Authors: Rachel Hanna
you so much for choosing to read "Broken". I know that this story is going to touch your heart in so many ways. In each of my novels, I try to dig into the deep emotions that so many of us feel. We've all been through tumultuous times in our lives, and you will certainly see that in Bella's story.
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Again, thanks so much for reading "Broken”!
ori Clay was
the ultimate Mom. Or at least she tried to be. She adored her seven year old son, Ethan, more than anything in the world. As a single mother at only twenty-two years old, she still felt like a kid herself in so many ways.
When she got pregnant at only fourteen years old, no one was surprised. She and her older sister lost their mother in a car accident when they were still in elementary school, and it had changed both of their lives, affecting them in a multitude of ways. They grew up in foster care, which meant they never had a place to call home.
Lori never felt like she belonged. She sought out comfort in the arms of the wrong teenage boy who had promised her the world but didn’t even stick around for the birth of their son. The last time she’d heard anything about him, he was in jail for selling drugs. It reminded her of their own father who never stuck around to know either of his daughters. He’d bailed on them and their mother when Lori was only two weeks old.
Lori had to raise her son alone while her older sister, Bella, had taken a job across the country in California. She seemed to make pretty good money as a marketing representative for a make-up company, which wasn’t shocking because she was so beautiful. Bella had long blond hair and striking blue eyes. She looked like a cover model, and Lori often wondered why she didn’t pursue modeling. Originally, she had moved to L.A. to make it as an actress, but that career never took off. No matter what, Bella sent Lori money every month like clockwork to make sure that she and Ethan had what they needed.
As she rushed over to her son’s school to take him his lunch bag, she thought about everything her sister had done for her since they were kids. She stayed by her side in every foster home and often took the brunt of the abuse they suffered. Lori knew that there must be good foster parents out there in the world who cared for the kids they took in, but she and her sister were never lucky enough to find any of those people. They seemed to get the dregs of society instead.
First, there was the Logan household where they both endured physical abuse from Cal Logan. He was a big barrel of a man with a horrendous drinking problem. Bella would often admit to doing things she didn’t do just to protect Lori and divert attention away from her. That wasn’t to say that Lori never got hit, but it was far less than Bella simply because her sister would act out on purpose to take the punishment for both of them. Lori never understood why her sister had such a strong sense of protection and loyalty, but it was almost as if she’d come programmed with it at birth.
Then there was the Cramer house where the sexual abuse of Bella began at ten years old. In that case, her beauty was something that haunted her. The two other foster boys in the house abused her for three years before the social worker finally removed the girls. When they were removed, Bella was thirteen and Lori was eleven, and there was no question that Bella was scarred for life. What she experienced at the Cramer’s was unthinkable, and Lori found it difficult going back in her mind to that time of their lives. While she was thankful that they always stayed together, she also wished that she never had to witness Bella’s constant abuse.
Bounced from house to house, the girls were never stable for long. Both had tried drugs, and both were sexually active at young ages. It seemed that no one cared. Their various foster parents never cared, and the state and county officials charged with protecting them certainly didn’t seem to care.
The unfortunate part of their story had been the lack of family. When their mother was mowed down by a drunk teenage driver, the girls had no family to care for them. The only living family member happened to be their great-grandmother, Elsie, who was ninety-two at the time and in a nursing home. Everyone else was gone, and the girls felt like they were invisible to the world.
When they went to their last foster home, they had very low expectations. After living in a group home for a year, they were finally placed with the Ellington family just outside of Atlanta. There was the mother, Carolyn, and the father, Dale. They had no other children, so Lori and Bella were their sole focus.
At fourteen years old, Bella was already more mature than many adults. She didn’t really want parents at that point. She wanted to live her life and make her own decisions, which did not sit well with the Ellingtons. She rebelled and wreaked so much havoc that they considered putting her back in the group home. Lori begged them not to take her sister away as she clung to any semblance of a normal family.
Bella eventually settled down, and things were good for a while. Although the Ellingtons were not very loving people, at least the daily abuse was gone and they could feel somewhat secure. When Lori got pregnant with Ethan at fourteen, the Ellingtons had finally had enough. They did not want to raise a baby, too, so they sent the girls back to the group home where they lived until Bella was considered an adult.
