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Posts tagged ‘Suspense’

Fallen Angel Salvage – Ebook – 99 cents

Fallen Angel Salvageis still on sale for 99 cents in digital format. An old black van. A missing child. Tatia and Jesse race through the city streets with a band of bikers while Johnny and Jade dig through the dark web and Detectives Nelson and Martin pound on doors. Will it be enough? Or will Joy become another statistic? Read the preface and Chapter 1, and then click the Buy Link at the end of the post to get your copy before the price goes back up.

Preface – The Letter

Thursday – 3:00 pm

Tatia stepped out the back door and stood quietly for a moment, watching her two children play tag in the small back yard. She smiled as Joy slowly jogged between the swing set and the sandbox with her younger brother in hot pursuit. Daniel lunged toward her, but she swerved at the last moment causing him to belly flop onto the soft grass.

“I almost got you,” he pouted.

Joy leaned over him and gloated, “You missed me by a mile, short stuff.”

He grinned up at her, touched her arm, and rolled away from her under the swing set. “Tag, you’re it!” he shouted in triumph.

Tatia laughed at the stunned look on Joy’s face and clapped her hands. “Nice move, Daniel! Now, recess is over, and we have a reading lesson to complete before we quit for the day. Dust yourselves off and get the mail on your way in.”

“I’ll get it,” yelled Joy as she took off for the front of the house.

“No!” wailed Daniel. “I won! I get to get it.”

“Okay, I guess you’re right,” said Joy, slowing down to let him catch up. Then, she tapped him on the shoulder. “But now you’re it!”

Tatia shook her head and went back into the house as the two tagged and shouted all the way to the mailbox. Joy must have been in a charitable mood, because a few moments later the front door slammed open and Daniel strutted into the living room with several envelopes clutched in his fist. He presented the mail to his mom as if he were handing her a dozen roses, and then headed to the refrigerator for a bottle of water.

“Joy, did you see that old van across the street?” he asked his sister. “It must have been about a hundred years old.”

“I didn’t see any old van, and I wouldn’t care if I did,” said Joy, her charitable mood long gone.

“Well, you should. The driver was staring at you.”

“There wasn’t a van and there wasn’t a driver! You need glasses!”

“That’s enough, you two,” said Tatia, hoping to restore some peace. “What kind of van was it?” she asked Daniel.

“I’m not sure, Mommy. I’ll go check.” He knelt on the couch and peered out the window as Tatia looked over his shoulder. “It’s gone now,” he said with a shrug.

“Good! Now we can talk about something important,” said Joy. “Like birthday cards! Mommy, did I get any more today?”

Tatia dismissed the uneasy feeling that tried to insinuate itself into her mind, and made a mental note to talk with Jesse about the van later. Right now, she had an almost-nine-year-old girl dancing from foot to foot, waiting for her to sort the mail. It was two days before Joy’s birthday, and she had received more mail in the last week than she had in the previous nine years. She loved the emails and ecards her mom and dad shared with her, but she loved the cards that came in the mail even more. They felt more like they belonged just to her. Tatia flipped through the small stack of envelopes and handed two of them to her daughter.

“It looks like there’s one from Alicia at school and another one from Grandma and Grandpa G. How many is that from them anyway?”

“Seven! One every day for a whole week! What about that one? Is it for me?” she asked pointing to the plain white envelope Tatia was staring at curiously.

“No, it’s addressed to me, and it doesn’t have a return address or a stamp.”

“Probably a bill,” said Joy, and she took her cards to the couch to read them.

Tatia opened the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of notebook paper. On it was taped a small article from the Cameron Morning Telegraph dated the previous Sunday.

Cameron, TX. After serving twenty years of three concurrent sentences for murder, aggravated statutory sexual assault, and human trafficking, Eric Hall was paroled from the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville this week. His conviction was the first of several that resulted from the testimony of a very brave young woman, later identified as Tatia Robins in her book, Groomed for the Streets. These convictions freed Cameron from the human trafficking trade that had plagued our city for years.

Below the article was a short, hand-written message:

I wonder if Joy is as brave as her mother.

