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Excerpt for White Wings Weeping by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

White Wings Weeping

By Lesley Davis

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 Lesley Davis

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

White Wings Weeping

What happens when nightmares come true?

 

Kieran Lee is plagued by disturbing demon-filled dreams that are bleeding out into reality. Driven to the brink of madness by a deadly compulsion she cannot control, Kieran finds herself an unwilling patient in a psych unit. She knows that no amount of medication or therapy is going to help her in this fight for her very soul.

 

Dr. Merlo Blue is no stranger to the human mind and quickly realizes Kieran is no ordinary patient. Instead, the assistance of a demon-hunting private investigator and select members from the Deviant Data Unit is required. They alone can determine if Kieran’s dreams are angst-filled nightmares or a dire warning sent from the underworld itself, foretelling death and destruction on a massive scale.

 

The world is full of discord and hatred, but how much of it is just human nature when an evil with sinister intent is invading people’s hearts?

Praise for Lesley Davis

Pale Wings Protecting is a provocative paranormal mystery; it’s an otherworldly thriller couched inside a tale of budding romance. The novel contains an absorbing narrative, full of thrilling revelations, that skillfully leads the reader into the uncanny dimensions of the supernatural.”—Lambda Literary

 

Pale Wings Protecting “was just a delicious delight with so many levels of intrigue on the case level and the personal level. Plus, the celestial and diabolical beings were incredibly intriguing…I was riveted from beginning to end and I certainly will look forward to additional books by Lesley Davis. By all means, give this story a total once-over!”—Rainbow Book Reviews

 

Dark Wings Descending “is an intriguing story that presents a vision of life after death many will find challenging. It also gives the reader some wonderful sex scenes, humor, and a great read!”—Reviewer RLynne

 

Playing Passion’s Game is a delightful read with lots of twists, turns, and good laughs. Davis has provided a varied and interesting supportive cast. Those who enjoy computer games will recognize some familiar scenes, and those new to the topic get to learn about a whole new world.”—Just About Write

White Wings Weeping

© 2018 By Lesley Davis. All Rights Reserved.

 

ISBN 13:978-1-63555-192-1

 

This Electronic Book is published by

Bold Strokes Books, Inc.

P.O. Box 249

Valley Falls, NY 12185

 

First Edition: May 2018

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

 

Credits

Editor: Cindy Cresap

Production Design: Stacia Seaman

Cover Design by Sheri (hindsightgraphics@gmail.com)

By the Author

Truth Behind the Mask

Playing Passion’s Game

Playing in Shadow

Starstruck

Raging at the Stars

 

The Wings Series

 

Dark Wings Descending

Pale Wings Protecting

White Wings Weeping

Acknowledgments

Thanks always to Radclyffe for granting me such a marvelous publishing platform to launch these stories from.

 

Thank you times infinity, Cindy Cresap, for your editing prowess, your encouragement, and that sly sense of humor that makes me think you were wasted not being a Brit.

 

Thanks to Sandy Lowe and to everyone at Bold Strokes Books.

 

Many thanks, Sheri, for such a seriously striking cover that was exactly what I wanted to have capture this story’s essence. You totally rock!

 

Huge thanks to my friends and readers whose marvelous support truly keeps me writing: Jane Morrison and Jacky Morrison Hart, Pam Goodwin (Thank you for walking by my side, sword at the ready. You, my friend, were truly heaven sent.) and Gina Paroline, Kim Palmer-Bell, Cheryl Hunter and Anne Hunter, Kerry Pfadenhauer (especially for the times we spend on the PS4 talking about my characters and their journeys while playing and somehow still gaining XP in our respective games! Game on, fellow Reaper!).

 

And to you, Cindy Pfannenstiel, I keep my promise from all those many years ago. Way before Rafe and Ashley were even thought of, “this” was always meant to be a part of their story. Finally, I get to run amok on your home soil just like I said I would and exactly how I said I would! *evil chuckle* Thank you for your invaluable help on this story in so many ways. X

Keep fighting those demons no matter what form they take in your life.

 

Stay strong, reach out, and hold firm.

 

You are not alone.

Chapter One

“Kieran? Kieran Lee? Can you open your eyes for me, please?”

Whiteness. A burning brightness that seared through her eyelids with a painful intensity. That was what Kieran registered as she regained consciousness. She could hear a voice calling her name. They weren’t going to leave her alone anytime soon either, judging by their tenacity and the increase in volume.

Kieran felt something on her skin, prodding, poking at her. The sharp sting of a needle being inserted brought her ever closer to being awake. She grunted at the pain and willed herself to reach out and slap away whoever was intent on disturbing her. Her body didn’t cooperate with her mind, though. It felt sluggish and weighed down.

Why couldn’t they just leave her alone? All she wanted was to drift away and sleep.

“Kieran, open your eyes.”

A different tone this time. Deeper, a touch harsher. The tone of an exasperated mother trying to get her child out of bed and up for school. A distant memory surfaced, and she could almost hear her mother’s voice calling to her from downstairs, “Get up now before I come drag you out!” Irritation always colored her mother’s voice because Kieran was still huddled beneath her sheets, pleading for just five more minutes.

Kieran paid no attention to this voice either. She didn’t have to listen to anyone anymore.

“Kieran, do you know where you are?”

Please, lady, just shut up. Kieran groaned in exasperation, then gasped as her eyelids were lifted up and an even brighter light was shone into her eyes. Kieran fought against the hold on her head as she tried to shut her eyes against the intrusion. The light mercifully went away, and it was then she became aware of the monotonous sound of machines beeping out a steady rhythm beside her. The noise was too loud. Each blip and beep rang along her nerves and set them further on edge. Kieran blinked her eyes clear to take in her surroundings. The whiteness faded, leaving behind the reality Kieran had hoped not to see.

