Authors: Randi Everheart
A Kendall Family Novel
by Randi Everheart
Copyright © 2015 Randi Everheart / Fire Heart Books
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means; electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locations, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or have been used fictitiously. Any semblance to actual persons living or dead, locales, or events is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Chapter 1 – Welcome Home
Sophia Turner yelped on hearing something crash downstairs. Her eyes darted to the open bedroom door. Only blackness visible beyond it. In the dark room, the laptop on her thighs blinded her eyes with its soft glow, which reflected off the windows. Outside, the mostly flat, rural landscape of Comus, Maryland suddenly seemed eerie in dusk’s golden light, the sun dipping below nearby Sugarloaf Mountain. The house felt somehow darker than outside, or maybe that was just her imagination. As far as she knew, she was alone in the house. Had someone broken in? Had she locked all the doors? Her ears strained for other sounds but heard nothing.
Her mother wasn’t supposed to be back from vacation with her new boyfriend for a week, though she might have come home early. But Sophia would’ve heard a car pull up or a door shut. Then again, she’d been engrossed in finishing her third beer and reading Facebook updates. One, from a recent “friend” named Jess, implied that Sophia was in for a special surprise this first day back from college for the summer, but Sophia hardly knew the girl. Why would Jess arrange something for her? She hadn’t talked to the girl since high school and they’d seldom even spoken. Sophia had only accepted the friend request months ago to be nice.
The thought lingered, and Sophia realized the silence downstairs didn’t feel right. She closed the laptop and glanced around for a weapon, spying a small volleyball trophy. The gun chest was downstairs, an intruder likely between her and it. Biting her lip, she took the statue and padded to the door in her socks. There she paused, caught between wanting to hear nothing and hoping for something to suggest she was being silly, like the cat playing with a toy. But she heard nothing.
She gingerly stepped into the hall and tiptoed down the stairs, her eyes adjusting to the gloom. Familiar dark shapes, like a grandfather clock, loomed down below, but nothing unexpected so far. Halfway down, a stair tread creaked alarmingly as she stepped on it, giving away her position to anyone inside the house. She paused and listened intently, hearing only her heart pounding in her ears. Now that she was far enough down the stairs to see the front door, her eyes darted to it, seeing it was still closed, the deadbolt turned to the locked position. Still no sound. Down to the bottom she went, her palm sweaty on the trophy. Still nothing. She moved down the hall and finally peeked into the kitchen. And there stood the cat, looking nonchalant, beside a ceramic dish that lay in three pieces on the linoleum floor.
“Minx!” Sophia scolded, relaxing. She flipped on the light as the cat perked up and pranced over. “I’m not home two hours and you’re already causing trouble.” She scooped up the white Turkish Angora and kissed her pet’s forehead, deciding to leave the mess, her mother not around to insist it be tidied up now.
Sophia frowned at the thought of her mother being on vacation with some guy she’d started dating while Sophia was away at school. Sophia had never had a boyfriend, despite trying. She’d found most boys utterly unromantic and hadn’t dated anyone for long. They didn’t seem to realize sending her a picture of their cock turned her off. Sometimes she felt like she knew what every local guy’s tool looked like, despite having only seen one penis in person. How had sexting come to be the staple of modern dating? Whatever happened to asking a girl out? Or chivalry? Or coming to her rescue? Guys sexting her were the ones she increasingly felt in need of rescuing
That reminded her of Seth, her high school stalker. He’d been a lonely, downtrodden kid in high school. She’d briefly befriended him only to realize before long he’d taken her sympathy as something more. He’d begun with sending her roses and love letters. When he wouldn’t take no for an answer, he’d called her relentlessly until she had to change her number; he’d bothered her on social media until she blocked him; and he’d shown up at her house, jobs, and even followed her on dates until she became skilled at hiding her whereabouts. But that had all finally come to an end when he went too far, being caught peeking into the house by her mother’s then-current boyfriend. Being beaten up, arrested, and getting slapped with a restraining order had helped calm things down with him. She’d hardly heard a word since, and not in a year. The whole thing was one reason she’d gone to New York for school.
She put the cat and trophy on the counter and grabbed a small premade pizza from the freezer and popped it into the microwave. Then she reached into the fridge for a soda, ignoring the rest of the beer. Her sophomore year as a photography major at Syracuse University in New York had just wrapped up and she looked forward to a quiet summer of practicing what she’d learned. Sugarloaf Mountain had inspired her to take up the camera. Now she gazed at the mountain through the back door, the rays of the sun setting behind it burning red like her long, wavy hair.
As she stood sipping the drink and waiting for the microwave, two pieces of the shattered bowl behind her clinked together. She turned with a smile, thinking the cat was pawing at them, but then her mouth opened in a scream she didn’t have time to let out before a hand clamped over her mouth. The soda fell from her hand, spraying foam across the floor, as two men in black pants, shirts, and ski masks grabbed her while a third one, smaller than the other two, raised pepper spray.
“Don’t move!” the small one yelled in a high voice like a boy’s.
“Let go of me!” Sophia screamed, struggling, which caused the nails of one attacker to dig into her forearm painfully.
Another nuzzled her neck from behind, hot breath on her neck. “Never, Sophia. I’ll never let you go, now that I got you!”
She recognized that voice and asked in disbelief, “Seth?”
“That’s right, baby. You came home to me at last.”
“Oh, my God. You can’t be serious!”
