SWEET FALL TEASER #2

Hey, y’all!

Okay, here’s teaser #2 of Sweet Fall!

Only 8 days to go until Sweet Fall releases… WHAT???

So without further ado, I present Sweet Fall:

***

The truck rocked as Austin jumped up with me and he ran his hand through his hair, almost in nerves, as he stood beside me, staring at the view that had me so entranced.

“Austin… the moon. Why’s it so big?” I whispered in awe.

The orange-hued moon seemed impossibly large, so impossibly close. So close that I could almost touch it; it’s hazy reflection spanning the entire width of the river before us as it sat happily on the horizon. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“It’s a Supermoon. The moon’s at its closest orbit to the Earth tonight. It’s size and closeness is an illusion to us here on Earth.”

“How?”

“When the moon’s that low on the horizon, it appears huge to us, but it’s no bigger than what we see every other night.” Austin pointed to moon before us and I couldn’t help but blink up at him surprise.

“Is this why we’ve come so far outta town. So we could see it in this setting?”

Austin fidgeted in embarrassment and nodded his head in one curt movement. “Supermoons don’t happen often and to really appreciate it, you need to get away from city and all the light pollution.” He then gestured to the stars above. A sky so full of diamonds that it didn’t seem like there was any room for the plain ol’ dark night sky. Every part was packed full of stars. I’d never seen anything like it.

“Austin… It’s beautiful. I… I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It’s like a dream.”

Feeling his intense stare on me, I immediately looked down, blushing. Austin cleared his throat and took a seat on the blanket, opening his large bag of barbeque.

I joined him on the blanket and wrapped my arms around my legs. Taking a huge steak, Austin leaned back against the side of the truck and met my eyes. I couldn’t help but smile.

“What?” Austin asked warily.

“I would never have thought you would be into all this.” I gestured to the sky. “Astronomy. Supermoons, stars.”

Austin seemed embarrassed and shrugged. Nothing more said in response.

“You sure you don’t want any of this?” Austin held out the large bag of food and I shook my head. Austin tossed the bag to the side, sucked the juices of his fingers and tipped his head up to enjoy the view. I did the same.

“How’s your momma?”

Austin’s breathing hitched for a moment, but then replied, “Still in hospital. But I saw her today and she’s feeling a little better.”

“I’m sorry that she’s so sick, Austin. Sometimes life’s just not fair.”

Austin dipped his head to look my way and asked, “Yeah? And how do you know life ain’t fair, Pix?”

Every muscle tensed at his question. I tried to relax, but I could tell by Austin’s inquisitive expression that he’d caught onto my apprehension. “I just do, Austin. What you see on the surface isn’t always the reality.”

There was an awkward pregnant pause, then Austin said, “You’re preaching to the converted, Pix.”

Austin waved his hand and sprawled out on his back. “Get down here. The view’s better.”

Licking my lips in nerves, I slowly slid onto my back and gazed at the night sky.

Austin pointed his fingers at a pattern of stars. “The Big Dipper.”

I followed his index finger as he mapped out the constellation.

“Wow,” I whispered, the moment feeling surreal.

“Ursa Minor.” Austin continued and I followed his demonstration with rapt attention. “Ursa Major, Cassiopeia, Draco…” And he went on, guiding me like Virgil through the complex ocean of stars. It didn’t take me long to stop following his hand pointing up at the sky, and to study the carefree, joyous expression on his usually hard and emotionless face.

He was beautiful… and there was so much more to him than I ever imagined.

Taking a deep breath, Austin lowered his hand, his fingers brushing over mine. A contented sigh slipped through his full lips and I felt weightless as he began making patterns on the back of my hand with his fingertip. He was entranced as he looked down and watched the motion of his caress.

“Why do you love the stars so much?” I whispered, trying to calm the frantic shivers shooting down my arm.

Niente puo’ essere paragonato alla bellezza delle stelle.” The Italian from his lips was as smooth as velvet.

“What does that mean?”

Nothing compares to the beauty of stars.”

***

There we go, folks!

More in a few days!!!

Tills x

SWEET FALL TEASER #1

We are on the countdown, folks!

Only THREE weeks left until Sweet Fall is released… YAY!!!!!!

