Sunday, October 7, 2007

Fated Love by Darcy McKenna

Fated Love

Author: Darcy McKenna

Chapter 1

Someone screamed.



Abruptly cut off.

Sarah Cameron struggled upright in bed, sweat beading her forehead. Translucent shafts of moonlight playing through the partially opened mini blinds showed indistinct shapes rising out of the dark. Body tense, heart pounding she glanced around. No stranger hovered over her bed or lurked in the shadows. No one shared the room with her. No one had screamed.

The shrill sound of the telephone ringing on the bedside table jerked her attention in that direction. Next to the phone, the illuminated numbers on the clock read three-fifteen am. Her palms broke into a clammy sweat as memories of the last time the phone rang at such an ungodly hour reared their ugly ghost heads.

Don’t think about that.

The phone continued to scream. Wishing this weren’t happening she reached out to answer. With her hand shaking so badly, she almost dropped the receiver, she put the phone to her ear. Beyond the buzzing in her head, she heard a voice calling her name. The same voice that had called in the dark of night before.

“Sarah? Sarah! Are you there? It’s Neil.”

She didn’t want to know what might have happened. As long as she didn’t respond, she wouldn’t have to know. But how could it be any worse than the last late night phone call?

“What’s happened?” she managed to say, hating the quaver in her voice.

“It’s bad news, Sarah.” Neil’s voice was soft. As though he were using it to cushion his message. Every muscle in her body tightened in preparation for his next words. The phone slipped in her sweaty palm. “It seems I’m always the harbinger of bad news. The South Main Art Gallery is in flames.”

As though someone had punched her in the gut, air exited her lungs in a rush. The gallery! Three years of hard work lost as she sat here. The need to try to save something gripped her. Gulping breaths, she cut off Neil’s dimly heard explanation, “I’m on my way. You can tell me what happened when I get there.”

Energized by panic, she leaped from the bed, yanked on the worn jeans and Sun Studios tee shirt she’d taken off only a few hours earlier and tore down the stairs.


She made it all the way downtown without picking up a lurking cop out to catch speeders. The angels must have been on her side. Maybe it was….

“Stop,” she ordered herself. “Don’t start thinking about them now.”

She had to slow down as she approached South Main. Fuming at the slow moving traffic didn’t improve her situation. The adrenaline raging through her veins made it impossible to move at this snails’ pace.

Her eyes searched the sky. Even from two blocks away she

could see flames shooting into the air. The fire must be fully engaged for the flames to leap above buildings two stories high.

For an insane minute she wanted to giggle.

Leaping tall buildings.

Just like Superman.

Forcing the hysterical reaction down, she jammed the car into a small space between two others and took off on foot. Pushing her way brusquely between the rubberneckers on their way to see the show, she sped up until she was running at breakneck speed.

Skidding around the corner onto South Main, she hauled up short. A large crowd was gathered in the street across from the gallery, held back by the Memphis Fire Department.

Her mind boggled at what lay before her.

Flames, at least sixty feet high, licked eagerly at the black velvet sky like the tongues of hell attempting to eat the stars from the heavens. Silhouetted against the conflagration, the watchers looked like players from a scene in Dante’s Inferno. Some pointed at the flames as their mouths moved in unheard conversation with their neighbors. Others, apparently attracted from nearby bars, held beer bottles, swigging from them as they watched the flames.

Three fire trucks stood in front of the building. A half dozen firemen trained hoses on the structure in what looked like a vain effort to extinguish the flames. Nearby more firemen trained water on the businesses nearby to keep them from being set afire by stray sparks. Pieces of debris floated in the air like blackened snowflakes.

Forcing her feet to move, Sarah approached with trepidation. There was no way she could save any of her artwork. The fire was far too advanced for her to enter the gallery. The closer she got, the hotter the night air became, the already sultry summer night turning steamy as a sauna.

Searching the crowd for Neil, she spotted Evie first. Bless her heart. Weaving through the crowd, Sarah made her way to her friend.

Oblivious to Sarah’s presence, Evie stood with eyes glued to the burning gallery. Tears streaming down her cheeks reflected orange in the glow of the fire. Her hands pressed tightly against her lips holding in sobs. Tentatively Sarah touched her arm. As though waking from a trance, Evie turned her head.

