Key To Your Heart

key to my heart ebook cover

Here’s your sneak peek at my first release of 2021, Key To Your Heart!


Chapter One

By the time Anderson woke up Saturday morning, it was too late. His faithful four a.m. alarm did not ring, which meant his usual patrol around the house’s grounds before the sunrise did not occur. Anderson snored on, tucked happily between the sheets of a bed that was much too small for a man of his size. 

He hadn’t felt a real bed in weeks. Most of the time, he avoided sleep like a debt collector, only catching a few winks here and there in the security trailer when it snuck up on him. His eyes were usually glued to the monitors that mirrored the dozens of cameras surrounding the mansion. Sleep was a luxury he couldn’t afford, especially when everything was on the line. 

Anderson had always been a steel wall. As the head of the security team, he set the standard, and if that meant being on-call twenty-four-seven while the rest of his team took the nightly trek across the ocean to stay on the main island, then so be it. Besides, he needed to make a good impression on the network. If he did well, the payout could give him enough working capital to fund his own security company. He wouldn’t have to rely on a ragtag group of guys who preferred the easy route. 

Plus, the gig wasn’t half bad. He was surrounded by women who he’d never have the chance to get this close to in real life on a tropical island for ten weeks. All he had to do was make sure they didn’t claw each other’s eyes out. 

Never in a million years did he think he’d be doing security on a reality dating show. When he left the corporate world and got into competitive bodybuilding, his stature alone primed him for private security. He was used to pulsing clubs and belligerent guests. Nevertheless, his first professional gig was proving to be a cakewalk. Besides the sporadic screaming match, none of the women had gotten too out of control. In fact, they’d been more accommodating to him than the actual talent. 

Pierre “Key” Hart was, in one word, spoiled. Anderson could tell right away that he’d never had anyone tell him no. Even when Key had preposterous requests, like bribing him to take the night off, Anderson maintained his cool, quiet professionalism and remained out of sight. He wasn’t ever ‘off,’ but last night, after the partygoers and the crew left, everyone else went to sleep in a drunken blackout stupor. The house grew so silent that he finally gave in, and even though his feet and ankles hung off the edge of the twin’s bed, it was some of the best sleep of his life. 

The buttery scent of sizzling steak shook him out of sleep’s grasp. His eyes cracked open, adjusting to the faint darkness. Beside him, Wednesday’s mouth lay agape, a slow trickle of slob leading from it to the pillow. He smiled and, ever so slowly, removed his numb arm from underneath her.

Surprisingly, he felt refreshed. When he slid between her sheets last night, he thought he’d wake with a belly of regret. Now, if anything, he wanted more. He glanced down at his erection and over at Wednesday’s wet mouth. 

How much time do I have? He pulled his arm down to check the time, expecting to see those familiar green numbers with a flick of his wrist. But his watch wasn’t there. 

Frantic, he jumped out of bed, fumbling for his clothing. He searched around for a light and flipped the switch on the wall. Warm light flooded the bedroom, illuminating all of his choices from the night before. He stuffed the shot glasses and condom wrappers into one of the pockets on his cargo pants. In bed, Wednesday stirred. A groan slipped from her lips. 

“Turn off the light, Andy,” she mumbled sleepily. 

“Where’s my watch?” he responded, pulling his shirt over his head in a hurry then running his fingers through his messy hair. He scrubbed a finger over his teeth and wondered if he had time to make it back to the trailer to take a shower.

Without looking over, Wednesday felt around on the dresser beside her. She threw his cell phone and watch down on the bed. Both were black. Anderson pressed on the screens, and nothing. Dead.

“Fuck!” he whisper-screamed under his breath as he stomped toward the window and flung open the curtains. Outside, the sun was just making an appearance, chasing away the purple of the night with its brilliant orange. Anderson was too late to admire a perfect sunrise. 

He bolted out of the room, leaving Wednesday without a goodbye kiss. She was going to be pissed at him, but he’d deal with her attitude later. 

He should have never stayed over. He’d been dodging the subject for weeks when she asked. There was absolutely nothing he wanted more than to feel Wednesday next to him — other than the cash for this job, and he wouldn’t jeopardize that for anyone. But he couldn’t ignore the tumbling in his belly that he’d done just that. 

Anderson hurried through the house toward the front door, pushing the negative thoughts away. Any minute now, his crew would be arriving. He didn’t want to look well-rested like he’d slept in a contestant’s bed all night. He needed to be the same grumpy know-it-all they were used to. He hurriedly scraped the crust out of his eyes and shook the wrinkles out of his shirt. 

