Writing BREAK FREE was one of the best experiences of my life. Seriously. I loved Kyler and Jade more than any characters I’ve written up to this point. This story consumed me, haunted my dreams, and pestered me nonstop. I fell in love with Kyler from the minute he stepped into that barn and looked at Jade head-on, ignoring her scars. I literally cannot wait to share this story with you, and I hope you love it as much as I do! Below is the gorgeous cover done by the amazingly talented Regina Wamba from Mae I Design and Photography. And below that is the Prologue and First Chapter. WARNING: There is some language and a little graphic violence. Enjoy!!
My face was on fire. And I’m not speaking figuratively. No, it was literally on fire. The flame, bright and red like blood singed my flesh, ate away at my porcelain skin. I clawed at it, batted it away, but it grew and spread like a ravage disease. Nothing could abate it. Nothing could stop the pain. The horrible searing pain.
My cries for help went unanswered.
His eyes watched me, uncaring, as the flicker of the flame danced in his irises. There wasn’t a hint of remorse as he stared at me, frozen in place. Then again, what did I expect when he’s the one who did this to me? Did I expect him to suddenly jump into action, play the part of the hero when all I’d ever known him to be was the villain?
Water finally stopped it. Glorious, cold water that I lapped onto my flesh, and splashed onto my skin until the flames quieted. But still the scent of burnt flesh lingered in the air, turning my stomach. And the intense pain was still there.
Reaching up, I grappled the tender flesh, skimming it with the pads of my fingers. Without even looking in the mirror I knew my face was damaged, scarred beyond repair.
That’s okay. I figured it matched my heart.
In school my teachers had taught me all about safety and not talking to strangers. But they never told me what to do when the danger lived in my very own home.
It wasn’t the first time he tried to kill me, but it sure as hell would be the last.
There was a time when I wanted Heath more than anything else. A time when one look from him brought me to my knees, made me worship the ground he walked on. All that ended the first time he beat the shit out of me. Now all I saw when he walked into the room was a monster. A monster way worse than the ones I’d imagined hidden under my bed as a child. There were times I swore I saw fangs when he smiled, a flicker of neon color in his eyes, horns protruding from his head, claws growing out of his fingers.
I had to fight the urge to throw up in his mouth every time he kissed me. His hands burned like hot irons when he put them on my skin. I imagined them leaving a trail of burn marks in their wake.
That’s all I was anyway. One giant scar. Marred beyond repair. Ugly. Broken. Damaged. Wasn’t that what he said in his fits of rage? Weren’t those the words he spewed as his fists rained down on me?
If it weren’t for the fact that he supplied the drug I needed to survive, I would’ve left long ago. But I didn’t know how to survive without meth. It had been my coping mechanism for as long as I could remember. I’d read enough self-help books to know that other people used methods like yoga, meditation, green tea and shit like that. There’s no way any of those things would work for me. Clearly those people had a different life than mine. I needed something a whole lot stronger to get me through my hellish days. But now even meth wasn’t working. The beatings were becoming more frequent, and even the best high wasn’t erasing the pain and agony I had inside. It was time to jump ship.
Heath came into my life at the right moment. As if he’d been waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike; looking for a girl who needed to be saved. I would’ve believed anything he said, as long as he promised to take me far away and never bring me back. I thought I was escaping into freedom, but all I did was switch nightmares.
But I was done. Through with all of it. He could find a new weak girl to prey upon.
While Heath slept off a bender I stole a couple hundred dollars from his wallet, preparing to leave for good. I contemplated stealing a stash of meth, but then thought better of it. If I was going to make a clean break I needed to really do it. The drugs would just bring me back. It would be hell to quit, but it was my only hope of gaining freedom. And wasn’t that what I’d always wanted? I wondered what that looked like. Was it even possible for someone like me to find it? I was skeptical, but willing to try. I picked up my backpack filled with all the belongings I had in this world. Sad that it could fit in a backpack. Even sadder that it wasn’t full. I could count off all my belongings on my fingers and probably not reach all ten. But I didn’t care. Things didn’t matter to me. Actually, nothing did.
I stepped over a pile of empty beer cans discarded on the ground near the coffee table, which was filled with overflowing ashtrays. There was a half empty pack of cigarettes and a lighter next to it. I shivered. Most meth addicts smoked, but I could never bring myself to do it. The first time I tried, I held the cigarette between my lips and flicked the lighter. When the flame danced from it, I started to draw it to my lips. I could feel the heat radiating from it and that’s when fear struck. I completely lost it, screaming and clawing at my face as if it were on fire again. Heath slapped me, demanding that I snap out of it. Only I couldn’t. It’s like it was happening all over again. From then on I knew I could never smoke. Even when Heath lit up his cigarettes I stayed as far from him as possible. In his particularly evil moments he’d flick on his lighter and tease me with it, bringing it close to my face or flashing it in my eyes.
