I’ve mentioned Brian a few times now. He makes a rather splashy entrance, I have to say, even if it does seem like Riverton could stand a bit less excitement. I hope you enjoy this wee snippet from Personal Demons, which will be available for preorder in October, along with A Demon Saved.
“Trucks, Owen!” Laura reminded him and he obediently flopped back to the ground to pick up his toys. There was some shouting down the path now. Something was apparently going on past the trees at the soccer field, but she couldn’t see. Something in the tone of the shouts made her nervous— they didn’t sound anything like what she was used to hearing in a park. It sounded more like there was a fight going on. She started to turn back to her son who was grabbing the last truck and getting to his feet to dash towards her when she saw the man come pelting around the trees that hid the large grassy picnic area. He was swinging his arm wildly at everyone in front of him, something glinting in his hand. An older, Asian man was chasing him with a look of determined fury on his face. Everything slowed.
Laura dropped her bag and bolted towards where Owen was starting to cross the path, but even as she left her seat she knew she wasn’t fast enough. The soft dirt and round pebbles of the path slicked the ground under her sneaker, refusing to give her the traction she needed to move faster. The madman with the knife was carried forward by momentum and not even her panic could overcome that. His boots drummed up the path and he swiped his knife in a wide, silver arc and with his other hand he shoved her hard and she went spinning away in a swirling cloud of dust, barely missing the end of the bench. Just before she hit the ground, she saw him slash out at a wide-eyed Owen. Even as she rolled with the impact she was scrabbling to her feet and turning to reach the bloody, lifeless body of her son.
What she saw instead was indeed somewhat bloody, but it was neither lifeless nor was it Owen. A man lay there a few feet off the path with his body wrapped protectively around the four year old, one arm cushioning the small head and the other firmly wrapped around his legs. A line of bright red stretched from the man’s shoulder to nearly his elbow and the sleeve of his t-shirt was sliced clean into two flags that fluttered and collected the dust that drifted across the scene. Laura dropped to her knees beside the pair, helping the stranger to sit up while he was still carefully holding the stunned child. When he was sitting up Laura realized that he had landed on a toy bulldozer.
“Oh gods. Are you okay?” Laura didn’t even bother to try stopping the tears that streamed down her face. At the sound of her voice, Owen snapped out of his shock and launched himself at his mother, kicking the stranger right in the stomach.
“Owen, baby.” Her arms wrapped around him and they both cried together for a moment. She sat there, rocking him and trying to breathe.
“Are you both okay?” The man’s voice was rough with pain, but she could tell that he was at least trying to sound friendly. Laura nodded.
“I can’t even thank you enough. I don’t know how you moved so fast, but I will be forever grateful. Where did you even come from?” Laura gave Owen one last squeeze and shifted to carry him her hip one-armed before scrambling over to grab her bag. She dug through it till she found the first aid kit and hurried back. He started speaking to Owen when she knelt again by the heroic stranger’s arm.
“You’re sure you’re okay, kiddo?” Owen scrambled to hide behind Laura, peeking from around her shoulder. The man just grinned. “That’s all right. After all that, I don’t blame you for being shy.”
“I’m Laura Butler and this is Owen,” she introduced herself while she dabbed an antiseptic wipe over his arm.
“Brian Sedge. Nice to meet you,” he said. He reached around behind him with his good arm and held the truck out to Owen. “I think this is yours? It’s pretty cool, but not the softest pillow I’ve ever come across.”
“That’s not a pillow. It’s a truck,” Owen said without moving any further from behind the safety of his mother.
“Oh, wow. Well that explains it then!” Brian smiled and started to use the toy bulldozer to move some pebbles around in the dirt, making truck noises. It only took a few moments before Owen shot over to the truck and started supervising the new building site himself. Laura watched, trying not to start sobbing again.
She glanced around. People all down the path were reacting to the chase. The older man who had been doing the chasing was walking back up the path, looking thunderous at having lost his quarry, and talking on the phone. It sounded like he was calling for an ambulance. Laura realized that he didn’t even seem winded, which surprised her for a moment. The way he moved, though, told her that he was a Temple trained warrior of some sort, which explained a great deal. Sirens started wailing in the distance. Not trusting herself to be especially stable on her feet, she just kept cleaning Brian’s arm and watching Owen.
“Thank you.” She swallowed, and wiped her sleeve over her face. A trio of EMTs jogged around the same curve of the path that the attacker had, and spread out to start checking with the groups of stunned onlookers. One of the them came over and took her place, peering at Brian’s arm. It was a long gash, but the knife had apparently been scalpel-sharp and the wound had eerily tidy edges, according to the paramedic looking at it. Soon it was cleaned up and bandaged neatly, no need for much treatment so long as he kept it clean. Brian also sported a large bandage over the left side of his face where he’d been scraped up when he hit the ground hard, and a warning to be gentle with what was going to be a gloriously colorful truck-shaped bruise on his side. Brian just grinned and said he’d take a bruise over broken ribs any day. The EMT chuckled and told him to hang out till the police had his name and contact information, and moved on down the wake of the lunatic with the knife.
“Hmm. Contact information.” Brian frowned slightly.
“What’s wrong?” Laura asked.
“Well, nothing really. I have a cell phone number, I suppose. Just no address to give them at the moment.” He shrugged.
“Are you moving or something?” She looked at him, deciding that he was far too composed and tidy— dirt-stained, bloody slashed up t-shirt and bandages aside— to be entirely homeless. He wore jeans and there was a motorcycle jacket on the ground a few feet away where he had dropped it in his lunge to protect Owen, and she saw a delicate Temple charm on a chain peeking out from the collar of his shirt, a strangely feminine contrast to the athletic hero vibe he was giving off. Then again she was pretty biased about the hero part right now.
“Well, sort of. I’ve been touring around the east coast on my bike and just got into Riverton early this morning. Haven’t found a motel or anything yet. Maybe the cops can suggest one?” he said. “Sounds like I might be here a bit longer than I thought.”
“You can stay with us. At least for tonight. It’s the least I can do,” Laura said. Gods, what was she thinking, inviting a total stranger into her home like this? Especially after her history with men. But some instinct told her that it would be fine, that she could trust him. Brian had risked his own life for a stranger’s child, after all. He looked at her, curiosity on his face.
“Are you sure? I mean, you don’t know me,” he said. His hesitance was clear in his expression. He looked suddenly nervous of her. The man had risked his life to save a stranger and he was shy of her? “What about Owen’s father, he going to be okay with it?” Laura scowled. Kevin would never have risked his life to save anyone, not even his own son. The contrast just reinforced her certainty.
“Owen doesn’t have a father. And I am definitely sure,” she said. “Right Owen?” The boy grinned up at both of them.
“You can help me build my skyscraper!” He said. Well that settled that then.