Sierra is now available with a BRAND NEW COVER!
The manuscript also underwent a light edit.
I also added a "Two Years Later" epilogue.
And it's FREE on Tuesday, June 10 thru Saturday, June 14!!
Grab your copy here.
And it's FREE on Tuesday, June 10 thru Saturday, June 14!!
Grab your copy here.
I've previously published the epilogue on my blog, and I'll publish it again right now!
NOTE: At one time, Sierra was a 165,000 word monstrosity of a novel. In order to prepare it for publication in 2012, the manuscript underwent a brutal editing. Due to word count, I made the decision to leave out the original “Two Years Later” epilogue.
The friends and family who had read my early version commented that they missed the epilogue. Then a few readers stated that they felt the novel ended abruptly.
In 2014 I revisited Sierra in order to make a few edits and decided to include the missing epilogue. The story just didn’t feel right without it—and once you’ve read a 100,000 word novel, what’s 5,000 more words? If you’ve invested that much time into a novel, you deserve an epilogue!
So, be excited, here is the “missing epilogue” and you are about to enjoy a little glimpse into Alex and Alyssa’s life, the way it was always meant to be . . .
-Two Years Later-
ALYSSA SAT ON the porch watching Clay and little Alex play in their fenced-in front yard. They were best buddies and had a great time together. Clay played the part of the big brother, always watching out for Alex in a way that was very endearing. Seeing Clay now, you would never know the trauma he’d suffered in his young life. He’d just started kindergarten and was flourishing before her very eyes.
The heavily wooded area they lived in was breathtakingly beautiful and reminded her of her time at the cabin. In the end, they’d chosen to settle in Oregon. They chose a small town just outside of Portland. Alex wanted to be as far away from Connecticut as possible. They didn’t want to settle in the Sierra Nevada Mountains either. Except for her time at the cabin, that area held too many bad memories for Alyssa.
A long tree lined driveway took them to their home, which was situated in a small clearing. The area gave them the feeling they were back at the cabin. In fact they chose to have built a huge, sprawling two story cabin made of dark redwood, with a wrap-around porch. It was gorgeous and they loved it. The dark wood of the cabin and the vibrant green scenery surrounding them complimented each other. She teased Alex, “I told you I only wanted you for your cabin. Guess I got what I wanted.”
Alex teased back that he got what he wanted too.
Alyssa had thought the cabin to be too big, but Alex winked at her and said they would just have to fill it. She was working on it. She was seven months along with their second child, biologically. Alex had adopted Clay and you’d never know he wasn’t his child. Alex treated him as his own and she loved him for it. Clay did begin to ask questions about his father. He had vague memories of him, although he had no memory of the shooting, thank goodness. Alyssa told him the most basic story possible of what had happened to his father, leaving out the details of what had happened specifically to Clay himself. As he got older he would eventually know the entire sordid story. The gory details could wait until he was old enough to handle them.
Once little Alex had been born, Alex had insisted she have the corrective surgery. Keeping his promise, they didn’t spend a night apart. For the few nights she had to stay in the hospital he slept in the chair next to her bed and never left her side. He pampered her through it and played Mr. Mom to the children. He was absolutely exhausted at the end of each day and said he had a new respect for mothers. But she knew he also loved every minute. He refused to hire anyone to help him. He wanted to do it all himself. After the recovery and never ending rehabilitation exercises, Alex whisked her away. Teresa volunteered to watch the children and they trusted her implicitly.
She remembered his words to her, “Alyssa, I’m taking you away for a week. Choose your destination, anywhere in the world, name the place. I love our children, but I want some time alone with my wife. Where do you want to go?”
She didn’t have to think about it. “The cabin.”
“I love you for wanting to go to the cabin, but no, absolutely not. I want to take you someplace where we can stay in a five-star hotel. Some place luxurious, where we can feel pampered and call room service when we’re hungry. And furthermore I want a bathroom with running water and all of the amenities . . .”
