Book 9: A Bulwark Anthology
Date Published: September 30, 2019
Publisher: Chelshire, Inc.
Reporter Dayna Dalton’s reputation has been ruined since birth. The daughter of wild child, Becky Dalton, is expected to follow her mother’s footsteps; never given a chance to prove she’s different. Dayna’s been in love with Clay Finnes since she was a teenager. Her unrequited love for Sheriff Finnes leaves her empty. He’s happily married and unavailable. Instead, Dayna finds herself stuck in the revolving door of bad relationships. But this is Bulwark, Georgia, a town where strange things are always happening. Dayna is doomed to this loveless life until she can find someone who will appreciate the depth of her character. Can she overcome her fears and look beyond her own perceptions to accept a greater love?
*Contains Sexual Content*
“The devil is in the details.”
It was a steady beep that woke her. Dayna struggled to open her eyes. Her lids were heavy, as if they had been glued shut. She panicked for a minute, thinking she might have died and they had sealed her eyes. She lifted a hand to rub her face and felt the tug of something tethering her. She pulled, then moaned from the sharp pain near her elbow.
Brisk hands tucked her arm under a sheet next to her side. She turned to find Jenna Finnes adjusting an IV line.
Their eyes met, and Jenna said in a flat tone, “Don’t yank the IV out.” She walked over to a whiteboard, erased someone’s name, and printed her own, her face grim.
Dayna cleared her throat. Before she got any words out, Jenna spoke without turning around. “They brought you in last night. Minor abrasions. Sprained ankle, nothing serious.” She turned around, and her face held no warmth. “Whoever you were rolling around in the woods with left you there.”
“I wasn’t…” Dayna coughed. Her throat hurt when she spoke. Jenna poured her a cup of water.
“Whatever.” Clay’s wife shrugged. “You were out for a long time. There’s a bump on your head, but the CAT scan was negative.”
Dayna took the water with one hand. The other cautiously touched a tender bump on the side of her skull.
“When can I get out of here?” Dayna asked.
“They’re not going to let you drive home, not that your car is here anyway. The doctor will give you more information when he stops by.” Jenna walked toward the door.
“Jenna,” Dayna called after her, “who brought me in?”
“Sherry and Terence found you.” Jenna answered without looking at her.
Dayna could feel hatred emanating from the rigid stance of the nurse’s body and closed face. She could not stop herself from calling her name again. “Jenna?” Jenna turned, her eyes unfriendly. “How’s Clay doing?”
Jenna pulled open the door and left without another word.
Dayna let her head fall back on the pillows. For all that Jenna had a sterling reputation, she was no Florence Nightingale. The pillows were flat and water had spilled, making the coarse sheet both damp and uncomfortable. Jenna hadn’t even asked if she could bring Dayna something for her aching head.
Tears filled Dayna’s eyes and slid down the sides of her face. “Stop that damn self-pity,” she admonished herself.
Outside, the overcast sky cast a dark shadow over Bulwark. Wind whipped the branches of the trees. It didn’t take a forecaster to know a storm was brewing.
Dayna’s stomach rumbled noisily. The bedside table was just out of her reach. While her clothes and purse were nowhere to be seen, her phone lay on the surface of the table. It buzzed, the noise making Dayna jump, reminding her of every ache and bruise. She stretched, her sore muscles protesting. Her fingers spun the phone in a circle, the momentum forcing it to fall onto the side of the bed.
It was the editor of the paper, Howard Bresen.
“Yes?” Dayna picked up the phone.
“What happened to you?” Howard’s brusque voice demanded.
“Nothing. I saw a wolf and followed—”
“You tie one on again? No wolves in this part of Georgia. Everybody knows that, babe.”
Dayna hated when he called her that. She took a steadying breath and tried to keep the resentment from her voice. “I know what I saw.” Did she? She shivered, thinking of those strange pupils. Dayna opened her mouth to say something, then snapped it shut. She touched the tender spot on her head. She banged her head. That explained it, didn’t it?
“Yeah, you and half the population of Bulwark must be on LSD or something.”
“I don’t use drugs, Howard.”
“No matter, Dayna. I need an obit on JB Straton by tonight. It’s going on the front page. But if you’d rather argue with me, I can find someone else to do it.”
Dayna sat up, her head pounding, but she ignored it. The front page. “No, I want to write it. Can you send someone to pick me up? I have to get home.”
Howard growled that he didn’t have a staff of chauffeurs at his disposal. Then the phone grew quiet.
“Listen, babe, you didn’t see a wolf.”
“Howard, I know what I saw.” She paused, then finished, “I want to write a story about it.”
“I said you didn’t see a wolf. Got it?” Howard’s voice was stern.
If he was this way about the wolf, he’d go nuts if she mentioned the man with the blood-red eyes. For sure, that made no sense. It had to be a hallucination.
Dayna sat mute for a minute. When she opened her mouth, her boss added, “You want that front page or not? I won’t offer it to you again. No wolf. I want a nice tribute to a stand-up guy.” He mumbled something to someone in his office and said loudly, “Okay, I’m sending Lemuel. He’ll pick you up in an hour.”
“I have to get the doctor to release me,” she replied, her mind already forming the opening paragraph about JB Straton.
“You’ve got one hour!” He hung up the phone.
Dr. Kent entered the room as the phone went dead.
“I have a deadline,” she told him, her palm outstretched in an appeal.
Dr. Kent had kind eyes. He was new to the town and had a reputation for being both warm and friendly to everyone he met. He sat on the edge of the bed and patted her hand. “How do you feel?”
“I’d feel better in my own home,” Dayna said with an edge of impatience.
“Uh-huh,” he said, shining a light into her eyes. He rotated her head, asking if anything hurt.
