My Little Runaway
written by
Maddux & BrokenFirePen

Chapter One

On evenings when the weather was nice and just before sunset, I treated myself and Tru to a long, leisurely walk along the stretch of beach in front of my coastal home. Tru liked the walks because he hated being cooped up in the house while I was at work all day. I liked the walks because the fresh air and scenery provided a new perspective for me after being cooped up in a stuffy office all day.

I put on the jacket that I had worn to work over top the white button-up I'd also worn, sans tie and a few of the top buttons unfastened. The cool sea breezes that tempered the evenings in the spring warranted the extra layers.

"You ready to go, Tru?" I asked the rough-looking gray and bearded schnauzer. He huffed loudly, not quite a bark. His little toenails clicked over the hardwoods all the way to the kitchen door. Tru circled the welcome mat, impatiently waiting for me to attach the leash at his collar and let him loose for a bit of controlled freedom.

Tru never appeared very pleased at anything we did. The way his fur fell over his eyes made him look like he was wearing a deep, angry scowl all the time. It was only when his stub of a tail waggled a bit that I knew he was happy. Tru was stand-offish when it came to interacting with me. He was almost curt with his mannerisms, always watching me with a wary and calculative gaze.

"You're just a stubborn mutt, aren't you?" I asked the dog as I affectionately scratched around his perky ears. After Tru showed up in my life, I had to do a little research to find out what kind of dog he was. I'd never had a pet when I was a child; I was completely ignorant when it came to dogs, so I turned to the Internet for help. He looked to be a standard schnauzer, and whoever owned him as a puppy docked his tail, but left his ears natural. I'd never taken him to the groomer before, but he was starting to look a little shaggy, and I was thinking his looks and demeanor may benefit from a good haircut. I was thankful for the fact that he didn't really shed and he didn't have a doggy smell.

The sweet ocean air beckoned us both as we stepped out on the deck that led to the water. Tru pulled against the leash, trying to drag me down the last few steps. He loved to explore the sands and chase the birds, and sometimes he'd find a small crab to dig up.

The evening sun fell directly in line with the never-ending stretch of beach, setting right in my eyes. As the cool wind whipped at my hair and clothes, the sun touched my skin with a tentative warmth.

I smiled at people that passed by me. Most were beach combing, looking for shells and the like. Some even had metal detectors, diligently seeking hidden treasure long lost by a forgetful pirate.

After a quarter-mile into our walk, I noticed a girl several yards in front of me. I usually shied away from wandering women on the beach; nine times out of ten they were serious trouble. The girl had on baggy, wide-leg jeans. She carried her shoes in one hand, and her hair, long and unbound, flowed freely with the breeze around her head and shoulders. She looked to be a child, possibly in her late teens. I didn't look at her as we passed each other. I'd learned in my life that ignorance was bliss when it came down to certain things.

Tru and I finished our typical one mile trek and then headed back for home. The sun was falling fast and the evening was turning cool quickly. The beach had cleared of human life drastically, as I met no one for a good distance.

That is until the long-haired girl crossed my path again. This time, I did allow myself a look; it would only be the polite thing to do, to acknowledge her presence. I was curious as to why she was out here all alone, and it being on a school night — more than likely.

My feet faltered in the heavy sand when my eyes met with her face. She was deathly pale, stark white, in the falling twilight. The paleness of her countenance made for the stunning background to the gruesome purple and black bruise she was sporting over the whole of her delicate left cheek.

I felt strange — I felt angry as I looked, stared, really, at the damage that had been done to her, this tiny, harmless slip of a girl. As we drew closer to each other, I noticed her slightly smiling down at Tru. Then her haunting eyes flickered up to mine. She immediately rolled her head away and to the side, allowing her long, dark hair to fall over the left view of her face, effectively hiding herself from me.

She scurried down the beach, like a startled squirrel, her head hanging down. I stared after her, wanting to call her back to me — but my breath clotted up inside my chest and no sound came out of my mouth. Just stay away, don't get involved, a loud, uncaring voice piped up in my head.

