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Crossroads Crisis Center #2
Multnomah
February 2011
On Sale: February 8, 2011
320 pages
ISBN: 1601422067
EAN: 9781601422064
Kindle: B004FGMZ7G
Trade Size / e-Book
$13.99
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Inspirational Fiction Mystery

Also by Vicki Hinze:

Dangerous Desires, July 2013
e-Book
Torn Loyalties, February 2013
Paperback
Maybe This Time, February 2013
Paperback
Legend of the Mist, February 2013
Paperback
All Due Respect, January 2013
Trade Size (reprint)
Christmas Countdown, December 2012
Paperback
Duplicity, November 2012
Audio (reprint)
Mind Reader, November 2012
Audio CD
Acts of Honor, September 2012
Trade Size (reprint)
Duplicity, August 2012
e-Book (reprint)
Girl Talk, March 2012
e-Book
Not This Time, March 2012
Trade Size
Mind Reader, March 2012
e-Book (reprint)
Cast Of Characters, March 2012
Paperback
Beside A Dreamswept Sea, January 2012
Trade Size
Upon A Mystic Tide, December 2011
Trade Size
Beyond the Misty Shore, October 2011
Paperback
Before The White Rose, September 2011
e-Book
Deadly Ties, February 2011
Trade Size
Forget Me Not, March 2010
Paperback
Kill Zone, July 2009
Mass Market Paperback
The Common Sense Guide For Writers, July 2006
Paperback
Her Perfect Life, April 2006
Paperback
The Prophet's Lady, March 2006
Paperback
Bulletproof Princess, February 2006
Paperback
Double Dare, December 2005
Paperback
Double Vision, June 2005
Paperback
Smokescreen, June 2005
Paperback
Body Double, September 2004
Paperback
Lady Justice, August 2004
Paperback
Lady Liberty, November 2002
Paperback
All Due Respect, October 2000
Paperback
One Way To Write A Novel, September 2000
Paperback
All About Writing To Sell, July 2000
Paperback
Acts Of Honor, December 1999
Paperback
Duplicity, April 1999
Paperback
Shades Of Gray, July 1998
Paperback

Deadly Ties
by Vicki Hinze

Excerpt

Prologue

The child is not; and I, wither shall I go?
ĖGenesis 37:30 (kjv)

July 1987

Seagrove Village, Florida

It was an ordinary day. Bad things arenít 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 theyíd been drawn on with markers and then smudged. And her nails were a disgrace. Haggard and beaten down. Thatís 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 thereís time to brace and prepare for them."

She dipped her chin and glared into her own eyes. "Especially if itís too horrific to wrap your mind aroundóand it happens not to you, but to someone you love."

Pain shot through her heart, leaving her chest hollow and empty. "But there arenít any rules and there werenít any signs." She shifted her gaze to the ceiling. "Why, God? Why didnít You send me at least one bad feeling? An intuitive flash? Couldnít You spare me even one piddling stomach flutter?" Tears stung her eyes. "Iíve been loyal, obedient. Why didnít 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. Troubleís coming. Summon your faith and gird your loins because every motherís 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. "Womenís intuition?" She picked up a bud, plucked a petal, and dropped it onto the spotless marble floor. "Failed."

Tore off another petal. "Motherís 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 didnít 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, sheíd 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. "Iíve 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 Charlesís favorite. She swallowed hard. Theyíd 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 theyíd 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 canít remember. After thirty, the years tend to run together."

"Seven." Annieís voice cracked. Lisa was bright and beautiful inside and outóat 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 Noraís birthday party, I think."

Pain twisted in Annie like hot wires coiled tight. "Itís what sheís always wanted." Lisa idolized her father. "She has a stronger stomach for medical procedures than I do, and she never complains about Charlesís 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, didnít they?"

Annie didnít answer.

"Annie? They left early yesterday, right?"

"If this shows up in the Village Log, Iím 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." Sheíd 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. "Iím sure Lisa was excited."

She was their only child, their miracle baby. "Beyond excited."

"Why didnít you go with them?"

"Itís my month to chair the charity function. I couldnít beg off, and rescheduling would have been a nightmare for Charlesís staff and patients." Now she wished she had gone. That she hadnít, sheíd regret forever.

"Just as well." Miranda stood. "If Charles is anything like my Paul and youíd 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 didnít 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 donít 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 couldnít resist a mystery of any sort." She was good at solving them too.

"Obviously thatís from Charlesís 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 couldnít. 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 donít." Annie took exception. "I face what I have to face to survive."

"Exactly." Miranda waved. "You only worry after youíve prayed and done all you can do. Iíve always admired that about you."

Annie didnít 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 clubís courses were the best in northwest Florida, and Mirandaís game was far better, but then it should be. Annie dabbled. Miranda hit the links nearly every day.

Ordinary.

The doorbell rang.

"Iíll 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. "Iím going to my room for a few minutes to compose myself."

Miranda nodded. "Good idea." Pity shone in her eyes. "Iíll keep them busy until youíre 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, sheíd 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 hadnít been antsy.

Lisa had promised to phone every night at eight for a virtual tuck in. Sheíd 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 scaryóthe risks of wanting those things and not getting them. Sheíd 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 sheíd 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 Charlesís. 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 Annieís mind now as they had then. She hadnít slept a wink. Itíd been a fierce battle, but on the third day, she forfeited her stash. She wasnít 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 hadnít 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 Lisaís 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 wasnít 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?"

"Weíre 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. Itís loud here, but the resort man couldnít 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 Annieís 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 isnít happy about the music."

"Oh, thatís not the TV?" Annie sank back against the pillows and scratched Rexís ears. The dog was nearly as spoiled as Lisa.

"Itís off."

Annie frowned. "So whatís making all the noise?"

"Thereís a place across the street thatís 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 manís back, knocking on the door again." Lisa sounded more annoyed than scared. "Mom, heís 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 lapóa terrible sign. "Whatís he saying?" Was there a fire in the building or something?

"ĎItís time for you to become a shrub.í" 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.

Annieís blood ran cold.

Yesterday was no longer an ordinary day.

Excerpt from Deadly Ties by Vicki Hinze
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