Shadow Heart

Shadow Heart

by Pamela Taeuffer


Publisher Open Heart Press

Published in Romance/New Adult & College, Romance/Contemporary, Literature & Fiction/Women's Fiction, Literature & Fiction/Contemporary, Romance, Literature & Fiction

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Kindle version giveaway on Amazon 4/20 - 4/23/16

Book Description


This story focuses on a woman who has come of age and begun to realize the fears she's carried through her childhood from growing up in a family battling alcoholism. They have impacted her severely when forming relationships. Abandonment, devaluing, fear of everything good ending—all are why Nicky Young has been happy to stand back in the shadows, watching and observing and stepping out only when safe.

Sample Chapter


My name is Nicky Young.

I have been married thirty-five years. I've struggled to find intimacy and learn to trust a man who traveled the same journey—a glorious soul and kindred spirit.

Our friends and family have thrown us an anniversary party to help celebrate our milestone. Just for now, I’ve stepped back to have a moment alone.

Children and grandchildren play games, yell with sweet, young voices, and run throughout the house and yard. Parents and grandparents talk with each other while they watch attentively, listen, and wear big smiles. Longtime friends enter and exit with their own conversations.

My husband and his friends are no doubt talking about the old days, standing on the deck with a refreshing drink in their hands, while every few minutes a grandchild tugs on grandpa's pant leg.

It’s a circus I’d dreamed of and always welcomed. In my early years I never thought I’d be able to overcome my fears of being abandoned or have a deep connection with another person.

No one has noticed I am standing in a doorway by myself, remembering back to the year I found my first love. I was eighteen. With his gentle push, my heart opened and I was able to embrace love, intimacy, and raw, sensual passion.

He gave me the rare gifts of learning what it was to ask for what I wanted without the fear of rejection.

I opened my heart more deeply to friends, forgave my parents for their sickness, embraced my sister through all of our twists and turns, and ultimately became a more loving person.

This story is about how I learned to let others close. I stepped out from my shadows of fear, and into the light of what happened when I took a risk—a risk that changed everything.

And in the end?

I dared to be loved. It opened every door.

I begin my story from the journals I kept as a child.

Writing in them was the way I had tried to make sense of my father’s alcoholism and how it affected me. When my sister and I experienced his rage and broken promises, it set the stage for the way we handled our emotions. We built our protection strong and thick around our hearts.

I learned that by staying hidden and passive, I could avoid Dad's misguided attention and anger. I hid by staying busy, doing anything to stay away from the house. When younger, I'd gained weight so I wouldn't draw the attention of others.

They were rituals that worked for me—until those things just didn't work any longer.


Nicky here: This is a young woman’s coming of age story and family saga. It's a journey to intimacy and trust, someone who is ready to love herself after surviving her family’s alcoholism.

This is my story of how I learned to forgive, embrace friendship, and stopped hiding from my fears. This is my story of how my heart started beating and I found love.

Each book in this series ends in a cliffhanger and there is a very important reason why.

Hang in there.

Not knowing has been an important part of my life.

Chapter 1

Early Lessons

I always prayed the same way at night: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Please bless my mother, father, sister, everyone in the world, and me. And please make my father quit drinking.”

As a child growing up in a family battling alcoholism, this is what I know:

Something bad is coming; it always does.

I can’t ask for help; I’m too ashamed.

I can’t talk about our secrets; no one understands.

I can’t trust anyone; they always leave.

The evening begins when I am eight and my sister, eleven. We were trying to finish dinner before he'd unraveled. Within minutes, I’m hiding under the dining room table, cowering; praying that he won’t see my hiding place.

I hear my sister face the wrath of our father’s anger.

My small body curls into a ball.

It’s as if the desert storms from our mother’s childhood have come to us, their thunder and lightning crashing. I pray, "Please, God, protect me from the monster in my house.”

Tonight, we try to avoid our dad’s drunkenness and count down the minutes until Mom comes home from her night shift at the Juvenile Hall in San Francisco.

These evenings occur frequently in our house. Jenise and I are caught in a spider's web, wrapped in our father’s terrible addiction.

We prepare for the coming terror.

My sister has refused to eat a scoop of creamed corn, given to us for dinner without a second thought of how we hated it.

Once he’s done with Jenise, I know he’ll turn to find me.