Over the next few weeks, I will be releasing teasers here on my website.

So, here we go, folks, Teaser #1: First meeting:

****

Tailing at the rear, just taking in the scene, I was left alone. It was strange to see the stadium so quiet, kinda apocalyptic, like the aftermath of some great catastrophic event. Plastic red Solo cups were scattered in the stands, confetti strewn on the grass, and the thick smell of stale beer clung to the humid air.

“Kinda weird, huh?” a deep Bama-accented voice said from beside me.

Dropping my poms in shock and laying a hand on my chest, I lost my breath. Catching a flash of a Crimson shirt, I looked up, blocking the bright sun from my eyes with my hand, and suddenly lost my breath again.

“Sorry, what?” I asked in a quiet voice, tipping my neck right back trying to make out the guy’s face.

When shade hit, he appeared. Austin Carillo, wide receiver, number eighty-three.

Carillo stepped closer to me from his secluded spot beside the players’ tunnel and the stands. “This. The quiet after the storm.” He gestured to the empty stadium with a wave of his hand. “It’s my favorite part of the game.”

I followed the action of his hand. “Not the three touchdowns you scored?”

The corners of his mouth hooked up in a reluctant smirk. I’d seen Carillo around campus from time to time over the past three years, and I think it was first time I’d ever seen him crack anything close to a smile. I wasn’t surprised. He was like me—darker, quieter, kept himself to himself.

Austin Carillo was the Italian bad boy of UA: Six-foot-four, beautifully olive skin, piercings galore, black ear gauges, neck-to-toe tattoos, dark hair and the darkest of brown eyes.

I felt myself blush. If I had a type, he’d be it. But I didn’t date, and from what I’d heard, neither did he.

“Nah. It’s this. The replay of the game in my mind, the making of memories on this field.”

A sense of peace floated over me at what he described. “I know exactly what you mean,” I replied wistfully and inhaled the smell of greasy food, churned-up grass… victory.

Austin glanced back to the tunnel and, without another word, began to saunter away. I stared back out onto the field and sighed in relief… I’d done it. I’d actually made it through a game unscathed.

The voice inside my mind hadn’t had the strength to spoil it.

“It’s about fuckin’ time, by the way!” I suddenly heard and looked behind me, straight at Austin Carillo.

“Are you talking to me?” I asked in confusion, checking around us to see if anyone else was here.

Austin smirked in a deliciously dark way and gestured to my dark hair and makeup. “Yeah, I’m talking to you. It’s about time a cheerleader ’round here broke the mold. It’s good to have another one of us freaks on this team.”

One of us freaks? I thought, as I watched him disappear into the change rooms. Lifting my hand, I ran my fingers over my pale face, dark kohl-rimmed eyes, black lipstick and couldn’t help but smile… one of us freaks

Seeing the clean up crew enter the stadium, I quickly bent down, plucked a piece of grass from the field and held up the single blade. It was my tradition. A piece of memorabilia from every game I’d ever cheered… But this would be my first in four years.

The symbol of my new life.

Sweet Fall Fleur-de-lis

****

There you go, guys! Much more to come! This is just a lil’ ‘whet the appetite’ excerpt to kick the teasers off…

Tills x

SWEET FALL SYNOPSIS!!!

Hey guys!

The months are counting down the Sweet Fall release date (August 26th!). I will have the cover reveal to you at the end of June, and right now, I am sooo excited to share with you the official blurb/synopsis for the third novel in the Sweet Home Series.

This novel has turned out to be so much more than I ever expected—dark, gritty, and a complete emotional roller coaster (some of it from my own experience). You will see more of your favourite characters from Sweet Home/Rome (yes, Rome and Molly!), and you’ll most certainly fall hopelessly in love with UA’s two most troubled characters, Lexi and Austin. Sweet Fall, however, can also be read as a stand-alone novel.

So, with out further ado, the synopsis for Sweet Fall…

***

From the USA Today Best Selling Sweet Home Series, comes Sweet Fall; a tale of heartache, beating the odds and finding strength in the most unlikeliest of places.

We all have secrets.

Secrets well buried.

Until we find the one soul who makes the burden of such secrets just that little bit easier to bear.

