Freedom’s Mercy is book 3 in my Baldwin series. We meet up with Hunter and Anna, Elisa, Colby and Nancy, and so many other friends, new and old! The pre-order link is live and the novel will officially be released on March 24, 2018.
Links: Freedom’s Treasure, Book 1
Approximately Thirty Years Ago, Somewhere in the Deep Woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
With quick, sure movements the woman darted from tree to tree. She kept a cautious eye on her surroundings. This part of the forest was familiar, but when the clouds hid the full moon and panic made one’s heart race it took far longer to discover landmarks and follow known paths.
Her chest heaved with her breathing, and the woman stopped to rest. She leaned against a thick ironwood tree. Purposefully, she breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth. Her pulse gradually calmed.
“How in the hell did this happen?” the young woman asked the night sky. With no answer forthcoming, she shrugged her shoulders and considered her options.
She had pulled the spark plugs from all of the vehicles so the bastard would have to follow her on foot. That would buy her enough time to get to the gas station down the way and, hopefully, make at least one phone call.
The call should be to the cops. Then the second would be to her sister if she had time. That wasn’t what she was going to do, though. No, the woman didn’t want the police involved. That would mean courts and telling the story. No, she wouldn’t be calling the cops. She could only pray the young newlywed would be awake to answer the phone.
The hemp rope around her ankles burned. She bent down and fruitlessly tried once more to untie one of the knots. The homemade rope was too rough, too thick. The woman knew it was homemade as she had braided it herself.
That thought was worth a bitter laugh, perhaps two.
The knife she’d dropped when she’d heard his voice and panicked would have been extremely useful right about now, but she’d deal without it. At least she’d cut the center strap and could walk.
Her wrists were bound with the same rope. She hadn’t been able to turn the knife and slice through the binding. He’d thought so little of her, or had thought out so little of his plan, that he’d left her hands in front of her.
She’d used that. Oh yes, she had indeed. Smashing that vase into the back of his head had satisfied her in ways she hadn’t expected. He hadn’t been knocked out the way she had hoped, but it had left him unable to follow her for several minutes, and that head start had been all she’d needed.
Her bare feet crushed leaves and occasional sticks when she began walking once more. Her swirling skirt brushed against her calves, her thin cotton top left her shivering.
“He’s going to pay for this, pay for tying me up, and for making me walk through these fucking woods in the middle of the fucking night. Goddammit!” The pointy end of a stick jammed into her heel, and she had to pause to pull it out. Blood oozed from the wound.
The sleeve of the shirt that provided no warmth made a suitable bandage after she’d torn it apart at the seam. The woman trudged on, careful to follow the teachings of her father so many years ago. She had grown up in woods like these and knew how to survive for days if needed. A couple of hours would be child’s play.
A sodium light twinkled through the trees and caught her eye. It was across the two-lane highway and lit up the gas station. The pumps were off, and the station was closed. There were no cars in the parking lot.
The young woman hobble sprinted across the street and picked up the phone. The call seemed to take ages to connect. The young woman nervously twisted the pay phone’s cord around her fingers. When she was about to give up and hang the receiver back on the hook she heard a sleepy, “Hello?”
“This is an operator from AT&T,” the recorded voice said. “You have a collect call from,” a tone sounded, and the young woman’s voice filled the air, “Elisa it’s me, please say yes, I need you! I need to come home. I’m so sorry―”. The robotic voice continued, “If you accept the charges, please press 1―“.
A tone sounded immediately.
Present Day, Amelie Bette’s Penthouse Apartment, New York City
The broad, sweeping staircase with its shallow risers was mocking her. Every day for the past year Kirsten had run up and down the thing several times, always with the same complaint—her long legs and natural hurried step made her bounce.
When Kirsten bounced her breasts also bounced with that residual ache she barely tolerated. It wasn’t until Amelie had announced their move from the penthouse to a new home in Michigan that Kirsten had realized how often she was forced to think about her breasts, and their bounce, and how often she felt sorry for women with bosoms ampler than her own, average size.
Okay, maybe staircases couldn’t mock, but it sure as hell felt like it.
With a long-suffering sigh Kirsten scrunched her upper arms together to hold the things in place and went ahead and bounced down to the main floor. The suitcase she carried was laid next to the growing mountain near the front door.
“Amelie?” she called out for her employer. The older woman was a wisp of smoke, disappearing from one room to the next on the few occasions she wasn’t sleeping the day away. Amelie had been a night owl from before Kirsten had begun working for her. Due to the upcoming move the author had adjusted her schedule and was attempting to acclimate to daytime hours.
“In the study, dear,” the woman replied.
“I need a better bra in my life,” Kirsten announced when she entered the dim room, “and it seems to me that when you live in a multi-story penthouse apartment with all of the amenities, one of those amenities should be a reversible escalator. Push a button, you go up. Push the button again, you go down. Easy. Why isn’t this a thing?”
