Revised excerpt from: Stolen Innocence – Book One in the Becoming Elena Series.

 

Prologue

 

For Fifteen years, Elena’s life had been better — had been as close to perfect as she was allowed to have. She’d let go of her past and had embraced her present, had accepted who she was. She’d liked the person she’d become.

It had all been because of him.

Now she found herself leaning against the wall, wondering how she was still on her feet. The world was a cruel, cruel place and she had first-hand knowledge of that. Everything had come crashing down around her with no way of fixing it — not this time.

She’d been in love — as much as she was capable of feeling that foreign emotion. Maybe that wasn’t what it was. It could very well have been need. But even if it was need, that was so much stronger an emotion than she normally felt. Elena wasn’t a fool — she knew to care for anyone was extraordinary. It was even greater to have them care for her. She fell down to the floor, her legs no longer holding her up.

He had been hers for so long she wasn’t sure she could live without him. In a ball she laid there. Not too many people knew her story. She’d covered it up well, was respected, owned a business, and had a husband — not that he was worth mentioning.

Those she was closest to would be shocked by her choices in life. They wouldn’t care there was a reason she was who she was. They would just hate her — call her a monster — call her a whore. One of the few women she’d actually called friend had discovered her most coveted secret this very night — had walked into the room while Elena had been begging her previous lover to take her back.

The woman — her friend — had vanquished her from her life and the life of her son though he was a grown man and could have chosen to stay with her. But even if her friend hadn’t vanquished her, his girlfriend, who claimed to love him, had already done so. The money-greedy bitch. She couldn’t love him like Elena did. She didn’t understand him — didn’t have a clue how to handle the pain he’d suffered.

Elena had taken his hand, had guided him through his nightmares, had taught him how to deal with them, how to deal with life. She’d been the one to heal him, had been the person there for him when he’d needed it most. She’d held him, whipped him, and made love to him in every conceivable way. And he’d chosen that naïve little girl over her. If it hadn’t been for Elena he never would have been whole enough to be in a relationship with her. But instead of thanking Elena, the girl had taken him away.

That chapter was closed so tightly she would never be able to fix it this time. She couldn’t believe she’d lost him. She could barely breathe she was so upset.

The pain was too much. It was too much.

Elena had been through hell and back. But through it all, she’d managed to survive. She wasn’t sure she’d survive this, though. She’d needed him and he’d moved on.

She and him had been the perfect match from the moment their eyes had met — both of them filled with so much pain no one else could possibly understand. She’d recognized it in him and she had known she couldn’t turn away from what had to be done.

From that moment on the two of them had been one. Elena didn’t care if the rest of the world looked down upon their relationship — she had always known it was pure, it was love, it was extraordinary.

But it was over. She had lost him. It had all been for nothing. Everything she’d ever done that had led her to this point had been for nothing. Elena hung her head, unmoving as she gave up on it all.

Without him, she had no will to carry on.

 

Chapter One

Fifteen Years Earlier

 

Sitting on her little brother’s bed, Mary gave Tommy a gentle smile as he bounced up and down in excitement, his hands cupped before him, a huge grin showing the whiteness of his teeth.

“Come on, Sissy, I can’t wait,” he said with a giggle.

She placed a box in his hands, and his eyes shot open as he looked at the bright green wrapped package with a white satin bow on top.

“What is it?” he asked as his seven-year-old fingers reverently trailed across the ribbon.

“You’ll have to open it to find out,” she told him with a laugh.

Carefully, unlike most seven-year-olds, he slid the bow off and undid the tape, not wanting to tear the wrapping. She knew he would save it, as he saved all his wrapping. It was an odd habit, but she sort of liked that he did it. It was only one of the many things that made Tommy unique.

When the box was open, he pulled out a journal with a compass and his name etched on the front, with a pencil attached to the side.

“Wow,” he said, his fingers rubbing over the raised lettering. “This is my name.”

“I know you want action figures and pellet guns, but I wanted to give you something that makes you think of me when I’m away at college,” she told him.

“Why do you have to leave?” he asked for about the hundredth time, his eyes swimming with tears.

“I’m going to a university. Besides, this house is too small, and it will be easier on Mom when she’s not feeding four mouths.”

“Mom loves us both,” Tommy insisted.

“Yes, I know she loves me just as much as she loves you, but I’m graduating high school soon and I’ll be a grown-up. This is what grown-ups do,” she tried to explain. “And see that compass on the front cover? If you put your hand on that and close your eyes and think about me, you will know I’m out there, and I’m thinking about you,” she assured him.

“I just don’t want you to leave,” Tommy said as he carefully set the package down and curled up on her lap, something he’d done since he had been crawling around on the floor as a five-month-old.

Their mother and Mary’s stepfather, Dave, both worked full-time, so Mary had always spent a lot of time with her little brother. Sometimes, she was frustrated when she had to babysit instead of going out with her friends, but most of the time she didn’t mind. She loved Tommy, even if she hadn’t been thrilled when her mother had first married Dave.

It wasn’t that Dave was horrible or anything. He was mostly indifferent to her. She would rather have that, than have him come in and try to act like her father. No one could replace her dad; she wouldn’t allow it.

He’d died when she was only eight, but she still remembered how he would rush in the door after work and pick her up, giving her a kiss on the forehead before spinning her in a circle. He’d always told her she was the most important person in the world to him. She was his princess.

His death had left her empty. But she and her mother had eventually begun to heal. And then Dave had come into the picture. Mary was glad that Dave made her mom happy, but he drank a lot, and he was lazy, in Mary’s humble opinion.

