Excerpt: Shadows of Pain
The tires of his motorcycle squalled loud enough to make his ears ring as he rounded the curve. Daniel smiled a twisted smile. He liked the feel of being in charge, driving fast, and living fast. It was great…at least he tried to tell himself it was still what he wanted.
The road in front of him got a little blurry and he shook his head to clear it. Maybe he shouldn’t have had that last drink.
Used to, it wouldn’t have mattered. He could have easily drank twice that much and been fine, but before tonight it had been a long time since he’d even touched anything resembling alcohol. Not since Corey Nickels had started getting to him with that religious nonsense. It infuriated him that he could have ever believed a word that man had said! How could he have been so stupid?
He’d actually believed there for a while that there was a God and He could love someone like him. Crazy! That’s what it was, just plain crazy. He was unlovable. That’s what his mother had always told him, even his father had left when he found out Daniel was coming into the world. Growing up, his mother had always blamed him for his father’s abandonment and nothing he could do was ever right. He’d tried so many times, in so many ways to make it up to her but he’d always fallen short. If his own mother couldn’t love him, how could God? The answer was simple…He couldn’t.
Yet, it had felt so good when Corey had taken an interest in him and made him feel as if someone really cared. Daniel snorted. That wasn’t possible. Sure, JD cared what happened to him, but that was only because they were partners. JD was another one of those ‘believers’. It seemed like everywhere he turned he ran into one of them. People who believed in Him and that He would help them.
What had God ever done for him? For Daniel William Jenkins? That was easy to answer. Absolutely nothing. Well, maybe He’d made life harder than necessary—he guessed that was something, but that wasn’t the loving God everyone talked about. JD, Aurora, and Kami talked about this wonderful, perfect, loving God who wanted what was best for His children. The God Daniel knew about was just plain cruel. He’d let an unwanted child be brought into the world and be mentally abused all his life. The least He could have done was let his mother put him up for adoption. If she had, he could have at least had someone who wanted him, growing up. Instead, he was alone and unwanted in a cruel world. Life was completely unfair.
That’s not fair and you know it, a little voice in his head whispered. Oh great, now there were voices in his head! Life just keeps getting better and better. Next thing you know, I’ll be answering my own questions.
He looked up and studied the deserted road. There was absolutely nothing in sight. It was a long stretch of road that wasn’t traveled much. That was the only reason he chose to drive home instead of calling for someone to pick him up. It was fine for him to endanger himself, but he didn’t want to put others in danger. He would never forgive himself if he crashed into a family traveling home. It was his job to stop those types of people and instead he had chosen to drive home like an idiot. Maybe he really should have gotten a ride home.
Thinking of the people he could call calmed him down some. JD would drop everything and come running. He was a real friend, not just a partner. They’d been friends since high school and helped each other through everything. JD would help him in any way he could. Daniel felt bad for his earlier condemnation of his friend. He could think of no truer friend in the world. JD was closer than a brother to him.
Then, there was Aurora. The sister he’d never had. She would do anything for him. She often told him that he and JD were her family. They were her little brothers always getting themselves into trouble. He liked that idea of family, but she was married now and had a real family. She wouldn’t need him now, but she would still come running if he called. It was an unwritten rule that she would always be there for him…no matter how stupid he acted. Both of them were family to him.
Kami’s face flashed through his mind. She’d been doing that a lot lately—invading his thoughts. Kami Reynolds was a beautiful woman. Not just beautiful on the outside, though she was gorgeous. She was an honest-to-goodness, good person on the inside. He’d met very few of those.
She’d made an overture of friendship and he’d wanted to accept it, but he knew he could never think of her as just a friend. If he thought about it logically, which at the moment he wasn’t inclined to do, he could start with friendship and move to something more. That was what he would do in any other relationship, but then again Kami wasn’t a regular girl. She was…unlike anyone he’d ever met before and he wanted to get to know her much better. He stopped those thoughts before they could take root in his mind. Kami was a believer and he wasn’t. It was that simple. He’d heard her talk about God and how loving and kind he was. She was passionate about it and would want him to change, start believing, and he couldn’t. God didn’t love him. That was the simple truth he couldn’t change. It would break one or both of their hearts if they tried. He could never do that to Kami and he knew he could never live through that.
He let off the gas and slowed down a little, thinking about the first time he’d ever seen her. She’d walked into the station with those big brown eyes, wide and innocent. She’d scanned everyone in the room and then her gaze settled on him. He felt like he’d been handed a prize when she smiled at him, and he still swore his heart actually stopped. She’d slowly glided across the room towards him and he’d almost swallowed his tongue.
She was definitely a looker. She was tall and slim with legs that seemed to go on for miles. Thick raven colored hair and chocolate brown eyes that made a man want to melt. She had a dark complexion, like she’d been bronzed by the sun. Gorgeous. That was the word he would use to describe her. Sure he’d had his share of women around even some really pretty ones, but there had never before been one quite so beautiful.
JD had walked by smiling and whispered, “Wipe the drool off your chin.”
