Read Devil's Lake (Bittersweet Hollow Book 1) Online

Authors: Aaron Paul Lazar

Tags: #prisoner, #Vermont, #woods, #love, #payback, #Suspense, #kidnapped, #cabin, #Baraboo, #taken, #horses, #abducted, #abuse, #Wisconsin, #revenge, #thriller, #Mystery, #morgans, #lost love

Devil's Lake (Bittersweet Hollow Book 1)

BOOK: Devil's Lake (Bittersweet Hollow Book 1)
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Devil’s Lake

 

By Aaron Paul Lazar

 

 

Devil’s Lake

 

This is a work of fiction. All concepts, characters and events portrayed in this book are used fictitiously and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Aaron Paul Lazar.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except brief extracts for the purpose of review, without the permission of the publisher and copyright owner.

 

First Edition, July, 2014

Cover art by Kellie Dennis

 

Published in the United States of America.

 

Cover Art by Kellie Dennis at Book Cover by Design

www.bookcoverbydesign.co.uk

 

Dedication

 

To the women kidnapped and held hostage for ten years by that monster in Cleveland, Ohio. No names will be used to protect their privacy, but you know who you are. I pray you are able to heal and enjoy life again. The decent people of this world are so very sorry that this fiend took you, exerted control over you, and stole so many years from you. God bless you all.

 

PART I

Home

Chapter 1

 

P
ortia hauled on the wheel and dragged the old truck around a sharp corner, wincing when the engine popped and belched black smoke. The beat-up Chevy had been running rough since she left the highway an hour ago.

Come on, keep going. Just a few more miles.

Dust clouds marked her progress along the dirt road. She glanced in the rear view mirror for the millionth time, expecting to see the police chasing her.

Or
him
.

Tears streaked her cheeks, and she hiccupped a few sobs. She’d been weeping all the way from Wisconsin and felt dry, as if she had no more tears to shed. Of course, that was insane. She’d probably cry all day, every day for the rest of her life.

Around yet another corner, and Cupcake slid toward her, scrabbling toenails on the vinyl seat. She steadied the little mutt, who snuggled close to her, blinking round black eyes.

“Sorry, baby.” Her voice cracked, roughened from all the crying.

Cupcake leaned into Portia, nuzzling under her arm.

She stroked the dog’s soft white ears. “Good girl. You’re my good little dog.”

She’d stolen the mongrel and the truck when she escaped—was it really only two days ago? Hurriedly thrusting her little friend into the front seat, she’d roared away from the cabin.

When she’d emerged from the woods in the old Chevy, bleary-eyed and shaken, completely disoriented, she’d followed the dusty road toward a village, where a row of eclectic stores lined both sides of a narrow street. In search of directions, she stumbled into the first gas station she could find.

There she was. Hungry. Weary. Traumatized. Skinny as a twelve-year-old boy. And the store clerk hadn’t even given her a second glance. He’d pointed down the road in the direction of the highway, and had gone right back to texting without meeting her eyes.

Glancing into the rear view mirror, filled with irrational fear, again she half-expected to see him chasing her.

She forced herself to relax.

Just calm the hell down.

Sighing, she patted Cupcake with her free hand.  “We just need to get home. That’s all.”

Home.

Internally, the need to scream clawed at her. Somehow, she stifled it and told herself she’d be there soon.

As if welcoming her, the Green Mountains surged into the clouds in the background, guarding the rolling hills of the valley where her family’s farm nestled in the hollow.

Oh, how she’d dreamed of this day.

Two long years. Two years of wishing. Of wanting. Of daring to hope.

She hiccupped another sob.

Bittersweet Hollow
. She’d desperately yearned for it, picturing her mother’s kind face, the smell of her bread baking in the oven. She’d imagined her father quietly helping to deliver a new foal and the scent of fresh pine shavings on his wool shirt. She remembered leaning into his broad chest, feeling so safe. So protected.

Every night, she repeated the farm name as a mantra before sleep, after the man tied her to the bedposts. The memories of her parents had comforted her then, and the thought of coming home filled her with a twisty sense of near-maniacal joy.

Her heart slammed against her ribs, quickening with every milestone she recognized.

Almost there.

Portia peered through the dusty windshield, savoring the view of the mountains that rose from the undulating wheat fields and indigo blue foothills in the distance. The scent of fresh-mown alfalfa entered the cab, prompting sweet memories of her childhood. The road dipped into the valley—affectionately called The Hollow by locals—into the protected basin cradled by hills on one side and mountains on the other.

Cupcake raised her head, sniffing the air.

“We’re almost home, baby.”

The dog licked Portia’s outstretched hand.

“When we get there, you can run free.”

Her voice shook, and she realized her words came fast—too fast, really. She’d been holding herself together like a cracked vase hastily glued to hide the broken shards and missing pieces. She knew she’d break apart soon, but if she could just make it a few more miles…

The scruffy dog sat up on her haunches, balancing like a circus dog, sticking her nose out the partially opened window.

They rolled around the last bend. There it was!

A surge of shuddering joy passed through Portia. They drove under an archway made from twining grapevines that reached out to twist together from both sides of the road. Beneath the natural arch, a rustic sign hung, swaying in the faint breeze, proclaiming a welcome to
Bittersweet Hollow, a Morgan Horse Farm
. Beneath the name in dark blue script:
Dirk and Daisy Lamont, Proprietors
. Orange berries adorned the edges of the sign, celebrating the farm’s namesake, the beautiful but dangerous berries that filled the woods and burst into vibrant color in the fall.

