Home > Tied (All Torn Up #2)

Tied (All Torn Up #2)
Author: Carian Cole

Prologue

Once upon a time…

I watch as the flames crawl across the pages of the pink bound book, obliterating the tiny words until that very first sentence goes up in flames and smoke.

One by one, I toss all my childhood fairy-tale books into the fire and watch them get eaten by the orange flames. Tears spill down my hot cheeks, and strong arms embrace me from behind, pulling me back against his chest before I can fling myself into the fire to save my precious books. Those worn pages, and the stories they hold, once saved my life.

It’s more than just the books, though. I want to feel the searing burn of flesh like he did. I want the smoke to seep into my lungs and suffocate me like it did to him.

“Let it all go.” His warm lips brush against my ear as he pulls us backward, his arms tightening around me.

He always knows what I’m thinking, what I need to hear or feel from him—often before I do. He understands the aches of my heart and the memories that lurk and claw at my soul. He’s the only one who knows how to chase it all away.

When the last page has burned, and there’s nothing left but ash and memories, we turn away. He drapes his arm across my shoulder, presses his lips to the top of my head, and leads us from the fire as wisps of smoke trail after us like ghosts not wanting to be left behind.

This is where it ends.

Exactly where we began.

1

Tyler

The stillness of daybreak has been my favorite time of day for as long as I can remember. That short span of time between dark and light, when the day is slowly awakening, has always felt surreal to me.

And quiet. So very quiet, with the exception of chirping birds and other woodland creatures. But I don’t consider that noise.

Sunbeams peek through the trees, and morning dew glistens over the mossy forest trail beneath my boots as I walk through the woods, barely making a sound. I’m not an intruder here, among the lifting fog and the faint chirping of birds—this is home. I’ve walked this path hundreds of times.

I am daybreak and dusk. I’m no longer light or dark, but some vague, fucked-up place in the middle.

I’m the gray area.

Pausing, I tilt my head at the odd sound coming from my left, recognizing it as the same noise I heard out here yesterday but didn’t have time to check out. I push the hood of my sweatshirt off my head, straining to hear the sound again, but all I hear is my own breath for a full minute.

Urgh! Urrgh!

At first, I think it’s a deer huffing, but I’ve never heard one sound like that before. It seems to be making the sound too often and too frantically. Veering off the trail, I make my way through the trees toward the sound. It could be the lost dog I’ve been trying to find for the past week, possibly hurt or caught in a trap. Dogs get lost up here in the woods all the time, usually with hikers who think their dogs would never run off chasing a squirrel and not come back when called.

So I, Tyler Grace, the alleged small-town psycho, lure and catch the lost dogs and bring them back to their owners. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t bring them back myself. I let someone much more sociable do that part. I let them play the hero. I just like the thrill of chasing and catching things. It satisfies my inner stalker.

Urgh!

The tortured, haunting sound makes my neck hairs stand on end, and an uneasy feeling settles deep in my gut. As I walk deeper into the woods, the noise grows louder until it sounds as if I’m practically right on top of it, but I see nothing.

Urgh!

Fuck. I am on top of it. The sound is coming from somewhere beneath me.

What the hell?

I kneel and run my hands through the layer of dead leaves covering the ground, confused and not sure what I’m looking for until my hand catches on something hard that feels like rusted metal. I brush more of the leaves aside, and a chill settles in my bones when I realize what it is.

Nestled into the dirt is a round wooden door. I grasp the rusty metal knob and slide a heavy wooden door to the side to reveal what may have been a well or shelter at one time. I blink and stare down into the dark hole, thinking the scene in front of me is going to disappear, but it doesn’t.

There’s a teenaged girl down there, staring back up at me with sheer terror in her huge eyes, rocking back and forth. She’s huddled against the earth wall clutching a small white dog, and it makes that horrible sound I now recognize as the sound of a dog with its vocal chords severed. A child’s purple backpack is on the ground next to her, torn and dirty, and it reminds me of one my little sister had when she was young. It’s cool out here in the woods, especially during early fall in this part of New Hampshire, so she must be chilled to the bone down in that hole.

