This is a snippet of the first chapter of Heir to The Sun which releases on Jan. 15th.
The finger traced Aura’s cheek and left a cold imprint in its wake, but she kept her breathing steady and pretended to sleep. After a moment, the front door closed with a click. Her eyes sprung open, and she stared into the dimness of her room with a quivering breath. Was he leaving? Dave rarely left the apartment, and Aura almost never. Keys rattled in the lock and the dull thump when the bolt turned confirmed it: He was leaving! Aura grabbed her phone from under her pillow, flipped it open, and set a timer for twenty minutes. She dared to lift her head to hear better, but the footsteps down the staircase echoed in the otherwise silent building.
She slipped out of bed and peeked into the hallway. It was dark and the apartment silent. She stared at the front door, but it remained closed. With a bracing breath, she tiptoed across the living room floor and leaned carefully against the window. If she angled her face just right, she could see the road below and the street corner. A black-haired man walked with his back to her, turned at the corner and disappeared out of sight.
“He left!” Her breath fogged on the window and a wild surge of nerves erupted through her stomach. She stepped back and stood in a moment of indecisiveness. The living room was sparsely furnished, the walls blank and empty, and the air cold with a hint of neglect lingered. It wasn’t a home and hardly a place to live. Aura nodded to herself. She had to get out of there.
She dashed back into the bedroom, her heart thumping in her throat, and checked her phone. Eighteen minutes left on the alarm. It was her estimated safe window before Dave returned. She threw her few belongings in a duffel bag; a spare pair of jeans, a few t-shirts, her jacket, and the curled-edged notebook with hardly any more blank space to doodle. She rolled under her bed. Her spring-loaded knife was jammed between the mattress and the metal wires, and she wriggled it out along with a small bundle of cash.
Standing up again, she quickly changed into torn jeans, pulled a hoodie over her head, and collected her mesh of dark curls in a bun. She exhaled to calm her heart and tied a rolled-up bandana around her brown-skinned forehead and the tip of her ears. She hated them. They looked weird. Long, elongated, and pointy. They’d always been a source of teasing and she’d found a solution to just hide them behind a hairband.
She hurried to the kitchen, but the fridge was a sorrowful wasteland which was probably what had prompted Dave to leave. He might be a freak-of-nature who seemed to sustain himself on water only, but Aura needed food. He was kind enough to provide that, at least.
Back in the hallway, she stared at the front door. The dark slab of wood she just couldn’t conquer. Dave had changed the lock six months prior after she’d run off to get wasted on cheap booze over midsummer. She agreed that it’d been stupid, even stupider when she’d ended up in police detention for the night, but Dave had been beyond furious. Now there was only one key to the apartment and no way to unlock the door without it, whether you were on the inside or outside. Unless … Aura fiddled with her knife and carefully peeled off the tape that held a set of thin metal wrenches on the handle. She was a terrible lock-pick, the last few weeks of futile attempts were proof of that, but it was her only option.
She glimpsed at her own reflection in the hallway mirror and nodded to the scared girl staring back at her.
“You can do this! This time we’ve got it!” She cracked her neck to the sides, blinked down the headache that thumped behind her eyes, and stepped warily towards the door, then crouched by the lock. She glimpsed at her phone. Fifteen minutes left. Her fingers shook as she asserted a metal wrench in the lock and searched for the hidden pins with a thinner one. The first one was always easy. It clicked down. Next one.
She’d tried to scream and bang on the walls when Dave wasn’t home. She’d pushed her ear against the front door and waited for someone to walk down the stairs, but no matter how hard she’d thumped her fist, no one ever responded. Aura wasn’t even sure what good it’d do if they did. If the police got involved, she doubted it would end very well for her anyway. Dave’s insane ability to smooth talk would probably twist everything out of her favor. The police didn’t have her on record now, thanks to Dave, but Aura was fairly certain that he’d kept it all, just in case he needed to use it against her.
The second pin fell into place and Aura’s heart jolted. She dried her sweaty palm in her jeans, jested the metal wrench slightly, and exhaled to find the next pin. Click.