Her mother did everything. Worked full-time, cleaned the house, cooked, came to all of Mary’s school functions. When her mother had gotten pregnant with Tommy, Mary had been worried. Because that meant even more changes.

But from the moment her little brother had been born, she’d cherished him. And he’d bonded with Mary. She really did adore the kid.

“You have to come home and see me a lot,” Tommy insisted. “Promise me!”

She held up her hand, her pinky sticking out. “I promise.”

They locked their pinkies together, and then she leaned forward and kissed his cheek.

A pinkie swear could never be broken. It was the most sacred of oaths in her opinion.

But sometimes, the promise was taken out of a person’s hands. Sometimes their feet were swept out from beneath them. And sometimes promises were broken . . .

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

The noise was driving her insane! Mary loved her little brother — his friends she could do without. And her stepfather insisting she play all the little kid games was making it even worse. She needed freedom, and she needed it now.

Grabbing a rose from the vase of flowers sitting on the dining room table, Mary plucked a petal off and moaned.

“What’s the matter?” her mother asked with an indulgent smile.

“I need to get out of here,” Mary grumbled.

“I told you I don’t like you walking when it’s late, especially now with snow on the ground,” her mother said, a hand on her hip.

“You also know I have to take a walk each night — rain or shine — or I feel like the walls are closing in on me,” Mary countered, gripping the long stem tightly in her fingers.

Her mom sighed as she gave Mary a once-over. Before she said anything, Mary knew the battle was over.

“Don’t be out late.”

“I won’t.”

With a roll of her eyes, Mary walked from her front door with a huge sigh of relief. Sometimes she wondered if her mother and stepfather realized she was nearly seventeen. Probably not, since they treated her like she was Tommy’s age.

She’d been trapped in the house all day with her little brother’s friends who were spending the night for his birthday. Her mother had insisted she celebrate with the family. She’d already had her moment with Tommy that morning. She didn’t need to stick around and play with first graders.

Alone time was most certainly a necessity at the moment. Besides, Mary had always loved to walk. She lived in a very small town in Iowa. Nothing much ever happened, so she didn’t see why her parents, especially her mother’s husband, had to be so dang strict all the time.

When that man laid down the law, her mother tended to fall in line. She’d been walking this road for years. He could get over trying to instill more rules. She had a little over a year to go and then she was out of there. If it weren’t for Tommy, she would be so relieved to get away that she probably wouldn’t even come back home at Christmas.

Already feeling calmer the farther she got from the house, Mary smiled as she noticed a couple birds chirping on the ice covered power line.

As she moved through the packed snow, she dropped petals from the red rose on the ground, leaving a trail behind her. When she turned and saw the beauty of red against the crisp white powder, it made her smile. Home could be boring at times, but it also could be peaceful and filled with so much beauty there weren’t adequate words to explain it.

She continued walking as the sun lowered in the sky. She’d have to turn soon, but not yet. She wanted to reach the old power plant first. That would be a solid three-mile round-trip walk. She tugged her jacket a little bit tighter against her chest and kept on plugging forward.

When she heard tires on the crunchy snow behind her, Mary jumped, quickly spinning her head around and nearly slipping on the icy ground. There wasn’t a lot of traffic on this backcountry road, but there was plenty of room for any vehicle to get around her. She spotted a large black SUV pulling up behind her and felt her first stirrings of unease. She quickened her pace.

“Hey!” someone yelled. She ignored him.

“Stop please. I need directions,” the person continued. She slowed her pace and then turned around.

The person speaking looked to be only a few years older than she was. Not threatening at all. She weighed her options. She didn’t trust strangers. But she also lived in a small town where you helped your neighbors.

“Where are you trying to get to?” she asked, not moving back toward the guy.

“It’s up on Territorial I think. The address is smudged, but I have this map here,” he said with a sheepish laugh.

Mary smiled. Yep, it was most likely some city slicker who didn’t have a clue how to navigate country roads. Of course it was. No one in her small town as young as him would be driving an Escalade. That was a rich man’s car. The teenagers lucky enough to get a car in her town drove old beat-up Ford pickups, and they liked them.

Rust added character, and if the vehicle had four different rims, that gave the person bonus points. Mary wondered how she was going to fare at a college in a city. She was a country girl, and she was a little bit afraid she wouldn’t fit in with a crowd of people who drove vehicles like the one this guy was leaning on.

“Okay, let me look at the map,” she said, finally moving toward him. He was out of the SUV, after all, and he had the map laid out on the hood.

“I really appreciate this. Are you from here?” he asked, his teeth chattering just a bit, making him appear even more charming.

As she got closer, she saw he couldn’t be more than twenty at most. Not terrifying in the least. He was actually kind of cute. She brushed back her hair and wished she weren’t wearing sweats and a hoodie. The last of her worries fell away. She was a track star. It wouldn’t be difficult to run away if she felt she were in danger. But cute guys weren’t dangerous, she assured herself.

“Yes, born and raised,” she said with a depreciating laugh. As much as she mocked the city slickers, she wouldn’t mind living in a big metropolitan area herself. It sure would be better than cow tipping as a Saturday night activity.

“Very cool. I’ve never been here before,” he said with a laugh. “Obviously.”

She laughed with him as she leaned over the top of the SUV and looked at the map.

“How old is this thing?” she asked, trying to focus past the faded lines. She leaned in closer to get a better view.

“Just old enough,” he said.

She picked up on the shift in his tone a moment too late. Suddenly there was intense pain in her head as something struck her on the back of the head. She didn’t even have time to scream before the world went dark.

 

 

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