The pale cream walls of the hospital room were clean and stark under the bright fluorescent lights that shone above her. She couldn’t mistake the faint odor of a pungent disinfectant that permeated the room. There was a harsh soap powder scent from the starched sheets underneath her and the faint fruity smell of sweat from whoever was beside her. A woman dressed in wrinkled hospital scrubs stood by the bed, checking on a tube fixed to an IV drip. So that was what they’d stuck in her. Kieran flexed her hand, feeling the uncomfortable tightness of the needle lodged in her flesh.

Damn it. I don’t need whatever drugs you’re pumping into me to be any more disassociated from life than I already am.

“Kieran, do you know where you are?” Dr. Reynolds, according to the name tag on her chest, leaned over to peer into Kieran’s face.

“Trapped someplace between heaven and hell.” Kieran’s voice sounded tired and scratchy even to her own ears. Her chest hurt and her eyes felt rubbed raw. She tried to move, but for some reason, she was restricted. Kieran tested the limit of the thick bands that fastened her wrists to the bed rail. “What the hell?” She tugged against the restraints a little harder. Panic began to set in; Kieran did not like being tied down.

“You’re in the St. Louis University Hospital. Do you know why you are here?” Dr. Reynolds was writing something on the chart she held in her hands.

Still trying to get free, Kieran closed her eyes again as realization sunk in. She was hooked up to drips, the beep of the machines was her heart being monitored, and she was restrained on the bed like a fugitive.

I failed again. Defeat weighed heavy on her soul.

“You were found washed up on the bank of the Mississippi River. Can you tell me what you were doing earlier tonight? Witnesses said they saw you climbing on the Eads Bridge.”

Kieran sighed and opened her eyes once more, resigned to her fate. She stared up at the ceiling.

Suicide. I was attempting suicide.

Kieran didn’t say the words out loud, but she could tell the doctor already knew that fact judging by the look on her face. Kieran couldn’t meet the woman’s eyes. She turned her face away from the pity she could feel directed her way.

Don’t give me that look, lady. You can’t possibly understand my motives and needs or why the hell I tried to die. I can’t believe I screwed this up again. Trying to kill myself is proving harder than it looks. Next time I need to add more rocks to my pockets. Or maybe find a taller bridge. Seek out deeper water perhaps? A trip to Niagara Falls might just be my ticket out of here.

“You’re going to have to talk to someone sometime. We can’t let you just walk out of here now that you’ve coughed up all the river water out of your lungs.”

Kieran sighed. That explained why her chest hurt so much. She had a vague recollection of throwing up most of the Mississippi after someone had applied CPR. She’d much rather talk to them about reviving her when she hadn’t asked to be saved than deal with another goddamn shrink. Yeah, yeah, sure, bring on another professional to join the long list of specialists I’ve been seen by already. No one understood her predicament. No one would understand why jumping from a bridge to drown herself was far more suitable than living. She felt the harsh bite of the restraints clamped on her wrists, holding her down. Yet another piece of her control taken from her. No one would ever understand the nightmare she was in. It had made the depths of the water seem incredibly inviting.

Tears stung at her already sore eyes. I just want it to stop, just for a while. Or even eternity. I’m past caring now. I can’t live like this. She stared at the ceiling. And yet, I can’t seem to die either.

Five serious desperate attempts to kill herself in the past twelve months had all resulted in the same pointless outcome—Kieran left very much alive while medical professionals questioned her sanity and found her perfectly lucid.

If I was crazy enough to believe in such a thing as a guardian angel, then I’d start to wonder why he can keep me out of death’s grasp but can’t stop the madness from swallowing me whole every time it begins. Where’s his blessed protection then?

She was startled when a hand touched her shoulder. She tried to wriggle out from under it.

You don’t want to touch me. I’m marked. Marked by something so evil that I can’t even wash away my sins for it by drowning myself.

“Tomorrow is a new day,” Dr. Reynolds said. “I’m sure things will look brighter.”

Kieran stared at her, amazed by the triteness of the comment. My dear deluded doctor. Things haven’t looked brighter for the last year. There’s no sunshine and daisies in my future. I’ve seen it all, and the path put before me is laid in brimstone and paved in the bones of the dead.

And I’m so tired. I’m weary and heartsick and need for it all to just stop. The weight of this knowledge is burying me alive. Yet I can’t seem to die and I’m trying so hard to embrace the sleep of the eternal.

“Kieran?”

Kieran turned her head away. She screwed her eyes up tight to try to shut out all the light and grant herself the blessed darkness she wished for.

Just leave me alone. I’m done for today. Because while you see skies filled with sunshine, I’m left smelling sulfur and tasting ashes on my tongue.

 

* * *

 

Dr. Merlo Blue hurried through the reception area of the Craven Hope Psychiatric Hospital and made a beeline for the reception desk. She flashed the young woman behind the desk an apologetic grin as she placed the Starbucks coffee in front of her.

“Yes, Claudia, I know I’m late. The coffee is hot, though, I promise. And so fresh I watched them squeeze the beans myself.” Merlo leaned over the desk to sweep up her day’s patient folders. She juggled them around in her arms, making certain to keep her own coffee from spilling. She caught Claudia rolling her eyes at her. “Hey! I saw that look. I’ll have you know I kept perfect time yesterday. You can’t expect perfection two days in a row. Besides, I still have plenty of time before my first patient if I go now before you start berating me.” She winked at Claudia, who still hadn’t uttered a single word, and headed toward the doors leading to the psychiatric wing.