First things first, he had to do his rounds and secure the perimeter. By the time he got outside, a black truck was pulling into the driveway. He knew his team of five would hop out, ready to receive the day’s marching orders. 

Anderson would have to start fresh tomorrow. It was way too late now.

Chapter Two

Shooting pain startled Jaimee awake, zipping up, down, sideways, and front, pinging in places she didn’t know it could exist. It swam through her veins, drilled through the bone, and tore into the soft tissue of her brain, plucking her out of her dreams by the nail of its finger and shaking her awake. 

Reality slammed into her like a steel-toe boot. She opened her mouth, and a pathetic whimper emerged. She barely had enough strength to roll over to her side before vomit jumped out of her mouth. The hot slime trickled down her neck and between her breasts. She caught her breath, and the unmistakable smell of vodka served her another punch to the gut. Her eyes popped open, and she realized she was surrounded in darkness. 

Black pressed in on all sides, and she had no idea where she was. Soft carpet kissed her palms even though her body felt like she’d spent the night on a concrete slab all night. She shook the fuzz out of her brain, but she couldn’t tell if she was still dreaming. She placed her fingers to her collarbone, expecting to feel the familiar trail of metal between her thumb and finger. But her rose necklace was gone. 

Her heartbeat quickened in her ears. Think, Jaimee, she willed herself, stretching her memory of the night before. It wasn’t the first time she’d woken up someplace she didn’t remember. But her wild college years were extinct. She was grown now, and she knew something had gone horribly wrong. Her ears strained in the darkness, and everything around her was creepily still.

She pulled herself into a ball. Think, Jaimee. 

A distorted memory of broken glass flashed behind her eyes, but she couldn’t recall anything else. Shooting pain returned with a vengeance while she unraveled herself from the floor. On shaky legs, she took one step forward. She placed her hands out in front of her for balance and continued one tiny step at a time. She couldn’t tell where she was going. The only message that replayed in her brain was that she had to get out. She kept one foot in front of the other until she had no more solid ground to travel. 

She stooped down, and her hands landed on solid wood. 

A step

She was in Pierre’s room. She pictured it in her mind as she’d seen it dozens of times before. Relief flooded her like a warm shower. When she stood upright again, a bolt of pain shot through her ribs, robbing her of breath. She stumbled to the bathroom, doubled over, wading through the aftermath of the night they shared abandoned on the floor. Her feet swept past what felt like piles of clothes. Napkins crunched under her feet, and silverware clanged together. What happened last night?

“Babe?” Jaimee asked the darkness. There was no answer.

“Pierre?” she asked again after a sickening wait. She strained to hear past the silence. Her feet hit the cool tile of Pierre’s bathroom, and finally, her journey had come to an end. 

She thought she grabbed the sink for balance, for solace, for an anchor, but her hand slipped off the countertop. Her elbow collided with the side of the sink, and she didn’t know if she could even muster any more tears for the pain wracking her body. 

She brought her wet hand to her face, and the distinctive smell of copper made her heart thrash around in her chest. Then, the trembles started in low waves, from her ankles to her knees, and then finally, her blood-soaked hands. 

“Adrien-ne,” she asked through chattering teeth, her voice barely above a whisper. “T-turn on th-the lights.”

“Certainly,” Pierre’s home assistant answered pleasantly. Soft light flooded the bathroom. Jaimee choked back tears when she leaned closer to her reflection, unseeing — or maybe unbelieving. 

Vines of crimson snaked over her body. Her hair was a tangled mess of angry curls. The blood-soaked robe clung to her like a second skin. She watched her bloody reflection touch its fingers to her face. Tears escaped from her eyes, and she wanted to run as far as her feet could take her. But when she turned, the sight in the bedroom rooted her in place. 

Pierre’s arm hung lazily off the side of the bed. His head was turned to one side unnaturally. She didn’t have to get any closer to know he was dead because the bed was a river of blood, and he’d been drowning. 

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#AFST: To Tell the Truth #4

This is a story in four parts.
<< Part 3.

four.

“Are you sure?”

This was the third time Detective Morales asked me if I consented to being questioned without a parent or guardian present. I heard that when you asked for a lawyer, then that meant you were guilty. I had nothing to hide from the police; plus, my parent or guardian was dead. I had no one to sit beside me to hold my hand and tell me that everything was going to be okay. My grandmother was too old to make the trek to Washington. I usually always had Rose. And even she was gone now. 

“I’m sure, sir,” I answered, grating the palms of my sweaty hands against the underside of the metal table. “Am I in some kind of trouble?”

“No.” He shifted in his seat, bringing his small notepad towards him. He twirled a ballpoint pen between his fingers. He’d been biting the cap of it since I arrived. What did he have to be nervous about? I was the one holed up in an interrogation room. “I just have to ask you a few questions about your whereabouts on the night of August 17th.”