Lexington “Lexi” Hart is a senior at the University of Alabama. Surrounded by her best friends, her loving family and having fulfilled her life-long dream of making the Crimson Tide cheer squad, everything is going exactly as she always dreamed it would. But beneath her happy exterior, demons lurk, threatening to jeopardize everything Lexi has worked to achieve. When events in her life become too much to cope with, Lexi finds herself spiraling down into the realm of her biggest fear. Lexi falls hard, victim once again to the only thing that can destroy her and, on the way, she falls straight into the dangerous tattooed arms of a guy from the wrong side of the tracks.

Austin Carillo, starting Wide Receiver for the Alabama Crimson Tide, must get picked in this year’s NFL draft. He needs it. His brothers need it. Most importantly, his mother desperately needs it. Brought up in a world where the poor are forgotten, the sick are left to fend for themselves and no hero miraculously appears to pull you out of hell, Austin had no choice but to make a living on the wrong side of the law—until football offered Austin the break to get his life back on track. But when a family tragedy drags him back into the clutches of the gang he believed he had left far behind, Austin finds himself falling. Falling back into criminal ways and falling deep into a suffocating darkness. Until a troubled yet kindred spirit stumbles across his path, where Austin quickly finds he is falling for a young woman, a young woman who might just have the power to save him from his worst enemy: himself.

Can two troubled souls find a lasting peace together? Or will they finally succumb to the demons threatening to destroy them?

New Adult/Contemporary Romance novel—contains adult content, sexual situations and mature topics. Suited for ages 18 and up.

Can be read as a stand-alone novel.

*** 

I hope you’re all as excited for this novel as me!

As always, teasers will come closer to the release date, and the cover will be out soon… it’s solo beautiful.

Much Love, Folks!

Tills x

THE HADES HANGMEN SERIES!!!

Hey all!!!

Okay, let me start off by saying that I have been blown away by the success of IT AIN’T ME, BABE. I wasn’t sure if people would like my little pursuit into the world of Dark Romance, but thank the Lord you did!!!

Now, as much as everyone loved Styx and Mae, several other characters sparked the interest of you lovely readers and you pretty much began campaigning for more… for a series. Seriously campaigning!

I always had a loose plan for where the series could go (after all, the witness testimonies of ex-members and current members of NRM’s I have collected over the years, are vast), both with the Hades Hangmen and The Order. But I wanted to be sure I could do the characters and the issues that would need to be covered, justice. This topic means so much to me, and I didn’t just want to rush something out for the sake of quick sales. I respect my readers—you guys deserve a quality book, and I respect the sensitive subject matters involved too much to do that. I want my novels to mean something to my readers, for you to get lost in the pages, to inform, to teach and mostly, to move people emotionally.

Well guys, after all your persistence, messages/posts/tweets of support, your endless pimping of IAMB and your relentless campaigning, I am happy to announce that the Hades Hangmen WILL be made into a series!!!

*cue fireworks and yelps of glee*

The next novel in the Hades Hangmen world will be released later this year. At the moment I have three more books in mind for our luscious men in leather (so four in total), but that is not set in stone… there could be more! Who knows? Maybe more characters will crop up and make us fall in love with them too! ;)

So without further ado, the reading order for the Hades Hangmen Series:

IT AIN’T ME, BABE (Hades Hangmen #1) — Story of Styx and Mae. Available Now!

HEART RECAPTURED (Hades Hangmen #2) — Story of Ky and Lilah. Fall/Winter 2014

SOULS UNFRACTURED (Hades Hangmen #3) — Story of Flame and Maddie. Early 2015

DEEP REDEMPTION (Hades Hangmen #4) — Story of Rider. 2015

I am literally bouncing up and down on my seat right now. I am so excited to write these books and take us deeper into the lives of the HH MC and the twisted secret world of The Order.

One thing is for sure guys, it’ll be one hell of a ride!!!

I hope this has made you happy! After all, it is because of YOU that this is happening, so I think this calls for an early TGIF drink of celebration for us all!!!

So hold up your drinks for a toast, and in the words of the heart-stoppingly handsome, Ky (*cough*, Travis Fimmel), “Live Free, Ride Free, Die Free!”

Much Love, my Hot Coles!

Tills xx

 

 

TEASER #3

Okay, folks!

