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To Preserve, Protect and Defend: Chapter One
Also by Kristina Rienzi
About the Author
Copyright © 2015 Kristina Rienzi
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, stored, scanned or distributed in any printed or electronic form, whole or in part by any means, without express written permission from the publisher. Please purchase only authorized editions and do not participate in piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of author’s rights.
Book Layout: Kate Tilton (www.katetilton.com)
Author Photograph: Jaime Lynn Photography (www.JaimeLynnPhotography.com)
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s creative imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
INDIGO HAWK GROUP, LLC
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
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This book is dedicated to Tom, my partner in all matters of the heart, soul and the unknown.
I love you.
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
―EDGAR ALLAN POE
LUCY PRACTICED HER venomous script, role-playing with the vacant chair opposite her. “Today…is your last day. Today is your last…day. Today is…your last day.”
As the human resources director, Lucy Matheson wore a plethora of hats at work, many of which she would have preferred to toss. Especially the dark one, the hat that required she fire people with professionalism and grace. She rolled her eyes at the thought. There was no such thing as gracefully firing someone. No matter how one lost their job, it was never pretty.
Lucy straightened, cleared her throat, and then suited her energy up for the person without emotions. She sharpened her tone and demeanor until the message sounded clear, concise, and indisputably final. “Today is your last day.” She smiled to herself, pleased with her ability to pull it off.
Tightening the silk scarf around her neck, Lucy recalled the recent meeting with her boss, who also happened to be the CEO and namesake of the firm.
“As you know, once Edmon Enterprises acquired this company, our first order of business was to clean house.” Mr. Edmon adjusted his tie as he spoke. “The first week we took over, we promptly walked most of the employees, one by one, straight out the front door. That day wasn’t one of my proudest moments, but it was essential to the future of our business. It wasn’t personal. It’s still hard to believe our mass layoff was six months ago already. Many times it feels like yesterday.” He closed his eyes and shook his head at the memory.
Lucy remained silent since there was no easy way to agree or disagree with him. She had heard all about the terrible day in the company’s history and was very grateful she had not been around at that point.
“As I’m certain you’ve heard, management wasn’t prepared to handle the mayhem that ensued from the remaining staff after that massacre. No one was productive for weeks. They spent their days crying, or gossiping, or calling out sick in protest. Rumors started spreading like wildfire around here. The employees left behind were in an uproar. And I suppose I can’t blame them one bit.”
Lucy chimed in, offering her support. “You did the right thing. I know that’s not always popular with everyone, but it is business, not personal like you said.”
He pursed his lips. “Well, that may be true, but look at it from their point of view. Hard-working folks were forced to sit back and watch helplessly as their coworkers, their friends, carried cardboard boxes filled with years’ worth of belongings out to their cars.”
“It must have been a difficult time.” Lucy gave him her best sympathetic look. She had been hired shortly after that incident, essentially walking into the aftermath of a war zone. It hadn’t been an easy transition for anyone to have a new hire show up amongst a sea of terminations.
Mr. Edmon continued. “Your accomplishments in the Human Resources industry are very impressive. Did you know your nickname behind closed doors is The Terminator?”
Lucy nodded and felt her face warm. She was compelled to explain her often-misguided nickname. “It’s not something I brag about, but yes, it’s a part of my job that I take quite seriously.” An apologetic half-smile was all she could muster.
“And you’re damned good at it, Ms. Matheson.” Mr. Edmon’s expression lit up, as though he were proud of her. Then it quickly turned serious. “That’s why you’re the one who’s going to handle Edmon Enterprise’s final termination.”
Lucy scrunched her face in confusion. “I’m sorry if I misunderstood, but I thought we eliminated all of the positions from Volger Industries already?”
“That’s mostly true.” Mr. Edmon shrugged. “However, given the sensitive circumstances when a corporate firm acquires a family business, we made an exception for one employee.”
Tatiana. The name came to Lucy like a tsunami. How had she forgotten? A sharp pain electrified her chest, and she put a hand over her heart. The twinge of an impending panic attack always rocked her world, even more so after her parents’ unexpected death one year ago. She took a deep breath in recovery and tried to clear her mind, but the reality of her assignment didn’t sit well with her.
Tatiana Volger, the daughter of the firm’s founder and lone survivor of Volger Industries, was still employed. And she was untouchable.