I strapped my backpack on my back, and it caught on my long dark hair. I gathered up the strands, tugging them out. My hair was my favorite feature. It’s long and sleek, and I could use it to cover up the hideous scar on the right side of my face, the skin that was burned beyond repair. No amount of skin grafts in the world could make my cheek look normal again. I always wore thick bangs, straight and blunt, hanging right above my eyebrows. Hell, I’d grow them out over my entire face if I could. I liked to keep my face as covered as possible. I’d been told by guys over the years that my light blue eyes were beautiful, a startling comparison to my dark hair. But it’s usually right before they slept with me and never called again. Or right before they shoved their fist in my face. So I didn’t believe them. Besides, I knew the truth. If it’s true that your eyes are the window to the soul than my eyes must have been sad and dark to anyone who was really looking. Then again, I doubt anyone had ever looked that hard.
And, frankly, that was fine by me. It was safer that way.
When I stepped outside, the cool air circled me. Goosebumps rose on the bare flesh of my arms. I had a jacket in my backpack, but I didn’t bother grabbing it. The cold felt good. It made me feel alive. For a girl who was mostly dead, that’s saying something. Heath always told me that I was dead inside, that I lacked emotion, that I didn’t feel anything. I agreed with him, telling him I was ruined, numb. But the truth was that I did feel things. I felt it every time he called me repulsive and ugly. I felt it deep inside in that place where I stored the painful words spoken over me. The beatings I could take, it was the words that left the biggest mark. My physical wounds healed, but I could never erase the words that ran through my mind day and night.
Trash. Worthless. Damaged. Hideous. Stupid.
I wore those scars even more prominently than the ones people could see. I wore them in my heart, the place no one could reach. The place that no one could heal.
Cars passed me on the street as I walked along the sidewalk. The sky was dark, the windows in the apartment buildings lit up. If only I had a car. Then I could hit the open road and never look back. But Heath never let me drive. He kept me close, where he could watch me. Too bad he wasn’t watching tonight. Heath would be shocked when he found me gone. He didn’t think I’d ever leave him.
I smiled. A small smile that didn’t quite reach my eyes, but it was a start.
A car filled with teenage boys drove past. A few of them gawked at me from the back window. I looked down at my scuffed tennis shoes and pulled my hair over my face. But I knew it was too late. They’d seen the scar. I could tell by their horrified expressions. And along with that, I’m sure they noticed the latest shiner, and the bruises along my neck where Heath had choked me. My fingers fluttered over the bruises, remembering how awful it felt to have my air supply cut off. Although there was a part of me that welcomed it. A part of me that waited for death to come. I wondered what it would feel like to slip into nothingness. No more pain, no more sorrow. It could be blissful.
But Heath didn’t want to off me, so he stopped before it got that far. Bastard.
I rounded a corner and headed for the bus stop. Heath could pay for my ticket out of town. Maybe I’d ride it to the end of the line. It didn’t matter where. As long as my past stayed here, I could go anywhere. I could leave it all behind, shed it like an old coat or a pair of worn out shoes. I’d never miss it. I’d never search for it. In fact, I hoped to never think of it again.
But I knew it wasn’t that easy. I could never outrun the memories no matter how hard I tried. And believe me I had.
The bus stop came into view and my heart stuttered in my chest. This was it. Time for a new beginning. As I took deliberate steps forward, I wondered if I could really do it this time. Would my attempt be successful or would I end up right back where I started?
Swallowing hard, I stepped into the line. A couple got in behind me, wedging me in. The family in front of me was loud as they chatted with one another. I scratched at my wrist, feeling itchy all over. I hated crowds. It made me claustrophobic. The man behind me bumped me with his elbow, and I curled into myself like a piece of origami, wishing I could transform like that. Change my shape and become something else. What I would want to be I wondered? A swan. Definitely a swan.
When I was little, I read a book about an ugly duckling becoming a swan. At the time it had given me hope that things could change. That maybe it was possible to alter your destiny. Life had ruined that idealistic view for me. But every once in awhile, I’d feel a glimmer of hope.
The line moved forward. I looked up at the board above the ticket counter, at all the potential places I could go. My chest constricted. I’d never set out on my own before. A bud of panic took root in my stomach and started to bloom slowly, like a flower opening up. The petals fluttered inside of me. It was my turn. Forcing myself to breathe, I stepped forward.
I could do this. I wouldn’t let fear hold me back this time.