Revenge for Hire
For Hire Series, #2
Natalie S Ellis
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: AUS Impulse
Date of Publication: December 1, 2015
Number of pages: ~300
North West Side Chicago. A man's phone rings at 3am, and it's every father's worst nightmare - his little girl is in danger.
Fort Wayne, Indiana. Belinda 'Billie' Chapman is working the overnight shift at WVOX-TV when she's called away to photograph a car that's crashed into the second story of a house. But when a little girl is spotted in the house across the street, the aggressive behaviour of her guardian piques Billie's curiosity.
Nolan Voss has come to Fort Wayne to check on WVOX-TV, the station he owns. Rich, uptight and deliciously hot, he can't keep away from the fiery Billie, and that means being dragged into her plan to help the young girl.
Each step closer to finding the truth leads them to a dangerous plot that has come all the way from Chicago. Will the danger only fuel their irresistible attraction to one another? Or will one of them get burned?
Near West Side, Chicago
The first blast of music jerked Chris Panyard from a 3 am fog. Stupid ringtone. His hand felt like a dead weight as it flopped around the nightstand to locate his cell as the second round of music blared. Finally on the third round, he managed to fumble the smartphone into his palm and swipe the screen.
“’Lo,” he grunted.
“Who the hell is this?” he croaked more than yelled.
He recognized the tiny, high-pitched whimper immediately.
“Jilly, what’s wrong?”
The muffled sob made him sit up, wide awake now.
He softened his voice. “Take a deep breath and tell me what’s wrong, punkin’.”
“B-ba ... B-bad,” the seven year old managed between gasps.
“Do you have a bad tummy ache again?”
“You hurt somewhere else? Your head?”
“Good idea. Go get Mommy, honey.” He was surprised Joelle hadn’t heard her crying.
Chris yawned, but swallowed it midstream when Jilly’s cry elevated another octave. She stifled the sound suddenly, as if she’d buried her mouth in her pillow. What the hell is going on?
“Jilly, you have to give me a clue here!”
“It’s M-mommy,” she shrieked, ending on a hiccup.
“Is Mommy hurt?”
She cried softly for a moment, then finally managed, “Yessss.”
“Bad men.” Jilly took a deep, shuddering breath. “The bad m-men hurt my mmommyyy.”
Lurching out of bed, he struggled to pull on his pants with one hand as he pressed the phone to his ear with the other. He clenched his teeth to keep a stream of obscenities from escaping. “Where are you? Are you somewhere safe?”
She sniffed. “Cubby.”
Before he and Joelle split, Jilly used to hide in an attic crawlspace that she called her “cubby” whenever she got upset—like when he and her mom yelled at each other. The miniature attic door was located way in the back of Jilly’s closet, behind hanging clothes and a pile of toys.
“Jilly? Are the bad men still there?”
“I th-think so.”
“Okay, you stay right where you are and don’t make a sound, baby. Daddy will be there in ten minutes.”
“Ji-i-i-lly, where a-a-are you?” Chris heard a man through the phone, calling for his daughter in a fake, too-friendly voice. Shit! He had to be in Jilly’s bedroom to sound so loud.
“Shhh,” Chris whispered to Jilly, the sound of his heart pounding in his ears.
Not bothering with a shirt, he ran for his front door. Should he put Jilly on hold and dial 911? No, it would take too long and he couldn’t risk her accidentally hanging up on him. If he did lose the connection, calling back would make the phone ring and give away her hideout.
“Shhh,” Chris said again, too afraid to utter anything more, in case the man overheard.
Joelle tended to keep the volume way up on her cell phone.
A loud thump came through the phone, then a sound like hangers pinging against each other. Chris held his breath, glad Jilly was silent. The man was obviously searching his daughter’s closet.
“Show yourself, kid!” the man yelled, clearly frustrated now.
When Chris reached his car in the lot behind his apartment, he muted the phone just long enough to start the engine. He listened again and heard the man yelling, but far off in the distance.
“In your quietest voice, tell me if the man has left your room.”
“He’s gone now,” Jilly’s precious voice piped up immediately. Chris winced, remembering too late that her perception of a whisper was always louder than his.
He strained to hear any indication that the man was heading back to the closet.
“Daddy?” she whispered, softer this time.
“I’m here and on my way.” He backed up the car and pulled out of the lot. “Do you know who that man is?”
She didn’t answer.