Despite the distaste of the undertaking, Mr. Edmon was giving Lucy an opportunity to prove herself. Decidedly, she was ready to step up to the plate and swing.
LUCY MATHESON SHUDDERED as her office door flung open unexpectedly, and Tatiana Volger sauntered in.
After arranging her body into a composed form, Lucy clasped her hands together to mask her nerves. “Ms. Volger, please have a seat.”
The woman’s raven locks were a severe contrast to the pale eyes that seemed to be protruding from her skull. Straight out of a horror movie, a frosty breeze trailed the ice-eyed lady, blowing strands of hair past her wrinkled brow. The gossip and whispers that Lucy had heard about Tatiana now birthed goose bumps on Lucy’s arms.
Tatiana practiced the devil’s work, people said. She had powers…Maybe she was even a witch. No matter what was true or false, people stayed away from her, and for good reason. She was terrifying to look at, even more so if the rumors were partially true. Lucy had experienced enough darkness in her life. She certainly didn’t need any more black clouds following her around.
Regardless of her unsettled feeling, Lucy was a professional. She stuck firmly to her script and carried on with the task at hand. “Despite efforts to streamline costs, the company is still over budget on staffing expenses.” Lucy paused for a moment before continuing. “Effective immediately, your position has been eliminated.” She swallowed hard and then took a deep breath before she spoke the words all employees feared. “Today is your last day.”
Be the decision wrong or right, be the whispers true or false, Lucy was following orders. The choice wasn’t hers, but the realization gave her the confidence she needed to finish the meeting.
Tatiana’s vision seared into the human resources director, although, the raven-haired woman never uttered a sound.
Lucy continued. “We are offering you a severance package to help with this difficult transition.” She felt Tatiana’s stare grow deeper and denser with each word spoken, like a knife boring slowly into her chest. “Once you sign the Agreement,” Lucy said, pausing to slide an envelope across the desk. “There is a seven-day waiting period before we can issue you the lump sum severance payment.”
Tatiana remained silent, yet she continued to scrutinize Lucy, her eyes narrowing until they were slits.
Finding herself intimidated by the woman yet again, Lucy took a deep breath to calm herself before finishing. “However, a silver lining is that you can continue your benefits for up to eighteen months under the law, for which Edmon Enterprises will pay one-hundred percent.”
On and on, Lucy went. And on and on, Tatiana glared.
When the meeting adjourned, Tatiana did not move. She remained as still as stone.
True to her training, Lucy methodically moved the tissue box from her side of the desk to within Tatiana’s reach, expecting the usual tears once the shock of the job loss had dissipated.
Instead of tears, Tatiana’s bony arm launched from her lap. Her gnarled hand clutched Lucy’s wrist hard. She winced but had no time to react because it all happened so fast. With the other hand, Tatiana fondled the bronze medal draped around her neck. Her crystal irises vanished as she swayed, mumbling an undecipherable verse with closed eyes. Then, in one fluid motion, the horrifying scene was over as fiercely as it began. Tatiana was motionless, her eyes transfixed on the space beyond Lucy.
Lucy considered reacting but was in too much shock to do anything.
Without warning, Tatiana released her rooting from the chair and headed for the door. Just before exiting, she pivoted slightly and caught Lucy’s gaze one last time.
Then she whispered one, terrifying word. “Again.”
ON THE DRIVE home from work, Lucy couldn’t help but feel uneasy. It was as if someone was watching her every move, yet she knew she was alone.
At the stoplight before turning down her street, she decided to ease her mind and confirm her assumption. Lucy checked the rearview mirror and then turned around to make sure she hadn’t missed anyone hiding in her backseat.
Without relief and still feeling as though she had an invisible companion nearby, she turned up the radio instead. Lucy wanted nothing more than to take her mind off of the day that didn’t make sense, but the foreboding seemed to be growing in intensity the closer she got to home.
Typically a pro at leaving her work stress at work, Lucy brought it, or something, home with her today. And it was something she couldn’t shake off no matter how hard she tried.
As Lucy pulled into her driveway, the chills that had been forming intensified. She took a deep breath and opened the car door. Heading toward her house, she spotted an odd sight. It was a crow, not a familiar creature to appear in her neighborhood. In fact, she couldn’t recall a time she had ever seen one, except perhaps in a horror movie.