Here we go, the final teaser before IT AIN’T ME, BABE releases on Monday!!!

*Cue screams of excitement*

I cannot wait for you guys to read it. Once again, I want to stress that this novel is a DARK ROMANCE and contains taboo subjects. It is NOT Sweet Home/Rome, but in my opinion, it is still pretty awesome!

Please enjoy the teaser below:

***

As I pushed off the wall, I noticed a red pool on the asphalt beneath my feet. Blood lay below Lois. Red streaks were dashed all over the inside of her thighs.

Lois caught my hard stare and, frowning, she glanced down to her knees. “What…? Shit! Is that blood on my legs?” She jumped up and tried to wipe the red liquid from her skin. “Where the hell’s it coming from?”

I tracked the blood with my eyes and noticed a thin, fresh stream coming from around the back of the dumpster.

“Jesus! Is there a dead body out here again?” Lois said, trying to cover herself with her arms. Bitch was too soft for this kinda shit.

Without paying her any attention, I rolled the blue dumpster to the side, revealing the source. A bitch’s body—young, black hair mangled around her face. Slim body covered in mud, her white dress ripped and sopping with blood.

I searched for the wound… Her leg.

A huge, gaping gash, deep enough that her muscle was exposed, some pitted fuckin’ rag attempting to stop the flow.

It weren’t working for shit.

Checking her pulse, not able to find even a lick of movement, I could only surmise one thing: bitch had croaked.

I turned to Lois, who was hovering behind.

“Is she dead?” she asked.

Go get Ky, Pit and Rider, I signed.

Lois ran for the door, hand over her mouth.

Moving forward, I pushed the stiff’s hair from her face and immediately let out a long breath.

Christ.

She looked like she used to be a fuckin’ stunner under all the mud and shit—creamy skin against that long black hair, big pink lips, killer frame. Damn shame she’d gone to the boatman, she’d have been one hot fuckin’ bitch.

Reaching into my pocket, I laid two dimes on her eyes. Poor bitch needed to pay up to go to a better life.

I put one arm behind her back, one behind her legs, and lifted. She weighed almost nothing. She was fuckin’ tiny.

Ky, Pit and Rider burst outta the doors behind me. My VP rolled his eyes and groaned as he pulled up his zipper—brother must’ve been busy.

“Not another one of ’em! I know. I’ll kill a bitch and dump the stiff on the Hangmen. Cocksuckers. Fuckin’ had to tear myself from underneath the licking twins for this shit!”

I tipped my chin at Pit, the prospect moved forward and I dumped the bitch in his arms. Get the van. You’re gonna dump the stiff. Usual place. Make sure the coins stay on, I signed. Ky translated, still pissed he’d been dragged away from his sluts.

And then I fuckin’ froze—lungs stopped, eyes bugged, heart jumped—froze. The bitch in Pit’s arms flinched and moaned, dimes slipping off her face to clatter on the ground.

“She ain’t dead!” Pit blurted. As usual, statin’ the fuckin’ obvious.

“Shit! We gonna dump her? Or we keeping her here? The Feds are watching us, Styx. Viking said we got two agents stationed undercover half a mile away. The good ol’ senator’s still on our backs. It’ll be risky to carry some bloodied bitch outta here without being pulled and questioned. Ain’t got those fuckers on the payroll.” Ky slapped my back and pointed to the bitch. “Could be a message from someone, or she could’a been planted to put us in shit with the law.”

I heard what Ky was saying, but I couldn’t stop glancing at the bitch’s pale face. She looked familiar somehow, but I couldn’t place from where.

Shaking my head, I looked to my best friend. Yeah. No getting out tonight. Bitch is gonna have to stay. Fuck! Just what we need.

I looked over to Rider, who was standing silently behind Ky. Brother had almost as much to say as me. Rider was ex-marine and fully trained as a medic. Saw some shit he couldn’t deal with in Afghanistan and left. Fortunately for us, all the brother wanted to do when he got off service was ride and serve this club. Rider could stitch something fierce and even operate if need be. Saved our outlaw asses more times than I could count.