The day Emily died.

“I was at school.”

“What were you doing between the hours of 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.?”

I discovered Emily’s body at 8:15 p.m. A whole two hours after the pool was supposed to be closed. 

“I was swimming,” I admitted. My heart stomped around in my chest. I hoped I wouldn’t have to answer how I got inside the pool. I wouldn’t want anyone to know how. The pool was my haven. It was my safe place when things got too crazy in my mind. Swimming calmed me down. 

“Were you alone?”

I nodded.

“And what time did you stop swimming?”

“Around eight, I guess.” Guess. That wasn’t the correct word to use. “Eight,” I repeated, more confident than before. 

Detective Morales nodded and wrote an 8 on his notepad. He circled it twice. “And what did you do after that?”

“I, um, took a shower.” I brought my fingers to my mouth, picking at the skin on my nails. Stop, I told myself. He’s going to think you’re lying. I sat on my hands.

“And then what?” He implored.

“I blow-dried my hair in the locker room. But I kept smelling something.” 

“You kept…smelling something?” He repeated. His beady eyes danced between mine. He sounded as if everything that was coming out of my mouth was a lie. 

“Yeah, fishy. It smelled fishy. I smelled it when I walked in and I just thought a girl, ya know, forgot to flush or something.” My cheeks burned.

“And you went looking for the odor?”

“Right.” I nodded. “It was foul.” I felt my lunch creeping up my throat ready to project across the room at the memory. “I walked into the bathrooms and checked all the toilets. There was nothing in any of them, except, when I got to the one marked ‘Out of Order’.” I could remember the sound of my shoes against the tile. I could feel the door handle in my hand. I remembered the way my breathing slowed. It was all too familiar. Before I knew it, tears popped into my eyes. “It was Emily.”

“What were you doing at the pool, Miss Coolidge?”

The detective’s face was distorted through my tears. “Swimming, sir. I was just swimming.”

“Are you aware that your school’s pool closes at six p.m. on weekdays?”

“Yeah, I know,” I answered knowing what his next question would be and what my response would have to be. I would have to tell him the truth. I would have to tell him why I needed the pool to keep me sane. I would have to tell him something I hadn’t told anyone for a very long time.

“Then why were you there?”

“Because…” I tried my best to keep my composure, but my shoulders shook from trying to keep the tears back. My nose stung. My eyes burned. “I kept hearing her scream.”

The detective’s eyes grew wide. He had to understand that I needed the pool. I needed to swim whenever I heard her. If I didn’t, there was no telling what I was capable of. 

“Emily?” He asked, his pen upright, ready to take down my answer.

“No, sir. Mine.”

<< Start over?

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#AFST: To Tell the Truth #3

This is a story in three parts.
<<Part 2

three

The news of Emily’s gruesome death was inescapable. It was all anyone talked about. My grandmother even called me from Mississippi because she saw the story on the news. She wanted to know if I knew the ‘girl who got killed in the bathroom’ as if she had stumbled upon her own death. 

I told her I didn’t. She said it was a shame, and that I should be ‘careful up in the city’. I promised her I would, but for some strange reason, my gut told me that Emily wouldn’t be the last girl to be strung up like a cow ready for slaughter in the bathroom stall of my high school.

In all the years since Sojourner Truth Prep opened (since the late eighties) only one other incident ever occurred here. About fifteen years ago, a girl drowned. Some say it was her own fault—she wasn’t that good of a swimmer. And she was in the pool area after hours, which was absolutely forbidden unless one was on the swim team. But others say she was pushed. There was no one around to determine which was which. She had her own memorial ceremony, and just like Emily’s, her picture was hung in the gymnasium. It was a small memorial and easily overlooked, unlike Emily’s. She wasn’t the star. She wasn’t Emily. But there was one thing the two shared; they both died in the walls of the supposed safest prep school on this side of North America. And if they died here, then there was no place safe anymore.


In the thick of night, I heard Rose stir across the room. We both hadn’t been able to sleep for a while. Ever since Emily died, Headmistress Baylor instituted a curfew, something that hadn’t been done in years. We had to be in bed by nine. Not just behind closed doors, either. I mean lamps extinguished, and covers-to-our-necks, kind of bed.

It was inconvenient, sure. But I understood why it was necessary. The school board didn’t want another blemish on the record. They had to assure the parents that precautions were being taken to prevent another disaster from occurring here. Plus, the school board didn’t want to lose any more money. People were pulling their children out of school. It was all about politics—never safety.

