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Authors: Tressie Lockwood

Shira

BOOK: Shira
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Shira

 

Copyright © July 2012, Tressie Lockwood

Cover art designed by Mina Carter © July 2012

ISBN 978-1-937394-53-0

 

This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious or used fictitiously. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

 

Amira Press

Charlotte, NC

www.amirapress.com

 

 

Chapter One

 

Shira huddled beneath the overhang to the side of the door. She couldn’t imagine anyone would be coming or going in this downpour, but she’d rung every bell, and no one answered. The longer she stood in the rain, the more soaked she got. At least with the narrow ledge overhead, she could lessen the pelts to her face.

A chill raced down her spine, and she shifted her shoulders. Already, she could feel the ache in her muscles. Tomorrow, she would be stiff and sore. Yet, that was better than pain in the usual way she got it.

A sound to her right caught her attention, and she perked up. Someone was coming out. She straightened her shoulders and reached into her pocket for her keys. After tugging the useless hat lower on her head, she jangled the keys in her hand as she approached the door. A man stepped out.

“Really coming down, isn’t it?” she muttered and zipped past him into the dry hall. The man might have said something in response, but she didn’t wait around to hear. She only hoped her little act worked, as if she was a tenant just getting home and glad she didn’t have to use her keys to get into the building.

Before she’d run away, she never would have had the guts to pull that stunt. Maybe her life was taking a turn for the better with the decision to leave Sam. Virginia was home, and he’d acted like he was doing her a favor moving back here after five years in Maryland. In reality, he was just running after a bigger, better position in Emergency Room medicine. The hospital where he worked now had stroked his ego, like everyone did, including her own mother, and Sam had made the decision to come. He hadn’t even told her until a week before they needed to have everything packed and move down to his new house.

Shira took the elevator. While she had rung every bell to be let into the building, there was still the hope that Whisper was just asleep and hadn’t heard the buzzer. Of course she could be out for the night. If that was the case, Shira would wait at her door.

The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open. She stepped out and walked down the hall. As she approached a turn in the passage, she checked the numbers on each apartment’s entrance. Her stomach muscles tightened. What if Whisper didn’t want to help? No, she couldn’t think like that. Everything would be fine, and she would have a warm bed to sleep in tonight. Whisper would understand.

Then again, will she remember me?

She peered down at her figure. Slimmer than she was in high school, she didn’t think she’d changed that much over the years. Thirty-four wasn’t so far away from eighteen. Thinking that, she almost laughed, but wasn’t in the mood.

At Whisper’s door, she pressed the bell and waited. The chimes echoed in the apartment beyond, so she knew it was working. When no one answered, she pressed the bell again. The hope she’d bolstered herself with was fading fast. Maybe she shouldn’t have come. To go begging for help from a woman who hadn’t exactly been a friend in school was lame. Whisper might think she was crazy, or a bum.

She twisted her cold fingers together in front of her and hesitated another few seconds. No, this was a bad move. She swung away from the door just as the locks were being undone. New hope rose in her, and she turned back.

The door opened to the handsome, if scruffy, face of a man. His blond hair, in need of a cut, hung all about his head, and he looked like he hadn’t shaved in days. What she could see of his clothes was rumpled as if he’d slept in them. Despite that, he gave off a sexy, dangerous air. His broad shoulders and big chest, paired with the size of the hand curved around the door made her take a step back.

“What,” he snapped.

“I think I might…” she began. This could be Whisper’s boyfriend or husband. She hesitated. “Is Whisper home?”

His eyebrows shifted higher. “
You
know her?”

Was she too low class to know Whisper? Maybe he hadn’t put the emphasis on the word
you
like she thought. His presence scrambled her senses, and she was tired, so she couldn’t be sure.

“Yes, we went to school together. I thought I would look her up,” Shira explained. She tried to sound cheerful like this was a friendly visit but was sure she’d failed. “Is she in?”

“No.”

He gave no explanation other than that, and Shira waited.

The man sighed. He swung the door wider and stood up straighter. For some reason, he must have been almost bent in half, because when he did, he towered almost a foot above her. Shira didn’t mean to allow the squeak of fear to escape. The man was unnecessarily big. She took another step in retreat.

“She’s out of town with her boyfriend visiting family,” he told her. “I don’t expect them back for a while.”

“Oh.”

All her hopes came crashing down. There was nothing else to say. Whisper had been her last resort. She didn’t have an extensive family to go to. There was only her mother and an uncle she would never risk asking for help.

“Thank you.” She turned and walked down the hall. In the lobby, she stopped at the door, and the tears gathered. She would have to go back.

The skies had no mercy as she moved out into the storm. Water dripped down her back, freezing her to her core. Her shoes sloshed on her feet, and she huddled behind the thin jacket. While it was mid-summer, the evening had turned chilly. The trek here had taken the last of her money, so she would have to walk to Sam’s house. Not that it would matter since she was already late.

Hours later, her feet hurt, and her thighs burned. She sneezed incessantly and couldn’t stop shivering. On the side of a busy street, she tried extra hard to keep from being run down. Dizziness and exhaustion made that difficult. A car drew up beside her, and Shira’s blood ran as cold as her body seeing it.

The passenger side door swung open, and the sharp command, “Get in,” rang out from within. Shira didn’t dare disobey. She climbed into Sam’s car and buckled the seatbelt. He drove in silence, his hands gripping the steering wheel as if it was the only thing keeping him from strangling her. She didn’t think that was the reason because as far as she knew nothing had ever kept him from hitting her.

