When We Collide

By: A. L. Jackson

Acknowledgements





Chad, I wish you could know how thankful I am to call you my husband. Thank you for always supporting me in everything I do. I love you endlessly.





Devyn, you make the office so much fun, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am you’re here to share in all of this with me. I love you.





To my boys, Eli and Braydon. I love you both so much. Thank you for being so patient with me while my nose is buried in the computer, for laughing it off when it takes you calling “Mom” five times before I realize someone is talking to me, and for being the amazing, loving, kind boys you are.





Mom, I love you. Thank you for believing in me. And to the rest of my family. Your support means so much to me.





To Katie, because I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else. I love you so much. Thank you for going on this wild ride with me.





Ginger! Thank you for all the feedback, for the exclamation marks, and the noooo’s. Every single one of them made me smile. I love you tons, my friend.





To my amazing critique partners, pre-readers, and blogger friends. Thank you for the insight. Without you, When We Collide would not be what it is today. You know who you are!





To my Sapphire Star Publishing family. I feel blessed to have you all in my life.





And a big thank you to Roser Portella Florit for providing the gorgeous cover art for When We Collide.





Chapter One





Laughter floated over the vacant playground, an echo, a call. William pushed forward, drawn into the dusky haze. Wind whipped at his feet, stirred up the fallen leaves on the dead winter floor. Each step of his boots was leaden with a burden that simmered somewhere in the periphery of his understanding.

“Bet you can’t find me.” The innocent voice was distant as it fell upon William’s ears, filled with mirth at the game the child played.

Those words rushed as fear through William’s veins.

William’s footsteps pounded in his ears as he followed the trail of the soft voice that lingered on the wind, past the empty swings and sandbox and into the forest at the back of the lot. Among the knotty, sinewy trees, their boughs twisted and twined, William paused to listen.

A branch snapped off to his right—another peal of laughter as the child dashed giggling from behind one tree to another more than a hundred yards away.

“Wait,” William called, stretching his hand out in the child’s direction. Please.

For a moment, the small boy peeked out from behind a large tree trunk and stared back at William with huge brown eyes.

William’s heart lurched with the boy’s face—a picture of himself—suddenly consumed with the need to protect and shelter.

The child giggled again, his feet too agile as he took off, his dark blond hair like a flare striking in the moonlight, before he disappeared deeper into the darkness.

Panting, William chased the boy, begging him to stop while he stumbled over exposed roots and overgrown earth that seemed almost alive as it worked to hold him back.

The child’s laughter drifted along the breeze, brushed across William’s face, beckoned him to a place he did not know.

William struggled to find him, to close the distance, but the gap only grew. The laughter shifted and faded. The boy’s sudden fear hit William like a knife to the chest. Somewhere in the deepest recesses, far beyond William’s reach, he heard the child scream.





I shot straight up in bed, gasping and disoriented. Faint slivers of silver light spiked through the room, stealing in through the slats of the window shutters. Gripping my head between my hands, I fought to right myself, to slow my thundering heart, and to stop the tremors rolling through my body.

Shit.

I shook my head and roughed a hand over my face.

My gaze darted around the massive room. In the dim light, my eyes adjusted. I focused in on the nightstand next to my bed. My black leather wallet and heavy silver watch sat next to the clock that glowed four forty-seven. I glimpsed the entrance to the en suite bathroom off to my right and the short chest of drawers with the tall mirror across the far end of the room.

Everything familiar—everything I understood.

I released a weighty breath and drew in a cleansing one, my bare chest palpitating with one last tremor.