By: Amy Murray

“What do you want?” I asked, forcing my chin up in order to meet his eyes. James was tall, much taller even than my five foot eight inch frame, and that was saying something since I was wearing three-inch heels.

“Did I do something wrong? Back there, on the patio? I mean, you left like—” James looked me up and down. “Like you’d seen a ghost.”

Something took flight inside my stomach. “No. I’m just tired.” I didn’t sound all that convincing.

His brows furrowed, and I watched his hands move toward me. They were thick and scarred like they’d known violence, but when he placed them on my shoulders, they were gentle and soft. His touch lit my body aflame, my muscles twitched, and the words I feared only moments before returned.

“Promise me,” I said. My voice was light and faint, and when our gazes locked, my vision blurred and the air shifted. James’s face blinked in and out of focus before the world around me turned dark, and a vision of another time—another place—shadowed my sight and stole my breath.

I gasped with every step, running at a pace I couldn’t sustain. James pulled me behind him, his strides so long I could hardly keep up. I stumbled, and the tiny button holding the ankle strap on my shoe broke in our haste. I kicked it off and left it behind so I could move faster, but now my footfalls were lopsided and awkward.

“In here,” he said as he pulled me into a dark alley between two buildings. There were no streetlights, nothing to light the blackened shadows, and the fright trembling inside of me was a living, breathing thing.

“What do we do?” My voice quivered between panic and exhaustion. “Where do we go?”

He pushed me farther into the shadows until my back pressed against the cool brick wall. My black and white satin dress stuck uncomfortably to my sweat-slicked skin, and my purse slipped from my fingers, dropping to the ground with a clink.

James placed a hand over my mouth and whispered in my ear. “Whatever happens, stay quiet. Don’t move. Don’t make a sound.”

His hands moved to my cheeks before linking behind my neck.

I shook my head, and tears filled my eyes. “I don’t know what you mean. I don’t understand.”

“Promise me.” His eyes were wide and urgent. His voice was soft but pleading.

“James, I’m scared.” His body pressed against mine, and he kissed me hard and fast.

“Promise me,” he said against my lips.

I didn’t want to and shook my head in disagreement. His thumbs grazed my cheeks, and he kissed me again. “Please.”

I heard the desperation in his voice—the despair—and there was nothing I wouldn’t do to erase that sound. My lips moved before my mind registered what I’d done. “I promise.”

He grabbed my hands. “Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” I said.

He pulled me from the wall and turned me to my left. “Now jump.”

In front of me was a freshly dug hole about three feet wide, and just as I was about to protest, he pushed. There was a brief sensation of weightlessness before I landed with a thud, and the shallow puddle of water at the bottom did nothing to break my fall. I moved to my right and into the shadows, expecting James to follow me.

When he didn’t, I peered up to find him standing above me.

“James?” I asked. He tossed something down, and I stared at my purse lying at my feet. “James,” I said again. Hysteria rose inside my throat, but it was nothing compared to the crippling panic that seized my voice when he pulled a grate over the opening.

The sky was black above him, and his face was impossible to see. “Remember your promise,” he said. He stepped away, and my knees buckled under the weight of his decision. Choking on a sob, I was left alone with nothing more than the silence of my broken heart.

The air around me cooled, and I could hear muffled music pulsing from inside the bar. Pushing a breath through my lips, I reoriented myself and squeezed my eyes shut against the confusion crowding my thoughts.

“Come on, let me drive you home.” James’s voice was calm and quiet, nothing like the fear-stricken voice from before, and his warm breath tickled my neck. My head was pressed to his chest, and the steady thump of his heart pounded against my ear. “Can you walk?” he asked.