DEADLY TIES by Vicki Hinze

Crossroads Crisis Center #2

NEW Interview BIG THRILL.  Read it HERE.

DEADLY TIES
Crossroads Crisis Center series
Book 2
Random House Religious Waterbrook-Multnomah
ISBN:  978-1601422064  1601422067
February  8, 2011
Trade Paperback

Available for Preorder Now

Available in AUDIO
Unabridged AudioBook Download

ISBN: 978-1-60142-206-4
ISBN: 978-1-60142-274-3 (electronic)

READERS GROUP GUIDE

LEARN MORE about Human Trafficking

Chapter 1

Prologue

The child is not; and I, wither shall I go?

–Genesis 37:30 (kjv)

July 1987

Seagrove Village, Florida

It was an ordinary day. Bad things aren’t supposed to happen on ordinary days. Only normal things.

Annie Harper looked at her reflection in the entryway mirror. Her hair was a wreck. The dark circles under her eyes looked as if they’d been drawn on with markers and then smudged. And her nails were a disgrace. Haggard and beaten down. That’s how she looked. And she felt worse.

“There should be universal rules about this,” she told her reflection. “When a woman is body slammed, she can only take so much without breaking under the pressure.”

Gathering a full head of steam, she frowned and jabbed her finger in the air. “Life should go easy on you then.” That would be humane. Civil. “And if bad things have to happen, there should be warning signs so there’s time to brace and prepare for them.”

She dipped her chin and glared into her own eyes. “Especially if it’s too horrific to wrap your mind around—and it happens not to you, but to someone you love.”

Pain shot through her heart, leaving her chest hollow and empty. “But there aren’t any rules and there weren’t any signs.” She shifted her gaze to the ceiling. “Why, God? Why didn’t You send me at least one bad feeling? An intuitive flash? Couldn’t You spare me even one piddling stomach flutter?” Tears stung her eyes. “I’ve been loyal, obedient. Why didn’t I get something?”

No edgy nerves. No hitch in her chest. No whispered warning in her mind like, Annie Harper, you listen to me, woman. Trouble’s coming. Summon your faith and gird your loins because every mother’s worst fear is about to knock on your door.

Fisting her hand, she rested it on the gleaming wooden table beneath the mirror. But did You? No.

She glared at the vase of freshly cut white roses. The scent was heavy, cloying. “Women’s intuition?” She picked up a bud, plucked a petal, and dropped it onto the spotless marble floor. “Failed.”

Tore off another petal. “Mother’s intuition?” Tossed it down. “Failed.”

Jerked at another petal. “God?” Thrust it. “Failed.”

Her breath caught in her throat. “Everything failed.”

She reached for more petals, but she had stripped the rose bare. All that remained was its stem and thorns.

Like me.

Outrage and agony ripped from her soul. Oh, I resent this and I wish I had someone to blame. But You didn’t even give me that. Why?

She staggered into the living room and collapsed on the sofa, curling her knees to her chest to keep the pain bottled up inside. If she let it loose, she’d never recover and there was nowhere to dump it.

It was just an ordinary day.

“Take me back,” she cried out, her face tear soaked. Cradling herself, she rocked back and forth, seeking comfort where there was none. “Just twenty-four hours. Please, take me back.”

“Annie?” Miranda Kent came in from the kitchen, clipping an earring back onto her lobe. Not a strand of her auburn hair was out of place. Loose curls framed her face. Her nails, like the rest of her, were perfect.

She snagged a tissue and passed it to Annie. “I’ve put on a pot of coffee. The church ladies were meeting at the club, but I told Nora about Charles. She said they would be here in a flash.”

Annie nodded, pretending to care. She wanted two people in her house. Two. And neither of them would be coming. “Charles and I were at the club night before last.”

She and her beloved husband had dinner with the mayor and forty or so close friends at Somerset House on the Bay. They feasted on salad with baby artichoke hearts and spears of cucumber, then ate honeyed baby carrots and blackened grouper caught fresh that morning in the Gulf of Mexico. Grouper was Charles’s favorite. She swallowed hard. They’d never dine there again.

“We were with you, remember?” Miranda clutched her flat stomach. “I know better than to eat a heavy meal that late. I was up all night.”

Annie and Charles had slept like rocks. Then they’d gotten up, eaten breakfast, and Lisa and he had been on their way.

Miranda sat beside Annie and crossed her legs at the ankles. “Is Lisa seven or eight now? I can’t remember. After thirty, the years tend to run together.”

“Seven.” Annie’s voice cracked. Lisa was bright and beautiful inside and out—at times all sweetness and innocence, and at others wise beyond her years.

“She told me she wanted to be a doctor like her dad. We were at Nora’s birthday party, I think.”

