Hey, hey people!
If you missed the chapter one reveal for The Rebirth of Us in my newsletter a couple of weeks ago, here's your chance to read it! I'm excited that the words are finally coming with this story and that I'm making progress on it despite my earlier feelings for this book and this world as a whole. I do want to mention that I still DO NOT have a release date for this book. I feel like I've said this a million times already and yet people are still asking me a million times a day when the book will be coming. THERE IS NOT A RELEASE DATE AT THE MOMENT AND I WILL NOT BE ANNOUNCING ONE UNTIL THE BOOK IS COMPLETE. So in the meantime, enjoy the first chapter of this story and get ready for the bloody ride to an HEA that's coming soon!
“Do you trust me?”
“Trusting you is what got me into this situation.”
“And trusting me is the only way to get you out alive.”
I wished I would’ve fucking listened.
As the adrenaline of escaping faded, common sense now fired on all cylinders. I still had no idea what possessed me to run in the first place. I’d secured my ticket to freedom; the only thing I had to do was wait for Luther to coach me on what to say when I had to share my story. But not only did I put myself back in danger, now I could possibly get wrangled up in all of this for killing Luther’s mother. It was as if I’d escaped one hell just to jump directly into the burning flames, taking everyone else down with me. I wanted to punch myself for being so fucking stupid.
I knew I was fucked when I arrived at the hospital but wasn’t exactly sure to what degree. But I found out fairly quickly.
I realized it when I’d overheard the doctor tell the nurse to give me “the works”—including a rape kit—which would show the fresh stitches and trauma I’d tried to keep secret to protect Luther.
I realized it when I turned to every local news to see them all broadcasting my reappearance, essentially telling my new enemies the hospital I was brought to. But most of all?
I realized I was beyond fucked when more officers gathered outside of my hospital room, all of them hungry for whatever information I had that would help them solve this case.
My parents waltzed back into my room, my mother releasing a content sigh as she removed her sunglasses.
“You wouldn’t believe how many media outlets are outside of the hospital,” she said with an airy chuckle, placing a designer overnight bag at the foot of the bed.
With the way she was acting, you’d think I was about to leave the hospital after having a baby and the media were fighting for the first pictures. She definitely didn’t act as if her daughter had just returned from the clutches of serial killers after being missing for five days. And after the way she’d treated me for years, I wasn’t even sure why her behavior even surprised me anymore.
I frowned. “I don’t know why you thought it was a good idea to tell everyone who’d listen where I am. The people who did this haven’t even been caught.”
She waved me off. “You have security. No one can get to you now.” She looked at her vibrating phone and grinned, shaking her head. “My phone has been ringing off the hook with interview requests. I wouldn’t doubt that a bidding war for the first interview is on the horizon.”
“Mom, I literally just said that I didn’t want to talk to anyone about this right now,” I stated, my voice flat. It was pointless though, as she wasn’t listening.
“I brought you a fresh change of clothes. Even through tragedy, you still have to be presentable in public.” She paused for a split second. “Speaking of public, I wonder if any of the reporters downstairs are shooting live.”
She grabbed the remote from my lap and turned the television back on, excitement flooding her beautiful, Botox-enhanced features when my name and photo showed up on the screen again.
“Please turn that off. I—”
“Shh!” she hissed, her eyes never leaving the news report currently playing as the reporter’s voice filled the space in the room.
“Miami can breathe a slight sigh of relief as we finally received good news about the ongoing case of the seven local women who went missing five days ago—three of them found dead around the city.” I blinked back the tears threatening to burn my eyes as the reporter continued. “We’re standing outside of Mount Sinai Medical Center, where Sevyn Langdon is now safely recovering. According to the police, the Langdon heir was brought to safety by two passing samaritans, one of them recognizing the missing woman from the coverage she’d seen on the news. Let’s go to Amanda, who’s with the two local heroes now.”
The feed cut to the man and woman who’d given me a ride as they stood in the waiting room of the hospital with another reporter.
“I’m here with Christina and Caleb, the newly engaged couple who went on vacation and returned home as local heroes,” Amanda started before turning to them. “How does it feel to know that you’ve saved someone’s life?”
