Golden (Melinda Michaels)

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Golden Book I

High school senior Hanna Loch just suffered a blackout in front of her entire homeroom class. She hasn’t had one in over ten years, and she’s terrified—the last time she blacked out, she woke up with no memory of her life before. To make matters worse, no one can explain why it happens. For Hanna, bad things tend to come in threes.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover it . . .

When she learns she could be a descendant of someone who lived /once upon a time/, Hanna must put her trust in William Vann, a descendant of one of the most hated villains ever known. Their histories are intertwined in more ways than she expected, and he has answers about her past, answers even her family won’t share.

But is it safe to put her trust in someone who appears to be danger reincarnate, while trying to escape the darkness that tried to kill her ten years ago?

A loose fairytale retelling, GOLDEN is a story that’s just right, weaving together lost secrets, vengeful enemies, and what happens when fiction becomes reality.

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ISBN: 978-1-942111-14-6 Category: Tag:

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Read The First Chapter

One

It happened again. Hanna couldn’t believe that it happened again, and in homeroom. Damn it, she thought. This is so embarrassing . . .

Hanna Loch sat in the nurse’s office, holding an ice bag to the side of her head that had hit the desk when she passed out—the new girl’s desk, nonetheless. She groaned inwardly. This was the second time in a week it had happened, and it was mortifying. She hadn’t had blackouts like these since she was eight years old. And now, after almost ten years of being blackout free, she’d had two in the same week. Once upon a time, a weird girl kept passing out, she thought sarcastically.

“Now, you say this happened Monday?” the nurse asked. She was a large, stocky woman with pale hair and dark eyes. She looked like one of those female opera singers who dressed like a Viking.

“Yes,” Hanna answered, playing with her necklace. It was a comforting habit she usually fell into when she was thinking or nervous. “When I was at work. I’d just finished cleaning off this table when I bumped into this guy, and then this—” Hanna motioned her free hand to her head, “—this happened, I guess. I don’t know. One minute I’m wiping down a table, the next I’m laying on the floor with a bunch of people standing around me.” She shifted in her seat, flinching as she moved.

“Any headaches?”

The headaches that followed the blackouts were unlike any she’d ever experienced. She felt as though someone was banging a hammer squarely on her forehead, though that could have been from the fall. She’d had headaches before, but these were different, stronger, and this particular one had been followed by a wave of nausea.

“Yes, right after I black out. When I come to, I get the worst headache ever.”

“Mmm,” the nurse murmured, looking down at her chart. Hanna watched as she checked off a questionnaire dealing with head trauma. The nurse looked slightly confused. She probably never dealt with anything more serious than a few epidural needles and insulin shots. Her favorite diagnosis was postnasal drip for anyone who came through her doors, whether they actually had it or not.

“Well?” Hanna said after several minutes of silence. She wouldn’t have been so pushy if this was any other day, but she was aggravated with herself for blacking out and she didn’t have any patience left. The nurse looked up over her clipboard, her eyes telling Hanna that she hated impatient students more than anything in the world.

“As far as I can tell, Miss Loch, there’s nothing wrong with you,” the nurse said condescendingly. “But since you’ll probably want a second opinion, I suggest you go see your family doctor.” She bent over her desk and scribbled on a piece of paper. “Give this to your teacher when you get back to class.”

Hanna just looked at her. “Class? Don’t you think I should be sent home, so I can go see my doctor?”

“Miss Loch, you’re not going to die between now and the end of the school day.”

“I really think I should go—”

“Miss Loch,” the nurse said in a stern tone. “Go back to class.”

Witch, Hanna thought as she tossed the nurse the ice pack before leaving the room. She overheard her mumble something about respect as she left, but Hanna wasn’t in her usual good mood. She was annoyed that she’d blacked out in front of her homeroom class and even though she wouldn’t admit it to anyone, she was a little scared. Why did I black out?