Pain twisted in Annie like hot wires coiled tight. “It’s what she’s always wanted.” Lisa idolized her father. “She has a stronger stomach for medical procedures than I do, and she never complains about Charles’s long hours at the office and hospital.” Annie sniffed and dabbed at her eyes. “His practice takes him away from us so much, but Lisa always defends him.” Oh, how Annie wished he were at the office now. That Lisa were here with her.

“They left early yesterday, didn’t they?”

Annie didn’t answer.

“Annie? They left early yesterday, right?”

“If this shows up in the Village Log, I’m going to cut off your fingers, Miranda.”

“Not a word without your express permission.” She crossed her heart.

Annie believed her. “Yesterday. At the crack of dawn.” Seagrove Village was up in the Florida panhandle, and getting down to Orlando for a trip to Disney World would take a solid eight hours. “Charles wanted to beat the tourist traffic.” She’d been so proud of him for finally taking a break from work to spend some quality time with Lisa. Charles was brilliant and committed to his patients, but he rarely took time off.

“Highway 98 is a nightmare during the season.” Miranda shifted on the white sofa. “I’m sure Lisa was excited.”

She was their only child, their miracle baby. “Beyond excited.”

“Why didn’t you go with them?”

“It’s my month to chair the charity function. I couldn’t beg off, and rescheduling would have been a nightmare for Charles’s staff and patients.” Now she wished she had gone. That she hadn’t, she’d regret forever.

“Just as well.” Miranda stood. “If Charles is anything like my Paul and you’d been there, he would have spent the entire week on the phone with his office.” She walked to the kitchen.

Dishes clanged in the distance, and Annie resented the racket almost as much as she resented Miranda being right. Charles would have used Annie as a buffer, and Lisa didn’t need him just being in the same room; she got enough of that already.

Miranda returned with a tea tray and the puzzle from The New York Times. “I saw this on the counter and thought you might want a diversion.”

“I don’t work the puzzles. I saved it for Lisa. She loves them.” Annie took a cup and saucer Miranda extended to her. “From the cradle, she couldn’t resist a mystery of any sort.” She was good at solving them too.

“Obviously that’s from Charles’s side of the family.”

Annie nodded. “They want to know and fix everything.” If they could fix this, Annie would never complain about that again.

But they couldn’t. God help her, no one could.

Miranda poured tea into her own cup. Steam lifted from it. “Interesting family dynamic. The Harpers are into everything and you avoid everything.”

“I don’t.” Annie took exception. “I face what I have to face to survive.”

“Exactly.” Miranda waved. “You only worry after you’ve prayed and done all you can do. I’ve always admired that about you.”

Annie didn’t want or need admiration. She wanted and needed her family.

She stared through the sheers out to the lawn. It was a glorious summer day, much like yesterday when Miranda andAnnie had skipped the fashion show and played nine holes of golf. The club’s courses were the best in northwest Florida, and Miranda’s game was far better, but then it should be. Annie dabbled. Miranda hit the links nearly every day.

Ordinary.

The doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it.” Miranda set down her cup and got to her feet. “You just relax. Shall I bring the church ladies in here?”

“Yes.” Annie stood. “I’m going to my room for a few minutes to compose myself.”

Miranda nodded. “Good idea.” Pity shone in her eyes. “I’ll keep them busy until you’re ready to see them.”

Annie walked through to the master suite, shut the door, and then slung herself across her bed. If this were yesterday, she’d be in the hammock out back facing the cove, enjoying the salt-tanged breeze, lost in a good book. Even as night had fallen and the clock inched toward eight, she hadn’t been antsy.

Lisa had promised to phone every night at eight for a virtual tuck in. She’d outgrown it but indulged Annie because it was her favorite daily ritual, not that Annie ever dwelled on how much it meant to her. She learned early in life not to want or need anything too much. That could make you do crazy things. But the truth was, it was just too scary—the risks of wanting those things and not getting them. She’d worked hard on that, but life lessons instilled young were as hard to break as bad habits.

Was that just another latent gift of being orphaned and raised by a series of foster parents? Maybe so. Two were good people, but more than two should have been in jail. Yet more likely, she avoided those risks because until she’d married Charles, she had to claw her way through her whole life just to survive.

She scrunched her pillow and wadded it under her ear. The lavender smell reminded her of the roses. She tossed the pillow aside and tugged over Charles’s. His scent clung to the pillowcase. Gripping wads of the fine linen in both hands, she held on tight and buried her nose deep. Yesterday, those early days had faded from her life.

Yesterday, she had a good husband, an amazing daughter, a beautiful home in the village, and more stuff than anyone could want much less need.

Yesterday.

Yet even then, the fear of being hungry never went away. She could tell herself anything, go through all the therapy in the world, but down deep she still feared being hungry again.