Chapter 1 – The Nightmare

Friday – 4:30 am

Tatia fought, trying to free herself from the arms that grasped her, crying out silently for Mama. Mama didn’t come, though. She was lying in a box with Daddy, both of them cold and lifeless, staring up at her with painted faces that melted into piles of ashes. Eric grabbed at her, pulling her away from the casket and through the door of a shabby motel room toward a bed covered with dirty, rumpled sheets. On the bed lay her daughter, sobbing hysterically while the men who surrounded the bed chanted her name again and again. Tatia struggled toward another voice she could barely hear.

“Tatia,” it said softly. “Tatia. Sweetheart. Wake up.”        

The room behind her began to fade as Jesse’s gentle whisper drew her out of her tormented sleep and back into the safety of the bed they had shared for the last dozen years. She rolled over toward him and buried her face against his chest as he once again drew her out of the darkness that still haunted her nights.

“It’s okay, baby,” he crooned. “I’m here. I got ya.”

He felt the tension gradually leave her body, and as her ragged breathing evened out, he drew back slightly and gazed into the face he loved so much.

“Hey,” he said gently. “I’m not gonna let him hurt you ever again.”

She smiled weakly and snuggled closer. She lay there for a while, listening to him breathe, trying to feel the reassurance he offered. The peace wouldn’t come, though, and after listening to the sounds of her husband sleeping for a while, she slipped out of bed and into her robe and slippers to ward off the early October chill.

She stepped carefully to avoid tripping over Harley who purred and rubbed against Tatia’s ankles, happy to have some unexpected company in the pre-dawn hours. Tatia yawned as she pulled the bedroom door closed behind her so Jesse could sleep for a while longer. Then, she put a scoop of food in Harley’s bowl. While the fluffy kitten inspected her breakfast, Tatia went down the hall and looked in on her children. She lingered a little longer at Joy’s door, whispering a prayer for her protection now that a convicted felon knew her name. She dashed away an angry tear, fighting the rising rage at the man who had stolen so much of her childhood and now had invaded the sanctity of her home with his words.

Tatia sighed and shuffled to the kitchen where she turned on the coffee maker and selected a decaf coffee pod from the holder on the counter. Once the hot, fragrant drink was brewed and she had added some French vanilla creamer, she retrieved her Bible and prayer journal and settled into her favorite overstuffed chair in the corner of the living room. She opened the journal to the thanksgiving section, but she struggled to find any feelings of gratitude in the emotional turmoil that churned inside her. Harley was perched on the armrest next to her, and she absently stroked the purring cat as she sipped her coffee and attempted to lose herself in happy memories.

Buy Link: Fallen Angel Salvage

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo – Ebook – 99 Cents

Tatia’s Tattoo is still on sale for 99 cents in digital format. As a successful D.C. lawyer, Tatia’s mission in life was to destroy the sex trafficking trade in small-town America. She knew where to find it. She’d been there. With only apathetic foster parents to protect her, she fell prey to the local pimp. Trapped in the sordid underbelly of a small Texas town, she survived by sheer will. Her friendship with her fellow victim Cindy was the only light of humanity in the darkness until she saw a familiar face.
Would Mrs. G, a mama bear of an attorney, still think she had strength and potential? Would Jesse, the young Christian tattoo artist and biker, still look at her with a twinkle in his eyes? Or would they both see only the mark of shame Eric had etched onto her forearm?

Click the cover for the buy link or scroll down to read the Preface and Chapter 1…

Preface – The Nightmare

Tatia couldn’t breathe. She could feel his weight on her chest, his hot breath on her face-and pain-she felt hot, searing pain running up the center of her body. Then, he rolled off of her, and she could breathe again, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to. If she could hold her breath long enough, maybe she could go where Mama and Daddy went, to their Father’s house. Suddenly, he grabbed her by the shoulder and jerked her off the bed into a standing position.

“Go clean yourself up. My friend will be here in fifteen minutes. Stop your bawling and freshen your make-up. You look like hell.”

He turned to the bed to straighten the rumpled sheets. When he caught sight of the fresh bloodstains, he threw his hands in the air in exasperation.

“Was this really your first time?”

The only reply from the bathroom was the sound of running water and soft sniffling.

“I could have charged twice as much,” he yelled.

Tatia woke with start as her alarm clock freed her from the nightmare she had re-lived for more than a decade. She turned off the alarm and slipped to her knees beside the bed, asking God to take away the horror of the dream and to replace it with His light. Basking in the love she felt in response to her prayer, she rose and picked up her partially packed suitcase from the floor. She placed it on the bed, ready for last-minutes toiletries, and headed for the shower. She had a plane to catch and girls to rescue.