Lucy stared up at the tree, examining the bird for a few moments. It seemed to consider her right back as it sat silently perched upon a rotting limb above her head. Then its ebony wings fluttered, shimmering in the dusky fog. The jet-black bird moved its head slightly to peer past the decomposing branches.
It was acknowledging her appearance.
Lucy took a few steps back. She hugged herself, shivering, as she stood there, unable to move while exchanging silent glances with the dark creature.
Once inside, Lucy tried to shake off her thoughts of her odd encounter with the creepy bird and began her nightly routine of feeding her cat, Whiskers, instead. Once he was eating, she emptied what was left in the bottle of Bordeaux on her counter into a stemless wine glass.
No matter how she tried to distract herself, her workday had left her inexplicably shaken. She had done exactly what her boss had expected of her, and she had done it well. It did not stop the negativity from breeding in her soul and spreading with deadly intent. Impending doom was all Lucy felt, and she couldn’t help but think it had something to do with Tatiana’s strange behavior in the office.
Lucy slumped on the couch with her wine to sift through the mail. One of the pieces was a large bundle from Arnold J. Stevens, Esq., which grabbed her attention. She was far from a person who got into trouble, so what would an attorney want from her? It couldn’t be anything good.
With her stomach fluttering in anticipation of some terrible news, she ripped the envelope seal open with her nail. Just as Lucy suspected, the enclosed document named her, Ms. Lucinda Matheson, as the defendant in a lawsuit from a car accident almost two years ago—narrowly within the statute of limitations. She had already forgotten about it, yet it had come back to haunt her with a vengeance.
The paperwork stated that Dr. Francine Watkins had been deemed “permanently disabled” as a result of Ms. Matheson’s negligent driving. Dr. Watkins was seeking compensation for “lost wages” in conjunction with the accident. Lucy’s quick math revealed that after her insurance company paid the claim, her personal liability for crashing into the accomplished surgeon’s SUV, not counting the unknown amount of medical bills, would be six to seven figures—more than she had ever seen, or ever would see, in her back account.
Lucy needed an attorney of her own, and a boatload of good luck, neither of which she imagined would be easy to obtain.
She tossed the paperwork on the coffee table, chugged the entire glass of wine, and went upstairs.
Retreating to her bedroom in angst, Lucy went through the rest of her evening ritual hoping it would put her in a better state of mind. She removed her watch and silver hoops and placed them in her jewelry box. While it was open, something told her to take note of the contents. Sure enough, her gut instinct was on point. Her mother’s two-and-a-half-karat diamond ring was missing. It was always there, like a lighthouse on her darkest days. She never wore it, but seeing it there gave her comfort.
Where could it have gone? Her heart began to beat out of her chest. Had she been robbed?
Lucy sifted through her jewelry box in a frantic frenzy, inspecting every worthless piece of metal only to come up empty-handed. It was as though the ring had disappeared. There had to be an explanation. Maybe it had been tangled up in another piece of jewelry and had gotten misplaced in one of her rushes out the door in the morning. She was always five minutes off and trying to play catch up. That had to be it. No matter, Lucy was going to find her mother’s ring. It meant too much to her. It meant everything.
Lucy closed the jewelry box and moved on to her bedroom at large. She spent the next half hour ripping it apart from top to bottom. Nothing was off limits. She even crawled underneath the bed to search like a bloodhound for the vanished rock. She probed below the dressers, moving dust bunnies as she eyeballed the floor and everything on it. In her closet, every shred of clothing was taken off the hanger and twisted inside out, examining every single garment.
With no luck, Lucy fell heavily onto her down comforter. Her room looked like a tornado had hit it, yet she still hadn’t been able to find the single remaining relic of her mother. The ring had also dearly departed.
Her heart, already utterly broken by loss, ached. She had lost the one thing that connected her to her mother on a physical level. It was almost too much for her to bear.
Lucy scanned her bedroom for her inhaler. On top of the paralyzing anxiety, she had developed asthma. She often forgot how much the two were connected, one regularly causing the other to rear its ugly head. She had gotten herself so upset; she hadn’t even realized what was happening.
Of course, she couldn’t find the damn thing when she needed it most. And now her panic was setting in, silently coaxing her airways to constrict even faster until she passed out. Lucy tried to calm herself and wheezed deeply to recover her breath, but it wasn’t working. Anxiety and asthma were working together against her. On a scale of one to ten, her dual attacks were rapidly increasing to an eight.