“Just a little sore,” she assured him.
He lifted the covers, then picked up her ankle. He had gentle hands with long, elegant fingers. His touch was cool and efficient. It calmed her.
“It’s not broken. Stay off it for the rest of the day,” Dr. Kent said while he wrote notes on a chart. She noticed he was left-handed and watched his hand curl unnaturally with the pen as he wrote.
“You’re releasing me?” Dayna asked hopefully.
“Are you asking or demanding, Miss Dalton?” He smiled.
Dayna grinned back, and the room was decidedly toastier than when Nurse Jenna Finnes was there.
“I have to write an article about JB Straton.”
Dr. Kent’s face darkened. “He was a nice guy. Helped me out just a few days ago. I ran into some trouble when I was jogging.” Dr. Kent caught himself and changed the subject quickly. “Well, no matter. It’s not exactly a tragedy. He was old.”
“Isn’t all death a tragedy?” Dayna asked.
“No.” He shook his head. “Not really. When a person is old or infirm, sometimes it’s a blessing.”
“I can understand the age part, but the infirm?”
“When a person can’t be healed or they are incurable, it may be for the best. Sometimes they want to go, as if they’ve finished their use here.”
“I thought your job was about saving lives,” Dayna said.
Dr. Kent looked up, his blue eyes piercing. “I assure you, Miss Dalton, I do everything within my power to save lives. It’s not always up to me.”
“Then who is it up to?” Dayna asked, her chin tilted.
He looked at her as if weighing how to answer. “That’s something I wrestle with all the time. I think that when it’s someone’s time, it’s their time to go.”
The reporter came to life in Dayna’s head. “Where do you think they go?”
“Who knows? The Elysian Fields, Heaven...”
“Hell?” Dayna asked.
“I don’t believe in Hell,” he said, then added, “Sometimes I think hell is here.”
“Well, that’s profound.” Dayna reached for her bag to get a pen, realizing she had neither. She stopped moving and looked up at him. “What makes you say that?”
Dr. Kent looked out the window, his face distant. “Sometimes life is torment. I equate torment with hell.”
“Are you tormented?” Dayna asked softly, not wanting the moment to end.
Dr. Kent stood completely still, as if he was thinking of a way to answer. He shook his head as he looked at her. “No, I never said that.”
Dayna opened her mouth to ask another question, but he silenced her with a response.
“Stay off your foot for a few days.” He resumed writing notes on her chart. “You should be much better by tomorrow. If you have any vision issues or headaches”—he paused and added—” or strange thoughts, come back to the hospital immediately.”
He glanced out the window again, his eyes far away. Dayna looked in the direction of his gaze. He was staring, lost in thought, at the new diner that had opened recently. There was something going on here. She’d give her new Louis Vuitton bag to get to the bottom of that story. Now wasn’t the time, though. She needed that front page and to gain her boss’s trust to give her more leeway.
The blood-red eyes flashed in her mind, and she crushed the thoughts ruthlessly. She needed to get moving.
“Dr. Kent?” she prodded. “Can I leave now?”
He nodded absently. “Weather’s picking up. You know, I moved here because I hated the climate in New England.”
Well, that was strange, she thought. Neat change of subject. He was well skilled at diverting attention from things he didn’t want to discuss.
“Yes,” Dayna agreed, watching him. “We hardly had a summer last year.”
They both muttered, “Global warming,” at the same time. Dayna laughed. The doctor shrugged and moved to the door.
He turned around.
“Has anyone said anything about seeing any wolves around town lately?”
“Wolves?” He shook his head.
“They’re extinct here. Why? Are you seeing wolves?” He looked at her closely.
“No, of course not. It’s just that there have been reports from several locals.”
“Bulwark has its share of crazies. I wouldn’t believe everything you hear,” Dr. Kent said as he left the room.
A different nurse arrived to unhook her IV. She handed Dayna a plastic bag containing her clothing and purse. Dayna dressed as quickly as her bruised body allowed. She opened the door to her room and walked into the hall.
Dayna walked furtively to the intensive care section at the end of the corridor. She waited until an orderly flashed his identification card to open the old wooden swinging doors. Trout Parker turned around and smiled at her when he let her follow him through the entrance.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” he told her, his voice low, his eyes raking her body. “Heard you went out with Skippy Benson.” He leered at her. “Maybe you want to go for a drink with me?”
Dayna shook her head. “Sorry, I’m kind of busy right now. I’m visiting an old friend,” Dayna finished with an edge of defensiveness in her reply.
Trout laughed and said slyly, “Sheriff Finnes is in the last room on the left.”
He pointed down the corridor and didn’t move. “You know he’s back with his wife, Dayna, but like I said”—he held his arms open wide, a wolfish grin on his face— “I’m available.”
“Yes, um...thanks, Trout. I’ll remember that.”
She felt his eyes follow her to the end of the corridor. That guy gave her a healthy dose of the creeps.
Dayna walked close to the wall. There was a window outside the room, and she could see Clay in the hospital bed. He was hooked up to machines, a bandage around his head. The bed was elevated, and Dayna could see he was awake. She touched the glass separating them.
The curtain that surrounded the bed twitched. Jenna walked in holding a cup of applesauce in one hand, a spoon in the other. Her cold eyes locked on Dayna, and with a sneer, she pulled the curtains across the window.
About the author:
Brit Lunden is a prolific author who’s written over 50 books in assorted genres under different pen names. Bulwark was her first effort in adult fiction and was chosen by several of her fellow authors as the basis for a new series, A Bulwark Anthology. Using her characters, they are creating new denizens in spin-off stories to this bizarre town. Brit Lunden lives on Long Island in a house full of helpful ghosts.