While you're waiting for the next installment of The Progeny series, here is the prologue from the upcoming book four. BLOOD REBORN. I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to sharing the next chapter of Ascher and Shauna's epic story.
Prologue ~ Burning Down the House
Charlotte, NC: October 31, 1995
THE SOUND OF BOOMING THUNDER AND INTENSE FLASHES OF LIGHTNING forced Shauna to wake with a start, but her fear of the raging storm was not enough to quell her excitement. Today was not only Halloween, but also her sixth birthday, a day to stuff herself with candy and chocolate cake—her favorite foods in the world.
How lucky was she to have a birthday on the same day as trick-or-treating?
Shauna glanced across the purple painted room she shared with her baby sister. Katy lie on her side, the blanket half-off her sleeping body. At the age of two, she acted painfully shy and withdrawn, refusing to acknowledge strangers while clinging to her sister and mother. A gifted child, Katy spent her days coloring and sketching pictures too keen in detail and mature for a child of only two years.
Shauna fell asleep earlier with the sweet aroma of chocolate birthday cake tickling her nose, wondering what her gift would be. Her tiny arms clutched the beautiful baby doll she’d received the previous year. A crack of thunder and subsequent flash of lightning rang out from the heavens, upsetting her.
“Go away,” she whispered to the storm, cowering under her pink and purple flowered blanket. “No storm. Go away!” Prickly goose bumps walked her spine as another boom shook the house, rattling the bookcase beside her bed.
The door cracked, and a thin veil of soft light filtered into the semi-dark, casting shadows against her weary eyes. “Mommy,” Shauna cried, leaping from under the covers and into the warmth and security of her mother’s waiting arms.
“Come now,” Lisa Williams soothed, wiping the tears from her eldest daughter’s face. “I knew you’d be afraid of the storm. No need to be frightened, chile. Mommy’s here.” Pulling Shauna closer, Lisa stroked her fingers through her hair.
Shauna snuggled against the comfort of her mother’s bosom, inhaling her and delighting in the redolence of chocolate frosting and the familiar fragrance of peach lotion. Her mother’s scent, alone, was enough to calm Shauna from her worst raging.
“Back to bed you,” Lisa murmured with a smile, tucking Shauna in and pulling the blanket up to her chin. “It’s nearly daybreak. Did you sleep at all last night?”
Shauna shook her head. “Can’t sleep—too excited. Stay with me.”
“Okay, but only if you promise to go back to sleep.” Lisa slipped into the tiny twin bed, her arm wrapping her tight. “Go to sleep,” she breathed while yawning. Her fingertips once again smoothed through Shauna’s shoulder length locks. “You have such beautiful hair.”
“Mommy, can I ask you something?”
“Of course you can baby. What’s wrong?”
Shauna turned to face her mother, the tears stinging her weary eyes. “Mommy...”
Placing her hands against both sides of the child’s head, Lisa gave her an omniscient, heavy-hazel gaze. Her finger came to her lips as she shook her head—scolding. “Hush now. What are you doing thinking about that? You’re too young to worry about such things.”
“I miss Pen.” This was a term of endearment she used for her grandfather, Prentiss Williams, who recently died after a long illness.
“I know, but Pen was very ill and he passed on peacefully in his sleep.” Lisa’s lips pursed. “You’re too young to be worrying about death.”
“What is this?” Shauna opened her night table drawer and retrieved the picture she’d drawn of a weird symbol—a star within a silver circle.
“It’s nothing,” Lisa replied, her expression narrowing. “Where did you see this?”
“It’s nothing,” Lisa repeated with frustration edging into her tone.
“Why do you fight with daddy? Don’t you love him anymore?”
“I’ll always love daddy, but sometimes it’s better to love someone from far away. No matter what happens with us, we both love you and your sister very much. That won’t change.” She smiled her megawatt smile and held Shauna against her chest. “How much do I love my babies?”
“As much as the ocean is wide and there are stars that twinkle in the sky.” Her little hand twisted into her mother’s silky braids. “Will you do my hair like yours?”