Daniel regained his composure and glared at his partner’s back as he walked off chuckling.
“Um, I was wondering if you could help me?” Her hesitant voice changed his expression instantly, and he’d smiled.
She had explained who she was and that she was there forAuroraand needed her files. He’d told her he would only give them to her on one condition…she gave him her phone number.
She’d smiled at him and turned away. He’d grabbed her arm before she could walk away. “Where are you going?”
Her lips twitched with amusement she couldn’t contain. “To find someone who doesn’t have quite so high a price for their help.”
His mouth had fallen open and she had laughed at him, the musical sound filled him. “You’ve got me there. My sister wouldn’t appreciate it too much if you told her I wasn’t a gentleman while you were here. I would be more than happy to assist you, ma’am.” He stood and led the way toAurora’s desk. “I’ll get the files and even carry them to your car for you.”
“So sweet of you.” She murmured following him toAurora’s office.
He wondered if she knew how beautiful she was and the effect she had on men. When she’d walked in, every head in the room had turned and she hadn’t seemed to notice at all. While talking to her on the way to her car, he found out she was totally oblivious to it. She didn’t realize she was a knock out. She thought she was just an everyday, ordinary woman. She didn’t know how wrong she was.
He hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind since that first meeting. Her smiling face flashed through his mind a million times a day, at the most inconvenient times, and she haunted his dreams. She was an elusive creature he could never quite catch. Apparently his preoccupation was quite obvious to everyone.
One morning after a night of little sleep, because she’d called him the night before to tell him how Aurorawas doing, he’d come into the office and JD had given him a hard time about falling in love at first sight. He’d balked at the idea and stared blankly at his partner for a full minute. Love? He liked her, sure, she was gorgeous and sweet, but love? That was a mighty strong word especially considering he had just met her. How could his friend even joke about something like that?
“She’s gorgeous, no doubt about it.” He said nonchalantly. “She has an easy grace…can make any man look twice and pick his jaw up off the floor afterwards. That’s all it is. Attraction.”
JD had just smiled and gone back to his paperwork. That had irritated Daniel beyond belief. His partner completely dismissed what he’d said.
“It’s true.” He insisted, his voice gruff.
JD looked up with an infuriating smirk on his face. “I never said it wasn’t, Daniel.”
“You may not have said anything but your look said a lot. Tell me she didn’t make you look twice.”
“Oh, I can’t do that because she did make me look twice. That’s easy to admit. Any man would have to.” He admitted easily, leaning back in his chair to study Daniel as he spoke. “But, I got over my initial infatuation, you haven’t. It doesn’t look like you’re going to anytime soon either, buddy.”
Daniel had grunted a noncommittal response and given up. So he’d been a bit smitten. He would admit to infatuation. It was just the fact that such a beautiful woman had focused her attention on him, he was a little proud about it. He’d get over it…he hoped.
Cold rain slapped him in the face, bringing him back to the present. Great. He was wearing his suede jacket! It wasn’t supposed to rain tonight. That added an extra element he didn’t need. He already had to focus more than usual to drive safely. He should have been smart and called someone to pick him up.
There was a curve coming up he should slow down for. Aurora and JD would never forgive him if he was going too fast, being stupid, and hydroplaned. He let off the gas completely and pressed the brake.
He squeezed harder, but still nothing.
He looked up at a curve he knew he had no hope to make and lump of fear lodged in his throat. He was going way too fast for this curve. There was no way this ride could end well. The curve was too sharp and even at his best, which he wasn’t exactly right now; this would be dangerous and close to impossible. He closed his eyes and leaned into it but felt the bike sliding off the road. Maybe he could pull this off.
Miracles still happen. Please, God, I need some help. He felt his tires hit the gravel and he went airborne, flying off his bike.
The last thing he thought before he hit the ground was it was too late. He’d waited too long. God was out there and loved him, but he’d been too stubborn to admit it. He saw the ground coming toward him fast and then the world went black.
“Is he going to be all right?” Aurora’s worried question was the first thing he heard. I’m still alive? How is that possible? He opened his eyes to assure her he was fine, but closed them tight when he encountered a bright light. He inhaled and smelled antiseptic. Oh great, a hospital!
“He should be fine. A concussion and bruises are all we’ve found. It is a miracle you know. As fast as he was going, he should be in critical condition, not just battered and bruised.”
“How long will he be out?” This time he recognized JD’s voice.
“I don’t know. He could wake up any moment or it could be tomorrow…or later. You never know with head injuries.”
A head injury? That explained the throbbing at his temple. There was a gentle squeeze on his hand and he returned the pressure.
“Hey guys, he’s coming to. He just squeezed my hand.” An excited, familiar voice exclaimed.
“Great!” Auroracame close and whispered. “Daniel Jenkins, you are in a lot of trouble when you wake up. You’d better have a really good reason for this.”
If he could have, he’d have smiled at her scolding. She was definitely in big sister mode. He could tell by her voice she’d been really worried. How long had he been out? Wait, if Aurora and JD were on the other side of the bed, who was holding his hand? He slowly cracked one eye and looked up.
