Publication Date: August 8, 2018
Print Length: 402 pages
ISBN: 13: 978-17246265
ISBN: 10: 1724626582
In this dark, gripping psychological thriller, a perfect world twists into an absolute nightmare.
In the tight-knit rodeo community, the Rocking -B Ranch reigns supreme. When owner and renowned equestrian Berlin McKitrick mysteriously loses her ability to speak, her daughter doesn’t check on her to make sure she’s okay. Instead, she hires an attorney for control of the estate, demanding her mother be institutionalized.
When a doctor she hardly knows decides to dictate her future, it seems Berlin will lose everything when she’s dragged from her home, flown out of state, then placed in the hands of a formidable stranger. Subsequently, she escapes, only to find herself under a bridge riser with no money, ID, incapable of communicating, or a way home. If he finds her, she knows it will be the end of the life she once knew. In the midst of trying to keep what is hers, something ominous creeps to the surface – long suppressed memories of terrible secrets best kept hidden. When the past collides with the present, will darkness override her ability to get back to the world she once knew?
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An oath. An asseveration.
Throughout my life, I never experienced a true measure of love. I expressed love for my child, who needed protection, a kind word, a tender or healing touch, and the comforting guidance they often required. I’d also experienced a soft word, a kind and remorseful hug from an elderly lady who needed me, and from my employees, but not the love of someone who tenderly cared, or desired me to the point they didn’t want to live without me.
Real love had been mysterious and unknown to me. Initially, being reared in a house where I was never touched in a loving manner, or given a kind word, the smallest fundamental thing that most people took for granted was something I wasn’t familiar with. My foster parents, Meg and William, didn’t want me. Instead of holding, cuddling, and caring for me in the most basic way, they plopped me in an antique bathtub then propped a bottle. I was unwanted and neglected since conception.
The two times that I’d been seen by medical professionals as an infant, was once when I had a diaper rash so indescribable, I was hospitalized and treated for lesions, blistered skin, and ulcers. The other time was from food poisoning. Meg and William were too lazy to change diapers or clean bottles. They couldn’t be bothered with heating up a bottle, instead, they used whatever temperature the tap was and kept a bag of powdered goat’s milk accessible to half-ass mix then plop in my mouth when I cried.
Child Protective Services had been notified both times, but this was during a time when public outcry was almost non-existent. A time when people tended to mind their own business. Social workers were few and far between. When you did get one, they were overwhelmed, reports were less than accurate, and they just couldn’t be bothered as long as the kid was still alive. Since I’d been hospitalized, someone cared enough to get help. Social Services never followed through. The hospital had no choice but to return me to my desecration.
Once when I was five, I had been beaten to the point I soiled myself. It wasn’t that uncommon, but this time a new neighbor across the street heard the screams. She and her husband came to investigate. Meg was less than mollifying as she sprayed me in the backyard, explaining to the neighbor she’d always washed urine and feces away with a high-pressure nozzle on the water hose.
It was explicated that I was a dramatic child who threw fits while being changed and still wasn’t potty trained in Kindergarten. The red blotchy spots and bruising were explained away as a seizure disorder that I didn’t have. The neighbors didn’t believe Meg when they threatened to call the police if they heard my screams again. They barely made it out of their house alive when it caught fire in the middle of the night. A Molotov cocktail had been thrown through their living room window. My neighbors lost everything from their threat to protect me.
Not only was I scared of the fact someone even cared for me, I was also confused. Love to me was an enigma, a mystification, or a conundrum. Coupling had always been seen as a negative act in my eyes, due to the abuse that I’d witnessed and received. I couldn’t fathom a gentle caress or kindness while making love.
My experience had been the biting of my tender lips, roughly groping my sensitive breasts, pulling of my hair, the ripping and removal of my linen, a forceful, painful penetration, and foul acts of choking me into an unconscious state. I wasn’t only abused; I felt dirty and at fault. Once my husband Jacob had done as he pleased, he stepped away, like I was disgusting or maybe something foul. He left me battered, bruised, crying, and pervaded with his filthy seed.
After Kendall was accidentally conceived, Jacob had a vasectomy. I had lied to everyone, saying I was the problem with having more children, when it was Jacob that didn’t want the one he had. The most he would do was acknowledge her in passing, but he wouldn’t hold, kiss, or hug her after she became mobile. She was starved for his affection, but it was something he couldn’t provide. Jacob only wanted to fill the deep-seated need to satisfy his sordid urges. When I spent time with Kendall, he joined in only to make sure the attention was still on him. His world was occupied with his desires and nothing more. He had a classic case of narcissism.
