Home > Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)(6)

Fractured Sky (Tattered & Torn #5)(6)
Author: Catherine Cowles

My rib cage constricted, and my eyes burned. I felt like the lowest of the low that I couldn’t even stand for my own family to touch me. “You, too.”

My words came out choked, and I hurried inside before Beckett had a chance to say anything else. I strode towards my destination. Loosening my stranglehold on my keys, I searched for the one to my mailbox. Specks of red dotted the metal, and I glanced down at my palm.

The new, jagged tears in my skin looked angry under the fluorescent lights. I wiped the worst of it away on my pants and grabbed my mail from the box. Tucking it under my arm, I headed for the door.

I closed my eyes for a moment, bracing myself before stepping back into the sunshine. It was fifty-fifty whether Beck would be waiting with more questions. As I pulled open the door, I breathed a sigh of relief at his absence—and I hated myself a little more for it.



I closed the door to my loft and leaned against the wood surface, finally releasing the air my lungs had been holding hostage. I fought the urge to peek through my curtained windows, sure that I’d see my mom or dad with their gazes firmly affixed to my apartment—too many eyes.

A burn lit the back of my throat, and pressure built behind my eyes. I just wanted to feel free. Not tied to expectations and worry. I wanted to know what it was like to be normal.

Yet, I couldn’t make myself take that step to go out on my own—for so many reasons. Fear still dominated so much of my daily life. The ranch, while oppressive, was the Devil I knew. And just when I thought I’d gotten up the courage to look for a place of my own, the guilt would settle in. My mom’s worry. Dad’s concern. So, I stayed put.

I pushed off the door, letting out a growl of frustration. I tossed my mail onto the counter, and it spread out into a fan. My gaze caught on an envelope. Oregon State Victims’ Rights had been written in bold as the return address.

My stomach gave a vicious twist, and the world tunneled around me. This wasn’t happening. The moment I’d turned eighteen, I’d signed up to receive notifications about Howard Kemper through the organization. It was why I’d gotten my own post office box: to hide the letters from my parents.

I’d gotten used to the rhythm of them. Typically, they showed up once a year. I’d send a victim impact statement, and that was that. Never once had there been a sign that Howard might be released early.

I stared at the envelope as if it were a rattlesnake poised to strike. My hands flexed and clenched at my sides as I tried to stave off the panic attack. As quickly as the fear swamped me, rage followed on its heels—such deep anger. Fury that the man could still affect me so much.

I forced myself to reach for the envelope. My hand trembled as I moved, but I grabbed hold of the paper. It took several tries to get the flap open before I finally succeeded. I tugged the single page free.

The seal for the state of Oregon was at the top, the name and address for the Victims’ Rights subsidiary of the parole board underneath. And then, my name.

My entire body shook as I scanned line after line of text. We are writing to inform you that Howard Kemper is deceased. The next words blurred together. Something about receiving no additional notifications from Victims’ Rights.

All the strength left me. The only thing I could do was lower myself to the floor, clutching the piece of paper like a lifeline. No more letters.

No more what-ifs. No more worrying about what might happen when Howard Kemper got released. I was free.

I scooted towards my bed, not trusting myself to stand. I reached under the frame, feeling around for the box. My hand touched the angled edge, and I grabbed hold.

The shoebox’s deep maroon color was faded now, even though it rarely saw the light of day. My hand shook as I lifted the lid. Dozens upon dozens of letters filled the box that had once housed my favorite pair of boots. So many, I was running out of space. But only a handful were from the state of Oregon.

Nausea swept through me at the sight of Howard’s looping scrawl—the handwriting burned into my brain. Almost a decade had faded some of the ink on the paper. I flipped through envelope after envelope. So many, I’d lost count.

I only ever read them once. And that was more than enough. I should’ve thrown them away without looking at the contents, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. They were a taunt in written form. A silent: I’m watching.

Because how else would Howard have known that I’d gotten my own post office box? How could he know where to address the letters? Someone had told him exactly where to send them. I shivered as Ian’s face flashed in my mind. The way his eyes lingered on me if I saw him in town. The hatred there.

He’s in prison. Howard’s son had been sentenced to three years for his part in Everly’s kidnapping last year. And I was free.

I stared down at nine years’ worth of harassment. Letters that had made me lose sleep or the contents of my stomach. It was done.

I’d never had the guts to ask my parents if they received letters on my behalf. Because then they’d have known what was coming my way. And they’d have made me close my post office box for sure.

But I took it as a point of pride. Howard Kemper had tried to break me, but he hadn’t won. I was still here. And now, he was gone.

I shoved the letter into the box and slammed the lid closed. Sliding it back under my bed, I pushed to my feet and headed for the door. My footsteps echoed on the steps as I hurried down them.

Horses let out whinnies for attention as I passed, but I didn’t stop until I reached Sky’s stall. I grabbed the bridle from the hook and slid open the door. She lifted her head, taking my measure.

“Wanna go for a ride?”

I should’ve spent some time working with the new gelding we’d purchased for the ranch, but I needed a ride more than my next breath—to feel the freedom that was now mine.

Sky moved into my space as if to say: “Hurry up, already.”

My mouth curved, and I slid the bridle on. She accepted the bit without complaint. I didn’t bother with a saddle. Didn’t want to take the time. Instead, I stood on the edge of the trunk outside her stall and hoisted myself onto Sky’s back.

We fit each other perfectly. As if we’d always been destined for partnership. I patted her neck and started towards the barn doors. I caught sight of my dad in one of the pastures. His gaze cut straight to me, and that familiar concern lined his face.

I shoved down the annoyance and guilt and steered Sky towards the forest. The path was one we knew by heart. I didn’t even have to guide her now. It wasn’t a short route. It took us thirty minutes, at least, to get where we were going, but the ride was a beautiful one. The mountains peeked out from between endless forests, and one spot had the perfect view of the lake just outside of town. Each moment of peace and beauty helped ease the worst of my edginess.

Sky’s ears twitched at sounds I couldn’t yet hear. Sky picked up her pace when Ramsey’s back pasture came into view. She loved seeing his horses.

I did, too. They were magnificent. And I’d seen him bring many of them back from a state I’d thought there would be no recovery from. Every single horse had a story. They, themselves, were a blanket of stars—pinpricks of hope on the darkest nights.

The horses greeted us with whinnies. A few trotted along the fence line, following us. But most simply kept grazing. They’d become accustomed to my presence since I’d first shown up here, hoping for a glimpse of the man I’d heard could heal even the most broken horses.

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