“Jilly?” His heart pounded against his chest. Had the man returned?
He let out the breath he’d been holding. “I know you are, baby. I’ll be there soon, I promise. But who are they? Who are the bad men?”
“I don’t know, Daddy.”
What had Joelle gotten herself into this time?
Chris raced down Roosevelt Road to reach his daughter. He had no idea what he’d find in that house. But as long as Jilly stayed safe, that’s all that mattered. Even if it meant tearing through ten men to get to her.
My weekend writing days aren’t exciting enough to talk about—write, write, write, drink coffee, write some more—so I decided to share a typical day at my full-time job. I’m the Parks & Recreation Department’s Public Information Officer and people always ask me if it’s anything like the Parks & Recreation TV show. I’ll let you be the judge.
5:30 am—Alarm goes off. I normally wake up at 6 am, but today I was invited to speak to the Optimist Club and they’re on the opposite side of town. At least I can save time by not eating breakfast at home, and I get to have a yummy omelet rather than Great Grains with almond-coconut milk. Getting tired of my high-fiber breakfast every morning!
6:10 – 6:50 am—I take advantage of the long drive to think about my work in progress. I need to figure out what kind of person the snitch, or “deep throat,” should be. This book is the third TV News mystery/suspense in my “For Hire” series. I also contemplate where Deep Throat should secretly meet the hero. I drive past McCulloch Park and realize that the old abandoned GE complex across the street would have a lot of creepy places to meet in the shadows. Perfect!!
6:50 am—I arrive at the restaurant early and after meeting my lovely host, I choose a table where a friendly looking gentleman is residing. My breakfast is wonderful, the thirty or so Optimists are very cheerful, and I realize I shouldn’t have worried about not being able to speak for 20 minutes—they had a million questions about a new park we’re building. One of the highlights of breakfast was a charming 95 year-old man who stood and read a few jokes. He was hilarious and I see why everyone looks forward to that part of the program each month.
8:30 am—I make it into the office and after I answer and forward several emails, I go down the hall to talk to my co-worker in charge of customer service. Before I forget, I pass along the one suggestion and one complaint I received at the Optimist’s breakfast. I skim the morning newspaper, check out the media links the Mayor’s Public Information Officer has emailed, check all of the Parks & Recreation Facebook pages I mange (there are 7 of them!) to see if anyone has sent me a message. All clear. Then I remember to check my calendar. I know, I should have checked first thing! I see there’s a meeting at 10 am that I’m in charge of, so I go searching for a cup of coffee to wake up my brain. Coffee in hand—with a splash of pumpkin spice cream—I quickly refresh my memory about the meeting, make copies of the agenda, and head to the conference room.
10:00 am—Since one of my duties as Public Information Officer (PIO) is to coordinate volunteer efforts to clean our parks, I lead the meeting about starting an annual park clean-up event. By the end of the meeting, the original plan has completely changed!
11:00 am—I transcribe my notes from the meeting and set a follow-up meeting while I munch on the leftovers I brought back from breakfast.
11:30 am—I head down the street to meet my lunch buddy at his school. He’s a sweet 3rd Grader I’ve been visiting each week for the last two years. He loves playing games, so today I bring along a big search and activity book. It’s easy to talk while we search for hidden objects. I barely have to encourage him to chat about his home life and his friends these days. When we first met, it was like pulling teeth. All he wanted to do was play Junior Monopoly or his version of Chess—which is a cross between checkers and a war game. I’m training to be a volunteer at an organization that helps children cope with a death in the family and my homework assignment is to practice using “I wonder” statements, rather than asking a direct question. Using “I wonder” shows you’re interested in what the child has to say about the subject, but it lets them off the hook if they don’t feel like responding. They should have choices because they didn’t have any choice when it came to their loved one dying. When I say “I wonder how you’ll feel later today if you only eat two bites of your sandwich,” my lunch buddy takes a few more bites. Success! Hey, I need to use those “I wonder” sentences more often! After practicing today, I feel a lot better about the daunting task of working with grieving children once my 20 hours of training are complete.
12:15 pm—It’s a nice day, so my lunch buddy wants to go out for recess and play kickball with his friends. That means I have about 20 minutes left in my lunch hour. I sit in my car and quickly jot down all the ideas I thought of about Deep Throat. I’ve already forgotten some of my ideas—so annoying! They’ll probably hit me in the middle of the night and I’ll have to scribble them down by the light of the moon. Of course, I’ll be awake by then, realize I have to get up to use the bathroom, then decide I’m hungry and won’t be able to sleep again without having a cracker or two.