Whenever something wasn’t going his way, he complained about the world coming against him. There was never a consideration of the impact on someone other than himself. Jacob was also worried about his image, along with what people thought of him. After preening for hours, he’d spend just as long practicing conversations with himself on what he wanted to discuss.
Jacob expected me to look and act a certain way in public. If I didn’t, he would make me suffer for it in private. I was always fearful of retribution, especially with his cloying looks, threatening eyes, and the menacing tell that I was about to get it, from the flicking of his fingers against his thumb that etched his tempered anger.
When he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Jacob sought treatment from the best doctors in the country. It didn’t take long to discern that his tumors were in an advanced state, which had already spread through his adrenal glands and lymphatic system. Even though the doctors stated it wouldn’t do any good to treat him, he insisted.
The growths in his lungs were too advanced to remove, plus they had metastasized to his liver. He swirled into a deep depression. His body was in constant agony from the treatments they poisoned him with. The nauseous feeling from the laser therapy, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, and immunotherapy, along with the weakness that plagued him from trying to destroy the disease, was debilitating, but it was nothing compared to the guilt he carried for his rotten deeds.
As the doctors had warned, my husband’s cancer did not respond to treatment. His tumors continued to spread with a maddening velocity. The night that I returned from being at Dean and Carissa’s side – after their son Coy died from a rollover truck and trailer accident that left him brain-dead – I witnessed a side of Jacob that I did not know. He was remorseful, and apologetic for choking, beating, and berating me. He begged for my forgiveness for fear he was going straight to hell. Jacob was afraid that if I didn’t forgive him, he would never have peace. I was so starved for affection; I cradled him, telling him I forgave him for everything. Less than two-hours after I gave him the words he sought, he died, leaving me begging for a man I always wanted and needed.
When Mathew stepped in to help me sleep, it gave me hope that not all men were like Jacob. After Mathew raped me, I still had the senseless thought that it was somehow my fault. In my mind, all men needed the violent act that I had experienced so many times. A gentle touch and a kind word were as foreign to me as alien life forms. The larger the physique of the man, the more violent I thought the act would be.
As I went into Chase’s care, I had a fearful and negative approach to all men. It wasn’t until I played basketball with Chappy, then beat him, that I felt comfortable having a friend-type relationship with a man. The type of friendship that encouraged me to be stronger. I feared that becoming more than a friend would lead to abuse. Keeping Morgan and Shane at a distance by being repulsed over Morgan’s sexual prowess, and their overprotective need to watch over me, sheathed my black heart from them hurting me. I felt if I allowed them to get close, or if I shared my feelings with them, they would end up doing the same thing Mathew did.
Chase was my doctor, my capture, the famous inoculator, and friend. His authoritative guidance and patient care led me to trust him. His never leaving me after the awakened trauma of suppressed memories gave me hope. His teaching me how to express my feelings, helped expel some of the nastiness my black heart absorbed. His protective nature, mollifying skin, and gentle consoling words soothed a flawed soul.
Through the journey of my recovery, I never sensed he was anything other than my doctor. I made him my best friend. He was someone I relied on, trusted without measure, and wanted in my life. But being my doctor, I was slightly resentful toward him, for making me take medication while controlling my actions. So, when he left for California, I was relieved but devastated at his loss.
When talking to him on the phone, it felt more like he was still my physician and not really my friend. He told me enough about his life that kept me engaged, but the miles separating us didn’t make me want to share everything like I had when I was under his care. Something deep in my being was fearful I would never see him again, while somewhat wasting both of our time. Seeing him at the seminar wasn’t supposed to happen. I was his patient. Since I had been released, he and I were supposed to go our separate ways, as well as keep them that way.
The eight months that I had been home, seemed to fly by. Even though I followed the schedule he set-up for me, it was the first time in my life that I made complete and total decisions for myself. I treasured my independence since it was a time that I enjoyed and reveled in.
Evading Morgan and Shane was equivalent to escaping from my controlling past while adding an element of excitement from getting away with it. Running into Chappy, and then Chase was frightening, then somewhat exhilarating. But when Chappy left me in Chase’s hotel room to wait for my friend, there was a trepidation as deep as when I was first delivered into his care. I was worried he would be angry that I had escaped his friends to view his seminar. Enraging him was something I never wanted to do.
Chase had been everything to me. Everything that I never experienced with a man. Before him, I didn’t know that a man could be happy when he wasn’t abusive and violent. Chase had transformed everything for me and I didn’t want to change that or disappoint him.
The tectonic plates had shifted. The world must have been spinning in the opposite direction, because nothing was as I knew it, nor expected it to be. My mind continued to race, even more so after he popped the question of marrying him. Why would he want to marry me? It was a revelation, I never suspected.
