Last Resort (The Grayton Series Book 1)

By: Jill Sanders

Prologue



She was running for her life. Knowing what she would see if she looked back, she kept her eyes trained forward. She tried to avoid roots or limbs that might trip her up, taking each step as carefully as she could at this speed. Her mind flashed to images of what she’d witnessed minutes before, yet she was oddly clear about what she needed to do for a seven-year-old.

Branches scraped her legs and arms as she ran, and her breath hitched with every step she took. Her ears were straining to hear if she was being chased, but she couldn’t hear anything beyond her breathing and her loud heartbeat.

When she couldn’t run any longer, she ducked behind a large tree and squatted until she was in a tight ball. She tried to slow her breathing down so she could listen, but it took forever to get her breath under control. She didn’t hear the footsteps until a shadow fell a few feet from her.

Wrapping her arms around her knees, she waited for what she knew was coming. She was sure she knew what the outcome of the night would be, so nothing could have prepared her for what happened next.

“Are you all right?” a soft voice asked next to her.

Her head jerked up. Her long, dark, stringy hair got in her face, so she shoved the strands away with her dirty hands.

She looked up and noticed the angel who stood over her. Everything about the woman was aglow; even the woman’s clothes shined in the evening light. Her long blonde hair looked soft, softer than anything Cassandra had ever seen. The woman’s hands were stretched out to her, and she could see gold rings on almost every finger.

“Here now, no one is going to hurt you anymore. Come with me, Cassandra. I’ll keep you safe.” The woman’s soft voice almost mesmerized her.

Slipping her little, dirty hand in the woman’s larger one, she sighed as she felt her soft, warm skin next to hers. She’d never experienced anything so soft in her life.

“How?” she whispered, looking around just in case. “How do you know my name?”

The woman shook her head. “I’ll tell you in the car. Come on, we have to move; they’re on their way here now.”

Cassandra could hear them now. The sound was almost deafening to her tiny ears as her heart rate spiked. She bolted from her hiding spot and ran beside the woman.

The road, which she’d been told never to go near, was only a few feet from them, yet the limbs were thicker here and they had to fight their way through it. The woman’s dress ripped as thorns pulled at it. Cassandra’s legs and arms bled as deep scratches appeared on her skin.

Finally, they hit the clearing and the woman pulled open a car door.

“Quick, get in.” She rushed around to the driver’s door and jumped in.

Cassandra sat in the large front seat, her legs tucked up to her chest, her eyes glued to the trees, waiting, watching.

As they sped off, she sighed and her eyes slid closed for just a moment as she let her guard down. Then she opened them and looked at the woman.

“Who are you? How do you know my name?”

The woman smiled at her and glanced in the rearview mirror.

“My name is Lilly. I’m your caseworker.”

Cassandra’s eyes were glued to her. “What is that?”

Lilly chuckled. “It’s like a guardian angel.” She smiled and put her hand over Cassandra’s hair. Cassandra flinched away, not knowing what the gesture meant. She’d never been touched so softly before.

“What’s a guardian angel?” she asked, sliding towards the door a little more.

“Someone who makes sure that you will never be hurt again.”

“How are you going to do that?” Cassandra got up on her knees and looked out the back window of the car, making sure they weren’t being followed.

“By taking you somewhere where they can’t find you. I know this place”—she smiled, looking down at her—“where kids like you can be safe.”

Cassandra doubted there was a place like that. Looking out the window of the car as it traveled quickly down the dark road, she thought that there wasn’t anyone out there like her. Especially not someone who had gone through what she had. She knew why she had suffered, why she’d been forced to do things she didn’t want to—she was the devil’s child. Or so her father and stepmother had told her for as long as she could remember.

Her stepmother, Kimberly, had entered her life when she was two. She didn’t remember much from before that, but her father had told her that her mother, whom he described as an angel, had died giving birth to her. She had hoped that Kimberly’s arrival would save her from the hell she was living—never leaving a ten-by-ten-foot cell—but she quickly learned that wouldn’t be the case. This became very clear when Kimberly beat her that first week for stealing a piece of her bread.

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