Refusing to lose complete control, Lucy attempted to keep her mind clear as she hunted down her nebulizer. Once she was able to focus, she spotted the medical device on the far corner of her dresser. She seized it, then began puffing with intensity until she lassoed the medication into her lungs, and could breathe again.
Exhausted, Lucy gave up on her ring hunting for the moment and decided that spending the night on the couch with Whiskers was in order. And, more importantly, another bottle of wine.
Right before she reached the stairs, she could have sworn a single black feather billowed onto the carpet in her peripheral vision. But when she turned around to see if she was hallucinating, it was gone.
INSTEAD OF SUFFOCATION, Lucy resolved herself to drowning in her favorite red wine. Oak and cherries permeated her taste buds as she swigged a desperate mouthful. Her muscles relaxed on cue. Nothing pleased her quite like the flavor of a fantastic fermented grape on her tongue. It was sheer perfection.
Lifting the kitchen window, she leaned out to suck in the crisp night air. She took a vigorous, chest-heaving breath, which combined with the wine, instantly calmed her. She felt like herself again, normal and at peace. The day had been a calamity of terrors, and she was ready to put it all to rest. Too often, she allowed outside influences to affect her inner serenity. It was something she needed to get control over if she was ever going to rise above the horrors she had experienced in her life.
Becoming an orphan could have been the worst thing ever to happen to her if she let it. She was determined to live, in honor of her parents, since they didn’t have that luxury. And no one, not even Tatiana Volger, was going to influence her into living in fear of what was to come. Lucy had already experienced the worse thing in life, to lose one’s parents at such a young age. There was nothing that anyone could do to hurt her more than that. The worst part of her life was over.
She took one last breath and smiled. As she withdrew inside the window, the crow appeared once again. This time, it was apparently fixated on her with its neck stretched out, head tilted in an apparent effort to understand her. Its eyes grabbed hers and held on tight.
Lucy shuddered. It couldn’t be what she thought—a dark bird, an omen of some kind passed down from a disturbed and jaded woman. The lawsuit, the missing ring—they were all a coincidence. It was all an unexplainable plot dreamed up by Lucy’s paranoid head.
Still, she felt the need to test the creature and her sanity. Standing tall and firm, Lucy slid slightly to the left center of the window. The crow’s gaze followed her, its head changing course until aligned with hers. Then, Lucy shifted to the right and waited. Soon after, the crow’s body mimicked her movement exactly. It was uncanny and terrifying. Finally, she swiveled around and then backed towards the window. The crow mirrored her actions, every twist, and turn. When done with the odd dance, it remained concentrated on her next move.
But there wouldn’t be one. Lucy knew better than to test darkness, which is what the crow was to her—all that was evil and dark in this world. And she knew in the deepest bowels of her soul, Tatiana had done something to send the crow to her.
Lucy’s body trembled, and her heart slammed against her chest as if it were the ground beneath a herd of horses.
Lucy knew instinctively and without question that the evil bird was tracking her every movement.
A crash shook the second floor of Lucy’s house, and she jumped. There were no storms in the area, no lightning, no thunder. She had no idea what it could have been, but she had to find out.
The only logical explanation in her mind was an intruder. The one who had taken her mother’s ring?
Lucy squared her shoulders. She didn’t own any official weapons because guns terrified her. So she grabbed a meat cleaver for protection, even if only in her mind, not that she had any idea what she was going to do with it.
Just as she arrived at the bottom of the stairs, she saw an object flying through the air, glinting off of the foyer light and then landing at her feet. She bent down to see what it was—her mother’s diamond. Lucy quickly retrieved it, putting it on her middle finger, the only place it would fit. She kissed it, silently asking her parents to watch over her, and then headed upstairs to find out what in the world was going on.
As Lucy slowly ascended the old staircase, she wielded the large knife in her hand. It was an attempt to convince herself she was prepared to confront whoever broke into her house. About halfway to the top landing, she thought she probably should have called the police instead of trying to act like a heroine in one of her fiction novels. Real life seldom worked out well in her current situations.
