Escaping an unthinkable nightmare, I’m given a second chance at life. Cole Trenton is the first person to look past the broken girl. But the moment I give him my heart he leaves.
Secrets never stay buried, and mine returns with a vengeance.
Cole walks back into my life when I need him most. He shows me how to be strong, that monsters only have the power you give them.
But my biggest fear remains.
How do I silence the girl in the closet before I lose Cole again?
I always knew Birdie Liles was different, but that didn’t stop me from falling for her.
After years of being away, I return home to bury my best friend,
only to learn that Birdie’s in trouble.
If I had known about the monster from her past, I never would’ve left.
I went to fight someone else’s war while I left the woman I love unprotected.
But I’m here now, and I’m ready to send Birdie’s demon right back to hell.
‘rattle them bones’
Since grandma died Daddy’s been smoking more, and it’s stinking up the trailer we live in.
Knowing I’ll be in trouble if he finds out, I steal his lighter while he’s in the bathroom. I run outside and quickly bury the lighter in the patch of sand behind the trailer. With a pounding heart, I glance over my shoulder and hearing the toilet flush, I begin to panic. If Daddy finds out what I’ve done, he’ll give me a beating.
As fast as I can, I dig up the lighter, but when I try to make it work there’s not even a spark. Scared of how angry Daddy will be, I shove it back into the hole and cover it with dirt. Not wanting to be caught, I run back into the trailer and hearing him whistling in the bathroom, I quickly rush into the bedroom. Frantically, I look for a place to hide, and when I hear the bathroom door creak open, I duck under the bed. Dust motes tickle my nose, and I place a hand over my face so I won’t sneeze.
“Where the fuck’s my lighter?” Daddy roars, and it scares me so badly I crawl further under the bed until I press against the wall. Seeing an old suitcase, I pry it open and squeeze myself inside it. Curling into a small ball so I can close the lid, I try to slow my breaths so he won’t hear me.
As the minutes tick by, my fear grows. Daddy’s gonna be so mad.
After a long time of hiding, I drift off to sleep, but when the suitcase moves, it startles me awake. The lid gets thrown open, and Daddy glares down at me with a mean look.
“You little fuckin’ cunt,” he hisses angrily. Grabbing hold of my arm, he hauls me out of my hiding place. “’Cause you like small spaces you can live in the fuckin’ closet.”
I start to shake my head and pull back against Daddy’s hold on me. My heart’s beating hard in my chest, and it makes my body tremble.
“No, Daddy. I’m sorry.”
He yanks the closet door open and forcefully shoves me inside. The smell of old shoes and dirty clothes fill the air. He slams the door shut and locks it, leaving me in the tiny, dark closet.
“Fuckin’ stuck with the kid ’cause the ole’ bitch croaked,” Daddy grumbles from the other side of the door. He slams his hand against the closet, then growls, “I’m gonna make you a skeleton like your momma ’cause you killed her. Fuckin’ evil little bitch.”
The words are scary, and I crawl to the corner of the closet. Shoes dig into my body, but as I hear him moving outside the door, I’m too scared to shove them away from me.
“Yeah, the evil cunt deserves to stay in the closet,” he chuckles darkly.
There are a few minutes of silence, and I strain my ears to hear where Daddy is when music comes from somewhere in the house.
The song is creepy, and I pinch my eyes shut, wondering when Daddy’s gonna give me a beating for being naughty.
There are different shades to black. There’s normal black, then there’s the kind where it’s so dark you see things.
Things children shouldn’t see.
You see the Boogeyman. It’s the one Daddy whispers about through the door. “Here comes the Boogeyman. The Boogeyman’s comin’ to get you.”
It’s so dark you see monsters in every speck of dust.
The Boogeyman’s real.
The Boogeyman’s my daddy, and every day he sings to me, “I’ve got a skeleton in the closet and she ain’t ever comin’ out.”
‘oh, rattle them bones’
(17 years old.)
“You almost ready, dear?” Mom calls.
“Yeah, just a second.” Sitting on the floor with my back against the side of the bed, I don’t miss the flash of sadness as Mom takes in the sweater I’m wearing.
“You sure you wanna wear that? It’s hot out. Why don’t you wear one of those pretty t-shirts we got you last week?” she tries again.
I know she’s looking out for me, and I love her for it, but I wish she’d let it go. This is what I want to wear, and it makes me feel better knowing my scars aren’t visible for the whole world to see.
It’s been twelve years since I was rescued and adopted by Pastor and Mrs. Liles, and even though my father is currently serving a fifteen-year sentence, the memory of him still haunts me every night.
“Nope, I’m good,” I mumble while sticking a picture on the page I’m busy with. I have a weird hobby of writing out the lyrics to every song I like then surrounding them with matching pictures. Today’s song is Cross That Line by Joshua Radin, and I’ve just finished sticking a picture of Cole Trenton next to it.
Ever since the day Cole stood up for me, I’ve had a crush on him. Grayson Chambers was just being his usual mean self and had me cornered against my locker. Cole yanked him back and told him to leave me be.
