag sold for $125, my red velvet Oscar De La Renta cocktail dress sold for $675…
Angelo was fussy about finances and checked every receipt, so I’d gotten a little crafty. For quite some time, I’d been selling some of my expensive clothing for cash at consignment stores.
I needed more money, more time.
I needed a car.
It would take me a few months to start showing. But what if I started getting morning sickness? How long could I keep up the charade? The fact was, I couldn’t. Because if I didn’t lose this child from the stress, surely I would by his hand.
What I had wasn’t near enough, but it was gonna have to do. I didn’t have a choice now. I had a life growing inside me that I needed to protect.
I toweled off my hands and gazed into the mirror. Lifting a finger, I dabbed away any stray mascara from under my amber eyes, then ran my fingers through my disheveled, long, blonde waves trying to collect myself. God, I hated this color hair. I missed my natural, chestnut brown. But what Angelo wanted, Angelo got.
Deep breath in, and a deep breath out. I calmed my breathing and steadied my racing heart.
Grabbing the handle, I unlocked and opened the door.
Angelo stood there, watching, waiting. He’d removed his Armani jacket, but was still wearing his suit pants and tie. Back against the wall, arms crossed over his massive chest, dress shirt rolled at the sleeves to showcase his formidable forearms. A not-so-subtle display of strength and power. His way of saying I’m in charge here.
As if I didn’t know the force behind those hands.
As if I didn’t know who held the power.
I tried not to think about all the times he’d hurt me with those hands.
No, the only thing I was thinking about was the life inside me, and how I was going to save my child from this devil.
“Well?” he asked, waiting for my response. His brow raised to a hairline that was beginning to become peppered with grey. Admittedly, it made him all the more handsome even if he was Lucifer incarnate. And even though he was nearly twenty years my senior, and pushing fifty, the years had been kind to Angelo.
“I’m sorry,” I said as I handed him the false test, looking him dead in the eye.
His face fell as he yanked the stick from my grasp, examining it. “You’re fucking kidding me, Gia!” His voice boomed like an exploding bomb, each word a piece of shrapnel meant to make me cower. “How is it possible that we’ve been trying for a year and you’re still not pregnant?”
I bowed my head to the floor and curled my arms around myself, protecting my child from the possible blow.
“Look at me when I speak to you.” He tugged on my chin a little too hard, forcing me to look him in the eye.
His dark brow was furrowed, nostrils flared, his cold, brown eyes narrowing and turning nearly black. That gaze said it all. Disappointment, anger, resentment. Yet again, I was unable to give him an heir to his throne.
“I…I don’t know. I’m sorry.” My lip quivered as tears rolled down my face. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and braced myself for his wrath. “I’ll make an OB appointment tomorrow. Maybe they can run some tests…” I trailed off.
His lips tightened as he scrutinized my face like he was trying to solve some sort of riddle. “Let’s take another test. Together.”
I tried to keep my face like a stone statue while my heart jerked inside my chest, beating triple time, thumping so fast I could feel the blood pulsating through my veins. Did he hear me swapping the tests? Did he know what I was doing? Planning? Could he see the lie on my face?
“Angelo, I really don’t think that is necessary.”
“Come on.” He bobbed his head to the bathroom. Then, his meaty fingers dug into my arm, making me wince as tears filled my eyes. Dragging me inside, he pushed me down on the lid of the toilet.
“I can’t just pee on command,” I protested as he rifled under the sink.
“Where is the other test?” he shouted, “I bought six, and we’ve only taken five.” His deep voice echoed through the room.
He knows. This is it. He’s going to lose his mind. Think. Think. Think.
I stood and began pacing as he pulled every item out of our bottom cabinet, tossing the room. “I…I took one a couple days ago, wh…when you were at work,” I lied through my teeth, my back turned to him, so he couldn’t see the deception written all over my face.
“You what?” His baritone growl was so loud I could have sworn my insides turned to liquid.
I shrugged and bit my lip. “I’m sorry, I just—” But I didn’t get to finish that sentence because his hands collided with my back strong enough to break my shoulder blades, pitching me toward the bathtub. I tried to put my hands out to brace myself, but I couldn’t catch myself in time. Next thing I knew, my stomach landed smack on the edge of the tub and my brow hit the porcelain, knocking out every bit of my air.
