Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: One
Title: Wither Part 13
The second Mara opened her eyes, she knew something was wrong. The fog of sleep normally present when she woke up was oddly absent. She’d been dreaming about the library she used to visit as a young girl with her mother. The stacks of book had seemed so high to her back then. She used to daydream about climbing them. Mountains of words to be conquered like Everest.
Her limbs tingled with a rush of confused awareness, and she sat up, trying to use sight to discern what had her suddenly alert and failing. The bedroom was pitch-black, something she never seemed to get used to despite living nearly a year with boarded up windows. She fumbled for the lamp on her bedside table, her fingers uselessly flipping a switch that drew no power.
The electricity had shut off a week ago, intermittent outages giving way to seven straight days without so much as a flicker. Reaching for the lamp was more muscle memory than actual hope the power was back on. Mara muttered a curse under her breath, changing the course of her fumbling fingers in search of the long-handed lighter so she could light a candle. She found it just as a hand splayed across her lower back, and barely muffled a loud squeak of shock as her mind caught up with reality. Glen’s presence was new enough she’d nearly forgotten he was sleeping in her bed.
Sleeping being the operative word. He was insistent they take things slow, despite her inadequate attempts to convince him otherwise. If she wasn’t on high alert, still trying to figure out what had woke her, she might blush at how inept she’d been so far with seduction. There’d been sweet, hot kisses and touching—lots and lots of teasing, frustrating touching—but no sex. In his mind, he seemed to think they had all the time in the world...which was ridiculous. Considering everything he’d lost, he should be the last person to believe time was on their side.
“Don’t light the candle,” Glen said, interrupting her thoughts, reminding her there was far more important things happening that didn’t relate to her frustrated libido. His voice was pitched low, the caution in his tone sending a shiver down her back. Whatever had her awake had obviously woken him, too. Her thumb slid off the button that would’ve ignited the lighter’s tiny flame, and she half turned toward him.
Glen made the universal sound for shut-up directly in her ear, and slid out of the bed on his side. The sound of denim sliding up his legs reminded her that the infuriating man chose to torture her by wearing nothing but boxer shorts to bed, despite the cold that permeated the room. November had settled in with a chilly bite, winter right around the corner. Only fear of running out of firewood before spring kept Mara from keeping flames blazing in the fireplaces while they slept. She lamented that even more right then, since it would’ve been nice to have the flickering light.
Something in another room banged, and she jolted to her feet, grateful she’d lost her nerve last night and put the slinky nightie she’d considered wearing back in the drawer. Her baggy sweatpants and thick, long-sleeved t-shirt hadn’t helped any in her effort to convince Glen to put aside his annoying morals, but at least she didn’t need to stumble around trying to find clothes in the dark.
Plus, if she was about to be murdered by intruders, better she wasn’t wearing something that might give them other...ideas.
Her heart plummeted into her stomach as another thump came on the heels of a scuffling noise, like something heavy was being dragged over the floor.
Logic told her it could be Jeremy or Teddy. Though they both generally slept like logs through the brightest of the daylight hours, it was possible either of them could be up.
Something else told her it wasn’t likely, and that something else had her reaching for the baseball bat she kept beside the bed. Its solid weight in her hands offered a little comfort, and she worked to even out her breathing as she heard Glen come around the bed, feeling him rather than seeing him when he stopped at her side.
He pressed something into her side. “Take this.” He spoke even quieter than before, telling her he was thinking the same thing about it not being the boys out there. She took what he offered, the fingers of the hand that didn’t have a death grip on the bat sliding over the shape, trying to figure out what it was.
A switch knife, still encased in its holder. One-handed she flipped it open, her thumb testing the length and sharpness of the blade even as her stomach gave a sickening twist at the idea of using it on anyone.
The feeling lasted only a second. If it came down to it, she’d do whatever was necessary to protect her boys. When Glen gave her waist a brief squeeze, she knew without a shadow of a doubt that went for him, too. He leaned close, his breath in her face a little sour yet warm and reassuring. She wasn’t alone.
“Stay behind me, Mara. Right behind me, got it?”
Mara nodded, then remembered he probably couldn’t see her any better than she could see him, and breathed a quiet yes.
She snapped the switchblade shut and jammed it into her pocket, deciding it wasn’t much use unless fighting got up close and personal. Until she knew what she was dealing with, the bat seemed the best bet...
Glen moved, and she did her best in the dark to fall in behind him as he cracked the door slowly open.
The glow of a flashlight created an arc of light that swept past the doorway leading into the living room. The air was chilly in Glen’s nostrils as he forced himself to take slow silent breaths. Each inhale brought the smell and taste of cold ash from the fireplace.