Yeah, that was the day I knew for sure I was in love with Cole. One look at his icy blue eyes and chocolate brown hair, and I was a goner. He’s the only one who’s able to stir a happy feeling inside of me.
“Good, let’s go then. We don’t want to keep the people waitin’,” Mom says, yanking me out of my thoughts.
I slip the page into a plastic sleeve and place it on my desk before running after Mom.
Usually, Clay and I take turns accompanying Dad and Mom when they go to visit one of the families from the church. I know Clay hates it so most of the time I end up going along. I can’t let them down after everything they’ve done for me. They took me in without asking for anything in return.
Personally, I feel Clay should make more of an effort. When his father went to jail for selling drugs, the Liles’ took him in. He was only nine and had nowhere else to go. Clay’s momma died when he was still a baby, and apparently, they couldn’t find anybody on his momma’s side to take him. That’s how he ended up under the Liles’ care. It was the same with me. My momma died when I was still a baby, and there’s no one left on her side of the family.
As I step out onto the porch, Dad gives me an encouraging smile. He knows I don’t like going along for the visits, but he appreciates it.
“Thanks, Kiddo. I owe you one,” he says as we walk toward the car. The only thing keeping the station wagon together is a ton of rust.
“I get to choose the next movie,” I say while getting into the back.
“It’s a deal,” he laughs.
Most of the town calls him Pastor Doug and loves him. I know I got lucky when they adopted me.
A few minutes later when Dad turns up the street Cole lives on, my heart begins to beat faster. Automatically, I start counting down the houses until we reach his, but instead of driving by, the car slows down.
Oh my gosh, we’re visiting the Trenton’s?
I’m not sure whether I should be excited or anxious. The mixture of feelings makes me clench my hands on my lap as my stomach tightens with nerves.
Most of the time I see Cole at school. This will be the first time I’ll actually be inside his house.
“The Trenton’s? We’re comin’ to the Trenton’s?” I ask from the back.
“Yes, and the Mason’s will also be here. You know the boys, don’t you, dear? They’re seniors from your school,” Mom replies, unaware of the mini nervous breakdown I’m about to have in the backseat.
“Yeah, they’re friends with Clay. I hardly ever talk to Cole and Hunter.”
A simple ‘hi’ is the most I’ve ever said to either of the boys. But it’s one thing to admire Cole at school where we’re surrounded by other people. It’s a different ball game when I have to be around him with no one to hide behind.
It’s not that I’m scared of being around Cole. Not at all. It’s just… what would I even say to him?
Ugh, I’ll probably only make a fool of myself.
“You’ll have fun. The evenings you never plan are the ones you enjoy most,” Dad says.
I love his sayings, but tonight they’re not going to be of much help. Maybe I can slip away when no one’s watching?
The front door opens, and Mr. Trenton steps out onto the porch.
When we’re out of the car and walking toward the front door, I peek out from where I’m hiding behind Mom, but the second I see Cole standing next to his dad, I quickly duck back.
I can’t hear anything above the blood rushing through my ears. Sucking in deep breaths, I try to calm my racing heart.
“Pastor Doug, thank you so much for comin’,” Mr. Trenton greets warmly.
Mom and Dad walk inside the house, and I have to force my feet forward. Climbing the stairs to the porch, I glance up and lose my breath when I see Cole waiting to close the door behind me.
Breathe, Birdie. Act calm.
“Hi, Birdie.” Cole shuts the door, and as he turns back to me with a crooked smile on his face, my mouth dries up.
“Hi.” It pretty much sounds like I sucked on a balloon filled with helium.
Following everyone to the living room, I’m incredibly aware of Cole walking right behind me. Glancing around the room, I notice the Mason’s sitting on a comfy looking couch. Mrs. Tenton gets up to greet us.
Before I can go to Mom’s side, Mr. Trenton says, “Cole, why don’t you show Bridget the entertainment area?”
My lips part and I stand frozen like a deer in oncoming traffic.
“Sure,” Cole says, then he places his hand on my lower back and my heart all but stops beating. “This way, Birdie.”
It’s a miracle when I manage to take a step without falling flat on my face.
Cole’s touching me.
I immediately feel self-conscious about the scars on the right side of my body, even though I know he can’t see them. Folding my right arm around my waist, I cover it with my left.
A chaotic mess of emotions spreads through me. I’m elated that Cole is touching me, but at the same time, I feel on edge because of the scars.
So far, I’ve been lucky, and only Mom and Dad know about my scars, but I know the day will come when I won’t be able to keep my ugly secret buried beneath layers of clothes any longer.
Cole steers me into a room, which looks twice the size of the living room. A pool table stands in the middle, and a TV is mounted on the left wall. On the right side, there is a floor to ceiling window and a sliding door which opens onto a patio, looking out over a big swimming pool.
The entertainment area is right next to the living room which makes me feel a little better, knowing that Mom and Dad are close by.