Right before she changed her mind, doubling back to grab her phone, a deafening shrill sound echoed around her, practically perforating her eardrums. She instinctively cowered, lifting both of her hands to cover her ears. In doing so, she dropped her only weapon.
When the noise tapered off, she looked to where the painful sound originated. That’s when she caught sight of the crow, its glare unwavering. Lucy knew for certain the evil in its gaze was meant for her and her alone.
Staring it down now, she could see its eyes so clearly. They were the color of ice, a familiar and haunting vision that began to make sense.
But before she could react, the crow took off after her, fast and furious. Weightless, its wings unfurled in grand fashion as it propelled off of the top of the landing and crossed the open stairwell.
Once the crow was inside her house, it appeared to be growing until it was much larger than a normal crow. Lucy blinked several times. She was certain she was hallucinating. Maybe she had too much wine? Though unbelievable, her gut instinct told her that the vision before her eyes was as real as anything.
In fact, it looked as though the crow was becoming human sized. Lucy couldn’t believe her eyes. She had no idea what to make of it all, but she was frozen in fear, unable to move. Even worse, with every inch closer to her, the bird began to morph into a sight that both shocked and horrified her.
Without warning, powerful bony hands came out of the darkness. They pressed against her chest, pushing her with a tremendous force. Lucy tried to scream for help, but she never got the chance to say a single word.
It all happened so fast and before she knew it, she had lost her footing. She began careening backward, flying through the air. The nape of her neck smashed onto the wrought iron banister first. As if she were in a wrestling ring, she felt strong arms throw her up into the air until she was fully airborne. She was disoriented as she tumbled in what seemed like slow motion.
When she was finally able to open her jaw to howl, her right cheekbone exploded on impact with the wall. Several of her teeth skyrocketed across the room as she writhed in pain. Blood spurted violently in all directions as she flipped and flopped in midair, all the while plunging downward.
In the midst of her body toss, she caught sight of a shadowy figure, now at the top of the landing. It was the same vision that appeared to her in the crow’s place, the metamorphosed bird now coming to life.
Snowy eyes flickered beneath the black hooded cloak and all of her hope evaporated. A long-nailed, crooked finger pointed at Lucy and a jarring screech exclaimed the haunting message she had heard once before.
Then the world as Lucy knew it faded straight to black.
WHEN LUCY AWOKE from her unsettling night’s sleep, the sight of her popcorn ceiling calmed her. She was in her own bed, resting. Her nightmare about the pending termination meeting that had left her shaken was just that: a dream. She released a heavy sigh of relief. Of course, her brain had created a terrible scenario to address her worst fears, to prepare her for the most unimaginable of situations so she would excel in the real life one. It gave her a sense of confidence for having had the dream. Now, she would be more prepared than ever to handle the day ahead.
Today would be difficult, of course, but she would come out on top, as she always did.
Lucy peeled away the covers and then swung her legs around until they landed the floor. She stretched her muscles, slowly waking herself up. Her heart was racing in anticipation, or anxiety, she couldn’t tell. As much as she hated firing people, it was something she prided herself on doing well and today’s termination would be the hardest of her career. She was ready.
In the dark room, she heard Whiskers calling to her from afar. It was odd since he always slept on the bed with her, but maybe she had locked him in the closet and didn’t realize it.
Lucy glanced around the room but didn’t see her cat. His meow was concerning, a continuous and piercing sound that began increasing in volume. It sounded like Whiskers was hurt or afraid. If either were true, she needed to find him, and soon.
Lucy moved around the room looking frantically for her baby. She couldn’t find him anywhere he frequently hid. As she approached her closet, which wasn’t entirely closed, the door swung open wide sending her back a few steps. A blurred image darted from the closet and disappeared under her bed.
Finding his reaction bizarre, she approached the bed with care. Certainly her cat wasn’t afraid of her, so it must be that he was hurt. Taking him to the vet would be a difficult and unexpected task to coordinate today, but she would figure it out. She couldn’t just go into work knowing something was wrong. She would need to take care of it.
Peeking under the bed, Lucy gently called out to Whiskers. But instead of coming to her, the cat hissed wildly as if in attack mode. She leaned down, reaching her arm to grab him. Then he did the same, scratching her. She recoiled, shocked and taken aback. He had never done anything like that before and Lucy didn’t know what to make of it.
Lucy was bleeding and decided to give it a rest for now. She needed to get ready for work regardless, and would just need to deal with her cat afterward.