As she walked down the hallway, Hanna tried to remember the first time it happened, which was easy. Everything about that day was vivid in her head, because it was the first memory she had. She’d been eight years old when she woke on the couch to see her parents and grandparents standing over her. Everything before that day was a blank. No matter how many times she tried or how hard she concentrated, she couldn’t remember anything. It was as if she’d been born that day. What was even more frustrating than not having any memory of the first eight years of her life, though, was the fact that no one could ever explain why.

She’d had x-rays, CAT scans, and blood work, done just about every test science provided to determine what caused them, but nothing ever came back positive. A brief episode with a psychiatrist had gotten them nowhere. Apparently, Hanna’s memories had disappeared, and her blackouts were a side effect. That was the only explanation she received.

She debated going back to class as she walked to homeroom. It was nearly second period, so she’d get back just in time to be questioned by everyone, or at least her best friend Carly. The rest would probably stare and wonder what was wrong with her.

Her steps slowed until she stopped completely. This was ridiculous. Just because the bitter nurse wouldn’t send her home didn’t mean she had to stay. Screw it, she thought. She was leaving, with or without a nurse’s note. She normally didn’t ditch school, but this wasn’t a normal day.

People don’t just black out, she told herself as she headed down the empty hall of New Hope High School. She doubted if the nurse had even read her medical history. Her blackouts hadn’t happened since before she’d permanently moved in with her grandparents.

Making sure there wasn’t anyone around, she pushed open the main door and hurried down the front steps as fast as she could, making a beeline for the parking lot. Taking her car keys out of her purse as she walked, she paused for a moment as her head throbbed. Maybe driving was a bad idea. What if she blacked out again? She’d cause an accident for sure, if not kill herself.

She looked toward the road and wondered if she should walk, shrinking inside her coat. It was early March and though Michigan had experienced a bizarrely warm winter this year, it was still only thirty-something degrees out. She shivered as the wind cut threw her. Town wasn’t too far away. Sure, it was foggy and there was a very light, misty snowfall that gave the world around her an ethereal look, but she shouldn’t drive. It was too dangerous. Besides, if she was going to drive her car to college at the end of the summer, she couldn’t crash it now. She didn’t have the time or money to fix it.

Decision to walk made, she put her keys away and made her way through the parking lot, over the grass barrier, and onto the quiet road that sat in front of the school.

I won’t get into any trouble for this, she thought as she crossed the street. Her grandparents would agree with her. For a moment, she thought of what her parents would say if they were in Michigan and not gallivanting around the world, studying the migration pattern of the great white shark. Or was it the Orca now? Every time she got an e-mail or phone call from them, all she heard about was how fantastic their new study was going. She’d been bitter toward her parents when she first moved in with her grandparents, but her resentment had dwindled over the years. Her grandparents were far more fit people to live with, and she was glad to have them.

Gram and Grandpa were much more relaxed than most of her friends’ parents, probably because they had been through raising kids before. They let her have a little more freedom than most, and she was grateful. Her friends thought she was the luckiest person in the world to have such cool grandparents, but she always bristled when they said things like that. Even though she’d made peace with her parents being away, she was still a little bitter. In her opinion, her friends all had normal parents who didn’t live on a boat thousands of miles away. They had siblings who stole their clothes and arguments with their parents. She constantly felt like there wasn’t a place she belonged. Her grandparents had taken her in because she was their granddaughter—they sort of had to take her. Of course, that was the least of her problems today. She had to get home and call the doctor.

She rubbed her hand across her forehead, squeezing her temples with her thumb and index finger, soothing her subsiding headache. It was nearly gone now, but a feeling of uncertainty lingered. She inhaled deeply, trying to shake it off.

The snowy mix that fell around her began to lighten up. She tucked one of her pale, shoulder-length strands behind her ear. Her hair was slightly wet, and she grumbled at the thought of it frizzing as she watched the half-melted snowflakes disappear into the black pavement. She and the rest of New Hope were surprised at how mild the winter had been, and as she looked to the woods on either side of the road, she acknowledged the peacefulness of it all. The world was quiet and still and she couldn’t help but think that it looked sort of enchanting.

