|Spiritual Fiction posted January 10, 2023||Chapters:||1 -2-|
Annie remembers more about her past and meeting Gabriel.
A chapter in the book Shadows of the Past
The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.
The author has placed a warning on this post for language.
The author has placed a warning on this post for sexual content.
Traumatized by her past, Annie seeks an escape-freedom from the shadows of her past. Yet, is she brave enough to open the necessary doors to gain the recovery she so desperately seeks?
A/N: So, here’s the second chapter, and I have to say, I’m beyond proud of how it turned out…though my heart broke multiple times as Annie revealed her backstory. Please let me know what you thought.
Gentle fingers comb through my hair. Soothed by his welcome nasal snuffling, I close my eyes and nuzzle closer, clinging to that offered comfort and warmth.
"I'm right here, Annie," Gabriel says.
I'm right here.
Three words--eleven letters--and the same ones my brother often repeated. He promised he'd never leave me. Yet, he didn't protect me from when...No! Instant walls erupt in my mind, but that doesn't prevent the stray tears from spilling down my cheeks. Seconds later, Gabriel stiffens, but then he pulls me closer. My throat tightens. I can't go down this path. It's not fair to him. With a hard swallow, I wiggle out of his grasp. Although he doesn't pull me back, the parting caress of his fingertips, almost like he wants to hold onto me, leaves me shaking. Desperate for a distraction, I slap away my tears and flash him a cheery smile.
Not fooled, he leans back and crosses his arms, his silver-blue eyes narrowing. My smile slips, and my fists clench. Are we really going to do this now?
"Did she tell you to do that?" He glares at my journal, his tone brittle with unrestrained anger.
Apparently, we are. "Dr. Kelsey's my therapist," I say with forced calm. "I know you disapprove of her methods--"
"They're hurting you!"
I blink, caught off-guard. That look on his face... I try to respond but can't find the words. Shadows emanating from a nearby fire quiver and creep across the walls; the soft crackling of the flames gives way to the boisterous cheers of a group gathered around a pool table. Wooden cues snap across the playing field with professional accuracy, and several balls clatter into the corner pockets. Yet, Gabriel's focused gaze lingers, and I can't look away.
"Gabriel," I say hoarsely, "I...I have to do something. I can't take much more of this--the nightmares...the sporadic triggered memories." It's killing me goes unsaid, but from the twitching in his jaw, I wonder if he somehow heard my thoughts. Do were-jaguars possess that magical trait?
"Can't you talk about it with someone?"
"What do you think I do with Dr. Kelsey?"
"Does it have to only be her?"
I frown and glance down at my lap. "Who else would I talk to?" Another prolonged silence passes between us, and when I look up, our gazes lock, an intensity I've never experienced stretching between us. Slowly, I shake my head. "Gabriel, no...you can't!"
"That's not your decision to make, Annie." Then, in a move too quick for my human eyes to track, he drops to his knees in front of me and grasps both my hands in his larger ones. "Let me help you."
"It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm--We're--here to help you."
I look away and shake aside the memory. "I can't let you do that...I'm not...I'm...broken."
"Don't," he says, his tone strained as his grip tightens. "Don't talk about yourself like that."
The sharp note in his voice catches my attention, but I refuse to allow myself to hope. "What am I supposed to do?" I ask, slumping forward. "I can't stay like this."
Before he can respond, another bartender whistles and gestures towards to rapidly filling area before motioning him over to the bar. Huffing, Gabriel glances at me, his lips thinning, and for a moment, I think he's not going to move. Then, standing and his gaze finding mine, he says, "This conversation isn't over." Without another word, he strides over to the bar.