I yank my cell phone out the back pocket of my jeans and dial 911 relieved that, by some miracle, I have a connection up here in the middle of the woods.

“Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?”

I need help, my brain screams. I found a girl. In a hole. In the woods.

“Hello? May I help you? Are you there?”

Just send someone. She’s a fucking mess.

“Are you hurt? If you’re there, please try to speak. I’m right here to help you, but I need to know where you are.”

“Try to speak,” she says. I almost laugh. I can’t even remember the last time words came out of my mouth. And now that I have to, I can’t seem to get the words to come down from my head and past my lips.

The girl with the tangled wild hair and her little dog continue to stare at me as I swallow hard and force my brain and mouth to get their shit together.

It’s like riding a bike, Ty. You don’t forget how to talk.

“A girl…in the woods,” I rasp. “A hole.” My voice is strained and unnatural, too loud or maybe too soft, much like the dog’s strangled bark.

“There’s a girl in the woods? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes.”

“Is she hurt?”

“Maybe.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No.”

“Are you with her?”

“Yes.”

“Are you in the hole with her?”

“No.”

“Do you know her name?”

“No.” I cough into the phone. My throat is dry and raw, and I’m already exhausted from this interrogation. How hard is it to just get help?

“What is your name, sir?”

“I’m going to get her.”

“Can you tell me your location?”

My throat catches again with the struggle to make more words. “Five miles off Rock Road. Old hiking trail. On the left. Not far from the river.”

Ending the call, I peer back down into the hole. It’s about four feet in diameter and maybe ten feet deep. I reach behind me and grab the eight-foot dog leash that’s hanging off my belt, wrap some of it around my wrist, and toss the other end into the hole.

I nod at her, hoping she’ll understand my plan, but she gives me a leery glare and moves backward like the leash is going to bite her.

Talk to her. “Grab it. I’ll pull you out.”

Her mouth parts slightly, and she pulls the dog tighter, protectively, against her chest, and I realize she’s afraid I expect her to leave the dog down there.

“Hold the dog. Grab the leash. I’ll pull you both out.”

She stands painstakingly slowly, picks up her tattered backpack, loops her arm through it, then shuffles hesitantly toward the dangling leash. Her feet are bare, poking out from a pair of threadbare sweatpants that look about four sizes too big for her. A very thin once-white T-shirt is barely visible beneath her tangled waist-length blond hair and the furry dog she’s got in a bear hug.

“It’s okay. I’m going to help you,” I say when her eyes dart from me to the leash then back to me again. Her teeth clamp down on her bottom lip as she grasps the leash.

“Hold on tight,” my voice growls. “Don’t let go. I can pull you up.”

Pulling her out of the hole is easy, and it’s not because I work out a lot. The truth is she weighs next to nothing. The words “starving,” “malnourished,” and “anorexic” spring to the forefront of my mind. I’d be surprised if she weighs ninety pounds including the dog and whatever she’s got in that backpack. With both hands, she hangs on to the leash with the dog against her chest, his paws over her shoulder as if he somehow knows he should be hanging on. Her body scrapes and bounces along the rough dirt side of the hole as I pull her up, but she doesn’t let go, not even when I pull her onto the ground next to me.

“It’s okay,” I repeat as softly as I can, but my voice isn’t very comforting with its fucked-up, hoarse, raspy tone that I can’t change.

She leans against me as I kneel next to her, one of her hands gripping my shirt, the other holding the dog at her side, her forehead pressed against my shoulder. I can actually feel her heartbeat, beating wildly in her chest like a hummingbird.

“Shhh… You’re going to be okay now. I promise.”

I can’t ignore what I see. Scars, some old and some new, mark her arms and the tops of her feet and, no doubt, places I can’t see. But when our eyes meet, the damage and torment I see there is far worse. Just like me. My heartbeat skips when she stares up at me, at my face, and she doesn’t recoil at what she sees. She looks right in my eyes, unwavering, and she sees me. She lets out a deep, shuddering breath that sounds like it’s been bottled up inside her for a very long time.

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