She found her office and as always marveled at the gold writing that spelled out her name on the frosted glass. Carefully balancing her coffee cup on top of the files, and praying nothing would fall, Merlo retrieved her key from her pocket and unlocked the door. She put everything on her desk and took a quick gulp from her coffee. Merlo winced as it burned her tongue.

“Damn it! You’d think after this long I’d remember hot coffee burns.” She gasped for air to try to cool her mouth and shrugged off her coat to hang it in the closet. She brushed her hair back from her neck where it tickled at her. It was longer than she usually wore it, falling somewhere mid-shoulder and curling at the ends. She quickly fashioned a chignon, then eyed herself critically in the mirror that she had secreted away on her closet door. The swept-up hairstyle made her look more professional, at least. Not that she needed the confirmation. Merlo was outstanding in her field. She was a psychiatrist who excelled in the use of psychotherapy in her sessions with amazing, sometimes even miraculous, results. She was proud of what she had accomplished in her career. She’d worked hard and it was paying off.

Merlo riffled through the folders to get an idea of what the day had in store for her. There were a few new additions to her caseload she had to read up on before she would meet them. She sighed as she ran her fingertips over the pile. So much anguish consigned to a few sheets of paper and a checklist of triggers. She’d lost count of how many people she’d seen. Their problems were wide and varied, but all had the same effect—making life a living nightmare for them. Her time was divided between those with serious mental issues that they had no control over and those who were burdened by the weight of the world and their own problems on top.

So many souls struggling to keep their heads above water while the anxieties of the world see fit to drag them under.

Merlo despaired sometimes at how fragile people were.

She took a more cautious mouthful of her coffee to fortify herself for the day ahead and settled herself into her chair. She reached for the first case file, but before she opened it, she offered up a prayer. It was something she did before every session. It calmed her mind for the tasks ahead.

Let me ease the troubled souls of your children. Let me provide them comfort and soothe away their pain. Help me stand beside them as they face their inner demons. Strengthen me to be their faithful guardian and to arm them for their fight. Guide my hand to direct them on their journey. Help them find peace as they face the trials in this life until they are bathed in your light in the next.

She picked up her first case and began to read the notes. Forewarned as to what her first patient was experiencing, Merlo picked up her phone to tell Claudia she was ready to begin.

The psychiatrist is in.

Chapter Two

The group therapy room was just big enough to accommodate the ten people who were currently sitting in a circle in a resigned silence. Kieran wasn’t a part of the group, but she’d been seeking some peace and quiet somewhere, anywhere, and had been in this room first. She was, as always, accompanied by an orderly who followed her around like a badly trained stalker.

She’d pulled up a chair so she could gaze out the window and try to ignore her surroundings. The orderly stood at attention beside her. She acknowledged that her incarceration at this new hospital was something she had to resign herself to for the time being. And that meant her every waking moment was being monitored and catalogued. She was rarely left alone for any length of time. A steady rotation of orderlies dogged her footsteps as she wandered the corridors of the unit.

Kieran hooked a foot around a spare chair and nudged it into the orderly’s direction in the hopes he’d quit hovering and just sit down.

The sky was clear and blue. There was a small well-kept garden just outside the window that Kieran was watching a man work on. He was meticulously measuring out rows to plant whatever seeds he had kept in his hand. He’d plant something, move along a little, and plant something else, then go back to the first small mound he’d just patted down to dig the seed back out again and plant it somewhere else. He’d been keeping Kieran entertained for the last five minutes. She was curious as to his reasoning behind it. She wondered if he did it deliberately to lengthen his time spent in the sunshine alone instead of being cooped up with the rest of them inside.

Kieran had been moved to the Craven Hope Psychiatric Hospital once she’d been considered well enough to leave the University Hospital for one more suited to her mental needs. What Kieran needed was to get the hell out of this place so she could go about her business.

She sat in a comfortable sprawl, feigning a nonchalance she didn’t feel. She was fighting the urge to cross her arms over her chest. She’d lost count of how many times she’d been lectured over the defensive posture giving away her reluctance to join in and speak to those in charge. Kieran had learned the hard way that, no matter whether she told the truth or not, no one listened to her. She’d learned to hold her tongue unless she was badgering them to let her sign herself out.

She’d been diagnosed with having everything under the sun wrong with her. Differences of opinion ranged from her being chronically depressed to being bipolar or schizophrenic. Someone had suggested she was displaying the signs of some hereditary mental illness that only now was manifesting itself. Then there were the accusations of being attention seeking, a fantasist, or just another woman driven to distraction by her hormones. Finally, the manic-depressive with suicidal tendencies label was stuck in her file.

Kieran was hospitalized for a while after each attempt on her life, but what she had claimed she experienced had no physical evidence anywhere but on her own psyche. She’d had tests for tumors and chemical imbalances. They had delved into her family history but the Lee family was deemed relatively sane. All except for Kieran. However, she wasn’t psychotic enough to be kept on a psych ward, and the hospitals had more than enough people needing to use the space she was taking up. So they charged her a small fortune for antidepressants and deemed her fit to rejoin society. That led to Kieran signing herself out and traveling over to the next state, one where no one knew her or her medical history, where she could try to kill herself again.

And fail miserably, over and over and over again.

