Echoes of silence unquie.., p.17
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       Echoes of Silence (Unquiet Mind Book 1), p.17

           Anne Malcom
 

  “Are you nervous?” I asked in a small voice. “For your family to meet me? That I won’t fit in there?” I never felt uncomfortable in my own skin, and Kill never made me feel like that, but I wanted so desperately to fit into Killian’s life, I felt uncertainty. I hated it.

  Kill’s face turned hard, but his eyes were liquid as he pushed off the chair and stood in front of me. His hands pushed my hair off my face and cupped my jaw. “Anywhere that I am, that I belong, automatically comes with a place for you,” he murmured. “You don’t need to fit because there’s no way you can slot in anywhere. You’re one of a kind, Lexie. I’m proud as shit to be introducing you as my girl on Saturday, don’t forget that.”

  I gazed at him. “’Kay,” I replied like a dummy.

  Killian smiled. He bent his head to brush his lips against mine. “Got to go now,” he mumbled against my lips.

  “Unh-unh.” I made a sound of protest at the back of my throat.

  “See you in the morning,” he continued.

  “You’ll bring coffee?” I asked, finding coherent thought.

  Kill chuckled. “I value my life, so yes.”

  I grinned at him. That was another routine we’d fallen into. Kill drove me to and from school every day, dropping me off before he went to work at the garage. When he’d learned about mine and Mom’s addiction to Shelly’s coffee—the woman who owned the café in town—he had brought us each one every morning.

  Mom had declared she was going to name her first-born child after him the first morning this happened.

  “You already have a first-born child and her name is Lexie,” I reminded her.

  “Names can be changed. Your new middle name is Killian,” she decided with a grin, then winked at Kill. That moment was when Kill broke through whatever residual doubts Mom had over him. Caffeine was the surest way to my mother’s heart.

  “Gonna go to sleep hearing your beautiful voice in my ear, Freckles,” he whispered, bringing me back into the moment, “like I do every night.” He kissed my head and then he walked out of my room. I listened to him say good-bye to Mom and then smiled.

  I was definitely looking forward to Saturday.

  ****

  I threw up my hands. “Nope. I give up. You’re going to have to chauffeur me around until the end of time,” I moaned, sinking my head onto the steering wheel. The steering wheel of Kill’s car, which he was attempting to teach me how to drive. So he had been subjected to my utter inability to control a motor vehicle.

  “Remind me to murder my mother when I get home,” I said, my voice muffled. “It’s all her fault I’m in this situation. If she hadn’t opened her big mouth, you’d still be blissfully ignorant about this.” I waved my hands above my head. “And I’d still have some dignity intact.” Mom had told Killian about the fact I was yet to learn how to drive after the incident in Hope. Killian had promised to teach me, and he had the afternoon off work, so we began lessons. They weren’t going well.

  “Freckles, take your head off the steering wheel,” Killian ordered, a hint of laughter in his tone.

  “No,” I sulked.

  “Lexie,” he warned.

  I huffed out a breath and did as he asked, scowling at his grinning face. He pushed a hair out of my face.

  “You reconsidering our relationship status now that you know I’m an idiot?” I asked seriously.

  Killian’s grin disappeared and his hand went to cup my cheek. “Don’t ever want to hear you talking that way about yourself, joking or not,” he ordered. “I also don’t want to hear crazy talk about me reconsidering this.” His thumb ran along my cheek. “That’s not gonna be happening anytime soon,” he promised.

  I blinked at him through my lashes, all of my mortification forgotten.

  “Now, start the car again. Remember to put your foot on the clutch. Go slow, Freckles. We ain’t in no rush. Actually, I’ll be happy if you stall a hundred more times, if that means I get a hundred more moments in the car with you,” he murmured, his hand leaving mine.

  I blinked at him again, my brain turning to wonderful mush.

  “Babe, start the car,” he reminded me softly.

  “Right,” I whispered. “Just a warning though,” I said, shifting my attention to the pedals and turning the car on, “you’re gonna have to give me at least five seconds grace every time you say stuff like that.”

  “Stuff like what?” Killian asked, playing ignorant.