“If you promise to go to sleep, I’ll think about it. Sleep now.”
The heavens opened up, streaming its tears against the window. Shauna felt sick to her stomach, but she dare not tell her mother. She’d make her stay in bed all day. She would miss trick-or-treating and chocolate cake. No way was she going to miss candy and cake. The problem wasn’t her stomach anyway. She’d experienced the same bad feeling for days and couldn’t shake it—thoughts of Pen, weird necklaces, fire and death.
“Go to sleep beautiful girl,” Lisa sang in her heavy island accent.
“I love you, mommy.”
“I love you too, Shawnette—my sweet girl.” Her voice trailed off. “More than you’ll ever know.”
* * * *
SHAUNA WOKE, a second time, to an empty bed and the sound of raised voices.
Where was she? Peeks of dawn now slipped in through the peach eyelet curtains—time to get up. It was her birthday.
“Mommy,” Shauna whispered, making her way out of bed and down the long hallway that ended at her parents’ art studio.
She stopped short of the door.
A cold chill coursed her spine as she listened to the commotion. Shouting pierced her ears, bringing tears to her eyes. “Please, no,” she cried, as a vision flashed in her mind. She saw her mommy lying in a field of daisies, her body still as can be. “Stop it! No more fighting!”
The wooden floorboards shook beneath her bare feet.
“We have to leave now. I’m surprised they haven’t come back for her,” Lisa said in a hushed voice.
“No,” Jason growled. “We’re not going anywhere! Charlotte is our home!”
“Louisiana is my home! I only came to North Carolina because you promised me a better life.”
“Have I not given you that?”
“At the expense of our daughter. What about Shawn-Lee, we can’t be completely sure they won’t come for him. They are twins.” A deep breath punctuated the silence that ended in a sigh. “No. Hell no! I’m taking the girls and going back to Louisiana tonight!”
“I won’t let you leave me. We’re a family, Lisa!”
“You weren’t thinking about the family when you decided to bargain our daughter’s future for power. The things they did to her—to me. I can’t live like this anymore—always looking over my shoulder, waiting for them to come back!”
“Shut the hell up!”
“Refusing to talk about it doesn’t make it go away. I’m tired of pretending that it didn’t happen. Shauna can sense that something’s wrong. She’s dreaming about pentacles. That poor child’s been through enough. We barely got her back two years ago, and she hasn’t been the same since.”
“She was three years old,” Jason seethed. “There’s no way she remembers that year.”
“I don’t care! I’ve had it, and you heard what that cop said last week. If they have to come out again, we’re both going downtown for domestic battery and the girls are going into foster care. Is that what you want? Our children raised by total strangers?” Lisa sniffled. “I love you, Jason. I’ll always love you. I know that you’ve done the best that you could, but we can’t go on like this. Maybe it’s time to let go.”
“Never!” he shouted. “Over my dead body, Lis. You’re mine!”
A more substantial rumbling shook the house again, causing a picture to fall from the beige wall. Shauna tipped the crystal frame over, glancing at the broken memory. Under the shards of glass, a seamless slit ran the length of the image, separating the two girls from their parents.
Sickened by a premonition more horrifying than the last, her breath caught. Shauna ran toward the door. “Mommy! Daddy!” She tried the knob but it wouldn’t budge. Her head pained as a new vision bombarded her mind. She now saw her daddy, but he wasn’t amongst the daisies. He was someplace dark with fires blazing around him. “Daddy, no.” She slumped to the floor, rocking back and forth, her knees curled to her chest. Shauna clutched both sides of her head with her hands and shouted, “Not happening! Not happening! Not happening!”
The windows shattered as she let out a shrilling scream.
Fear prickled the back of her neck and a deathly quiet filled the house. The rumbling ceased. The bad words stopped. The only things remaining were the sound of the storm and the smell of smoke. “Mommy! Daddy!” She pulled at the door, desperately trying to jar it. Closing her eyes, she imagined herself running through the door. To her surprise, it swung open, flying off its hinges.
