Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 1
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Twenty-one)
The sounds of the forest surrounded Ciel. Birds chirped, squirrels chattered, and unseen animals rustled around in the underbrush. Softness lay beneath her back, a bed of a thousand leaves, along with the pungence of rich soil. Her lids fluttered open to the unexpected sight of muted sunlight beaming through the trees.
Ciel turned to her side, the moist leaves cool against her cheek. It was just night. I was . . . riding a horse . . . with Janice. It all slammed home. Riding Beauty down the wide dirt track, Melinda Jeffries' car flying up behind them, the horse throwing them.
“Oh God. Janice!” Ciel yelled out, but the forest seemed to swallow the sound. She sat up, grabbing her head as the world swam around her. “Janice!”
There was no answer. Ciel was alone in the middle of the woods.
She rose to her feet and glanced around. Everything looked the same no matter which way she turned. Out of desperation to do something, she chose a direction and started walking. A particularly beautiful birdsong drew Ciel's attention up into the trees, and she was met with a wondrous but unbelievable sight—a bed suspended between their branches. Not a hammock but a cushy bed covered with a colorful quilt and lots of fluffy pillows. A rope ladder hung down in invitation, and though she could hardly believe her eyes, Ciel didn't fight the urge to climb it.
The ladder was surprisingly steady, and in no time at all, Ciel was welcomed into the downy layers. She pressed her nose into the pillows and breathed deeply of the scent, which transported her back to childhood when she'd loved to run through the backyard in spring and summer, hiding among the sheets her mother had hung out to dry.
Ciel realized she was enjoying this otherworldly experience entirely too much. Her forehead creased with concern as she pondered where Janice, Beauty, and Melinda had gone.
A gentle breeze ruffled the leaves, and unseen wind chimes tinkled all around her. Ciel's eyes grew heavy at the sound, and though she tried to fight it, sleep overcame her.
Sobs cut through the haze, driving Ciel back to consciousness. Pain flared through her being and throbbed behind her temples, and she realized the bed in the forest was all a dream. Through slitted eyes, she observed Melinda's car and the silhouette of Beauty grazing in the field beyond. A scuffling came from behind her.
“Why do you keep fighting me?” Melinda Jeffries spat through gritted teeth.
“She's unconscious and bleeding, you psycho! We can't just leave her here!” Janice cried.
A smack rang out. “Don't call me psycho! Ever.”
Janice gasped. “I can't believe you hit me! Then again, I never thought you'd kidnap me, either!”
“And I can't believe you had an affair with my husband.” Melinda's voice lowered to a whisper.
“It wasn't—I didn't—I had no idea Paul was your husband. How could I?”
Melinda snorted. “Would it have made any difference to you?”
“Of course it would! How can you ask me such a thing?” Janice's voice started out shrill and then softened. “But, Aunt MJ, no matter what you think of me, Ciel is innocent in all this. Please, we have to get an ambulance!”
Although Ciel wanted to turn and face them, she didn't dare move lest Melinda realize she'd regained consciousness. Aside from that, the pain radiating through her was a major deterrent. She'd taken a tumble from a horse; based on the level of pain, she'd probably broken some bones and might have a concussion.
“I'll call for an ambulance on our way out of here. I'm sure she'll be fine. Her pulse was nice and strong—she was even mumbling your name.” The gun cocked. “Now, get in the damn car, Jan!”
“Are you really going to shoot me?”
“No, I'll shoot her—the one you claim is innocent in all this. Let's go.”
Ciel held her breath in an attempt not to whimper. Footsteps crunched over the gravel. Before either of them came into view, headlights bobbed in the distance, throwing shadows.
“What now?” Melinda Jeffries let out a string of expletives.
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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook