Title: Seeds of Eden
Author: A.P. Watson
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Cover Designer: Regina Wamba
Model: Christine Klein
Editors: Tamara Beard and Beth Williams
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR
A.P. Watson is a contemporary and paranormal romance author who discovered her love for reading at a very young age due to her rural upbringing. She enjoys a variety of genres and authors, from Jane Austen to Charlaine Harris. When she isn’t reading or writing, she loves to dance. A.P. has been an avid pole dancer for several years and thoroughly enjoys the challenging nature of the sport and the thrill of performing onstage. Professionally, she has worked as a registered nurse for several years, and she graduated with a Master of Science in Nursing in 2019. Her goal is to combine her love for aesthetics and skincare by utilizing her Family Nurse Practitioner certification in the field of dermatology. A.P. currently resides in Johnson City, Tennessee, with her adorable rescue pup, Elle.
Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/914065365413127/
Chapter One: Awakening
“No! Please don’t,” I sobbed. Collapsing to my knees, I stole a glance at the man kneeling to my left. The sight of him, bound in chains, was agonizing, and my need to save him intensified with each passing moment. “I’m begging you to spare his life.” My heart felt as if it were being torn asunder. An enormous axe blocked the prisoner’s face from my view, its harsh blade stained with red.
“Who are you to beg anything from me?” A voice sneered at me from the shadows, mocking my very presence.The sound came from the direction of a grand throne looming in front of me, but his face was drenched in darkness.
“There was a time when you would do anything I asked of you,” I answered, my voice shaking.
A shrill laugh echoed off every surface of the great hall. I could see his hands clench the arms of the throne as his nails gouged the gleaming wood. “Unfortunately for you, that time has come to an end.” He lifted his hand and beckoned the masked executioner to proceed.
“No!” I buckled forward, bracing myself with trembling hands. The stone was frigid, shocking. Breath caught in my throat—I was suffocating. The tips of my fingers clawed against the floor as I began scrambling toward the prisoner. If my pleas couldn't free him, my hands would.
“Hold her still!” the man from the shadows bellowed. Someone grabbed my arms from behind. I thrashed wildly, desperately trying to free myself, but the grip was too firm. “And pry her eyes open if you have to. I want her to see this.” His words oozed with triumph and satisfaction. Dread settled in the pit of my stomach, gnawing at my insides. The man kneeling next to me was about to die, his life snuffed out as easily as a candle, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. There was nothing I could do to save him.
“Please, no!” Panic coursed through every inch of me, causing my muscles to convulse violently with the need to act. I couldn’t help but focus on the axe. It lifted, and the man’s face became visible. Brown locks of hair offset the brightest blue eyes I’d ever seen. I wanted nothing more than to stare into those eyes until the end of time, but even as I had the thought, the axe sliced through the air with a whoosh, severing the man’s head from his neck. “No!” I screamed with all the power I could muster, but my plea rang hollow with the finality of the scene in front of me.
I woke up clutching my hand to my chest, fingernails dug into my skin, dotting the area over my heart with tiny crescent moons. Sweat trickled down my arms and neck. “A dream,” I said to myself. “It was just a dream.” I glanced at the clock next to my bed. The bright red numbers glared at me. 6:07 a.m. It was almost time to get ready for school. I collapsed on my pillow in defeat. My dreams had gotten steadily worse over the summer. Every night, they became more detailed. Colors sharpened, smells grew more potent, and the nightmares began to feel more like reality than fantasy. An unrelenting sense of terror riddled my body. I couldn't shake it, couldn't explain it. What was happening to me? I was a normal girl. I should be picking out prom dresses and visiting colleges, not holding myself accountable for the imaginary execution of a mystery man.
Electric blue monarch butterflies fluttered in circles above my head. I exhaled deeply, causing the mobile to pick up speed. As it spun, it morphed into a blurry halo. The jarring sound of my phone’s ringtone cut through the silence of my room. I jumped, answering it quickly and pressed the phone to my ear.