  I looked at him with my hand on the ignition. “You know what.”

  I had to give it to him, he looked genuinely unaware. “No, I don’t.”

  I sighed and worked up the courage. “Stuff like what you just said. The beautiful, romance-novel-type stuff. Stuff that makes me fall,” I whispered, not able to break eye contact with him.

  His face turned inscrutable. “Fall where, Freckles?” he rasped.

  “Fall into you, into this,” I whispered, my voice barely audible.

  He stared at me for a long moment then leaned forward and pressed his mouth to mine. He pulled back after kissing me, hands at either side of my face. “Just a warning, babe, you’re gonna have to be prepared for me to kiss you when you say shit like that,” he murmured against my mouth.

  “Like what?” I whispered back.

  His eyes searched mine. “Shit that makes me want to fall all over again.”

  He sat back in his seat like he hadn’t just rocked my world.

  “Start the car, Freckles,” he commanded softly.

  I let out a breath. “I think I’m gonna need ten seconds,” I told him.

  He didn’t say anything, but I saw a small grin on the side of his mouth.

  ****

  “Havin’ fun, Freckles?” a deep voice tickled my ear.

  Shivers descended down my spine in the best way as I turned around. I grinned at Killian.

  “You scared all the kids away,” I observed, watching the little toddlers disperse at the entrance of my boyfriend all dressed in black.

  My boyfriend. I never got tired of saying that. The boy towering over me, looking at me with those ice blue eyes that seemed to be as deep as the ocean itself. As if the ocean itself was focused on me.

  “Good,” he muttered, stepping forward to clasp my wrist. “I’ve been waiting for a moment with my girl for eternity.” He paused, his eyes briefly leaving mine. His hard stare turned empty and dangerous as he regarded his biker brethren. “Which may have been good since I had time to educate my future brothers where their eyes should not be straying,” he gritted out, his own gaze moving down my body. “Though, I’m fighting a losing battle,” he muttered, his eyes deep again. Dark.

  I blushed, happy that he seemed to respond so well to my outfit choice. Who knew my budding biker boyfriend would appreciate a vintage, multicolored, embellished cropped jacket over a flowing, white, lace dress that stopped well above my knee?

  I regarded my slouchy-heeled ankle boots, unsure of where to look. His hungry gaze made my stomach go wild. His hand went to my chin and moved it up so I made eye contact with him.

  “Proud as anything, Freckles, to let these guys know you’re mine. Shit.” He shook his head. “Can hardly believe it myself. But I’m happy to stay sleeping, if I’m dreaming that is.”

  My breath left me. Kill waited the five seconds we talked about, not minding the silence while the party roared around us. How could he be so broody and mysterious and sometimes downright mute and then say such eloquent, beautiful things? I liked to think of myself as well-read and a songwriter to boot, but I’d have trouble reciting the alphabet if you asked me now. Killian seemed content, watching me, one hand cupping my cheek, the other rubbing at my wrist.

  “Kid,” a savage voice shattered the moment and I jumped at the roughness of the tone.

  My face broke into a huge grin to see Zane was the owner of that bark. He stood a reasonable distance away, but his eyes were latched on Killian. He was also the owner of the murderous look that Killian was receiving. I guessed it wa
s likely to bring grown men to their knees. Not Killian. He stared right back.

  “Steg needs to talk to you,” he growled. “And those hands need to be off Lexie.”

  Kill’s hands dropped to his sides and I could actually feel the anger pulsating through him. I could tell he wanted to argue, but even someone as brave as Kill was no match for Zane.

  His eyes snapped to me, the anger falling away. “I’ll find you later, Freckles,” he murmured purposefully before giving Zane one last scowl and storming into Rosie’s house. I watched his back for a second, and then my excitement gave way to my longing. I beamed at Zane’s hard face and ran over to him. I didn’t even think. I threw my arms around his huge body. I’d missed him. Two weeks I hadn’t seen him, hadn’t been able to wander over to his garage to seek his quiet company, to feel my head clear as we strummed together.

  “I’m so glad you’re back,” I murmured into his cut, inhaling the leather smell.