Chapter 1 – Off to Camp

Tatia heard a car horn emit two quick beeps, and she knew her ride to the airport had arrived. She stepped out onto the balcony of her second-floor apartment and waved to the gray-haired man who stood beside the open door of an almost brand-new Lexus.

“Hi, Henry,” she called, waving and smiling as he looked up. “I’ll be down in two minutes.”

“No hurry, Miss,” he said, returning her smile. “We have plenty of time, and the traffic is light this morning, or at least lighter than usual.”

Tatia continued to smile as she closed and secured the sliding glass door. She was glad Henry had been available this morning. Her records at the executive car service she always used indicated that he was her preferred driver. She knew she could trust him to chat lovingly about his wife of nearly fifty years and his multiple children and grandchildren instead of hitting on her like some of the younger drivers.

She looked in the mirror and moved her arm into several positions to be sure her sleeve didn’t pull up and expose her mark of shame. Satisfied, she took a quick pass through the bedroom and bathroom in case she had forgotten anything vital. She closed the quart-sized plastic bag that held all the cosmetics she would need for a week at camp and tucked it into a corner of her small rolling suitcase. Then, she grabbed the laptop and the loose-leaf notebook that lay waiting on the ottoman in front of her favorite chair, slipped them into her shoulder bag, and headed for the door. She wouldn’t have time for work the next week, but she never liked to be completely out of touch-and she’d have time to review the notebook in the airport and on the plane. Before she shut and locked the door, she glanced around the tiny apartment that had been home since the previous year when the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act had been passed and she had been asked to chair the Council on Human Trafficking. The flat wasn’t much by Washington, D.C. standards, but as one of twelve trafficking victims whose job it was to advise policymakers, she wasn’t exactly an insider anyway.

“Good morning, Henry,” she greeted him again with a big smile. “Are you ready to roll?”

“Always ready to drive you wherever you need to go, Miss,” he replied with a grin. “You make yourself comfortable, and I’ll put your bag in the trunk.” He took her suitcase, knowing she would want to keep her shoulder bag with her.

Once they were on the road, Henry began a now familiar conversation. “Miss Robins, I don’t understand why a successful lawyer like you continues to live in a cramped walk-up in this neighborhood. I’ll bet you could find something much nicer if you looked around a bit.”

“I’m sure I could, and it would be much more expensive. Then, I wouldn’t be able to afford to have you drive me around, and that would be just too sad.”

Henry sighed and continued. “I worry about you. This area isn’t safe for a young, beautiful woman alone. You need a husband who will protect you.”

“Henry, I know you care about me, and I appreciate it. But you know I’m waiting for God to choose a husband for me. Until He does, I have my guardian angels standing guard.”

“So, I guess I should mind my own business and let Him mind His and yours. In the meantime, I’ll keep reminding Him that you need a good man in your life.”

Tatia laughed and changed the subject. “Henry, I’ll bet you can’t guess where I’m going today.”

“No, I can’t. But since you’re dressed in jeans and boots instead of a business suit, I’m guessing it’s not a business trip.”

“You’re right. No business for the next ten days. I’m going to visit some old friends, and then I’m going to summer camp for a week.”

“Summer camp, huh? My grandkids are each going to different camps this year.”

With that, Henry began talking about his favorite subject, his family. Tatia settled back into her seat and half listened while she thought about her first time at camp.

It was the summer of her twelfth birthday with nothing to look forward to but three months of Texas heat in a house crowded with too many foster kids and Josie, her pre-menopausal foster mom. Josie didn’t really seem to like any of them, and she usually took her frustrations with her absentee, truck-driving husband out on the kids.

At least Tatia would be free of the incessant taunting of her classmates as they droned on about their hectic vacation schedules and the hardship of finding time for cheer camp, youth camp, and several other camps between trips to the beach, the mountains, and The Continent. She didn’t bother to answer the snide questions about her summer plans, plans that consisted of remaining unnoticed and spending as much time as possible losing herself in a pile of books at the blissfully cool library.

