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Authors: Travis Thrasher

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Broken

BOOK: Broken
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Also by Travis Thrasher

Ghostwriter

Isolation

Available from FaithWords wherever books are sold

Copyright

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2010 by Travis Thrasher

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.

FaithWords

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com
.

www.twitter.com/faithwords

First eBook Edition: May 2010

FaithWords is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The FaithWords name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-446-56980-4

Contents

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

About the Author

For anyone who has been there

S
o this is how it ends.

Staring at a stranger, blood on your hands, silence coating the house.

Everything has led up to this. This here and now. This empty waste. This utter disappointment. This predictable conclusion.

You taste blood on your tongue from the cut on your lip. Crimson smears the pale satin.

Amazing how your hands remain calm. Unshaking, unwavering, even after what they’ve done.

Somewhere not far away is a gun that fired two bullets, the second doing its job. Somewhere a voice gently, quietly tells you what needs to happen.

You need to find the gun, Laila
.

Those eyes staring at you. You’ve seen them before, somewhere else, many times before.

You need to clean up and find the gun
.

For a moment, the water underneath your hands pours out. So steady, so seamless.

And then it gently caresses.

You wince.

Hard as you try, tears don’t come.

You stare at the stranger in the mirror, wondering where childhood disappeared to, wondering where those hopeful eyes wandered off.

Clean up and get in there, then get out
.

The faucet flows, and the slight stains of blood that are not yours drip over the ceramic.

For a moment you glance into the bedroom. A room you’ve never been in before today.

A dead body crumpled on the floor. Seconds counting before the silence ends and more men come.

You look at that stranger and know.

This is where it ends.

This is where it all stops.

Turning off the water, you step out and start your life all over again.

1

If I believed, then I would have to come to this conclusion. God doesn’t want me. How could He? People like me don’t belong
with people like you. If eternity does exist, I’ve sealed my fate and done it with my hands bathed in your blood.

S
he hears the fingernails on the door. Scratching to get out. Clawing and scraping at the wood. Then she hears the pounding
of fists against the solid oak. Beating in vain.

The handle rattles and jerks, yet the door remains closed.

Behind it she can hear him.

Screaming her name.

“Don’t. Don’t come in here. Get out. Get out of here, Laila.”

It’s a desperate and scared voice. And everything she tries to do to open the door doesn’t work.

She falls to the ground, her hands wrapped around the knob, the sound of her screaming finally waking her up.

Yet Laila doesn’t find herself in her bed having another nightmare.

This time she finds herself standing at the door to her apartment, clasping the handle, trying to get out. The light she eventually
turns on wakes her up, revealing a clock on the wall that tells her it’s three in the morning.

Six months since New Year’s Eve, and the nightmares still come. Seven hundred miles away from Chicago, yet Laila still has
horrific visions.

In fact, they’re getting worse.

She glances at her short nails and notices that one of them is almost entirely cracked off and bleeding. She turns off the
light and goes to the bathroom to find a Band-Aid.

Sleep, she knows, will surely prove to be a little more difficult to find.

The last Saturday of June is hot. Laila is glad to have a day off work, especially since she didn’t sleep much after finding
herself sleep-walking. Normally she’d be at the pool right around now, but it’s so unbearably humid outside that she’s reading
in her air-conditioned apartment. She’s finishing up another Dennis Shore horror novel entitled
Scarecrow
that probably isn’t helping the whole nightmare situation. At least it allows her to escape, even if the escape is harrowing
in itself.

The phone call surprises her because she rarely gets them. It takes her a few rings to uncurl off the couch and find the phone
and say hello.

There is only silence on the other end.

“Hello?” she asks in a louder voice.

“Laila,” a man whispers.

She stops moving in order to hear the voice as clearly as possible.

“Laila Torres.”

“Who is this?”

“You know who this is.”

Though she doesn’t recognize the voice, a part of her tells her who it belongs to.

The same part of her that nudges her to look up and see who’s coming around the corner. The same part that teases her with
images and feelings and emotions at all the worst times.

“I see you.”

“Who is this?”

“I can always see you. And sometimes, if you close your eyes hard enough, you’ll see me.”

He laughs in a warm, breathy way that sounds like he’s quietly coughing. She hangs up the phone, but holds the receiver as
if it’s a gun—slightly away from her—waiting for it to ring again.

Waiting for it to go off like a bomb.

She waits but doesn’t hear anything.

Tucked in the back of the leather journal that rests on a small nightstand are a handful of photos that Laila finds herself
examining on a daily basis. For a moment as the sun fades outside her windows and the sounds of the city begin to stir, Laila
glances at the black-and-white snapshot of Aunt Maxie.

She can hear Aunt Maxie’s Cajun drawl warn her about the phone call she had received hours ago, a call she still can’t help
thinking about.