“Hey Caroline,” I whispered.
“Morning! Did I wake you up? You sound out of breath.”
“No,” I answered with a yawn. “I woke up like a minute or two before you called.” I wanted to talk to Caroline about my dream, but I couldn’t let these nightmares dictate my entire existence. At the end of last school year, I let them get the better of me. I started hanging out with my other friends less and less. Caroline stuck with me; she was the only one who knew about the things I saw when I closed my eyes at night. While I knew she was cool with just the two of us hanging out after work every night, I couldn’t make her forgo every social event. Senior year would be different, and I was going to make sure of it. Caroline was going to have enough exciting and amazing pictures to fill up her Instagram account for five years by the time we graduated. “The ridiculous ringtone you programmed into my phone for your contact disrupted the serenity of my room. It nearly gave me a heart attack.”
“Disrupted the serenity of your room?” she asked with a laugh. “I love how you always sound like an SAT prep book when you talk. Seriously, Dr. Sawyer cried when she announced your perfect score on the state writing exam last year.”
“I almost forgot about that!”
“She was so proud,” she replied. “And she practically hugged me when I confessed to her that I’d added a thesaurus app on my phone just so I could look up some of the words you use. It’s like she knew you were a good influence on me.”
“I guess I’m just weird.”
“I like it! Remember the note you wrote me in third grade asking if I wanted to be your friend? In that note, you told me you appreciated my sassy disposition. We were nine then! You have a better vocabulary than most of the English teachers we’ve had. It’s just who you are.”
“That was a killer note,” I agreed. Caroline and I had been best friends since my fateful note in the third grade. From then on, we'd been pretty much joined at the hip. Being an only child could get lonely at times, and she was the closest thing I had to a sister.“So, I’m guessing you called because you want to know what I’m going to wear to school today, huh?”
“It’s the first day of our senior year of high school. Honestly, would you expect anything less from me?”
“Not really, especially since you’ve called me every morning for the last four years to discuss clothes.”
“Wardrobe can make you or break you in high school, Evey!”
“But we don't care what people think,” I countered. I heaved myself out of bed and headed to the opposite side of my room. I needed to stare at my dream board for a minute. Looking at it always made me feel better, especially after having a nightmare. It was covered with pictures of Caroline and me among print-outs of famous monuments. Caroline and I dreamed of traveling the world. One day, we’d see the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, and the Colosseum. I added a picture of the famous Las Vegas sign to the collage. This small town wouldn’t be able to hold us for much longer.
“Of course we don’t.”
“So the point is to look fabulous while not caring?”
“My thoughts exactly,” she replied. “And what can I say? I’m a creature of habit.”
I shook my head and laughed. I walked away from my desk to stand in front of my closet. Any day now, it was sure to bust and spit out a mountain of clothes. Why was it that I could never bring myself to throw anything away? “I’d be a liar if I said I hadn’t noticed. I think I’m going to wear some jeans and that new loose-fitting tank top I got at the mall last week with a pink cardigan.”
“Oh, that sounds cute! I’m going to wear jeans, too, but I think my green button-up shirt will look good with some sandals . . . I'm so excited! I’ve been waiting for senior year for so long,” she said.
“Just think, one more year and we'll be in college! Co-ed dorms, here we come!”
“Somehow I don't see my dad moving me into a co-ed dorm. The thought of us living ten feet away from college boys will probably make him have an aneurysm,” I said with a laugh. “When will you be here to pick me up?”
“Seven thirty. I want to get to school a little early since it’s the first day, and we'll have the dreaded opening assembly.”
“Ugh,” I groaned. “Don’t remind me!”
“I know. Every time Principal Louden goes into his ‘Aim for the Stars’ speech, I have to fight the urge to hurl.”
“Tell me about it,” I replied. “Last year, I thought about performing a makeshift lobotomy on myself with a pen.”
“Let’s not rule that out this year. If the speech goes from awful to agonizing, it might be our only option,” Caroline added, her tone the epitome of seriousness.