“It still feels unreal, you know?” Christina said. “We were riding down the road and she just ran out to us out of nowhere and flagged us down. We were so startled and we nearly hit her because she appeared so suddenly. Once I got a good look at her, I thought I remembered seeing her picture on the news before we left, but never in a million years did I think we’d be the ones to find her.”
“We just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Caleb said, an unnatural grin on his face. “I truly believe God led us to her and I’m glad she is now safely with her family. I hope the other missing women are found soon.”
“I’m sure the Langdons are extremely grateful to you for bringing their daughter home safely,” Amanda said with a bright smile.
Just as she turned to speak to the camera, Caleb grabbed the microphone. “Hopefully that gratitude comes in the form of reward money,” he quickly said, earning himself an elbow to the ribs from his embarrassed fiancée. “What? Your big, fancy dream wedding won’t pay itself!”
The reporter cleared her throat and awkwardly smiled as she looked into the camera. “Authorities have been gathering at the hospital in hopes of getting information that will help them find the remaining women as well as lead to arrests of the persons responsible. There’s no word on how well the Langdon heir is doing at the moment, but we hope that getting justice for her and her friends will help her through this hard time. Back to you, Josephine,” she concluded.
“Turn it off,” I said again, my voice tight as I tried to tune out the main reporter’s voice as she began to talk about my friends.
My dead friends.
“Police are still searching for Rebecca Colt, Allison Penn, and Crystal Myers, who are presumably in grave danger until they are found.”
Rebecca is already dead and I’m sure Allison and Crystal were killed when I fled, I bitterly thought as I fought the memories or Rebecca’s death from my mind. Sadness washed over me as their pictures came onto the screen. Rebecca’s smiling face made my chest ache, knowing I’d never see it again in life, never hear her voice again, never be able to apologize for the shit I’d dragged her into—what I’d dragged them all into. Guilt overwhelmed me when as I looked at Crystal and Allison’s pictures. I’d left them to die while I selfishly made my escape without them. I’d accused them of not being good friends when I was no better than them. I guess birds of a feather truly flocked together after all.
“Lauren, maybe you should turn it off,” my father said from the corner of the room. “It’s upsetting Sevyn.”
She sighed dramatically before turning the t.v. off. “You should be relieved, dear, not sad. You’re with your family, you’re safe now, and—”
“My fucking friends are dead!” I all but screamed. “For days, I had to watch them be killed one by one, so you don’t get to fucking tell me how to feel when grieving those losses!”
Her eyes widened in surprise as she gawked at me, a solid knock on the door taking away her chance to respond. Officers Shaw and Herrera walked in with another man dressed in tan slacks and a navy blue button up shirt. He was much older than the other two officers, his salt-and-pepper-colored hair cut short in an almost military-style buzz cut with a matching colored mustache that was so thick that I swore I saw it move. He was a bit on the shorter side, his thick frame making him look similar to a stocky Roblox character. The scent of the cheap cologne he’d drowned himself in made me nauseous as it quickly filled the space around me. I forced myself to breath through my mouth when he moved closer.
“Ms. Langdon, this is Jeremy McMarren,” Officer Herrera announced, gesturing to the smelly older man. “He’s the lead detective on this case, so he and his team will be the ones you’ll be in contact with when it comes to anything about the case and what happened to you.”
He gave me a tight nod of acknowledgement. “Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Langdon,” he said, his gravelly voice skating along my skin like uncomfortable wool. I only nodded, trying to dispel the mounting anxiety that made my palms slick with nervous sweat. I still had no idea what I was going to say if they asked me anything. Even if I decided to weave a story to try to protect Luther and the others, what if they found evidence that told them something different? One fuck up was all it would take to go from victim to suspect.
“Have your men not located Luther Evans?” my mother asked. “I just knew he would do something like that after he threatened my family in court all those years ago.”
