Finding Claire, a romantic suspense novel set in the Texas Hill Country, is the first book in the Hill Country Secrets series. Below, I’ve included the first two chapters.
Finding Kate, book two in the series, picks up on the same day that Finding Claire ended.
Excerpt from Finding Claire –
January 8, 2016 – 9:27pm
The night I woke up in the back of a van with my hands bound, my whole world changed. It was a Friday.
I opened my eyes and fought to remember how I ended up in a dark, moving vehicle. As if rising from the depths of a deep lake, I struggled, desperate for a glimpse of the familiar. Rope burned my wrists. I didn’t have the presence of mind or the courage to formulate an escape. Panic rendered me useless as someone drove me to the middle of nowhere.
The kidnappers’ most helpful accomplice, my own fear, held me prisoner. The worst part of it all, my mind hid memories from me. I didn’t even know my own name.
A greasy, foul-smelling man marched me into a dark house. Images of how I’d be killed flashed through my mind when he shoved me into a putrid closet. Another man did his bidding, and talked incessantly. More than a day, being fed nothing but bologna sandwiches, I wallowed in that tiny space.
January 10, 2016 – 12:48am
I stumbled through the brush, ever conscious of the darkness pressing in on me. The flashlight did little to hold it off. With my hands tied together, I slugged through the night, fighting to stay on my feet.
The circle of light jostled as I moved. I tripped on fallen limbs as noises spurred me on faster. I tumbled, and my knees connected with a large rock, half-buried in the ground. My hands in front of me, I caught my fall. But my palm oozed blood where something sharp tore through my flesh.
Exhausted, I pulled cold, wet air into my lungs and struggled to my feet. The heavy mist plastered my clothes to my skin. But the wet ground absorbed the pounding of my footsteps, keeping the sound from echoing through the night.
Progress was impossible to measure in the grey haze. Everything my light touched looked the same. I prayed I wouldn’t circle back to the house I’d left.
I pushed between juniper bushes, wincing as the evergreen branches scratched at my cheeks. As I cleared the trees, breath caught in my throat.
I approached it slowly, making sure it wasn’t the same one I’d just left.
I picked my steps through the underbrush, then hurried up the three porch steps. I knocked, over and over, louder and louder. All my pleading accomplished nothing. I walked around the outside hoping for a glimmer of light in a window. But silence and darkness encased the house.
Tears stung my scratches as I continued my search for help.
Drips ran down my hand, leaving a trail of blood as I stumbled through the trees. The clouds above still clung to their rain. The smell of moist earth permeated the air. I glanced up and wished for a just a glimpse of the moon or stars. The darkness taunted me, mocking the fact that I was alone.
I clung to the flashlight as I zigzagged around a prickly pear cactus. The ones I didn’t see left their marks on my legs. Tears filled my eyes, blurring my surroundings. I yelped as I snagged a barbed wire fence. The echo cackled as it scurried through the trees.
Leaves rustled nearby. I froze. The sense of something closing in tightened in my chest.
The screech of the owl sent terror pulsing through me. I pulled away from the wires, and my clothes tore. The whimper of an animal faded into the distance. I tried to forget that the blood and shreds would be easily visible in the daylight. I stared at the fence, desperately pleading for a way through. I tamped down the bottom wires with my foot and tried ducking under the other wires, but it didn’t work. Finally, I dropped face first to the ground and slithered under the bottom wire. I swallowed my cry as the barbs scraped my back.
I pushed forward, my heart wanting to run, my feet hindered by limbs and rocks. I glanced behind me into the darkness, sure the men were in pursuit, following the sound of my pain.
Shivering, I stopped to catch my breath. Wisps of white appeared in front of me each time I released my hot breath into the night.
Something near me hit the ground. I whipped around, bumping the switch on the flashlight. I was plunged into a vat of ink.
A snapping sound carried through the air. I looked back expecting lights bouncing through the trees. Feeling around the flashlight, I found the switch. When the light clicked on, the shadows returned, my welcome companions.
The underbrush slowed my progress as I hiked away from captivity. Somewhere in the night safety called to me, like Heathcliff on the moors. I’m hearing things.