“I’ll have my pens at the ready.”
“Okay, I’ll see you soon!”
I trudged from my closet to the bathroom, dragging my hand along the lavender-colored walls. Once I was by the shower, I turned the knob to hot and waited to step in until steam started to rise over the curtain. Warm drops pelted my neck, easing the tension away. As I soaked my hair, I replayed the execution again in my mind. The overwhelming sense of despair permeated my soul and tainted my every thought. I wanted to know the prisoner, wanted to know why he was being killed. His blood was on my hands. The king wanted me to suffer, and the man’s death was my punishment. No matter how many times I had this dream, there was always one thing that stood out in my mind: how utterly real it felt.
But it wasn’t real, I reminded myself. Maybe I had an overactive imagination, or maybe I was mentally insane. Regardless, there had to be a logical explanation for my nightmares. I wanted answers, wanted to know why I saw such things. But at the same time, the unknown held a certain advantage. How could I ever recover if I found out I was crazy? I pushed the thought to the back of my mind. Making it through my last year of high school was more important. I needed to focus on that before I could even start thinking about anything else. Except I did need to put some energy into dating. Caroline was always nagging me to give some of the guys at school a chance. I was definitely overdue for some kind of distraction.
Once my hair was dry and curled to perfection, I started on my makeup. As I finished getting ready, I began to feel more relaxed. Today was the first day of my senior year, and I couldn't let one nightmare ruin it. I was determined to stay optimistic. Throwing on my clothes, I ran my fingers through my tousled curls and headed down the hall for a quick bite to eat.
My feet made their regular route past the living room, curving around the corner into the kitchen. I walked over to mom and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Morning.”
“Good morning! How does it feel to officially be a senior?” She turned from the kitchen counter to pull me into a quick hug.
“Same as last year.” I shrugged. I stuck my head into the dining room and saw my dad sitting at the antique mahogany table reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in his hand. “Morning, Daddy,” I said, sitting in the chair beside him. His dark brown eyes looked at me over the square rims of his reading glasses. His black hair and beard were peppered with gray, while soft lines fanned out from the corners of his eyes. Just as I finished pouring myself a bowl of cereal, my mom handed me a piping cup of coffee.
“Good morning,” he said and smiled.
“What’s going on in the news today?” Dad read our town’s newspaper religiously, though Estill Springs didn’t register as more than a speck on a map of Tennessee. Even the dictionary made for a more fascinating read than the Springs Sentinel.
“A couple of kids spray-painted some stuff at the city park, but that’s about it,” he said with a shrug.
“Why do you even bother reading that? It's not like anything ever happens here.” Grabbing the sugar, I poured a teaspoon into my coffee mug.
“And I like it that way,” he replied, smiling over his drink.
“Oh, Guy, can you believe it? After this year, she’ll be graduating and then she'll be leaving us to go to college.” My mother had her light brown hair pinned on the top of her head, and I could see her gold locket hanging around her neck. It had been a gift from my father when they first started dating. I knew it was her favorite piece of jewelry because she never took it off. Her light green eyes sparkled, and I could just make out the faint lingering of tears in them.
“It seems like just yesterday I was carrying you around on my shoulders.”
“Both of you act as if I just grew up overnight,” I said, shaking my head at them.
“Well, for us, it feels that way,” she answered.
“The schools I'm looking at are still within driving distance. It's not like I'll be moving across the country after I graduate.”
“Wouldn't you rather go to Murfreesboro?” she asked.
“Yeah,” my father added. “You can stay here and go to school.”
“If I didn't know any better, I'd think the two of you were plotting against me.” I laughed. I loved my parents. They'd always been there for me and always would be. I knew a lot of people at school who either hated or barely talked to their parents, but that wasn't the way it was in my family. That thought made me ponder Caroline's suggestion from a few weeks ago. Lately, she’d been encouraging me to talk to my parents about my dreams. At first, I didn’t want to involve them in my drama-filled nightmares. But Caroline and I were at a loss for what was happening to me, and they may have more insight as to why I thought of such horrible things. Besides, didn’t they deserve to know if something was wrong with me?