She smiled to herself. She would have bet a week’s worth of tips that no one had ever called New Hope enchanting. The mist hung dreamlike in the air, as if a cloud had settled to earth; the falling wet snow made her feel strangely calm. She shook her head . . . maybe that blackout had affected her more than she thought.

Hanna hardly recognized the sound of screeching tires on wet pavement. She looked up and saw an old truck speeding toward her through the fog. She’d begun crossing the road without even knowing.

She inhaled sharply, lifting her hands as everything around her went into slow-motion. She thought about how stupid she was for putting her hands up, as if they’d deter the speeding pile of metal about to kill her. She saw everything in that instant before her impending death: the driver’s face, his eyes wide as he noticed her; the paper cup he held in front of his face, partially covering his expression; the cold wind that blew, and the falling mist that seemed suspended in mid air. She saw every detail as her thoughts were littered with inconsequential things instead of flashes of her life. She couldn’t move, even if she’d had the sense to try and jump out of the way.

Why do people hold their breath when they’re about to be injured? She closed her eyes and braced herself. Her heart felt like it stopped as the screeching of rubber on pavement echoed around her. Had her body decided to just cut out the middle man and quit on its own, knowing that her heart was going to stop beating anyway? It was a ridiculous thing to be thinking at the moment. Are these my last thoughts?

She felt the sudden rush of something big blow past her. She tried to match the sound of a speeding car and crunching metal to the image of the old truck running her over, but it didn’t match. Why was there crunching metal, but no pain? Paralyzed with fear, she could barely move her legs. Opening her eyes, she saw something completely different from what she had expected a split second earlier.

She saw the old truck, only a foot from where she stood, and to her surprise, a brand new, light blue Ford F-150 was crunched up into the side of it. Smoke and vapors rose from the collision, and she could almost taste the gasoline coming from the wreck. The driver of the old truck climbed out, his face showing a million emotions.

“Shit,” Hanna said quietly.

“Oh my God!” he said. “Oh my God, are you okay? Jeez, this guy came out of nowhere!”

Hanna was silent as she watched the man inspect his damaged vehicle. I’m in shock, she thought dumbly. If that blue truck hadn’t crashed into the other one, she would have been dead.  She tried to move, but couldn’t. She was in awe of the scene in front of her, and she suddenly noticed that the world around her was slightly different. The air tasted sweeter; her vision felt sharper. Even the smell of the surrounding trees seemed overwhelming, as if she’d never experienced the smell of late winter before. She felt exhilarated and terrified all at once.

Her focus wandered to the Ford’s passenger-side door to read a large magnetic sign: “Vann Construction; Offices in South Carolina and Michigan.” A phone number was listed at the bottom. The driver’s door opened and a pair of construction boots landed on the ground. She tried to see the man’s face as he moved around to inspect his mangled truck, but was distracted by an old woman who’d come from somewhere to fuss over her.

“Are you all right, dear?” the old woman asked. It was Mrs. Watson, a senile woman who always walked around New Hope when her middle-aged son was at work. Hanna nodded mutely, more interested in the conversation a few feet away.

“Didn’t you see me?” The old truck’s owner was nearly yelling.

“I saw the girl in the road. I saw you,” the Vann guy said in a lower voice, his back toward Hanna. “I didn’t know what else to do. You were going pretty fast.” He didn’t sound angry that he’d just totaled his obviously new truck to save her life.

She sucked in her breath, only just fully registering that she wasn’t dead, but had come seriously close. She tried to look away from the Vann guy and couldn’t. He had saved her life, and his truck had been destroyed in the process. She felt a pang of guilt, though she’d have gladly chosen herself over a truck any day.

“I wouldn’t have hit her,” the other man lied, though it was obvious they were all aware that if things had gone differently, they’d be calling the morgue instead of their insurances.

“Do you want to sit down, dear? You look a little shaken up,” Mrs. Watson said.

“No, I’m fine,” Hanna insisted. “I better be going—”

“Hey, you! You saw it. He hit me, right?”