I indicated for him to take possession of the half-dead stiff. He would see what’s up and either be able to fix the bitch or not. Hell, it’s not like death was a stranger around these parts. Sent more brothers to Hades this past year than are still standing in this club, fuckin’ war. Death’s a cycle. Sooner or later we all gotta meet the boatman, pay up for the fucked-up shit we’d done in this life.

Rider reached for the bitch, when suddenly, she jerked in Pit’s arms, her eyes springing open, fixing right on mine, pure fear bursting through for less than a second before shuttering down again.

Fuck me. Those eyes. Even through all the blood, mud, and shit on her face, those eyes fuckin’ shone—ice-blue, like a goddamn wolf’s. Only seen one pair of eyes like that before…

I couldn’t help but think of that fuckin’ young bitch from behind the fence fifteen years ago. She was one of the only folks I ever spoke to in my life. Hell, I’d spoken to her. That howled fuckin’ volumes. She was number three. Ain’t talked to none since.

A long, pained groan slipped from her mouth, causing me to refocus.

Shit.

Ky moved to pull her from Pit’s arms. “Give her to me. Gonna dump her in your room, Rider, then get back to licking Tiff’s and Jules’s pussies. Fuckin’ bitch ain’t cockblockin’ me no more tonight.”

I watched as Ky touched her skin and all I could see was that young bitch behind the fence. Fuck! What if it was her? Nah, impossible. Load’sa bitches have those eyes. Right?

Right?

Thinking I’d pulled my shit together, I relaxed. But when Ky took her in his arms, I fuckin’ lunged for him and grabbed his arm in my hand, dropping it only to sign, Back the fuck off. Give her to me.

My VP stepped back, his eyebrows bunched, trying to read my mood. “What the fuck?” he said out loud. The other brothers frowned in confusion. Lois’s red-lipped mouth dropped open.

Shaking my head, I signed, Back off. Give her to me. NOW.

Ky looking confused as all hell, put her in my arms, and raising up his hands, backed away. Pit gaped at me like goddamned fish.

“What the hell, man? I’m back, I’m back. Okay. Calm the fuck down!”

I cradled the bitch to my chest, some possessive voodoo shit taking over my mind, body… my fuckin’ soul.

 ***

So there you have it, guys!

2 DAYS TO GO!!!!

#ItAintMeBabe

Tills xx

IT AIN’T ME, BABE — TEASER #2

Hey folks!

Not long how until It Ain’t Me, Babe releases!

ONE WEEK… ARGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Until then, please enjoy teaser #2!

***

A long sleeveless flowing gown of white stared at me as I huddled against the cold wall on the floor of my room with my legs pulled firmly to my chest.

A gown. A white marital gown mocking me, teasing me, telling me by sundown today I would be married. The seventh wife of Prophet David. The wife revealed to him by God. I would be the one to bring eternal blessings to all in The Order—his chosen people. I would help redeem the status of the Cursed, absolve us of our sins.

Leaning my head against the gray brick wall of my quarters, I closed my eyes, imagining what it would be like to be free. What was life like outside of the great fence? Were people truly evil out there? Did everyone on Earth want to inflict harm on us? Did men really just want to possess and ruin women?

I did not know. Sometimes I doubted Prophet David’s teachings, but I would never say that out loud. No one questioned the teachings—at least those who wanted to avoid punishment. I knew nothing of life beyond these walls, and after tonight, my duty would be as head wife. I would never be able to leave.

Rubbing my shaking hands down my face, my stomach flipped. I just could not do it. And worse, I had no idea where my oldest sister was. My blood sister, Bella, who disappeared weeks ago—no sign, no contact, simply vanished. No one would tell me where she had gone. After too many days of silence, I had begun to fear the worst. Brother Gabriel knew something. The way he looked at me, smirking, almost gloating, gave it away. He had grown obsessed with Bella over the years, but she never returned the sentiment. You could see in his eyes that he wanted her to pay for her indifference toward him.

A sharp knock interrupted my wayward thoughts. Sister Eve walked into my room, clutching a garland of fresh white flowers in her wizened hand. She spotted me on the floor and stomped in my direction.

“Get up, you insolent child. Why are you not in deep prayer? Do you realize the significance of this night, of your marriage; the significance to us all?”