After much convincing, Bella was able to get guardianship of her younger sister when Lori was sixteen. Of course, by that time she had a baby. She and Bella moved to a small town in north Georgia called Madison Falls. They both just wanted to start over. After getting a job as a waitress at a local diner, Bella was able to get them a small apartment - and it was really, really small. With just one bedroom, one bathroom and a pull-out sofa bed, the girls managed to get by for a while.
Eventually, Lori was able to get herself together and become a mother to Ethan. At twenty-two, she was living on her own and had been for two years. She had a part-time job as a house cleaner and volunteered at Ethan’s school a lot of the time, too. She planned to go back to school in the Fall to get her degree as a legal secretary. But without Bella, she could never have made it. She owed her sister her life.
As Lori saw the large garbage truck careening out of control and heading toward her compact car, her last thoughts would be of her sister… and her son who would now be left without his mother, just like she had been.
esiree Drake walked
into the bathroom and dropped her robe, standing naked in front of the mirror. As she backed up to the granite countertops, she pushed herself up onto the counter and spread her legs. No matter how many times she did this, it never got any easier. She always thought it would, but it didn’t.
Derek Jameson walked into the bathroom, completely naked with a massive erection. She often wondered how he kept it so erect for so long. He smiled as he sauntered over to her, which made her feel completely nauseous. She forced a smile back, knowing that he was about to be inside of her.
As he kissed up and down her neck, she moaned and groaned, arching her back. He ferociously sucked on her right nipple as he inserted two fingers into her. She bucked beneath him as she begged for more. She really didn’t want more, but her training allowed her to go on autopilot. Soon, he thrust into her with a force that made her want to cry out, but she knew she couldn’t. Instead, she moaned “Deeper, deeper…” She really wanted to vomit. Somehow, she was able to go other places in her mind, like tropical beaches, to get through these moments.
She wrapped her legs around his waist as he rammed into her over and over again, grasping at her behind for traction. She noticed a big Native American tattoo on his chest. Focusing on it, she tried to just get through the moment. For a fleeting moment, she wondered what real love felt like. She had never felt it - not once in her whole life.
“Cut!” the director, Nathan, yelled. “Desiree, you look like you are a million miles away. You’ve got to get it together, or I will replace you with Camille in a heartbeat.” His snippy voice grated on her last nerve.
“Got it,” she muttered.
“Let’s take five,” he said to the crew before turning to Desiree, who was still sitting naked on the counter. “You’ve got one more shot at this, Desiree. I don’t have the time to mess with your moods,” he said, pointing his finger at her before walking away.
She stomped across the room to get her robe when she felt her co-star, Derek, grab her arm.
“What?” she asked, rolling her eyes up into her head.
“Why do you have to make this so difficult? We make great money, Desiree. And it’s just sex. You ought to enjoy it. Some people would kill to do what we do all day.”
She glared at him and walked to her mock dressing room, which was an empty bathroom down the hall. Standing there looking in the mirror, she saw a shell of her former self. She used to have bright blue eyes that looked forward to the future - at least for a short time in her life. Now, she was just living day to day, getting through it with the help of wine every night.
Her cell phone rang, so she crouched down to find her purse under the sink.
“I am looking for Bella Clay,” a man said on the other end of the line.
“Who’s asking?” she said in a snippy tone. Desiree had learned to defend against everything and everyone.
“This is Officer Carlton of the Madison Falls Police Department.”
Desiree’s heart started to beat wildly in her chest.
“This is Bella,” she said softly so no one else could hear her.
“Bella, do you have a sister named Lori?” the officer asked.
“Um, yes, I do…” she stammered as her mind raced a thousand miles a second.
“I know you live out of state. Normally I would do this in person if I could… Bella, I have some bad news for you…”
“Bad news?” she said.
“Your sister, Lori, was killed in a car accident today. We need you to come to Madison Falls as her next of kin and take custody of her son.”
to her knees in the dingy bathroom. Her eyes glazed over with tears as her stomach churned into a sea of nausea. She was sure she had blacked out for a moment before she vomited into the toilet that was thankfully close to her. Falling apart was not something she was accustomed to doing. She had always been the protector when it came to Lori, but now the one person she swore she would always protect was gone. Just like her Mom.
Gathering her things, she put on her clothes and swung open the door to the bathroom. Brushing past Nathan and Derek, she headed for the door. Getting to her car was her only concern at that point as tunnel vision took her over.
“Desiree, where in the hell do you think you’re going?” Nathan called to her as she grabbed the handle to leave.
