Happy New Year (almost), my dear readers!

This story is going to be about 20,000 words long, and I hope to finish it by tomorrow. A short romance for your pleasure, because... I felt like it, I can't afford to start yet another novel, and I couldn't ignore this idea. It's my Holiday gift to everyone who has been following my writing. As a warning, it may be cliched and predictable (I have no idea... I don't read much), but I hope you enjoy it!

By the way, I don't have a good title yet. So... it'll change.

Love, Mara

Chapter One: Guiding Light

Shiloh Carridean walked down the street with no direction in mind. All she wanted was to get lost. She didn't care how she got lost, what part of town she wandered into, or even who might find her as she wandered through the alleyways and over street corners. The only thing she was concerned with was making sure everyone forgot that she even existed.

It was snowing, flakes swirling through the air to stick to the ground and the trees and the buildings. She did not glance at the snow that drifted onto her black hair. She didn't even wipe away the melting droplets that rested on her lashes. She only walked, mindlessly and carelessly. Soon, the streets would be slick, and the world would be as white as the dress she wore. The dress that usually signified one was getting married.

For Shiloh, it signified the worst day of her life. It reminded her that she had walked up the aisle with a veil over her hair and an entire church watching, only to have the man she thought she was going to spend the rest of her days with excuse himself and leave her with no apologies. It reminded her that she had loved, but she was not loved back.

She should not have run after him, but she did. She should not have shouted his name, cursed at him in front of the church, threw her bouquet after his back, but she had. She did not apologize to God for her words; right now, she really didn't care what God thought. He had just let her experience the worst humiliation of her life, and now she wandered the streets, doubtless searched for by everyone in church.

She didn't care. They could look all they wanted to; she wasn't going to go back to that church for a while. She wasn't going to go anywhere where she would be recognize. She just wanted to get lost.

The snow on the ground clung to the hem of her wedding dress as she shuffled through the park. It was becoming a winter wonderland, the trees catching snowflakes and covering up their nakedness with white. On another day, Shiloh might have noticed how beautiful it was. Right now, she only reminisced that she was covered in white, too, and it hid the nakedness of her bare, cold heart.

What could she do now? It crossed her mind to run away and start a new life in another state. She had heard that Virginia was nice. Perhaps she could go there. Or New York, to pursue her singing career. Nobody would know she'd been left at the altar there. Nobody would guess she'd been jilted on her wedding day. She could change her name, her hair, her manner of dress. She could become an entirely new person.

And when she became famous, that jerk of a fiancé would see her and weep. He would regret he had ever left her. He would crawl to her feet, begging her to take him back, and she could have the pleasure of turning him away in the cold, just as he had left her to wander the streets in the snow.

It was an unlikely fantasy, his ever coming back to her, but at the moment, Shiloh didn't care. Fantasy was much more entertaining and soothing than reality. In her dreams, she could march up to her ex, slap his face, and have him gush with apologies for leaving her like that. In reality, she was cold, lost, and feeling incredibly low.

Her phone rang, in the purse she had grabbed for some reason as she'd run after him. She answered it sharply, winced when her mother's voice spoke up on the other end.

"Shiloh, where are you?" her mother sounded near hysteria.

Shiloh turned around in the alley and shrugged a little. "I have no idea." She squinted, looking for a street sign in the dark, finding only a drunken bum on the corner and an empty bottle rolling down the hill.

"Darling, we've been searching for you for hours! Please, come home."

"I don't think I want to come home, mother." Shiloh let out her breath slowly. "And anyway, I have no idea where I am in the first place, so I can't very well find my way home at the moment." What a way to spend New Year's Eve. She was supposed to be on a plane to Venice about now. Venice, and then wedding night. That's how it was supposed to go.

"Please, Shiloh… we all knew he was a flake. All of us but you. Nobody blames you for his leaving." Her mother sighed. "In fact, I rather suspected he would."

"Yeah, well, it happened" Shiloh spat. "Thanks for warning me. I'm sure you feel so much better now that I won't be spending the rest of my life with a man you never approved of." She suddenly felt defensive of him, even though he had left her.

"Shiloh, I did warn you, but I didn't want your heart to be bro--"

"No, mother… admit it!" Shiloh cut her off. "You're glad he left. You think it spared me years of heartache, don't you? You never really approved of anything I ever did, and this is just another way you're proven right. I'm a failure. Congratulations, you were right."

"Shiloh…" Her mother sighed again. "Just come home. We'll discuss all of this here."