I walked the rest of the way home, uncomfortable with the situation. I sent up a prayer that the girl would find help, since she obviously didn't want anything to do with me.

There it was again. That eye-sore of a vehicle. It's not like I'd usually take notice of something so arcane, but the truck stood out to my eye every time I saw it — which was quite frequently, lately. I had seen it parked in the public beach access lot located near my house. It was bulky and old and rusted out in places. It was a bright, chalky red, and was hard to miss. This was the only reason I took note of the truck; it had been sitting in the public lot every evening when I come home and every morning when I left for work, but always parked in a different spot. Nobody was on the beach that often. Not even me, and I owned beachfront property.

There wasn't anything to do about it, really… but I saw it every day for two weeks in a row.

Just as I saw that beat-up girl on the beach, every evening, during my twilight walks.

That evening, I was determined to talk to her. My focus on the paperwork in front of me blurred as I thought of her and what I could possibly say to her. The bruises on her face had lessened slightly over the last few days. It never failed that when I did lay eyes on those marks on her milky skin, a terrible, burning fire was lit within me. I burned with anger at who had abused her; I all but burned with the desire to find the asshole who did it and break his face wide open for touching her.

These thoughts were irrational for me, mainly because I wasn't a violent man. I knew nothing about her, yet I felt this… fierceness, some barbaric nature that lay dormant within me to simply grab her up, drag her to my home, lock her away and protect her, and keep her safe from any and all harm.

Very irrational, Cullen.

As the day wore on, the more irrational I felt. I was antsy, impatient, and ready to leave and get out on the sand so I could see her. Just to make sure that she was safe.

This time, I was the one pulling Tru out the door and down the steps and onto the beach. He blew out an indignant doggy huff at being treated so atrociously. I silently apologized for my over-eager behavior and let him take the lead.

It was another beautiful spring evening. Clouds in pretty pastels swirled overhead, dancing and changing just for the setting sun. I took a second to enjoy it before searching the face of every person I passed on the beach. A deep, panicky feeling sprouted in my chest the farther I walked. There was a great need in me to find her, and to find her quickly.

Tru was beyond aggravating as he started pulling against the leash, growling and barking. He pulled harder and harder the closer we got to a particular area.

"What the hell is wrong, you crazy mutt," I grumbled as he continued to pull me to a set of weathered stairs leading off the beach. I recognized them as the steps to the public access parking lot. Tru quieted momentarily, sniffing the bottom step with meticulous care. He snorted and shot up to the plank walkway. The leash ripped out of my hand at the force with which Tru pulled. I cursed the dog, but had no choice but to follow at a run. Tru stopped every so often to bark at me, looking to see if I was behind him, and then would continue on. I was getting mad at the damned little nuisance and started threatening to turn him in to the pound.

I rounded the last corner of the insanely long boardwalk, and saw Tru run up to that old, chalky red pickup truck.

I was a bit dumbfounded when he ran to the driver's side door and started rearing back on his hind legs. I was afraid his toenails were going to leave scratches on the faded, powdery paint as he got closer and put a front paw on the door.

I ran up beside the truck and grabbed for his leash, ready to jerk him away. I was completely embarrassed that my dog was behaving like a freaking lunatic. And about to damage someone's property, no less!

I froze when I heard a muffled sound come from the open window of the truck. It sounded like crying or someone in pain. I carefully peeked inside and was stunned by what I saw. The girl… the small, sweet girl with the bruised face was hunched over in the driver's seat. I reached through the open window and almost touched her. My fingers nearly tangled in her long, silky hair, but I stopped myself. I pulled my hand away and took stock of the situation.

There was a pillow and a rolled up blanket next to her on the bench seat. There was an overstuffed duffel bag on the floor. A cosmetic bag sat on the dash with a tube of toothpaste sticking out through the open zipper.

She was living out of this truck, I was sure of it. It had been in this lot every morning and every night for, at least, the last two weeks. It added up. Or... it seemed to.

I was a bit overwhelmed at the moment. I'd found her, she was here, and just a hand's breadth away.