Authors: Riley Sinclair
Return to Me
Copyright © 2013 Riley Sinclair
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser. This is a work of fiction. All characters, places, businesses, and incidents are from the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual places, people, or events is purely coincidental. Any trademarks mentioned herein are not authorized by the trademark owners and do not in any way mean the work is sponsored by or associated with the trademark owners. Any trademarks used are specifically in a descriptive capacity. Cover Imaging: ImageryMajestic, Nutakit 2013.
A single lamp stood guard in the silk and lace bedchamber, its fragile glow fighting a losing battle against the gloom that permeated the room like a living breathing monster. Paige reached out to touch the gilded edge, long fingers curling around smooth metal, seeking any comfort to be had from its cool brass exterior.
The light tipped toward the bed and for a breath catching moment
the shadows gathered deeper, pressing ever closer-threatening to choke the life from her. Fresh water pearls clanked together at the ends of their fringed strings, tinkering as she swung the lamp from one end of the room to the other, brandishing the antique like a broadsword in a battle, throwing light into the corners and stamping down the ever present fear that was never far from the usually quiet recesses of her mind.
"Damn Paige- you almost brained me with that thing!"
"Oh! Hailey! You scared me!" Paige beat a hasty retreat, wincing as she watched her friend struggle for composure. "I guess I scared you too." She caught her bottom lip between her teeth.
"A lunatic almost whacking me in the head with a table lamp? Why would that scare me?" She quipped. "Ah...Paige?"
"Would you mind putting that thing down?"
"Sorry." The lamp made an audible thud as she plunked it back into its rightful place. "I thought you were asleep." She offered the dual explanation/apology with slumped shouldered guilt.
"Sleep? Who can sleep with all that tossing and turning you were doing?"
"I can’t sleep." Paige shrugged, smothering a sigh. The last thing she wanted at the moment was a pity party.
"I gathered as much." Hailey cracked. "Are you okay?" She continued, her usual snarky tone changing to one of open concern.
"So why all the heavy breathing? Don’t tell me," The perky blonde teased, her voice catching a little as she bounced onto the bed. "You were having a hot dream."
"I wish." She smirked, edging closer to the bedside table.
"Pick up that lamp again and I'll be forced to tackle you." Hailey warned, only half in jest.
"I'm making room for you." Paige was offended. "I take it this is your oh so subtle way of kicking me out of my own space?"
"You've got that right
, Peaches. Sleeping on the floor by your bed is proving hazardous to my health."
"You do realize this house had eight bedrooms."
"Don’t make me move, Paige." She whined. "I'm tired."
"Oh, fine." Paige grumbled, snatching a pillow and blanket from the overstuffed bed. "I'll sleep on the floor."
"You could sleep in one of the other six available beds in this house, you know."
"No. They're creepy."
“Suit yourself, but you’ll probably be sore in the morning.”
Paige was attuned enough with
Hailey to know she was shrugging her shoulders and rolling over, wrapping herself in the blanket like a human pastry. She didn’t need light to see these actions; Hailey was nothing if not predictable. In fact, Paige sometimes thought her friend to be dependable in her very undependable nature. She never meant to let anyone down, Paige was certain, but Hailey was the sort of person that some may have unflatteringly termed ‘flighty’.
Paige had always thought of the girl as spontaneous and just a little bit wild. She dressed on the edge of fashion, most of the time she swore when s
he spoke, and her hair and make-up were usually done to the nines in some hot extreme or the other.
She was consistently mistaken for a much older girl. Sometimes Paige wondered why the outgoing, bold golden girl had chosen her as a friend and confidant. Hailey was one of the most popular girls in her school, if rumor could be believed.
Paige wasn’t there to see that aspect of her best friends life, since she herself went to an all-girls school on the East coast. But whenever she was home during breaks and holidays, it was impossible not to notice how Hailey was always surrounded by a group of boys and, more often than not, grown men. Both the high school seniors and the college boys and the ones who sported five o’clock shadow and more mature mannerisms and dress made Paige equally discomfited.
To say she knew next to nothing about men, never mind the fragile inner workings that made up relationships between the sexes would have been the understatement of the century. Much to her humiliation, and Hailey’s exasperation, Paige had
thus far shown little interest in changing her ignorance of matters of the heart. She was, however, well versed in what passed as loving interaction in her own household; her parent’s particular brand of apathy had been a hard act to follow and as far as seventeen year old Paige was concerned, she’d just as soon not even try.
With one year left till graduation, her plans were set in stone, at least for the moment. Like most teenage girls, she had charted the course for her future a long time ago. Also typical of youth, her sole reason for existence was to get the hell out of her house and the sooner the better.
Unlike most teenage girls that Paige was acquainted with, she had a very good reason for wanting to put her hometown firmly behind her. Denmari hated her and the feeling went beyond mutual; she sometimes wondered how much emotion one person was capable of bearing before…before what? It was a question Paige considered more often than was probably healthy.
