First chapter of Layla & Levi

(Smith's Corner)

Prologue

The hand holding my arm tightened painfully as I was dragged over the rocky ground. The sounds in the woods appeared amplified by the darkness. I tried to struggle, but nothing made him stop. The cabin loomed in front of us, and my heart took flight at what he was going to do next. “Please, I’ll be good. I won’t say nothin’. Don’t do this. Don’t leave me here.” My anguish increased when the next contraction stole the words from my mouth, and I gritted my teeth to keep the cry in.

It was useless. He didn’t even pause, my pleas falling on deaf ears. Pain lanced through my shoulder as I was jerked up the steps, and he threw open the door. The stench of death filled the muggy night air. “Get in,” he grunted more than spoke while he flung me forward into the bleak cabin.

When I caught my breath, I sobbed, “Don’t do this. Delilah needs me. I need a hospital.” It was useless. In my heart, I knew it was, but I couldn’t prevent the words from falling from my lips.

“You need nothin’. Push the thing out, and I’ll be back when you’re done.” There was no emotion as he stared down at me. His face caught the moonlight, revealing an evil smile. “Don’t cha worry ‘bout Delilah. I’ll take good care of her.”

Oh God, no!

My legs gave way, and I landed on the filthy, wooden floor with a cry. He didn’t hear it because he’d already shut the door. With the moonlight gone, the darkness sucked away my courage. The rattle of the lock being turned made my blood run cold.

Delilah, I’m so sorry.

“Don’t you touch her. You hear me? You leave her alone. You promised me!” I uselessly shouted at the closed door.

The sound of his boots hitting the steps seconds later was followed by an engine starting. The noise faded away long seconds later, leaving nothing but the eerie noises of the forest outside the door.

He’s gone. He left me!

Was this worse than him being here?

Fear crawled over my skin.

There was the sound of scratching, and I struggled to keep me from releasing the screams waiting to come out. I squinted into the darkness, having only ever been to the cabin twice before. It was the place he liked to come alone. It was the only time I’d been able to breathe, to feel safe in my own home. I stifled the next sob, holding out my hands in front of me to edge over the creaking floor to where I thought the small camp bed was. I bumped into the table, finding the chair before I tripped over it. I avoided where he stored his kill. The stench coming from it gave me a clue as to which way I needed to go. I felt around the edge of the room, looking for the lamp he used, coming up empty. The place had no electric or indoor plumbing. It was rustic and had been in his family for generations, as had the land it was sitting on.

No one would find me out here. No one would hear my cries.

My lips trembled as fat tears fell heedlessly down my chilled cheeks. The bastard, it appeared, was hoping the baby wouldn’t survive. It shamed me that, in the beginning, I’d felt the same when I realized why my belly was swelling. The internet was the only place I could safely ask my questions.

Once he realized what was happening, he pulled me from school before I got big enough for others to notice. There’d only been one visit from the school authorities to ask why. He’d sounded so damn believable when someone came knocking on the door. Why wouldn’t he? He was the town's sheriff. Would they believe his child? No, no one listened. They believed his lies.

I’d long since given up pretending that anyone would come and protect Delilah and me from what was happening behind closed doors. When Mama died not long after Delilah was born, I’d gotten the feeling she just gave up. Unable to take what was happening right in front of her. Her religion couldn’t save her from the fact that her husband was a monster.

Another sob tore from me as my fingers found the edge of the small bed. I climbed on, trying not to think about the stench coming from the thin sheet under me. I curled into a ball and stared into the darkness, cupping my belly. The pains had started this morning, and I’d managed to hide them from his knowing eyes, but he’d caught me bent over the sink in the middle of a contraction only an hour earlier. I cursed my body for betraying me. I cursed myself for not being able to fight back, to stop what he’d done to me. What he could be doing to Delilah.

I shut my eyes, belly contracting painfully under my hands. I tried to count the seconds off in my head. Time the length between each excruciating contraction. On and on they went as the hours bled into each other until the mattress under me was soaked with my sweat and the fluids that the internet said was the sac protecting the baby. Panic flared through me, understanding dawning that the baby was coming and soon.

Light peeked through the cracks of the wood by the time the fluid was trickling continuously from between my legs. Wave after wave of crippling pain ran around my belly, to my back, until I couldn’t catch my breath. I’d lost count of the time between them as the pain never seemed to stop. The cries were as useless as the promises I’d made to my baby sister that I’d stop the monster from touching her.

Another pain wracked my body, and I screamed as it felt like I was being torn apart from the inside out. I panted through the pain as the urge to push was relentless. Mewling as I rolled from my side onto all fours, I rocked back and forth, hips swaying. The next pain came with a wave of dizziness that left me barely able to cling to consciousness. I gritted my teeth, blinking and breathing through my nose. Don’t let the bastard win.

Focus. Come on. Your baby needs you. Delilah needs you.

I clung to the words like a lifeline and bore down on the next contraction. Using every ounce of my energy to push the baby out of my body. From the first time I felt the baby kick, I’d been overcome with protective urges, ones I’d developed for Delilah when I had become her mom after ours died. She was my child, as was the one I was birthing, regardless that they both belonged to the bastard who’d done things that no father should ever do to a child.

“You will not take my children from me. I swear to the heavens, you won’t take what’s mine,” I cried hoarsely. The scent of death and decay surrounded me, filled me with each breath I took. Rage burned through me as I struggled with the next wave of pain and tried not to think about Delilah alone without me to protect her.

Fluid coated my naked thighs as I howled and threw my head back at the next contraction that ripped through me. I battled the exhaustion and bore down with fierce determination. My lower body felt as if it was being torn apart violently as I rode the pain until my teeth ached with force. With no clue if it was seconds, minutes, or hours since I’d become trapped in hell, I slumped forward as the baby slipped out of my body.

My ears throbbed with an insistent buzzing as I panted, too exhausted to move. A mournful cry broke the spell. My heart thudded painfully against my ribs and tears blurred my vision as I reached between my legs and carefully moved the child. The cries grew, and my heart broke for things I couldn’t change, for a baby that was going to have to endure the shame I’d caused.

As I moved to pick up the baby, another crippling pain came, and I pushed hard, knowing this was the final bit. That I needed to pass the placenta, cut it from the baby. More tears flooded my eyes at the reality of doing that here, in this filthy place with nothing to clamp the cord. Was that his plan to make the baby sick so it would die?

The terror came coated in the rage that he would want this defenseless child to die just to keep his secret. I shook as I lifted what had come from my body. Blood coated my hand as I crawled off the ruined mattress, then placed it next to the baby. On shaky legs, I was guided by the soft light to the other side of the room. I searched through the drawers, finding a knife and a piece of string. I recalled what I’d read and, gritting my teeth, I cut the cord. I tried not to look too closely at the bloody gunk as I tied a bit of string around the cord as close to the baby as I could.

I released a breath when the string seemed to do its job. I took off my sodden nightdress, wrapped it around the baby, and held—I felt between the legs—her to my breast. I stood swaying back and forth.

The sobs wracked my body as I stared at my daughter. Cora, the Gaelic name I’d secretly picked for a girl, meant honest, virtuous, or good. They were all the things that had been taken from me. He wasn’t going to take them from my baby. My arms tightened around the warm bundle making her squirm and cry. “Shush. Shush now, Mama’s gonna take good care of you. I’m gonna protect you from the monsters. I swear on my life, he will never get to touch you.”

Copyright © 2021 by Jayne Paton