She went into the bathroom and turned on the shower, beginning her usual workday ritual.
THE LOUD NOISE startled Kim straight out of a deep sleep. She jumped, sitting upright and looking around. Then, she shook her husband, as she always did. “Wake up. It’s happening again.”
Bill groaned and turned over. “I told you, the pipes in this house are ancient. Stop waking me up for this. It’s ridiculous.” He rolled on his side away from Kim, pulling the covers over his head.
“Pipes don’t turn on faucets,” Kim said. She shook him again. “Get up, please. I want you to take a look at it.”
“I’ll get up when my alarm goes off.”
Kim twisted the sheets in her hands. “I can’t wait another half hour. I need to get ready.”
“Then, go. What are you waiting for? The water’s already on.”
“Don’t make fun of me. I’m not going in there until you check it out. I want to ensure it’s safe.”
“Really, it’s water, Kim.”
“I heard footsteps. Pipes don’t make footsteps.”
Bill exhaled. “They aren’t footsteps. You’re half asleep. Go take a shower and wake me up when you’re out.”
“Ugh. I knew we shouldn’t have bought this place.” Kim was petting her cat vigorously and noting that he seemed a bit high strung this morning. “But, you insisted. You said the house was in a decent neighborhood. You told me that it was such a great price, so much house for the money. That may be true, but at what cost, Bill? I can’t live like this anymore. It’s not natural.”
“Are we really doing this now? Again?” Bill turned toward her, fury spreading all over his face. “Every single day since we moved in you pull the same crap with me. I have to go to work and deal with people’s bullshit all day long. I don’t need this nonsense first thing in the morning. It’s enough already, Kim. I’m putting my foot down. You need to get over it. Whatever your issues are, you need to understand that this is an old house. Things are going to happen. Floors will creak and we will have odd pipe issues. What do you want from me? This is the only house I could afford when you said you wanted to move. I told you to wait another year so we could get something nicer, but you didn’t want to wait. So, this is what we got. Now, you’re unhappy and you’re making me pay for it with your endless bitching. If I knew this was going to be our life, I would have taken the damn loan from your father and bought the piece of crap new construction you wanted.” He slid back under the covers, making a ruckus to get into a comfortable position.
Kim bristled. She wasn’t going to let this argument end without getting her way. She wouldn’t give in on something so important. “Well, genius, we got what we paid for, didn’t we? Now we have to live with this—-this evil for the rest our lives!”
Bill propelled himself out of bed. “Damn it. Fine, you win. Just shut the hell up about it, okay?” He stomped into the bathroom and turned off the water. “There, the shower is off. And the bathroom is clear. There’s nothing in there, or in here, or anywhere else in the house.” He shook his head. “You want to know the truth? The truth is that I have to live with your evil mind games and your evil cat for the rest of our lives. That’s the only evil in this house. That’s it.” Then, he stormed out of the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.
The moment after he left, the shower turned on full force.
“Bill!” Kim held her cat close. “It’s happening again.”
LUCY MATHESON SHUDDERED as her office door flung open unexpectedly and Tatiana Volger sauntered in.
Lucy’s day continued on, the same as every day, as Tatiana’s curse forced Lucy to die again and again and again.
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Get a taste of another short story by Kristina Rienzi, To Preserve, Protect and Defend. The first chapters follows:
FIONA’S HEART POUNDED in time with the twinkling sequins on her royal blue gown. The word royal swam around her in waves until it settled on an imaginary cloud somewhere up above her head. She twirled in front of the full-length mirror, watching her skirt fly up into the air and back down again. Everything about her shined, from her designer shoes to her polished grin.
Looking away from her reflection, she caught a glimpse of her mother standing directly behind her and nearly jumped. It was as if she had appeared out of nowhere.
“Oh, Fiona.” Her mother dabbed the corners of her eyes with a handkerchief. “Look at the beautiful woman you have become.” She shimmied closer to Fiona until she caught her gaze in the mirror.
Fiona Rockford was hardly a woman at fifteen and a half. She spoke to her mother’s reflection, acknowledging the uniqueness of the moment and adding a dash of sarcasm to her tone. “I’m finally the princess you’ve always wanted.”
Her mother placed her cold hands on Fiona’s shoulders and then leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. They were both fixated on their own reflections now, two diamonds glimmering like the colors of the American flag.
