Home > Beholden (Salvation #2)

Beholden (Salvation #2)
Author: Corinne Michaels

To the men and women who serve their countries and the families they leave behind.
Especially my husband for his years of sacrifice and dedication.


I stand before the mirror in my knee-length, black dress. My hair is pin straight and I’ve opted against eye makeup. Not even waterproof mascara can withstand the torrent of tears I’ve shed lately.

I’ll see him today.

I’ll somehow handle looking at the man who’s no longer mine. The one who forced me to love again, give my heart to him—then forced me to be alone. He’s gone and I won’t get him back.

I’ll need a miracle to get through this.

Giving myself another once-over, I’m as content as I’ll ever be. What does it matter anyway? Who gives a shit what I look like in the grand scheme of things? I’ll be wrecked by the end of today—again. There will be no coming back. I’m in hell—no, purgatory. I walk around living, but feeling dead inside.

“You ready?” Ashton whispers behind me, placing her cool hand on my shoulder.

“Yeah, sure. It’s not getting any better than this,” I reply without any emotion.

I feel hollow.

He took everything from me.

“Okay …” she trails off and leaves the room to let me finish up.

Once I’m done, I head out to the living room. We gather our belongings in silence and head to the car. Ashton drives without the music on, giving me time to do nothing but sit and think of Jackson. I see his face, hear his voice, feel his hands on me, but it’s not real anymore. Phantom feelings for a man that isn’t real. None of it was real. I sometimes wonder if I just made it all up in my head. Made it into something it wasn’t.

As we pull into the metal gates of the cemetery, I stare out the window wishing I were anywhere but here. I don’t know how I’ll make it through this.

The car stops and Ashton places her hand on mine. “Cat, we don’t have to do this. If you can’t be here …” She stops and bites her lip. “No one would judge you.” The empathy swimming in her eyes rips through my heart, tearing me apart.

I glance at the tent set up at the gravesite. The people starting to filter around to bid their final goodbye to a man they loved. I sit here—frozen. Trying to piece together the parts of my heart that are no longer beating. I hear the remnants thumping erratically in my chest, but I feel nothing.

“I promised I’d be here, Ashton,” I say with an air of finality.

I may not want to, but the bottom line is, I love him. I gave my heart to him and I made promises—no matter what, I won’t break them.

We exit the car and start to make our way to the sea of black. The dark hearts in pain and sorrow surround the area. My heels puncture the soft grass while the gaps in my heart grow larger with each step. The smell of fresh grass fills the air. I can feel his presence. Every part of my body is tingling in awareness. The tears pool in my eyes blurring my sight and I stumble, but Ashton keeps me from falling.

“Ash …” My voice quivers as I will myself to keep from falling apart.

“I won’t leave your side.” Her deep, blue eyes are filled with her vow.

I nod and draw my strength from her.

She’s here and won’t let me fall.

Keeping my head lowered, I continue moving while she holds on to my arm. I don’t want to see faces. I focus on the beads of dew hanging on the blades of grass. I take in each one as if they’re tears from God. Tears because none of this is okay. If I can keep my eyes down, I won’t have to see the urn that sits on top of the tombstone. I won’t see the friends and family with tear-filled eyes. I can pretend this is an awful dream and none of this is happening. I don’t want to hear the words telling us we should be thankful for the time we had, because there’s never enough time.

“I’m right here with you,” Ashton whispers and wraps her arms around me.

I nod, not trusting my ability to speak. I’m barely hanging on.

Silence falls upon the crowd as the preacher speaks, talking about heroism and sacrifice. Opening my eyes, I take in the scene before me. The four sailors stand off to the side dressed in their dark blue uniforms. Ribbons and medals hang from their chests. I glance at the American flag folded next to the urn, the gift for his ultimate sacrifice. I listen to the words and the quiet sobs of people in pain.

When the reverend stops speaking, the sailor moves and the bugle blares playing “Taps.” Each note shreds through my body, penetrates my bones, and shatters my heart. Tears stream down my face unabashed. The uniformed sailor walks over to the front row placing the folded flag in delicate hands. He kneels before her speaking as she nods and trembles. The sounds of her loud cries break through my fragile façade.

“Shhh, Cat,” Ashton murmurs in my ear. “You’re shaking.” She rubs her hands up and down my arm trying to warm me.

If only I was shaking because I’m cold.

I turn into her when a hand ghosts up my shoulder, “Catherine.” His deep voice echoes in the eerie quiet.

The sound of his voice is my undoing. A sob breaks through my chest as Ashton catches me while I fall apart.

 

 

“Kill ‘em and let’s go!” Mark’s loud voice bellows over the zinging of bullets raining around us. “Up on the ridge there’s another one!”

I return fire trying to shoot my way to safety. Screams and gunfire are all I register through the chaos. The dust flies with each bullet hitting the dirt.

“Muff!” Mark calls out as my vision starts to fade.

The metallic taste of blood floods my mouth.

“Motherfucker! Move!” he yells, trying to get me out of harm’s way. Opening my eyes, I see Mark’s face contort as he continues to shoot.

Using my arms, I try to crawl closer. It fucking hurts. The pain is everywhere as a bullet rips through my abdomen, stopping me from moving. I lie here out in the open ready for my fate.

I look over at Mark as he returns fire and rushes towards me.

“Mark,” I croak out, my vision hazy as he approaches me.

I close my eyes and succumb to the black. I don’t want to wake up. The pain is too much. Besides, Catherine is here in the dark. Hearing her voice makes me want to try, but I’m losing my will.

“Jackson, you have to fight!” Her voice is thick with emotion.

“I’m too tired, baby. I want to stay with you. It doesn’t hurt so much here. You make me feel better,” I tell her, content to see her face and hear her voice. I know she’s not real—but I want to stay here.

Her eyes close as a tear falls down her beautiful face. “You’ll hurt me more if you stay. You have to go back. Please. For me,” she begs.

I’ll do anything not to hurt her again. I’d give her everything just to stop the look of suffering on her face. I open my eyes and the piercing torture jolts me back to life while the bullets slice through the air around me.

Mark hoists me over his shoulder as I hold back a scream from the impact against my injured shoulder. The pain radiates from my head to my toes, reminding me I’m still alive. If I can still feel, I can fight.

“We have to go. Now!” The tone of command conveys the urgency of the situation.

I’m thrown in the back of the Humvee and the jolt causes me to cry out. “Holy shit! It fucking hurts!” I can’t hold back. My vision fades again and I’m not sure if it’s from the pain or if I’m coming to the end.

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