Beyond Identity by Karrie Roman
Noah Lancaster’s life is a mess. He doesn’t know much about his past or who is parents really were. When he’s beaten on the streets one night while sleeping rough, the attack doesn’t feel like just another random assault on a vulnerable target. Somebody wanted Noah dead. But who’d want to hurt him? He’s a nobody who doesn’t know where he came from or who he truly is.
Harry Cooper wants to launch his career as an investigative journalist by telling the stories of the hardships faced by the homeless. His latest subject was lucky to survive a brutal attack—the mean streets almost swallowing him up like so many others. Noah is a mystery to Harry and it seems to the man himself.
When Noah’s attack brings these two men together, neither could imagine they’re about to be pulled into a mystery one hundred and thirty years old—and half a world away. They’re about to discover a secret someone has already killed once to protect and one that might get them both killed.
Sometimes who you are goes far beyond who you thought you were.
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An Excerpt from Beyond Identity
Noah had been here before. People didn’t have sporadic stints of living on the streets and expect to escape the occasional bashing. An assault could come from anywhere—another rough sleeper, a junkie, pimp, or sometimes from some teenage twat who thought they were being hilarious beating the shit out of someone whose life had already kicked them in the teeth. When someone was homeless, they were either invisible or a goddamn target. The fucking irony.
This was different though. This wasn’t some son of a bitch grabbing the nearest body and laying his fists into them. Noah had been stalked. He’d watched this bastard skip first one and then the next rough sleeper he’d come across in the alley until he’d spotted Noah.
Noah recognised what the man wanted, could tell by the tense set of his shoulders, the white knuckles of his clenched fists. He wanted to make Noah hurt. Sensing danger became heightened when surrounded by it day and night with no locked door to offer even the illusion of safety. So, when he’d first spotted this man, Noah had wanted to run, he’d never wanted to run so desperately in his life. But he had nowhere to go. He’d chosen poorly the night before—a rookie mistake, though he was no rookie to sleeping on the streets.
He’d been so damn exhausted, when searching for a spot to lay his head, he hadn’t cared that there’d been no second exit, no escape route in this alleyway. He’d trapped himself, and a monster had walked right into his trap. But Noah was the one caught in the deadly snare.
Noah could fight. He was scrappy, no finesse, no training, but he could throw a half-decent punch. He was capable of delivering a hit to make his opponent think twice about going after him, and if that didn’t work, he knew how to bite, kick, scratch; hell, he’d go for the balls if he had to. Another thing learned on the street if someone wanted to survive was to use every weapon in their arsenal.
The monster coming for him was tall, not the biggest man Noah had ever seen, but definitely the biggest one he’d ever had to fight. The darkness shadowed his features, but he knew the eyes were bleak, cruel; he’d seen a flash of them in the streetlight near the top of the alleyway, or maybe his imagination was making the man’s physicality as sinister as his demeanour. Noah felt those eyes on him. Glaring. And he wondered what the hell he’d done to this guy to piss him off so badly.
Noah stood, legs wide, shoulders high, chest out, trying to make himself appear as big as possible. From the man’s bearing and manner, it was evident he had next to no chance of scaring this guy off, but he had to try. Any fight he didn’t end up actually fighting was a win.
Much of his time on the street Noah was alone, but never more so than when some fucker decided to take a potshot at him. He didn’t really blame anyone for their indifference. They lived in a don’t-get-involved kind of world and when no one had their back having someone else’s could be very hard.
The man kept coming. He was close now, close enough to allow Noah to see him more clearly. His eyes were as cruel as Noah had thought, but the rest of his face he’d describe as a baby face, soft, almost sweet-looking. His cheeks were puffed as though full of cotton wool, a perfectly shaped snub nose sat above rich red cupid’s bow lips pulled into a sneer. Without more light he was unable to pick accurate skin and hair colour, but he’d guess fair for both.
Noah raked his gaze quickly down the man’s body. He was muscular but not hulk-like. He had no obvious weapon, though from the size of his hands, Noah suspected he’d be able to do plenty of damage with those alone.
He wondered if the man would speak. Sometimes they did, especially the arsehole teens who, for whatever reason, felt the need to justify why they were beating the shit out of their victim, all while bragging amongst themselves about how tough they were.
Faster than he’d have thought possible, the man lashed out. Noah’s head snapped back, and a spray of blood bloomed from his nose, the sickening crack turning his stomach. He hadn’t had a chance to move. The stranger’s speed and accuracy confirming to Noah this man was no amateur—and Noah was in big trouble.
Before his head had even righted, he took a blow to his stomach, the force of it doubling him over. He gasped for air, trying to suck in big gulps through his mouth. The man’s knee connected with his already broken nose before he could catch his breath, and the follow-up blow to the back of his head sent him to his knees.
Noah didn’t stand a chance; he understood how dire his situation was now. This man was a professional—he knew what he was doing.
His vision was darkening, tiny purple-black spots making it difficult for him to see clearly. He lashed out with a fist, connecting with what he thought was the man’s thigh. He wondered if his attacker even felt the blow there was so little power behind it.