“Don’t you dare go out, not now, not after that,” Aunt Maxie would have surely told her. “You might find a devil roaming the
streets.”

The small but tough woman from Louisiana used to tell Laila ghost stories when she was young and impressionable. Her favorite
was the story about the rougarou, a werewolf that prowled after bad children late at night back in the bayou where she lived.
Of course, the story was as fictitious as Maxie being their aunt. She had been hired as a maid by her father when Laila was
still just in grade school. Aunt Maxie worked for the Torres family for almost eight years before vanishing with nothing more
than a short, cryptic note to Laila.

Laila still often wonders where Aunt Maxie disappeared to.

Maxie was the closest thing Laila had to a mother since her own had passed when she was only four years old. There is no photo
of her mother in the few she has kept with her. For some reason she clings to the worn shot of Aunt Maxie taken in the middle
of a conversation.

She was probably telling one of her scary stories about a voodoo witch or a spooky spirit.

Of all the things Laila struggled to believe growing up, Aunt Maxie’s stories weren’t one of them.

The shadows of Greenville at night offer refuge but not necessarily escape. She walks as if she has a destination, passing
couples strolling hand in hand, men who stare at her, and women who dismiss her. The eyes of strangers say so much that words
are often unnecessary. Laila has grown used to them, used to disdaining and dismissing them, but tonight the stares offer
a bittersweet comfort. At least there’s somebody else nearby.

Downtown has a character like all the other cities she’s lived in. For a moment she recalls the noise of New York, the chill
of Chicago. The impressions belong to those of a stranger whispering memories from another life and another world. No matter
how far she might go to escape them, the murmurs never stop coming.

The crowd at a local bar she passes suggests life. The music coming from the open doors of a club signifies excitement. She’s
propositioned a couple of times by amiable country boys who invite her inside. Laila politely thanks them and says no. She’s
had enough cowboys in one lifetime, thank you very much. She’s sure that rednecks are the same whether or not they’re from
the Lone Star state.

She thinks about Kyle, something she finds herself doing more and more often. It’s one thing to have a friend in a coworker
at the bank, but she knows anything more is dangerous. She is dangerous, and she knows she doesn’t need another man trying
to take care of her.

Another man offering hope.

She roams the city trying to outwalk her shadows, but they stay close to her heels. The sights and the smells of life move
by like billboards on the highway, out of reach. She knows where she is and accepts it.

Hope is a city she left years ago. In its place, she’s found desolation.

The apartment feels dark and silent even with the lights on and
open windows letting in noise from the outside. The floor creaks beneath her as she walks across the living room, feeling
a chill despite the sweat on her forehead.

The loneliness is still sometimes hard to get used to, especially with the fear that it might be broken by a haunting intruder
or a confronting figure from yesterday. This is what Laila lives with. The ghosts of possibility making an outline over every
step she takes.

She’s in her bathroom brushing her teeth when she sees it. The image startles her and causes her to jam the toothbrush into
the side of her gum.

In her bathtub next to the sink lies a blue and red backpack with the white words
TEXANS
stitched on its front.

Laila drops the toothbrush into the sink and rushes back out to her living room. She can taste the acid bite of blood in her
mouth.

“Hello?”

The word seems to hover in the stillness.

For a frantic few moments, she examines the rest of her apartment. Nobody is there.

Back in the bathroom, she stares at the backpack. The words on the bag burn in to her.

Houston Texans.

The bag itself would be enough, but the emblem on it laughs at her.

Laila swallows, not wanting to touch the bag, feeling as if it might sear her hands and her soul. She stares at the backpack
the way a security person might look at a lone bag in an airport. It’s strange just sitting there, waiting for someone or
something to pick it up.

She can’t force herself to touch it.

Minutes pass as she stands in the bathroom facing the bag, wondering how it got there, wondering why someone left it, wondering
what’s inside. An urge burns through her telling her it’s important. But she holds herself back.

Someone broke into her apartment and put this here.

That alone would be shocking, but after the call this afternoon, Laila can feel her heart beating with worry.

A voice tells her to call the cops, but she knows she can’t.

Another voice tells her this is payback. This is just another reminder of what she’s running away from. Another sign of what’s
apparently coming.

Laila is becoming accustomed to strange things. But a backpack, one that looks full, suddenly showing up in her room—a Houston
Texans backpack too. It reeks of mockery.

“This can’t be from him,” she says out loud, hoping someone might hear her speak the words.

Whoever put this in her apartment is playing games with her. Perhaps to taunt. Maybe even to threaten. They know a part of
her that is long gone and buried. This might be their way of saying they know everything.

She grabs the backpack and brings it onto her deck, tossing it onto the garden below.

BOOK: Broken
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