“Oh Sarah,” she gasped. “It’s all gone. The fire was too far gone for me to get in and save anything.” Evie sobbed.

Tears welling in her own eyes, Sarah pulled her friend into her arms. “Hush. It’ll be all right. Don’t take on so.”

“How can you say that? All your beautiful paintings were in there.”

Sarah patted Evie’s back, her own tears now streaming down her face. Why? Why did I have to lose those paintings? Haven’t I suffered enough? With effort, Sarah stanched her tears. Don’t think about it now. Put on your game face. Don’t let anybody see. Not even Evie. “I’ll just have to paint some more, won’t I?”

Evie’s shocked, tearstained eyes met hers. “But…the paintings of your family were in there.”

Sarah’s heart squeezed. Her game face wobbled. Her family portraits, painted from life, could never be replaced. Before she could succumb to the excruciating pain brought on by thoughts of her family, Neil arrived out of the crowd. He threw a disapproving look at Evie, then his arm went around her shoulders, pulling her against his side. His storm gray eyes were sad.

“Sarah. I’m so sorry. I know what those paintings meant to you. I can’t imagine how this happened. I was in my apartment down the street. I couldn’t sleep and went up to the roof to get some air and saw the fire then. I rushed over here, but I don’t know how it started. The fireman in charge won’t tell me a thing. They’re too busy putting out the flames right now and he wouldn’t speculate. I told him I’d be here until he can talk to me.”

Sarah couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Grateful for the support of her two friends, she held her tears in check. Neil’s arm held her close on one side. Evie held her hand tightly on the other.

The three of them stood watching as what was left of the building came down with a roar. Flaming debris flew in all directions. Firemen leaped back, hoses still trained on the flames. As one, the crowd moved back further, but didn’t disperse. Sarah fought back sobs again. Not that she’d had a real hope of saving what was in the gallery, but the crash of destruction signaled the end of even a remote possibility. Evie’s hand gripped hers even harder.

“Vultures,” Neil spat, looking over the crowd. “Why are so many people drawn to watch disasters?”

“A lot of people are drawn to catastrophes,” replied Evie. “It just a part of human nature.”

Neil gave Evie a scathing look. “We’re not interested in hearing your mumbo jumbo theories.”

Sarah knew Neil despised Evie’s New Age religion, not to mention her wild shaggy hair currently dyed purple. But surely he could see Evie’s big heart. Her love for Sarah. A lifetime of friendship between the two women should have shown Neil Evie’s true nature. Was it simply the difference in age? Sarah and Evie were both twenty-two to Neil’s forty. Neil certainly didn’t have any problems being Sarah’s friend. She never would have made it through the pain last year if not for Neil. And Evie. And Isaiah. Oh God. She’d have to call Isaiah and tell him about this.

Hoping to head off an argument between Neil and Evie, Sarah said, “Come on, ya’ll. Don’t get into one of your arguments here. I can’t take it right now.”

“I don’t see why Neil has to be such an ass about everything.”

Sarah cut off her friend with a look. Evie unwrapped a piece of bubble gum and popped it into her mouth. Great. Another of her habits that drove Neil up the wall. Evie was incapable of chewing gum without popping it like a small child.

Catching a sly look in Evie’s eyes, Sarah realized with a jolt that her friend was distracting her from the loss. Doing it Evie style by drawing Sarah’s emotions away from what was happening here the only way she knew how, picking a fight with Neil. With a wicked grin, her friend began snapping her gum double time. Neil’s arm clamped harder around Sarah’s waist. Thinking the situation was about to escalate to all out war, she looked up into Neil’s face. His gaze wasn’t locked on her friend as she expected, but further up the sidewalk.

Looking in that direction, Sarah saw a tall, dark haired man headed their way “Do you know that guy, Neil?”


“Your arm is crushing into my side. You’re looking at the guy walking this way, so I thought maybe you know him and don’t like him or something.”

Neil relaxed his arm to a more casual hold. “Oh. No I don’t know him, but he’s dressed in a fire department uniform. I think he’s got something to tell us.”

Sarah noticed the stranger’s puzzled gaze was glued to Neil as he approached little their group. “Professor Reston?” he questioned.

Confused, Sarah looked around. Evie shrugged her mystification. There was no one else standing nearby. And the stranger was still looking straight at Neil with angry eyes.

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Paperback publication date: October 19, 2007

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