Home > Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)

Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)
Author: Catherine Cowles

 

PROLOGUE

 

SHILOH

 

 

PAST, AGE TEN

The wind howled through the cracks in the shed, and I pulled the blanket tighter around my shoulders. The fabric felt like sandpaper. Nothing like the blankets at home.

I closed my eyes and imagined running my hand over the quilt on my bed. It was just the right kind of worn. My mom had made it herself. She’d asked me what colors I wanted, and I’d watched as she pieced the fabric together and then stitched the shapes with her sewing machine. She’d quilted big stars across the covering. And every time I pulled it up to my chin, I felt as if I were sleeping under a blanket made of sky.

A door banged in the distance, and my eyes flew open. My hands trembled as I pulled the blanket tighter—as if that could protect me from whatever might come.

I couldn’t tell anymore if the tremors rocking through me were from cold or fear. Probably both. My dad had always told me that fear was natural. It was what you did with it that mattered. Somehow, I didn’t think he’d thought of this scenario when he mentioned it.

I listened carefully, but I couldn’t hear much above the howling wind. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, and I swore I felt cracks in it.

I looked longingly at the bottles of water next to the flimsy mattress. The man who wanted me to call him Dad had left them. But he wasn’t my dad. And I’d watched some thriller movies with my big brothers, Beckett and Hayes. I knew someone could put drugs in those bottles.

My stomach cramped as I took in the sandwich the man had placed beside the bottles. Bugs crawled over it now. My hands fisted in the blanket’s rough fabric. It was my fault—all of it.

I could still hear the sounds of the fair—carnival rides, music, and laughter. I hadn’t wanted to go. Had pouted and complained, wanting to go riding instead. But I’d been overruled. Maybe the man had gotten me because I’d been sulking. He’d said something about pony rides. I wanted to know where.

We had plenty of horses at the ranch, but I’d never ridden a pony. They were so cute. I’d turned to look and felt a pain in my side. The world had gone sideways then. I could see the people walking by, but I couldn’t say anything. Couldn’t wave my hands or scream for help. There was just…nothing.

Nothing until I’d woken up in this shed. How long ago had that been? One day? Two? More? It was all a hazy blur.

My nose stung, and tears burned my eyes. I wanted my room. Our ranch. Even my tagalong little sister. I would’ve given anything to see Hadley’s face poking in and asking what I was doing.

A tear slid down my cheek, falling off my chin and landing on the blanket. Would I ever hear her voice begging to come riding with me again? Taste my mom’s homemade lemon meringue pie? Help my dad feed and groom the horses? Go riding on the four-wheelers with Beck and Hayes?

The tears came faster, sobs racking my body so hard I didn’t hear the man coming. The door to the shed crashed open.

The man filled the doorway, his broad shoulders and angry face making me skitter back towards the wall.

“What’s all the racket?”

My noise was nothing compared to the brewing storm. Lightning lit the sky, illuminating the man in front of me. I only shook harder.

“I-I-I want to go home. I won’t tell. Just please let me go home.”

The man’s face twisted like the trees behind him, contorting in the wind. “You are home. Your family were sinners. Evil. I saved you. You need to show a little gratitude.”

My stomach clenched. He said the same things, over and over. Everything was evil or out to corrupt. My parents. The fair. School. The government. “They love me.”

“They don’t. I saw them not paying close enough attention. They pawned you off on your brothers, but they couldn’t even be bothered to watch you. You needed to get away from them. You’ll be safer with us. Protected from all the evil and worldliness.”

He glanced at the uneaten sandwich and stormed towards it, snatching it up. “This is perfectly good food, now wasted.” He threw it at me, his face morphing yet again. It was like he was different people at different times, and each one was more terrifying than the last. “Maybe you were a mistake. Maybe you have evil in you, too.”

“I-I don’t.” I didn’t think I did, anyway. But maybe I was wrong. I snapped at Hadley sometimes. Tattled on Beckett. I’d stolen Hayes’ favorite sweatshirt because I loved how soft it was.

The man’s eyes narrowed on me as he leaned forward. He studied me how my dad examined a broken water pump, looking for the leak. “I sense evil. The others might not see it, but I can.”

He moved in closer, and I shuddered, huddling against the wall. His hands gripped my shoulders tight enough to leave bruises. “I know when the evil slips in. I know the only choice is to beat it out of you.”

“I swear. There’s no evil in me. Please.” Tears streamed down my face.

The man wiped one away with his thumb and straightened, studying the liquid. He stared at it and sniffed. “You’re lucky they didn’t taint you. It’s a miracle. I saved you just in time. You’ll be a good match for my Ian one day.”

“Match?” The question was out before I could stop it.

The man grinned. “Meant to be. Never see worldly girls who are free of evil. But you knew that fair was bad. Knew you should stay away. I had to protect you. Get my son a good wife, too.”

“I can’t get married. I’m not old enough.” The words came out in a croak. Some foreign fear made my muscles quake. This was wrong. A voice inside told me to run. To fight with everything I had.

The man chuckled. “Of course, you aren’t old enough.” The amusement fled his face. “But I wasn’t going to leave you with your devil family to be tainted and ruined. We’ll keep an eye on you here. You’ll stay pure.”

Pure. It didn’t make sense, not like that. I’d only heard it used when it came to water. Dad would check the stream to make sure it was clean enough for the horses and cattle to drink from. It couldn’t get stagnant—too full of dirt and algae. It had to keep moving. That meant nothing when it came to describing a human being.

The man picked up one of the water bottles and tossed it at me. “Drink that water.”

I said nothing, still frozen, but the urge to run was so strong.

“I said drink it. This is my family, and what I say goes.”

I pulled the blanket tighter around me, covering my mouth as if that might protect me. All I could think about was being poisoned—or worse. He’d given me drugs at the fair. I knew it. I wouldn’t let that happen again.

The man grabbed the bottle of water. “You will drink this, or you will pay the price.”

“Dad?” It was a girl’s voice. I could just make out a figure in the dark by the trees. They looked about my age. Had she been taken, too?

“Get back to your room, Everly. This isn’t your concern.”

She didn’t move.

I pleaded with my eyes. Then, I let the words fly. Maybe she would hear my truth. Maybe she would see. “Please, let me go home. Please.” I didn’t want to be here. Didn’t want this man’s crazed world to be real. I just wanted my mom and my dad and my room. I wanted to go where nothing could hurt me.

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