The man aimed for his head again, but somehow Noah managed to dodge backwards so the blow was only glancing. Unlike in the movies, Noah knew a normal person couldn’t take too many direct, powerful hits to their head without substantial damage or worse. His focus was scattered, not sharp enough for him to decide what to do about the punches raining down on him though. Did he duck and cover, hope to ride out the attack while protecting his head? Or did he try to get up and fight?
He kind of roll crawled to put some distance between them but the man charged relentlessly after him. Noah kicked out with his leg. He tried to aim for the man’s knee, but his head was spinning worse than the one time he’d had way too much whisky. He wasn’t sure where his foot ended up connecting, but his attacker only grunted and kept coming.
Noah curled into a ball, pulling his head down to his chest and wrapping his arms around the vulnerable area. He felt a sharp hard kick to his back and then another. He tried to roll to his knees, but the bastard wouldn’t relent even a little.
“Hey! You there!” A booming voice called.
Noah’s attacker stopped immediately. He heard running footsteps and glanced out from beneath his arms just in time to see the man sprint down the alley, barrel into a man and woman at the opening, and keep right on running. He didn’t have the energy to move, much less chase after him or even call out for help. He closed his eyes and groaned.
He wasn’t quite sure what happened to time then—it either slowed down or sped right up. He was too out of it to know which. He heard voices, vaguely registered they were occasionally talking to him, but he couldn’t be fucked answering. He wanted to sleep. His eyes were welded shut—they had to be—but lights flashed continually behind them. There were more voices and then some arsehole was poking and prodding at him. It was the strangest thing—as though he was there but wasn’t.
One minute he was curled up on the cold, filthy concrete and then suddenly, he was being jostled around in some kind of vehicle. Ambulance, probably—at least he hoped it wasn’t a cop car. He smelled pee and knew it was his, but he didn’t have the wherewithal to be ashamed. He was amazed he was capable of smelling at all, given he was sure his nose must be shattered in a million pieces. Mixed with the acidic pee was the coppery stench of blood.
Someone was asking him for his name. He thought his name was Noah, but everything was a bit hazy. He couldn’t for the life of him think of his last name.
“Can you tell me your name?” the voice asked again.
“Shh. I’m sore,” he replied, though the words were so slurred he didn’t know if he’d be understood.
He heard a soft chuckle and then that damn voice again. “I know you’re sore, but can you tell me your name.”
“Noah,” he groaned, so the voice would shut up.
“Noah, do you have any allergies?”
Jesus fucking Christ, didn’t this idiot know he just had the stuffing beaten out of him? He didn’t give a shit about allergies. He groaned again. The fucker could take his whimpered reply however he wanted.
“I’ll take that as a no. I’m going to give you a shot of morphine. Have you had anything to drink tonight?”
“Don’t drink.” Fuck, the slurring was getting worse. He shook his head no to make sure this guy would understand him. He felt like his goddamn brain was rattling around in his skull.
“Okay, good. Here we go then, just a small pinch.”
Noah felt a bite—a fucking painful one—in his arse cheek. “Fuck,” he spat. Small pinch my arse.
“I know, sorry. Morphine shots kinda hurt.”
“Arsehole,” he groaned. Every part of him hurt, but hopefully the morphine would kick in soon. He knew he was being taken to a hospital but wished he wasn’t. He wished he could talk them into letting him out now. With his veins full of morphine to dull the pain, he’d be okay. He’d find somewhere to curl up for a while and sleep it off. But they had their duty of care and blah, blah, blah. He’d sign something to say they did all they could, and he’d happily take the blame if he died from his injuries on the street.
He hated hospitals, loathed anywhere really that put him on the radar. He was no criminal, and he wasn’t on the run, but the idea of anyone knowing exactly where he was sent shivers up his spine for no particular reason except that’s just the way he was made.
Hands busied themselves all over his body. He had neither the energy nor the ability to open his eyes and watch what they were doing. From the noises being made and the sensations on his skin, they were putting in an IV and attending to his wounds. Noah floated happily on his morphine cloud, content to lie back and let those hands have their way with him. He still wished he wasn’t headed for a hospital, but he’d keep the worry for when the drugs wore off.
He felt the cold air rush in when the doors of the ambulance were yanked open. His body was jostled around when the stretcher was pulled from the back, though he knew they were trying to be careful—that pesky duty of care. He really tried to peel at least one eyelid open when he heard voices gathered over him, discussing him as if he wasn’t there. He heard them say assault and concussion and lucky. He didn’t care about any of it. He was in no pain now, and all his other worries seemed far off, silly, unimportant.
He heard them say something about topping the dose, and then even the haziness in his brain faded as he drifted away.
About Karrie Roman
Karrie lives in Australia’s sunshine state with her husband and two sons, though she hates the sun with a passion. She dreams of one day living in the wettest and coldest habitable place she can find. She has been writing stories in her head for years but has finally managed to pull the words out of her head and share them with others. She spends her days trying to type her stories on the computer without disturbing her beloved cat Lu curled up on the keyboard. She probably reads far too much.
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