And so it went.
“Alex,” she said, interrupting his tirade. “I’ve told you before and I’ll say it again, I love a man who owns his own outhouse.”
He kissed her until she gave in and chose a place. It took her a long time to decide. Finally, she said, “Hawaii. I’ve never been.”
And off they went to Hawaii for a week. Just like that. She’d forgotten who she was traveling with, but she was quickly reminded when they traveled first class, and when they arrived at their hotel and instead of the small hotel room she’d been picturing in her mind, they were in a suite bigger than most people’s homes.
“Get used to it,” he told her with a wink.
He absolutely doted on her the entire week. She’d never felt so pampered in her life. They spent their days lounging by the pool or lazing on the shore of the ocean. They spent their nights enjoying romantic candlelight dinners, long walks along the beach, and making love as if they were honeymooners. It was a magical week and they left with a new bond between them, even stronger than before.
The results: another baby on the way.
Alex drove up then, and Alyssa’s reverie faded. He climbed out of his soft top jeep, wearing jeans with a dress shirt and tie. He looked extremely handsome in his sunglasses, with windblown hair. Alyssa still couldn’t believe this man was her husband. The boys ran to their father for hugs and he twirled them each around in the air. It warmed her heart to see him with his children. He was a doting father; she’d always known he would be. Alex approached as Alyssa’s eyes followed him. “Hello, handsome.”
He kissed her softly and then kissed her tummy and said, “Hello, baby girl.” Alex was visibly moved when they found out they were having a girl. He could hardly wait to meet her. “How are we today?”
“We are fine. If I could just get this heel out of my ribcage, I’d be even better.”
Alex laughed and joined her on the porch swing as they watched the boys play happily in the yard. Alex worked at the local medical clinic part time. He enjoyed his time there and they were glad to have him. He loved being back in the medical field.
Alex hired a cook and a housekeeper to take the load off Alyssa. At first she objected, but now she was glad. It was enough for her to take care of their boys and get Clay to and from school each day. Alex put his arm around her and she rested her head on his shoulder. He laid his other hand on her stomach and felt the baby moving inside of her, something which brought him endless joy. He often teased that she just looked like she had a basketball hidden under her shirt. Alyssa, however, felt huge—and was pretty sure a beach ball was hidden under there.
They had dinner together, bathed the boys, read them a bedtime story and put them to bed. It was their nightly ritual and unless Alex was called in for an emergency, they always did it together. They settled themselves in front of the roaring fire on the two recliners that flanked the stone fireplace and sat down to enjoy a peaceful evening together. They were both quietly reading when the phone rang. Alex answered it.
“HELLO, KENDRICK RESIDENCE.”
“Hello, is this the home of Alex and Alyssa Kendrick?”
The voice on the phone was elderly. Surely this wasn’t a telemarketer. “Yes it is. How may I help you?”
“I am sorry to disturb you, sir. This may not be a phone call that you would like to take, but I politely ask that you hear me out. My name is Kendall Browning. I am the father of Allan Browning. Do you know that name?”
Alex knew he’d heard that name somewhere before. “It’s familiar to me. I’m sorry, you’ll have to refresh my memory.”
“I believe you and your wife knew him only as Adam.”
Alex looked up at Alyssa with surprise. She immediately comprehended the unbelieving expression on his face.
“Alex, what is it?” she asked with worry.
“Sir, are you there?” Mr. Browning prompted.
“Just what is it you want?” Alex hissed, unable to keep up any pretense of politeness.
“I’m so sorry. I know the mention of his name must bring back painful memories. I do not want to cause you or your wife any pain. My wife and I are in Oregon visiting her nephew. The last time we saw our Allan was when he was four years old. You and your wife were the last ones to see him alive. We would so much love to talk to you. There are so many things we would like to know. There’s only so much the police can tell us. We hardly know anything about him. May we come and talk to you?”