I clench my teeth in fear. I'm shaking under the dining room table.

Once he’s done . . . he’ll look for me. Once he’s done . . .

Fear weaves into my silent prayers.

Before I escaped to the safety of my hiding place, before he tore his belt from the loops of his pants, before my sister told him that she wouldn’t eat creamed corn, we had been waiting for dinner. I don't understand how asking for something different could cause my father to explode.

As I sit in the blue vinyl booth in our kitchen, my sister in my mother’s chair, I can hear his silent screams; wretched, twisted, and in complete despair.

“How come he’s mad at us?” I whisper. “What did we do?”

“Shh,” she says to me, putting her finger to her lips.

It's like sparks are snapping on his body, irritating his skin. A red angry face takes the place of the genius I once admired. He paces . . . back and forth . . . back and forth.

His silence is deafening.

Does he only care about his whiskey? Why won’t he choose us over his bottle? How come he won’t stop?

Sometimes I feel like we’re pushed to the edge of crazy. We’re in his way, and he hates us for it! Oh, God, our father hates us.

Jenise and I make faces when Dad opens a can of creamed corn for dinner. I’d seen leftovers in the refrigerator and other cans of food stacked in the cupboard; food we liked. He knows my sister and I hate his choice, but that doesn’t matter.

I take a quick moment and wonder . . . has he done it on purpose?

As the opener tears at the metal of the can, grinding and jaggedly twisting it in a circle, we sit and wait. We quietly understand: we’re going to bed hungry. But we also know tomorrow Mom will reward us with presents for being good girls. It might be a new doll, treating us to a movie, or her favorite–bringing home sugary snacks.

I imagine the taste of my favorite candy bar—milk chocolate and caramel over a cookie. If she brings me a quart of chocolate chip ice cream, that’s just as nice.

“Yuck,” I say to myself as I force down a spoonful of the cold canned corn. I try to please Dad and get out of the kitchen as fast as I can.

We swallowed everything that way—one spoonful at a time to survive.

Jenise isn’t eating! Why won’t she eat?

“Jenise,” I whisper. “Eat something.”

She refuses to give in. My sister isn’t like me—opting for peace at any price.

She doesn’t seem to hear his feet pounding the kitchen floor, waiting, angry, probably counting down the minutes until he sends us to bed.

I watch in dread, afraid for what’s coming. Her little body turns rigid, bracing for what we both know will be a storm. She plants her feet firmly on the black and white squares of linoleum.

“We don’t like creamed corn,” my sister says stubbornly.

This night, there’s no protection from the eruption lying just under his surface. It’s ready to boil, burst, and punish.

“Eat it now.” My father's voice is detached and cold.

My sister will not back down. My father’s face turns brilliant red. His demons, the ones I’ve seen before, overtake him.

Perhaps my father’s anger came from the disappointment of failing as a parent. Maybe somewhere deep inside he was hiding, protecting his vulnerability, still the nine-year-old boy who wasn’t soothed when his father died.

Maybe it was the guilt that consumed him when he looked in the mirror and saw a young man who refused to stay home with a mother who sought relief from her life through pain pills. Instead of facing that, he joined the U.S. Army. Did that finally tear his heart into pieces? Did he feel guilty about leaving her? Or worse, did he feel that by him leaving, he'd helped to make her dependent and addicted?

Whatever the reason, tonight, his flash ignites. I watch, terrified, as his flushed face knots up in hatred because we stand between him and his liquid candy.

Keeping my screams pressed down, I hold my hand over my mouth, watching my protector, my Dad, take the back of Jenise’s head and shove her face hard into the bowl of creamed corn.

She lifts her head slowly and turns to the side after he takes his hand away.

I freeze.

Where's our father?

Jenise looks at me.

Her shock mixes with the corn that drips off her nose.

Her eyes burn with fury as she gasps for air.

Immediately, my defenses click in and I detach.

My father’s demon swirls around us, come to possess every breath we take. I avoid looking at the monster in our kitchen. I’m terrified he’s going to hurt us—badly.

I slip into an altered state.

Instead of witnessing the physical act of violence itself, I notice the small details around me.

The color of the wall is a rich yellow like the rose I once saw blooming in the backyard. The corn dripping down Jenise’s face, matches the paint.