Even those expectations were probably too high. Since she would be home from school, she would be noticed and subject to the Josie’s expectations. Josie didn’t like being called by her first name, but she would never be “Mama” to Tatia. She was more like the wicked step-mother in Cinderella. While she was finding relief at the mall or the movie theater, Tatia would probably be stuck in a house with a couple of ancient window units and a few box fans that did little to fight the triple digit temperatures. Instead of spending time in the library, she would be surrounded by sweaty, smelly kids with runny noses, dirty diapers, or both. At least they could all go outside and spray each other with the water hose to cool down and wash away some of the unpleasant odors.

The only break Tatia could count on was the weekly meeting with her social worker. It wasn’t really Ms. Dunham’s fault that their time together was spent checking on Tatia’s situation and filling out reports. Even though Tatia was smart, pretty, and sweet, she had issues, issues that had kept her moving from foster home to foster home instead of finding the forever home she longed for. Most prospective parents wanted newborns or at least a toddler to rock and cuddle. The few who would consider an older child wanted one who would respond to overtures of love and tenderness instead of an emotionally unavailable little girl who rarely made eye contact and who resisted all efforts to break through her ironclad defenses. It didn’t help that her files included accounts of frequent night terrors caused by recurring nightmares. Still, sometimes Ms. Dunham dropped the formalities and took her out for ice cream or shaved ice, and that was better than nothing.

With such low expectations, Tatia was totally shocked when, at one of their meetings, Ms. Dunham said, “Tatia, how would you like to go to camp this summer?”

 “Yeah, right. Like Josie would let go of that kind of money.”

Ms. Dunham smiled. “I know finances are tight right now, but this camp won’t cost Josie anything.”

“I don’t know. I spend enough time during the school year with those snobs. I don’t want to waste my summer with them, too.” The regular kids made life miserable for the foster kids, so Tatia didn’t want to spend any more time with them than she absolutely had to.

“You won’t be with your classmates from school. This is a camp especially for kids in the foster system, so everybody will be more or less in the same situation.”

“Ah, I see. It’s one of those ‘let’s take care of the poor foster kids so we can feel better about ourselves’ kind of thing. And I suppose we spend most of our time in group counseling sessions spilling our guts to perfect strangers.”

Ms. Dunham was accustomed to the defensive cynicism of her young clients, so she wasn’t put off by Tatia’s resistance. “No, as a matter of fact, there are no counseling sessions. If the campers want to talk to a staff member about something, that’s okay, but the purpose of the camp is to have fun.”

“Fun, huh? Like what?” Tatia’s curiosity was piqued in spite of her best efforts to remain disinterested. By the time Ms. Dunham had given her a more detailed description of the camp facilities and activities, Tatia couldn’t help feeling a little excited by the possibility, but after so many disappointments in her life, she was afraid, too. “Maybe, but Josie would never let me go. She needs me to help with the little kids.”

“I’ve already mentioned it to her. She said if all the kids can go so she can have a week off, she’s all for it.”

“Oh, I see. So, I get stuck with the same bunch, just in a different location.”

“No, Tatia. It’s not like that. The campers are divided by age group, and each counselor has two campers for the week. You’ll be paired with a girl your own age, and the two of you will get lots of one-on-one attention from a counselor who is already praying for you and looking forward to meeting you.”

“I knew there was a catch. This is a church camp with lots of preaching and telling me what a failure I am. Right?”

“It is a faith-based camp, and there will be a couple of Bible stories each day, but the focus is on how special you are to God. And I guarantee you won’t be bored with the praise and worship times. All I can say is you’d better take your dancing shoes.”

“Really? The way you describe it, it sounds too good to be true.”

“It’s better. I’m probably not doing it justice. It’s only five days. What have you got to lose-and you might have some fun.”

“Well, if you want to go to the trouble of getting it set up, I guess I could try it just this once.” She tried to retain her cool demeanor, but Ms. Dunham was thrilled to see a spark of something in Tatia’s eyes she hadn’t seen before-hope.

 “Miss Robins?” said Henry. “We’re almost to your stop. Are you checking your bag or carrying on?”

Tatia knew his question was his diplomatic way of calling her out of her reverie. She had lost a bag once, and not wanting to repeat the experience, she had learned to pack lightly enough to meet the strictest carry-on limitations.

“Just drop me at the curb, Henry-and thanks for calling me back from La-La-Land.”