  His huge hands settled lightly on my arms, and he gently pulled me back to inspect me at arm’s length. “Good to be back, Lex,” he clipped. His face was blank, but his eyes smiled. He may not say much, but I knew warmth lurked underneath his tone, way down.

  “Did you have a good run? Or ride? Or whatever.” I waved my hand. “Where did you go?” I asked him, rapid-fire.

  “Bit of everywhere, Lex. New Mexico, mostly.”

  “But you’re home now,” I pointed out.

  Zane nodded. “There’s no place like home.”

  My smile widened. “Did you just quote the Wizard of Oz?” I teased.

  “The wizard of what?” Zane questioned. Zane’s face remained blank, but he didn’t show any notion of being annoyed at having been stuck talking to a teenage girl at a biker party. He seemed... happy. Well, his version of happy, which made me ecstatic. Maybe we could do it. Mom and me. Make him happy. More specifically Mom, but I hoped that I contributed too.

  I grinned. “Don’t play dumb. Every person on planet Earth knows Wizard of Oz. Dorothy, the tin man? Flying monkeys? Witches? Sparkly shoes?” I reminded him.

  Zane raised his eyebrows in a way that said, “Do I look like I watch movies about sparkly shoes?”

  “Oh my God. You haven’t watched the Wizard of Oz,” I declared in shock. “Right, okay. Game plan. You’ll come over to our place tonight with snacks, lots of snacks, and we shall rectify the situation.”

  My grin fell short as Zane’s attention moved from me and focused on something over my shoulder. His face turned hard and the light left his eyes. I followed his gaze. It was focused on Mom. She had her phone to her ear, and my stomach dropped when I laid eyes on her. I didn’t know how I knew exactly, maybe it was the frozen blank look on Mom’s face, but something was wrong. Really wrong.

  Zane’s hand went to my chin. “You stay here, Lex. I’ll see to your mom,” he told me firmly.

  “But,” I argued, needing to know, needing to make sure she was okay.

  “I got her, darlin’,” he declared.

  I stared into his eyes, something mingling with the dread, something warm at the fact that Zane did “have” Mom. I nodded silently.

  I watched Zane stride over to Mom, my body frozen in its spot. Some weird psychic part of me knew that whatever was on the other side of that phone, even Zane couldn’t fix.

  I was right.

  Dread seemed to swallow me up, to paralyze me as I watched Mom’s face contort in pain and her collapse into a chair as if her legs just stopped working. Zane crouched in front of her, ripping the phone from her ear.

  “Lexie, honey, how about we go inside?” a soft voice suggested.

  My gaze flickered to Gwen, Cade’s seriously pretty and nice wife. She regarded me in concern, her eyes flickering at where mine had been resting moments ago.

  “I-I’ve got to talk to my mom,” I said, my voice dry.

  “Sweetie—” she protested, but my wooden legs had already moved me away from her and toward Mom and Zane. It was rude, walking away like that, but that instinct, that same one that told me something was very wrong, told me to do it.

  I made it within hearing distance to hear an unfamiliar voice. It sounded vaguely like my mom, but it was wrong. Different. Ugly. Pain had contorted it.

  “Ava bakes brownies,” she choked out. “Who would want to hurt a grandma who bakes brownies?”

  My blood turned to ice at her words. My heart started beating so loud I could hear it in my throat.

  “Mom?” I choked out.

  Both her and Zane’s heads snapped to me. I actually flinched when I saw the entirety of mom’s face, which had been obscured by Zane. Like her voice, I barely recognized it. It was the same basic shape, the same hair, nose, and mouth. But it was wrong. Something changed it, ripped through it without breaking the skin.

  Mom pushed off the chair she was on with what looked like a massive physical effort. Zane was almost glued to her back as she came to stand in front of me.

  “Doll face, let’s go home,” she murmured, trying to herd me toward the street.

  I couldn’t move. Not from this spot. This was the very last place I had stood where everything had been okay. If I moved from this spot, I’d fall off, into whatever had ripped my strong and beautiful mom apart with one call. I needed to stay in this happy spot, but I also needed to know.