“You’ve always been our princess. Now, you belong to our great nation as well.” She squeezed Fiona tight. “You’re a princess for all of us.”
She couldn’t enjoy the moment, she was too annoyed. “Mom, my dress.” Fiona wiggled away from the chilly grasp, gooseflesh forming on her arms. Her reaction may have been obnoxious, but tonight was important to her. She was going to be a star on television.
“Oh, dear. What have I done?” Her mother used her palms to smooth the creases in the satin around Fiona’s neckline, trying to reverse the damage done. They both knew her dress was to be admired, not touched.
Fiona rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Mother. You’re the First Lady. Isn’t there someone else who can fix my dress? Surely, you have more important things to do this evening.”
Priscilla’s eyes were connected with her daughter, Fiona. When those green irises flickered, her mother’s pupils contracted slightly. For a moment, it looked as though she were wearing contacts meant to imitate cat eyes. “It’s called taking care of my daughter, which falls exactly under the definition of my role as your mother. And, you know that no one can be your mother but me.”
Fiona had no right to argue with her mom, especially not on such an important evening for the nation. However, they both knew that someone else, someone Fiona had never met, had also been her mother once.
The First Lady stood back admiring Fiona’s appearance, one that had taken several hours, and many people, to create. Her mother drew in a breath. “Perfection. Sheer perfection.”
Fiona’s grin was speckled with innocence. “You don’t look so bad yourself.”
No one would argue that she was a spoiled child. She knew nothing other than entitlement in her life, and she wasn’t one who ever gave compliments. But, her blatant admiration for her mother tonight was the understatement of the century. Priscilla Rockford was drop-dead gorgeous in the floor-length, crimson silk gown that hugged her tall, slim figure. For a fifty-year-old, she was model worthy, and no different looking than Fiona remembered as a child. There wasn’t a wrinkle on her mother’s skin, not even a faint line of an impending crow’s foot. She had no gray hair either, and as far as Fiona knew, her mother’s stylist never touched her with hair dye. It was all natural and breathtaking. Her perfect chestnut waves draped down her back like a Hollywood starlet from the 1950’s. She was a natural stunner.
On the contrary, Fiona’s milky-white complexion and hay-colored locks destined her to remain an ugly duckling forever. Makeup artists and the like could only go so far. When you had tainted genes, there was little hope. Fiona knew this but pretended otherwise. For once in her life, she wanted to be the one who turned heads, even if only in her mind.
Her mother curtsied before leaving. “Fifteen minutes until showtime.”
When she left, Fiona stood alone with the plethora of staff picking and prodding at her in her new White House bedroom. As the family of Reid Rockford, the former Governor of Nevada, she was no stranger to the black-tie events that accompanied a political existence. Still, no one could have prepared her for the extravaganza of a lifetime—The United States Presidential Inaugural Ball. It was a dream come true for Fiona, and she intended to treasure every single moment she had in the spotlight. Who knew how long it would last?
Fiona huffed. There were always people around her. She needed a few minutes alone to mentally prepare for the new life she was about to embark upon in the upcoming years. When she finally shrugged off the useless staff, they all responded appropriately by scurrying away in silence. A final exhale, and Fiona was ready to take one last look at herself in the mirror. Now when she smiled at herself, she felt it in her heart. She was full of pure excitement.
Tonight, Fiona would be the princess she had always wanted to be. The famously coveted celebrity that every impressionable girl in the nation envied. She wouldn’t be surprised if they made little Fiona dolls so young girls would have a respectable idol instead of those mainly naked reality stars. And why shouldn’t they make a doll in her likeness? Her father was the President of the United States, after all.
Let the bowing begin, my people. Fiona, your faithful princess, has arrived.
To Preserve, Protect and Defend
Kristina Rienzi is a Jersey Shore suspense author, entrepreneur, and the President of Sisters in Crime-Central Jersey. A dreamer and hopeful future Oahu resident, Kristina encourages others to embrace the unknown through her writing. When she’s not writing, Kristina is sipping delicious wine, spoiling her pups, watching The Twilight Zone, or rooting for the West Virginia Mountaineers. She believes in all things paranormal, a closet full of designer bags, the Law of Attraction, guardian angels, and the value of a graduate degree in psychology.
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