I remain standing just inside the door as Cole walks to where Hunter is sitting at a bar area.
“Hey, Birdie,” Hunter says, giving me a friendly smile.
I give him a lame wave as I shyly whisper, “Hi.”
For a moment I think about how my best friend, Reece is going to freak out when she hears I spent the night visiting with Cole and Hunter. She’s had a crush on Hunter for the longest time.
With Cole and Hunter graduating soon, next year is going to be very boring at school without them there.
My eyes drift back to Cole’s face, and when our gazes lock, a blush creeps up my neck.
“Would you like somethin’ to drink?” Cole asks.
Feeling awkward, I just shake my head. Interacting with people is really hard, but when it comes to Cole, it’s near impossible.
I freeze when Mrs. Trenton’s voice drifts into the entertainment room. “Bridget’s become quite the beauty under your care.”
Yep, I’m officially dying.
“She was such a tiny thing when she came to Lyman,” Mrs. Mason says.
Knowing Cole and Hunter can also hear what their mothers are saying, makes me feel like I’m spiraling from embarrassment right into a pit of mortification.
It’s no secret the Lyles’ adopted me. It’s what happened before I came to live with them that petrifies me, and I don’t want people talking about it.
“Pastor Doug, I just want to let you know how grateful we are for what you’re doing for the boys,” Mr. Mason says. My shoulders sag with relief, glad that they’re stepping off the topic of my appearance.
I watch as Cole pours a glass of coke, but can’t keep myself from listening in on the adult’s conversation.
“Of course,” Dad says. “It’s nothin’ I wouldn’t do for any of the other kids in the congregation.”
“You’re really the pillar of Lyman,” Mr. Trenton compliments Dad. “If you have any problems with Trevor Slater again, you just say the word, and I’ll sort him out.”
My world stops at hearing my father’s name.
All the blood drains from my face as the walls close in on me.
“Birdie?” I hear Cole’s voice as I turn around and rush towards the front door.
I don’t want to hear anything about my biological father. I’ll never be able to deal with how he tortured me.
I just need to get outside so I can get some fresh air. With every step I take my breathing speeds up, bringing me closer to a panic attack. After all these years, I still haven’t learned how to control the crippling waves of panic. My therapist says it will get better with time. I hope so because these suffocating feelings are awful.
“Birdie,” Dad calls out as I race through the living room. “Let me explain.”
I manage to take a few more steps when Mr. Trenton stands up. “Bridget, you weren’t supposed to hear that. Where’s Cole?”
The fact that Mr. Trenton knows about my father creeps through the anxiety. Why was he talking about my father? What does he know?
My need to know what’s going on overshadows the dreaded fear. I stop and turn back to the adults. “Why were you talkin’ about him?” My voice sounds thin, and I try to breathe faster as the darkness begins to creep up on me.
I can’t have a panic attack here. Not in front of all these people.
Dad takes a step toward me, a concerned look on his face. “It’s nothin’ to worry about, Birdie. He just tried to send you a letter, but we stopped him.”
“He did what?” I whisper horrified. “He knows where I am?”
“He can’t hurt you.” Dad takes another step toward me as terror slams hard into my chest, ripping the air right from my lungs. I turn and run as if I’m running from the devil himself.
He knows where I am. He’ll come for me. He’ll finish what he started all those years back. He’ll kill me this time.
I pull open the front door and take the porch steps in one jump. I race across the lawn to get to the road but only make it half-way when an arm wraps around my waist, and I’m yanked off my feet.
The person swings me around, and I come face to face with Cole, as he jogs towards us.
“I’ll take her, Hunter,” he says just as Hunter sets me back down on my feet.
All the adults follow right behind Cole. They stand on the porch with similar looks of concern on their faces, which only makes me feel more claustrophobic.
Cole’s fingers wrap around my wrist and only then does Hunter let go of me.
I take a step away from them and try to pull my arm free, but Cole doesn’t let go. Instead, he steps right into my personal space, and placing his other arm around my shoulders, he pulls me against his chest. Feeling how muscular and steady Cole’s body is against mine, I realize how badly I’m trembling.
I’m terrified that my father knows where I am but not wanting to have a total meltdown in front of Cole, I close my eyes and suck in deep breaths in an attempt to calm myself.
“I’ll stay outside with Birdie,” Cole calls to the others. “She just needs some air.”
“Birdie, will you be okay?” I hear Mom call.
Just needing some space so I can gain control over my rampant emotions, I nod.
When I hear the front door close, I take a step back from Cole, hating that the first time I got to be in his arms is tainted by my past, even if he was just holding me to comfort me.
Instead of making me go back inside, he says, “Let’s go for that walk.”
Cole reaches for my hand, and when his fingers interlace with mine, a firecracker explodes somewhere between my left lung and my heart, leaving my insides a chaotic mess.
Michelle Heard is a Bestselling Romance Author who likes her books hot, dirty, and with a touch of darkness. She loves an alpha hero who is not scared to fight for his woman.
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