“Perhaps we could make it one,” Amelie suggested. She seemed distracted. “You should use that in your manuscript.”
“What? About the escalators? No one wants to read that stuff, it’s too pointless.”
“It adds the human element,” Amelie explained. She turned and set the framed photograph she held onto the mantle. “How’s your packing going? Three more days, and we’re out of this place.”
“I’m almost finished. I can’t believe how much stuff I’ve accumulated over a year.”
“I can’t believe you came to me with nothing but a backpack and one suitcase,” Amelie replied. “How does someone live like that?”
“It wasn’t living,” Kirsten said. “Must I thank you once more for saving me from a life of sharing a studio apartment with three other aspiring authors while I worked away at an unpaid internship?”
“It’d be nice,” Amelie muttered loud enough for her protégé to hear.
The photo Amelie had been holding was one of Kirsten’s favorites. It had been taken when photographs were still taken on film and dropped off somewhere to be developed. It was an enlarged print in a gorgeous silver frame. The colors had faded over time, but the emotion beamed through all the same. Pure exuberance.
Three boys of around ten years of age were frozen in mid-air, their feet mere inches above a giant pile of autumn leaves. Three bicycles lay haphazardly on their sides in the background, abandoned in haste to leap into someone’s hours of hard work.
The tow-headed blond on the left had found a life of trouble, from what Kirsten understood. Something had happened recently, though she didn’t have all of the details.
From what she had been told, Amelie’s future niece by marriage had written a book about the events and was shopping it around to publishers and agents. Kirsten hoped Amelie would share the advance copy she knew Elisa would soon be stealing for her older sister. Curiosity was killing them both.
The boy in the middle was an average looking kid, there was no other way to put it. Kirsten figured they shared a gene somewhere down the line that left them not too tall, not too short, not too thin, not too fat, not too good looking, but not too plain.
His average life had had some excitement in it recently, as well, with a new love finding her way in. If the earlier phone call Kirsten had eavesdropped upon was any indication, there may have been more excitement than new love. Amelie hadn’t yet shared today’s news from Elisa.
The swarthy boy on the right could have been a pirate in another era. At ten years old, he wore a devil may care expression that Kirsten knew would mean trouble when he was older.
She bet the three of them had to keep the girls away with sticks in high school.
The swarthy pirate boy was Hunter Williams, Amelie’s beloved nephew who could do no wrong unless you listened to Elisa, in which case he did much wrong, and did so with flair.
His request for Amelie and Elisa’s mother’s ring and potential engagement to Anna Mylan had been one of the triggers prompting Amelie to move back to her hometown in Michigan and drag Kirsten along for the ride.
A year ago, Kirsten had left her own small town in southeast Michigan to move to New York City and become a great author. Now she was living with a literary giant.
And moving back to a small town in Michigan.
Was that irony? Shouldn’t Kirsten know?
“I’ll dedicate my first book to you, how’s that for gratitude?” Kirsten straightened the photo on the mantle. It had been included in the list of things to take from the penthouse, but she’d leave it for last. She knew Amelie liked to look at it first thing upon waking.
“God, no, not the first one,” Amelie exclaimed. “You don’t understand the work that goes into the first book. You think you do,” she said before Kirsten could interrupt her, “but trust me, you don’t. Dedicate it to yourself. You’ll have earned it.”
“Do authors do that?”
“No, but they should,” Amelie laughed. “You could start a trend.”
Kirsten snorted, shook her head. “It’s Saturday,” she reminded Amelie.
“I know what day it is.”
“Then you know what I’m about to ask you.” Kirsten locked eyes with Amelie, determined not to be the first to look away.
“Did you finish the writing challenge I gave you?” Amelie asked without acknowledging Kirsten’s statement.
“Do you have pages for me?”
“No, you first,” Kirsten shot back. “You’re the one with the deadline.”
“Which means I … don’t have an answer for that. Dammit.” Amelie huffed out a breath and looked away. “We’re moving. Surely that buys me some time.”
“A day,” Kirsten said sternly and held up a hand with her index finger extended. “You get one day. After that I’ll start using ‘The Voice’.”
Amelie held her hands up in mock terror. “Okay, okay, by end of the day tomorrow. Now, about that writing challenge?”
“You didn’t say what you wanted to do for lunch,” Kirsten changed the subject. She checked the display on her cell phone. “And would you look at that, lunch time is upon us. Any thoughts?”
“More than I could enumerate,” Amelie replied deadpan. She accepted the change of subject. “I was thinking about noodles; what kind I don’t know. Italian, Chinese,” the elder woman shrugged, “you pick. We won’t have any of these options where we’re going.”