“You are not to take them without me,” he thundered.
Rolling over to the floor, I clutched my belly. I could feel blood trickling down my temple as sobs mangled my answer, “I wanted…surprise you…planned baby-themed meal.” I dragged air down to my lungs as my throat burned with irritation—at him, at me, at the pain. “Baby back ribs, tiny shrimp, baby portobellos. I was going to give you the test with a tiny bow on it…” the lies magically rolled off my tongue faster than the blood sliding down my brow. “I…I’m sorry, I just wanted to make it special. I’m sorry. I’m sorry…” I kept repeating.
More tears began slipping down my cheeks. That boded well for me because he mistook my fear for grief. Instead of raising another hand to me, his hardened, wrinkled features softened, and he gently placed his hand on my cheek while I instinctively jerked back.
“I’m sorry, tesoro. I just want a child so much.” He turned to the medicine cabinet and pulled out some cotton balls and antiseptic. “My temper always gets the best of me.”
He then tenderly cleaned the very wound he caused as I lay there shaking.
“It should be fine,” he said a few minutes later, shaking his head, squinting, scrutinizing the injury as he always did. As he put the lid on the stitch glue, his go-to move to keep me out of the hospital for real stitches, he added, “we will try again next month.”
I felt like I wanted to throw up. Morning sickness, or panic? Either way, my decision was made.
He placed a Band-Aid on my brow. “Get this bathroom cleaned up please; then you can rest. I’ll order delivery for dinner.”
I listened as he walked away, his designer loafers snapping across our wood floor, footsteps echoing as heavy as my heartbeat.
Once he was out of earshot, I curled my knees to my chest and sobbed.
I didn’t know how I would make it, but it was time to go. It was time to put the plan in motion.
There wouldn’t be a next month.
CHAPTER TWO - TANNER
I woke up with my head screaming at me as faint light streamed through the curtains of my room, making my eyeballs ache. Pulling the flannel sheets up over my head, I groaned. It wasn’t like I had anywhere important I needed to be, so I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but my brain started racing without the booze to drown out my thoughts of what waking up used to be like. Her coming through the door, smiling sweetly with a steaming cup of coffee in hand.
Instead, a tongue rolled across my face and as I cracked open a lid, I was greeted by a face full of yellow fur. Archie, telling me it was time to get up.
Sitting up with a grunt, I gently pushed Archie away and raked a hand through my disheveled, ash-blond hair before throwing back the covers. I pattered across the wood floors into my bathroom and released my bladder while I yawned a few more times. I flushed, washed, and then brushed the fur off my tongue. Glancing at myself in the mirror the image staring back at me reflected just how much I didn’t give a shit anymore. Dark circles outlined my green, bloodshot eyes. My liver was taking the brunt of my self-hatred, and it showed from my sallow complexion. It was time for a haircut, but that meant a trip to town. I scratched my thick, grizzly beard. It too needed a trim, but I just didn’t have the energy.
Shuffling into the kitchen, I opened the back door to let Archie release his bladder, then dumped some grounds into the coffee maker and pressed start. Strumming my fingers on the counter waiting for it to brew, I gazed out my kitchen window. Fat, beautiful flakes were falling, and an accumulation of several inches was on the ground. The tops of the tall trees that normally brushed the sky were barely visible under the snowy haze.
I opened the back door and let Archie back in, watching as he shook the snow off his fur then curled up on the sofa. I followed him to the living room and flipped on the television to check the weather report.
The captions rolled across the bottom of the screen as the weatherman stood in front of the radar showcasing the expected snowfall. The first few days would start with a wintry mix of flurries and sleet. Most of it was supposed to head south of us, but I’d learned the hard way it could easily change.
I walked back to the kitchen and poured myself a cup of coffee, sipping it as I took stock of what I had in my pantry. Would it be enough to get me through? Even though the expected snowfall was low, the situation outside my window said otherwise. A blizzard could easily pin me in for days, if not longer. I had plenty of deer meat from the hunting season to last me through the summer, but my dry food situation was precarious, and Archie was looking at me with hungry eyes. I filled his bowl with the last of the dog food, and immediately cursed. Fucking idiot. I should’ve known better.