Every now and then, she peered at him out of the corner of her eye. He was handsome in his way, clean-shaven, hair perfectly ordered. He wore an expensive suit that had not one wrinkle. Despite all of that, he didn’t look as good as the man she’d met earlier at Whisper’s apartment.

That’s probably because I hate him.

“Weren’t we supposed to have dinner tonight to celebrate my new position and the new house?” Sam asked.

“Yes.” She had learned long ago to keep her words simple and to the point.

“Yet, you’re not dressed.”

He eyed the jeans she’d worn and the old sneakers. She had dressed for comfort for the trip to Whisper’s place. Three weeks ago, she had looked Whisper up to find out where she lived and had plotted the bus route.

“I’m sorry.” Her voice trembled, and she bit down to try to gain control. In a minute, he would notice the bag on her lap. Who was she kidding? He never would have been out here on this road if he didn’t know she had run away. The fact that she’d made him late for his reservation was bad enough. Sam didn’t like his plans to be interfered with.

“Oh we’ll go to the restaurant. I’m hungry. Maybe you’ve eaten wherever you were.”

She opened her mouth to protest, but clamped it shut before uttering a word. Her stomach growled. She hadn’t had a bite since morning. Nerves had taken her appetite.

A short while later, they pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot. Sam reached across to nab her bag from her cold fingers. She didn’t try to hold on, and he tossed it in the back seat of his jag. Sam got out of the car and came around to open her door. She gritted her teeth against sore muscles and followed him to the entrance.

They were seated quicker than Shira had expected, but then she shouldn’t have questioned Sam’s willingness to cover anyone’s palm with money as long as he got what he wanted.

She sat across from him in silence and picked up the menu the waiter had offered to her. When the man returned, Shira was about to tell him her order when Sam cut her off.

“She’s not that hungry tonight. Why don’t you bring me the prime rib with two helpings of mixed vegetables on the side.”

“Of course, sir. Anything to drink before that?”

“If you could bring a bottle of your best chardonnay, that would be great,” he ordered. Shira sat stark still. Her stomach again made its protest, but she didn’t say a word. Anger and humiliation vied for dominance inside her. He knew she was hungry, but he punished her. What could she say anyway? She had no money of her own. He’d made sure of that, pushing her to quit her job six months ago and threatening to get her fired if she didn’t. Sam wanted her dependent on him, and he had succeeded in getting her to that place. She was beginning to think she would never get free of him.

Sam sat in front of her, discussing his job and prospects between bites. Shira kept a pleasant expression on her face the entire time, hands clutched in her lap. She knew when they got back to his house, she would be in trouble. He was always civil when they were out, even funny and entertaining sometimes. Yet, when they were alone and she’d pissed him off, that’s when the hammer would fall. He smiled at her and winked at a joke he’d made. His teeth were even and white. She knew they got that way by his meticulous care and time in the mirror. The man took way longer than her in the bathroom each morning or whatever shift he had to work at the hospital. Up until now, the only consolation Shira was able to enjoy was that he’d often take double shifts. That allowed her to heal until the next punishment.

How had she ended up in this position? She’d been a strong woman with prospects of her own. She’d intended to go to school and major in child development. Her dream was to own a daycare center, but stuck with Sam it would never happen. Her world had to revolve around him. He’d said so the day he insisted she move in with him. By then, it was too late for her. Sam had his claws in her emotionally and physically.

“Where did you intend to go?” he asked without warning.

She jumped and twisted her hands together in her lap. “I don’t know. I didn’t have a plan.”

“To your mother?” He chuckled. “She loves me. I suspect more than she loves you. I can do no wrong in her opinion.” He waved his glass of wine, amusement lighting his cruel gaze. “Might have to do with the fact that I pay her rent and bought her the car she and her deadbeat boyfriend drive. What lengths would she go to if I actually bought her a house outright?”

Shira dug her nails into her pants legs. “I wouldn’t know. Maybe you should ask her.”

He narrowed his eyes, nostrils flaring. “Careful, Shira, you don’t want to piss me off worse than you already have with your stunt tonight.”

A sob rose in her throat, but she forced it down. “I think it can’t get any worse.”

He dragged his napkin across his mouth and tossed it aside. Then he pushed his chair back, raising a hand to signal the waiter. “Let’s find out, shall we? Time to go.”

With a sense of doom, Shira watched him settle the check and come around to help her from her chair as if she was someone precious to him. He laid her hand on his arm with deceptive gentleness, and they headed out to the street.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

At the first light, with the rain coming down in sheets, he pulled the car to a stop and drove his hand into her mouth. Shira’s head snapped back, and she cried out. He almost never hit her in the car. That meant she had pushed him beyond his limit.

Tears drenched her face, and the metallic taste of blood filled her mouth. She pressed against the car door, feeling in the darkness for the door handle. Sam took off before she could find it and tooled the vehicle too fast for her to risk jumping out. She prayed he would slow down. Otherwise, they risked hydroplaning. He didn’t care. He shook his hand and growled in annoyance.

“You made me hurt myself,” he complained. “These are my money-makers, and a lowly bitch like you can’t be allowed to risk them.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh, you better be.” He grinned, staring at the road ahead. “No, you’re
going
to be.”

Panic set in. She directed her gaze from one side of the road to the other. She didn’t look forward to going back out in that mess, but she had no choice. She didn’t think she could stand it one more time, the cruelty, the beatings. Tears flooded her eyes, and she sniffed. Long ago, she’d learned to hide how terrified he made her, because that gave him satisfaction. Tonight, she had no control. Sobs rose no matter how hard she tried to quell them, and Sam laughed.

BOOK: Shira
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