Once you are finished, you should take a few minutes to register for the Michael Kors Watch Giveaway. I've not had anyone post the significance of the watch as the giveaway prize. The most original post will get a gift not yet revealed (signed paperback copy of Grave Bound... *wink*).
Enjoy chapter 1 (and the prologue) and don't forget to leave me a line letting me know your thoughts!
*This book was written for +17 due to sexual situations and profanity.
"Happily ever after my ass!" I say bitterly before slamming my book closed and throwing it into the lake. Spread open and facedown, the cheap, ragged paperback floats along the surface, gliding farther and farther away from the lake's edge.
I get absolutely no satisfaction when it soaks up so much water it's finally dragged below the ripples of the lake's inky surface. Nothing about the book's death (at my hands) makes me feel better because it's not Lorenzo or any of the other people who've betrayed me, the people I hate bone deep right now.
I look around and realize everyone who accompanied me to the lake for the first swim of the summer has long since headed home. My best friends, Becca, Kira, and Patti, had never seen me in such a weird mood. They had no idea what's going on with me or what to do about it. Since I couldn't talk to them about my problems, they got irritated and decided leaving me alone to think was their best option.
They were right.
Refusing to feel sorry for myself, I take a deep breath of the humid lake air and listen to the blue birds singing in the distance. For the millionth time, I wish I were more like my friends… wish I could conform… wish I didn't resent with every fiber of my being the fate in store for me. It's the destiny of every woman in my community. The biggest difference between the rest of the women and me is the fact that my entire future was just put into the hands of the vilest man I've ever known, and theirs wasn't. Repulsion has a name, and it's Lorenzo William Bijou.
"Stop it! There's still time for you to make Owen change his mind. This is the first official day of summer. The first day without Owen or the boys. I don't want to spend the next three months worrying about something that may never happen," I say aloud to myself.
I wish I could get back into the same frame of mind I'd been in when I went door-to-door earlier that morning, begging Becca, Kira, and Patti to blow off their chores and celebrate my summer of freedom. Right now, I'd give anything in my possession to get back the naive happiness I felt before I learned that Owen—my father —and Brian, Joe, and Phil—my older brothers—deceived me in ways I'd never seen coming.
Staring mindlessly at the sun reflecting off the lake's deceptively calm surface, I think back to the morning's mischievousness. At first, my friends refused to sneak away for a day of carefree swimming. Then, I gave them my puppy dog eyes and reminded them that all of the commune leaders, which included our fathers and brothers, were gone for three entire months. With the men away, there was no one for us to wait on and no one to punish us if we got caught.
Well… almost no one.
Unable to resist me or my big brown eyes, Becca, Kira, and Patti eventually conceded and joined me in reporting to the workstation at the union hall, doubling over, and swearing we were all suffering from violent stomach viruses. Covering our tracks, I even stuck my finger down my throat. With tears streaming down my face, I dashed toward the bathroom, gagging and covering my mouth.
Aunt Tess ran into the bathroom behind me and held my hair away from my face while I threw up the cereal I'd eaten for breakfast. I hadn't expected Tess to follow me or for her to make such a big deal out of my being sick. Tess is the closest thing I have to a mother, and I always hate to make her worry.
"Emily Ador Riddle, why did you come here if you're sick? It's obviously contagious. Look at your friends. Now, every one of these kids will probably get sick, and we'll be up for days cleanin' up vomit, changin' diapers, and keepin' 'em hydrated. Y'all go back home, and I'll be by to check on you later," Tess said, pulling my hair back into the Scrunchie she fished from her pocket.
Surprised by her uncharacteristic outburst, I noticed that Tess scolded me with a North Louisiana drawl that was more pronounced than usual.
With my hair out of my face, I noted Tess's steel-blue eyes were bloodshot, and there were deep, dark circles beneath them. My aunt's hair was thrown up into a bizarrely messy bun rather than her normal freakishly neat French twist. Instead of her signature flowing tank dress, sandals, and wooden beads, my free-spirited aunt was wearing a wrinkled, oversized tee, jeans, and hiking boots. Something about Tess had me as worried for her as she was for me.
I wanted to ask her what was bothering her, but I knew better than to probe. Tess is as tight-lipped as her brother… my father… The Community's leader.