“I love you, Sophia.”
His hot, wet lips pressed into the soft nape of her neck, the gentleness of his gesture at odds with the force he was using to hold her still. Her skin crawled.
“No, you don’t! You don’t even
“Oh, but I’ve been watching you for forever. I know everything about you.”
Trying to get away but only causing pain to shoot up her arms from their grip, she asked, “Then why can’t you tell I want nothing to do with you?”
Sniffing her neck, he asked, “Why don’t you stop fighting it and show me how you feel?”
A rush of frustration and adrenaline tore through her. “How’s this, asshole?” She stomped on his foot.
“Ow! Bitch!” He suddenly shoved her into the refrigerator, where she cracked her head on the freezer door handle.
Sophia fell to the floor, the blow rattling her skull and making her head spin, the alcohol worsening the effect. She hadn’t felt something like that since she’d fallen off her bike as a kid and struck her head on the pavement. Unaccustomed to the violence, she felt panic surging up. Seth wasn’t kidding about whatever he was doing. This was a dramatic escalation from anything he’d done before, and uncertainty about how far he’d go made her stomach twist.
“Don’t be so rough, Seth,” the tallest attacker pleaded. “You’re gonna hurt her.”
“Shut up!” Seth snarled. “And don’t tell me what to do.”
“Where ya gonna do it?” the other one, with the boyish voice, asked. “Her bed?”
“Do what?” Sophia asked faintly, dreading the answer. She tried to grab a shard of the broken bowl as she started to rise, but the boyish one kicked them away.
Seth leered at her and undid his belt buckle. “Consummate this love, baby.”
Sophia went cold.
Seeing her expression, the tall guy put a restraining hand on Seth’s arm. “C’mon, man. This ain’t a good idea. I told you.”
Seth jerked his arm free and glared. “Touch me again and I’ll fucking kill you.”
While the two were distracted, Sophia leapt forward, swinging for Seth, whose eyes widened as he jumped back. Sophia missed Seth, but another blow flew toward the taller one, who stood closer now with his hands raised defensively. She slugged him in the nose, a flash of blood landing on both of their shirts. He fell back into Seth with a cry of pain. Just then, a shot of pepper spray flew past Sophia from behind and splattered on the wall, narrowly missing the other attackers. She turned, and before the boyish one could improve his aim, Sophia kicked him in the crotch. He crumpled but without the scream she expected. The hallway and freedom beckoned beyond. Sophia scrambled over the boyish one and ran for the front door as the microwave started beeping.
“You cunt!” Seth screamed, coming after her. “Get back here!”
In the foyer, Sophia snatched her car keys from a table and unbolted the door, opened it, and ran through. A glance back showed Seth charging from the kitchen, eyes afire. She sprinted in her bare to her silver Honda Civic, unlocking it with the remote before jumping inside and punching the red ignition button. The car started as Seth came through the front door at a run. Sophia stomped on the gas and spun out in the dirt, dimly aware that she was about to drive drunk, the adrenaline having worsened the beer’s effect on her mind. She glanced back, seeing Seth change direction, running for his black Dodge Challenger.
“Oh, my God,” said Sophia, realizing his car was far faster than hers. She careened out into the street on the wrong side and flipped on the headlights as she barreled down the road. Behind her, the roar of Seth’s car preceded the sight of it in her rearview mirror, hurtling onto the pavement, the lights coming on and sweeping side to side as he righted himself and came on like Death.
* * *
Whether by day or night, Sugarloaf Inn exuded a welcoming atmosphere appropriate for a bed-and-breakfast. Like the other properties owned by the Kendall family—Comus Winery, Sugarloaf Stables, Kendall Motorsports, and their family home—the inn featured a blue roof, front door, and shutters accenting a white facade. As the orange sun neared the horizon, porch lights and an interior glow made the inn stand out in the growing gloom. No other buildings stood near the intersection. From the rear patio, the inn offered unparalleled views of Sugarloaf Mountain, the shadow of which fell over it now.
That’s where Connor and Quinn Kendall sat, each nursing a glass of Sugarloaf Pinot Grigio, their servings of the shrimp scampi Connor had made long gone. He was the family’s best chef, though that wasn’t the reason he’d taken over the inn. Their mother had successfully run it between her husband’s death from a horseback riding fall, and her own death from cancer, when Connor was fourteen. Of the six siblings, he was the most affected by the loss, partly because he’d spent so many hours helping his mother while chemotherapy ravaged her body and, eventually, her mind. Sometimes she didn’t want guests to see her with her hair falling out, or she felt too weak to make small talk, and so he’d spent more and more time here helping out. Her death had left Quinn, the eldest, in charge of everything for a while. Once old enough, Connor had taken over the inn because he loved the memories of her here.
But there’d been another reason. He felt obligated to get married, start a family soon, and run the inn with his wife. That’s what his parents had done until too many kids had forced them to buy a bigger house, where Quinn now lived. His mother had spoken fondly of raising a family while running the inn, and the desire for one of her kids to do the same. And Connor had always wanted it to be him. He’d assumed that with four older siblings, one of them would beat him to the altar and maybe fulfill his mother’s dream of a young family inhabiting the inn. But he’d made it clear to the others over ten years ago now that he’d set his sights on the inn. He was now twenty-four and despairing of ever having his own family, even though he had plenty of time for that and knew he was being a little ridiculous. Still, he’d been dreaming of it for so long that it felt like forever by now.