In the distance, several barns emerged, flanked by emerald pastures encircled with expansive rectangles of white post and board fences. Dozens of horses populated the acreage, with coats ranging from blazing red chestnut to bright bay to dark seal brown. In his own separate paddock, her family’s black stallion, Mirage, raised his head and trotted to the fence near the driveway. He stood proud and strong, his long curly mane rippling in the breeze.

In spite of the lingering pall of darkness, Portia’s heart swelled with uncontrolled exhilaration. After all this time of wanting, wishing, and yearning for The Hollow.

 Finally, she was home.

***

Boone Hawke watched the old Chevy truck rumbling toward him along the driveway, spewing a trail of smoke. He straightened, wiped his brow with a blue bandana, and stepped closer to the open hayloft door. Another customer, horse hunting? He couldn’t assume they had no money because they drove an old wreck. It wasn’t unusual for good old Vermont stock to keep their vehicles until they rattled to the junkyard and died. In spite of their frugal ways, they still valued horses and would spend good money on a well-bred mount. He figured if he could sell one of the young mares today, he’d put cash in Dirk and Daisy Lamont’s bank account for when they came home.

If they came home.

It hadn’t been easy taking care of his neighbors’ horses while they were gone, especially in the winter. One month turned to two. Two months became four. Now it had been six months since they left.

The checks they sent to keep the farm running had been just about enough for expenses, but he’d had to pitch in from his own farm’s funds on occasion when the Lamonts’ tractor broke, or when the barn roof needed patching. He didn’t want to add to their troubles, so he kept a ledger of his expenses and figured he’d pay himself back the next time a horse sold. The poor people had already been through enough, what with losing their eldest daughter to God-knows-what and now with Daisy’s illness.

With a grunt, he lifted and tossed the last hay bale onto a pile that almost reached the roof peak. He straightened, dusted off his hands, and started down the wooden ladder. Swiping at his unruly blond hair, he summoned a smile and ambled out into the sunlight.

 

Chapter 2

 

P
ortia parked in back of the barn to hide the truck. Her heart pounded, and sweat popped on her brow.

Cupcake danced in the seat, her eyes sparkling with excitement. She put her front paws on the door and barked, a surprisingly low-pitched sound for such a small dog.

With a shuddering sigh, Portia thrust open her door. “Okay, baby. We’re getting out.”

For one frozen moment, she watched the little dog scamper to the grass beneath a large oak. And then, released from bondage, Portia burst from the truck as if being chased by the Devil himself, heading for the kitchen door.

“Mom? Dad!” She pounded up the steps, sobbing again, tripping over her own feet. “I’m home,” she screamed.

“Mom!” Yanking open the screen door, she crashed into the kitchen. “Dad?”

Tears streaked her cheeks, and she darted into the living room, searching for her parents. “Mom, where are you?”

Like a tornado on a rampage, she raced from room to room, finding no one. Up the stairs, two at a time. At the top, she had to stop to catch her breath.

“Mom? Are you up here?”

Dashing from along the hall, she ran again, sobbing harder now. “Where are you guys?”

As she left her parents’ bedroom, someone grabbed her from behind. She screamed when he pinned her elbows to her side.

“God damn it, let me go,” she wailed, trying to jab the man who held her tight in his locked arms.

“Stop struggling,” a rough voice commanded. “And tell me what you’re doing here.”

She collapsed to the floor, pulling away from him until she backed up to the wall. “Get away from me,” she cried. “What are you doing in my parents’ house?

The man jumped back. He leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed, peering at her from under a shaggy mass of wheat-colored hair. “What? Your parents?”

She looked up at him, wiping her cheeks. “I live here, you moron.”

Light dawned in his dark gray eyes. “Wait one damned minute.” He moved closer, bending down. “Portia?” His face drained of color. “Oh, God. Is it really you?”

She pulled aside a curtain of dark copper hair. “Yes. It’s me. Question is,” she said, with as much defiance as she could muster in her tear-drenched voice. “Question is, who the hell are you? And where are my folks?”

“Hold on now. Let me explain.” He crouched closer to her. “Don’t you recognize me?”

Portia stared at the hulking man. He vaguely resembled the boy from the neighboring dairy farm.

They’d ridden the hills together ages ago, when he was just eighteen and she was fifteen.
Ten years.
He must be twenty-eight now. No wonder she hadn’t recognized his face. She hadn’t seen him much after he went off to agricultural college, and by the time he came home again to run his family’s dairy farm, she’d left for college. “Boone?”

 “It’s me.” He offered her a hand, but she pulled hers away.

Slowly, she stood, putting a hand to her brow. “Now, tell me. Where the hell are my folks?”

***

Boone stared at the woman who hunkered before him like a ghost from the past, her copper hair glistening in the light shining through the bedroom window. She looked thin, and very pale, unlike the robust teenager he’d known years ago. And very unlike the photo in all the posters he’d helped her parents plaster across the county.

She must’ve lost forty pounds.

“I can’t believe it,” he whispered. “It’s really you.”

She nodded, but didn’t smile. “It’s me.” Her voice quavered as if she’d break down any minute.

“Geez, what
happened
to you?” He stepped toward her and almost took her arm, but she jerked away from him.

“Please. Don’t touch me.”

A sense of dread filled him. Heat rose to his cheeks. “I…” He hesitated. “I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just…we’ve been searching for you, for so damned long.”

A flash of anger filled her eyes, and she stood up. “Right. And you never found me.” She crossed her arms. “One more time. Where are my folks?” She choked out the words and lost her balance. Stumbling toward the wall, she leaned on it to steady herself.

BOOK: Devil's Lake (Bittersweet Hollow Book 1)
4.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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