Though not for lack of trying. The five big attempts were the ones that had gained other people’s attention and gotten her on the mental health radar. More elaborate attempts such as the one that saw her stepping in front of a train late one night. It had seemed a good idea at the time, but it was doomed to failure like everything else she tried. Kieran had been hit by a deer that had had the same idea. It had bounded onto the tracks with her, knocking Kieran clear of the train while it took the brunt of the impact. Kieran swore the animal just appeared straight out of thin air to head-butt her in the chest and send her flying head over heels into nearby bushes. Yet, when the police checked her story, there were no remnants of a deer smeared on the train or any remains left on the track. Then there was her jumping off a building only to be thrown onto a balcony partway down by freak gales that blew in out of nowhere. Kieran couldn’t explain it and knew she just sounded crazy when she did. And she was considered crazy enough without the mysterious occurrences happening every time she tried to take her life.

Those events didn’t even begin to take into account the numerous other attempts of her swallowing a multitude of pills, waking up puking her guts out, and being all too alive with just a headache for her pains.

For someone so desperate to end it all she was becoming a master at cheating death.

Her gaze drifted around the room and over the group congregated in a silent huddle. Kieran had gotten to know them all by sight if not by name in the week she’d been detained. There was the OCD housewife who was trying not to give in to her need to rearrange the literature that was scattered haphazardly on the small table behind them. There was the man who could hear voices and was holding an in-depth conversation under his breath with Elvis concerning the merits of “Hound Dog” over “Jailhouse Rock.” Then there was the guy who seemed lost in his own little world. He was the one Kieran envied the most. He seemed so peaceful and serene in his distraction. She could only wish for that kind of tranquility in her own mind.

Movement and hushed whispers at the door drew Kieran’s attention away from her musings. Someone new was standing in the doorway. She couldn’t help but stare at the woman who was talking to one of the orderlies. She couldn’t hear what they were discussing, yet Kieran couldn’t take her eyes off her.

She looks like an angel.

She berated herself for that fanciful thought. She’s probably one of those white coats who just signs the medication forms and leaves you to your delusions in a drug-induced haze. I’ve met enough of those on my journey.

Still, she was very attractive. The woman’s hair was the palest blond Kieran had ever seen. So pale it was almost translucent. Not just light blond, or even white. It was like the first morning sunlight breaking through the confines of the dawn and blinding you with its purity. Her hair was up in a bun that was just begging for someone to run their hands through to free it. She had high cheekbones that lent her appearance a classical beauty of years gone by. It reminded Kieran of the old movies her mother used to watch. The black-and-white film captured the timeless elegance of the women of that era. This doctor looked like them—ageless, flawless, with a gentle curve to her chin like a young Natalie Wood. Her skin was honey toned, hinting at a Mediterranean background.

Kieran found her too beautiful to be real. She wasn’t very tall, Kieran guessed around five foot four, two inches shorter than her own height. The white coat she wore did nothing to hide the feminine shape underneath it. She was wearing a pale blue blouse tucked into a navy blue skirt. It was standard office wear, but she carried it off with panache.

Kieran knew her own hospital sweats and T-shirt couldn’t even begin to compete in the fashion comparison.

The doctor interacted with the orderly. Kieran noticed how she carried herself with an authoritative poise but always had a ready smile to curve her full lips.

There is no point in me crushing out on a doctor here. They’ve got to diagnose me as suicidal for the umpteenth time and start me on that old familiar course of therapy. I will be the model patient, say all the right things, and ace all the tests. I will do everything in my power to be seen as cured before they release me back out into the wild so I can try again. She’s a distraction I can’t afford to have.

Kieran looked back out across the garden and beyond. She was searching, longing for an escape from yet another institution that didn’t understand why she was there in the first place.

I’m just another lunatic raving about the end of the world.

Her orderly got up and stepped away. His abrupt departure surprised Kieran since he and the others had been hard on her heels for days. She turned to see where he had gone and realized the doctor had beckoned him over. When Kieran looked, she found the woman staring back at her. Her gaze felt as if it were a caress. A physical touch that penetrated through to Kieran’s very marrow. She saw the woman’s eyes change. For a brief instance, the dark brown seemed to intensify in hue and turn amber. Now Kieran knew she was going crazy. The expression on the woman’s face barely altered, but Kieran felt the wave of curiosity that radiated from her. She couldn’t help herself; she smiled as if she’d heard the woman’s silent greeting. It seemed to break whatever spell the woman was under. She blinked rapidly as if clearing her vision, then turned her attention back to the orderly as if nothing had just occurred between them.

But not before she looked in Kieran’s direction one last time with a small frown marring her forehead as if she wasn’t sure herself what had just taken place.

Unsettled, Kieran shifted in her seat. She rubbed at her cheek. She swore she could feel the ghostly touch of a hand that had just caressed her in farewell.

Maybe I am finally losing my mind. It was only a matter of time, after all.

She cast another look over to the door again, but the woman was gone. Kieran debated if she had even been real or something her mind had conjured up.

Maybe she had just been a figment of an imagination that had long since stopped being entirely under Kieran’s control.

 

* * *

 

Merlo didn’t waste time getting back to her office. She rummaged through her files to seek out a specific patient. Each file had a photograph of the patient attached as per Merlo’s instruction. She could recall faces so much better than names so always asked for this evidence to be included in her files. Merlo picked out the file she was after, the one pertaining to Kieran Lee.