I walked a bit farther and stopped. I heard it again. Laughter. I turned my head and waited for the sound to return. Pushed down by the damp air, it couldn’t have carried far. I tightened my grip on the flashlight and turned it off. Suffocated by the darkness, I scanned around me for light, any glimmer.
The wind blew, and for a moment, light appeared far off somewhere ahead. I hit the switch and surveyed to see what shielded the glow I’d seen. More juniper bushes. Their scent, pleasant only in small doses, clung to my clothes and hair like cheap cologne on an urban cowboy.
I shoved my way through the bushes, unsure of what lay on the other side, the light beckoning me forward. A house. My next step sent me skidding down. I bounced down the rocky incline on my hip, my tied hands useless to stop me. When I hit the bottom, my hip burned, and my head ached.
I crawled to a nearby boulder and used it to help me up. My legs were gelatin. When I stood, blood trickled down my face.
I limped toward the house, anticipating freedom from the rope and safety from the kidnappers. The sounds from before, clearer now, raucous laughter and men’s voices, rang out from the haven in front of me. I hurried my pace.
Closer, I smelled food. My mouth salivated.
A crunching sound beneath my foot stopped me cold.
I pointed the flashlight down. Beer cans carpeted the ground.
I darted, still limping, toward the trees before my legs gave out. The hope of safety torn away left a gaping hole in my chest. The light and sounds, so welcoming at first, mocked my fear. The front door opened, illuminating me. Not yet to the trees, I kept moving but switched off the flashlight.
A man stepped out the door. His pee splashed on the leaves, and I prayed he wouldn’t see me.
As I neared bushes, he shrieked, but I didn’t stop until I was hidden.
“What’s wrong, Gil?” A man called from inside the house. The s sliding into the word beside it.
“I saw someone.”
Cackles and snorts erupted from inside. “He saw Bigfoot.”
“Shut up! I know I saw someone. A woman, I think.”
“Gil’s little wife is sneaking out to check up on him.”
Their conversation devolved into yelling, and then someone threw a punch. What wasn’t safe before became outright dangerous. I pressed on, disappointment pouring out of my eyes. Blood, clothing, and now an eyewitness. So much for leave no trace. If I didn’t find help before the sun crested the horizon, I’d be eating a bologna and mayo sandwich for breakfast again. My stomach wretched at the thought.
My hair snagged on a mangled branch, and I ducked to keep my eyes from being punctured. The circle of light just ahead of me, fear nipped at my heels. I had to keep moving. Beyond the beam, a shroud of darkness made it impossible to see if I’d walked in circles.
Desperation disguised as hope propelled me forward, trusting that the lack of familiar sights meant I’d pushed farther away from the closet.
I skirted around yet another stand of juniper bushes. My sobs escaped into the night before I could catch them. The whoosh of fluttering birds, disrupted from their roosting, echoed around me.
A solid rock wall blocked my path, the side of a hill sheared off, leaving the white rocky insides exposed. It was too steep to climb. I stumbled to a large rock and crumpled into a heap. Blood dripped from my gashes and scratches, dotting the limestone, leaving yet another marker along my trail.
I pointed the flashlight to the right. The stone continued farther than the light could reach. The other direction, the rock sloped into weeds and bushes several yards away.
Mustering the last remnants of strength from my tired muscles, I pushed myself off the rock and trudged to the left. I inched my way up a small incline. Exhausted, I sprawled on the damp ground. Cold and sore, I ached to be inside somewhere, to be safe and protected.
The chill of the wet earth permeated the skin on my cheek. My eyelids begged to close, the temptation to sleep growing stronger every second I spent on the ground. The sky opened up and thundering raindrops pounded me. The rain urged me to continue, promising to wash away my tracks.
I lifted my head. A cabin. Just a few paces ahead, a cabin sat nestled in the trees. Firelight flickered in the windows. Adrenaline coursed through me. I struggled to my feet.
The lure of safety pulled me forward, my footsteps nearly silent on the soggy ground. A cat jumped onto the window sill. My heart raced. I dragged my tired body to the door.