Burying Water Page 1

Author: K.A. Tucker

Series: Burying Water #1

Genres: New Adult , Romance

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PROLOGUE

Jesse

now

This can’t be real . . . This can’t be real . . . This can’t be real . . .

The words cycle round and round in my mind like the wheels on my speeding ’Cuda as its ass-end slips and slides over the gravel and ice. This car is hard to handle on the best of days, built front-heavy and overloaded with horsepower. I’m going to put myself into one of these damn trees if I don’t slow down.

I jam my foot against the gas pedal.

I can’t slow down now.

Not until I know that Boone was wrong about what he claims to have overheard. His Russian is mediocre at best. I’ll give anything for him to be wrong about this.

My gut clenches as my car skids around another turn, the cone shape of Black Butte looming like a monstrous shadow ahead of me in the pre-dawn light. The snowy tire tracks framed by my headlights might not even be the right ones, but they’re wide like Viktor’s Hummer and they’re sure as hell the only ones down this old, deserted logging road. No one comes out here in January.

The line of trees marking the dead end comes up on me before I expect it. I slam on my brakes, sending my car sliding sideways toward the old totem pole. It’s still sliding when I cut the rumbling engine, throw open the door, and jump out, fumbling with my flashlight. It takes three hard presses with my shaking hands to get the light to hold.

I begin searching the ground. The mess of tread marks tells me that someone pulled a U-turn. The footprints tell me that more than one person got out. And when I see the half-finished cigarette butt with that weird alphabet on the filter, I know Boone wasn’t wrong.

“Alex!” My echo answers once . . . twice . . . before the vast wilderness swallows up my desperate cry. With frantic passes of my flashlight, my knuckles white against its body, I search the area until I spot the sets of footprints that lead off the old, narrow road and into the trees.

Frigid fingers curl around my heart.

Darting back to my car, I snatch the old red-and-blue plaid wool blanket that she loves so much from the backseat. Ice-cold snow packs into the sides of my sneakers as I chase the trail past the line of trees and into the barren field ahead, my blood rushing through my ears the only sound I process.

The only sign of life.

Raw fear numbs my senses, the Pacific Northwest winter numbs my body, but I push forward because if . . .

The beam of light passes over a still form lying facedown in the snow. I’d recognize that pink coat and platinum-blond hair of hers anywhere; the sparkly blue dress that she hates so much looks like a heap of sapphires against a white canvas.

My heart freezes.

“Alex.” It’s barely a whisper. I’m unable to produce more, my lungs giving up on me. I run, stumbling through the foot of snow until I’m on my knees and crawling forward to close the distance. A distance of no more than ten feet and yet one that seems like miles.

There’s no mistaking the spray of crimson freckling the snow around her head. Or that most of her long hair is now dark and matted. Or that her silver stockings are torn and stained red, and a pool of blood has formed where her dress barely covers her thighs. Plenty of footprints mark the ground around her. He must have been here for a while.

I know that there are rules to follow, steps to make sure that I don’t cause her further harm. But I ignore them because the sinking feeling in my stomach tells me I can’t possibly hurt her more than he already has. I nestle her head with one hand while I slide the other under her shoulder. I roll her over.

Cold shock knocks the wind out of me.

I’ve never seen anybody look like this.

I scoop her limp body into my arms, cradling the once beautiful face that I’ve seen in every light—rage to ecstasy and the full gamut in between—yet is now unrecognizable. Placing two blood-coated fingers over her throat, I wait. Nothing.

A light pinch against her lifeless wrist. Nothing.

Maybe a pulse does exist but it’s hidden, masked by my own racing one.

Then again, by the look of her, likely not.

One . . . two . . . three . . . plump, serene snowflakes begin floating down from the unseen sky above. Soon, they will converge and cover the tracks, the blood. The evidence. Mother Nature’s own blanket to hide the unsightly blemish in her yard.

“I’m so sorry.” I don’t try to restrain the hot tears as they roll down my cheeks to land on her mangled lips—lips I had stolen plenty of kisses from, back when I was too stupid to realize how dangerous that really was. This is my fault. She had warned me. If I had just listened, had stayed away from her, had not told her how I felt . . .

. . . had not fallen wildly in love with her.

I lean down to steal a kiss even now, the coppery taste of her blood mixing with my salty tears. “I’m so damn sorry. I should never have even looked your way,” I manage to get out around my sobs, tucking the blanket she loved to curl up in over her.

An almost inaudible gasp slips out. A slight breeze against my mouth more than anything else.

My lungs freeze, my eyes glued to her, afraid to hope. “Alex?” Is it possible?

A moment later, a second gasp—a wet, rattling sound—escapes.

She’s not dead.

Not yet, anyway.

ONE

Alex

in between

A fire.

The fragrance calls to me.

I cannot see, for my eyes are sealed shut against the wicked glow in his stare.

I cannot hear, for my ears have blocked out his appalling promises.

I cannot feel, for my body has long since shattered.

But, as I lie in the cool stillness of the night, waiting for my final peace, that comforting waft of burning bark and twigs and crispy leaves encases me.

It whispers to me that everything will be okay.

And I so desperately long to believe it.

Beep . . .

“. . . basilar skull fracture . . .”

Beep . . .

“. . . collapsed lung . . .”

Beep . . .

“. . . ruptured spleen . . .”

Beep . . .

“. . . frostbite . . .”

Beep . . .

Beep . . .

“Will she live?”

Beep . . .

“I honestly don’t know how she has survived this long.”

Beep . . .

“We need to keep this quiet for now.”

“Gabe, you just showed up on the doorstep of my hospital with a half-dead girl. How am I supposed to do that?”

“You just do. Call me if she wakes up. No one questions her but me. No one, Meredith.”