He smiled at her in the rear-view mirror. “Anything for my favorite passenger. I hated to disturb you. You looked like you were enjoying your thoughts. Looking forward to your week at camp?”

“I am, Henry. It’s an intense few days, but it is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. And I get to do it with some very special people.”

“How special?” he asked mischievously.

“Henry, you’re impossible.”

She laughed as he stopped the car and moved quickly to the trunk to retrieve her bag. She was reaching for the door handle when her phone notified her that she had a text. She glanced at the screen and saw a selfie of Jesse in a do rag and Harley t-shirt. The brief comment said, Wanna race?

She grinned and responded. You nerd! I’ll be in DFW before you make your first gas stop.

So smart & beautiful! 1st gas stop already.

You cheated! Left early!

His reply began with a thumbs up symbol, then he continued. Making 500+ today. Stopping in Springfield, MO tonight. 400+ tomorrow. Breakfast Sunday?

Deal!

She slipped the phone back into the side pocket on her shoulder bag and slid toward the car door which was now open. As she stood up, she looked up into Henry’s grinning face.

“Very special, I think,” he said knowingly.

Tatia felt the heat rise in her cheeks, but she couldn’t help smiling back at him.

“Yes, I thought so,” he said as he pulled out the handle of her suitcase and handed it to her. “I’ve already scheduled myself for your return. I’ll be waiting in the cell phone lot when you touch down. Have fun.”

 “I will, Henry, and thanks.”

Blessings,

Linda

Buy Link: Tatia’s Tattoo

Tatia’s Tattoo: Chapter 20 – …AND IN THE SLAMMER. Read it here!

The first man who approaches Tatia on the street turns out to be Officer Kevin Adams, and she spends her first night in jail.

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 20.

Final_Tatia's Tattoo Cover trim size

CHAPTER 20: …AND IN THE SLAMMER

The man reached into his hip pocket and pulled out his wallet. He popped it open with one smooth, practiced move, exposing his badge and confirming Tatia’s worst fears.

“Kevin Adams, Cameron PD. You’re under arrest for prostitution. Stand up and turn around with your hands behind your back.”

As he began reciting her rights, he pulled some flex-cuffs out of his pocket. He hated the things, because if you tightened them too much, you had to cut them off and start over before your detainee ended up with blue hands. The metal ones tended to rattle at the wrong time, though, so he made do.

“Do you understand these rights as I’ve told them to you?” he asked as he tested the cuffs to make sure he hadn’t made them too loose.

“Yes,” said Tatia in a voice so quiet it was almost drowned out by the buzz of her cell phone. “Can I take my phone?”

“You can’t handle it in the car, and you know you can’t keep it when they put you in a cell.”

“Oh,” she replied with tears in her voice.

“First time?” he asked with his voice softening a little.

“Yes.”

He picked up the phone and slid it into his pocket. “They’ll give it back to you when you’re released.”

Tatia nodded, biting her lip and struggling to control the fear of what would happen when she was released. Eric had no patience with girls who cost him time and money by getting arrested. Officer Adams held her arm securely but not roughly as he directed her back to his car, and he was careful not to bump her head when he helped her into the back seat. She knew Eric would not be so gentle.

While he drove to the station, Tatia saw him glancing at her in the rearview mirror every now and then. Finally, he spoke.

“What’s your last name, Kaitlyn?”

“Golden,” she answered.

“How old are you.”

She did a quick mental calculation, making sure her answer matched her ID. “Twenty,” she said.

“Shame,” he said. “If you were, say, sixteen or seventeen, this would be a lot easier for you – especially if you told me where to find the guy you texted back in the room.”

“Oh, that,” she said. “That was just my roommate letting her know that I wouldn’t be home tonight.”

“Ahh,” he said cynically. “I thought it might be your pimp.”

“No, I don’t have a manager. I’m on my own – just making a little spending money,” she said, trying to sound much more blasé than she felt.

Both driver and passenger were silent for the rest of the trip. Adams pulled into a parking lot where he pulled in between two patrol cars. He helped Tatia out and guided her up the steps into the station and past the front desk where an officer was talking on the phone with his feet up on the desk.

“Slow night, huh?” said Adams.

“Yeah. Looks like you got a live one.”

“Uh-huh. Is Anderson here?”

“Yeah, she’s taking a break. We don’t have a houseful, but there are a few ahead of you.”