Unbidden, my eyes trail after him, and I'm not the only one. At a nearby table, a group of young girls huddle close and whisper, their gazes riveted on Gabriel and his fellow bartender. Then one of them, a petite sassy-looking brunette, stands, smooths down, and adjusts her V-neck blouse before sauntering up to the bar, her hips moving provocatively. Gabriel glances up and offers a charming smile. Sassy Brunette, ignoring the heated gaze of the other bartender, leans over the counter and trails her fingertips over Gabriel's arm. Eyes flashing a familiar yellow, he shifts away and begins mixing her drink. Undeterred, she leans closer, her voice no doubt dipping into a syrupy-sweet flirtatious comment; she then fingers the gold chain encircling her neck before sliding her hand down her chest. The lacy fabric of her shirt peels back and reveals creamy, flawless skin.
A loud crash echoes through the area.
Spinning around, Gabriel gapes at the shattered pieces of a few martini glasses littering the ground and then drops to his knees to help pick them up. I wince, but neither looks injured as they finish cleaning the mess. While the second bartender throws away the broken shard bag, Gabriel resumes mixing Sassy Brunette's drink. Once it's done, she perks up, her expectant smile fading as he hands the glass to his partner and claps his shoulder before moving to help an older couple on the opposite side of the bar. Expression soured, Sassy Brunette accepts her drink with a tight smile and stalks back to her friends, tossing her drink back and then flouncing out. As her friends scramble to catch up, I snicker and roll my eyes. Typical rich bitch, flaunting your goods because you're so desperate for attention and throwing a hissing fit when no one gives it to you.
Across the room, Gabriel glances toward me and smirks.
* * * * *
The next few hours pass in a haze of watching the bar, Il Fornaio di Cittá, grow more crowded with its usual lunch rush. Overhead, a playlist of modern remixes croons from the speakers. A bleach-blonde hostess near the front flashes a ready smile and recites the daily specials while leading group after group to their assigned tables; regulars, meanwhile, claim seats closer to the bar and chat with Gabriel and his fellow bartender. Genuine happiness radiates through the air, and I close my eyes, inhaling the scented air of grilled chicken, fried steak, and steamed vegetables. Oh, the irony, I think to myself. My blood donors spent their lives searching for proof of the paranormal, and here I am, living with a community of were-jaguars.
At the sudden clinking, I blink and gape as Gabriel places a plate of Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo and a Shirley Temple in front of me.
His finger silences my protest. "You looked hungry." He nods toward the new glass. "It's non-alcoholic. Relax." He flashes me a pointed look.
I stay quiet for a moment and then softly, "You know my drink and food order?"
"Of course I do," he says.
Gaze dropping, I reach for my napkin, anything to avoid the intensity of his gaze--the implications and promises. "Thank you. I..." A loud, unmistakable rumbling interrupts me. Gabriel bursts out laughing, and I can't help chuckling. "I guess I was hungry."
Eyes still dancing with laughter, he winks before returning to his post at the bar. Ignoring the flush of warmth and the inane urge to giggle, I keep my gaze locked on my food and begin eating.
* * * * *
About an hour before Gabriel's shift ends, I signal to him and gesture toward the exit. Indecision flashes over his face, but then he relents and mouths, stay close. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes at his over-protective behavior, especially as he silenced the real threat years ago, I nod and slip outside, squinting at the flare of sunlight.
As my eyes adjust, an overwhelming sense of gratitude swells as I stare at the town of Havenswood. Even four years later, it still boggles my mind how much this town and its residents helped me. As far as they knew, I was human, an enemy; yet, unlike other supernatural sects, no one here demanded I leave. Instead, despite their solitary tendencies, they welcomed me into their midst and gave me a sense of belonging.
Yet, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Gabriel and his father.
* * * * *
The door slammed open. Cringing, I pressed myself into the farthest corner of my cage, knees drawn up against my chest. My body still throbbed from his recent touch, that cold, harsh laughter echoing in my ears as he pinned me down and took what he wanted, deaf to my screams. He loved those sounds--said it excited him. Eyes squeezed shut, I struggle to quiet my panicked breathing and whimpers. Yet, instead of those cruel, teasing comments that always preceded our sessions, I hear low, mumbling tones. Did he bring along a second person? Was this a Rent the Human Pet night? Instead of flipping on the light switch, however, a small circle of light bounces and sweeps along each wall at the top of the stairs. Slow and hesitant steps descend the steps. What's he looking for?