The white, porcelain bowl that just held my sister's dinner rocks back and forth on the kitchen table, the aftermath of my father's violence still evident in its movement.

The spoon that once rested by the bowl of corn has fallen to the floor with a light clink.

My sister’s blazing, hazel eyes squint and blink. The color of butter stains her white shirt.

The sky blue of the vinyl booth distracts me along with the white rope of leather ribbing that seams it. A few years earlier, I’d taken a knife and sliced it, making neat and orderly cuts about an inch apart. They began at my father’s seat and ended to my sister’s spot.

Maybe I did it to symbolically cut myself away from the yelling, terror, and disgust. Perhaps even then, I was trying to separate from my family—anywhere seemed better than being at the dinner table where inevitably we’d end up in some argument.

Everything moves in slow motion, except when my father takes his belt from the loops in his pants—that move is so quick, it seems blurred to my eyes.

One half of my mind knows I’m entrenched in the trauma, swirling in craziness. The other half is somewhere in the shadows, as I numbly observe. By drifting away and changing my focus to the incidental details around the violence, I escape. I protect myself from seeing the out-of-control man in our house; reluctant to accept he was once my kind and loving father.

I can’t face the equation: my dad + alcohol = stranger.

Even at eight-years-old, I know my family is different. Associating violence with my dad? It’s too terrible for me to fully absorb. As the belt slaps my father's hand and the rocking bowl of comes to rest on the floor, I ask myself more than once, Is this punishment normal? Isn't it too . . . much?

Letting the colors, sounds, and wandering thoughts fill my mind; I am shielded with a veil that offers me the briefest of interludes, allowing me to cope.

Jenise gets up from the table without emotion. She starts to walk out of the kitchen. Seemingly calm and defiant, she looks straight ahead, ignoring the shouting—and the belt—in my father's hand.

“Look at him,” I scream silently. “Tell him you’re sorry.”

His face twists.

I can see his rage.

She’s going to be sorry for standing up to him.

As the darkness takes him over, Dad snaps the whip, lashing Jenise with his belt again and again and again.

“Run, Nicky, run!” The voice inside me comes to life, finally pushing my body to react.

I scoot off the blue triangular booth, crawl under the kitchen table, and run to the dining room. I find a hiding place behind some boxes under the long mahogany table.

My heart beats hard.

The blood pulses loudly in my ears and pounds inside my face.

I know he can hear me. When he finds me I'm next to feel the sting of the belt.

Slowly and methodically, the man who once loved me, the one person who is supposed to protect me, disappears. Behind the boxes, I watch everything. My father still whips my sister. She is helpless and cannot escape; her body stumbles and falls as the belt strikes her. Jenise screams high-pitched sounds of terror. I haven’t ever heard this voice come from her.

I stay frozen and pray. Please don’t let him find me, please don’t find me . . .

Jenise falls.

She sees me peeking over the boxes.

For the first time since his rage began, I see the fear and pain on her face. She shrinks to become as small as possible, her once tall and erect posture beaten down. She could point me out and complain that I didn’t eat my dinner either, making the belt come my way. Instead, she takes the pain for both of us. Stumbling and rolling over, her soft belly exposed, she tries to surrender to his fierceness.

He whips her again.

“Get up!” he screams.

Down the hallway and up the stairs she runs, my father following her, determined to make her sorry she challenged him.

Finally, Jenise’s bedroom door slams.

The whipping stops.

I hear her sobbing.

At least she’s safe. At least now he'll leave her alone. It’s better when we’re left alone.

In many ways, we were alone.

Even though I escaped the physical consequences that night, I didn’t escape the mental ones. My mother arrives home and I come out of hiding, but only in body.

Did we talk about what happened? I can’t remember. If we did, there was no comforting. Mom’s arms never surrounded us, nor did her words give us any reassurances of being safe or that even with all that had happened, we were loved.

The constant pounding of my father’s drunkenness forced Jenise and me to grow up fast. We became skilled at the techniques of surviving our home, especially when we entered high school and were more independent.

But when I was eight-years-old, the only ways I knew to survive were to run, hide, or detach, hoping the madness stopped before it crushed me.

And I ran, and I ran, and I ran, and I didn’t stop running for years.


Excerpted from "Shadow Heart" by Pamela Taeuffer. Copyright © 2014 by Pamela Taeuffer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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