He closed his eyes because of a different kind of pain this time. She was the one person he didn’t want seeing him like this. Helpless and having to rely on other people. Not the ideal circumstances to impress a woman. He opened his eyes again and she was still there, worry written all over her face.
He smiled. “You’re so beautiful. Are you an angel?” He teased.
“He’s fine.” JD declared. “He’s up to flirting with Kami, he’s fine.”
Daniel slowly shifted his gaze to his partner. “Don’t you have something better to do than hang around a hospital at this time of night?”
“Try morning.” Aurora’s voice was louder than normal and he winced. “Sorry, you got a headache?”
“Just a slight one.” He held two fingers up about an inch apart. If all else failed, he knew he could hide behind humor for a little while.
“In that case, I’ll save the lecture until you can concentrate a little more. I don’t want you to miss one word of this one. It’s going to be a big sister lecture like none other.” She promised and leaned down to kiss his cheek. “You scared me out of ten years of my life, D.”
He reached up and took her hand. “I’m sorry. I tried to slow down but my brakes didn’t work. I knew you two would be worried if something happened. I didn’t want to put you through that. Forgive me?”
Aurora’s brow had furrowed. “What did you say?”
“You’ve already been forgiven, Daniel.” She said with a hint of impatience. “I meant about your brakes.”
“They wouldn’t work. I tried to slow down so I could make the turn but they just wouldn’t respond.”
“Are you sure?” The question came from JD.
“No reason.” Auroraanswered quickly. “You get some sleep. We’ll be here when you wake up.”
His eyes had gotten heavy and he didn’t argue. He squeezed Kami’s hand one more time to make sure he hadn’t been dreaming and when she returned the pressure; he smiled and faded into sleep.
* * *
“It’s just a coincidence.” Aurora’s hushed whisper confused him as he woke later. He reached for Kami’s hand but it wasn’t there. Well he couldn’t expect her to be beside him twenty-four seven. It wasn’t as if she was supposed to be here. They were casual friends nothing more. Still he felt a loss at her absence.
“You don’t believe in coincidences, Roar.” Her husband, Jordan, answered reasonably. Daniel had to concentrate to catch his words, the world was still a little out of focus. “Look at the facts. Something is happening and we need to figure it out fast before it escalates.”
“What are you two arguing about?” He asked when they paused for a breath.
“Sorry. We didn’t mean to wake you.” Aurorawas beside him in an instant. Ignoring his question she asked, “How are you feeling?”
“Better. My head doesn’t hurt nearly as much. Right now it’s barely a dull ache.” He told her honestly. “By the end of the day I doubt I’ll be able to tell its there.”
“Amazing.” Auroramurmured standing back to look him over. “They told us you would probably have a headache for days after the spill you took. Which I’m reminding you that you still have a lecture coming.”
He smiled. “I don’t think I’m quite up to that just yet.”
“It’s good to see you back.” Jordantold him stepping up besideAurora. “You made quite a spectacle of yourself last night.”
“How did I get here?”
“Ambulance.” Aurorasmiled. “You don’t remember the exciting ride. There were sirens and everything.”
He could just imagine that noise with his headache. “I’m glad I missed it. Who called it in?”
“Just someone driving by. A lady with three kids who came by right after it happened. She called, and then stayed in her car until the police and ambulance got there. She was distraught that she couldn’t stay with you. She got out to check on you when she got there, but couldn’t leave her kids in the car alone. She wanted to follow the ambulance to the hospital, but she needed to get home and take care of her family.” Jordan smiled. “She’s called twice to check on you this morning.”
“Remind me to send her flowers. I probably owe her my life.” There was silence in the room for a moment. “Now what wasn’t a coincidence?”
“Nothing you need to worry about just now. We’ll tell you all about it tomorrow when you are released.”
“They’re keeping me another night?” He hated the idea. Hospitals weren’t his favorite place.
“Dr. Suesue said you were doing much better than expected, but she wants to keep you here one more night as a precaution.” Auroraexplained with sympathy.
“Did you stay all night?”
“No.” She hesitated. “JD and Kami did. They sent me home and I came and relieved them this afternoon. They’ll be back soon.”
“It’s afternoon? Man, my days and nights are all mixed up right now. I was thinking it was maybe early to mid morning.”
“Sorry to break it to you but you slept away most of the day. It’s alreadyfour thirty.”
“I guess I’m going to sleep a little more, it’s getting hard to keep my eyes open.”
Aurora patted his cheek gently and affectionately. “Go ahead. Just a warning, we were told you’re bruised almost from head to toe and the pain meds they gave you will be wearing off soon so you’ll start really feeling it.”
“Great. Thanks for giving me something to dream about.”
Auroralaughed and he fell asleep smiling. He was loved. These people, his friends really did love him. It was an amazing concept to grasp. JD and Aurora were the family he’d never had. They loved him in spite of all his flaws. Why hadn’t he seen it before?