The heartfelt plea touched Alex. The man sounded quite elderly and as if he was in ill health. He spoke clearly and distinctly, but slowly. Alex understood their desire to know more about the son that was so cruelly taken from them. But he had to put the well being of his wife and child first. “Hold on a minute, please.” He held Alyssa’s gaze for a moment before speaking. He didn’t want this to upset her in any way.
“Is something wrong, Alex?”
“It’s the parents of Allan Browning on the phone; Adam’s parents.” Alyssa’s eyes widened. “They’d like to speak to us. They want to know more about their son.”
Alex didn’t wait for a response from Alyssa. The sudden sickly pallor of her skin was quite enough. “I’m sorry, Mr. Browning. My wife is expecting and I’m afraid this may prove to be more than she can handle right now. Perhaps another time . . .”
“Alex, wait,” Alyssa said to him, a pleading note in her voice.
Alex covered the receiver with his hand, his disturbed gaze settling upon her. “Alyssa, I don’t think it’s a good idea. You don’t need to relive it all again.”
“It’s their son, Alex. He was taken away when he was only four years old. I feel for them. They may not like what I have to say, but I think they deserve to know what happened to their son. In their position, I would want to know too.” She swallowed, obviously not feeling quite as confident as her words. “It’s okay. I’ll speak with them. Tell them yes.”
“You don’t have to do this. You owe them nothing.”
“I know. But the ‘not knowing’ must be driving them crazy. As long as you’re with me, I’ll be fine.”
Against his better judgment, he agreed. “Mr. Browning, my wife has agreed to see you. Please understand that if it’s too much for her, the conversation will end abruptly . . . yes, that will be fine, see you tomorrow at noon.”
Alex exchanged a worried glance with Alyssa.
“What should we tell them, Alex?”
“The truth . . . their son was a monster.”
THE NEXT DAY at noon they impatiently awaited their visitors. Clay was at school and little Alex was down for a nap. Alyssa was surprised, however, when instead of one car, three cars pulled up. Several people filed into their living room. An elderly couple identified themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Browning. They were sweet and ever so polite. Mr. Browning handled the introductions.
“Hope you don’t mind, we brought the family with us. It’s just that they’ve all missed Allan so much and would so like to hear of him. This is our eldest son, Jacob, and his wife, Marie.”
Jacob nodded at them.
“The two little girls with him are his daughters, our granddaughters, Mary and Abby. And then next to him is our middle child, Annette, and her husband, Jack.”
Annette held a sleeping baby in her arms and smiled at them.
“Then our youngest, David. He was fourteen when Allan was taken from us. I’m afraid that Allan was a bit of a surprise. We didn’t think we would be blessed with another child. David brought his wife with him, Ellen.”
Ellen was pregnant and held her stomach proudly.
“The rest of the gang decided to stay at the hotel. You know teenagers, they’d rather swim in the pool. But none of them knew Allan.”
Alyssa felt herself turn cold as she stood transfixed. Adam’s older brother, David, could’ve been his twin. It was like looking at an older Adam, cleaned up and dressed decently, teeth fixed, hair cut and neatly combed. Instinctively, she took a step back and Alex wrapped his arms around her protectively.
ALEX COULD SEE the uncanny resemblance between David and Adam. It was as if a resurrected Adam stood before them once again, in their living room no less. He had to resist the urge to hide Alyssa behind him. He actually found himself thinking about where his gun was located and how quickly he could get to it.
David stood casually and held his wife’s shoulders as she stood in front of him. Ellen reached up and held one of his hands, smiling sweetly.
Both he and Alyssa were completely speechless for at least a full minute. The need to defend and protect boiled in his blood. The urge to take a few steps forward and deck the guy felt so strong, his hands actually formed into fists.
After a few deep breaths and several moments of dead silence, Alex recovered.
It wasn’t Adam; of course it wasn’t.
