Authors: Alicia Buck
I would like to dedicate this book to my family, who put up with reading painfully small increments of my story every week but kept enthusiastically asking for more anyway. Thanks to Jan Hirschi for her initial edit, as well as to Valerie Buck for subsequent edits. They helped me so much, and my book wouldn’t be even half as good without them. I want to especially thank my husband who was my constant sounding board throughout the whole story process. Nothing would have been possible without his support.
© 2010 Alicia Buck
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination, and are not to be construed as real.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form whatsoever, whether by graphic, visual, electronic, film, microfilm, tape recording, or any other means, without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief passages embodied in critical reviews and articles.
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-59955-821-9
Published by Bonneville Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc.
2373 W. 700 S., Springville, UT, 84663
Distributed by Cedar Fort, Inc., www.cedarfort.com
Cover design by Angela D. Olsen
Cover design © 2010 by Lyle Mortimer
Edited and typeset by Heidi Doxey
was falling, crashing through golden light so bright that even with my eyes closed my eyelids lit up like a movie screen. My elbow ricocheted off the brilliance, sending a piercing zing through my arm and snowballing my body into a wild spin. There was no way to tell whether I was dropping or being propelled forward like a bullet down the barrel of a gun. I slapped and spun, nauseated and bruised. What did I care? She was gone. Taken. My world, consisting once of just me and Mom, had crumbled, and I was willing to do anything to snatch it back, even mimic the frightening conjuration I had seen him create before he vanished.
flipped the page in the magazine Joe had left at our house and shook my head. Why a cop with the temperament of a pit bull would be interested in movie stars mystified me. Mom came over from the kitchen to squeeze in by my side, granola bar in hand.
“This baffles me.” She hit the pages of the magazine with the granola bar, and crumbs fell on my lap. I glared, but she smiled, her cheeks dimpling and her eyebrows raised mischievously. I couldn’t resist her—I laughed. Mom’s blonde curls mingled with my straight dark brown hair, her pale face leaned in next to my dusky olive cheek to see the pictures more easily, and we chuckled together over how obsessed some people were with the detail of actors’ lives.
There was a sharp rap on the door, and then Joe walked through the entryway without waiting for an answer. My body tensed. Mom felt me stiffen and smiled nervously before prying herself from the chair to give Joe a hug.
“What a nice surprise. I didn’t expect you until tonight,” she said happily, if somewhat warily.
“I got off work early. Is there some reason I should have called ahead?” His voice sharpened with insinuation.
Mom’s shoulders hunched. She seemed to shrink from her confident height of five-five to just five feet. “I said it was nice,” she said in a small voice.
“Well, I know.” His shoulders relaxed, and he switched from sullenness to blustery mirth. Mom breathed out a sigh while I hunched deeper into the easy chair.
“Joe, I meant to ask you. Mary and I have looked all over the studio and through the other rooms, but we can’t find that painting I did of the girl playing in the sand. Have you seen it lately?” She looked around the living room as if the painting would suddenly appear.
Joe slid his eyes sideways and then snapped, “How should I know?”
“No reason.” Mom backed off quickly. “I was just hoping you could help me. You know how I misplace things, but I need to find it soon. That buyer I told you about wanted the painting before the end of the week.”
I gritted my teeth, galled to see Mom go from careless joy to insecure wariness, but that was nothing new when it came to Mom and her boyfriends.
“I’ve been working all day. I don’t want to spend hours going through this mess for one painting.” Joe’s eyes were slits, but I thought his exasperation seemed fake. I looked around our tidy living room with the neatly stacked canvases and snorted. He shot a glare my way.
Mom retreated again. “You don’t have to help if you don’t feel like it. I’m sure Mary and I will find it.” I gripped the magazine tightly, struggling to keep in my angry words.
Joe narrowed his eyes at me, but before he could comment about me wrinkling his favorite magazine, the phone rang. Mom picked it up just as Joe reached for the receiver.
“Fiona Underwood speaking,” she answered brightly with a nervous look at Joe. Both Joe and I watched as Mom’s concerned look faded. She flicked a quick glance down to the floor and then back toward Joe before turning slightly away. “Yes. Is that so? I see. No, no, thank you for calling me. I appreciate it. Good-bye.” She returned the phone to the receiver slowly but didn’t turn back immediately.
“Who was that?” Joe demanded.
“That was Arthur Stippens. The buyer I was just talking about.”
Joe stiffened, his look turning belligerent.
“Where’s my money, Joe?” she asked softly, her eyes full of betrayal.
My mouth dropped open, but Joe’s hostility didn’t dissipate. His shoulders cocked back. “I try to do you a favor, and this is how you thank me?”
Mom looked uncertain. I was afraid she would fold, so I blurted, “Then why didn’t you tell Mom about what you’d done when she asked where her painting was?”