His grip on the gun he held was too tight, and he purposely relaxed it. He didn’t need to accidentally shoot Jeremy or Teddy, though he damn well knew it wasn’t them creeping around. The flashlight created a new arc, this time leading into the kitchen. Something made an odd thud, like someone bumped into a piece of furniture maybe?
Mara nearly collided with his back when he stopped, his head swivelling to take in the dark hallway. He could just make out the door to the boys bedroom, hopeful the fact it was closed tight meant they were both fine. He shifted and reached behind him, holding Mara where she was, listening for any more sounds so hard he thought his ears might pop from the effort.
Another scuff, like booted feet trying to move stealthily across hardwood floors. Heart in his throat, something akin to the feeling of anger starting to curl his guts, Glen turned toward the kitchen and moved fast, hoping surprise would be on his side.
He nearly slammed into a chair that had been moved when he rounded the corner, gun at the ready. The intruder, someone he could now see was definitely not Jeremy or Teddy, spun at the noise Glen inadvertently made.
“Stop right there and don’t move,” Glen barked, raising the gun. He felt his entire body settle, all his jitters vanishing, the adrenaline in his system slowing to a crawl. In that moment there was no question what he’d do to keep his family safe, and in that moment it was likewise clear that’s exactly what Mara and Jeremy and Teddy were to him. Family. A second chance. One he’d hold onto with every fiber of his being no matter the atrocities he might have to commit to do so.
The flashlight in the man’s hand hit the floor, and his hands came up fast, like he understood exactly what was in Glen’s mind.
“Don’t shoot. For God’s sake, don’t...”
Mara stepped out from behind Glen, swung the bat, and levelled the man where he stood. He hit the floor with a dull thump and a deep groan before going still.
The flashlight rolled across the floor, creating weird shadows as the spinning light refracted off all the shiny appliance surfaces. It came to a stop when it encountered one of the legs from the chair Glen nearly tripped over, it’s beam pointed at Mara.
She looked at the shadowed hump of a man she’d just whacked over the head, then over at Glen. A sheepish shrug and a slight grin answered the quirked eyebrow he raised at her in incredulous question.
Mara turned to retrieve the flashlight, and as she passed he grabbed the bat from her hand, unsure what she might do if he left it in her clearly capable hands. He knelt by the intruder as she spotlighted him in the bright white beam from the safety of the far end of the kitchen, confirming with certainty what Glen had noticed just before she’d knocked the guy flat. He wasn’t armed. No gun, no knife, not even a bat of his own. Just the flashlight with batteries that seemed low on juice.
Glen looked the man over. He wouldn’t be surprised if his jaw or cheekbone had gotten cracked. There was a nasty split in his cheek, blood trickling from the rapidly swelling flesh in a thin current, making a gory little pool as it collected in his ear. His eyes were rolled in the back of his head, but he groaned again, letting them know he wasn’t completely unconscious.
Mara started to squat beside Glen, but he stopped her. “Check on the boys,” he said, and she was off like a shot as he’d known she would be. “Keep them in their room. If they’re awake, don’t let them out here” he added, quickly rising and going to the window. He felt around the thick board until he found a groove he could get his fingers into, then jerked, putting his back into it. The wood came free, taking skin from Glen’s fingers with it. He recognized it shouldn’t have let go so easily. Apparently it was true what they said about a person becoming stronger than normal in times of peril. Either that or the damn board wasn’t as secure as it should have been. Regardless, Glen got what he was after as brilliant UV light flooded the room.
He looked back at the man still slumped on the floor, his eyelids fluttering like he was trying to get them all the way open and finding the muscle function needed wasn’t inclined to be cooperative.
Mara came back into the room. She looked pale but her lips were set in a steady straight line. “The boys are fine. Still asleep, thank goodness...” Her eyes widened when she noticed the window and all the light.
“Glen! He could be UV Intolerant. You’ll kill him!”
Glen almost laughed. That she’d be worried about sunlight getting to someone she’d brained with a baseball bat only a few minutes ago was funny, but he also knew he was in the middle of dumping a serious amount of built up adrenaline. His mental state probably wasn’t too stable. He cleared his throat instead, using the sight of her, unharmed and beautiful despite the pinched mouth and white complexion, to ground him and steady his nerves.
“If he’s skulking around breaking into houses in the middle of the day, I doubt he’s Intolerant, nymph.”
She blinked at him, then nodded before moving closer to the guy to perform her own inspection. The second she got close, a frown began to pucker her forehead. She stopped in her tracks, and her hands flew up to her mouth as the man turned his head, slowly coming back to the land of the conscious.
“Oh, my God,” she said. “I know him, Glen. I know him. He’s my uncle!”
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Aleea lives in her imagination most of the time. It's an interesting place to be... Occasionally she can be coaxed out to chat on Twitter, though she finds it akin to torture to stick to that absurd 140 character limit. (@Aleeab4u)