Abruptly, light blinds me; flinching away, I throw up my hand and, through my fingers, I glimpse the silhouette of a man. For a moment, neither of us says anything, and then his expression morphs into stunned horror and disbelief.
"Figlio di puttana!" He yells. "You're 16?"
Another voice inhales sharply, and a second pair of feet dashes down the stairs, skittering to a stop in front of my prison. A soft "cazzo" fills the air before the second silhouette kneels beside my cage.
"Hi." He sounds young. "Are you okay?" I whimper and shy even farther away. "It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm--We're--here to help you."
Nearby his partner utters a pained grunt as he yanks at the lock. "It's locked, and we don't have time to search for a key."
Younger Partner presses his lips together. "We can't just leave her behind. We should've beheaded that leech when we could."
An amused chuckle echoes above me. "In a rush for an early death?" My cage rattles and shakes. "We need a rock or something to break this lock."
"Let me try something." Younger Partner snaps open a leather pouch hidden on his waist and fishes out what looks like a metal nailfile with a long wavy pick end. While Older Partner shines a light on the lock, Younger Partner inserts the pointed end into the hole, twisting and digging it in various directions. Seconds give way to longer minutes, and then, with a loud snap, the lock pops open and tumbles to the ground. Younger Partner flashes the older man a triumphant grin. "Who said buying this kit was a waste of money?"
Chuckling, the older man clasps Younger Partner's shoulder. "Don't get cocky, kid. I'm not sure how much longer that vamp will be out."
Pocketing his tool, Younger Partner glances toward me and kneels in front of the open cage. "T know you have no reason to believe us, but I promise, we're safe." His expression patient, he holds out a hand. I stare at his fingers and then glance up, my breath catching as my gaze locks with a silver-blue one. Then a name I last spoke five years ago slips out.
Silver-Blue Eyes blinks, but his hand stays outstretched toward me. "It's Gabriel, actually."
I swallow hard. Of course, he isn't my brother. In a show of dominance, my vampire master murdered him when he caught my brother trying to rescue me after our blood donors sold me into slavery in exchange for proof of the supernatural world. I glance back at Gabriel. Even though Older Partner casts frequent glances around the darkness, his posture tense and impatient, Gabriel remains calm. He's still reaching out to me, offering me the chance to escape, a new life, freedom.
Take his hand, Bella, a voice--my brother's--voice whispers. Startled, I peer over my shoulder. Nothing but impenetrable darkness greets me. Swallowing hard, I face Gabriel, his expression waiting, trusting.
Annabella. My brother's voice comes again, and this time more insistent. Trust him.
Drawing in a slow breath, I reach out a hesitant hand. Gabriel smiles, his larger fingers curling around mine as he leads me out of my prison. His arms wrap around my waist, supporting my staggering steps as he and the older man guide me up the stairs and down a long, dark corridor that slowly gives way to a moonlit yard. Tears blur my eyes at the welcoming fresh air. Then, unexpectedly, my knees buckle, and I collapse on the ground, my fingers brushing over grass--grass--and I cry harder.
A heavy jacket drapes across my shoulders, and then Gabriel squats in front of me, wiping away my tears. "How long did he keep you down there?"
"My..." I swallow, unable to utter the truth. A beat of silence follows before I whisper, "I was ten."
Gabriel freezes, and then, yellow bleeding into his already darkening gaze, his lips tighten into a thin line, and muscles spasm in his jaw. "If I ever see that leech again..."
Older Partner reappears and grips Gabriel's shoulder, a palpable understanding passing between them. "We need to get her to safety before that can happen."
