Broken Wings (An Angel Eyes Novel)
Author:Shannon Dittemore

10

Brielle

The nightmare grabs hold before I realize I’ve fallen asleep. Jake’s hand is on my knee, he and Marco discussing cameras and video editing equipment. I’m thinking how great it is that they have things to talk about when a sea of color pulls me under.

The colors pop and fade until all that’s left is a marble hallway stretched with a red Venetian rug. At the far end, pressed against the wall and shrouded in shadow, sits a girl. The shadow makes her appearance hard to discern, but I see wide, dark eyes above two trembling lips. It’s clear she’s not a child. Not exactly. Ten years old, eleven maybe.

I hear footsteps making their way up the hall. From above I search for their source, but I’ve turned my head too quickly, and with a sickening sensation I’m tumbling, falling toward the girl.

I blink. And blink again. Now I look out through her eyes, seeing what she sees. Feeling what she feels. And she’s afraid. Looking out through her eyes, I can tell they’re swollen, the tears chilling her face. A man walks toward her. A man I know. I’m sure I know him. I just . . . Who is he?

I can’t place him here in another’s mind.

“You’re safe,” he says.

He’s handsome. Tall, lanky. Like a basketball player. His hair is light and it looks soft—even his mustache. But the girl is embarrassed. I feel the shame as if it were my own. Her shirt is burnt through; charred holes gape open, exposing her back and stomach. She crosses her arms over her chest and stares up at the man.

“My mom’s dead, isn’t she?” The words strike a melancholy chord in my heart. I know what it’s like to be motherless, and if it’s true, I don’t envy this girl.

The man crouches before her and takes her face in his long, thin hand. He moves his fingers lightly over her forehead and cheeks, brushing away the ash and dirt that remain. He’s gentle, and she needs gentle.

“I believe she is, yes.” I feel the sob swelling in her stomach, expanding her ribs. “But you’re not,” he says, cupping her chin. “You were lucky.”

She doesn’t want to cry in front of this man, but she can’t help it and the sob rips free. “She pulled me out. I can’t believe she pulled me out.”

“Yes,” he says, his words silk. “And I’m so very glad. Your grandfather would never recover if he lost you both tonight.”

Her eyes turn to the room at the end of the hall. The door is open a crack, tipping a sliver of light onto the Venetian rug. Whatever’s in that room scares her. Every second that door holds her attention, her fear grows, her legs catching the tremors that have already claimed her arms. She leans closer to the man before her.

“Is he bad, my grandfather?”

The man looks affronted, his blond brows raised, his eyes wide. “Why would you ask such a question?”

“Mama told me never to be alone with him. She hates him,” the girl says, another sob snagging her voice. “Hated him, I mean.”

The man’s face relaxes, and now he looks almost curious. It’s this curiosity that worries me. “Do you think he’s bad?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything about him. After Daddy died, Mama kept me away. I haven’t seen him in years.”

The man tilts his head, the chandelier above throwing triangles of dimmed light onto his face. For the briefest of seconds, she considers just how reptilian the shadows make this handsome man look. She’s not wrong. With that long, thin neck and those dark eyes, he looks very snake-like. But he leans closer and the light shifts, and the thought flees the girl’s mind.

“Your grandfather loves you,” he says. “You needn’t worry.”

But I catch something in the words he’s not spoken, something evasive that the girl notices too. His answer’s not good enough for her, so she asks again.

“But does he . . . does he hurt kids?”

The man rolls back on his heels, and the reptilian triangles return. He says nothing, his face passive under the lights.

“He does, doesn’t he?” She sobs again.

It’s a sob I didn’t feel coming, and it jars me. It must have taken the girl by surprise as well, because she bites her lip and the bawling stops.

“I don’t have anyone else,” she says. “There’s nowhere else to go.”

The man runs his thumb over his mustache, one side at a time.

“What if I told you that I could protect you from him?”

There’s a hardness in his dark eyes, but it doesn’t scare the girl. She sees strength in it. My eyes follow hers as she considers how muscled this tall, lean man is. He could be her protector, she thinks. She hasn’t had one since her daddy died. He could be her knight in shining armor.

Warning bells sound in my mind, but my silent cautions do not reach the girl.

“Could you?” she asks. “Could you protect me?”

He takes her chin between his crooked forefinger and thumb, sending a thrill through her ten-year-old body. A thrill like she’s never felt before. It’s strange and confusing amidst the grief.

“Would you like that?” he asks.

“Yes,” she says, her voice reduced to a murmur. “Please.”