She tore her eyes away from the Vann guy’s back as the other man called to her.

“What?”

“He hit me!” the man yelled. But then a sudden change came over his face. “Oh, you’re that Loch girl.”

Hanna bristled. She stared at him and recognized the man, but couldn’t place his name. He suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Well, you saw it, didn’t you?”

She couldn’t believe he was actually trying to blame the Vann guy for damaging his car, even though he’d almost killed her because he was drinking his coffee instead of watching the road. Sure, she hadn’t looked both ways before crossing the street and so she was partly guilty, but she wasn’t thinking about that. All she could think of at that moment was the nerve of the guy who’d almost killed her.

“I didn’t see anything besides your truck about to run me over,” she answered coolly, giving him a nasty look. The clarity she had seen in the world only moments ago began to fade, and she suddenly felt low, like she had just been dropped off a cliff. She inhaled and was disappointed the air was no longer sweet. What was wrong with her?

“I have to go.”

She turned to leave, ignoring the man’s angry sputtering behind her, but jumped when a hand wrapped around her elbow in a surprisingly strong grip.

“Listen, I don’t—” Her words faltered as she turned back and saw that it was the Vann guy.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked, concerned.

She was too taken by him to say anything at first. He was younger than she originally thought, maybe only a couple of years older than herself, and she was surprised at how attracted she was to him. His face was classic looking and strange; he could have been plucked right out of a gothic painting. For a second, she thought she saw a dark, purplish haze around him, just as if he actually were from a portrait. His dark black hair was short on the sides and longer at the top, styled perfectly. The square jawline and Roman nose were enough to win him modeling jobs, and his eyes made her feel warm, despite their cool gray color. They were amazing, the most beautiful gray eyes she’d ever seen.

Beautiful, she thought. There wasn’t a better word to describe him.

“Are you all right?” he asked again, worry clouding his face.

“I’m fine, thanks,” she finally said as he let her go. “And thanks for, you know.” Her words failed as she nodded toward the accident. Her heart was beating an insane rhythm inside her chest.

He smiled, relief plain on his face.

“Anytime,” he said, and she believed him.

He was on the phone in a minute—talking to his boss, by the sounds of it—while the other man was cursing up a storm. She was already down the road when she saw cop lights. She decided to hurry her pace, not wanting to be seen by Owen. He wouldn’t be too thrilled if he found her to be the cause of an accident while ditching school.

Owen was like her older brother. As her adopted cousin, they were basically related, though he still insisted on being addressed as “Officer Peirce” when he was in uniform. He came to New Hope six months ago, and they’d become close since then. She couldn’t understand why he’d left the exciting world of New York City to come to rinky-dink New Hope and be a cop, but it was nice getting to know someone she hadn’t known her entire life.

She wasn’t as worried about Owen though. She was more preoccupied with the accident that had nearly killed her. Why had she been able to see so crystal clear in those few moments before the crash? The air had tasted so sweet; the pavement shone like polished coal. She heard every decibel of the tires screeching. Had her senses gone into overload because of the danger she’d been in? Her heart was still beating faster than normal, but her vision and sense of smell had settled back into place. Her heartbeat was the only remaining evidence of her near death experience. It was terrifying, she thought, terrifying, and yet exhilarating at the same time.

Hanna turned and looked at the empty road behind her. Was it completely crazy to want to feel like that again, just for a moment? What would it take? If she could be prepared, if she could anticipate the feeling, she bet she could experience it better.

Shaking her head, she walked as quickly as she could down the road and eventually got to town. What was she thinking, wanting to feel like that again? Focusing on her strides, she pushed all thoughts of it out of her mind.

She looked up at the buildings in front of her. It was a small town that hadn’t ever had a large population, but especially in recent years. The crumbling infrastructure combined with the winter months made the atmosphere pretty depressing, but Hanna was used to it. It was still cold and gray, even with the warm winter, making New Hope feel like it was having one very long, very rainy day.