With a quiet sigh, he nods and helps me to my feet and into a nearby car. Then, with Older Partner manning the wheel and driving through the surrounding forest with ease that alludes to years of experience, Gabriel glances at me.
"So," he says, "my name is Gabriel, and that's my father, Liam." Older Partner...Liam offers a friendly wave but keeps his eyes trained on the road. "What's your name?"
My name? I haven't heard my birth name in the last six years. My vampire master refused to use it--said pets didn't deserve identifiers. Licking my lips, I glanced up at Gabriel and opened my mouth before shutting it. No, I couldn't give him that name, the name my blood donors saddled me with, and I couldn't bear sharing the nickname my brother always used. After a few more seconds, I responded,
"Annie." I paused and then repeated, "My name's Annie."
* * * * *
Shaking aside my memories, I step out from under the shaded porch of Il Fornaio di Cittá and wander along the main dirt road. Various were-jaguars wave and greet me, and even as I smile back, I realize I don't know anyone in this community, minus Gabriel and Liam, past a brief hello, goodbye, and how are you? I don't even know anyone's first name! Because of my captivity, I tend to avoid social interactions of any kind, even after living with this were-jaguar prowl for almost four years. Unless I'm with Gabriel, I rarely venture out on my own.
Halfway down the block, I spy an iron gate surrounding a manicured park and a three-tiered fountain bubbling happily in the center. Comforted by the sounds of children laughing on the nearby play structure, I walk towards the entrance and let myself inside. Then, unhurried, I move toward the fountain and sit on the edge, trailing my fingers through the cool water, my eyes closing at the sun's caressing warmth.
I'll never regret taking his hand that night. Because of deep-seated scars and emotional turmoil, I struggle with opening up, connecting, and trusting people. Yet, he's the exception. It could be how he cared for me, looked after me, became a pseudo-brother and friend in those early years. Maybe it's because he refused to leave me behind. Perhaps it's because my brother's ghost promised I could trust him. Whatever the reason, I feel, no, I know I'm safe with Gabriel. Despite being human, he still offered me two of the greatest treasures that night--unconditional love and a chance at a real family.
Unlike the race superiority my vampire master exhibited, Gabriel never treated me like less. I never knew he wasn't entirely human himself until I caught him mid-transformation. Horrified by the sight and terrified of the giant jaguar stalking me, I stumbled back, and then, as I prepared to run, a loud don't run reverberated in my mind. Annie, it's me. I'm still Gabriel. I won't hurt you. Slowly, I glanced back and stared, uncertain, as the jaguar moved closer. Then, he brushed up against me like an overgrown house cat! The move, similar to Gabriel's teasing touching, startled a laugh out of me. Over the next several weeks, he transformed more frequently in front of me, allowing me to grow more comfortable with his two forms. Later, Liam told me that this sense of vulnerability showed Gabriel trusted me, felt safe with me.
A sudden warmth flushes through me as I recall the recent interactions with Gabriel. Lately, our interactions aren't so much brother-sisterly; now, they are borderline flirtatious. Yet, that wouldn't be fair to him. Besides, jaguars are solitary creatures and only stay with a mate long enough to impregnate them. Why would a were-jag be any different? No, we're better off as friends. Though, I'll never forget his expression when he ultimately protected me.
* * * * *
"Hello, my pet."
Footsteps freezing midstep, I cast a quick glance over my shoulder, the flowers I'd gathered to help decorate the dining room table tumbled from my limp fingers. How? Gabriel promised...he promised that I'd be safe!
"Find you?" Lips peeling back in his trademark smirk, he stalks closer. "Oh, I never lost you. Tracking you to this...." he waves his hand with a dismissive sniff "home wasn't challenging. Child's play, really. I expected better from someone who said he'd keep you 'safe.'"
Swallowing hard, my vision turns watery. "Did you...is he..."
"Dead? Tsk, tsk, pet. It's like you don't know me at all. I don't play with my food."
