So, instead of giving little snippets here and there, I figured I’d give you the entire Prologue to whet your appetite!
Dark Secrets is available for Pre-Order on Amazon and iTunes, and will be available at Kobo and Barnes & Noble in the next few days. Don’t forget that The Mercenary is still on sale for $0.99 with checkout code AD75M at Smashwords. But do not worry because even if you’ve not read it, you’ll still enjoy its stand-alone sequel.
PROLOGUE, DARK SECRETS
You can never really imagine how bad things can get.
Of course you worry about it… Did I leave the iron on? What if the airbags don’t go off? This headache must be a tumor…
There’s always that comforting thought—even if it’s buried deep inside you—that there’s probably nothing to worry about. And when you can breathe that sigh of relief—you didn’t forget your keys, you did just update your home insurance, you did pay that bill—there’s always that moment when you shake your head and say, “how silly of me.”
I was always one of those people who was able to relax, sit back and laugh, no matter what was happening out there in the real world. Because bad things only ever happened to other people. My life hadn’t been stained by some unseen tragedy that I would need years of therapy to cure. There were no skeletons in my closet. And as someone who was unmarked by misfortune, I lived a fairly laidback life. Nothing ever really bothered me. I had great friends, an exciting boyfriend, my own car, my parents were happily married… life was grand.
This past summer, my boyfriend, Jeremy, and his best friend, Patrick, concocted an idea that was too good to pass up. They wanted the four of us—Patrick also happened to be dating my best friend, Lisa—to go out to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival before school started. Patrick’s cousin Neil went there to study theater and was going to be in a production written by a local playwright for the festival, and since the family he was staying with had extra rooms in their house they said we could all go and stay with them for as long as we wanted. Sounds like a good deal, right? I thought so.
My parents had taken one of their many impromptu yacht trips at the end of July. Since school was going to start in a month, I decided that it was the best time for a last-minute summer adventure before my final year of university. I was in Sociology at Yale, getting really good grades and working really hard. Living at home and having my tuition paid for probably made that a little easier. I knew I was the 1% that wouldn’t have to slave away for the next fifteen years just to pay off school loans, and I was certainly grateful for it.
You see, we were sort of rich. And when I say rich, I’m going to go ahead and guess that we were somewhere in the neighborhood of Vanderbilt-rich. My dad owned a shipping company with his brother that operated out of the UK, and my mother inherited quite a bit when her father died, not to mention her occasional consulting and public speaking gigs. I was an only child, which meant the fortune would one day be mine, but I very humbly used my trust fund only for school, a few shopping sprees here or there and the occasional trip abroad. And the bmw I so lovingly called Babs was a gift from my uncle for my twenty-first birthday three years ago. Watching him try to figure out Skype when I wanted to call and thank him was both embarrassing and hilarious. He lived in Scotland, and my dad was here with us in Connecticut, but they were always on business trips together. My dad was the money man, had his iPhone and iPad with him wherever he went. He would often leave the room to take a call from his brother, who was in charge of operations, but clearly had no idea of how to operate modern-day electronics.
So, with every reason to go to Scotland written on a checklist and ready to read to my parents if they ever picked up their messages and called me back, I decided that hell freaking yeah I was going to Scotland.
Even though my dad and Uncle Garrick were close, both professionally and personally, I hadn’t actually gone to see him since I was twelve. He always came here about once or twice a year, and said it was easier for one man to travel than my both my parents and myself. I didn’t really understand what he did for the company exactly, but I knew he was really important and very wealthy. Obviously, once a young girl knows her family is rolling in it, she doesn’t need to question why the money is there. After thinking about my uncle’s little personality quirks, I decided not to tell him I would be in his country on vacation. It would be my first time there as an adult, and I could just imagine him trying to slip my friends twenties and lending us his sports car to go have a bonny time. He was my flesh and blood, and I did love him, but there were corny family trips, and there were get-drunk-with-your-friends-and-dance-until-your-feet-bleed kind of trips. Guess which one I wanted to take?
I will see him next time, I had promised myself.
And maybe that next time he wouldn’t be under house arrest, or whatever the hell was happening when I was there last. We went to visit when I was twelve years-old, and there were several men with walkie-talkies and guard dogs all around his property, even a guy at the front gate with a huge gun. I had completely forgotten about it until a few years ago, when Jeremy had the not-so-brilliant idea to drive down to Mexico with one of his college buddies during spring break. When he told me what the border patrol looked like, I was instantly reminded of that time at Uncle Garry’s. When I asked my father about it, he said I had imagined it and waved me off. Waiting until I was out his sight to roll my eyes, I decided it didn’t really matter. I was a mama’s girl and numb to his dismissive comments. Besides, what daddy said was best, right? He was the type of man that always wanted a son and was not afraid to admit it. Oh, he loved me for sure, why else would he support me through one of the most expensive universities in the world? But like I said, if I needed love and support, I went straight to my mother.