I was jerked off the floor as her hand gripped my upper arm and pulled me to a standing position. Sister Eve, one of the twelve Originals and the woman I both feared and disliked most, was here to aid me in my preparations. The feeling of dislike was mutual. The envious jealousy seeping from her large, aging body was so intense it thickened the humid air around us.

I was one of the four Cursed. One of four females classed as too tempting to men. One of four who were segregated from the rest of the commune, as it is believed the devil had a hand in our creation. The four consisted of my blood sisters Bella and Maddie, our friend Lilah, and me.

“Sister Salome! You best pull yourself together and get dressed.” Sister Eve wrenched me closer to whisper in my ear, “You are not worthy of Prophet David in my eyes, but God chose you as the seventh wife and I cannot doubt the revelation.”

I bowed my head. Sister Eve was a superior and I did not want to face the punishment of disobedience. Lashes, lots and lots of lashes.

“Yes, Sister, I understand. I will begin to dress immediately.”

She walked to the table and laid down the floral head garment, fragrant vanilla oil, and white ceremonial sandals. She held the edge of the table for a few seconds before facing me, lips tight, hesitation in her stance.

“You will need to take special care this evening in your consummation.”

I swallowed back the bile rising in my throat. Prophet David had a disease. Puss leaked from huge, gaping sores all over his skin and I had been instructed on how to care for him, but the duty made me feel sick at the thought.

“Prophet David, due to his ailments, finds it difficult to become… aroused sexually. You will need to take great care in preparing him for your joining this eve. Your union will change the fate of us all and must be sealed under God’s eyes. You must fall pregnant to complete the prophecy.”

My legs wobbled as I thought of what I must do. Prophet David was in his seventies, very overweight, and apparently smelled… badly. When I was thirteen, he declared I would be his wife when I reached the age of twenty-three—the Lord revealed it to him whilst he was in exile out of the The Order. My fate was sealed from that day forth.

Sister Eve took my chin in her hands. “You understand, Salome?”

I bowed. “Yes, Sister.”

She nodded curtly. “I must go to the altar. I shall return within the hour to bring you to your wedding. Be ready.”

With that she exited my room.

Sinking to the floor once more, I resumed my staring at the long white gown. Trepidation swelled in my stomach as I thought of the task I must endure. I had no idea why I was deemed worthy, but then I would not wish this duty on anyone else.

I dressed quickly in my gown after pouring anointing vanilla oil on my naked skin. Letting my long hair down from my wrap, I placed my flower garland upon my head and crept to the door, searching for a disciple guard. The hallway was deserted, so I quietly ran along the corridor and out into the courtyard. The entire house was empty and silent and I needed to breathe fresh air.

“Salome!” A loud whisper sounded from the west side of the building. Turning my head in search, I spotted Delilah. Picking up the bottom of my gown, I ran forward, ushering her behind the tall brick wall, out of sight.

“What are you doing here? You will be punished if you are found!” Checking over my shoulder, I failed to immediately notice Lilah’s red eyes and flushed skin.

“Mae…” Lilah whispered, softer this time, her quiet tone sending chills down my spine.

“What? What is it?”

Reaching out, Lilah’s hand encased mine and squeezed. I knew in an instant what was wrong.

Bella.

“What has happened to her?” I asked quietly.

“She… she… Maddie and I just found out where she is being kept…”

***

That’s all for now! More this week!

Tills x

It Ain’t Me, Babe — Teaser 1!!!

It Ain't Me, Babe r

Hey all!

 

Okay, it’s time for the teasers to begin!

 

It Ain’t Me, Babe (IAMB) releases in just TWO WEEKS!!!! *cue screams of excitement*

To celebrate, please find below the first of many teasers coming your way. I am BEYOND excited for this release. IAMB is dark, gritty, taboo in parts and a rip-roarer of a tale.

The first teaser is taken from the prologue. Two children meet and it forever changes their lives…

 

So without further ado… I am happy to present, teaser one…

***

“You stay here, River. Got it?”

Turning up the air-conditioner in the truck, I nodded and signed, Got it.

Slamming the driver’s side door, my pop and the prospect headed off into the woods, the first body bag of the four dead Mexicans being carried by them.

Waiting until they were all out of sight I jumped out of the truck, my feet making a crunching sound as they hit the dried grass.