Passing the grocery store and the diner where she worked, she tried to look inconspicuous. Because New Hope was such a small town, Hanna expected to be stopped by someone every time she walked down the street. Usually, she didn’t mind and welcomed a smile from a neighbor, but today was just turning into one of those days. She’d blacked out, ditched school, left her station wagon, and almost got hit by a truck . . . she just wanted to get home and call her doctor.

She’d been walking for twenty minutes when she saw red and blue lights reflecting off the wet pavement in front of her. She knew it was Owen without looking. He was going to give her hell for ditching.

She stopped, turning when she heard the car door open and close. Owen was walking toward her, his officer’s face firmly in place.

He was a tall man, with light brown hair cut like a crew cut, but left a little longer. His eyes were strange—Hanna could never tell if they were green, hazel, or brown. He was handsome in his own way, but she thought that, despite coming from New York City, he didn’t look very out-of-the-ordinary. Not like the Vann guy, with his black hair and surprisingly tan skin.

Just as she thought of him, she noticed movement in the back of Owen’s cruiser. She squinted and saw the Vann guy in the back of the car.

“What are you doing?” she demanded as Owen stopped in front of her. “Are you arresting him?”

She actually felt upset. Is the Vann guy going to jail? And do I really have to keep referring to him as the “Vann guy?” How about, the guy who saved my life, or the guy who has beautiful eyes? She squared her shoulders.

“Hanna,” Owen said in a surprised tone, though his face looked disapproving. “What are you doing is the question. You don’t look surprised to see me.”

“Well, are you arresting him?” she asked again, ignoring his question.

“What are you doing out of school? It’s only . . .” he looked at his watch, agitating her more by not answering her question. “. . . 11:34 a.m. Skipping class?”

“I’m going to the doctor,” she conceded.

“Oh. Well, all right . . . what do you know about a car accident over on Route 17?”

“Are you arresting him?” she asked for the third time.

Owen looked back at the car. “I could be. I could not be. Why are you so concerned about it?”

“I just know that you shouldn’t arrest him. He ruined his truck to save my life.”

That got Owen’s attention. “What do you mean he saved your life?”

“I was crossing the street where Fetterman Road meets Route 17. It was foggy and this old, black truck was coming at me. I thought I was going to get hit, but next thing I know, his Ford had T-boned the other truck,” she said, pointing to the cop car. “After he asked me if I was okay, I left.”

“You left a crime scene?”

“Yes, I know, bad on my part,” she said, fighting the urge to roll her eyes. “But that guy saved my life. You can’t arrest him.”

Owen was silent for a moment, and she regretted leaving the accident. He’d probably already charged the Vann guy, and if she hadn’t left the scene, she would have been able to sort it out. Owen was a strict guy, especially when he wore his uniform, but besides being a stickler for the law, he was always fair.

“Jeez, Hanna.” He shook his head, as if he was having an inner struggle. “Why’d you leave? I remember quite clearly telling you and your friends never to leave the scene of an accident at that prom safe driving thing you had at school a few weeks ago.”

“I know,” she said.

“Only guilty parties leave the scene,” he said, sounding as if he’d rehearsed the line a thousand times. He might be a good guy, but he was a complete geek for law enforcement. He waved a hand at the car. “This guy’s license is expired. I have to take him in.”

“Do you really? Can’t you just, you know, write him a ticket or something?”

“I can’t. I already called it in.” Owen looked back at his car again. “Why would you leave the scene?”

She really didn’t want to tell him about her blackout, and certainly didn’t want to mention that something about the guy in the back of his cruiser excited her. She felt her cheeks warm and hoped that Owen would think it was the wind instead of her blushing.

“I didn’t want to make it a big thing,” she said, looking over his shoulder.

“Well, now I have to take him to the station. You know, the other driver denies that you were even there,” he said. “He said he was just driving the speed limit when, out of nowhere, he was hit.”

“Well, he’s lying,” she defended. “He was speeding and couldn’t see me through the coffee cup that was blocking his vision. He would have killed me if the Vann guy didn’t hit him.”

“The Vann guy?”