“Don’t try to talk yet,” someone—a woman—warns softly. I can’t see her. I can’t see anything; my lids open to mere slits, enough to admit a haze of light and a flurry of activity around me—gentle fingertips, low murmurs, papers rustling.

And then that rhythmic beep serenades me back into oblivion.

TWO

Jane Doe

now

I don’t know how I got here.

I don’t know where here is.

I hurt.

Who is this woman hovering over me?

“Please page Dr. Alwood immediately,” she calls to someone unseen. Turning back to look at me, it takes her a long moment before she manages a white-toothed smile. Even in my groggy state, there’s no missing the pity in it. Her chest lifts with a deep breath and then she shifts her attention to the clear-fluid bags hanging on a rack next to me. “Glad to finally see your eyes open,” she murmurs. “They’re a really pretty russet color.” The hem of her lilac uniform grazes the cast around my hand.

My cast.

I take inventory of the room—the pale beige walls, the stiff chairs, the pastel-blue curtain. The machines. It finally clicks.

I’m in a hospital.

“How—” I stall over the question as that first word scratches against my throat.

“You were intubated to help you breathe. That hoarseness will go away soon, I promise.”

I needed help breathing?

“You’re on heavy doses of morphine, so you may feel a little disoriented right now. That’s normal. Here.” A cool hand slips under my neck as she fluffs up my pillow.

“Where am I?” I croak out, just now noticing that bandages are dividing my face in two at the nose.

“You’re at St. Charles in Bend, Oregon, with the very best doctors that we have. It looks like you’re going to pull through.” Again, another smile. Another sympathetic stare. She’s a pretty, young woman, her long, light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, her eyes a mesmerizing leafy green.

Not mesmerizing enough to divert me from her words. Pull through what exactly?

She prattles on about the hospital, the town, the unusually brisk winter weather. I struggle to follow along, too busy grappling with my memory, trying to answer the litany of questions swirling inside my mind. Nothing comes, though. I’m drawing a complete blank.

Like she said, it must be the morphine.

A creak pulls my gaze to the far corner of the room, where a tall, lanky woman in a white coat covering a pink floral shirt has just entered. With quick, long strides she rounds my bed, drawing the curtain behind her as she approaches. “Hello.”

I’m guessing this is the doctor whom the nurse had paged. I watch as she fishes out a clip from her pocket and pins back a loose strand of apricot-colored hair. Snapping on a pair of surgical gloves, she then pulls a small flashlight from her pocket. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m not sure yet.” My voice is rough but at least audible. “Are you my doctor? Doctor . . .” I read the name on the badge affixed to her coat. “Alwood?”

Green eyes rimmed with dark circles search mine for a long moment. “Yes, I operated on you. My name is Dr. Meredith Alwood.” I squint against the beam of light from her flashlight, first into my left eye and then my right. “Are you in any pain?”

“I don’t know. I’m . . . sore. And confused.” My tongue catches something rough against my bottom lip and I instinctively run my tongue along it, sensing a piece of thread. It’s when I begin toying with it that I also notice the wide gap on the right side of my mouth. I’m missing several teeth.

“Good. I’m glad. Not about the confused part.” Dr. Alwood’s lips press together in a tight smile. “But you’d be a lot more than ‘sore’ if the pain meds weren’t working.”

My throat burns. I swallow several times, trying to alleviate the dryness. “What happened? How did I get here?” Someone must know something. Right?

Dr. Alwood opens her mouth but then hesitates. “Amber, you have your rounds to finish, don’t you?”

The nurse, who’s been busy replacing the various bags on the IV stand, stops to look at the doctor for a long second, her delicately drawn eyebrows pulled together. They have the same green eye color, I notice. In fact, they have the exact same almond-shaped eyes and straight-edged nose.

Or, maybe I’m just hallucinating, thanks to the drugs.

Kind fingers probe something unseen on my scalp and then, with the sound of the door clicking shut, the doctor asks, “How about we start with the basic questions. Can you please give me your name?”

I open my mouth to answer. It’s such a simple question. Everyone has a name. I have a name. And yet . . . “I don’t . . . I don’t know,” I stammer. How do I not know what my name is? I’m sure it’s the same name I’ve had all my life.

My life.

What do I remember about my life? Shouldn’t something about it be registering?

A wave of panic surges through me and the EKG’s telltale beep increases its cadence. Why can’t I seem to recall a single scrap of my life?

Not a face, not a name, not a childhood pet.

Nothing.

Dr. Alwood stops what she’s doing to meet my gaze. “You’ve had a significant head injury. Just try to relax.” Her words come slow and steady. “I’ll tell you what I know. Maybe that will jog your memory. Okay? Just take a few breaths first.” She’s quick to add, “Not too deep.”

I do as instructed, watching my chest lift and fall beneath my blue-and-white checkered gown, cringing with a sharp twinge of pain on my right side with each inhale. Finally, that incessant beeping begins to slow.

I turn my attention back to her. Waiting.

“You were found in the parking lot of an abandoned building nine days ago,” Dr. Alwood begins.

I’ve been here for nine days?

“You were brought into the emergency room by ambulance with extensive, life-threatening trauma to your body. Your injuries were consistent with a physical assault. You had several fractures—to your ribs, your left leg, your right arm, your skull. Your right lung collapsed. You required surgery for a hematoma, a ruptured spleen, and lacerations to . . .” Her calm voice drifts off into obscurity as she recites a laundry list of brutality that can’t possibly have my name at the top of it. “It will take some time to recover from all of these injuries. Do you feel any tightness in your chest now, when you inhale?”

I swallow the rising lump in my throat, not sure how to answer. I’m certainly having difficulty breathing, but I think it has more to do with panic than anything else.

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