Tipping my head back, I breathed deep. I loved being outdoors, loved being on the back of my pop’s bike, loved being anywhere away from people expecting me to talk.

Making my way toward the bed of the truck, I snapped a long spindly branch off a nearby cedar and began whacking the reeds around me just for something to do. Sending stiffs to the boatman could take hours—digging, lime, and cover-up—so I made my way toward the trees and set to searching for snakes in the high grass.

I don’t know how long I walked, but when I lifted my eyes, I found myself deep in the forest, the air around me completely still and me completely lost.

Shit. Pop’s instructions were as clear as day. Stay here, River. Got it? Hell, he was gonna kill me if he had to come looking. The rules for dumping stiffs were simple: dig, dump, dodge.

Searching around me, I spotted a rise and headed for higher ground. I intended to work my way back to the truck before my pop turned up and got pissed.

Using the trunks of the trees to hold on to, I climbed the steep hill and, when I reached the top, began dusting the dried mud and bark scum from my jeans. When they were sorta clean, I scanned the horizon and frowned. About two hundred yards ahead was the biggest goddamn fence. My mouth dropped at its size; it was higher and wider than anything I’d ever seen before. It reminded me of prison, with curls of razor wire wrapped ‘round the top wall. I looked all ‘round me, but there were no signs of life, nothing to be seen behind the fence but more forest. I wondered what it was. We were deep in the boonies, miles and miles from the outskirts of Austin, miles and miles from anywhere. Folks don’t really come this far outta town… they know better. My pop said only bad things happen ‘round these parts: death, disappearances, violence and other unexplainable things. It’d been that way for years; that’s why my pop chose it as a drop site.

Now completely distracted from finding a route back to the truck, I began wading through tall grasses toward the edge of the fence. Curious excitement buzzed through me. I loved to go exploring, but then I jumped out of my skin when, suddenly, something behind the fence caught my eye.

Someone was there.

I froze, focusing my eyes on the outline of a tiny slim person, the small frame of a young chick dressed in a long gray dress, her hair pulled back in a funny style at the back of her head.

She looked ‘bout my age. Maybe a couple ‘a years younger?

Heart beating fast in my chest, I crept toward the chick, her tiny, frail-looking body drowning in the dark material of her dress as she curled herself in between the roots of a large tree. Her shoulders were shaking as she cried, her body shuddering with sobs, but not making a sound.

Dropping to my knees, I threaded my fingers through the links of the fence and stared. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t—couldn’t—speak to anyone but Kyler and Pop. Even then it weren’t often.

I closed my eyes, concentrating on trying to loosen up my throat, fighting to free the words that never wanted to come. A battle I always tried to fight but one I rarely won.

Dropping my mouth, I set to relaxing my face muscles when the tiny chick froze on the spot and her eyes locked on mine. I stumbled back, my fingers slipping back through the fence. She had huge, blue eyes rimmed with red marks. Her small hand moved to her face to wipe at her wet cheeks; her bottom lip quivered and her chest heaved hard.

From my new position, I could see her hair was as black as coal and her skin so pale. I’d never seen no one like her before. Then again, I didn’t know many kids my own age; no one did in club life. There was Kyler, of course, but he was my best friend, my club brother.

Suddenly, the chick panicked; her face blanched, she shot to her feet, and her head turned back toward the forest. I scrambled to the fence again at her movement, the metal screeching at the contact. The chick froze and looked back, gripping a branch as she watched me.

Who are you? I signed real fast.

The girl swallowed nervously and tilted her head. Cautiously, she edged forward in silence, curiosity etched on her tiny face. She was staring at my hands, watching me sign, her dark eyebrows pulled down real low.

The closer she got, the more my breath came short and I felt warm all over. Her jet-black hair was tied in a tight knot at the back of her head, covered by a weird white cloth. I’d never seen anyone dressed like her before. She looked so strange.

When she stopped ‘bout two yards away, I sucked in a breath, squeezed my stomach muscles tight, and signed again. Who are you?

She didn’t speak, just stared at me blankly. Goddamn it! She didn’t understand ASL. Not many folks did. I could hear just fine, but I didn’t speak. Ky and Pop were the only folks who could translate for me, and right now I was on my own.