Annie always had kept money stashed away for a rainy day. At least, she had until a month ago. Lisa came home from Sunday school and said an orphanage in Haiti needed a roof to get the kids out of the rain.

Images of those children soaked to the skin burned in Annie’s mind now as they had then. She hadn’t slept a wink. It’d been a fierce battle, but on the third day, she forfeited her stash. She wasn’t hungry and the kids were suffering. They needed to get dry.

Charles was indulgent and Lisa was ecstatic, lavish with grateful butterfly kisses and twinkling sparkles in her dancing blue eyes. She had no idea Annie had virtually been on her knees ever since, praying she hadn’t set herself up for starvation.

Ordinary.

“Take me back twenty-four hours,” she mumbled into the pillow. “Let me live them just once more.” She wept openly, begged without shame. “Just once more.”

The picture formed vividly in her mind. Twenty-four hours ago she had walked down the tiled east wing to Lisa’s room. Rex, her two-year-old yellow lab, lay parked right in the middle of her canopied bed. He seemed so sad that Annie lacked the heart to fuss at him. “You miss her too, eh, boy?”

Rex wagged his tail. She crawled up beside him and scratched his ears. Without Charles and Lisa, the house was far too big and empty. Rex felt it too. His bottom line was that he wanted Lisa and Annie in the same space. Anything less and he just wasn’t happy. Truthfully, neither was she.

At straight-up eight, the phone rang. Rex barked and Annie snagged the receiver. “Hello.”

“Mom?”

Lisa. “Hi, darling.” Annie smiled. “Did you make it down okay?”

“We’re not in Orlando. We went to Disney, but Daddy messed up the hotel reservation. He made it for tomorrow, not today.”

“Oh no.” She should have double-checked that. Charles was lousy with the mundane. One of the quirks Annie adored about him. “So where are you guys?”

“In a motel by a big hat. It’s loud here, but the resort man couldn’t find us anywhere to stay, so we drove around until Daddy found this place.”

July Fourth weekend. Not an easy task to find a room with all the tourists in town for the holiday. An incredible amount of racket in the background hurt Annie’s ear. She pulled the receiver away. “Where is Daddy, darling?”

“In the shower. Scrubbing off road grime.”

Rex pawed at her thigh, nudging her to keep scratching his scruff. “So you guys are settling in for the night, eh?”

“Yes, but Daddy isn’t happy about the music.”

“Oh, that’s not the TV?” Annie sank back against the pillows and scratched Rex’s ears. The dog was nearly as spoiled as Lisa.

“It’s off.”

Annie frowned. “So what’s making all the noise?”

“There’s a place across the street that’s got an orchestra.”

A band. Hard rock, from the sounds of it. Charles would definitely hate that. Annie grinned. “Why do you sound winded?”

“Oh, that man’s back, knocking on the door again.” Lisa sounded more annoyed than scared. “Mom, he’s got a spiderweb drawn on his hand.”

“A tattoo?”

“Uh-huh.”

Wait. The man was back? Alarmed, Annie sat straight up. “Lisa, do not open that door.” She tried to keep panic out of her voice, but her throat was clenched-fist, white-knuckle tight. “Go get Daddy, darling.”

“Just a second. The man is saying something to me through the window.”

“What?” Rex perked his ears, lifted his head from her lap—a terrible sign. “What’s he saying?” Was there a fire in the building or something?

“‘It’s time for you to become a shrub.’” Lisa sounded baffled. “What does that mean?”

Become a shrub? Definitely a nut case. Whatever was going on sounded bad and felt worse. “Go get your dad. Do it right now, Lisa Marie!”

A loud crackle ripped through the phone. Something cracked. Splintered. Scuffled. Shattered.

Lisa screamed.

“Lisa!” Annie jumped out of bed. Growling and baring his teeth, Rex barked. “Lisa, answer me. Lisa!”

The line went dead.

Annie’s blood ran cold.

Yesterday was no longer an ordinary day. *

_______________________________

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______________________________

Vicki Hinze is the award-winning author of 24 books (21 fiction, 3 nonfiction), hundreds of articles on writing craft, business and the writing life (written, lectures, workshops and seminars), published in as many as 63 countries. Vicki is also a former Internet radio talk show host and VP of International Thriller Writers.  Visit her websites:  www.vickihinze.com and www.vickihinzebooks.com.

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About Vicki Hinze
USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries. Featured Columnist for Social-IN Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of ChristiansRead.com & CleanReadBooks.com. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.

One Response to DEADLY TIES by Vicki Hinze

  1. Onedesertrose says:

    I am always interested in books on human trafficking, hoping to win and share this book on my blog. It’s horrible and needs to be abolished.

    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

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