When we got to Edinburgh, there were people everywhere. On most days, the capital city of Scotland is jammed with tourists, but during the Fringe Festival, you couldn’t stretch your arms out without touching someone. But it only made it that much more spectacular. The four of us drank whisky, climbed Arthur’s Seat, watched the shows, danced at the ceilidhs—we were having a blast. We even went to one of those underground ghost tours that managed to scare the crap out of Lisa and me, and gave teasing rights to Jeremy and Patrick for the entire week. But we got over it. What with the music, the fireworks, the shopping… we were having the time of our lives. And why wouldn’t we? We were young, worry-free, and I was about to embark on the last stretch of my education before I could really start my career.
What career could you get with a Sociology degree? Just about anything under the sun, really. And as a spoiled young woman, the idea hadn’t crossed my mind as much as it should have. Probably because my father expected me to be Jeremy’s housewife one day. It wasn’t the most comfortable conversation I ever had with him, but I learned at a young age that if I didn’t want my father’s opinion on something, I shouldn’t ask. Did I want to live through life never having a real job? Did I never want to know the feeling of getting a paycheck, of earning my lifestyle instead of just having it handed it to me because it was my birthright?
The jury was still out on that. My mother seemed happy with it. But to me… that type of existence just seemed so empty. I didn’t want to be a delusional woman who ended up having her own reality show and making a mockery of herself. I was having fun with my friends, certainly, and I would probably remember it for the rest of my life, but the hard reality was, this wasn’t life. This was a party. A really, really long party.
The family that Neil was staying with, the Nicholsons, were quite hospitable, and even though I had to share a bathroom with six other people, their house was quaint and smelled like baked goods at all times. The mother was a short, middle-aged woman who was never seen without an apron and reminded me of Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter. The father, whom I rarely saw, worked outside the city and was only home late at night and on the weekends. They had three teenagers of various ages and they all played in a band that practiced in their friend’s garage. They were like the band geeks that you knew in high school, only better because they were Scottish.
About two weeks in, after a bit of cabin fever had threatened to ruin the mood of the trip, Jeremy decided to take me out, just the two of us, on a good old-fashioned date. Unused to romantic gestures, I was taken aback by his idea, and I grew excited to go out on the town. With the living situation we were in, we hadn’t enjoyed much privacy, and I knew he was getting a little antsy for attention, if you get what I mean. Our plan was to find a little restaurant in New Town, have a few pints, and if we were up to it, find a place where we could dance. Jeremy was the kind of guy who liked to be the leader. No matter how many people were in the group, or what type of event it was, he had to be in charge. Most of the time, I’d say it was an attractive quality. Confidence was not something Jeremy lacked. There was something about the way he would guide me through anything that—even if I knew it was bad—was hypnotizing.
There were other times, like when he popped pills and got shit-faced drunk, that it would really get on my nerves. Jeremy’s family was also wealthy. He was three years older than me and managed to somehow graduate from Yale while partying the whole time. I knew his father had something to do with it. That was one of the great, big, shining, colossal differences between him and me, and one of the things that sent waves of resentment through my body whenever he flaunted his wares.
I was spoiled and I knew this. Jeremy was the very definition of spoiled rotten and had no idea. Whenever he did something that reminded me of this difference, I could do nothing but ignore him for a few days until my anger cooled. Thankfully, it didn’t happen that often.
His parents divorced when he was a baby. His mother remarried. His father didn’t. He was a successful stockbroker who owned his own firm in New York City, and she had been his young trophy wife. It was the perfect environment for Jeremy’s childishness to grow. But with all his faults, I still loved him deeply. He was a true friend and had a knack for subtle romance.
We’d just finished having some drinks on Rose Street and were walking a bit wobbly over the cobblestones when he pulled me roughly by the collar of my blazer and kissed me wetly on the mouth. His breath tasted like fish ‘n’ chips and beer, and my first reaction was to push him off me. Being the small person that I was, I only managed to push myself backwards, and my heels caught in the cracks of the cobblestones, causing me to slam against a wall behind me. Someone wolf-whistled from across the street as Jeremy’s lips met mine again, possessing me sloppily. He breathed loudly, his hands pulling on my hair, trying to push my blazer off my shoulders, and as much as I tried to push him away he wouldn’t move.
“C’mon baby, stop,” I admonished, trying to nudge his face away.
“Just kiss me, Ellie,” he urged, pulling my chin toward him a little too roughly for my liking.
I swatted his arm away and gave a little push. People had stopped to stare and I didn’t want to make a scene, but he had gotten out of control in the past and the last place I wanted to end up was in an Edinburgh police station. That would have been an embarrassment I couldn’t live down.
He laughed softly and placed his hand on his heart. That smile, that pearly-white, the-best-money-can-pay-for smile got me every time. Jeremy was your typical Abercrombie hunk of gorgeous: tall and lean, with curly, light brown hair, and baby blue eyes that melted my heart and usually got him out of trouble for lesser crimes. His eyes practically twinkled as he looked down at me, like I was his favorite pet. “Ellie, what am I going to do with you?”