The landline on the mahogany desk rang, startling both women. That was unusual. Most of Amelie’s business calls were routed to Kirsten’s cell phone. Personal friends had Amelie’s cell number, and Amelie’s family used video conferencing more often than not.
The phone on the desk was used for emergencies and random agents attempting to steal Amelie away from her current team.
Well, not Amelie, but those agents didn’t know that. They were fishing for a contemporary bestselling author they believed used that number, a male contemporary author.
Amelie was a hermit writing under a pseudonym having disappeared from the public eye after the release of Tides of the Crimson Moon more than twenty-five years ago. She was a one and done, award winning, best-selling author whose book was taught in high school and college classes galore.
If Kirsten didn’t know the woman, she’d have been intimidated.
The phone rang shrilly once more before Amelie gingerly picked it up. She used a creaky old woman’s tone meant to deter telemarketers. “Hello?”
Whatever the response had been, it caused Amelie to stand up straight, and lose the raspy edge to her voice. “This is she,” she said briskly. “What? What happened?” She paused. “Is Elisa okay?” Another pause. “What do you mean you don’t know? I’m on my way. I’ll be there later this evening.”
Amelie dropped the receiver into the cradle. She turned to Kirsten, pale and shaking. “Call Bill. His number is in the rolodex on the desk. He’s with the charter airline service I use. Book me a plane, I don’t care what kind, just one that can get me to Michigan yesterday. The price doesn’t matter.”
“Amelie, what’s going on?” Kirsten reached for the rolodex and quickly flipped cards.
Her hand on the doorframe for support, Amelie stopped to look at Kirsten. “It’s Elisa. She needs me. I’m going. Make it happen. I have to throw a few things in a bag, then I’ll be ready to leave in fifteen minutes. Call for a car, too. I don’t want you driving me to the airport, you have too much to do here. I’ll plan on seeing you in Baldwin.”
The airy master bedroom was one of two rooms in the penthouse that Amelie considered a sanctuary. She’d gone all out when she’d decorated, and had made liberal use of curtains, sashes, and veils, all in whites or light greys.
There was little furniture for distraction, though one of the five desks in her home was located in the corner. Amelie believed in roaming while she wrote and had accommodated that habit in her abode.
Several partially packed suitcases were lined up at the foot of her floating bed. Amelie grabbed the medium sized one and upended the contents to the floor. She tossed in several pants and tops, undergarments, and thick socks. Michigan cold was different than New York cold this time of year and she’d best be prepared.
Elisa’s clothes would fit her, and Amelie would be welcome to anything in her closet, so she didn’t need to bring much. They had been wearing the same sizes the day Amelie turned ten years old, and it hadn’t changed since. Then again, depending on how this all turned out …
Amelie wouldn’t think about that right now. She couldn’t. Her sister wasn’t dead, nor dying. Not her sweet baby sister Lie-Lie. That wasn’t how their stories were supposed to go, not by a long shot.
Her hands trembled as she zipped the case closed.
There was a carry-on bag in the large walk-in closet, already packed with necessary medications, a change of clothes, and spare cash. Amelie slung that over her shoulder and grabbed one of the thick coats off of a hanger. By the time she turned around, Kirsten was at the bed and re-packing her suitcase.
The clothes Amelie had tossed in willy nilly were now folded or rolled, and Kirsten had made room for a couple of pairs of sturdy shoes.
“Thank you,” Amelie whispered and felt her eyes grow wet with tears.
Kirsten turned and opened her arms, bent down. She was six inches taller than Amelie, but right now was short enough for Amelie to hide her face in Kirsten’s shoulder.
“I’ve never been there when she’s needed me,” Amelie’s words were interrupted by short, hiccoughing sobs. “I show up after everything happens and help clean up the mess, but I’m never there when shit goes down. And I’m sorry, and I don’t know how to change that.”
Kirsten ran her hand down Amelie’s back, stroked her long, grey-streaked hair. It brought a semblance of comfort. “Oh, Amelie, we are changing that. I promise you. We’re moving there. She’s going to be fine, and she’s never, ever going to be rid of us. By the time it’s all said and done, she’s going to be begging you to move back to the Greek Isles.”
“Never going to happen,” Amelie decided. “She’s lucky I’m not moving into her back pocket.” She patted Kirsten’s back, stood back and picked up the carry-on case from where she’d dropped it. “Thank you, again. I’m ready to go.”
“Almost,” Kirsten said. She took the handle of the suitcase, lifted it from the bed, and lead the way to the stairs. “Your laptop is waiting by the front door.”
Kirsten nodded. “If you don’t try to keep things normal, you will lose your mind. Take the laptop, work on what you can. Email me instructions, the same as we do every day. Trust me on this.”
Amelie nodded. “You’re right.” She breathed in deeply, tried to stop her hands from shaking. “I’ll call you as soon as I know anything.”