As Archie gobbled his meal, I glanced at the empty bottle on my counter. The culprit of my foggy brain: Whiskey. I’d definitely need some more. That meant a quick swing through the liquor store as well.
I went back to my bedroom and dressed in jeans, a flannel button down, and a pair of snow boots. Slipped my wallet in my back pocket, cell phone in the front, then took my jacket off the hook by the door and threw it on. My beanie and gloves followed and, lastly, I snaked my scarf around my neck. Archie looked longingly at me.
Sorry, boy, you’re not going on this trip.
I bolted out my front door and down the two front steps of my covered porch, traipsing through the accumulating snow out to my charcoal F150 Raptor. Twenty minutes later, I had most of the packed snow scraped off the windshield, but I was fighting a losing battle as it continued to fall.
I settled in the cab and fired up the diesel engine, revving it a few times to get the heat cranked up, the vibrations of the intense horsepower rumbling through my core. The cab started to warm slightly which helped defrost the remainder of the windshield. I shifted into reverse and pulled out of my barely visible dirt driveway, starting the trip down the windy, mountain roads.
Progress was slow and steady, minding every turn. Finally, forty minutes later, I slid into the icy parking lot of the general store and got out of the truck as the wind and snow whipped around me. The murky, grey sky was quickly becoming a whiteout situation, and I dreaded the treacherous trip back. I’d always been an excellent driver, but these types of road conditions challenged even the best.
I’d hoped that by being the idiot coming to the store after the snow began I would beat the crowds coming in for the milk and bread, but the packed parking lot told me otherwise.
As I walked inside and grabbed the last cart, I cursed myself for being part of the mob mentality. I prided myself on my ability to survive away from the town as much as humanly possible, but I’d gotten lazy recently. Always did this time of year. With tourist season done and most of my other cabins vacated, my days were spent engaged in mindless work around my properties before my evening date with a bottle of whiskey, drowning out the memories. Eventually, I’d drink myself into a sleep coma, praying the nightmares wouldn’t come.
I went up and down the aisles, grabbing only what was needed and not more than my fair share. The town of Granite Grove wasn’t big by any means. At a population of about a thousand, it was miniscule. It was what I loved about this place. Even in tourist season when our population would peak into the thousands, it never felt large. But as I looked around the crowded store, it suddenly felt overpopulated. It seemed like everyone in our sleepy little New England town was here in full hoarding mode.
I didn’t care for crowds or people. Interacting with others was a painful process. It was the sole reason that I’d settled in this place, around as few people as possible. With the ones I was forced to interact with, it was best that they understood my communication barriers. Even though I stuck to myself, this small-town life where everybody knew everybody was the best solution for me.
As I walked through the dairy section and began to reach for a gallon of milk, I glanced over at the cute little tyke sitting in the cart, waving at me with his mitten-covered hand. I didn’t know what it was about kids, but they fucking loved me despite my gruff, fuck-off-and-leave-me-alone appearance. Dealing with kids was much better than dealing with adults. With kids, it was easy. My unwillingness to speak wasn’t a barrier. A smile, wave, or a goofy face always got the message across.
The kid waved again, and an ache filled my chest, but I managed a smile and waved back. The mom caught me waving and her wary look basically said Lenny, put down the rabbit. Rolling my eyes, I put back the gallon of fresh milk and opted to grab a powdered box instead. I wasn’t picky or a huge milk drinker. The powder would last me forever and be just fine for the occasional bowl of cereal I’d eat. Let the families with small children take the good stuff.
I roamed the aisles, going through the rest of my mental list, checking off almost everything I’d need to get me through, then made my way to the register.
Even though it was the longest line, I picked the one with the young cashier, Ellen. Not because she was cute—even though she was—but because she was the only one that didn’t get frustrated ringing me up.
I waited my turn, then placed my items on the conveyor belt. Ellen flashed me a grin and a nod that seemed slightly nervous. I smiled back with my own nod.
Before she began scanning my items, she looked me square in the eye, and I knew she was about to say something so I focused on her lips. I could lip read, and I considered myself pretty skilled at it. Even so, it wasn’t my preferred method of communication. It was trying to put together a puzzle. I only caught about sixty percent of what was said, but it was enough to give me a gist. But what she did next threw me for a loop.