“Please have a seat,” Alex told them politely and introduced himself and Alyssa. She still seemed somewhat shell shocked. Alex sat next to her on the couch and held her hand. She grasped his hand tightly—her fingers turning white—and sat very, very close to him. It was obvious the sight of David had thrown her for a loop.
ALYSSA WAS TAKEN aback at the sight of Adam’s family. Especially David. She somehow expected them to be awful, like him, which she realized was a foolish thought. Still, she didn’t expect to see such nice and wonderful people all staring at her hopefully. They were a normal, happy family. Her eyes rested on David again. She could hardly look at him without feeling the urge to run and never stop. The only thing keeping her in place was Alex. All of his protective instincts had kicked in at the sight of David. Alyssa liked the way he’d immediately wrapped his arms around her as if shielding her from the enemy.
“I’m back, mountain man. Me and hur have sum unfinished business.”
Adam’s words echoed in her mind. She’d never shake the awful memory. But, thanks to Alex, she’d been able to move on. Now that she’d had time to recover from the shock of seeing Adam’s double, she couldn’t help but study him a little more closely. This was how Adam would have turned out had he not been taken from his family at the tender age of four. Without Pa’s demoralizing and atrocious upbringing, he would have been normal—a sobering thought. Alex gave her hand a squeeze and she realized she was wringing his hand. “Sorry,” she whispered. One glance and she knew he was thinking the same things as her. She held her stomach with one hand protectively and Alex cast her a concerned look. The thought of Adam saying he would cut her baby out of her filled her with paralyzing fear, yet adrenaline coursed through her as if her body knew she needed to take action quickly. She half expected David to brandish a knife at any moment. “Hello, Eve. I’ve come back fur ya.” Surely this was a trick. Adam hadn’t really died—this was his way of getting into their home—he would attack at any moment.
Alyssa shook her head, dislodging crazy thoughts. It wasn’t Adam. She knew that. She should’ve listened to Alex. He was right. This wasn’t the time for her to meet with Adam’s family.
Too late now.
“We don’t want to take much of your time, Mr. and Mrs. Kendrick. We do not want this to be upsetting to you either. As I told you last night on the phone, we know so little about Allan. He was the sweetest little boy. Being the baby of the family, we all doted on him. Why, he was the apple of our eye; the joy of our hearts. A day hasn’t gone by that we haven’t thought of him and hoped whoever had him was taking good care of him. The police have informed us of Allan’s crimes. We know he was involved in your abduction, Mrs. Kendrick. But there’s so much we don’t know. The man who took him doesn’t sound like a very nice man. Was he a father to him? Did he love him? We so want to know what our precious son was like. Was he a good young man? Was he happy? You are the person who last saw him alive and we hoped you could tell us a little about him, perhaps help us feel some closure.”
All eyes were concentrated on her as they stared expectantly. She’d spent the most time with Adam and perhaps they felt she knew his character better than anyone else.
They were right.
Alyssa felt floored. She had planned to tell them the ugly truth about Adam, but now the words stuck in her throat. She cast a sideways peek towards Alex, silently pleading for help. He looked as speechless as she did. How could they tell this wonderful family what their son had become? It would break their hearts and destroy them. Adam’s frail mother already had tears pouring down her face and Alyssa feared she might collapse at any moment. Her heart went out to her.
“He was a faithful young man,” Alex said to them, breaking the silence. “He was obviously being controlled by the man he called Pa. He loved him. He did everything his father told him to do. Unfortunately, Pa was not a nice man. He made him do things that I’m sure he didn’t want to do; things I’m sure he never would’ve done of his own accord.”
That was good. Alex had twisted his words into positive statements. It was her turn now though. Everyone was waiting for her to speak. Following Alex’s lead, Alyssa said slowly, “He was the kinder of the two of them. He was very loyal to Pa. He should . . . he should be commended for his loyalty.”
A wave of nausea washed over her. Alyssa couldn’t do it. She couldn’t sit here and say nice things about Adam.
