The Fractured Heart - Scarlett Cole

CHAPTER ONE

What the hell was that noise?

It sounded like the porch planter tumbling down the steps.

In total darkness, Drea Caron patted her rickety cane bedside table until she felt the smooth surface of her phone. Forcing one eye open, she turned it on and checked the clock. Four in the morning. Whoever had caused the awful noise, severing her tenuous connection to sleep, was going to die. Slowly, in a vat of hot tar.

Unless it was someone trying to break in, in which case the smart move was to dial 911 before barricading herself in the bathroom.

Muted curses and Miami’s muggy attempt at fall weather drifted in through the open bedroom window. Both equally suffocating.

The initial panic receded with recognition of the speaker’s angry tone.

Drea rubbed her hand across her forehead, blinking repeatedly, and pushed back the sheets. She slipped her feet into a pair of flip-flops and shuffled down the stairs, avoiding the loose threads of the worn carpet.

The living room, which housed a bed and an array of medical equipment, was empty. The oxygen pump hissed unpredictably. Short static bursts followed by long drawn-out gasps of oxygen so unlike the precise rhythm it usually maintained. The mask had been cast aside, the cables a mess on the floor.

Damn. Getting it repaired or replaced was more money than they could afford.

Drea yawned. The front door was ajar. Wisps of swirling white smoke drifted past the opening.

“Mom,” she cried, hurrying outside, “what are you doing?” Drea scrunched her nose, the smell of acrid smoke burning the back of her throat.

Rosa Caron waved her hand furiously in the air, a feeble attempt to hide the evidence.

“Mom, I see the smoke. You know what the doctors said. Where did you get the cigarettes from?”

“It’s none of your business.” Rosa took a long draw on the cigarette. “And I needed one.”

“No, you don’t.” Drea leaned over and grabbed the cigarette. She flung it to the floor, extinguishing it on the industrial gray concrete. “Your lungs can’t handle it, Mom. You paid the kids down the street again.” Drea shook her head. “Where did you get the money?”

“I gave them your mima’s locket.”

“Por qué, Mamá?” Drea paused, struggling to keep her voice even. “How could you?” It would do no good to yell at her mother—she’d learned that long ago—but the locket was the only thing she had left of the wonderful woman who had died when Drea was nine.

“You didn’t need it. Anyway, you’d be happy if I died sooner,” she wheezed, “not so much of a burden.” Rosa turned the wheelchair around and went back into the house.

Drea reached for the spot where the necklace usually lay against her skin. It was cruel, and yet so very much like Rosa she should have anticipated it. Memories of her mima fiddling with it while she read Drea stories choked her. The loss of the closest thing to a family heirloom left her bereft. She fisted the hand by her side. It was done, and while her heart wept for the loss, Drea knew she had no choice but to move on.

Large shards of the terracotta planter that used to sit by the front door were strewn down the steps. Her mom must have knocked it over with her wheelchair. The plant was a dried-out clump on the cracked concrete driveway below, and Drea made a mental note to remember to water the small garden border when she had time. Time. A bitter laugh escaped and she closed her eyes, letting the warm breeze caress her. Time was one thing she didn’t have. She’d been