Her Choice - Excerpt from Chapter One ~

God was not in His heaven that warm summer evening as the freight train lurched up the grade toward the sleepy Texas town of Bandera. If He had been, surely He would have let Death sleep. Unfortunately, the staccato shock of couplings reaching their limit awoke Death.
       Death was alone that evening, which was usual for this backwater run, meandering west through San Antonio to nowhere in particular. Nocturnal travelers had long ago learned there was nothing gained, and everything to lose in the company of creatures such as Death.
       Pressing his tattooed shoulder against the frame, Death forced the heavy door open just as the lights of Bandera snaked into view. As the freight entered the town, clattering through one humble neighborhood after another, Death waited patiently in the shadows nursing his bottle. Finally, taking a long last swig, he grabbed the doorframe and swung his powerful body out into the wind. Landing hard on loose gravel, Death fell cursing onto the roadbed as the train rolled on unconcerned into the night.
       The trip from Huntsville Prison to the park in Bandera had taken most of the day. As Death rose, checking the switchblade in his boot, hunger weighed heavily on his mind. Drawn by the prospect of a hot meal, Death shuffled off through the trees.

Not far enough away, Juan and Maria strolled through the park, as had countless lovers before them. As they walked arm in arm, Maria's thoughts returned to her eventful day, much of which they had managed to spend together. She remembered how she had struggled to be attentive in church and helpful during the midday meal, all the while keeping this most precious part of her life safely within her heart. There was, of course, the unfortunate necessity of lying about her intentions as she escaped to meet with her Juan. Maria disliked deceiving her parents. Nevertheless, she could do little else. She knew Juan would not be welcome in her life until she was old enough to marry, a point her parents had made abundantly clear. Fate, it seemed, had presented her with the classic lover's dilemma: rules she could not live with, concerning a man she could not live without.

Excerpt from Chapter Two ~

As if through a haze, Maria watched the lights flash by. There were strange smells, and sounds--confusing sounds--and voices, voices she could not recognize; but most of all there was pain, more pain than she had ever known. She tried to find the pain, to soothe it, to make it go away, but unseen hands prevented her touch.
       Finally, as if her tears had washed them away, the pain subsided, the flashing lights dimmed, and the voices no longer spoke to her.

       "Have you seen our latest?"
       "You mean the young girl they flew in from Bandera?"
       "Yeah, that's the one. Bandera-Medical thought she was just another beat-up rape victim until they saw all the blood."
       "Thank God they realized she was out of their league in time to AirLife her here."
       "What is she, 17 maybe 18? Jesus!"
       "Too young to have her life destroyed like this, that's for sure."
       "Did you see her face? You can tell she was beautiful, but now ..."
       "It's not just her face that's been ruined."
       "With all that damage it's a miracle she didn't die before they found her."
       "You're not kidding; the doctors don't have a clue how she survived."
       "You know he cut her."
       "Why'd he have to do that, couldn't he penetrate her?"
       "They say he not only cut her hymen, the vicious bastard went deeper inside."
       "What kind of monster would do something like that to a child?"
       "He must have known she could never have children after that."
       "Pray to God she doesn't even try. Just getting pregnant could kill her."
       "I'm sorry, but it sure sounds like some kind of revenge thing to me."
       "That's ridiculous. What on earth could the child have done to deserve something like this?"
       "Nothing, it's just insane."
       "Do they think it was a boyfriend or someone like that?"
       "No, haven't you heard? I understand they found her boyfriend's body at the scene. Apparently, he died trying to protect her. Whoever attacked them was just too powerful I guess."
       "It had to be some rotten bastard passing through. I hope they find him and put him away forever."
       "Not much chance of that. Bandera's full of transients what with the trains coming through at all hours, and the highway."
       "You're right, that son-of-a-bitch's probably halfway to Hell by now."

Excerpt from Chapter Four ~

 ... Maria ignored the pill as long as possible. She had placed it by her chair and there it remained, lying lightly on the table yet heavily on her mind. All day long, there had been nothing but the clock and the pill. The clock's ticking representing life, the pill's silence representing death, Maria's death and that of her baby.
       In the evening, as the time grew near, she sat down in front of the pill. Taking a deep breath, Maria extended a finger to touch it. Slowly she rolled and turned it, seeking the source of its malevolence.
       The room grew dark. Maria began to speak, but not to the pill. She whispered instead, as a mother to her baby. Softly, she spoke of her love and the special places within her heart. She told her baby of her dreams and of her beloved Juan. Finally, she told her baby about the pill, of how it would allow them to be together always, and of how she had asked God to shield her baby from its pain.

It was time ...
       Trembling, Maria reached for the pill and placed it in her mouth.

It was time ...
       The crushing pain awoke Maria, driving her knees into her chest. She tried to scream through jaws clamped shut by waves of nausea. Unable to rise, she slid painfully to the floor and struggled toward the bathroom. The cold ceramic tile chilled Maria through her wet gown as the pungent odor of urine enveloped her. Instinctively, she held her hand over her vagina as she envisaged the baby sliding through her. Unable to pull herself onto the toilet, Maria collapsed to the floor as a crimson pool slowly expanded around her.

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Excerpt from Chapter Fourteen ~

Nearing the end of yet another steamy South Texas afternoon, Kat walked through the doorway and turned toward the elevators at the end of the hall. As she traversed the lengthening beams of light, her heart leapt into her throat. For within the dancing shadows, Kat saw the telltale reflection of someone approaching from Tio's corridor.
       She turned and frantically ran toward her only avenue of escape. Bursting through the men's room door, Kat slipped out of her heels and stepped silently into the nearest stall. Climbing onto the toilet, Kat balanced herself between the partitions, just as Tio and a man, whose voice she did not recognize, entered the room and crossed to the urinals along the wall.
       "So, Tio, what's the problem this time?" the stranger asked.
       "Oh the usual, some bitch over in Accounting got her feelings hurt and wants to hang me out to dry."
       "What is it with you; can't you just 'do' 'em without all that kinky crap?"
       Tio chuckled. "I guess not."
       "Aren't you worried your supervisor will get wind of 'our little sexual problem'?"
       "She ain't gonna find out. I've worked too hard to get where I am to let some skirt screw me up."
       "What're you going to do about this one?"
       "Nothing, she's just blowin' smoke. She knows if she ever said anything, I'd make her regret it for the rest of her short, painful life."
       "You suck," the stranger snarled.
       Tio headed for the door, but then stopped. "What's that smell?"
       Kat cringed and imagined him turning toward her.
       "Jesus Tio, it's a john. What kind of question is that?"
       "No, this is different. It's like perfume, and it seems ... somehow familiar."

Excerpt from Chapter Twenty Seven ~

The automatic timer unlocked the night security gate as Kat drove up to the parking garage. Good, she thought. At least no one's been able to drive in ahead of me. Now if I can just get back out before they open the rest of the building.
       Making her way through the dimly lit halls, Kat smiled as she remembered raising her gown and lying belly-to-belly with Maria the evening before, all in the hope that Maria would feel the baby kick, just as she had.
       When Kat arrived at her desk, she found the medical insurance forms and final paycheck, as expected. There was also an envelope from Amy, emblazoned with the words "I'm Proud of You."
       Kat decided to leave the card for later, slipping it unread into her purse, next to the gun she had never quite learned to use. Had she taken the extra few moments to read the card, she would have learned how pleased Amy was that she had stuck it out. She would also have read Amy's plea not to leave without first notifying Security. But then, Kat was in a hurry.

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