But when she looked into their sweet, expectant faces, she knew she would. What harm would it do to give these people some peace of mind, some closure, concerning their long, lost son? His crimes were not theirs. Her mind searched for ways to say kind things about Adam, even though it went against the grain. It was hard to think of Adam as a victim, even though he’d been one as much as she had.
“H-he very much wanted to have a wife and children of his own—especially sons.” She thought of his unwanted advances and how he always spoke of their wedding night. The memory of him telling her he would drown any female babies would always haunt her. “He must’ve had some distant memory of his own family and knew it was what he wanted,” she added.
Adam’s mother let out a sob that seemed overly loud in the excruciating silence.
Alyssa swallowed hard and pressed forward. “He watched over me when Pa was cruel.” She thought of him watching as Pa kicked her in the gut and then warning her to not make Pa mad. She suppressed a shudder.
The father nodded as if pleased with his son’s actions. Adam would’ve been a decent human being had he been raised by these wonderful people.
“He made sure I . . . had enough food.” To this day, the sight of beef jerky still turned her stomach. Alyssa’s mind landed on the moment Adam offered to share his beans with her and how she had refused to eat off the same spoon. For a second, she thought she might be sick. Alex disentangled his right hand, replacing it with his left hand, and rubbed her back reassuringly. His fingers gently ran through her hair and she absorbed the calm, peaceful feeling only he could impart.
Nearly all of the family members now had tears in their eyes and wiped at their faces. Keep going, Alyssa. You can do this.
“You okay, Alyssa?” Alex asked.
“Yes,” she told him. Having Alex at her side gave her the strength to go on.
“And he made sure I didn’t . . . trip as we walked in the mountains.” Alyssa’s hand automatically ran over her neckline as she relived the feel of Adam tugging on her leash, forcing her to stay upright. Alyssa tried to smile at them, but knew it came out more as a grimace. She trailed off, knowing there was nothing more she could say.
“We understand that he died at your cabin, Mr. Kendrick. We were told he returned there.”
“Yes,” Alyssa added, answering the question. “He thought that Alex had kidnapped me. He came to see if I was still there and . . . to . . . to see if I was okay.” She thought of Adam roughly tying the leash on her. His words echoed in her mind, “I’ve come back fur ya, Eve.”Alyssa avoided looking at David, not once glancing his way. She didn’t trust herself enough. Already she could feel her limbs tingling from the early effects of hyperventilation.
“He w-was worried about me.” She thought of him yelling at Alex, “You stole my woman.” It was a truly horrifying moment.
They were waiting for her to say more, to give them some type of answer as to how he had died.
“Unbeknownst to him, the police had followed. H-he got caught in the crossfire.” She remembered the words Alex had said as he ended his life. Damn you to hell. It’d been a fight to the death and she knew in her heart that Adam had deserved to die.
She smiled another smile at them, knowing only Alex knew how strained, how fake the smile was. “There isn’t really more I can tell you than that. He believed that the man called Pa was his father and he followed him loyally. He really can’t be blamed for that, now can he?”
Mr. Browning patted his wife on the back. “See now, Mother, he never forgot the teachings he learned at your knee.”
Mrs. Browning dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. “Is it true that . . . that . . .” Adam’s grieving mother couldn’t finish her question.
Alyssa wondered if they could see right through their statements and knew they were slanting their story in Adam’s favor. More than likely they could read between the lines. At the same time, they wanted so much to believe there was still some good left in their son, they eagerly grasped at the crumbs she was tossing their way.
“What my wife wants to know is, well, what we would all like to know is—is it true that Mr. Abernathy and Allan killed your husband and son in cold blood?”
Alyssa felt as though she was made of stone. How do I answer that? Her mind refused to go back to that moment. It was just too much. The intense feelings that accompanied the memory had the power to leave her breathless. “Pa is the one who actually shot them.” Alyssa unwillingly thought of Adam yelling at Pa to do it, egging him on as if he’d enjoyed it. “Adam . . . I mean, Allan, kept his arms around me when it happened.” She hoped that sounded as if he had been comforting her. She’d never forget the feel of the cold, hard steel of the knife at her neck. She couldn’t help but shiver. “My son lived through it.” She was sure they thought the shiver was brought on by the thought that her son lived; a shiver of relief.
