Awakened by Terror #2
by L.L. Brooks
I survived, physically. Leaving five bodies behind, I escaped the desert. With three more dead before it was over, Bell one of them, they were all dead. The other survivor didn’t matter. Bunny’s mind was gone. She’d never be able to tell what I’d done. I didn’t need any reminders of those days of terror, not of what I’d done, or the deaths I caused, not with the nightmares and blackouts in the aftermath.
Pratters, the only one who suspected the truth, used my fear of exposure against me. Months after I thought it was all over, he showed up with a brain damaged, crippled man. Dumping Michael on me, he told me I was the only one he could trust that those he worked with wouldn’t suspect. Making me the one to hide and help Michael, Pratters swore he’d altered records. No one would know where Michael had gone, both of us would be safe. None of the promises eased the new fears. What of Michael? Oh, my God, I wanted him. Did that make me the whore Bell called me?
Release Date: November 12, 2019
Genre: Romantic Suspense
A Red Satin Romance
Two weeks to the day after his return from Phoenix, Pratters’ superior, Daniels, sat on the corner of his desk. Pratters worked, trying hard to ignore him. The subject was one he wanted to avoid ever since he’d had a gun pointed at his chest and the hammer hit. Only a fluke of a dead shell saved his life that night when he told Annalisa that Simon Bell was dead.
“This will be the biggest round-up in history,” Daniels said. “I can’t understand what Bell had in his head.”
“You can bet whatever it was, it was for his benefit.”
Daniels stared at Pratters sadly. “He had one saving grace, those girls he saved. Sure, Bell scared the hell out of them. He had to, to keep them quiet, but he saved them from a lot worse. One of those girls prays every night for him.”
“For his death or salvation?”
“Saving them is what got him killed.”
“Being what he was got him killed,” Pratters countered.
“There’s no give in you at all.”
“Not for scum like Bell.”
Daniels gave up, stood slowly, and laid the heavy folder on the desk, patting it slightly. “I’d still like to know where he came from and what made him do it. Did you get anything on that list of vets?”
“None that weren’t accounted for,” he answered, still without bothering to look up.
“Too bad. Sure you didn’t miss one?”
“Give it to Lewis if you think I can’t do my job.”
“You do it, too damned well. I think you ought to take some time off.”
“I’ll think about it,” Pratters answered indifferently, pushing the folder out of the way.
He didn’t look up until the door shut, leaving him alone. Only then did he take the folder to leaf through it. He, however, already knew what it held, plus more that only he would ever know, Annalisa being one and what Simon Bell had done to her safe, comfortable life.
He pulled a bullet from the change in his pocket, rolling it between his fingers. If the gun hadn’t misfired, that lead slug would have torn through his heart, his punishment for misjudging what Annalisa Summers’ reaction would be to Bell’s death. Though he knew more than anyone else what happened out there in that desert, there were still things only Annalisa knew and wouldn’t tell. As the last one Bell saved, she both hated him for kidnapping her and possibly loved him for keeping the others away from her, right up until the minute she shot him with the same thirty-eight pistol she aimed at Pratters.
Pratters had a quirk about ringing phones which accounted for the way he answered them. One never rang that it didn’t mean bad news, more work, or an interruption to sleep or work. He jerked up the one on his desk to stop the noise and growled his name.
“I love the way you answer a phone. It makes me want to hang up immediately.”
Pratters ignored the criticism of his phone manners. He knew the voice. Greetings weren’t necessary. “Is it Barrows?”
“I thought you’d like to know. He’s regained consciousness.”
“How bad is he?”
“We knew there was paralysis.”
“Yeah, go on.”
“We can’t be sure at this point to what degree the damage will be permanent. I want to stress that. What we see now will not be the end result. At this point, we just don’t know the full extent of the brain damage, or how much improvement there will be.”
“What is it now?”
“His mind is a blank.”
Pratters groaned and leaned forward to rest his head in his hand. “He’s a vegetable.”
“No, no, he’s awake, and he responds to light, sound, and touch. It isn’t hopeless by any means. From the tests we’ve run, we believe the damage to be localized in the memory centers, not learning or motor.”