Luther. I forced myself to take a deep breath as the thought of him overwhelmed me with guilt. The sound of his voice calling my name in the woods still echoed in the corners of my mind. But it wasn’t anger that’d colored his tone; it was fear and desperation. For all I knew, his friends were probably going to kill him to save their own asses and—
“If Mr. Evans had something to do with this, then he went to extreme measures to cover it up,” McMarren said on a sigh, bringing me back to the present conversation. “He’s also just arrived at the hospital. There was a call about someone being attacked and stabbed at a gas station coming back into town. Mr. Evans lost consciousness before he reached the hospital.” He glanced at me. “Bystanders described people similar to what you described. You said there were seven people with you that all wore masks.”
My chest refused to expand to allow me to take a breath, McMarren’s news wrapping around my ribcage like a tight bear hug meant to strangle me until the truth burst from my lungs. What have I done?
“Will you be talking to him?” my father asked.
McMarren put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. “It all depends on if he survives. They’re preparing him for emergency surgery at the moment. As it stands, things aren’t looking too good for him, which is making it hard to believe that he set this attack up to cover his tracks.” He turned his attention back to me, the frown on his lips hiding behind the bushy mustache. “Do you have any idea why someone would attack Luther on the day you went free?”
The sounds in the room meshed into one deafening hum, my breaths coming in faster as my heart raced out of control. Every time I tried to speak, the only thing that came out were hyperventilating pants.
“Maybe it’s too soon for questioning,” my father said, leaving his perch against the wall to stand beside me.
“I’m sure this is hard for her to talk about. I sympathize with her; god knows I do. But I have three dead women on my hands, three more still in grave danger, grieving parents to get justice for, and a city full of citizens who want to feel safe again. With Luther unable to talk right now, your daughter is the only one with info that may help us find these women alive. We don’t have the luxury of waiting.”
And they don’t have the luxury of living…not anymore.
“Then give her a day to get her bearings together, for Christ’s sake. She literally just got to safety and everyone is already hounding her with all kinds of questions. She’s probably still in shock over everything. Being an insensitive prick won’t get you answers any quicker either.”
I was almost impressed with the way my dad stood up for me. He was usually quiet, going with the flow with whatever my mom did and didn’t make too many waves if it weren’t pertaining to his business. It actually was a little refreshing to see at least someone care enough about me to actually fight for me.
Herrera nodded. “Besides, we’ve already questioned her and—”
“But have I questioned her myself?” McMarren interrupted, his voice hard. “Has any man on my team questioned her yet? No disrespect to you and the other officers who may have spoken to her, but your department hadn’t found a single lead on this case, which is why I was brought in. So, I’ll do my own questioning regardless of what you’ve already done.”
Herrera tightened his jaw as he stared off with McMarren, finally rolling his shoulders with a tight nod. “Very well,” he said, his tone strained with suppressed anger.
McMarren glared at Herrera briefly before looking back to me, forcing a small smile. “My apologies, Ms. Langdon. You have to understand how important it is to try to find your friends and put away the people who did this to all of you,” he said. When I didn’t respond, he sighed deeply and ran an annoyed hand through his hair. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small business card. “I’ll leave this with you. I’ll be in touch in a couple of days.”
He left the room with Officer Herrera in tow, Officer Shaw staying inside of the room.
“He can be a bit tough at times, but he’s the best man for the job. He’ll make sure to find your friends and bring them home.”
I shook my head, tears welling up in my eyes again. “I already told you the only thing he’ll find are their remains. Now that I’ve escaped, they’re not going to risk another one of them doing the same thing so they’re going to kill Allison and Crystal.” I met his gaze. “I don’t know why I have to talk to him. I’ve already told you guys everything I know. I don’t understand why I have to keep repeating this over and over.”
After a few moments, he sighed. “I don’t make the rules, Ms. Langdon. Sometimes, they like to hear the story for themselves to both make sure that the officers recounted the information correctly or to make sure the witness’s story remains the same. It might be best to just go ahead and get the interview over with, you know?”
I swallowed the lump forming in my throat. I could only pray to every god and deity in existence that I could remember everything I told the officers the first time around when it was time to talk to the uptight detective taking over my case.
“Just as I told the other guy, she won’t be answering anymore questions today,” my father interjected firmly.
Shaw pursed his lips and gave him a tight nod. “Right. Well, if any of you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to let us know.”
“Yes, we have everyone’s cards at this point. We know how to contact you if we need you,” my father said.
