Chapter 1

I want to thank you all for reading, as always. Book 11 is one of the hardest and most heart wrenching in the series for me as a writer and for the characters I have grown to love. What follows is chapter 1. Please let me know what you think! I also have a special Holiday announcement coming soon!

 

Chapter One:

Julie paced in the hallway outside Stephanie’s hospital room. Bill went inside to talk to Jack and she had stopped in the bathroom across from the room. When she came out, she couldn’t bring herself to go into the room.

It was ridiculous and she knew it. She was having a panic attack and it was debilitating. She didn’t have time for this. She had two babies who needed her and a brother who was missing. Her tears came again at her anger with herself and she walked to the bench against the wall to sit down, her head in her hands and her leg bouncing.

She was exhausted and scared and overwhelmed and every muscle hurt from her altercation with the car. She laughed to herself as she thought of that. Her altercation. What should she call it? Attack? Assault? Attempted kidnapping?

She needed to go inside. She needed to be an adult and stop this behavior. She could do neither. She wanted to crawl up in a ball and not move. She wanted something to be simple for her family. She wanted to stop being such a disappointment.

What would her parent’s say about the woman she had become? Would they be proud of her? Lately, she doubted that would be true. She hadn’t been a great mother and she was terrible to her sister in law who had been through more than any human being should ever go through. Julie sighed as she realized there had never been a time where she had supported Brittany with anything. The thought made her want to throw up. She didn’t deserve someone like her. Brittany had held her hand through everything, delivered David in horrible circumstances, helped her deliver her two little boys and protected little Josie when Janet came after them.

She was her husband’s sister. Bill had lived his whole life with no connection to a loving family. He only knew hate and pain and when he found his sister, Julie gave her nothing but a hard time. Wiping her eyes, Julie shook her head. She didn’t deserve this family.

“Julie?” Elizabeth, Evan’s wife walked out and saw her. “Are you okay? Your husband asked me to check the bathroom.”

Julie nodded, embarrassed.

“I’m fine. I just needed a minute. I’ll be right in.”

Elizabeth walked over and sat next to her.

“Want to talk about it?”

Julie looked at her hands and cursed her tears, which refused to stop.

“Not really.”

“It might help. I can see you’re really struggling with things and I’ve had my share of issues,” she smiled.

“I don’t have any issues,” Julie began. “That’s the problem. I have no reason to be acting like this but I can’t stop the tears. Of all the people in my family, I haven’t had anything happen to me. I have been a burden to my brother and Jack but they love me anyway. I have the most amazing husband who has survived more physical and emotional pain than I can even fathom. I have two beautiful and healthy children and now my brother is in trouble and I’m sitting in the hallway like a child,” she put her head in her hands as her tears fell. “I just want this feeling to stop.”

Elizabeth pulled the younger woman into her arms and held her. Julie’s distress was palpable and she needed some help

“You know, a person’s emotional reaction to something isn’t always rational. Many times, we can list the reasons why something happens or even how to fix it, but our physical response is paralyzing,” she handed Julie a tissue. “It doesn’t matter how much or how little you feel you’ve gone through. Your feelings are valid and I think you need to give yourself a break.”

Julie shrugged. “I don’t know how to do that.”

Elizabeth smiled. “I did it with therapy and medication.”

Julie was surprised. “You?”

“I went through some pretty bad things a few years ago and they had lasting consequences both physically and emotionally. I don’t mean to share too much, but what happened left me unable to have children and that was something I always wanted. I was deeply depressed after that and I couldn’t really talk to Evan about it.”

“But he seems like the most amazing guy. It’s easy to see how much he loves you,” Julie said, seeing in Evan much of the same qualities as in Bill.

Elizabeth nodded. “He is and he does, but a lot of what happened to me was because of his father,” she tucked her hair behind her ear. “I don’t mean to get too personal because we don’t really know each other, but it was so hard for Evan because he felt completely responsible for everything his father did. He had no control over him and I never ever looked at it that way, but he was so hurt by what he learned about his dad.

Julie stared at her and Elizabeth was worried because of her reaction.

“Did I step out of line?

“No,” Julie wiped her eyes. “You just can’t imagine how similar that sounds to Bill and his father.”

“Did his father hurt you?”

“No, but he was a terrible man who did horrific things, and was involved in the attack on Brittany. Bill struggles a lot with that,” she was vague because she didn’t want to betray any confidence, but Elizabeth seemed to really get it.

Elizabeth smiled at her and shrugged. “Maybe talking to someone will help you figure some of this out? I couldn’t fly until I figured out how to deal with what was bothering me. I needed perspective and Evan did his best, but he didn’t know how to help me.

Bill walked out and saw them sitting there. He held David who reached for Julie.

“Is everything okay? Someone missed his mom,” Bill put David down and he ran to Julie.

“Hi sweetheart,” Julie picked her son up and kissed his cheek. Bill walked over and Elizabeth stood up.

“I’ll see what Evan needs,” she smiled at them. “Please call me if you need to talk.”

Julie nodded

“Thank you.”

Bill watched her walk into the room and he sat down next to his wife.

“Baby what’s going on? Please talk to me?” Bill tucked her hair behind her ear.

“I’m just a little lost. I need some help and I’m scared,” she said as she leaned against him. David kissed her cheek.

“Then we’ll find whatever help you need. I just want you to feel better,” Bill kissed her forehead. “You’re going to get through this, I promise.”

She felt her tears fall again and she buried her face against his chest.

“My Jules, it’s okay,” he said as he held her. He knew so much of this had built up from everything he had put her through. He would do anything to help her. She had saved him in every way and he would walk over fire to help her.

******

How long had it been? How many hours or days had he been tied to this chair? How much longer could he hold on?

Tommy had trouble breathing and most of his body was numb. He couldn’t remember the number of times he had been beaten. He had stopped talking to them or trying to reason. They wanted information on his wife and he would die before he ever said anything.

What worried him the most was the fact that they seemed to already have her, but they wanted something more from him. He felt like there was a huge piece to this puzzle that he didn’t know; or couldn’t figure out.

“Tommy?” a voice cut through his thoughts. “We need to go, please open your eyes.”

“Red?” his voice came from a place he didn’t recognize and as he opened his eyes, he saw her, beautiful and strong. “You need to get out of here. They want you and I wouldn’t help them. You need to go,” he said through a fog.

She untied his hands and feet and tried to help him up.

“You have a daughter to get back to and a sister who needs you. There is way too much for you to do here. It isn’t your time to go,” she said sweetly.

He opened his eyes wide and took her in. She was stunning in a white gown and her long red hair was tied up similar to their wedding.

“How did you find me?” he asked through his tears.

She stroked his bruised cheek and helped him up.

“I will always find you just as you have always found me. You are my hero, Tommy, in every way. You have made my life the best it could have ever been. I will love you forever.”

Something was wrong. Tommy could feel it. “I need to sit,” he said and she helped him to the ground. “You need to go. I don’t want anything to happen to you,” his voice caught as the realization that something had indeed happened.

“It’s okay, Tommy. Everything is over now. You don’t need to worry about me anymore,” she smiled and took his hand in hers. “I will be with you always. I will hold your hand as you raise our daughter. I will hold you as you sleep. I am here, baby,” she put her hand on his chest. “Hold on a little longer my love.”

He closed his eyes and when he opened them, he was alone, on the ground.

“Brittany?” he cried out. “Please don’t leave me!” he sobbed into the darkness. “Oh God, please,” his cries were softer as he faded out again.

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