“Reed.” Rose’s voice cracked the silence in our small room. “Are you up?”

“Of course.” I flipped over in bed and faced the window, watching the moon dip behind the clouds. I wondered where Emily was now. I knew where her body was. But where was her soul? 

“I haven’t been able to sleep in weeks.”

“I know,” I answered, shaking the thought out of my head. “We’ve never gone to bed this early.”

“Professor Dunham thinks I’m doing hard drugs because I’m always falling asleep in his class.”

Professor Dunham was a notoriously boring lecturer and coupled with the subject matter—Religious Studies—his class made for the ultimate snooze fest. 

“People sleep all the time in his class.”

“Not like how I sleep.”

She was right. Rose was a wild sleeper. She would wake up on the floor, sheets and covers askew, multiple nights, with no recollection of how she got there. I could only imagine how she slept in a lecture hall. 

“Well, when you put it that way, he definitely thinks you’re a meth addict,” I joked.

“I’m a little classier than meth. I was going to go with ‘shrooms or something a little lighter, sheesh. Doesn’t that stuff make your teeth black?”

“Who knows, Rose.” I shrugged. 

When the conversation died, the silence amplified. A gust of wind rustled past the window. Branches from the old oak tree scratched against the glass. Somewhere, a group of crickets were making a beautiful song. And just a few miles down the road, Emily’s body was decomposing under the unforgiving Earth. She’d never see the moon again. She’d never hear a beautiful night again. Death is cruel. 

“What do you think’s going to happen?”

“With what?”

I knew what Rose was getting at. It was a conversation we had been avoiding for some time now. It had been only a few weeks since I found Emily, and the rumors around school were flying like bats. Some say that James killed Emily because she broke up with him just a few days before. Others say that it was someone from the swim team. There were tons of girls that wanted the top spot. 

And other people—most people—thought it was me. 

“Do you think the police will come?” I could tell Rose was biting her fingernails. She always did when she was hesitant. I knew she wanted to ask what happened when I discovered Emily’s body. I hadn’t shared the details with anyone. They were too gruesome to repeat. I wanted to shake the sight of her dead, bruised body out of my mind, not relive it for the entertainment of others, even if it was for my best friend.

“Probably,” I answered dryly. I didn’t want to discuss it. For weeks I didn’t want to discuss anything really. I knew that the Santis family would want answers. They would want someone to blame. I knew they were out for blood, and it didn’t matter whose it was. 

“Do you think—”

 “Rose.” I knew what she was going to ask. I couldn’t believe that Rose, of all people, would let the gossip get to her. I didn’t kill Emily. I didn’t owe anyone an explanation. Well, maybe the police.

“I mean, they’ll question everyone, right? Not just you.”

“Are you insinuating that I killed Emily?”

“God, no! Reed!” Her sheets crumpled when she bolted up. “I’d never think that.”

“Then what’s with all the questions? I want to know who did it just as much as anyone else. I’m scared, too.” 

Why was I defending myself? Rose should know that I would never do anything like that, especially considering my past.

“It’s just…” I heard her spit a fingernail into the darkness. “You were there, ya know. You saw her.”

“It wasn’t like I wanted to. I walked in and she was just…dead.” I choked back a sob that bubbled in my throat. I shut out the sight of her beaten body. I clamped my nostrils down so I couldn’t smell the vile, fishy odor that was radiating off her. The smell seemed to follow me everywhere…like a shadow. “She was just lying there dead.”

“The pool was closed, Reed. What were you even doing in there?” A sliver of moonlight washed over Rose’s face. Her eyes were dark, but wide, like she was afraid. Of what? Of me?

The branches whipped around in the wind and as quickly as the light came, it left. But I saw her expression. I saw the fear in her eyes. It implanted itself in my brain, just like Emily’s dead body. My own best friend thought I was a murderer. I pulled the covers over my head, wishing that I could melt into nothing. 

“It’s just that no one knows what happened to her…” 

I was about to scream that I didn’t know either, and that I didn’t want to talk about Emily or anything else anymore. I could feel my blood rising when she added, “…no one but you.”

>> four

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#AFST: To Tell the Truth #2

This is a story in four parts.
<<Part 1.

two.

Emily Santis’ funeral was awful. It was probably the most heartbreaking thing I’d ever been to. The crying, the wailing, and the mourning was non-stop and I, Reed Coolidge, the most invisible person at Sojourner Truth Prep before all this, was in the thick of it all.

I was sandwiched between solemn-faced James Lane, Emily’s once upon a time boyfriend, and sobbing Rachel Coates, Emily’s best friend and sidekick. 

