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  • Writer's pictureCathryn Grant

Novel Excerpt: Always Remember

Frank leaned his head against the silken oak boards behind him, allowing the heat of the sauna to settle more deeply into his skin. The pleasure was indescribable, the first real pleasure he’d experienced since his double bypass.

He took a sip of whisky, grinning over the top of the shot glass. “Thanks for this. I know I shouldn’t, but …” He took another soothing swallow of the fiery liquid, the heat of the alcohol a perfect companion to the hot, dry air filling his lungs and the sweat oozing from his skin. Without turning, his gaze fixed on the rectangular container filled with large, smooth rocks, he said, “I appreciate you fixing me up like this. He raised his glass but didn’t drink.

He could feel his brain settling down, easing away from the agitation of being so long away from work—eight weeks, and he was only three weeks into it. The surgery and recuperation were bad enough, but the forced abstinence from the pleasures of a nice whisky, or wine paired with a steak dinner, and the physical release of sex were almost too much. Still, better than the alternative.

Numbness was very welcome right now.

The voice beside him seemed to come out of nowhere, and he wasn’t sure if he’d drifted to sleep for a moment, or his sense of time was distorted by the heat and the whiskey. A little too much whiskey at this point. “I need to—”

He straightened his back, tilted his head to release the tension in his neck, and laughed softly. “No worries. I’m fine by myself for a few minutes. It was inevitable you’d have to go after downing all that water. Like I told you, it doesn’t really prevent dehydration if you piss it all away.” He laughed. It felt good to let out a bellowing laugh.

The sauna door opened and closed. He was alone. He preferred it, actually. Now, his thoughts could wander without being pressed into conversation.

He took another sip of his drink, closed his eyes, and leaned his head back again. The complete muting of distant traffic sounds, shouting children, and the occasional noise of unwanted music drifting over backyard fences was one of the things he’d always loved about the sauna. He wasn’t sure why he’d never built one of his own. Leave it to his son to try to one-up him with the creature comforts of a slick, high-tech home and a rather lavish pool and sauna.

He placed the empty shot glass on the bench beside him and shifted his position slightly. He was proud of Wyatt; he shouldn’t view it as one-upping the old man. He should look at it as evidence of the kid’s success, although he wasn’t a kid by any stretch, heading fast toward his forties.

Frank moved his legs and readjusted the towel around his waist, the only thing between him and the oak bench. The sweat seemed to be pouring faster down his neck and spine, almost like someone stood behind him, splashing warm water over his back.

Straightening his posture didn’t help. In fact, it was worse, because now he couldn’t quite feel the floorboards against the bottoms of his feet. God Almighty, it was hotter than hell. He laughed, then stood. The sudden movement made him feel light-headed, and he pressed his hand against the wall to steady himself. He felt the towel slip, and he grabbed the end and tucked it in more securely.

He stumbled toward the door, feeling as if he wasn’t breathing adequately. What was wrong with him? Was the room truly growing hotter, or was something going wrong with his body chemistry? The edges of his vision were fuzzy and slightly dark. A few shots of whiskey had never hit him like this before. And it wasn’t as if he were a newbie to saunas. He expected the heat, welcomed it, but this was making him feel as if his blood vessels were pumping fire into every cell of his body. He wanted to scream, but he was so damn tired.

Falling against the door, he grabbed the handle and pressed down. The handle moved easily, but the door didn’t open. He shoved his shoulder against the door and leaned harder on the handle. The door moved slightly, but then slipped back into place. He shoved harder. Pain shot through his arm as bone and muscle slammed into unyielding wood.

“Hey!” He rattled the handle. His hands were incredibly weak, and he wasn’t sure his legs were going to support him much longer. The light-headedness was increasing. He threw himself against the door. He wrenched the handle up and down, hearing the latch click open and closed. It wasn’t locked. Why wouldn’t it open? Was he so weak he couldn’t push open a wood door? Of course it was heavy—solid wood, well-sealed to create the perfect interior atmosphere, but he hadn’t had any trouble pulling it open when he’d stepped inside.

He shoved his shoulder against it once more, but it felt like he barely tapped it. He was gasping for air. The heat was so intense he wanted to scream. He wasn’t a child. He wasn’t going to cry for someone to help him; he wasn’t going to … he coughed, the spasms becoming stronger, bile rising to his throat. He couldn’t seem to get air into his lungs. Maybe there wasn’t any oxygen left in this place.

He was delirious; of course there was oxygen. He just didn’t have the strength to draw it into his lungs.

“Help! Please help me. I need to get out.” He slammed his fists on the door, but it felt like he was slapping the wood with a dead fish. “Please. Please … I need …” He’d never experienced heat like this. He was being cooked alive—that dead fish tossed into a pan with a thin layer of sizzling oil on the bottom. He gasped again.

It seemed as if someone was holding the door closed. Was that possible? Did someone hate him so desperately they wanted him to suffocate inside a tiny room that was meant for pleasure, but had now revealed its potential to become a death chamber? The door wasn’t locked, and it wasn’t stuck, because it had moved in the frame. Someone was indeed holding it closed.

Before he could let out a cry of rage, his chest grew tight, his heart squeezed by an invisible force. He pressed his hands against his chest, frantic to keep the organ working. He heard something that sounded like a groan and a faint scream coming out of him. Then, it felt as if his heart exploded. He fell to the floor. Darkness filled his head, then nothing.

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