Annie Whitman’s ordinary Midwest life is shattered with the sudden death of her husband Jack. Thirty-five and failing at life as a widow, she turns to the comforts of vodka in an attempt to camouflage the cold sheets of an empty bed. The necessary inebriation helps her to cope with Jack’s death, but proves to be a deterrent in recovering any sense of normalcy. After spending several months at the bottom of a bottle, Annie stumbles upon a lockbox in the crawl space of her basement. Opening this box also opens her eyes to the likelihood that Jack Whitman might not have been the honest and doting man she married.
Annie embarks on a mission to the Virgin Islands to uncover the truth about her husband’s past and seek safety from her brother-in-law, who seems to be the captain of his own sinking ship. While settling into paradise, she meets the wickedly handsome, but surprisingly reserved Kessler Carlisle, who is struggling with his retirement from country music superstardom. With Kessler’s help, Annie discovers the heart’s uncanny ability to heal, and the possibility that dead men don’t always keep their secrets-even if they’re buried in the Caribbean waters of St. Croix.
The Achilles Heel delves into the formidable fact that everyone harbors darkness, and some will go to the depths of the ocean to keep their secrets hidden.
Don’t put your hat on. Please don’t put your hat on.
Crossing my fingers like a grade school child wishing for a snowstorm in August, I watched him take his time as he gathered what looked to be papers, but I wasn’t quite sure. He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly while grabbing his hat from the dashboard. For some reason, I had the notion if he didn’t put on the hat to complete his uniform, this visit would be somewhat less official. He noticed me standing in the sliver of the window framing my front door. He paused, shut his car door, and straightened his trousers a tad- when one goes from sitting to standing and is between pant sizes. Finally, he put on that goddamn hat.
As he walked towards the door, gravel from the driveway crunched under his heavy black boots. Streaks of sweat ran down his sunlit glistened face. His heavily starched shirt sported a soaking wet “V” on the chest connecting to the wetness under both arms. With record high temperatures in Kansas City reaching 106 during the first week of June, I was secretly glad he was hot, and it almost made me happy to think he might be suffering a bit. Our eyes made contact when he reached the red-brick porch steps, and I knew. He could have turned around, got back in his police car and never said a word to me; his eyes told me the whole story. Maybe his eyes didn’t tell me the entire story, but they certainly implied the most important part- the ending. As he stood on the opposing side of the window, the glare from his name badge which read GRADY shone in my right eye, causing me to wince.
“Ma’am,” he asked through the double paned glass. “Are you all right?”
I just stood there, staring blankly. Why is he here to ask me if I’m okay? Is this guy a fucking idiot? What cop comes to someone’s front door, scares the hell out of them, and opens with a question like, “Ma’am, are you all right?” I was doing just fine before he pulled into my driveway.
“Ma’am,” he started again, as he tapped on the window trying to get my attention and break the paralyzing trance holding me motionless. “Are you okay? You’re bleeding!”
At that moment, I tasted the blood. As I mentally calculated his every move from the car to the door, knowing he wasn’t here to give me stellar news (cops don’t randomly show up at your house for no reason) I hadn’t noticed I was biting down on my lip. It must have been hard, because the blood was now running down the side of my chin.
I tried to answer, but only felt air pass between my lips; my voice lost in translation. I nodded my head up and down in a “Yes” motion.
Officer Grady asked, “Are you Annie Whitman, the wife of a Mr. Jack Whitman?”
Again with the up and down, “Yes,” motion.
“Could you please open the door?” he asked. “I’d like to come in and speak with you for a moment.”
I reluctantly but automatically obeyed, and the creak of the screen door was synonymous with a horror movie. Apparently, I was the main character.
“Ma’am, your husband was in an accident on the highway this morning. There were no survivors. We believe he was killed upon impact and have launched an investigation into the crash, but unfortunately, we don’t know many details yet. I’m so very sorry to bring you this devastating news. Is there someone you can call to come be with you right now?”
“No, no, you’re wrong,” I croaked, with a broken and raspy voice like someone infested with the forty-eight hour flu. “My husband is at work, and this is a mistake.” I tried again, but only fragments of sound spit into the air. I wasn’t forming recognizable words. “I’ll just call him, and we can clear this up. You’ll see it’s just terrible mistake,” I stammered, as I pulled my cell phone off the deep-chested entry table and tried to will my hands to stop shaking enough to dial the number.
“Oh, no, Jack, no,” I whispered through gritted teeth when the call went straight to his voicemail.
I dialed again. “Shit. No. Please, no,” my voiced squeaked as I paced back and forth. With my right hand barely sturdy enough to hold the phone to my ear and my left hand tucked tightly under the opposing armpit, I filled my fingers full of skin, pinching down as hard as possible in an attempt to divert the pain of feeling my heart rip apart.
Officer Grady extended his arms and shifted his feet each time I shuffled near him, initiating words of comfort, but quickly realizing his efforts were powerless when dealing with someone who’s rapidly sinking in the quicksand of denial.
Finally, he stepped into my path, and with a tight grip on both slumping shoulders, softly turned me around to face him.
The fact that I had bitten entirely through a small portion of my bottom lip seemed to startle him, and while the stream of blood continued to remain constant, he gently took control of my breakdown. “Mrs. Whitman,” he whispered. “Who should I call? You need someone with you right now. Please, is there someone I can call for you?”
This time a small and childlike “Yes,” escaped through my bloody lips. I felt like it shouldn’t take so much effort to say one little word, a word we use a hundred times a day, but it was hard and completely exhausting. It was as if the sound from this three letter word had held my lips apart just long enough for my soul to escape.
He pulled out a bandana, applying pressure to my mouth, and in exchange, I handed him my cell phone with the contact name Jamie lit up in blue letters on the screen. Someone would need to tell my brother-in-law that his older brother Jack was dead.
As Officer Grady took the phone from my hand, a tiny, purple orb slowly drifted past my line of vision and across his chest. Confused, my eyes followed the speck, only to see it suddenly multiply a thousand times, and then each orb began to swell. The purple color faded to the outside of the circle and a bead of light replaced the center like the dimmer switch on an LED bulb. Trying to blink the beacons away only seemed to make them brighter, and within moments the fluorescent illumination blinded me. The weight of my body became too burdensome for my legs, even my hair felt heavy. As if I were riding on a roller coaster and cresting the highest peak, I closed my eyes to the brightness just as I felt myself plummeting to the ground.
My name is Andrea Whitman and those were the last moments of this life as I knew them.
Karyn Rae is an emerging Romantic-Suspense author. Her debut novel, The Achilles Heel was released in May 2014. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America, and the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild. Karyn resides in Missouri with her husband, son, daughter, and chocolate lab- Augusta Mae.
The first part of Karyn’s life was spent in the South, and the last fifteen years have played out in the Midwest, but she’s still holding on to a shred of her Southern roots. She is a wife, mother, daughter, and sister who has made it her mission in life to carve out a career for herself, while keeping the husband and the children happy.
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