Jennifer Wagner - Romance Author

 

Excerpt from "Twice Upon a Time"
by Jennifer Wagner

Prologue

"The Lord is my shepherd...."

The priest's rich, monotone voice carried to the small crowd through the cacophony of rain pounding against the canvas tent.

An American flag embraced the shiny black coffin. Its red, white and blue colors stood out starkly among the mourners, giving it a clashingly festive look.

"I shall not want...."

Rico lay in that box. That long, cold box.

A tremor shook her, an effort to keep from throwing open the casket and dragging his lifeless body away to a warm, safe place. Rico shouldn't be dead.

Not big, strong, invincible Rico.

"Even though I walk through the dark valley...."

Grief began to burn off the numbness in her body, burn off her last desperate hope. Hope of a media's error, hope that Rico hadn't been shot to death in some god-forsaken country. A country the government wouldn't name. Not even now.

"I fear no evil for you are at my side...."

"He died for his country." Anna heard his mother, Lina, sob. "At least we can console ourselves with that."

Console ourselves? Anna raged silently. Console ourselves with the knowledge that Rico died fighting a silent war no one could win. Fighting a never-ending drug war controlled by power and greed. A war whose "generals" were only replaced by other, more greedy animals. She should feel comforted by this?

"Only goodness and kindness shall follow me...."

Anna felt a wild scream move through her chest, into her throat. She pressed her lips together, shuddering in an attempt to keep her grief caged. Her chest heaved with her erratic breaths, her body fighting to keep up with the violent emotions clawing her heart.

"All the days of my life...."

Her last memory of him flashed in her mind, still painfully vivid after three years. Face taut with anger, golden eyes flaming with rage, his soft voice whipped across her sensitive feelings.

"You love me?" he'd whispered. "How well did you love the others, Bella? How well did I teach you?" he'd drawled maliciously.

She never saw him alive again.

"And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord...."

Anna's blood raced through her icy veins, the effort to still the quaking almost snapping bones.

He'd died hating her, never knowing the truth. Maybe she should have tried once more to reach him and convince him of her innocence, convince him there'd been no one but him. But she'd been too full of hurt, too full of righteous virtue and na´ve pride.

Now it was too late.

"For years to come."

The storm unleashed its full fury, lifting the tent covering them and sending it tumbling across the cemetery until it snagged itself on one of the hundreds of white tombstones. The priest tripped over his religious prayers, racing the storm. From the trumpet came the mourning cry of Taps. Men in uniform folded the flag in brisk, emotionless movements, creating a snug, perfect triangle before handing it to Rico's sobbing mother. Anna stared at the heartbroken woman, thinking of all the things she hadn't known until today. All of the things that could have changed her life.

The small crowd dispersed, running through giant mud puddles to their cars, leaving Anna and Lina standing rigidly by the casket. Anna hesitantly laid her hand on the cold, smooth surface. Her strength nearly gone, she barely kept from lying across the top. Water ran in rivers down her face, mingling with the endless tears. She didn't want to leave him here alone, but she couldn't watch them lower him into the ground.

"I'll always love you, Rico Carella," Anna forced out of her tear-clogged throat. "I hope you know that."

Her shaking hand caressed the cold, slick casket one final time. Finally, she wrenched away and turned to Lina. Each step away from Rico became body blows that echoed the emptiness of her soul.

 

Frigid, sinister eyes watched Anna and the older woman stumble from the casket and climb into a car. An evil slash of teeth revealed victory and a promise.

A promise that it wasn't over.

It had only just begun.