The photo didn’t do the woman she had just seen in the therapy room justice. Her records indicated that Kieran was twenty-nine years old. She had to admit she was surprised by that. To Merlo’s eyes, Kieran exhibited the same youthful appearance that fascinated her in the actress Ellen Page. They both shared the same strong jawline and the slightly pointed chin that could have made Kieran just another eye-catching woman but instead gave her a distinctly tomboyish air that made her even more alluring. She had blond hair, though shades darker than Merlo’s own. She wasn’t sure what style Kieran had sported before because now her hair was just messy and unkempt as befit someone who hadn’t had it cut for some time and didn’t care. Merlo decided that she’d have to schedule at least a trim for Kieran if she was agreeable. She just wished that the jaded look that was all too clear on Kieran’s face wasn’t there to mar those good looks. The dark shadows under her eyes told their own story to Merlo as well. As did the haunted look she’d glimpsed hidden behind the carefully crafted look of Kieran’s indifference.

But it was her smile that had captivated Merlo’s attention the most. It had caused her to lose her train of thought while discussing appointment changes with the orderlies.

“She doesn’t look like she belongs here, even though this file would suggest otherwise,” Merlo muttered as she flipped through the paperwork and read what had brought Kieran under her care. She sent up a silent blessing for her personal aide, who always managed to find out more information than the patients’ own medical records ever seemed to contain. It seemed this Kieran Lee had more to hide than most. Her file was pretty innocuous on its own, but the extra sheets Dina had snuck in told a different tale. Merlo checked her desktop calendar and spotted that Kieran was scheduled for their first meet and greet tomorrow morning at ten o’clock.

“She’s housed in G wing as a Class A serious suicide risk.” Merlo shook her head in disbelief. She hadn’t sensed that at all in Kieran’s demeanor. She hoped she’d be able to learn more from their meeting tomorrow. Maybe she’d get a better read from being up close and personal. She studied the photograph one more time.

“You don’t strike me as a candidate for so many suicide attempts, and I’ve never been wrong before in my diagnoses.” Merlo leaned back in her seat and began strategizing how to start the session tomorrow with this particular patient. She had a feeling Kieran Lee wasn’t going to be very forthcoming in revealing her reasons for wanting off the planet. She’d just have to make sure Kieran could see Merlo was someone she could trust to share the reasons with.

And that was just the start. Then came the unraveling of the mind to search out the root cause of all the distress. She closed the file and settled in to call upon a meditative state. Only with a clear mind would she be able to work her way through the minefield of someone else’s mind. Today’s patients needed her focus to be on them before she attempted to decipher what secrets lay behind Kieran’s tired eyes.

Chapter Three

Breakfast in the hospital was a lively occasion at way too early an hour for Kieran. She chewed at her toast and sipped at the bitter coffee that didn’t improve in taste no matter how much sugar she dissolved in it. When she was finished, Kieran found herself back in the care of an orderly. She was getting ready to wander along the corridors when he pointed her in another direction.

“You’ve got an appointment,” he said, gesturing for her to follow him.

Kieran frowned and stopped where she stood. “I wasn’t informed of anything,” she said. She reminded herself to stick to the story that she’d slipped off the bridge by accident. All the people she’d seen at Craven Hope had heard her trot out the same lines. She had it down to a fine art now, and she knew she could be very persuasive when she was in her right mind. No one could disprove her story, and Kieran had wanted to get started on her campaign for release. The doctor assigned her case had been reluctant to let her go when there was obviously more behind her being brought in. Kieran knew her rational and reasonable behavior since recovering from a near-fatal drowning was confusing to the staff. They had no definitive proof that pointed toward a suicide attempt or that she’d try to do it again in the hospital. It all boiled down to her word against everyone else’s, and Kieran wasn’t admitting anything that would keep her in the hospital for a moment longer. They had safeguarded themselves by ferrying her to Craven Hope for “further observation,” so now Kieran had to start her bid for freedom all over again.

She followed behind the orderly and was wondering what more lies she needed to come up with this time. The atmosphere of the building altered as she was taken to a different area away from the psychiatric wing. The offices that lined the corridor gave out a much more professional air than the clean yet clinical rooms on the hospital side of the building. Kieran began reading off the names on the glass panels, impressed by the multitude of letters after everyone’s names.

I’ve fooled people with those qualifications before and I can do it again.

The door Kieran came to a stop at had a curious name emblazoned on the glass. Dr. Merlo Blue. Kieran read it again, testing the way it sounded. She could almost taste it on her tongue. Merlo was an unusual name. She wondered what kind of person was behind that name. Maybe an old man who would try to browbeat her into revealing why she’d stepped off the bridge that night. Or a woman, quiet voiced and nurturing, who’d try a different approach with the hopes Kieran would open up and spill her soul. Kieran wished them luck.

She waited while the orderly knocked on the door and popped his head inside to announce her. Kieran let her mind wander. She wondered how hard it would be to die of exposure in Nebraska at this time of year. June was a hot and sunny month most everywhere. Maybe she’d try Kansas and step in the path of a tornado. She was getting that desperate. She pondered these possibilities and more as she let the orderly lead her into the office, and he left her alone.

Kieran didn’t look at the person she was brought in front of. Instead she took in the room that was as much a prison to her as her room on G wing was. The walls were tastefully decorated with patterned wallpaper, and the carpet beneath her feet felt thick. She bounced a little to try it. There were a few framed pieces of art on the wall, nothing too garish and nothing that would trigger anyone unless they had an aversion to seascapes. Kieran yearned to be out on the sea somewhere, watching the sunlight shimmer on the water, feeling the gentle rocking of the boat lulling her, and hoping for a whale to come and swallow her up.

Eventually, she turned to face the desk and froze when she saw who was behind it. Dr. Merlo Blue was the angel-like creature she’d seen in the therapy room. Close-up, she was even more captivating.