“You really are very pretty,” he says. “Do you know that?”

Her heart flips at the flattery. “The boys at school think so.”

I want to scream and shake her. I want to force her away from this man and his charming words.

“I’ll bet they do.”

He releases her face and pulls her up as he stands. “What would you say to a partnership?”

“You want me to be your partner?”

“I’d like that very much.” His voice is lower now. Seductive. Enticing. “I can protect you from your grandfather easily enough. But I bet there are things you can help me with.”

“Like with grandfather’s company?”

He rubs his thumb against her hand, the dirt there chafing. “Something like that.”

For the first time I can feel the anxiety brewing in her gut. She doesn’t understand what she’s agreeing to, and she’s anxious to have her hand back.

“Okay,” she says, discreetly trying to tug her arm from his grip.

“Okay.” Before she can free her hand, he flips it palm up and drags three fingers along the soft, milky skin of her forearm. It’s cold. So very cold, and she cries out. His other hand is quick, covering her mouth and pressing her head against the wall. I feel the pain shoot through her crown and down her neck. His dark eyes are as hard as ever, and for the first time she shares my terror.

And then it’s done. The pain fades and she stops struggling, stops screaming into his palm.

“I’m sorry I had to do that,” he says, pulling his hand away. “But I don’t want you to forget.”

Tears and snot run down her face. “To forget what?”

“Our partnership.” The smile he’d been liberal with before is gone, his lips a tight line. “You won’t forget, will you?”

Before she can answer, the door to her grandfather’s study opens. The man before her steps to the side, giving her a view of her grandfather. He follows two police officers into the hall, a cane draped over his right arm.

“I am so very sorry about your mother, child,” her grandfather says. His face is shadow, the light behind him catching the flyaway strands on his balding head. “I know you’ll miss her terribly, but you’ll be safe here. I promise. Come, let us find you a room.”

Turmoil sloshes around in her stomach, making both of us ill. She thinks about what her mama said. That her grandfather hurts little children. That he’s the worst of the worst.

Three gray scars sit side by side on her forearm, like rivers of ice under her skin. They don’t hurt anymore, not like the burns she has on her calf and ankle, and she makes a decision. She clasps a hand over her forearm.

“I won’t forget,” she whispers to the man next to her.

He slides a long arm around her shoulders, pressing her tight to his chest.

“I’ll find her a room,” he says.

Her grandfather waves a hand. “Yes, that’d be fine. Put her on my floor, will you?”

The girl’s knees lose their strength, but the man steadies her, keeping her close. “The room next to mine will suit her better, I think. Closer to the restroom, closer to the stairs. Has a balcony. What do you say, sweetheart, would you like a balcony?”

Her mouth is dry, her lips cracked from the flames. “Yes, I—I think I’d like that, Javan.”

Javan!

Through the girl’s eyes, I sneak a look at the old man once again. At the cane trembling on his arm. My glance is brief before her eyes are slammed shut, but I’ve seen enough to know the girl’s fear is not in vain. I’ve watched this man try to buy children. I’ve watched him laugh at the terror leaking from their tiny frames.

Henry Madison.

I’m flailing, I know I am. Trying to get out of this girl’s head, out of this nightmare. I finally succeed in opening my eyes, but it’s Javan’s ghastly celestial form that stares back at me. The gaunt face, blackened skin stretched over it, dead black eyes. They swallow me whole and I scream out, finally wrenching myself upright.

The warm light of the old Miller place greets my frantic form. Jake’s just inches from my face, his arms around mine, holding me still. Marco’s sitting in the arm chair across from me, his eyes wide, his face white.

“Hey, hey. You’re all right.”

I’m slick with sweat, my hands shaking. Like the girl’s. The girl in Javan’s care. We have to do something. I will my eyes to focus and turn them on Jake. He has a scratch on his neck, and his eye is red and swelling fast.

“Did I do that?” I say, reaching for his face.

“It’s fine,” he says, taking my hands and pressing them between his. “What was that?”

His touch brings me back to the now, to the reality of where I am.

“Nightmare,” I say. “I had a nightmare.”

Jake’s eyes are asking all kinds of questions, but it’s the statement that escapes Marco’s lips that demands attention.

“You said Henry.”

I roll my neck, leaning back against the couch. “Did I? I don’t . . . He was there. In my dream, my nightmare.”

“Does he always visit your nightmares?” Marco asks, leaning forward in the chair, his hands clenching the cushion.

I glance at Jake, but he looks as confused as I feel. “No. Never before. Why?”

“Because I dream about that monster every night.”





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