Back in 2014, my previous publishing company approached me about the possibility of turning Stolen Lives into a series. I jumped at the opportunity. What we agreed upon was a prequel to introduce the reader to the Lives Trilogy. The prequel became Taking Lives, which takes place approximately two years before the action and story in Stolen Lives, which then became the first book of the Lives Trilogy.
Stolen Lives tells the story of missing kids and the efforts of law enforcement and caring individuals to bring kids home safely. As I wrote in previous posts, the story is based upon my work as a counselor and as an adjunct educator for the Wetterling Foundation, as well as painstaking research into the topic.
In Shattered Lives, the story has several levels. First, the hunt for and capture of “the bad guys who got away.” But central to Shattered Lives is the question: what is life like for those kids saved and then brought back to their families, their communities, as they try to heal and piece together their lives?
While Shattered Lives is a fast-paced, tight thriller mystery, as in all my books, there is family drama and struggle and success and all that comes with it. Here is a snippet, the first chapter of Shattered Lives. I apologize ahead of time since the cut and paste feature doesn’t always format the way it should.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. Nietzsche
A NOT QUITE SAFE HAVEN
. . . He faced the man with the gun. He couldn’t quite make out his features, but he seemed to be medium height, maybe shorter than that, and well-built but not overly so. At least he didn’t seem to be a bulky, weightlifter kind of man. His voice was cold and flat, his eyes were a pale blue, which is what George would remember the most about him. That and the gun pointed at the boy next to him, a boy George did not know.
Jeremy was George’s bookend on the other side of the boy. Behind the three of them was a door to a room that George didn’t know. He didn’t know the room he stood in, but somehow, he knew the room and the house they were in. At least, the house and room seemed familiar to him. He just couldn’t place it.
But more importantly, Jeremy, the boy and George stood between the man and the door and George wasn’t sure what or who was on the other side of the door, only that the three of them formed a human shield between it or them and the man with the gun.
As the man took aim, George knew with certainty that Jeremy would step in front of the boy. George couldn’t let that happen, so he moved in front of Jeremy and the boy as the gun went off . . .
George slammed upright in bed, gasping for breath and pulling the sheet up to his chin, yanking it from Billy who slept soundly next to him facing the wall, mouth slightly open on his left side in a semi-fetal position. Billy didn’t seem to notice or care that he was no longer covered. The night was warm and the breeze so light a sheet wasn’t needed, even though the windows were open and the ceiling fan was on. Jeremy Evans, the father of the twins Randy and Billy, didn’t like to run the air-conditioner at night, preferring open windows and night breezes.
The room was on the small side and made even smaller now that Billy had the idea to substitute the single bed he had slept in for the past two years, for the double bed in the spare room so that the three of them could sleep in the same room. He and George shared the double bed. George looked over at Randy three feet away on the other side of the room, who was sound asleep on his back, one knee up, arms almost spread-eagle, head off his pillow, breathing deeply and slowly just as Billy was.
He covered Billy with the sheet again and slowly, quietly, swung his feet over the side of the bed and sat with his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands trying to remember the dream. His dark, handsome, and almost noble face, along with his chest and back, the color of bronzed copper, were covered in a sheen of sweat. His hair, the color of midnight and hung down just passed his shoulders, and with his head down, it covered his face. His dark eyes were squinted shut as he tried to grasp the wisp of the dream that turned to vapor and disappeared as quickly and easily as he tried so determinedly to remember it.
George didn’t know the man with the gun who had faced the three of them. He couldn’t see him clearly in the dream. He didn’t know who the boy was, and he wasn’t certain it was the boy the man had come to kill. Perhaps it was whoever was on the other side of the door that was shut behind the three of them.
Confusing, odd, and disturbing.
George was a traditional Navajo and he believed, as some of the elders of his people believed, that dreams were messages from the spirit world. The trouble with dreams is that they almost always needed someone to interpret them. It had always been his grandfather who had helped him understand what the spirit world was trying to tell him, but his grandfather was no longer there to help him.