Before what indeed
, she drew methodic, invisible circles in the smooth polished wood of her bedroom floor and turned the ugly thoughts over and over in her mind. Until bad things happened, she finally decided, though she wasn’t quite sure what
She hated her step-father, really and truly despised the man, but for all the anger that churned within her slight frame, she was deathly afraid of the man who held her sole guardianship in his swarthy hands-and more often than not-over her head. In a way, that made her rage burn that much brighter, because she wandered through her days hiding behind a smile that, over the years, had worn too thin to be wholly convincing; most days she felt like a caged animal.
Hailey wouldn’t have understood what it was like to live in this cold tower with its glass walls; Paige sighed, turning away from her friend in the too-dark bedroom and trying once more to get comfortable enough to sleep. Sometimes she wished to be more like her outgoing friend; it was hard not to be around someone like Hailey for any true length of time and not be affected in some way, shape, or form by such boundless energy, such effervescence.
But Paige very much feared she just didn’t have it in her. She was happiest when she was alone, wandering through nearby forest preserves or listening to music through an old pair of headphones in her room. That and the good grades she always managed to bring home had pretty much doomed any chance she may have had at being popular.
The whole bubbly thing didn’t work for her and she wasn’t accustomed to taking risks like Hailey. Then there was the indisputable fact that Denmari would have probably killed her by now if she’d dared to get into half the trouble that Hailey always seemed to be knee deep in. Admit it, Paige silently told herself,
you’re quiet and reserved and just a little on the shy side
. She knew it was all true. Hell, everyone knew it was true and that it was unlikely to change anytime soon.
Her mother had been a quiet sort of woman too, Paige reflected, huffing out an icy breath and shifting deeper into her covers. Layna Frey had been a real lady, mostly silent and always reserved but not afraid of her own shadow or prone to socially awkward moments the way she herself was, Paige thought
dismally, though more than once she had wondered if strength or stupidity had been the driving force behind Layna’s marriage to Denmari.
The plain speaking Italian had come into their lives when Paige was a young child, a scant year and a half after a freeway accident had torn the Frey family apart and left Layna the widowed single mother of a confused, heartbroken little girl.
Maybe Denmari had been charming once upon a long,
time ago. Paige had been too young to say for sure but she thought he must have been, since her mother had made the life changing decision to marry the rough edged Sicilian native.
they hadn’t been hurting for money; her aviator father left his wife and child fairly well off and Layna was the last living member of the Kellerman family-the only child of an investment banker and a couture jewelry designer. From what Paige had been told, Grandma and Grandpa Kellerman had possessed more money than God.
Layna Frey had inherited a fortune before she’d ever tied the knot the first time around. Not surprising was the fact that Denmari had been in charge of everything since her mother’s untimely death.
Paige was pretty sure there wasn’t much left. Between Denmari’s love of Cuban cigars and gold jewelry, Paige was certain he was burning through the Frey fortune at a rapid pace. Not that she cared, not anymore.
She was going to go back to school after Easter Sunday had come and gone and she was going to start her senior year-finally. And then, once she had walked across that stage in her orange and silver cap and gown, she was never going to set foot in the city of Helena, Montana ever again. Why should she? There was nothing here for her, except maybe Hailey and Erik.
She frowned for a second before deciding that if they didn’t want to go away with her, then she could always visit them. Either way would work just as well. But Paige intended to get the hell out of dodge as soon as she was legally able to do so.
She knew she had a college fund that Denmari hadn’t been able to touch all of these years; it would be enough to see her through four years of schooling and maybe even afford her an extra or two, like a used car and cell phone. She would come back home the day she graduated and stay long enough to pack a bag and purchase a bus ticket and Denmari could have the whole damn house and everything in it for all she cared.
She was going to leave and never look back and maybe, in time, she would forget all about Montana and her momma’s bruises, and her loss…and fear. She would live without the constant nagging fear and oppression and she would love every second of her new existence. Maybe she would even get married someday. Just one more year until her life began…
The incandescent pre-dawn hours of not-quite-night-not-yet morning had been Paige’s favorite part of the day for as long as she could recall. When her mother had been alive, the two of them had been in the habit of rising early to greet the day.
Layna would never have expected her six year old daughter to be up before the sun, but that’s just what happened; despite initial encouragement to go back to sleep for a little bit, Paige would rub the sleep from her wide brown eyes and hel
p her mom begin breakfast.
Over the next few years, before death had stolen Layna away, Paige had enjoyed long, quiet pearl gray mornings puttering around the house with her mother. Not even Layna’s marriage to Denmari had been able to alter the tradition; in a way, Paige supposed that death had also failed to break t
heir routine, since years later she still made it a point to race the sunrise to the finish line.
Most of the time, Paige acc
omplished nothing more substantial than drinking a glass of juice of sipping a cup of tea, on the front porch if the weather was good, her thin legs swinging back and forth against the faded wood deck while she chipped at the white paint on the porch swing.
Her mother would have chastised her for being destructive, had she still been alive to do so, Paige knew, watching a particularly large chunk of paint fall to the wooden deck floor. Denmari wasn’t likely to notice and even if he did, she seriously doubted that he would care enough to mention it to her.