Kieran had a feeling this was not going to go as well as she had hoped. How could she state her case for sanity when confronted by someone whose eyes seemed to see right through her? Kieran feared she’d open her mouth and end up talking in tongues.

Merlo waved her toward the chair in front of the desk. Kieran lowered herself slowly into it because she had the horrible feeling she was about to spring a giant trap on herself. She shifted a little, trying to get comfortable. At least this time she’d have someone pretty to look at while she tried to charm her way out of the psych ward.

Merlo looked up from the file she’d been reading, but before she could open her mouth, Kieran interrupted.

“How about I save you some time and energy, Dr. Blue, and just say there’s been a terrible misunderstanding. I fell off the bridge by accident, nothing more. I was using my phone to catch Pokémon using that app I’m sure you’ve heard all about. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I was this close to catching a Gyarados, that’s a water Pokémon, when I got too close to the edge of the bridge and ended up in the water. I wasn’t paying attention and got careless in my footing. It’s so stupid to admit it and I feel like such a fool. So if you’d be so kind as to just sign me out, I can be on my way from here with what’s left of my pride intact.”

Merlo leaned forward in her chair, propped her elbows on her desk, and rested her chin on her hands. “So you weren’t trying to kill yourself?” she asked.

Kieran smiled what she hoped was her best and most sincere smile. “Of course not. I have no reason to do that.”

Merlo smiled back. The sight of it made Kieran’s heart race just that little bit faster. Please let her buy this excuse because I’m starting to run out of them.

“So the previous four attempts were all just accidents too?”

Kieran felt her smile slip. She willed herself not to react any further. How the hell does she know about those?

Merlo tapped a finger on the file before her. “You’re very adept at changing your name in each state you try to kill yourself in. I’m impressed at the lengths you go to disguise who you are so that nothing shows up under your real name. You never seem to carry much identification when you’re found either, and it’s never your own ID anyway. It works, too, because you’re never in the hospitals long enough to be recognized as a repeat offender. The official record I have just shows this latest attempt and some rather inconclusive notes.” She held up a separate pile of paperwork. “However, these say something different. I had to dig a little deeper with you, Kieran. I have ways of finding out the truth about what brings someone like you into my office.” She sat back in her chair and considered Kieran for a moment. “This time you used your real name. I’m wondering why you did that.”

It was a spur-of-the-moment thing; see a bridge, jump off it. I got careless. I was bound to slip up at some point, but I’d hoped if I did it would be too late to worry about it. Because this time I was supposed to get it right.

“I know this isn’t the first time you’ve attempted suicide. You’re obviously determined to do it because you keep trying.” Merlo tapped her folder again. “But this doesn’t tell me about the other attempts you’ve no doubt made away from prying eyes. Ones where you’ve woken up alone and realized, against your wishes, that you’re still alive.”

Merlo fixed Kieran with a look that was so solicitous Kieran felt it. It touched her like a warm hand alighting on chilled skin. It somehow penetrated all of Kieran’s carefully erected walls. For a fleeting moment, she felt something rest upon her head, caressing her hair. The gentle touch of a loved one that said, “It’s all right now; you’re not alone. I’m here.”

That feeling of peace relieved and terrified Kieran.

“Based on what I’ve read of your other attempts, and how you somehow manage to get discharged every time on some technicality or another, I think we’re going to need to set some ground rules.” Merlo picked up a sheet of paper to reread something. She looked at Kieran from over the top of the page, shook her head, and then continued. “Number one being don’t lie to me. I’ll know when you do, and it will just drag this out more for you in the end. And from what I’m reading, you don’t like to stay anywhere for long. Don’t make me have you committed just to hear your side of the tale when you’re ready to tell it.”

Kieran stared at her, speechless. No one had ever threatened her with that before. She looked at this Dr. Blue with new eyes. So, not just a pretty face then. More like pretty ruthless. Kieran wondered what other sources she had access to. Damn it, and I worked so hard to fly under the hospitals’ radars. The pile of papers had been deliberately placed so that Kieran could see them. They were all her hospital records, filled in under all the false names she had used. How in the hell did she get her hands on those? It would have been impressive if it didn’t screw up Kieran’s plans to just walk out of this hospital.

“And yes, you could tell me what you think I want to hear and I could tick all the boxes you hope I will to expedite your time here, but what is the point? I am offering to help you. At least give me the chance to try.”

Kieran wished it were that simple. She could keep silent and not cooperate, but she had a feeling that would just make things worse for herself. Or she could go along with everything Dr. Blue suggested and be the good little patient and fast-track her way out of there so she could disappear again. She just hoped Dr. Blue would fall for it like the others had before her.

“Kieran, in our sessions together I’m hoping you’ll come to trust me enough to be able to tell me why you keep trying to kill yourself.” Merlo rose from her chair and gestured for Kieran to join her on the more comfortable seating.

Kieran followed her without a word, still shaken by what had just transpired. She sat on the couch she was directed to and watched Merlo settle herself into an armchair opposite.

“For today, though, how about you tell me a little bit about yourself? Who you are, what you do.”

Kieran’s mind scrambled to find something, anything, she could answer with. She had no clue who she was anymore.

The real Kieran Lee hadn’t been home since the madness had taken up residence inside her head.

Chapter Four

Merlo waited while Kieran seemed to stumble over the simple request. She smiled at her in encouragement.

“Imagine we’re in another setting if that helps. Perhaps we’re at a restaurant, just getting to know each other.”

Kieran’s brow crinkled. “Like speed dating?”