Her hands lifted. “Good afternoon,” she signed, then finger spelled my name, T-A-N-N-E-R, because obviously she wouldn’t know the sign to my name. ASL names were their own thing, given to members of the Deaf community.
My head jutted back. It was the first time in two years someone other than family had spoken to me in my language, so to say I was shocked was an understatement. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the people behind me in line whispering as they watched our exchange. I wasn’t sure what my next move should be. I never signed in town because nobody knew it, or so I thought.
“Good afternoon,” I signed back. She must have read the confusion all over my face, which was naturally expressive. “You know ASL?” My brow went up.
“Learning. Internet. Not great,” she signed again, and it was true. She wasn’t great. Her movements were not fluid. Stiff and slow.
“Good for you,” I replied, lipping the words as well. I could use my voice, but I preferred not to. Not just because it wasn’t natural for me, but because the sound of my ‘Deaf’ accent was sometimes hard for others to understand. “Learning a new language is good for your education.”
Her freckled cheeks pinked and she looked down. I could tell she didn’t get half of what I said even though I’d slowed down as much as I could. She began scanning my items. Naturally, I glanced over to the kid about to bag my groceries, whom had been watching our exchange. His jaw was hung open, displaying a mouth full of metal.
“Your total is one hundred forty dollars and thirty-two cents.” She mucked it all up, but I understood enough. Plus, I could read the total on the screen. The thing with ASL most people didn’t get was it wasn’t a written language. It was like shorthand, so to speak. Noun first. Written that way, or even spoken that way, it would sound ridiculous to most people who spoke English. I understood that because I grew up in a home with a Deaf mother and Hard of Hearing father, but had a hearing sister who was my best friend. I straddled the line between the Deaf community and the hearing, spending half my adolescence in Deaf school and half in public, learning to speak, blending as best as I could.
Regardless, this was the first real effort that someone in this town had made to communicate with me, and it warmed my heart. As much as I appreciated her gesture, though, it also made me slightly uncomfortable. Maybe it was for educational purposes, but I suspected Ellen had a schoolgirl crush on me. She was only a senior in high school-barely legal—and the sheriff’s daughter. This town getting wild ideas about me and a kid was the last thing I wanted. Or needed. They already gossiped about me enough. No point in adding fuel to the fire.
Nonetheless, I applauded her for trying and, even though I could feel the eyes on us, replied, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said. “See you soon.”
“See you soon.” I reciprocated, collected my bags, and headed out to my truck.
Quickly, I loaded the groceries into the back seat of my Raptor, turned, and jolted. None other than Deputy Miller stood right behind me.
His arms were crossed over his jacket, blue eyes glaring me down. “Saw you chatting with Ellen inside.” When he said chatting, he uncrossed his arms and made nonsense signs with his hands. Sarcastic ass.
It took everything in my power to keep my rage in check every time I encountered this asshole. Best not engage with the fucker. I’d been in a foul mood all morning and a trip to the police station in the back of Miller’s car would leave Archie hungry for too long. So, I squeezed past him, bumping his shoulder as I went for the driver-side door.
Clearly out to provoke me, he grabbed my collar and spun me back around, pressing his forearm to my chest, pushing my back into the door. “Don’t play dumb with me, Wilder,” he spat in my face.
I balled my fists and breathed heavy through my nose. rage pulsating through my veins. It took every ounce of self-control to not knock this fucker’s teeth down his throat. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
“What are you gonna do about it, Wilder?” He smirked.
Miller was strong, but so was I; plus I had three inches on him and pure hatred fueling me. I could easily tear him apart. But that wouldn’t do me any damn good. He had everyone in this town fooled. The women fawned over him because he seemed charming and had the looks to match. He knew I wouldn’t say anything, and even if I did not a damn soul would believe me.
I seriously debated how much jail time it would be worth to pulverize him. God, it would feel so fucking good. But then I thought about Archie. No food, only the amount of water left in his bowl, and no way to get out. What would he do without me? I unclenched my jaw, relaxed my fists, and cooled my jets.
“Just what I thought.” He released me. “You stay away from that girl, you hear me?” He pointed at me and sauntered off. I glared at his back for several moments, then climbed into my cab, slamming the door. As I drove away, I turned on the radio and kicked it up to full volume, letting the vibrations of the angry, bass guitar rip through my core.
One day, Miller, but not today.