My shame and concern was abruptly replaced by panic when I realized Tess could come by my house to check on me while I was out playing hooky at the lake.
I shook my head. "No, Aunt Tess. You're right. I never should've come in. Don't stop by. The more you're around me, the higher the chances of you gettin' sick. I'll be fine. If I need anythin', I'll let you know. I promise."
Tess studied me. "I don't know. You're over there at that big ol’ house all by yourself. What if you get too weak to go get help? I still don't understand why you wouldn't stay with me this summer. That's our tradition. Late night reading and girl talk. I'm gonna miss it," Tess said. I looked away as the disappointment registered on her face.
My decision to spend the summer alone at my father's house rather than with Tess had everything to do with Tess's “adopted” son. Tess unofficially—and more than a little begrudgingly—adopted the now eighteen-year-old Lorenzo after his mother was killed in an accident several years ago. I love my father's sister the way I'd love a mother if I had one. Unfortunately, my love and respect for Tess doesn't spill over to Lorenzo.
For reasons I still don't understand, Owen demanded Tess become Lorenzo's mother, and she knew refusing wasn’t an option. Not in the commune.
Instantly, Tess becomes the proud parent of a sociopath. I roll my eyes at the absurdity of my father's demands.
Lorenzo's mother, Viv Bijou, had been a beautiful and eccentric woman. For my entire life, I had heard rumors about her. Most of the gossip centered on her being a tainted union hall whore. In the commune, tainted is slang for a woman who's had an out-of-wedlock affair.
In Viv's case, her affair was with a man outside the commune, and it left her pregnant with Lorenzo. When Viv's daddy found out what she had done, he tracked her down like a bloodhound, dragged her back to the commune, and let The Community's elders beat her nearly to death with a razor whip.
To this day, I still remember accidentally walking in on Viv while she was trying on some hand-me-down clothes at Tess's house. The red-raised scars that angrily crisscrossed her back were gruesome and ugly. Viv's unfortunate decisions made her the poster child for the commune's young girls… an example of what happens when you try to leave, an action not tolerated by the commune's leaders.
Even now, it saddens me to know Viv's scars were the reason Lorenzo's daddy refused to take Viv back or have anything to do with his son. Scarred for life, pregnant with an illegitimate child, and now tainted, Viv had been sent to live at the union hall. After she delivered Lorenzo, she was given no choice but to become a whore, because in the elders' eyes whoring is all tainted women are good for.
I never once cared that Viv was tainted. What scared me was the fact that she was deeply disturbed and, at times, filled with a rage that frightened even the bravest commune resident. Regrettably, Viv's mental problems and pure hatred were passed down to Lorenzo.
I jumped at the banging on the bathroom door. "Tess, what's going on in there," a harsh and angry voice yelled.
Like a bitter sibling, Lorenzo hates every second Tess and I spend together. Since the locked door was preventing him from knowing exactly what we were doing and every word we were saying, he was pissed.
Lorenzo's a man amongst The Community's leaders now that he's eighteen. I had to remind myself so I wouldn't tell him what I really thought about him.
Tess's head snapped toward the banging. For the briefest of moments, I saw a flash of fear in her eyes.
"Y-you're right, Emi. I want you to go home and get some rest. I'll come by in the mornin' to check on you. Call me if you need anythin'," Tess said, tenderly pushing an invisible strand of hair behind my ear.
Ashamed of my dishonesty, I nodded and looked down before Tess realized there was nothing wrong with me but the web of lies I was spinning and the pounds of guilt weighing me down. Tess opened the door for the tall and muscular Lorenzo. He looked past her, and his stare raked up and down my body. He made me feel naked even though I was wearing conservative cutoff shorts and a halter-top. Unconsciously, I cross my arms.
If Lorenzo's features belonged to anyone else, I'd find the boulder of a man one of the most handsome I've ever seen. His hair is cappuccino brown and wavy; his eyes are steel blue; his skin is perfectly bronzed; and his muscles are big and bulky. Unfortunately, they don't belong to anyone else. They are bundled up within Lorenzo's sadistic personality, and I loathe everything about him.
"What's wrong with you? You up to somethin' now that your daddy and brothers ain't around?" Lorenzo said with a sneer.
