Authors: Melissa March
Tags: #runaway, #detective, #safety, #cowboy, #abuse, #stalker, #falling in love, #stalking, #new family, #bad relationship, #street kid, #inappropriate relationship, #arden, #living on the streets, #past coming back to haunt you, #kentucky cowboy, #life on the streets, #love you to death, #melissa march, #run from the past, #wants to feel safe
Fire and Ice
A Young Adult Imprint of Melange
White Bear Lake, MN 55110
Love You to Death, Copyright 2014
Names, characters, and incidents
depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales,
organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher. No part of
this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any
means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording,
or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the publisher.
Published in the United States of
Cover Design by Caroline
For my Mom, Joanne Hayward, because
you always believed in me.
Table of Contents
LOVE YOU TO DEATH
Seventeen year-old Arden Elliot is alone,
barely surviving life on the streets. All she wants is a place to
call home, somewhere she can be safe.
After meeting Det. Cass Bateman, surviving is
exactly what she will need to do. He dominates her world, steals
her spirit and breaks her body. All in the name of love. She knows
if she stays, one day he will love her to death.
On the run she meets Gideon, a Kentucky
cowboy. She tries to resist the power of her heart, knowing she
doesn't have the luxury of falling in love, but just when she
thinks her life is finally secure, her past comes calling. Now she
will have to decide whether to confess everything to her new family
or leave them safely behind to run again.
To my family—real, writing, and publishing.
I love you all.
I covered my mouth with both hands to silence
the sound of my breathing. My lungs were burning. I cowered behind
a mountain of stacked hay bales. Where was Gideon?
, I prayed,
please let him be
I shifted to the left—carefully, so I
wouldn’t make any noise—and peeked around the side. The barn door
was still closed. My labored breaths had calmed a little, enough
that they weren’t echoing in my ears. The rusty hinges on the barn
door squeaked. I froze. Instant tears of pure terror ran down my
cheeks. The door slapped shut, a muted clap of wood on wood.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are...” he
Chills raced up and down my spine. He sounded
as sick as he really was. I curled into myself, trying to become
small enough to disappear. His shoes made a scraping noise on the
concrete floor. I could hear him checking the stalls as he walked.
One of the horses snorted their disapproval, probably Lola.
I calculated his position: still closer to
the door than to me.
“I’m not gonna hurt you,” he called out. His
raspy smoker’s voice carried across the barn.
I knew he was lying. I knew he didn’t mean
it. As soon as I surrendered I was a goner. Not dead, but I’d wish
There was a twelve gauge hidden in the feed
barn, if I could get to it.
“I always hated hide and seek,” he said. “I’m
too good at seeking. It’s too easy for me.” He wasn’t lying. His
detecting skills were as good as a bloodhound.
I could tell he was much closer than before.
I almost whimpered, mashing my lips together to keep silent. I
thought of Gideon, my sweet Gideon and his beautiful smile and
those big brown eyes that were always filled with such love and
tenderness. If I concentrated hard enough I could feel his strong
arms around me. I could almost smell the peppermint of his breath
as I thought of him whispering in my ear,
“I’m losing my patience,” he snapped then
added sweetly, “come on sweetheart, come out where I can see you. I
just wanna talk.”
Yeah, right. Talking was usually punctuated
with slaps and punches.
He was to my right. If he kept coming around
that way, I might have a shot at making it to the door. I inched my
way around the piles of hay—slowly, so I wouldn’t make any
“What do I spy with my little eye?”
He was behind me. The hay still separated us,
so I knew he couldn’t see me.
Who did he see?
“Ah!” He cried out. I heard hissing and then
his cursing. “Stupid cat! Get it off!”
Good girl, Esmerelda! Finally, the cat was
good for something. I hoped she scratched his eyes out.
I took the opportunity and ran full out for
Two years earlier...
I think the worst part of eating out of a
dumpster isn’t the food you find, but the smell that accompanies
everything else around it. I plucked the half-eaten cheeseburger
from a discarded take out bag while holding my breath. I’d followed
the girl wearing a consignment shop Badgley Mischka pantsuit and
scuffed Jimmy Choo’s for two blocks. I knew the minute her anorexic
butt went into the Five Guys she wouldn’t finish whatever she
bought. My guess was she’d eat half of it and puke it up later.
Some people are so predictable.
The burger was still warm, an added treat for
me. I hoovered it in in less than thirty seconds. It hit my stomach
like a brick. I was so empty my tummy barely registered the intake.
Too bad she hadn’t bought fries with it.
I was so tired of living like this. I missed
my mom’s cooking. She made the best meatloaf and garlic mashed
potatoes. Every Sunday we tried a new recipe from one of the
magazines she’d bring home from the dentist’s office she worked
“Take that, Martha.”