I could feel my confession forming with each breath I took, but as soon as the courage to tell them surfaced, I stopped myself. What if they blamed themselves for my condition? I could handle nightmares of executions and people being tortured, but I couldn’t bear the thought of causing my parents pain. “We wouldn't dream of it,” he replied with a wink. “Are you working after school today?”
“Yeah, Caroline and I have our regular school shift at Pat's. I should be back by ten though.”
“Is Caroline going to join us for breakfast this morning?”
“Not today,” I replied, answering mom’s question. “We have an assembly this morning so she wants to get there early.”
“Well, you wouldn’t want to miss that.”
I smiled at her, unable to rid myself of the thought that missing the assembly would be a blessing. “Not at all.” Breakfasts like this were what I needed. A few minutes ago, I’d been so close to confessing everything to my parents, I’d almost forgotten the promise I’d made to myself. I was determined to have a carefree senior year, and if ignoring my dreams would help me attain my goal, then that’s exactly what I’d do.
Before we could continue our conversation, two honks sounded from the driveway. That was my signal that Caroline was ready to go. I headed for the kitchen to gather my things.
“Here you go, Evey.” Mom's arm was extended, holding my leather messenger bag. The brown exterior was faded from years of use. It had been my mom's, and like most of my other possessions, it was an antique. “Do you need money for lunch?”
“No, I have some. Love you!” I called to both of them over my shoulder and rushed out the door.
I waved to Caroline as I approached her car. A Chanel compact was perfectly poised in her hand as she applied a layer of lip gloss. Flashing me a grin, she flung the car door open. She drove a beat-up Nissan Sentra, but you couldn’t tell her that. She was one of those people who felt an emotional connection to her car, even if the majority of the white paint was peeling from the hood. Her motto was the car chooses the driver, though she'd inherited this pile of junk when her cousin got a new one for college. I plopped down in the seat, wedging my messenger bag in between my feet.
“Hey, you look so cute!” I told her.
“Thanks, you do too!”
“Can you believe this is our last year at Tulson? I've been freaking out all morning.”
“I couldn't be more excited! We're going to have so much fun in college.”
“I know! I can't wait!”
“This is such a good song. Let’s turn it up!” I reached forward and turned the volume dial on her radio as she backed her car out of my driveway.
“Senior year, here we come!” she shouted. We continued singing along to the radio throughout the drive and, ten minutes later, found ourselves pulling into an empty space in the parking lot. When we got out, there was already a multitude of cars around us. It seemed that, like us, everyone else was ready to start the new school year.
Walking through the side entrance, we filed in line with a mass of other students. Posters decorated the brick walls, advertising afternoon meetings for the French and Spanish clubs. Weaving through the sea of bodies, we headed to the assembly.
A crowd of nervous freshmen hovered at the entrance to the gymnasium, and we squeezed through to find two open seats. The room was buzzing with conversation. Everyone was running around, saying hellos and giving out hugs to all the people they hadn’t seen during the summer. Kristen stood as we approached the bleachers, waving her arms at us. Caroline and I returned her wave, scanning for two empty seats, but every empty slot around her was filled.
“Find us after the assembly!” I shouted to her.
“Okay! I will!” she called out.
We made our way up to the only empty space, which was at the top of the bleachers, and sat with our backs against the gym wall.
As Principal Louden walked to the center of the gym, Caroline and I pulled out our schedules to see which classes we had together. English IV, Economics, World History, and then Physics.
“We have every class together.” I nudged her shoulder.
“I can’t believe it! Which guidance aide did you sweet talk into doing that?” she asked me, looking both pleased and incredulous.
“Who me?” I asked as innocently as possible.
“Yes, now spill.”
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” I replied with a smile.
“I love it when you’re diabolical!”