Tess patted his arm and tried too hard to be chipper when she said, "Heavens no, Lorenzo. They all have stomach viruses. They're goin' back home 'til they feel better." Tess looked back at me. "Don't forget I'll be by in the mornin', sweetie."
I nodded before going to the sink and washing my face and hands. I had to get rid of the disgusting stomach acid coating the inside of my nose and making everything reek of puke.
I heard the door shut behind Tess and assumed I was alone. When I stood up and found two faces—mine dripping wet and Lorenzo's suggestively smirking—in the mirror, I was startled.
He may be a few months younger than me, but he stands at least half a foot taller than my five-foot-nine frame.
His sneer had turned into the kind of possessive glare he always has when it's just the two of us. While he ogled me, I silently questioned what I did to make him hate me so much. Whatever it was must have been bad. I wondered if it was too late to apologize.
"You know your daddy and brothers felt pretty bad when Viv died. Insteada findin' out why they was so guilty, I decided to use their guilt to get somethin' I've always wanted," he said, raising his eyebrows dramatically. "You. I asked Owen if you can be promised to me. With a little bit of pressure, he finally agreed."
My mouth dropped open, every bit of air gushing from my lungs. My shock was the exact response Lorenzo was looking for judging by the gleam in his eyes and his malicious lopsided grin.
"That's right, Emi. I'll be the father o’ your children and the one to decide if you get sent away when you're twenty-one."
You've freakin' got to be kiddin' me, I thought.
With a desperate determination, I narrowed my eyes. "I'll kill myself first!" I whispered, and I meant every hate-filled syllable.
My current disrespect for Lorenzo would have been intolerable in Owen's eyes. If he or the boys heard how I'd just spoken to Lorenzo, I'd be picking myself up off the floor and nursing a bloody lip.
Within The Community, there are rules that have to be followed without exception. One of the most important ones is the woman's place. Women within the commune are taught from birth that they are essentially second-class citizens who are required to treat men—every single one of them—with reverence no matter what they do or say. Nothing less. Ever.
If what Lorenzo told me is true, he will be the only person who will have a say in whether or not I'm allowed to live within The Community with the babies I'll be forced to have with him. If he wants, he'll be able to send me away (to God only knows where) while the women of the commune raise my children. Soon, he'll be able to do whatever he wants to me. When that time comes, my back-talking will haunt me, but I can't help myself. I refuse to cower.
With the familiar arrogance the men within the commune are conditioned to possess, Lorenzo chuckled. "Yeah right. I've seen you. You're just like Tess. You'll do anythin' Owen tells you to do. The two of you are the good little lap dogs he's taught you to be. Actually, that's what I like about you. As soon as you're mine, you'll be my lap dog, and I have somethin' I want you to lick… long and hard."
He forced his hips against me, trapping me against the sink. He snaked his hand around my waist, pulled me closer to him, and used his free hand to cup my breast. As he squeezed it tight, I tried not to scream out in pain. I bit my tongue until it bled, refusing to give in to his taunts. Tears welled up, but I would not let him see me cry.
"Damn, I want to fuck you right now," he whispered in my ear, sucking the lobe into his mouth and giving it a little bite.
Even with an empty stomach, I wanted to throw up at the thought.
Thankfully, there was another knock on the door. Lorenzo groaned in pure irritation. "Right now, I want to fuckin' kill whoever’s on the other side of that door. Since I'm sure it's your nosey aunt, I won't."
He pushed against me one more hard time, pinched my nipple until it stung, and kissed my neck. "Think about me tonight will you, Emi?" he said hoarsely before flinging open the door. "She's all yours."
I still remember looking in the mirror and seeing that Tess had indeed returned. We stared at each other. Based on my hurt, she knew what he'd just revealed. The earlier fear I'd seen in her eyes returned, and with it, I knew Lorenzo told the truth.
Until that very minute, I'd naively assumed my father's status as the leader of the commune would give me advantages not offered to others. Today, I learned I would not be given any more privilege or respect than the other women in The Community.
I glared at Tess. All guilt and worry had vanished. "Don't you come check on me in the mornin'. Do you hear me?" I said hatefully. The phlegm in my throat kept the words from traveling any farther than Tess's ears.
Tess nodded, wiped a tear from her eye, ducked her head in shame, and walked away.