Merlo laughed. “Humor me.” She slipped off her shoes and drew her legs up under her on the seat to look less professional. She had a feeling Kieran didn’t react well with authority figures.

“Well then, let’s see. I’m Kieran, but you already know that from your files. I’m a Scorpio. I love anything that involves pasta. I’m kind to small animals and I like to take long walks,” she paused as Merlo watched her intently, “off short piers.”

Merlo cocked her head at that. She decided to let it slide. “Do you have anyone that knows you’re here? I noticed in your notes you have no one listed as your next of kin.”

“Oh, are we at the ‘are you married, single, or gay’ part of our meet and greet now?”

Merlo was enjoying the facetious way Kieran answered her. She had known from the second she’d seen her that Kieran wasn’t going to be someone who would just spill her guts and expose all her secrets in their sessions. Merlo had had all kinds of patients sitting opposite her. The silent, the morose, the murderous. She felt comfortable with them all, treated them with the same courtesy and with the confidence that, under her care, she could help them.

Kieran was hiding something, Merlo was certain of that. What was intriguing was how calm and lucid Kieran was, even after spending time interred at the previous hospital and now in this one. She seemed resigned to being there, saw it as just another step in her journey, and was intent on getting out. Yet she wasn’t combative in her desire to leave. And, Merlo recognized, she’d had all her arguments lined up to impress on them that she shouldn’t be there in the first place. She’d heard them all from the doctor Kieran had seen last. Accidents happened, but Merlo recognized these as desperate attempts to end a life. And she recognized the lies that were being used to cover up those facts. What she couldn’t understand was why Kieran had to lie in the first place.

“So, you have no family or friends or a lover to inform where you are. At least, no one you want to have told.”

Kieran shrugged. “My mom died years ago. It’s just me now, and I don’t have much baggage.”

Merlo caught a double meaning in that statement. The police had gone to the motel room Kieran had been staying in and had found nothing more than a backpack with very little in it other than clothing. It was devoid of any kind of personal belongings.

She found this curious. Merlo had settled into a place that had been her home for years now. She surrounded herself with ornaments and paintings, delighting in every object that made her house a home. It gave her comfort. She wondered at the deliberate lack of anything that could bring comfort to Kieran as she skipped from state to state ready for the next attempt on her life.

“Is there a reason why you travel light?”

“Well, it’s not like I can take it with me, is it?”

Merlo saw the look in Kieran’s eye that flashed for just a second and then was gone. Grief. The anguished look of loss. Merlo wanted to chase that fleeting thread and tug on it some more to unravel all her secrets, but Kieran’s face had hardened and she knew she’d have to wait.

“What’s your profession?”

“Unemployed…or more truthfully, unemployable. It’s hard to hold down a job when you’ve got another place you want to be more. It makes a full-time position undesirable, and when your employer asks why you want part-time…” Kieran smiled. There was an edge to it that Merlo found almost chilling. “Let’s just say being truthful at interviews isn’t recommended for those with other intentions.”

“What were you before your priorities in life altered?”

“A lawyer.”

Merlo wished she’d have made a wager with herself on that one. That explained the persuasive arguments for everything and the ease with which she’d talked herself out of all the previous hospitals. It also explained how she had the funds to travel around.

“When did everything start to change for you, Kieran?”

Kieran looked up from where she’d been tracing a line on her hospital sweats. “There we were having such a nice conversation over an imaginary fine wine and linguini and you had to go spoil it by bringing in reality.” Kieran looked at her wrist as if she had a watch there. “I think this restaurant is about to close. Your next patient is due, no doubt. And I get to go back and watch the world go by while you try to uncover the psyche of some other poor bastard.”

Her eyes drifted to the door, and Merlo looked over her shoulder to see the shadow of the orderly waiting to take Kieran back to the ward. This had been just a short preliminary meeting, but it surprised Merlo how quickly the time had passed.

“My ride’s here,” Kieran said.

“Maybe we can continue this in our next session. I have you scheduled for daily appointments for a while until we can get to the cause of your attempts.”

Kieran looked surprised and then annoyed but managed to pass it off with a shrug. “Sure, I’m free tomorrow. Tuesdays are always empty on my calendar.”

Merlo bit back her smile at Kieran’s sarcasm and stood when Kieran did. For a moment, she swayed on her feet. Kieran reached out to steady Merlo, and they both froze as a jolt of something passed through them both.

“Wow,” Kieran said. “And I thought that was just something writers used to emphasize their romantic tropes.”

“It could just have been static electricity,” Merlo said, trying not to get flustered, and busied herself getting her shoes back on. “The room is carpeted, after all.”

“Well, take it from me, it was a whole lot kinder than electroconvulsive therapy.”

Merlo froze at Kieran’s throwaway comment. “You’ve been put through that?”

Kieran paused by the door, her hand poised on the handle. “Different doctor, different treatment. An electric current blasted through the brain to chase out my ‘depression’ seemed a good idea at the time. At least to him.” She glanced over her shoulder at Merlo. “Obviously, it didn’t work because here I am again, going through the same old routine, answering the same old questions.”

“I won’t have you put through those methods here, Kieran.”

“But you’ll still keep asking why.”

“I’d like to know why you keep trying to end your life.” Merlo took a tentative step forward. That triggered Kieran to open the door, effectively ending the session.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Dr. Blue. Maybe I’ll have thought up a good enough answer by then that will satisfy your curiosity.”

Merlo watched the two shadows move away from her door. She didn’t know how long she stood there after Kieran left, but it was enough that Claudia had to buzz her intercom three times before Merlo answered.