His grandfather was dead.
He had been murdered- executed- along with his mother, grandmother, two brothers and sister because George had witnessed the murder of a fourteen-year-old boy and had come forward to report it. He was now alone with no one to return home to except for his Navajo people and a cousin. Jeremy and the twins had asked him to live with them, but he wasn’t certain if he was going to accept their offer or if he’d return to Arizona and his Navajo Nation. Waukesha, Wisconsin was a long way from Arizona. All the trees and the city life were different from the Arizona desert and rural life he had grown up in.
Quietly, slowly so as not to wake up either of the twins, he got out of bed, smoothed the sheet over Billy and picked up his knife. It sat on the nightstand along with Billy’s iPod dock that served as music for the three boys, as well as the alarm that would get up first George at 5:00 AM and then the twins at 6:00 AM. The clock face read 1:17 AM, far too early to get up, but George did so anyway.
The knife was a gift from his grandfather for his twelfth birthday two years previous in a coming of age ceremony on top of a plateau near their ranch. The razor sharp blade was eight inches long and the handle, made of elk bone, was an additional four inches bound to the blade with leather. It fit his hand perfectly and he had practiced each morning since receiving it under the guidance of his grandfather. To the casual observer, the movements looked oriental, such as with Tai Chi or Karate, and it was defensive in nature. George could use the knife in either hand effectively and he had done so earlier that week.
The knife had been returned by Detective Jamie Graff just the morning before, along with a permit to carry it. It had been taken by the police because George had used it to kill a man sent to kill him, Jeremy, and the twins. It was a dream and vision of his grandfather that led him to the side of the house where he found the man with the gun intent on murdering them. But the police and the district attorney had judged that George had acted in self-defense since the man had a gun and a rap sheet dating back more than twenty years.
Self-defense or not, a man was dead and George had killed him. He had told the police, the FBI and the Evans family about the dream and the vision of his grandfather, but George was certain none of them had understood the Navajo belief about dreams and visions. He was sure it had sounded crazy to them and he couldn’t help but feel that it sounded crazy to him too.
And now a new dream- a dream he didn’t understand. He was certain he wouldn’t share it with anyone unless and until he needed to- if he needed to.
George tip-toed down the hall, down the stairs and out the kitchen door and sat down on the steps to the back patio that faced the yard beyond it just as he had the other night when he had spotted the man in the hedge line in the backyard and killed him. He shivered slightly at the memory and hugged himself. George turned and looked at the corner of the house, half-expecting to see someone rounding the corner with gun in hand. Of course, no one was there.
Just before he confronted the man, Jeremy had come out of the house and sat on the step next to him and had asked George to consider living permanently with him and the twins. But that was before George had killed the man and even though Jeremy had made that offer again afterward and even though the twins had told him they wanted him to live with them, George wasn’t sure how he had felt about it.
It had been a difficult day.
Jeremy and Randy had traveled to a hospital in Chicago so they could talk to the boys who had been held in captivity as part of a human trafficking ring, so George didn’t have much of an opportunity to talk to either of them. He and Billy spent most of the day planting flowers for Miss Bert and Mr. Jon, the Lanes who lived next door and who seemed to be unofficial grandparents to the twins. At least, that was how they treated the twins and how the twins treated them. George liked them. While Billy acted as if nothing unusual had happened, and while the Lanes said nothing about what had happened, he knew the Lanes knew about it, and it seemed that at least they had treated him differently. Maybe it was just his imagination.
The kitchen door opened and was shut quietly, but instead of Jeremy, it was Billy. He was barefoot and dressed just as George was in boxers and wrapped in a light blanket. He sat down next to George and gave half of the blanket to him, who wrapped himself in it and the two boys huddled together.
“Sorry if I woke you up,” George offered after a bit.
Billy yawned, shrugged and said, “I couldn’t sleep either.”