Every memory of our time together in Tennessee was racing through my mind. Did he feel this way when he took me shopping, or when he slid his lithe frame across the mattress of my bed for the first therapy lesson, while wearing a tantalizing cologne? Did it happen when he fingered tendrils of hair away from my face when he thought I was asleep? Maybe it was when he clicked something on the computer, before taking me in his arms, expressing a contingent goodbye.
How could he have loved me when he dropped me into the lake? That day felt more like he was divorcing himself from me as his doctor, letting me know he was more than just a physician, but a fallible man. An ornery, fallible man. A beautifully, ornery, fallible man.
Chase not only kissed me for the first time but also asked me to be his wife. He wasn’t supposed to kiss me. I could still be considered his patient, couldn’t I? When he pulled away from me, the last thing I thought about was being his patient. My senses were livened, and I wanted to be permanently sanctioned in a kissing booth with him as the only customer.
When I gazed into the depths of his speckled, chestnut eyes, I couldn’t fathom what to do or say. The only thing I was able to hold fast to was that heated kiss, not his fervent question. I wanted his mouth back on mine, with those electrifying brushes of his lips on my skin. I was in desperate need of that magnetic charge, coming from the masculinity he exuded.
Then, the unexpected declaration of his love absorbed in my preoccupied mind. He wouldn’t ask me to marry him unless he really loved me. Would he? He loves me? Could he?
It finally absorbed that Chase asked me to be his wife. He wanted to spend his life with me? Why? The thought of him kissing me like that every day had me trembling with anticipation, but nervous. My mind was overwrought with images of love, but then it was distraught with fear from what I’d experienced in the past.
Wobbly legs took a step back. My mouth was covered with my left hand. The reality of the situation set in. Shock at the thought of him wanting me. Me! A skeptical tear fell fatly down my face, confusing me with the very emotions that were overwhelming my senses. The man that stood in front of me was weighing my reaction when I finally realized I didn’t want to just kiss him, I wanted him. All of him. It may have been more than he wanted me. How could I have been so foolish and not realized it? Felt it? How could my mind and body be so drawn to him while not comprehending it in the past?
Chase removed my hand from my mouth, beholding me with concerned eyes. He was probably wondering why I was nervous and trembling. “What are you thinking, sweetheart? Will you marry me?”
“You don’t want to be friends?” I stupidly asked.
He nodded. “We’ll still be friends, but I also want to be your husband and lover. I’ll love you with every beat of my heart, and I’ll protect you until the day I die. Do you want to be my wife?”
Even though I’d found myself a part of every imaginable calamity in the past, how could I refuse? He didn’t want to be my doctor, just my friend, husband, protector, and… oh, God… my lover. Even though that was the part I feared, I couldn’t help but nod on a whisper, for fear of losing him, “Yes!”
“Sweetie, are you sure? Why are you crying?”
I couldn’t tell him. It wasn’t in me to break his heart and tell him I wanted to be everything to him but his lover. “Because I didn’t know how much I loved you, until you kissed me, then pulled away. I honestly didn’t know I had those kinds of feelings for you.” I wiped another tear from down my face. “I’m scared too.”
He cocked his head to the side. “Why are you scared, sweetie? You know I’d never hurt you.”
Of messing this up. Of messing life up. Of messing his life up.
“I’m scared of my black heart. I’m scared it will capture our happiness. Besides, I don’t know how to be a good wife.”
Chase stood and consoled with his eyes peering soberly into mine. “Oh, Berlin, you don’t have to be anything but yourself. I’m not looking for a personification. I just want you the way you are.”
His eyes scanned back and forth to each of mine with what seemed to be love, compassion, and concern. I couldn’t be certain about the love though since I’d never experienced it.
“I know your heart. Maybe better than you. I know you don’t have a black heart. It can’t capture anything. Don’t you trust that I would know? I’ve told you this before. You are sweet and loving. You push people away because you’re scared of them hurting you. You think it protects you, and what you consider a black heart.”
His hand covered the breadth of my chest.
“What you have is a loving heart. I want to be a part of it, forever. Will you let me?”
“Okay,” I conceded, wondering if he would always be the tender, reassuring soul that was before me.
“I love you, Berlin.” He whispered, rubbing his nose seductively around the lobe of my ear.
In an effort to concentrate on how I felt since he went to so much trouble to get me in tune with it when I was in his care, I tried to connect with my emotions to know if I was doing the right thing. Realization dawned that without a doubt I didn’t want to live without him. Even though I was scared that I may mess it all up.
