When Laurie Whitman’s husband Devon chokes her during a violent intimate encounter, she goes on the run to save her life. Then Devon’s death in a horrifying fire brings her back, and her story makes her a celebrity and spokeswoman for those women in similar positions. But when it’s discovered that the fire was arson, she becomes the prime suspect and focus of former-detective-turned-private-investigator Blake Gramercy’s scrutiny. After a confrontation between them leads to them being shot at by a mysterious figure, the two must join forces to uncover the truth and seek justice while fighting for their own lives.
Release date: December 11, 2020
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Chapter 1: Laurie
All I could hear was screaming. I couldn't hear my own thoughts in my own head. I couldn't hear the voices around me. At least, not clearly.
I didn't know where I was. I didn't know what was happening. I knew that I couldn't breathe.
I knew that I probably wouldn’t survive unless someone helped me.
This was so ironic because I had always felt like I wasn't able to breathe. At least, until I couldn't actually breathe.
My mind snuck back several times to my childhood when I would stand in front of people and my breath would leave me. I would be presenting in a group or someone would ask me a question, and it was like the air was sucked from my lungs.
I would be anxious about a situation, and it was like an elephant was sitting on me.
I remembered so many people used to tell me that it was okay, that it was all in my head.
All I remembered were endless tears and trying to convince people that I really couldn't breathe, that there was something wrong with me. No one believed me.
Maybe that was why I had gone along with it for all these years. I already felt like I couldn't breathe on a regular basis, so what difference did it make if he strangled me? What difference did it make if my life force flickered in front of my eyes?
I was so cold. I was so cold, and my world was black around the edges. I could see, but it was as if my brain couldn't process what was in front of me. There were just people.
And there was no air.
I remembered the first time I felt like this as a child. I was walking down the street with my mother, and I must have been quite young, perhaps four or five. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a stranger swooped down and started to talk to me. There was something about this man, perhaps the fact that he had a beard and it was in my face or perhaps the fact that he gave me no warning when he approached me.
My throat started to swell with panic and my vision went funny. I remembered hyperventilating and crying.
The first time it happened, my mother thought there was something wrong with me. She panicked as well and took me to the hospital. I couldn't stop crying the entire way, all while tearing at my throat.
She thought that maybe I was having an allergic reaction or maybe I had been hurt in some way that she hadn't noticed.
She didn't connect it to the man who had talked to us. She thought that it was all just a coincidence that it had occurred right as he approached.
The hospital ran all the tests, and they eventually told her that it was nothing—it was anxiety, nothing more.
Anxiety. A five-year-old with anxiety.
She belittled me for it. She told me that I couldn't possibly have anxiety when I was just a child. She started to ignore me whenever I felt my throat close and I was told that it wasn't a valid feeling.
I should have had therapy. I should have been on medication.
Instead, I had to keep going in life.
So, life went on. I went to school, and I panicked and felt my throat close every time my teacher asked me a question. Thankfully, the teachers realized that maybe they should just ignore me and not ask me any questions.
That felt good. That felt powerful. That felt like I had found a way to get out of life.
So, they stopped asking questions. I could do the work and I was smart, but I didn't have to do what made me uncomfortable. The panic attacks were powerful. I needed them to make sure that life went on exactly the way I wanted.
I still couldn't breathe. Whatever was happening in the present day was confusing me.
I was in a hospital again, and for a moment, I thought I was that child. How did I get here? Has my mother brought me here? Was she going to scold me again? Was I going to be in trouble?
After all this pain and all this drama, was I going to walk out here and be told that nothing was the matter?
The monitors were beeping all around me. A lot of people were still screaming, and I was so cold.
"Laurie!" someone said to me. "Laurie, can you hear me?"
I guess that was my name. Laurie.
I didn't hear many people call it often, but then, it wasn't as if I had many friends.
I didn't have any friends. I just had Devon. Devon, who was supposed to be my savior. Devon, who was supposed to replace my need for everything.
"LAURIE!" someone called again.
I couldn't move, but I could hear everything. It was as if I were having an out of body experience. It was as if I were fighting for my life, yet I was already dead.
What did I have to fight for, anyway?
I hadn't really done anything with my life. I hadn't really accomplished my goals and I wasn't happy.
I thought I would be happy, once, with Devon.
But I wasn't happy with Devon. Devon would kill me.
I wasn't sure whether that voice was the doctor's or Devon's.
I thought it was ironic that Devon actually sounded upset. After all, he had put me here. And while I'm not sure it was his end goal, I was pretty sure he didn't care what he did. As long as he got pleasure out of it, he would do anything.
My mother used to tell me that life wasn't about me—it was about others. She would tell me that whenever I was being selfish, whenever I wanted something for myself.