1:00 pm—I have a “Night of Lights” meeting with downtown businesses and organizations that are involved with a big event the night before Thanksgiving. Every year, a huge crowd gathers for the event. They move from light display to light display downtown, counting down, and watch while each of the six or so displays are illuminated. If you read my first book, FEAR FOR HIRE, you’ll recognize the event. It’s a wonderful tradition in Fort Wayne that seems to grow bigger and bigger each year. There are other activities going on too, including music, food, crafts, games and a place where kids can buy gifts for their parents for a dollar or less.
2:00 pm—Right after the “Night of Lights” meeting, I attend a “Winterval” meeting in the same room. This is also a downtown event that takes place the end of January. The coolest part of this event is that ice carvers come to town and create amazing ice sculptures. This year we’re hoping to have an interactive golf putting course! I’m highly involved with the promotion of both of these events, the marketing side of my PIO duties, because we have two facilities downtown that have activities going on.
3:15 pm—I grab the afternoon paper and my mail when I return to the office, along with a snack that I’ve packed. I don’t really want to eat the bag of veggies, but I don’t have anything else. Yes, this happens every afternoon, but I stubbornly pack only healthy food in the morning. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like healthy food in the afternoon, but there’s nothing else to eat and I’m starved. I feel like I’m always starving at work!!
3:30 pm—I work on a press release and talking points for a news conference we’re having next week. Before I know it, it’s an hour later and time to go home. Oh, I think sometime during that period, I wandered down to my friend’s office to show her a really cute picture of my daughter and her boyfriend at a Halloween party dressed as nerds. He’s very muscular, so he looked like Clark Kent in his thick, black glasses and I kept feeling like he was going to rip off his button down shirt to reveal a Superman costume underneath. My daughter freaked me out. She looked a lot like I did when I was a nerd in high school.
5:00 pm—I arrive home and find my husband fixing the water pump on his truck. (He needs a new vehicle, but he loves his sweetheart too much, and appreciates not having a car payment too much, to get rid of it. If and when something really expensive breaks, he’ll make that painful decision. He’s a mechanic, so it could be years yet.) I warm up some Spicy Cabbage Soup that I made over the weekend. I love to cook when I have time, but after work I’m usually too tired and hungry to spend more than 30 minutes getting a meal ready. In case you’re wondering, the soup has hamburger, cabbage, beans, onions and bell peppers in it. The broth is made from tomato sauce, beef bouillon and salsa. It’s really, really good and cooked in a crockpot, so simple.
6:00 pm—After we eat dinner and clean up together—he’s so helpful!—we watch the national news. I try to post something on my author Facebook page while we’re watching, if I can think of something to post. Social media is so much easier at work because I’m promoting our parks and programs, not myself. Lately, I’ve been posting pretty pictures on my Facebook page. That seems to be what people like the best.
7:00 pm—My youngest daughter calls from Seattle. (I have two daughters, both out of town.) We chat for close to an hour. The highlight of my day! It’s already 8 pm, too late to exercise, right? I don’t want to get my blood pumping. That’ll keep me awake. I vow to walk during my lunch hour the next day. (I probably will because I love to walk, it’s not lunch buddy day, and if I don’t walk, I may go to the mall and buy something I don’t need.)
8:15 pm—I take a nice, hot bath in my new soaking tub. By the time I get out, I’ve thought of a bunch of new ideas for my book, so I quickly jot them down, even as my husband asks me if I want to watch a Longmire. Have you watched that Netflix series? We love it! Walt Longmire is a handsome, troubled Sheriff whose wife was murdered. His deputy, Vic, is spunky and sexy, trying her hardest to be tough in a man’s world. There’s a good mystery in each episode.
9:30 pm—I doze off twice while watching Longmire. Yes, I really do love it, but I’ve had a long day. I try to read a few pages of Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC book. It’s very interesting, but I can’t keep my eyes open. Goodnight!
Natalie S. Ellis worked behind the scenes in TV news for sixteen years and will always miss the rush of a breaking story. But the seduction of writing a fiery romance with twisty suspense is even harder to resist, especially when she has a new curveball for the plot. Natalie enjoys living in her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and attributes her cheerful attitude to empty nesting, a supportive family, and way too many lattés.
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