Previously on Fractured Dawn . . .
A man wakes on a beach with no memory and discovers a strange purple stone embedded in his chest. Through a series of altercations he finds himself in the town of Bridgewood, a tree farming community far from the larger cities of the state. Gaining a job in the town’s inn, he is given the name ‘Cook’.
When a strange beast murders a child, hunting parties head out into the surrounding woodland to track it down. But the creature is underestimated and lives are lost. Cook is forced to reveal his secret and fight the creature in front of a man who wants him gone; Sheriff Lenton.
As the town mourns, Cook wonders if he should leave sooner rather than later.
“Does it hurt?”
Cook looked at Abigail’s beautiful dark eyes and wondered if he’d ever seen prettier.
He’d been so worried last night when they’d returned to his room. As promised, she cooked for him after the inn had closed for the night. The food tasted good too, good enough for Abigail to take over from him when he eventually moved on. He made a note to mention that to Dusty the next time he saw her.
When they cleared up, she went with him up to his room, staying by his side as he turned the key, and taking his hand as they entered. They stood for a while in the centre of the room, looking at each other in silence. And then her lips had touched his. Abigail was a beautiful, kind girl and he couldn’t deny that her obvious attraction to him had caused similar feelings to form in return.
But then she put her arms around him and pulled their bodies closer, and the stone embedded in the centre of his chest caused him to recoil.
At first she had looked hurt but she must have noticed the glow of the stone beneath his shirt because then the offence went away and was replaced by understanding. Despite the doctors advise about keeping it secret, Cook sat Abigail down and showed her what made him different. If she ran then she ran. And in the morning he would leave, before the town had woken.
But Abigail didn’t run. She touched the stone, touched his face, and pulled him closer to kiss him once more.
And now it was morning, the birds were singing from among the trees that surrounded Bridgewood, and Cook felt all his cares and worries fade away. For the first time since the beach, he wasn’t thinking about his mysterious past life. He knew the urge for the truth would seep back eventually, but right now a beautiful girl was allowing him to have a break and just be.
“It looks like it hurts,” Abigail continued. She ran a finger around the edge where skin met stone. “Do you think it will ever come out?”
Cook didn’t answer her. He just watched her and smiled.
“What?” she said, a look of jestful paranoia on her face.
“Nothing,” said Cook. “I just enjoy listening to you. I could listen to you all day.”
Abigail smiled, rolled over and grabbed a pillow. “You’re mocking me, aren’t you?”
“I wouldn’t dare,” he replied, now faking his own offence.
She hit him; one, two, three times with the pillow before he tore it from her grip and wrestled her back down beside her.
“Would you stay for me?”
“What do you mean?” said Cook.
“I know all you want to do is march out of Bridgewood and explore the bigger world. I know you want to find yourself. But do you think that instead, you could stay here, in Bridgewood? With me?”
Cook hoped his hesitation didn’t cause offence but Abigail seemed to want him to take his time. He knew his answer would be biased if he just blurted it out now because he was in a happy place and things felt great. But they weren’t great. He was a lost man in a town that was slowly growing more suspicious of him as each day passed. It didn’t matter if she wanted him here because it seemed almost everybody else didn’t. They were just too polite to say it.
“If I was to leave Bridgewood-”
“When,” said Abigail.
“If,” corrected Cook, although he knew she was right. “It won’t be because of you.”
“I know you think the town hates you but they’re just nervous around strangers. I was treated the same when I arrived a year ago.”
“You’re not from here?” said Cook. He sat up a little, getting comfortable as learnt more about this woman.
“I ran away from my town,” she said. She looked away for a second; too hide her eyes from his. “Things were . . . difficult, unpleasant.”
“I didn’t realise. I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine, really. And things have been so much better here, the odd grabby customer aside.” She ran her fingertips over Cook’s chest, over the stone that glowed softly. “Just give them a chance.”
Cook kissed her on the forehead. “I’d like to think all that was possible. But you weren’t blamed for bringing death to these people’s very doorsteps. I will always be marked by that whether I’m responsible or not.”
“You still think that monster was connected to you?”
“I don’t have much to go on,” said Cook. “So I can’t rule anything out.”
Abigail half smiled, disappointed. She lay down beside him, arm draped across his bare stomach, and nuzzled her head against his chest. “Then perhaps you’ll come back for me?”
“That sounds like a plan.”
With nothing else to say they lay together in silence. Cook was grateful for this time with Abigail even if they both knew it wouldn’t last. Perhaps he would come back for her if his old life didn’t want him back. But it wouldn’t be because she was his second choice. It would be because he had his answers, and could be a complete man for her, instead of someone broken, someone missing his past.
He squeezed her, closed his eyes, and breathed in her scent. Lavender.
When he opened his eyes the woman with the red hair was stood at the end of the bed.
He let out a snort of surprise causing Abigail to bolt up. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Cook looked at her and then back to the foot of the bed. The woman was gone. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking around the small room in case the woman had found a quick hiding place. “I thought I saw something.”
From the middle of the town came a scream, then another, and another. Cook leapt from the bed and rushed over to the window, standing to the side to stay out of sight. In the centre of Bridgewood, a group of men were circling the townsfolk, knocking some over, dragging others along by their hair. They were rough looking men; armed and dirty. They reminded Cook of the men he fought to protect Tanel.
“Bandits,” said Abigail who had joined him at the window. “From across the border, no doubt.”
“Border?” said Cook. “What border?”
“Navis,” said Abigail. “It’s a few days ride but they do occasionally make their way this far in. Normally they just want a blacksmith, a whore, and some drink. And not always in that order. I wonder what they want.”
As if he had heard Abigail, a man who looked like he could be the bandit’s leader stood up in his saddle. “We have come for the stone man,” he yelled, raising his broadsword above his head. “And we’re not leaving without him.”