“Yes! Three down.” She glimpsed at her phone on the floor. Ten minutes left. She swallowed and breathed slowly. This is where she got stuck every time. Her shaking hands made it hard and the last two pins refused to cooperate.
“Come on you bitch, open!” She wriggled the wrench. Her head had started to throb quite demandingly. A subtle shake through her temples and into her eyes. She looked down. Seven minutes left. If she didn’t get the pins soon, she’d have to unpack everything again and calm her disappointment before Dave returned.
“You fucker, just do it! I swear – Yes! Yes-yes-yes!” Aura quivered. The fourth pin had just budged!
“Oh my god, this’s so great. Come on, last one.” She wasn’t sure if it was her body that trembled or the whole world around her. Everything was blurry but for the small hole of the lock in front of her. A drum was being abused in her ear. Or perhaps it was her own heartbeat. The shockwaves from it should crack the walls. If she could just align all her focus into that last pin, perhaps it would work.
Her head was splitting now; the pain suddenly excruciating, and a moan rolled through her throat. Don’t give up! You’re so close. She closed one eye to keep her focus and sweat trickled down the back of her nose. In her chest a bubble of warmth expanded. Excitement? Or perhaps fear. She didn’t know and didn’t care. A sob threatened her. She didn’t want to unpack again.
“Come fucking on! I–“
Aura’s breath halted. Goosebumps erupted across her skin and her heart skipped a beat. She turned the lock slowly, terrified if her shaking hands would cause disaster. The bolt shifted and the door opened.
“Holy fucking hell.” She stared at the sliver of light that squeezed through the crack in the door. She leaned forwards and peeked out and half expected to see Dave on the doormat with his superior glare. The hallway was empty. She pushed the door open. Out there, the stairs led to freedom. Dust swirled in the lazy sunbeam through a window but Aura hesitated.
“Go!” she hushed but didn’t move. But where to? A voice of doubt whispered.
“Anywhere! Away from him.” He loves you.
“No, he doesn’t.” You love him. Aura swallowed. She didn’t know anymore. He was all she had. Her parents had died when she was a babe and her foster mom, Liza, six years ago in a car crash. It was right after that, she’d met Dave and ever since then, things had spun widely out of control. She stared out into the light hallway. Behind her, the gloomy apartment pulled her in. She shook her head with a frown.
“Why’s this so hard? Just go!” Her legs refused to move, and her head thumped again. The darkness behind her were like strings of glue that kept her in place. They spun around her ankles and legs, melted her hands to the floor, and a creeping frost seeped up through her palms. She shivered. Dave would find her here, crouched by the open door, and petrified by her own dare.
Another voice burst through her mind: Liza’s from sometime in Aura’s childhood.
“You’re destined for greatness, Aura. One day we’ll travel far away, and I’ll prove it to you! No darkness can hold down The Princess of Light.” Aura knew it’d just been fairytales. Stories that Liza had spun for Aura to escape her constant headache and to settle the curiosity of her missing parents. But that didn’t mean it couldn’t inspire her now. Aura knew that Liza would have wanted her to leave Dave. He wasn’t a man she’d approve of, and he was her darkness right now.
Aura wanted to get out to that sunbeam. She wanted to be free. Heat spun in her chest again, hotter and hotter as she was already in the light of the sun. The darkness of the apartment broke apart around her and with a strangled squeal she leapt forwards and ended on a bellyflop in the hallway. Her elbow knocked on the floor and her headache pinched like needles behind her eyes. She pressed a hand to her forehead with a curse and looked back into the hallway. She was out. A wide grin spread on her face, but it froze at the insistent jingle of her phone. Twenty minutes had passed.
“Oh fuck! No-no-no-no!” Aura rolled to her feet, grabbed her duffle, phone, and tools still by the door, and slammed it shut. The shockwave of it made her stagger but the phone still jingled in her hand. She flipped it open, turned it off, slid open the back, and pulled out the sim card. She didn’t know if it could be tracked, but she didn’t dare take the chance. She dropped it on the doormat, turned on her heels, and thundered down the stairs.
Does Aura get away from Dave? Find out Jan. 15th!