When Officer Shaw left the room, I released a sigh. Just when I thought this situation couldn’t get anymore fucked up, it did. I should’ve just stayed at the house and waited this out. If I had, Luther wouldn’t be fighting for his life right now. You don’t owe him anything. Look at the destruction he’s caused in your life in the past few days, the logical voice in my head reminded me. Despite the events of the last few days, I couldn’t help but care. Maybe it was due to me believing I deserved everything that happened or because I hadn’t completely shaken the feelings I’d had for that man years ago, but I still cared about what happened to him. I wanted to hate him for the way he’d ripped my life apart in ways that couldn’t be fixed. I wanted him to hurt as much as he’d hurt me both in the past and now the present, but I wasn’t vengeful like him. I didn’t get off on causing other people pain and suffering. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t break my heart to know that he now had no one. His mom and sister were gone, and his friends turned on him the minute I escaped. He probably thought I left him in the dust too, which was essentially what I did when I decided to bail on him and jeopardize everything he was trying to do.
A part of me knew that Luther didn’t deserve my sympathy. Since he’d crashed back into my life, he’d drugged and kidnapped me and my friends, killed four of them in front of me, raped me, and beat me. It would’ve been easy to tell the police the truth about what happened and to confess that I killed Mrs. Evans in self-defense before trying to find a way to move on from the tragedy and guilt now that my friends were gone. But on the other hand, Luther didn’t have to try to save me. Even though his first suggestion of killing my parents didn’t go over too well, he’d wanted to get me out of the house as best as he could. He didn’t have to bring me to his bedroom with him while my friends remained in the stone rooms in the basement until he killed them. He didn’t have to give me full, hot meals while my friends ate stale peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He didn’t have to go against his brotherhood to try to get me out alive and despite him trying to show me that he was trying to make things right by getting me home safely, I threw him under the bus and left him at the mercy of his friends.
Ones that apparently wanted him dead.
“You okay, dear?” my father asked, awkwardly rubbing my shoulder. He didn’t show affection much, which made the gesture a little weird but it brought me comfort to know he was trying.
I gave him a small smile. “I just want to go home. All of this attention and all the people coming in and out of here is pretty overwhelming.”
“I should go check with the doctor and see what’s taking so long with this discharge,” my mother said before slipping out of the room.
After a few moments, my father sat on the side of the bed, his hand resting on my knee. “I know you don’t want to talk about what happened to you–and I won’t make you–but…” He sighed. “Does Luther have anything to do with what’s happened? Are you trying to protect him?”
I swallowed the confession bubbling up in my throat. “I already told the police that I didn’t recognize any of their voices belonging to Luther.”
“Your reaction to him being in the hospital despite you spending years convincing your mother and I that you were terrified of him and knew he was coming back to get even with you,” he said. “That reaction wasn’t one that a terrified person would have; it’s one someone who have when they’re at risk of losing someone that means something to them or one of guilt.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know what you want me to say, Dad. I was just shocked to hear something happened to him.” I looked back toward the busy hallway on the other side of the glass. “I wonder what’s taking Mom so long. I’ve had enough of this hospital.”
“Dad, I know you mean well, I just don’t want to talk about any of this right now. It’s bad enough that Mom is already trying to shove cameras and reporters in my face, but—”
“Whatever you tell me would stay between us,” he said. Unlike my mother, I could trust him to keep his word, but I still didn’t even know what I was going to say about Luther in the first place. I hadn’t really had a moment to breathe since arriving at the hospital, my mind filled with so many conflicting thoughts to the point that it was hard to think of a story that matched whatever evidence they’d find on my body.
Luckily, the doctor came back in with my mother before I had a chance to respond to my dad. “Ms. Langdon, your parents prefer that you be treated in the comfort of your home instead of the hospital,” he drawled unenthusiastically as my mother smirked behind him.
“We figured you’d be more comfortable at home anyway,” she added. I rolled my eyes. The last thing on her mind was my comfort. She simply wanted me to be home so that she could freely parade the media around without hospital personnel telling her they couldn’t be here. She walked over to the bag she’d placed on the bed earlier and unzipped it, pulling out the contents. “You can go ahead and change into the fresh clothes I brought for you. I’m sure it’ll feel good wearing your own clothes again.”