“Motor? You mean he can’t move? At all?”
“Remember, I said the damage was in the memory centers.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means he’s going to have to learn to do it all over again, as well as regain use of the paralyzed areas.”
“At this point, it looks like everything. It’s very early yet.”
“Wait a minute. You said everything. You mean like read and write?”
“I mean like walking, talking—”
“You mean he’s an idiot?”
“No, I don’t. There’s nothing wrong with his intelligence, not that we know of. There’s no reason we can’t affect a near hundred-percent recovery with retraining and therapy. It depends on him and how hard he’ll work for it.”
A light on the phone blinked insistently at Pratters. “Look, I’ve got another call coming in. Will it do any good if I went to see him?”
“It wouldn’t hurt. Come by tonight.”
Pratters pushed a button to switch the call. He didn’t growl his name. He didn’t feel like it. “Pratters.”
“You sound tired.”
He straightened up with a jerk. “Who is this?”
For one of the very few times in his life, Pratters was dumbstruck.
“Are you sick?” she asked.
“No. I just-ah-a friend-I-I just...” He recovered from the shock, found his tongue normal-sized, and began to make sense. “A friend is pretty bad off. I just talked to his doctor.”
“I’m sorry. I hope he gets better.”
“They think he will, but there was brain damage.”
The long-distance lines clicked while they each waited for the other to speak. Then, they spoke at the same time.
“Go ahead,” Pratters said quickly.
“I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am for the way I acted and what I did.”
“Not really. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I’m sorry. I’d never have told you like that if I’d known.”
“You had no way of foreseeing the reaction I’d have. My problems aren’t visible and go back for so far. It’s like when I was a child, one time there had been a bad storm, and a branch broke in the tree in the backyard. It had a nest with baby birds in it. I wanted to save them. My father told me it would be useless, and the birds were only pests, not even worth saving. I tried, anyway. I propped the limb up with a piece of wood. The parent birds came back to their babies, but the next day, the neighbor’s cat got them. I hadn’t propped the limb high enough. I hadn’t done enough or done it right. I threw rocks at the cat.”
She paused before adding, “It seems a silly comparison.”
“I understand what you mean,” he said, willing to kick her father’s ass for his indifference.
“I let those kinds of things form the way I looked at life. I gave up trying or caring until Bell. I failed again. In a way, you were my father, and the ones who killed him were the cat. No matter what he was, it made everything I’d done seem so futile and hopeless and not worth doing anyway.”
Pratters skipped over the last part of her comments. “You didn’t fail. He would have lived.”
“Until the cat came.”
“There wasn’t anything else you could have done. You had no way of knowing what was going to happen.”
“No, but I think you would have known they’d have gone after him to keep him quiet,” she said with a hint of accusation.
“I did anticipate it,” he told her in self-defense. “I ordered a guard put on him. I’m sure you heard the news reports about the false papers they used to take him.” He didn’t add, of course, that he ordered Bell taken from the hospital and his ambulance set on fire.
The silence lengthened uncomfortably again. “How are you?” he asked to end the awkward quiet.
“Fine. I have to take it easy for a while, but I’m fine.”
She didn’t sound much better. She still had the listless quality to her voice.
“You don’t need to be. It would have happened sooner or later. I was shutting myself behind a wall, not feeling or caring deeply enough for anything to touch me. It made me defenseless when something did. I look at things differently now. I was forced to. When you break down, things always look different. You’re looking up. I learned a lesson.”
“Not to try?”
“No, that’s the mistake, but you have to accept failure when you do.”
“You didn’t fail.”
After she hesitated, she answered. “No, I really didn’t. I’ll let you go now. If you ever come this way again, stop in. I’ll be a better hostess.”
She was being polite, ending the conversation casually. He answered in kind. “I’ll do that.”
He had no intention, even as he said it, of ever seeing her again. Annalisa needed no reminders of that time of terror in her life. She needed time to recover from the aftermath. He picked up the folder Daniels left behind, the one barely covering the man, Simon Bell.