George knew he was just being polite, but he accepted his statement.
“How come you’re up?” Billy asked.
George didn’t say anything and he stared out at the backyard not focusing on anything.
“When I was little and had a bad dream, my dad would sit up with me while I told him about it. It made it go away. Now, Jeremy does, but I don’t have bad dreams that much anymore.”
George looked at him curiously.
Billy shrugged and said, “I was adopted twice. My first dad died of a heart attack.”
“So?” Billy said.
George shook his head.
Changing thoughts, he asked, “Have you decided if you’re going to live with us?”
George shrugged noncommittally. As many reasons as he had for staying, he had an equal number of reasons for not. Well, not really as many reasons for not. Actually, not that many at all. Truth was he was scared: scared of staying, scared of leaving. Just plain scared.
Billy had come to know George well enough in the last two days to understand that George was quiet and only spoke when he wanted to, so he gave up trying.
Billy and Randy were identical twins and only those who spent time around them knew how to tell the difference. Both had brown hair cut short in the same style. Both had large brown eyes, though Randy’s seemed sad even when he smiled. Billy had a bit of a crooked smile and had a habit of cocking his head when he listened. He was older by eight minutes, born four minutes before midnight, while Randy was born four minutes after midnight. The twins were fourteen-years-old, a month or so older than George, and all three boys were headed for eighth grade in the fall, one and a half months away.
George liked them both and felt he could easily become friends with them. Randy was gentle and a listener. Billy was a joker and a talker. Even though Billy was older, it was Randy who made the decisions. Most of all, George liked watching Jeremy interact with them. He saw the love they had for each other and envied them and it reminded him of just how lonely and alone he was.
Billy sighed and not really understanding why, said, “I think I killed my first dad.”
George turned to look at Billy who quickly wiped away some tears on the blanket wrapped around them.
“Why do you think that?”
Billy looked down at his bare feet and then out at the yard.
“I was pissed at my mom for not telling me I was adopted. My parents got divorced and I lived with my dad but spent a lot of time with Jeremy and Randy.” He wiped more tears off his face with the blanket and said, “My dad missed my mom and he was lonely. He died of a heart attack.”
George nodded, letting the silence envelope them like the blanket wrapped around them.
“Are you happy living with Mr. Jeremy and Randy?”
Without any hesitation, Billy said, “Oh yeah. I love them. Jeremy’s my dad now, and Randy’s my brother. They’re my best friends.” Then he was quiet for a moment and said, “I just miss my first dad every now and then.”
“When my dad died, I was hoping Jeremy would let me live with him and Randy. He adopted me like he did Randy, but I kept my dad’s name, you know, out of respect, kind of.” Billy shrugged and said, “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
George nodded. That seemed right to him too. He thought that if Mr. Jeremy would adopt him, he’d keep his last name, Tokay, out of respect for his family, his grandfather in particular.
That thought startled him.
No one had asked him if he had wanted to be adopted. There was the offer to have him live with them, but he didn’t know if he was going to accept it, and didn’t know if that meant Jeremy would adopt him.
“You and I are sort of alike,” Billy said, shaking him out of his thoughts.
“How?” George asked.
“I didn’t have anyone after my dad died and there was no way I was going to live with my mom. Jeremy offered to have me live with him and now he’s my dad and Randy’s my brother. He’s always been my brother, but you know what I mean. You don’t have anyone and dad asked you to live with us.” He shrugged and said, “We’re kind of alike.”
Not wanting to get into it, he said, “It’s late. We should probably get back to bed.”
He got up and Billy followed him back into the kitchen and up the stairs to bed.
Shattered Lives, Book Two of the Lives Trilogy, is available at a 15% discount from my publisher, Black Rose Writing for only a short time longer. The link is below. You can also purchase Taking Lives, Prequel to the Lives Trilogy; Stolen Lives, First Book of the Lives Trilogy; and Splintered Lives, Book Three of the Lives Trilogy using the same link and searching for the title.