"I won't be coming home for a long time, mother. You're rid of me. Goodnight." Shiloh hit the "end" button and held it to shut off her phone. She didn't want more phone calls tonight.

Turning towards a darker street, passing a diner by against her better judgement, Shiloh kicked at the snow drifts beginning to form. She was determined to stay mad for as long as possible, to keep from crying. The cold helped. Her shoulders were beginning to protest, stinging with every snowflake that hit them. Why had she chosen an off-the-shoulder gown in the middle of winter? Its lace sleeves were not much help from the freezing temperatures.

She got a few odd stares from passers-by as she walked down the street. Half of her agreed with their incredulous looks; she was wearing a full-on wedding gown, complete with a train that caught the snow. Its delicate lace overlay was not made for the winter temperatures. At least she had taken off the veil before she'd run off.

"Well, two-ten…" she spoke to the coming year. "I don't think I'm going to like you very much. No offense." She turned her feet down another alleyway, this one darker than the last and much, much dirtier. Something suddenly occurred to her.

"I could have gone to Venice…" She dug in her purse, pausing in the cold alley. There were the tickets. The planes had already left. Still… she shook her head. Venice would only remind her that she was supposed to be there with someone. She'd stay in a room meant for two, eat breakfasts meant for two, go on tours meant to be shared, and be reminded every day that she was not the beautiful blushing bride she was supposed to be.

Darn him for making her life miserable.

Suddenly, she felt a presence at her side. "Did you say Venice, pretty lady?"

Shiloh jerked around and backed away from the dark shadows lurking beside her. "I have mace."

"You don't look like the kind of girl that would carry mace around." The first man said. His face briefly passed out of the shadows, and she saw pale eyes and greasy hair. "What, with that pretty dress n' all. Where's your new groom, then, pretty lady?"

Shiloh dug in her purse, ready to spray whichever of the two next stepped forward. "He's… uh… do… in the diner, down the street. He had to use the bathroom." Her lies weren't very convincing.

"Is he, now." The second man made a sudden move, laughed when she jumped. He turned to his comrade. "You know, Hal, it looks like we got ourselves an abandoned bride. What say we give her the experience she was expecting tonight?"

"Sounds like a good idea." Hal spat something into the snow; something dark and gooey. "Now, pretty lady, we ain't gonna hurt ya." He reached out his hand towards her.

"Liar." Shiloh threw the first thing she could find at him; her cell phone. It smacked against his shoulder uselessly, and she tripped over her train, banging her shoulder blade against dumpster. "Crap," she breathed, digging in her purse again.

"Now, now, that isn't nice," the second man said. "We're just trying to help you gain the experiences you would have tonight. Isn't that right, Hal?"

"Tha's right. What say if only one of us goes? It'll be just like you was with your groom on your weddin' night." They backed her further into the alleyway, and she gave up looking for her mace. She threw the entire purse at the man called Hall, then turned to run.

Something caught her train, jerked her backwards, and shoved her against the hard brick wall of a building. "We're gonna play bride and groom now, pretty lady." Hal whispered against her face. His breath was rancid.

"The heck we are!" With all the force she could manage, Shiloh kicked her knee upwards. Her aim was perfect. The constraints of her dress, however, prohibited her from doing anything more than nudging him, and she froze.

"You're feisty. I like that." Hal leaned close to her, smiling. He had all of his teeth, but they were stained brown by tobacco. "Now give me a kiss, pretty lady, and play nice."

Shiloh spat in his face.

He barely even noticed. His hand crept down her dress, tugging up the many, many layers in an effort to reach skin, and he puckered his lips, stringy hair hanging down in front of his lusty eyes. "Now, give me a kiss!"

When he shoved his face against hers, Shiloh could barely breathe. He smelled like feces. Immediately she thrust her foot against his ankle, and caught some part of his face in her teeth. She didn't hesitate to bite hard enough to draw blood; she tasted it on her tongue just before he pulled back. His hand was headed for her face, and she didn't have time to react.

But somehow, she didn't have to react. Everything shimmered, slowed down, gyrated. She could see both men clearly; in a millisecond, everything lit to the brightness of the sun, and she saw their fear. Why were they afraid? Hal's pale eyes were lined with sweat and shadows; he stared at her and she could see his pupils dilate. The other man, a man with dark skin and black eyes, was falling backwards.

She was enveloped by the light. It erased everything around her; the two men accosting her disappeared, and she was encompassed by a sparkling, prismatic, blinding light. There was no sound. There was no smell. There was no cold, nor was there heat. Only the light.

And then everything went black.