We’d laugh, proud
of ourselves for mastering the recipe.
My belly rumbled, signaling it was ready for
“Sorry pal, Cherry’s fresh out of
everything.” I rubbed a hand over its concave shape. Cherry was my
street name. My real name is Arden. But that name belonged to
another girl, in another life.
I was tired of walking. I turned the corner
and headed for a little café with outdoor dining. It was late
afternoon so the lunch crowd had come and gone, but there were a
few stragglers seated on the wrought iron chairs. I spotted an
empty table in the corner, under the protection of an awning.
A couple, sharing an order of some sort of
vegetable platter, eyed me suspiciously. I was used to it. I’d been
living on the streets for almost six months now, and I looked like
it. Shelters were dangerous places for seventeen year-old girls. My
favorite shelter was The Holy Spirit Mission on South Charles
Street. It was the cleanest Baltimore City, Maryland had to offer.
I mostly went in during the day, so I could sleep while the worst
of the pervs were out mingling with society. Miss Vinnie, one of
the counselors, let me take a shower and get a fresh change of
clothes whenever she was there. That was usually every Tuesday and
Thursday. But she hadn’t been there this past Thursday, so I was
An August heat wave had taken over the city.
It was physically exhausting just breathing. I knew I couldn’t sit
here forever, but I was so hot and practically dead on my feet that
I figured I’d wait until someone kicked me out instead of being
polite and moving on.
Please, thank you, excuse me, ma’am, sir... I
knew the right words and how to behave. I had good manners, my mom
made sure of that. I just didn’t feel like using them at the
I saw a man pop his head out the entrance of
the café. He looked my way. I knew this was my queue to get
steppin,’ but I stayed. Being hungry, dirty, and tired was a combo
no one should try. And I was feeling a little blue, missing my mom.
I decided to be difficult. The café man strode over to me, his bald
head shiny with fresh beads of sweat.
“How ya doin’?” he said, trying for casual.
“I’m going to need to ask you to order something or move
I gave him a look of pure adolescent
condescension, flipping my long, greasy black hair over my shoulder
for extra measure. I could practically smell the fear rolling off
of him. They never wanted a scene. Well, I never wanted to be
living as a homeless orphan in the land of good and plenty. Deal
“Look,” he said, fidgeting with his apron, “I
don’t wanna be a jerk. If it were up to me I’d let ya stay all day.
But I got a boss who’s really uptight. He says you have’ta go.” His
bug eyes pleaded with me to go quietly.
I’m a big softy, what can I say? But I made a
production out of leaving. I stood up, moving slowly with great
exaggeration. He sighed, relieved I was cooperating.
“Look, if ya go around into the alley I can
give ya something to eat,” he glanced furtively from side to side.
“Just keep quiet, ‘kay?”
Suddenly this guy was my best friend.
Provided he didn’t want something in return for his generosity. I
looked at him, sizing him up. He looked like the decent sort, but
these days you never could tell. I nodded. He smiled. I moseyed my
way into the alley. I waited ten minutes before the door opened,
and a hand holding a white paper bag was thrust at me.
“I got a sister just about your age, kid,”
Baldy said. “Do yourself a favor, go home. Get off the streets
before you get hurt... or worse.”
This man’s random act of kindness almost made
me break my vow of no crying, ever. I grabbed the bag and took off
out of the alley before he could bring me to actual tears. “Go
home,” he’d told me. If you only knew, mister, just how much I wish
* * * *
Day-old cannoli never tasted so good. I
devoured two of them and licked the remnants of cream from my
fingers. Baldy packed a sandwich too, egg salad, not my first
choice, but beggars can’t be choosy.
I was walking while I ate. People like me
didn’t do well when we tried to be stationary. I walked day and
night, anywhere and everywhere. Most teenage girls spent countless
minutes, hours, and days calculating calories, agonizing over the
size of their hips. I didn’t have that problem. I was lucky if I
ate three squares a week, and with all the walking I did, I never
gained weight. I needed to. The jeans I’d left home in were now two
sizes too big. I cinched them with a belt I found behind a
Baltimore was like any other city in the
world. It had its clean sections and its slum sections. I walked a
couple of blocks looking for a decent place to hide out while my
food digested. I ducked into an alley that looked promising,
meaning it didn’t smell. I preferred the business districts because
there was less gang activity there during the day. I found a wide
stoop, curled myself into a ball, and using my backpack for a
pillow, I dozed. I never, ever allowed myself the luxury of a deep,
senseless sleep. I could wake up dead, or worse.
When I first heard the moaning, I thought it
was just a stray cat. It didn’t sound human. But then I heard the
muted thump of something hitting a soft surface. Like a boot in the
stomach. It was followed by a louder
and more moaning.
Someone was getting a beat down. I’d heard it happening before.
Time to scram.