“I have an emergency,” she said gritting her teeth. It should have been obvious that her eyes were swollen and red from crying, and her supposedly waterproof mascara was cascading down her sunken cheeks.
“I don’t give a damn about your so-called emergency, Desiree. You signed a contract…” he started to say as he grabbed her arm tightly.
“Let go of me, Nathan, or I swear to God I will kill you right here and now,” she growled at him as she stared him down nose-to-nose. After a pause, he loosened his grip, and she jerked her arm away as she ran out the door.
“You will never work in this town again!” he yelled behind her.
“Good!” she yelled back as she slammed the door on her VW Bug and sped out of the parking lot.
he long flight
from California to Atlanta gave Bella plenty of time to think. As she crossed out of California, she looked out of the window and thought about how she was leaving Desiree Drake behind. Finally.
Two years ago, Bella had finally had enough of trying to make her way in L.A. It was obvious that becoming an actress was not in the cards for her. Plus, she wasn’t making enough waitressing to send her sister money. So, she had concocted a story about getting hired at a make-up company so that her sister wasn’t concerned about her. When Lori believed the story, she was relieved. As a young, single mother, she felt that Lori shouldn’t have to be worried about her older sister, anyway.
One night at a bar, she met a man who hooked her up for her first Internet porn movie. The first time was the hardest, but it had never gotten any easier. She had seen a lot in the last two years. Underage girls, drugged “actresses”, sadistic men taking advantage. But, the money had been good. It was so good that Lori was able to spend time with her son even though she was single. This made Bella happy for her sister because that meant that Ethan had a full-time mother, which was something neither of them had for long in their own lives.
Tears started to escape Bella’s eyes as she thought about the loss of her sister. She looked out at the floating white clouds and wondered if Lori was sitting on one like an invisible angel now. Had anyone told Ethan about his Mommy? Would she have to tell him? How could she be his mother? In her mind, she was just a dirty porn star.
She pulled out her small make-up mirror and looked at herself. She looked haggard and tired for someone of twenty-four. Her eyes were puffy from crying, and her skin was sallow from starving herself to look good. Her young, buxom chest made her look perky from the neck down, but her face and her mind were tired.
Bella realized that she still had the extensions in her hair, and that would certainly make her look out of place in the small Georgia town. She removed them and brushed out her already long, blond hair. Sweeping it into a ponytail, she touched up her make-up in the hopes that no one, especially little Ethan, would know what a twisted life she had been leading.
Fright overwhelmed her when she thought of being Ethan’s new mother. After all, no one had taught her how to be a Mom. She had only had one until she was eight years old herself. How did Lori learn, she wondered? Maybe it was genetic. Maybe she had a chance of being at least a good stand-in for Lori. Grief overwhelmed her again as she sobbed, very thankful that no one had the seat next to her so that she could grieve alone and in peace. Unfortunately, she hadn’t felt peace in many years.
taxi pulled up to the police station, she felt her heart fluttering in her chest. How on Earth would she be strong enough to identify her beloved sister’s body? As the only next of kin, she was going to be forced to do something that no one should ever have to do. She was suddenly overcome with memories of her sister as a young girl, before their mother was killed, riding her tricycle around their driveway. Tears welled in her eyes, but she struggled to hold them back as she had so many other times in her disaster of a life.
“Hi. I’m Bella Clay. Officer Carlton called me…” she said softly through the hole in the glass window. A small woman was running the front counter of the Madison Falls Police Department. A very tiny town, Madison Falls was much like Mayberry at first glance. She figured they probably had those huge skeleton keys to open the cells in the jail, or maybe they used the honor system.
“Have a seat. Officer Carlton will be right out,” the woman said, pointing to two chairs in the little waiting room. Bella looked down at her hands, and her stomach started to flip over in her abdomen. The fiery red fingernails she had to wear in her last movie were still attached to her fingers. It made her physically ill to think of where her hands had been in the past two years. All of the men whose backs she had to scratch for the camera. The other places they’d been… She vowed that she would remove them as soon as she could, but for now her focus was on her sister.
“Miss Clay?” said a man behind her. He was a large man with broad shoulders, a distinct Southern drawl, and one of those strange handlebar mustaches you only see in movies.
“Yes,” was all she said as she stood up and pressed her hands down the front of her jeans to flatten them. It was an anxious response.
