Agonizing pain burning through my body woke me up. My lungs immediately filled with the smoke surrounding me.
Shaking the fogginess from my head, I tried to get up but my legs wouldn't move. No matter what I did, they didn't respond. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the haze around me, I spotted a huge piece of wood pinning my legs. I sat up and tried with all my strength to push it away, but it was useless.
Blood slowly dripped from my forehead to my cheeks and lips. My callused hands were covered in blisters. How could this happen?
My eyes searched for her as the fire spread more rapidly. I saw her silky black hair lying across the bench. She appeared unconscious. The orange flames surrounding us moved dangerously closer, heading toward her body.
"Sapphire." Her name came out as a hushed whimper. No matter how hard I tried to clear my throat, I couldn't speak any louder. After the accident five years ago, talking with more volume was a luxury I couldn't afford. How I wished to shout just then to make the woman I loved open her eyes so we could run with our little one.
Then the terrified scream filled the air, and my body froze in fear.
"Daddy!" Kristina cried out somewhere from my right. "Daddy, help me! He wants to take me away." She started crying and kept screaming my name. A man's laugh echoed in the warehouse, and the familiar sound of flesh being slapped created a burning rage inside me. My hands fisted and once again, with a loud cry, I pushed the wood, but it didn't budge.
He couldn't have her.
He wouldn't have her.
My little girl.
"See, boy? You can never win with me. Now your precious daughter will know what it's like to make me happy." Kristina whimpered, and in a second, I heard the door shut loudly, trapping us inside.
S had my child.
"I'm sorry, baby girl," I whispered. "Daddy is so sorry."
No matter what I did, she'd have those nightmares for the rest of her life.
And unfortunately, I was powerless to stop them.
"Don't be mad."
My hands stopped typing another chapter of my book, and I spun around in my chair to face my four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who wore a guilty expression on her face. Her long amber hair tied back in a ponytail had leaves in it as her sapphire eyes—just like mine—widened in anticipation for my answer. The pink dress on her thin body was covered in dirt, and her hands held a small puppy. "What did you do?"
She blinked several times then raised the puppy in her hands to my nose. I came face-to-face with an adorable German shepherd puppy, whose tongue was hanging from his mouth as he studied my face, and then he gave me a quick lick. Wincing and cleaning my cheek with a nearby tissue, I glared at my child. "Kristina, what did you do?"
"I found him in our yard."
My brows furrowed in confusion. "In our yard?"
She nodded then patted the puppy again. "He was running around the oak tree, and he is so cute, Mommy. We should keep him."
Taking a deep breath, I held my daughter's eyes. "Honey, we can't keep him. He probably wandered around, and neighbors are searching for him."
Kristina raised her chin stubbornly, and her eyes narrowed. "Then they shouldn't have left him alone. I'm claiming him, Mommy."
My breath stopped for a second; it always did when she reminded me of her father. Seriously, a shout out to all single mothers out there who take care of their kids all alone, because it's a damn hard job.
Once I signed the papers for the Witness Protection Program, Connor and Melissa gave me a new passport with a different name and identity. I was Katrina Jackson, orphaned at a young age, and a single mom who decided to move to the small coastal city in the southern part of the States due to the economy. They bought me a house, a second-hand car, and gave me some cash to get by. They found me a job at the local library, and since no one wanted the job, no one minded my pregnancy.
They contacted me once a month to let me know nothing was over, and I suspected it never would be. The solitude allowed me to focus on my writing when I was going crazy from loneliness. I finally self-published my first novel, and surprisingly, my book did well and brought in good money.
A year ago, my baby fell in love with a house near the beach, and it was impossible to refuse her. I had to stay low, and no one would come looking for me here. Everybody already thought I was dead. We had a little piece of heaven here, and for the most part, I was happy. My life was good. I even had some friends in town and we were part of the community. The only downer in the whole scenario was my inability to meet my readers, who sent me constant e-mails asking if I would be present at different signings. All this was too dangerous; so every time, I had to refuse and keep my identity, in this case, a photo, a secret.