I fell in love with Manda Baker eight years ago, and I loved her to the core of her soul. We were supposed to have that elusive happily ever after and spend a lifetime together. But that was all before she was STOLEN from me.
Her best friend, Sarah Erickson, killed her. It wasn’t intentional. It was far worse. Everyone claims it was just an accident, but I can see through the lies. Even if it’s with my dying breath, I will make her pay for what she did.
Fate hates me. It robbed me of my first love and left me to navigate through this world emotionless and numb. Then, one day, spiteful fate gave me a woman to fill my shattered soul and make me feel again. It gave me Emma Jane Erickson. Now I spend my days searching for the answers that will ruin Sarah and my nights falling in love with her sister—the one person who is bound and determined to save her.
But what happens when everything you know to be true explodes around you? Who will be left to pick up the pieces, and who will need to be saved from the wreckage?
“It’s not fucking them!” I punch the dashboard and scream at my partner, Brett, as he weaves through traffic. Just moments ago, we received a page that will destroy one of us forever. It said a bunch of words, but the only four I can remember are “One fatality, one injury.” I reject the very possibility that this has anything to do with my Manda, but the vise currently holding my heart still twists even tighter. I drop my head to my hands as I wage war with reality. If that message is accurate, I have a fifty-fifty chance that my life is over. Done. Finished. I’ll never survive losing Manda. Never.
It can’t be her. We haven’t even gotten married yet. We are supposed to get married and have a life together. We have a plan. A knife lands hard in my stomach as I try to reason my way out of this mess. It can’t be her. Manda is strong and healthy. No accident in the world could steal her from me. Yeah, she’s tough. She’s got to be the one who’s injured. Something simple, maybe a broken arm. We can fix that. I just need her to be alive, anything else we can deal with together.
The car barely slows before I’m out and sprinting toward the twisted metal on the side of the highway. Every hope I have of this being a big misunderstanding vanishes into the night when I recognize Sarah’s car. Reality slices me open, but the promise of only an injury keeps my legs moving forward.
“Detective Jones!” I hear shouted, but I continue to run. I slow only when I get to a group of officers.
“Where is she?” I demand, but deep down I’m terrified to hear the answer.
“Caleb, take a second and catch your breath.”
“Where the fuck is she!” My eyes scan the faces lining the road, desperately searching for Manda’s fiery red hair and green eyes. But instead, they land on a white sheet covering what I know to be a body. My heart begins to race as I once again try to fight all rational thinking that tells me it’s her.
“That’s not her,” I say, desperately trying to catch my breath, but the panic that has lodged itself in my system prevents it. “Oh God, someone please tell me that’s not her.” Tears well in my eyes as I glance up to see my good friends, Stephens and Perez, step up beside me. From the look on Stephens’s face, I know I don’t want to hear whatever he has to say.
“She didn’t make it, Jones.” With one sentence, the little breath I have left is stolen. My legs buckle, forcing me helplessly to my knees.
“No.” I refuse to accept that my Manda no longer exists.
The earth starts to tremble as my world begins to crumble around me. It only takes a minute to realize that my body is violently shaking as the physical pain of reality courses through my veins. This is not happening. “That’s not her,” I begin to repeat.
She can’t be gone. My eyes never leave the body that used to house my soul mate. This isn’t real, and any minute I’m going to wake from this horrible nightmare. I’ll roll over in bed and pull Manda hard against my chest. I close my eyes, willing myself to wake up, but it never comes.
I rise to my feet and take a step towards her. “Manda!” I yell. I need to see her. To touch her. It’s fucking cold tonight and she’s just lying there under a sheet. Oh, fuck. That’s not her.
Perez grabs my arm, effectively halting me. “Don’t do this to yourself. You don’t need to see her like that.”
“Get your fucking hands off me. If that’s Manda, I need to see her.”
“Not now you don’t. Let them get her to the hospital and clean her up a bit.”
The pain in my chest is quickly being replaced with anger.
“Get off me, Perez,” I say calmly while leveling him with a menacing glare.
“Not happening. I won’t let you do this to yourself.” He pulls me back a step, and that is all it takes for me to lose it. My rage needs somewhere to go, and it just so happens that it chooses Perez’s face. My hands fly, landing directly on his jaw.
“I need to see her!” I scream, landing punch after punch. Stephens jumps in, tackling me from behind. He uses his weight to pin me to the ground.
“Goddamn it, Jones. Stop fighting. We’re trying to help you.”
“She’s not fucking gone!”
“She is, and you don’t need to see her.”
An image of her laughing at dinner flashes behind my eyes as once again reality takes hold. This is not happening. The temporary shield of anger fades away as devastation settles in. As I’m lying facedown on the side of a highway, gut wrenching sobs spring from my chest.
“Oh, God. Please, not Manda.”
Born and raised in Savannah, Georgia, Aly Martinez is a stay-at-home mom to four crazy kids under the age of five, including a set of twins. Currently living in Chicago, she passes what little free time she has reading anything and everything she can get her hands on, preferably with a glass of wine at her side.
After some encouragement from her friends, Aly decided to add “Author” to her ever-growing list of job titles. So grab a glass of Chardonnay, or a bottle if you’re hanging out with Aly, and join her aboard the crazy train she calls life.