Evanne Lorraine
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Liam prequel scene

Tiana raised the shade and blinked at the morning sun. The clock read barely seven. Her older, bossy brother, technically half-brother, Rob and his construction crew were already hard at it. The chatter and thuds from men working a hundred feet away muted to a faint buzz thanks to excellent soundproofing. She lowered the shade, tugged off the cami and panties she’d worn to bed then dressed in fresh undies, yoga pants and a sports bra.

She fluffed the duvet and smoothed the pillow, dropping her night clothes in the laundry hamper on her way out of the room. At the doorway she paused, inspecting the bedroom. The bedcover was a half inch askew so she realigned the duvet and checked the drape on both sides of the bed. One last glance satisfied her. The room was as immaculate as possible. Routine and order helped smooth the jagged fear of all the things beyond her control.

The refinished hardwood floors were cool and smooth under her bare feet as she moved down the hall. Considerable time, energy and money had been invested in restoring the house. Since the property was the only tangible connection to her family’s history, it was worth every cent.
Faint traces of fresh paint tinged the air. She wrinkled her nose at the fumes and breathed more shallowly. A little paint odor beat opening the windows and letting in the construction racket.
Thank goodness the renovations on the first floor were complete. The original schedule called for the construction crew to work upstairs until late September. Although she wanted the house done, another month and half of constant noise and men in her personal space was too much. She’d needed a break from all the fun. The weather worked in her favor, building the stables and renovating the barn now and finishing the interior when rain was more likely had made sense to Rob. The extra distance from her big brother’s over-developed protective instincts was a definite plus to kicking him and his merry band of noisemakers outside.

While she dearly loved her brother and truly appreciated his support, the way he crowded her boundaries on a regular basis, drove her crazy.

Rob was right, she’d been hurt, a sad fact. This did not mean she needed a keeper. And it certainly did not make her a permanent victim. A lot of physical therapy, involving sweat and tears had gone into recovering from the attack. She’d taken self-defense classes and had even learned how to shoot. Every month she practiced at a shooting range. She had a concealed weapons permit and never went anywhere unarmed. Personal protection was something she took very seriously.

The luxury of quiet surrounded her in her new exercise studio. Solitude, and the warm Tibetan orange she’d chosen for the walls, cheered and centered her. A dragonfly print in vibrant corals and hot pinks hung on the back wall. She dipped her chin to the symbol of healing and change then closed her eyes, breathed slow and deep, emptying her mind.

She began a series of twenty-four tai chi forms designed to gently stretch her muscles. Silence improved her concentration and made her exercises flow easier than usual. A light sweat beaded on her skin while she worked. The forms became more difficult and the changes faster.

When she pushed, her left wrist still twinged with pain. She pushed harder anyway and silently chanted her mantra. I do not have to rebuild every single aspect of my life today, I am healing and I am growing stronger.

The words had been formed from determination and hard-won truth. She’d been broken, barely survived, and she was still improving. She accepted that she would never ride competitively again, but she would ride.

Partway through the forms, she flexed her injured wrist too abruptly. She tried to breathe through slicing agony, but the edge of her vision blurred and she lost the fight. Filtered sunshine, the beloved exercise studio, even the trace of paint fumes vanished.

A moonless night, the wreckage of the familiar library, and acrid smoke seeping into her lungs filled her senses as she plunged into a terrifying past.

She opened her mouth to scream. A kick to the stomach expelled her air. She couldn’t draw breath, let alone yell for help. Desperate to get away, she kicked her attacker and wriggled free of his grasp for a few precious seconds, inching for the French doors.

Sirens rent the winter air, making him curse viciously. He stood, took a long stride toward the doors then stopped.

An instinct made her try to curl into a ball. Her left arm lay at an unnatural angle her lover’s boot stomped on the injured wrist. White hot pain surged through her, stealing her consciousness.
When she came to, the bright sunshine bled through the blinds, she was in the fetal position and her wrist ached. She untangled herself, stood and wiped her clammy palms on her pants. Refusing to be sidetracked by the flashback, she finished a series of cool down forms and grabbed a towel. Still breathing faster than usual, she patted away the worst of the cold sweat, gulped water and headed for the shower.

On her way back to the master suite, an acoustical guitar tune played, announcing an incoming text. She crossed to the dresser where she’d left the cell phone charging. The message from Jen, her closest friend, and her brother’s slightly pregnant wife, displayed. Jen, a much more reasonable, and way less smothering, person than her overbearing husband, sent frequent texts.
The current one— 2cute4words—preceded a snapshot from ballet class. Four-year-old Sarah, Tiana’s favorite and so far only niece, resplendent in a lemon tutu held fifth position and beamed.

Tiana sent back, Ur a * oxox.

A second or two later Jen replied, got2go bayb bmp kickin.

Quickly Tiana removed the cell phone from its charger, took it to the office and placed it in the docking station. Once the device synched with her laptop, she uploaded the new photo of Sarah to her online album. Okay, she was being a little compulsive. The photo would stay in her phone indefinitely, but she wasn’t taking chances with irreplaceable memories.

How lucky I am to be part of this family. How lucky just to be alive.

She blinked hard at sudden tears. Emotions—sadness from so many losses, gratitude for a second chance at life and a yearning for the romantic love she’d never found—washed through her. The tender feelings came with a practical reminder she hadn’t been with a man in over a year. Love was something she definitely wanted. It didn’t have to be marriage and forever, at least not right away. Respect, honesty and basic safety would be a good start. If she didn’t lose her nerve, someday sex might even be fun.

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