Her mother lie on the floor by the window, a pair of scissors lodged into her neck, blood gushing from the wound. “Wake up mommy,” she whispered, shaking her. Her daddy sat against the wall, a letter opener jutting from his chest. She shook him and he stirred, his dark eyes piercing into her.
“I’m so sorry, kiddo. You won’t understand what I’ve done, but you have to believe that I did it to make your life better. I love you, Shawnette. Now get your sister and get out of here.”
Shauna blinked her eyes. She couldn’t move her feet because they felt glued to the place where she stood, her mind attempting to process what she saw. Hanging from her father’s neck was an exact replica of the circle star from her dreams. The smell and sight of thick black smoke overtook her, bringing her back to reality. Katy. She needed to save her baby sister.
She rolled down the long hallway, just as the nice firefighter taught her at school a week before. Stop. Drop. Roll. Get Katy out of here! She grabbed her favorite blankie, tucked her doll inside, and shook Katy.
“Sissy! Wake up!” Shauna stuffed a sheet underneath the door to slow the smoke sifting through the gap. She shook her sister again. “Katy! Wake up! We have to get out of here!”
Katy stirred, rubbed her eyes, and then looked up with confusion shrouding her face. “Sissy...”
“Come on Katy!” Shauna grabbed a blanket and placed it in the floor, underneath the window now surrounded by broken glass. The nearest neighbor was too far up the road to scream for help.
An explosion sounded beneath them and the house shifted, the contents of their room skidding to one side.
Katy screamed, and her eyes widened with fear.
“Don’t cry. I’m going to get us out of here.” The house listed and vibrated as the flames consumed it. Carefully, Shauna climbed onto the ledge outside of their window, holding Katy secure to her. She was heavy, but Shauna felt determined to get her out.
A roar came as the flames licked their bedroom door, melting the wood and paint until the flames slithered into their room.
“Sissy—Fire! Fire,” Katy cried.
“Hold on. Don’t let go.”
Katy nodded, tears streaming down her face.
Shauna closed her eyes and envisioned herself floating to the ground. She stood at the edge of the roof, cringed, and then stepped over. The next thing she remembered was a soft voice calling for her. Was it an angel, or her mommy coming to wake her?
Wiping the sleep from her eyes, Shauna whispered, “Mommy? I knew you’d come to get me,” while arms wrapped tight around her, lifting her from the ground. She stilled as her nose registered the difference. The smell of chocolate and peaches was now the scent of sweet perfume—not Mommy, at all. Her eyes opened in horror. “Mommy!” She squirmed in an attempt to free herself, kicking and screaming with all her might. “Stranger! My sister, where is my sissy? Where is Katy?”
“She’s fine, Shawnette. I’m Maggie. I’m here to take you away.”
She narrowed her eyes at the woman. “No away! I want my mommy, my sissy!”
The woman smiled and tiny wrinkles accented her clear eyes. The emerald orbs sparkled as she wrapped Shauna into a blanket. “Let’s get you and Katy nice and warm. Okay?”
Shauna gave her a suspicious stare, then relaxed. Something about Maggie made her feel oddly at ease.
The kind lady knelt, picking up Katy and wrapping both girls into the warm comfort of the blanket and her embrace. “We’re going for a little ride.” Her mouth creased as she tossed her long blonde hair to one side. “Are you girls hungry? Thirsty? Does anything hurt?”
Shauna shook her head.
A man joined them, his face lightly lined and his hair a disheveled mess of white and black. “You don’t have to carry both of them, Margaret. You can give one of them to me.”
Maggie muttered, “No,” and clutched the girls tighter. “I can carry them just fine, Steve!” She gave them both a wide smile. “I’m going to take you home with me.”
When they drove away from the green house on Kennly Drive, Shauna stared in silence as the only home she’d ever known became a burnt memory. She wept as the gray film receded from her vision. She couldn’t understand how they’d gotten into the barn out back. She couldn’t remember anything after the window ledge, or before the kind stranger.
Shauna cuddled her sleeping sister against her while in her mind, she repeated the only thing she knew with certainty.
My name is Shawnette Abigail Williams and today is my birthday.