As his eyes bleed into a familiar black, instinct takes over, and I run screaming toward the front of the house. If supernatural creatures are real, maybe the lore about needing to invite a vampire inside is, too. Inches from the front porch, air wooshes from my lungs as another body tackles mine, my forehead cracking against the bottom step. Pain lances through my skull, and I cry out, my vision blurring red. Half-blind, I kick out and claw at my attacker. Laughter echoes above me before he seizes and slams my wrists above my head, his hips straddling mine, pinning me to the ground.
"Oh yes, right back where you belong." He leans down and licks my forehead. "Just as sweet as I remember." I jerk against his grip, kick my feet, and scream again. Eyes narrowing, he grabs my wrists with one hand and then slaps his other palm over my mouth, shaking his head in disappointment. "So noisy. I thought I taught you better than that." Fangs gleaming in the overcast light, he leans closer and whispers, "I'm going to enjoy remedying that."
Terror seizes me, and I bite him. He yanks his hand away with a startled cry of outrage, then grabs my neck. I gasp and strain to pull my arms free, my vision tunneling.
"Oh, pet, you're going to regret that." His grip loosens, and I gasp, color swimming back into my graying vision. A taunting chuckle reaches my ears. "Let that be a lesson to you, pet. We both know who's the superior species here."
"Yes," a new voice growls, "we do."
Breath catching in my throat, I gasp at the sight of Gabriel appearing behind the vampire. Having not expected or heard his approach, the vampire doesn't have time to react before Gabriel yanks him away from me and sinks his fangs into its body. Eyes squeezed shut, I turn away, flinching at the screams filling the air and clap my hands over my ears. Yet, it does nothing to muffle the wet sounds of flesh ripping or the choked-off shrieks of a dying vampire. Seconds later, feet pound toward me.
"Annie!" Dropping to his knees, Gabriel yanks off his shirt and presses it to the blood still oozing from my forehead.
I cling to him. "You came...you came." He lifts me into his arms and whispers calming words to quiet my broken sobs.
"Of course, I came for you. I promised." Hugging me closer, he adds, "You'll always be safe with me."
Later he took me to the prowl doctor and stood, a silent sentry, at my side. Thankfully, there was no lingering damage from when I hit my forehead on the bottom step or when the vampire choked me. I'd forever have a scar disrupting my left eyebrow, but the telltale bruises decorating my throat would fade. In fact, as the doctor added that I'd been lucky, Gabriel's gaze darkened, and I heard him mutter,
"That leech's death was too generous."
* * * * *
Shaking aside my memories, I jump at the sight of Gabriel sitting beside me. "Wha..." I shake my head and take a deep breath. "How do you do that? You always know where I am."
He shrugs with a secret sort of smile. "I thought I'd find you here." My gaze drops, and I push some hair behind my ear. "You looked like you were a million miles away."
"More like two years ago."
His gaze darkens, and his fists clench. "I still say that leech's death was too generous."
"Hey," I reach over and cover one of his fists. "I'm right here. You saved me."
"You have no idea how grateful I am that you are." Slowly, his fist uncurls, and then we're palm-to-palm before his fingers intertwine with mine. Startled, my gaze snaps to his, another bout of intensity passing between us as he gazes at me with his wind-blown curls and boyish 5 o'clock shadow. He then leans closer and tucks a stray hair behind my ear. "I'd do anything for you, Annie."
Part of me wants to pull away, remind him that nothing can come of us, yet, I can't. My body refuses to move. I don't want this feeling--this connection with Gabriel--to vanish. Now, when he looks at me...it feels different. But I don't know what to think anymore. Tomorrow, I tell myself. I'm seeing Dr. Kelsey tomorrow, so hopefully, she'll have some advice for me.
The language warning comes from the two Italian phrases, which are translated below:
1) Figlio di puttana: Son of a bitch
2) Cazzo: fuck
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