Ever since I ran across Emily’s body, the administration treated me like some kind of hero. At the funeral, Headmistress Baylor even rewarded me for my ‘act of bravery.’ How unnecessary and tasteless. A girl was dead. Someone murdered her and stuffed her into a bathroom stall, and I was getting rewarded for following my nose? Give me a break. 

I wanted to sprint out of there, but Rachel gripped my hand every time the thought filtered in my mind. Emily’s stepfather, a tall, brooding dark-skinned man said a few words about his step-daughter; her accomplishments, and what she’d planned to accomplish if she were still alive today. Emily’s mother, however, a small, Vietnamese woman, was too distraught to say much of anything. She clung to her husband, her eyes downcast and swollen.

When Emily’s class picture was hung in the gym, above the basketball hoops, Rachel let out a strangled cry. The sports teams, out of respect, rose for Emily Santis. The swim team, especially. There was a silly rumor that she was part mermaid because she swam so quickly. She was their star. I locked eyes with Rose Gallagher, my best friend and Emily’s teammate. Her lips turned downward, and a cry trembled on her lips. Rose never cried.

That’s when I knew I had to get out of there. I excused myself from the bleachers when the band was on the upswing of the school song. I was supposed to sing the solo, but I knew everyone would be too emotional to see me come or go. I walked out of the gymnasium doors and I didn’t get far before I collapsed to the floor and curled in a ball, the weight of Emily’s death finally bringing me to my knees.

Emily was the kind of girl that was everyone’s best friend. She was beautiful; the kind of ridiculous, over-the-top beauty that only occurred once in every six million babies. She wasn’t a snob, either. Emily was humble for a girl who could be an international super model. She was sweet, always smiling and knew everyone’s name. To Emily, there were no cliques. She had her core group of friends, sure. But she wasn’t the type of girl to have three classes with you since second grade and not know who you were. She treated everyone fairly and even though we all knew she was the best, we never felt intimidated by her. She reigned quietly and politely over the school.

Emily was brilliant, fast and talented. She was one of a kind. But I still didn’t get it. Who would want to kill a girl like Emily Santis? Well, that was the easy part—anyone who wanted to be brilliant, fast, and talented just like her.

And that made every girl at Truth suspect #1.

>> three

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#AFST: To Tell the Truth #1

This is a story in four parts.

one.

Something smelled fishy.

Not in the clichéd ‘something doesn’t feel right’ sense. But something literally smelled fishy in the girl’s locker room. The stench was foul and permeating, like it was coming up from the cracks in the floor tile. An eerie silence danced mockingly around me while I towel-dried my hair. It was egging me on, pushing me to find out what the hell that smell was.

The girls—excuse me— “young ladies” (as Headmistress Baylor would have said) that attended Sojourner Truth Prep weren’t the most hygienic. That much was obvious from the stench that seemed to be spewing from the vents. I pushed my feet into shower shoes and crossed the room towards the showers. The flip-flop sound that my shoes made echoed hauntingly against the walls—reminding me every few seconds that I was alone.

Gingerly, I pulled back each shower curtain, jumping back as if a masked murderer was behind one of them, patiently waiting for me to discover his hiding place. 

“Get it together, Reed.” I willed myself. I backed away from the stench and serial-killer-free shower stalls and walked through the double doors towards the bathrooms. 

As soon as I pushed the doors open, the smell caught me by the throat. I inhaled, tasting the stomach acid that spewed into my mouth. My eyes welled up and my breathing became shallow. My heart almost slowed to a stop.

I inched through the bathroom, catching my ghastly reflection in the long rectangular mirror that ran the length of the room. My face was turning green.

I finally reached the last stall—the one that had been shut and marked ‘out of order’ for weeks on end. I figured I’d flush whatever leftover bodily fluids were steaming in the bowl and sprint out of there, but when I opened that stall door I realized the cause of the odor was way too big to flush.

Emily Santis—the star pupil of Truth Prep— stared at me with dead eyes that were wide open and horrified. Her long, dark hair was a bloody mangled mess, matted to her heart shaped face. Duct tape was slapped angrily over her mouth. Her hands were bound. Her thighs were forcefully married; her feet and legs hoisted in the air, bound as well, and tied to the coat handle of the door. Her usually glowing olive skin was indistinguishable. Instead, her body was a myriad of black and blue bruises. Her eyes, usually gentle and full of life, were red and poked out of her sunken skull, staring at me as if begging me to do something.

But I just stood there, unable to move.

Unable to think.

Unable to breathe.

With my hand still tight on the door handle, Emily’s body slumped downwards from my pull and the stench of her dead body slapped me hard in the face.

I got the fuck out of there.

<< Run

Part Two >>

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