Authors: Loni Flowers
a novel by Loni Flowers
Copyright © 2013 by Loni Flowers
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part, scanned, photocopied, recorded, distributed in any printed or electronic form, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without express written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews.
t’s been a long road with this book. What started out as one plot point in my head, turned out to be something completely different than what I had my sights set on. In truth, it’s so much more than I thought it could be. I truly love this story!
There are many people to thank who have supported me along this road and most importantly, I’d like to thank my husband, Michael. He kept the kiddos out of my hair on a lot of days and I’d still be pecking at the keyboard if it weren’t for his help and support. Thank you, babe, for always telling me to
write, write, write;
I love you!
Kentowski: there is nothing more I can say to you that you don’t already know. You’ve been on this road with me from the very beginning when I only had a hope and wish of writing a book. Without your constant encouragement and throwing ideas my way—or shooting them down—I wouldn’t have made it this far. Thank you to the moon and back. You’re my best friend, I love you!!
Yenney: you were with me from the beginning of this book. You were my first reader and though you may have thought you didn’t do much, our chats helped me work out quite a few plot points. Thank you for being patient and sticking with me ‘til the end, and for encouragement every day!
A special thank you goes to Kevin
Waring. You found inconsistencies that no one else pointed out and you also saved a whole scene that was lost due to your questions. I can’t say thank you enough for all you’ve done to help me.
I’d also like to give a HUGE shout out to all my beta readers:
Jessenia Marie Berdecia, Jeannette Medina, Lindsey Lanier, Amanda Quick, Pasha Riddle, Velma (Letty) Reason, and Kimberly Jones. You gave me valuable feedback and positive encouragement that
is a great story. Thank you for your guidance, you all are awesome!
Carol Webb from Bella Media Entertainment, thank you, thank you, thank you for your time and patience! You created the most perfect cover for
. I absolutely adore it. Your creativity is genius.
And to Teri Gibson, the Editing Fairy: your time and dedication, as always, is greatly appreciated. I am forever grateful for all the hard work you put into making my words shine to their fullest potential. Thank you so very much!
To anyone who has picked up a book with my name on it for your literary entertainment, THANK YOU! If I’ve touched one person, or provided entertainment for one reader to enjoy the story I’ve created, my job here is completed!
Table of Contents
The day seemed to drag on as I looked forward to my three-day weekend. Exhausted from dealing with high-strung kids all day, I walked inside my apartment and dropped my keys on the kitchen table along with my stack of school papers before striding to my bedroom. I changed from my teaching attire, opting for a pair of black running shorts and a light yellow tank top. On a day like today, however, even that seemed like too many clothes. After staying cooped up in the classroom all week, all I really wanted to do was sleep, but I knew if I did, I'd be up the rest of the night. I needed to stretch my legs, wake my body up. A jog around the track behind my apartment complex could do just that. After all, I was living in Fairfield, Georgia for three months now, and not once had I taken advantage of all the amenities my apartment complex had to offer. Even the gym membership I signed up for the week I moved in had gone to waste. Getting so hung up on trying to make my first teaching year the best; I kept myself shut in since my arrival here. It was time to change that. Live a little. Enjoy myself. God knows, my parents never gave me the chance, and most of the fun I had was with my brother and his crazy friends. Like two peas in a pod, Jesse and I were practically inseparable. “
Don't tell Mom
,” he'd always say. But he was gone now. An accident took him from my life and I've never quite been the same person since he left. I struggled to deal with the loss for a long time, until recently, when I decided to push everything back and try to live my life. On my own, free to make my own choices, good or bad. I was due for a change.
Jogging, I made my way around the pond. It was beautiful and the layout made it the perfect place for a vigorous workout or a peaceful walk. The concrete track skirted the banks of the water while couples lounged on park benches that were randomly placed around it. Others lay in the grass, enjoying a picnic, or reading a book. It was the preferred place to enjoy some time outside and I felt like kicking myself for not taking advantage of it sooner.
My apartment complex was off the beaten path, and if I hadn’t gotten lost in the first place, I might have never found Oakdale. Hidden from the main roads, tucked into a wooded area, huge oak trees surrounded the perimeter. It was a large complex, eight buildings total, two floors each. The property manager told me when I inquired about renting an apartment that there were twisted walking trails, which wrapped around one side of the pond, through the woods to the opposite of the pond. I also had access to basketball courts, tennis courts, and two swimming pools, if I preferred other activities. I was lucky there were several available units when I came across it. Oakdale seemed to be
place to live around here, but none of it mattered if I didn't allow myself the luxury of using it. I always meant to, but never found the time. I had to start making the time, or else I could end up being a workaholic like my father. After living with him all my life, that was the last thing I wanted to become.
Sweat dripped down the back of my neck and other unmentionable parts of my body as I ran. The hot September made me realize I probably picked the worst time of day to drag myself around the track--late afternoon. I looked across the pond at my starting point and knew there was no way I'd be able to push myself all the way around without collapsing from exhaustion, or worse, heat stroke.
A noise behind me caught my attention and I stepped off the path to avoid forcing the person behind me to slow down. I jogged between the concrete track and the edge of the water before noticing a man falling into stride beside me. He nodded with a smile and I grinned at him, hearing unknown lyrics streaming from the headphones in his ears. Suddenly, I shifted forward, with only the pond and a park bench in my line of sight. I tried to reach for the bench as I fell, my arms flailing. My body’s momentum propelled me forward and I screamed before being silenced by a mouthful of water.
I struggled, losing my footing every time I tried to stand up.
I've got to get out! I've got to get out! The snakes are going to get me!
were my only thoughts.
Water splashing, I choked on the brackish-brown water as I gasped for breath. I was going to drown or get bitten by a snake while everyone around me watched. The guy that was jogging beside me appeared on the edge of the bank, leaning over with his hand stretched out.
“Stand up,” he said. “It's not that deep.”
After a moment, his words sunk in and I tried to stand. When I looked down at the water, I felt like an idiot, seeing the water only came up to my waist. I took a step toward him and reached for his hand just as something slimy brushed against my leg. With a terrified scream, I leaped forward.
“It's going to bite me! Get me out! Get me out!” I yelled, splashing water everywhere. He pulled me up the embankment and my shoes slipped over the soft, wet dirt. I coughed up pond water as I gasped for a fresh breath in the humid air. He wrapped his arm around my waist and walked me toward an empty park bench only a few feet away.
“Are you okay?” he asked, sitting down beside me.
“Oh my God! Thank you. If you hadn't helped me, I might have drowned.” I glared at the bystanders, still gawking at me from their park benches and private picnics. “Obviously, no one else was going to help,” I said louder than necessary. They averted their eyes while I stared, encouraging them to mind their own business.
“Well, it's a good thing I decided to come for a run when I got off work, isn't it? My name’s Drew, by the way,” he said, extending his hand.
I shook it, breathing heavily. I didn’t bother to mention that if I hadn’t moved over for him to pass, I wouldn’t have fallen in to begin with. “I'm Lilly.”
“Oh wait... you've got something—” he started to say as he reached his hand toward my hair.
I saw it out of the corner of my eye when he pulled it from between the strands of my hair. It was long and green, and only one word came to mind.
I jumped up, a scream trapped in my throat, but slapped my hand over my mouth when he dangled the long piece of grass between his fingers in front of me. I closed my eyes and settled back down on the bench. I knew he must’ve thought I was such a freaking idiot.