I thought of all the times of reminiscing about him. Always wondering where he may be, along with how he was doing. Wanting to know if he was thinking of me, or was he going on with his life. It reminded me of all the times I felt empty without him. My desire was stronger for him than anything I’d ever experienced. I wanted his love, his touch, his gentleness, and the soft compassionate expressions he gave me when I wrapped my arms around his neck. “I love you too, Chase. I didn’t know how much until now, but I do.”
His mouth covered mine. That enticing, magnetic charge was heavier, more passionate, and needy, drawing me into him. Chase seemed hesitant for a moment with his passion, before his lips became more urgent, heated, and impatient. “Berlin, I’ve loved you for a long time. I’ve had feelings of wanting to spend my life with you for so long, it’s been unbearable with you being in Texas where I couldn’t see you, touch you, and be a part of your life. I’ve missed you and thought of you every day. I don’t want to just think of you anymore, I want you with me. I need you with me,” he poured out his soul, as his eyes, once again searched the depths of mine.
As much as I should have responded to his revelation, I was distracted by a spark. The dark burgundy jewelry box was still open for me to see the ring inside. The diamond catching the light drew my attention right to it. Inside the box, was an ostentatious marquise diamond, nestled on a white gold band. An eternity ring that looked to be several carats, inlaid with smaller diamonds that audaciously encircled it. It was too much. I would never be able to rope with it, but I couldn’t hurt the feelings of the man I loved. I was in awe observing it. He gently pulled it out of the box to slip it on my finger.
Chase gazed at me with an adorning smile, then gave a searing kiss that evaporated any thought process. “I have the wedding rings in another box,” he stated as he finished caressing my lips. “Can I ask you another question?”
He watched for any change in my expression. For the first time, I saw longing, maybe even impatience. “I don’t want you to slip through my fingers when we’ve just expressed our love. I’m tired of being away from you. Let’s get married tonight. Do you want to? I want you to be my wife, now. I don’t want to wait anymore.”
After recovering from the surprise of him wanting to marry so quickly, I should have felt like running for the hills to think this thing through. Instead, I grinned like a fool, because I had never known anyone to want me, to love me, nor to be impatient to spend their life with me. I didn’t want this beautifully, handsome man to change his mind, even if he was a glutton for punishment by wanting to marry a batshit crazy woman. “Okay,” I breathed.
From the barstool, he tucked me closer to him between those stout, parted legs, cradling me in the security of his embrace. He craned his head, then planted his lips on my brow, tracing a trail down my cheek, traveling his way along my sensitive skin. “Did you know before today that I was in love with you?” he asked, brazenly.
I shook my head.
He possessively skimmed his hand down my side, feeling my dimpling skin under a fitted lace dress, re-energizing that magnetism while making it hard for me to focus on his question.
“How did you get here?”
“I chartered a flight,” I said feebly, feeling powerless while succumbing to his tatted embrace.
He tightened the enticing hold, inebriating my senses with his aroma of a woodsy cologne, aftershave, and sensual male overtones. He was intoxicating, and his strong arms were bands of steel that gently caressed in a deceptive manner, invocating with his touch, then alluring me back to reality with his soft-spoken inquiries.
“Is it on standby, or are they picking you up at a designated time?”
Shut up and kiss me. “It’s on standby,” my voice hitched, barely catching from the exhilarating feeling of his touch, his arousing cosseting, and the melodious tone of voice.
“Let’s fly to Las Vegas and get married tonight. Do you want to?”
I glanced up at him, wondering about his spontaneity, before giving into my ardent feelings. “Okay.” I’d do anything he asked in an effort to continue the sweet caresses and kisses.
“Are you sure, Berlin?”
“Yes,” I nodded my head, even though I could hear the trepidation in my voice as I peered into his warm, chestnut eyes, wondering how this would all work out since he lived in California and I lived in Texas. Everything he’d told me about joining me in two weeks was null and void in my distracted and amnemonic mind. “Will you get to come home with me?”
“I can in a few weeks, then I have a couple more studies. Maybe I can move to Texas in… four months, or so. I know it seems like a long time, but I promise to come in on as many days in between that I can. Will that be okay?”
I nodded. It was better than not having him with me for the last eight months. It would also give some time to adjust to us being together more than friends, allowing me to prepare our home and staff to the idea of it.
“Stay with me until I can move.”
I tensed from not wanting to be away from home that long, again. Even though I didn’t want to, I blurted my selfish answer, “I can’t.”
Chase almost deflated with a sigh. “I want you to be with me. But, I also know you have responsibilities at the ranch. You also need to stay on your schedule. How about you spend a few days during the week with me, so it won’t interrupt your roping venues? Then I’ll be in on the weekends. Some of those will be for four days, maybe even longer. Then it won’t be so hard being apart all the time. It will make the transition easier for you, so you can settle into the idea of it before we get a chance to be together all the time.”