“I don’t know his name,” she shrugged, nodding at the cop car.

Owen sighed. “It’s William Vann. I’m going to need your statement. Otherwise, it’s just one word against the other. It seems everyone at the scene showed up after the incident, except Mrs. Watson, but she’s practically senile.” He shook his head. “Where’s your car?”

“I left it at school.”

“Why?”

“Owen, please,” she said, rephrasing when she saw the look on his face. “Officer Peirce, can I just come to the station later? I’ve got a major headache, and I just want to get to the doctor.”

Owen looked at her with concerned suspicion.

“What’s up with you, kid?” he asked, his voice switching to his gentler, civilian tone. His “big brother voice,” as she called it. “You don’t seem like yourself.”

She could see that he wasn’t going to let her out of his sight until she’d convinced him she was fine.

“I blacked out in class today,” she confessed, keeping her eyes on the cruiser. Did William Vann just sit up straighter as she spoke? He couldn’t have heard her, could he? I hope not, she thought, uncomfortable with the idea of the handsome stranger knowing her strange affliction.

Owen noticed where she was staring and turned to look at the man in his back seat.  “It’s okay, he can’t hear you,” he said reassuringly. For some reason, she wasn’t so sure. “Why’d you black out?”

“I don’t know. I mean, I used to black out when I was younger, but I haven’t done it in almost ten years. I just want to go see my doctor and make sure I don’t have a tumor or something.”

“Get in the car,” Owen said, switching back to his police officer voice. “I’ll take you to your doctor’s.”

She fought a smile. He was always so serious when it came to being a cop and even more so now that he viewed her as a younger sister. They’d connected in a weird way when he came to New Hope, and she’d always believed it was because they were both outcasts, her without her parents and him being new to the area. She couldn’t pinpoint what else made Owen so different, but at the same time, he didn’t seem to be able to figure her out either. Whatever it was, they were content with being a little odd, and they looked out for each other.

“No, that’s okay. I’m fine, really, and I’m almost home. I’ll have Gram drive me.” She started walking backward, her eyes shifting from Owen to his cruiser. “I’ll come down to the station after the doctor. I promise.”

“Yes, you will,” Owen said as he got back into his car. “Or I’ll subpoena you.”

She smiled at him and gave a little wave, to which he nodded. As the car pulled out into the street, Hanna’s eyes wandered to William in the back seat. There’s something about people in the back of cop cars, she thought. They seemed like caged animals whose faces became burned into memory simply because they could be dangerous. The mind just can’t help but remember them.

She felt a shiver go down her spine when William caught her eye out the back window as the car drove away. She waited for the vehicle to disappear behind the corner, knowing she would never forget his face. There was something about his eyes that seemed hypnotic. He wasn’t smiling like he had when they spoke briefly earlier. She wished he would.

Guilt washed over her. Why would he smile now? He’d been arrested and was going to be at the station longer than necessary because she was going to the doctor. First, he’d wrecked his truck to save her life; then he’d been arrested because she left the scene. Owen said his license was expired, but still. It was pretty much her fault.

“Damn it,” she said aloud as she crossed the street. She’d go and give her statement to Owen first, and hopefully, they’d let William go. It was the least she could do for the man who’d saved her life. She cringed at what he would think of her once Owen told him that she’d had other things to do first.

She let out an aggravated half sigh, half grunt. This was turning into one of those horribly long days that seemed to never end. It was all the right kinds of wrong.

About The Author

Melinda Michaels is the author of Golden and currently lives in Milford, Pennsylvania. A self-proclaimed historian with a rare sense of humor, Melinda finds an immense amount of joy in knowing useless facts, exploring historical places and drinking copious amounts of coffee. When she’s not writing she can be found researching obscured time periods for her own amusement or refurbishing old furniture.

Melinda loves Philadelphia and visits often to enjoy the city with her husband Andrew. Together they have three rambunctious pets. Archie the Beagle, Winston the Boston Terrier and Beatrice the cat.
Golden is the first in a Young Adult magic realism series.

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