“Good morning, students!” Principal Louden bellowed from behind a small podium in the center of the basketball court. “How are all of you this morning?” He cupped his hand around his ear, gesturing his eagerness to hear our replies. His shining cheeks mirrored the majority of his head, which was almost entirely bald. “I'm so excited for the start of another school year here at Tulson High! I know we have the best students in the world, and all of you have the potential to do something great with your lives,” Principal Louden continued. “But you have to learn in order to earn that potential. You have to search for success within yourselves!”
“It's like watching a wreck; it's so terrible and yet I can't look away,” Caroline said.
“I guess we can count out getting nominated for ‘most school spirited’ in the senior superlatives,” I replied. When Principal Louden entered the fifth minute of his speech, I couldn’t take any more. “Can I talk to you about something?”
“What’s up?” Caroline asked, leaning in so we could whisper.
“I just wanted to say thanks for sticking with me after all the craziness last year. I know all my drama caused you to kinda stop hanging with our old group and I feel bad about it.”
“You don’t have to apologize for that! We’re besties, it’s what we do for each other.”
“Regardless, I wanted to say thanks and make you a promise that this year will be different. We’re gonna have an awesome senior year!”
“Really?” she asked. I nodded in answer to her question. “A year filled with hot boys and maybe an appearance or two at one of my cousin’s college parties?”
“Whatever you want, I’m down!”
She squealed with delight, wrapping her arms around my neck. “This is gonna be the best year ever, Evey!”
“Only if we can get the hell out of this assembly.”
When Principal Louden finally dismissed the student body to go to their first period classes, everyone jumped out of their seats, rushing toward the gym doors in a mass exodus. “I guess this means we're free to go to English. Thank God!” Caroline shouted.
“Come on, let's go before Louden starts preaching again,” I added, laughing.
“Hey, Evey! Hey, Caroline!”
I turned in the direction of the voice. Kristen stood on the gymnasium floor, waving wildly. “Hey!” I called to her. “Wait for us!” We jumped down the remaining bleachers, catching up with her quickly.
“Did y’all have a good summer?” she asked.
“It was pretty good. We had a few interesting customers in the diner,” I answered. “We missed you!”
“I missed y’all too!”
“What about you?” Caroline asked.
“I know summer was only a couple months, but I felt like I spent an eternity in Maine. My grandmother insisted I spend my entire vacation with her,” Kristen groaned.
“That sucks,” I said.
“Tell me about it! Do either of you have Advanced French first period?”
“Nope, we’ve both got English,” Caroline replied.
“Boo.” Kristen pouted.
“We’ll walk with you to class though!” Caroline added.
As Kristen moved to loop her arm through mine, she hit the strap of my messenger bag, jerking it from my shoulder. The bag crashed against the floor, spitting out my belongings in every direction. Lip gloss, paper clips, hairpins, and a pack of mints scattered around me. “Y’all go on without me. I’ll catch up in a minute,” I said, dropping to my knees.
“You sure? I can stay and help,” Caroline replied.
“Nah, you go on. I’ll see you in a minute. Besides, aren’t you always telling me I carry around too much crap?”
“True.” She grabbed Kristen’s arm. “See you in a bit.”
I scrambled, frantically trying to gather my stuff as quickly as possible. Scooping up a final bobby pin, I was suddenly struck with the strange feeling that I was being watched. By now, I had to be the only soul left in the gym, but when I looked up, there was a stranger leaning against the far wall. His arms were crossed over his chest nonchalantly. My gaze slid upward, halting as his stare met mine. He had the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen. Blood coursed through my veins, causing my heart to pound. The prisoner from my nightmares stood before me, mere feet separating us. He seemed too real to be a wild hallucination. My hands grabbed my bag, swinging it over my shoulder so forcefully that I lost my balance. Turning around, I quickly regained a stable footing, but when I glanced back to where he’d been standing, he had disappeared. Sprinting into the hallway, I searched in both directions, but the man from my dreams wasn’t there. He was gone.