She placed a dress and undergarments on the bed. “Thanks,” I mumbled.
“Of course. Go ahead and get dressed so we can get you home. I’m sure you want a nice, hot shower in your own bathroom and to relax for a little bit before your first interview.”
I rolled my eyes, unable to hide my irritation. “Mom, I told you I’m not talking to anyone today. Can’t I just breathe for a moment? If all you want are interviews and photo ops, I’m not going anywhere with you,” I snapped.
“We’re only trying to do what’s in your best interest! Besides, there were a lot of people trying to help find you, so I think you owe them a few words.”
“Being on every news channel isn’t in my best interest when the police haven’t even caught the people who did this to me and my friends! Being on tv does nothing but bring more attention to myself as well as more danger to me, you, and Dad.”
“She’s right, dear,” my dad replied. “Even remaining here can be a threat since the media has already announced where she was taken.”
“And who’s to say that they aren’t on their way here to silence me permanently as we speak?” I added.
She scoffed and waved me off. “We have security. No one has anything to worry about,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“I’m not doing any interviews until these maniacs are caught,” I stated. “Now can I get enough privacy to get dressed please?”
“Actually, before you do that,” the doctor interjected. “I need to talk with you about one of the findings the nurse discovered when doing your initial exam.”
Heat crept up my neck at his words, already knowing what he was talking about.
“What did you find? I pray she hasn’t contracted any diseases from these people,” my mother stated, disgust lacing her voice. The doctor didn’t look at her, keeping his concerned gaze on me.
“Is this something that you want to talk about in front of your parents?” he asked. I shook my head. It wasn’t even something I wanted to talk to the doctor about, but I knew I had to tell him something to get him off of my case. He looked to my parents. “Could I have you two step out for a moment, please?”
My mother spun on her heels in a huff. “We’ll be right outside, honey,” my father said and followed her out. The doctor waited until they were out of the room before he focused his attention on me.
“This is about the rape kit, isn’t it?” I asked.
He nodded. “The nurse informed me that you refused to have one. While that’s your decision and we can’t force you, I’m very curious about why you wouldn’t want to have one done if it meant that your captor could be identified and arrested.”
My mind flashed back to the two times when Luther had raped me, his angry eyes burning into the forefront of my memory again. I cleared my throat and shook my head.
“Because there wouldn’t be any DNA for you to collect anyway,” I replied, praying that he believed me. “I wasn’t…um, I wasn’t assaulted by any penises attached to a man, if that makes sense.”
He pulled a small notepad out from the pocket of his lab coat and flipped it open. “So, they sodomized you with objects then?”
I nodded, quickly pulling things out of thin air to add. “I had to choose a friend to die or take a punishment. And for two of those days, one of them got upset that I wouldn’t choose a friend and instead chose the punishment. So, they…assaulted me with dildos that were too big to really fit without pain, even putting a hot muzzle of a gun they’d shot my friend with inside of…”
Tears burned my eyes but I quickly blinked them back. The doctor looked at me sympathetically, nodding his head. “I’m so sorry you had to go through something like that, Ms. Langdon. I have a fifteen-year-old daughter myself and I don’t know what I would do if something like this happened to her.”
I wiped away the single tear that managed to fall, keeping my eyes down. “Hopefully, it won’t happen to anyone else when they’re finally caught.”
He looked down at his notepad. “I also wanted to ask you about the stitches the nurse found. She said that they looked to be done professionally. Did a doctor come to see you while you were with your captor?”
“I’m not sure if they were a doctor or not. They were dressed in regular clothes.”
“I see,” he said, scribbling down something in his notepad. “And you’re positive you don’t want a rape kit done just in case?”
“I’m hurting enough. I don’t want anyone messing with anything down there,” I said, my voice firm.
“Then I won’t press the issue a moment longer,” he said with a comforting smile as he closed his notepad and tucked it back into this pocket. “Also, if you don’t believe you’re ready to go home, we can keep you if you’d like. It’s your choice. I don’t want you to think that we’re just kicking out simply because your parents want you treated at home.”