He glared at me before turning back to Mom with a big smile. “I wanted to surprise you tonight, but fine, I’ll just give you the money now.” He pulled out his wallet and handed over four hundred dollars.
Mom’s eyes stayed on the money in her hand for several moments before she looked up. She flicked her gaze to my tense face and must have seen something there that swayed her.
“Where’s the rest of it?” Her voice was firm.
“That’s it.” Joe smiled, but his voice was hard. I watched to see if Mom would back down, but her eyes didn’t drop.
“Arthur said he paid one thousand dollars, so give me the rest.”
“You couldn’t have gotten a thousand for it, and you know it,” he snarled.
“You’re right. I wasn’t going to get one thousand. Mary negotiated one thousand two hundred.” She spoke softly but firmly. “That’s our money. Give me the six hundred dollars, and then I think you’d better go.”
A vein on Joe’s neck pulsed angrily as he clenched his fists. I sat on the edge of the chair, ready to spring if he made so much as an aggressive gesture toward Mom. His fists uncurled and his lips turned up in a cocky hook. “No, I don’t think I will.” He folded his arms and leaned against the wall. “You’re making a big deal out of nothing. I was just helping you.”
“You didn’t have my permission to sell my painting, and you weren’t going to tell me about it or give me the money. You are not the man I thought you were. Please just go.”
“I didn’t need your permission. We’re a couple. Couples share things.”
“Please leave now.” Her voice wavered, but her chin didn’t drop.
Joe took a step forward, and Mom started trembling. I dropped the magazine and rose from the chair to move next to her. Joe stood up straight, but I was still a good three inches taller than his five-seven frame.
He cast a challenging glance at me before edging around to Mom’s unprotected side. He twined his fingers through her smooth blonde hair. “Or what, you’ll call the police? I don’t think you’re quite getting the picture here. I’m a cop. All my friends are cops. What do you think will happen if you call the station?” He twirled his finger around a lock of Mom’s hair.
I wanted to punch the air right out of him and stepped forward, but Mom touched my arm.
Joe gave me a mocking look before he continued. “My friend Benny will answer the phone. I’ve told him about you. He agrees that family problems should be kept in the family.” He jerked on the hair in his fingers, and it ripped out. She let out a whimper, and I could see a new fear in her eyes.
I snapped. I hadn’t taken ten years of karate for nothing. My vision narrowed until the room disappeared and all I could see were the buttons of Joe’s shirt. All I could think of was my desire to hit him so hard that his solid body would defy gravity and fly. A flash of golden lace lit up behind my eyes. Then there was a click inside my brain as the image shifted slightly, changing somehow. I connected with his abdomen, and Joe flew. He smashed into the wall eight feet away.
Mom and I gazed at him, stunned. I’d heard of extreme situations giving people unusual strength, but my blow had flung him almost the entire length of the room. It reminded me of action movies where they use wires to yank the stuntman off the ground to make the hero’s hit more impressive.
The golden light behind my eyes wasn’t really new. Gold was always popping up at the edge of my vision when I looked at things slantwise, but I’d never felt that click before, that shift. Mom and I stood in a stupor. I looked at my arm and knew that it wasn’t capable of such power.
Despite the force of the blow, Joe rolled to his feet more quickly than I would have expected. He was a cop, after all. I guessed he was used to getting knocked around. He bulldozed across the room straight for my gut. I wrenched myself to the side and tripped him with his own momentum.
My nerves buzzed with adrenaline and fear. I didn’t know if I should hit him while he was down or grab Mom and run. Then Joe sprang to his feet, hatred smoldering in his eyes.
“You’ll pay for that,” he snarled.
My heart bucked in my chest. I watched his body closely for what he might do next. He lunged with a left jab, and my arm moved to block, almost before I could think about what I was doing. Gold blazed in my skull in a web work of lines. Then something inside shifted, and I punched. The air whooshed out of Joe, and he sailed across the room. He crashed into the wall and slid to the ground, breathing raggedly. I dared a glance at Mom and saw her backed against a corner, hand over her mouth. Her eyes flicked fearfully beyond me, and she made a small squeak. I turned to see Joe on his feet across the room, pointing a gun at my head.
“I should shoot you right now. If it weren’t for . . .” He trailed off and suddenly looked fearful before recovering his sneer. “Don’t ever try that again, girl, and stay out of my business from now on.” He shoved off from the wall. The show of languid nonchalance was ruined, however, by a wince of pain. “I need a drink. I’ll be back later.” He paused by the door to grab another one of my Mom’s paintings. “Don’t do anything stupid, or I promise I’ll hear about it.”
Mom rushed to my side as soon as the door clicked shut, and I noticed for the first time that she was clutching a heavy paperweight in one hand. “Are you hurt?” she asked.
“No, I’m okay.” Tears rolled down her face. We held each other for awhile in shock. She cried herself out while I fumed. The strangeness of what I had done made me uneasy, so I concentrated on my anger.