Sucking in another deep breath, I swallowed and tried really hard to work loose my throat. Closing my eyes, I thought through what I wanted to ask and, holding a slow, controlled exhale, I tried my damnedest to talk.

“Wh-wh-who a-are y-y-you?”

As I fell back in shock, my eyes widened. I’d never been able to do that before, speak to a total stranger. My hands fidgeted in excitement. I could talk to this chick! I could talk that made her number three.

Driven by curiosity, the chick moved closer still. Only a few feet away, she slowly knelt on the forest floor, her head cocked to one side, just staring at me with a funny expression on her face.

Her big blue eyes never once moved away from me. I watched her slowly scan me from head to toe and then back again. I thought about what she must be seeing: my dark, messy hair, black T-shirt and jeans, heavy black boots, and leather cuffs on my wrists showing the Hangmen patch.

As her eyes met mine once more, her lips seemed to curve upward slightly into a small kinda smile. I crooked my finger in her direction, urging her to come closer.

She quickly turned, searching all ‘round her. Seeing we were alone, she stood up—slowly, as before—and she inched forward toward me, the bottom of her long dress dirtying on a patch of muddy ground.

Now, as she stood before me, I couldn’t help but notice again how tiny she looked. I was tall, so she had to tilt her neck back to look up at me. As I pressed into the fence, my stomach churned. She looked so tired and her blue eyes winced in the corners as she shuffled toward me, like she was in pain.

Noticing she was uncomfortable, I pointed to the forest floor, indicating we should sit. She nodded her head, lowered her eyes and slowly, painfully, dropped to her knees.

She didn’t make a sound. Hoping for another miracle, I inhaled deeply, then exhaled slowly. “Wh-what i-is this p-p-p-place? D-d-do you… l-l-live h-here?” I stuttered, occasionally pausing and thinking through my words as I struggled to push them out. A wave of excitement washed through my stomach… I was talking… again!

Her eyes focused on my mouth, but she still kept quiet. Her black eyebrows were pulled tight and her pink lips were pursed in concentration. I knew she was wondering why I talked funny; everyone always did. She would be wondering why I stuttered. I didn’t know. I just always had. Gave up trying to fix it years ago. I talked with my hands now. Didn’t like being laughed at for having a stammer… but she wasn’t laughing at me… not even a little bit. She just looked, well, confused.

As I glanced down in embarrassment, I noticed her hands were right next to her side of the fence, only inches from mine. Without thinking, I reached through and ran my finger across her knuckles. I just wanted to touch her, make sure she was real. Her skin looked so soft.

With a gasp, she snapped her hand back as if my touch were fire and she cradled it next to her chest.

“I-I-I w-won’t h-hurt y-you,” I croaked as quickly as I could force out, worried about the terror on her face… a face that was the same shape as a heart. I didn’t want her to be scared of me. My pop told me that folks needed to fear me, had to distrust me so I’d be safe. Most folks in my world, I knew, would see my signing as a weakness, so my pop told me I had to toughen up and use my fists instead of words. Now folks just thought I was dangerous. Like Ky said, I was born to be feared: the Hangmen Mute.

But right now I wished more than anything that I could trade all that in just to know how to talk right. I didn’t want her to be afraid of me. Not the chick with the blue eyes—blue eyes the color of a wolf’s.

Sitting back in a trance, her wolf eyes drew me in. She looked like a ghost—no, a goddess—like the paintings on the wall at compound. Like the goddess Persephone, wife of Hades, the underworld God the Hangmen wore on their patch.

With a flicker of movement, the chick brought her shaking hand forward to the fence; the ice-blue and white flecks in her irises never broke my gaze, the whites bright as she stared at me.

I stayed completely still. The girl was like a frightened rabbit and I didn’t want to spook her. I’d never seen no one like her, my hands were getting damp and my heart was beating real fast.

Nervously, she ran a fingertip along my hand, a pink blush bursting on her cheeks. I fought to breathe, the too-fast thumping of my heart making me lose focus.

Bending my index finger, I hooked it softly ‘round hers and pressed my forehead against the hard mesh wire.

The girl pursed her slightly parted pink lips and wiggled the tip of her nose. I stopped breathing… She was beautiful.

***

 

That’s all for now folks!!!!

 

Tills xx

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