I shook my head and pulled him off the main street onto a less occupied lane. It was private, but there was enough traffic on each side that if I needed help, I could get it. Not that I would. “What is the matter with you?” I hissed. “How many pills did you take?”
He gave me a wolf-grin that would have melted the panties off a lesser being and shrugged. “Mom’s just gonna hafta heal natrer-rally for now…”
My eyes widened. From her recent tumble down the stairs that resulted in a broken arm to the two-year long battle with depression, the woman was on loads of meds, and Jeremy was pilfering them. I didn’t think he could stoop so low. Didn’t he love her at all? The problem was, I knew he was a decent guy, so why the hell was he doing this?
“Come on, we’re going back to the house,” I said assertively, in no mood to be around him, especially on the date that he suggested and now ruined.
“No, c’mon babe. I s-said we’d go out let me… let me take you out.” He seemed so genuinely disappointed that I sighed in exasperation, and he knew that was my surrender. He pushed me against the cold stone wall behind me and planted wet kisses on my neck and shoulders. I turned my head and let him kiss me, looking out for any passersby. I hated that my gut reaction to his kisses was negative. So what if he kissed like a fish? Jeremy Faustein was the man I would probably end up with. He had a good family, an education, and he was handsome and very charismatic. I knew that one day we would be husband and wife, and that we would have kids and live a very fulfilling life, and whether or not that included me having a job, I still hadn’t decided. But that was the reason I let him kiss me like that. Even though he made my skin crawl when he got high and drunk, I did it because I knew he was going to be my spouse one day and he would support me through thick and thin. Just like I would for him.
It happened while his hand was crawling up inside my shirt.
A white unmarked van swerved around the corner and screeched to a stop right in front of us, and all I could think of was how embarrassed I was that I’d been caught like this. The headlights illuminated the foggy street and hit me right in the face, making it impossible to see who was inside. Jeremy—whose wasted state of mind kept his reflexes on the slow side—swiveled around as the side door slid open, and I watched in shock as four masked men dressed in black filed out of the car at lightning speed.
Suddenly, my arm was pulled, Jeremy was punched in the face, and I felt an instant spike of adrenaline as terror weighed me down with indecision. My sky-high heels made it an easy task for them to yank me towards the van, and I screamed at the top of my lungs as they shoved Jeremy inside, head-first.
“No!” I shrieked. Locking my legs straight, I swung my Longchamps purse around like a mad woman, suddenly remembering, as it clunked against one of their heads, that Jeremy made me put a full bottle of Glenfiddich in it. Then I swung my hardest.
Two of the men got into the car to restrain Jeremy as I fought tooth-and-nail to maintain my freedom from the rough hands of the other two. The more I screamed, the harder they tried, but something inside me refused to get in that car, no matter what it took.
A new set of headlights flashed behind us, but I didn’t dare turn around. I hoped that whoever it was, had the brains to at least take down the plate number if they were too afraid to get out of the car. It didn’t even occur to me that whoever was in the car could have been more of these assholes. But luck was on my side that night (at least for this part of it) and the sound of the honking horn made everyone snap to attention. The masked driver barked commands in what sounded like Russian, and the men released me, running back into the car as quickly as they got out. Before I could beg them for Jeremy’s release—offer everything in my wallet and bank account in exchange for his freedom—before they even closed the side door, the car peeled down the road.
I exhaled a shaky breath, clutching my purse against my chest as I watched the taillights disappear around the corner, my boyfriend vanishing with them.
I blinked in horror, my mind still processing what had just happened. What did just happen? How could he just be gone like that? Who were these people? Was this some kind of sick, twisted joke? Even Jeremy wouldn’t be that insensitive.
“Oh my god,” I whispered. The reality of what had just happened was forcing its way into my conscious mind, but I couldn’t accept it. Didn’t want to. Accepting what happened came with responsibilities, with uncomfortable conversations and realities that I would have to face. I wasn’t ready for this.
“Are you alright?”
I turned on shaky legs to the old couple that had emerged from the car, looking like they weren’t exactly sure what they had just seen.
“My boyfriend,” I gasped, realizing how selfish my thoughts had become. I shivered so violently that my legs buckled, and if it weren’t for the kind support of this elderly couple, I would have collapsed on that back road.
They took my arm and guided me slowly to their car, promising to get help. Their concerned frowns made me blubber, and I felt a rise of panic in my chest. I sat in the backseat next to their shaggy dog, my purse still clutched to me like my life depended on it. They spoke softly to me and kept asking me questions, questions about myself that I couldn’t remember at that point in time. Who I was, where I came from… it was a blur. My mind rested in a crevice of thoughts, in that transitional point in my brain’s wiring that switched one thought to the other, always at a constant uhhh.
When I burst into tears, I knew it was real.
My name is Ellie. And this is the story of how disaster stole my life.