“And we understand that you, Mr. Kendrick, ended Mr. Abernathy’s life?”
They obviously had not been told that Alex had also ended their son’s life. She wasn’t about to enlighten them.
“He was holding us at gunpoint. When I saw the chance I took it. Ad . . . Allan was injured in the . . . scuffle, but he escaped into the night.”
“Thank you for saving Allan from that man.”
ALEX COULDN’T WRAP his mind around the twisted thought. It was too preposterous to consider.
“I’m sorry,” Alex interrupted. “I really don’t want my wife to relive this experience any longer. I think she needs to take a rest now.”
As they stood Alex felt Alyssa wrap her arm through his tightly. She stood closely to him, her body pressed against his as if she was glued to his side. He could feel the tension emanating from her.
“Mr. Kendrick, may I ask one more thing?” Mr. Browning said hesitantly.
“Isn’t it true that if it weren’t for this abduction, the two of you would not have met?”
Alex let out his breath. He had a point, but it wasn’t something Alex wanted to examine too closely. “Yes, that’s true.”
“Well, it would seem that something good came out of it then. The two of you seem to be very happy together.”
Alex looked at Alyssa and she held his gaze.
“Thank you. We are very happy together,” he replied. Alex thought of the first time he saw Alyssa and the condition she’d been in. It still sent a chill up his spine even now.
“Well, I hope this has helped in some way. But may I offer some advice? Try to remember him as the sweet little four year old boy that you knew and loved. To do otherwise will only cause you pain and heartache.”
With tears in their eyes and several expressions of gratitude, they left. Alex closed the door behind them and leaned heavily against it. He took several deep breaths. He turned to Alyssa who watched him with wide eyes. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes. I couldn’t tell them the truth. I just couldn’t do that to them.” She held her stomach protectively. “I didn’t exactly lie.”
“Only we know how up for interpretation those statements were. You did the right thing.”
“It was a lot harder than I thought. I wasn’t expecting them to be so . . . normal.”
He walked over to her and placed his forehead on hers. They shared a small smile that expressed great relief.
“You handled it well.” He took her into his arms and kissed her softly.
Alyssa relaxed in his embrace. “I’m sorry. You were right, it wasn’t the time for me to talk to them. I’m not sure there could ever be a right time though.”
“I trust you. I knew it was something you felt you had to do, that it was important. I know I’m overprotective when it comes to you,” Alex said as their lips met again in a soft caress.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Alyssa said quietly. “I’ll always feel safe with you by my side. I’m sorry I held onto you so tightly.”
“I loved it.” He’d always loved the feeling of Alyssa clinging to him.
“David . . . when I saw him . . . I wanted to run . . . I . . .”
“Shhhh, I know, I know.” He gently ran his fingers through her hair the way she loved. “I want you to take a nap, de-stress. I don’t want anything upsetting you right now. I’ll look after Alex when he wakes up and pick up Clay at school.”
“That’ll be a couple of hours from now, Mr. Kendrick. Why don’t you join me?” she said with a raise of her eyebrows and then added seriously, “I don’t want to be alone right now. Actually, I don’t want to be away from you. And I really don’t feel much like sleeping.”
“In the middle of the afternoon? How very scandalous . . .” he said, loving this woman more than he thought possible.
“What will the housekeeper think?” she said with a mischievous smile.
Alex kissed her and said, “She’ll think we’re in love.”
Alyssa held his face in her hands. “I guess our secret is out.”
Alex whispered to her, “Just between you and me, I think she already suspects something.” He pressed a tender kiss to her lips.
They smiled at each other and hand in hand, slowly climbed the stairs.