Was it so wrong to want something for yourself? Was it so wrong to want to buy yourself an ice cream or want the day to go your way?
I didn't even need the day to go my way. I didn't even need half the day to go my way. I just needed a few moments of each day to make me happy.
And now that I was a grown adult, it would be nice if sex went my away once in a while. But it wouldn't go my way, ever.
Everything was about Devon. Devon, the breadwinner. Devon, the man I had defied everyone for.
Devon, the man who would surely be the end of me.
I could hear some struggling, and my foggy brain assumed that Devon was perhaps fighting to get to me.
I didn't want him to get to me. I didn't want anyone to get to me. I didn't care whether I lived or whether I died.
Actually, that wasn't true. I wanted to die.
It wasn't that I was suicidal. It wasn't that I would ever take a knife to my veins or swallow a bunch of pills. No, I was too much of a coward for that.
But if someone came along and happened to kill me, I don't think I would stop them.
That was how I ended up here, wasn't it?
I knew that my vision was going gray. I knew that he should stop. I knew no amount of pleasure was worth the pain, but I didn't stop him. I didn't even try.
Would they say it was my fault in the end? Would they say that Laurie Whitman was a quitter?
Did I care what they would say? Did I care if they cried at my funeral?
I tried to picture my own funeral. Who would even be there? Devon had cut me off from so many people. My whole life was about him. Who cared enough to come and mourn me?
Would he mourn me? He would probably mourn the loss of a sex partner, a live-in sex doll. I couldn't think of myself as his wife because he didn't want any of the other things that came with marriage.
I couldn't think of the times when I was happy with him, although I was sure that there had been times.
There had to be, right? I couldn't have just been miserable from the day my nineteen-year-old self fell in love with him and promised to be with him forever. There had to have been other times, good times.
Why couldn't I remember them? Why did they not flood my brain?
Weren't you supposed to remember your whole life when you were dying?
I was positive I was dying. I knew that my body wasn't strong, and I knew it couldn't take these massive interventions that the doctors were attempting to do.
They must do this thousands of times a month. How many women came in here with screaming husbands, and they saved them just to send them right back into the arms of the very people who’d put them in the hospital to begin with?
How many women came in, ready to just give up on life, and they forced them to live?
That's what they were really doing right now. They were forcing me to live, and I didn't want to. I didn't want to try to take a breath. My throat was practically closed, and it wasn't going to open again.
I didn't want it to open again. I didn't want to move beyond this moment. I didn't want to walk among the living.
"Her vitals are crashing!" someone said.
"We're losing her! Paddles ready!"
I heard Devon scream again. If I could have, I would have rolled my eyes.
He didn't have any right to scream. He didn't have any right to cry.
He probably didn't have any emotions at all aside from those spawned between his legs.
I didn't want anything to do with him, and I knew that if I lived, I would have to face him. I knew that if I lived, Devon would take me right back home and everything would go back to normal.
Our normal. Our hell of a normal.
I couldn't let them save me.
"Blood pressure 70/40," someone said. "She's going, guys, get ready!"
I felt a warmth flood over my body, and I welcomed it. I had been so cold for so long.
The incessant beeping beside me turned into one long beep.
That was when the flurry of activity really started. Everyone scrambled, and I felt like I was floating.
I couldn't see my body on the table, but I could tell that I wasn't in it anymore.
I was still tethered to it, though. I knew if I wanted real peace, I had to break free. I had to just close my eyes and let the wind pull me away.
Why were they trying to save me? Didn't they know that I wasn't worth saving? Didn't they know that if they did save me, we would go right back to killing me as soon as we got home?
Didn't they know that I wasn't worth saving? I had put myself in this mess with Devon. I had gotten us here. I didn't deserve the thousands of dollars of intervention that were being put into me.
I could hear Devon try to push his away into the operating room. My spirit pulled away, and at last, I felt the blackness overtake me.
I didn't know whether I believed in heaven. I certainly believed in hell because I had been there for years. I didn't know whether there was an afterlife. If there was a God, wouldn't he have saved me by now? My mother had told me that there was a God, and the church told me that there was a God. Maybe He had just abandoned me. Maybe He had realized what the doctors were about to realize—that I wasn't worth saving.
I felt a peace wash over me, and I gave into the darkness. Gone.
They said I was gone. They said I was free. He couldn't hurt me anymore.
I waited for the darkness to sweep me away. The sounds faded and the lights faded. I wasn't cold and I wasn't hot.
I wasn't anything.
Except for the fact that somehow, I was still there. I was still tethered to my body. I couldn't leave.
All my mind could focus on was three months before this. Three months before I lay here, the world was a little bit different.
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