“Yes, yes, send the next patient in.” Merlo settled herself back behind her desk and tried to ready herself for the next person. Her mind just couldn’t let go of Kieran, though. There was something about her that Merlo couldn’t decipher yet. She wondered what tomorrow’s session would entail and whether she should bring out the big guns so soon to see just what Kieran was hiding.

She smiled to herself. She had a few secrets of her own.

 

* * *

 

There were very few moments in the day that allowed Kieran to be left to her own devices. So when not being hovered over she always put the rare time to good use. They’d allowed her a calendar in her room. It was a single sheet displaying the months and the days on a poor quality photocopy. Kieran didn’t care; she pored over it. It had been just over a week now, a week of sitting in Merlo’s office every day for a near hour-long session, skirting and dancing around the truth. Kieran had been careful how much she revealed to Merlo. After all, she wanted to leave the hospital, not stay there indefinitely as a hopeless case.

Kieran had toyed with the idea of breaking into Merlo’s office and stealing the incriminating files she had held over her head. If there was no proof of the other attempts, Kieran could then press her case for release, maybe even threaten to sue the hospital for falsifying documents to admit her under false pretenses. She’d been building her case on it in one of their sessions and had caught Merlo’s eyes on her. Kieran had begun to wonder if Merlo could read minds because in that moment she’d felt exposed. Seen. It had been enough to shake her out of her breaking and entering fantasies.

She spent far too much time as it was daydreaming where the pretty doctor was concerned. Kieran found her immensely attractive. She wanted to run her hands through Merlo’s hair to see if it was as soft as it appeared. Kieran was fascinated by the lilt of a faint accent that clung to Merlo’s words. Kieran had to smile at herself. She hadn’t been this smitten by anyone in years, and it just had to be her damned psychiatrist. I’m cursed every way I look at my life. But if she had to wage wits with someone, then Merlo was by far the most intellectual, attractive, and mysterious of them all.

She was also the one who could keep Kieran trapped in that damned hospital for longer than she wanted to be, and time was of the essence where Kieran’s life was concerned. She called on her memory to remember the dates she had marked in the diary she used to carry with her. That was no doubt in storage along with her backpack.

She was thankful that, for all she’d gone through, her legal mind still fired on all cylinders. She had a good recall of the significant dates she needed. Kieran marked the dates off with small x’s. She frowned when she saw how the days between the x’s were getting significantly shorter.

It’s happening more frequently. There’s barely even a month between it now.

She ran her fingertip through the months, charting the progression and frequency. Something made her pause and recheck the last few months over again. She counted off the days up until today.

Oh God. I need to get out of here now. I can’t afford to be in here any longer.

She was just about to hide the sheet when a voice in her ear startled her.

“What are you doing there? Marking off the days of your captivity?”

The orderly grinned down at her, his eyes alight with glee. He was getting off on how he’d startled her.

Kieran slipped the calendar inside the bedside table drawer. “No, I was keeping a record of my menstrual cycle.” She got some measure of satisfaction in his grimace and the way he backed away from her.

“It’s time for you to get your ass to the dining hall for your last meal before we lock you down for the night.”

Kieran didn’t dignify that with a reaction. The other orderlies more than made up for this guy’s attitude. Besides, Kieran now had other matters to attend to. She managed to bump into him as they left her room. He gave her a disgusted look and shoved her away in front of him. Kieran kept her hands in her pockets and her head down as she made her way to have supper.

 

* * *

 

The food was edible as always, but Kieran barely recognized what was on her plate. She just swallowed it down and wandered back to her room when she was done. She stuffed her pillow under the bedsheets and turned off the lights. In her pocket, she fingered the keys she’d slipped off the orderly’s key ring. She sent a heartfelt thanks out to the gentleman she’d represented three times on pickpocketing charges. He had taught her a few tricks of his trade as a thank-you. They’d never been more useful than for what she had planned for tonight.

Kieran had watched the nightly routines of the staff ever since she’d been brought in. The patients were allowed to wander around, and even those like her who had orderlies shadowing them were granted some alone time after the last meal of the day. Kieran had noticed that the new orderly who had collected her wasn’t as attentive as her usual ones.

She slipped out of her room and was soon off out of the ward thanks to the passkey she had in her possession. She headed toward the kitchen. She wasn’t familiar with the layout of the hospital, but she figured that the kitchen had to have a delivery door. That would be her point of exit.

Voices drifted down the hallway, and Kieran ducked inside an employee locker room. She huddled in a corner out of sight of prying eyes. She watched as the day staff prepared to leave. They gathered their belongings and left in a flurry of loud voices and laughter. Kieran waited a while until she was sure the room was deserted, then she stepped out of the shadows. She pulled off her sweatshirt and slipped on a white jacket that someone had left hanging off their locker. She hoped she could pull off a professional air while swaggering through in her sweatpants.

She walked out the locker room and headed straight for the kitchen. She snagged a piece of fruit from a counter and popped it in her pocket for later. She slipped out the back door and was soon outside in the evening’s fading sunshine.

“Now for the fun part,” she muttered and pressed the key fob she had hidden in her sweatpants. A car alarm beeped and flashed its lights at her halfway down the parking lot. “This will teach you to learn some manners, young man,” Kieran said, hastening to the car and opening it. The car reeked of expensive leather. “I’m going to steal your car and then my first stop will be the tackiest drive-through I can find.” She rummaged through his cup holder, riffling through the change there. “I’ll be sure to use all this money you have left for me too. I’m going to spill cola all over your upholstery as payback for you getting all up in my face and looking at me like I’m trash.”


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