“I’m Officer Carlton. Sweetie, I am so sorry about your sister,” he said. His tone was gentle, and that shocked her a bit. Police officers had not always been so kind to her out in California. They were more rough around the edges, but this guy could have been her father. She wondered for a split second what that would have been like - to have a father who loved and cared for her. And her sister. Oh, her sister… Her heart ached at the thought.
“Can you tell me what happened exactly?” Bella asked softly as she looked down at the floor, trying not to invite the tears back.
“Let’s go into my office, okay?” he said putting his hand on her shoulder. She jumped back a bit, which seemed to unsettle him. “You all right, hon?”
“Oh. Yes…” she said trying to regain her composure. Men touching her, especially strange men that she didn’t know, was one of her hot points.
The pair walked down the hall to a small, nondescript office on the right. The police station was very old fashioned with industrial tiles on the floor that reminded her of the elementary school cafeteria she’d eaten in for so many years. Having grown up in nearby Clayton Springs, Bella had always heard about what a great little town Madison Falls was, but she’d never had a chance to visit until Lori moved there two years ago. Even then, Bella had only come home once and stayed for just a couple of days.
Officer Carlton pointed to a chair, and Bella sat down. Looking around his office, she saw photos of what appeared to be a passel of grandchildren. It made her ache a little more when she saw people with happy families. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy for people who had large extended families; she just wanted a little bit of that happiness for herself and her sister. Oh, how her heart ached again. She’d spent her whole life doing things for her sister first, and now the one person she adored on the planet was gone.
“Miss Clay, you asked what happened to your sister,” he said as he sat down behind his desk and breathed out a big sigh. “She was apparently heading to her son’s school. We found what appeared to be his lunch bag, so he must have forgotten it,” he said as he pulled a Spiderman lunch bag out of his drawer. Bella reached across the desk and unzipped it as she tried to hold herself together. Inside, she found a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple, a juice box, and a handwritten note from Lori.
“Sorry I forgot to send your lunch with you, munchkin. Mommy loves you to the moon and back! See you after school.”
“Oh, my God…” Bella said as she let out the sobs she’d been holding in since she boarded the plane to Georgia. She clutched the note to Ethan in her hands as if her life depended on it. Rocking back and forth, she cried like she’d never cried before. How was this fair? She and Lori had spent their whole life aching for a family of their own. Navigating foster home after foster home, they’d stuck together and protected each other as best they could. When Lori finally had a happy little family of her own, she’d been snatched away, and now Ethan would suffer without his mother like they did. It was all too much, and every emotion from sadness to rage welled up inside of Bella.
“Miss Clay, can I get you some water?” he asked as he leaned forward across the desk.
“No, no… I’m fine…” she insisted as she pulled herself together. “Please, go on with the story.”
He sat back and studied her for a moment before continuing. “Early this morning, she was on Baker Street about a block from the school. A garbage truck was heading east while she was heading west. As they came around the curve, he swerved to avoid a deer crossing the road. He couldn’t get back into his lane fast enough, and he crashed head-on into your sister’s car. Miss Clay, she was killed instantly. Witnesses on the scene tried to revive her. One man dragged her from the car and performed CPR for ten minutes before the ambulance got there. She was gone. I am sincerely sorry,” he said softly.
“Did Ethan get to eat lunch? He must be so hungry…” Bella said, panicking as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Lori wanted him to eat. We didn’t always get to eat as kids. Where is he?” she said standing up and looking for the door.
“Miss Clay, he’s okay. Please calm down…” he said as he got between her and the door. “Breathe, honey. You must be strong for that little boy.” She snapped back into reality at the mention of Ethan, just as she had always been able to snap into reality to protect Lori when they were kids. She had to do it all again.
“I’m sorry. This is a lot to take in…”
“I know, I know… Ethan was able to eat lunch. We called the school and made sure he got to eat. He went home with one of his friends from class. They are great buddies, from what I hear, so he thinks his Mom is just running late from work, I suppose,” he said with a hint of sorrow in his voice.
“Oh, God. I have to tell him… I don’t know how I can do this, sir. I really don’t,” she said sobbing once again. He reached out and hugged her, which again made her wince, but she allowed it. She just needed some human contact right now, and he was all she had at the moment. After a moment, she pulled back and wiped her eyes. She had to steel herself for what was to come. She had to make sure that Ethan didn’t see her upset, and she had no idea at all how she was going to do that. Lori was her other half, and now she was gone forever.