  “No,” I argued. “I want to know now. Tell me what’s going on.”

  Zane stepped forward, strength radiating from his strong form, yet none of it seemed to leak into me. “Lex, listen to your mom. We’ll get you home and you can talk there,” he murmured. His face had softened and his eyes were light once more. Not with a smile. With pity. Concern.

  “No,” I choked out. I had to stay in my spot. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to handle it anywhere else but this spot. I didn’t know why, but I just knew.

  “Freckles,” a soft voice rumbled in my ear, and I felt Killian’s heat at my back, his hand at my elbow.

  I wrenched it from his grip. “No, Kill,” I croaked. I couldn’t even look at him. My eyes were glued in one place. “Mom?” I probed.

  Mom moved forward, right in my space, her hands moving to cup my face. It was bad. Whatever it was, it was bad.

  “It’s Ava and Steve,” she whispered, her eyes glittering with pain.

  It took a moment for the words to filter through my brain. Then they got there, and pain zapped through me like a physical thing, at Mom’s tortured voice saying those names.

  “They’re going to be okay though?” I pleaded. They had to be okay. Whatever this was, it could be fixed. It could get better.

  There was a pause. A pause that stretched on so long I knew. I knew, but I wouldn’t believe it. Not until my mom spoke in a voice so drenched with pain. Then I did.

  “No, baby,” she choked out.

  Two words and everything in me froze. It was like someone hit pause on my brain. Though everything still moved around me, Mom pulled me into her arms. She murmured words that barely penetrated, muffled words that sounded like I was listening from underwater. Words that filtered through and told my brain what my broken heart already knew. Ava and Steve were dead. It was then I was surrounded by the arms that were meant to make everything better that I hit play again. Then I realized Mom couldn’t make this better. Nothing could make this better.

  My body shook uncontrollably; pain stabbed into me like a million needles. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel a yawning emptiness and all-encompassing agony at the same time. Until now. I couldn’t hold my weight up any longer and my legs buckled beneath me. I wanted to sink to the ground, to melt into some puddle of nothingness, of blackness where this wasn’t real. Where I realized that this was just a terrible, terrible nightmare and I would call Ava and laugh about it.

  I’d never hear Ava laugh again. Or see Steve’s eyes crinkle at the corners when I sang country songs with him.

  I didn’t sink into the ground as I yearned to. Instead, I went up, up into a hard body that smelle
d familiar of leather. That held strength. Safety. I buried my head in the leather of Zane’s cut and clutched it as hard as I could, wanting to escape inside it.

  “I’ve got you, Lex,” he murmured into my hair.

  Those words were the last thing I heard before I fell into the abyss.

  ****

  “You think you can walk into the house, baby doll?” a soft voice filtered through my foggy, pain-drenched mind.

  I lifted my head from Mom’s shoulder, blinking. We were in our car, in front of our house. I didn’t even remember the ride. I only remembered the pain. I glanced at Mom. She was trying to be strong for me. I had to be just as strong for her. So I nodded.

  “That’s my strong girl,” she cooed, kissing my head lightly. “We’ll get through this, doll face, promise you,” she whispered.

  Prior to this terrible day, I was likely to believe almost anything my mom promised me, my faith in her was that unwavering. But right now, grief seemed to have stripped away everything I had been certain about. It had torn through my world like a tornado, destroying everything in its path. Only rubble remained.

  Mom cupped my cheeks, bringing my face close to hers. “When your life has been full of light and happiness, the first eclipse that casts a shadow over it seems like it’s going to last forever. But it won’t. It doesn’t. The light will come back, shine brighter than ever, and you’ll be the stronger person for it,” she promised.

  Her words penetrated the darkness that had cloaked itself over my soul. A tiny logical part of my brain realized the truth in that statement. People survived. People lived through loss every day. But that was people. Others. I didn’t realize how hard their struggle was, appreciated from my golden throne of happiness, not realizing that one phone call could topple me off.

  I met her eyes and nodded once more. I had to cling to something, so I decided to cling to those words. I clung to her, burying my face in her chest, hoping beyond hope that my mother’s arms, which had healed everything in the past, could heal this.

 
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