Tatia’s eyes were wide with apprehension as the reality of her situation played out in front of her. “Where are you taking me?” she whispered to Kevin.

He lowered his voice so only she could hear. “To a holding cell where you’ll stay until we’re ready to complete the booking process. Then you’ll be moved to a pre-arraignment cell where you’ll stay until the judge gets here and gets started tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow?” she said with tears puddling and threatening to spillover.

“It won’t be too bad. I type slow, and the night’s half over anyway.”

“You still have my phone, right?”

“Right here,” he said, patting his pocket.

The holding cell was down the hall from the front desk, but Tatia wished it was miles further. The small barred room was bare except for four metal benches bolted to the wall and the floor, a sink against the back wall, and an exposed toilet next to it. Women were lying on two of the benches with their faces turned toward the wall, and a third was sitting on another. None of them paid any attention as Kevin and Tatia approached. The officer who was sitting outside the cell at a tiny desk, however, gave her a thorough inspection.

“Hey, Adams! Looks like you caught a new one tonight. I haven’t seen her around here before.”

“Be nice, Hill. She’s never been inside before.”

“Yeah, first time but probably not the last. You know the drill – sign her in.” He shoved a clip board toward Kevin and continued his inspection of Tatia. Kevin wrote down her name, his name as the arresting officer, and the time.

“Okay, Hill. Get your lazy butt out of that chair and open the door so we can get on with this.”

While Hill unlocked the door, Kevin pulled a utility knife out of his pocket and used it to remove the cuffs from Tatia’s wrists. She rubbed her wrists, not because they hurt, but because she couldn’t believe she had actually been handcuffed. Hill swung the door open, she took a couple of steps inside, and stopped, frozen in place.

“This might take a little while,” said Kevin. “There are three ahead of you, but Officer Anderson will come get you and finish the process as soon as she can.”

About ten minutes later, Tatia moved toward the remaining vacant bench when she realized her toes were going numb from standing in four-inch heels. She sat on the edge of the bench, just enough to take the pressure off her feet, and stared at her hands to avoid making eye contact with anyone.

Tatia didn’t know how long she had been sitting there when she heard a female voice call out a name. She looked up long enough to watch Officer Anderson collect one of the other women and take her back down the hall. Anderson didn’t look nearly as nice as Kevin. In fact, the tall, husky brunette had a scowling mouth and an intense look that scared Tatia. She scooted back against the wall, tucked her feet under her, and wrapped her arms around herself, trying to keep from trembling.

She must have dozed off, because the next thing she knew, Anderson was calling her name. She stumbled to the door, trying to clear the sleep out of her head, and followed the officer to another room where she was instructed to sit down in the chair beside the desk. Anderson tapped on her keyboard for a few minutes, then, she began to ask Tanya some simple questions.

“Full name?”

Tatia caught herself before she gave her real name. “Kaitlyn Golden.”

She made it through the rest of the questions, stumbling only slightly over her date of birth. She gave Cindy as her contact person, and she answered the medical questions easily since she had always been healthy. Before she printed the completed form, Anderson asked three more questions.

“Do you understand that you are being booked on a charge of Prostitution, a Class B misdemeanor?”

“Yes,” replied Tatia quietly.

“Were your rights read to you, and do you understand those rights?”

“Yes,” she whispered, thinking that the only rights she had were the ones Eric said she had.

“Would you like to make a phone call?”

“Yes, please.”

Anderson dialed the number Tatia gave her and then handed the phone to her. Tatia listened hopefully to several rings, but her face fell as the voice mail activated. She listened to the familiar message before leaving one of her own. “Cindy, I hope you got my text. I’m at the Cameron PD, and court starts in less than an hour. Please come get me!”

The sound of Tatia’s voice was covered by the chatter of the printer next to Anderson’s desk. The officer took the phone back from Tatia and reached into her desk drawer, pulling out an ink pad and another form. As if she was grabbing another implement off her desk, she grabbed Tatia’s hand and began rolling her fingers, first across the ink and then across the form. While she worked, Tatia asked her first question.

“Will I be searched?”

The hint of a smile tugged at one corner of the officer’s mouth. Without looking up, she replied. “Not that a full-body search would be all that new to you, but no. I don’t think you could hide anything under that dress. Besides,” she said, looking at her watch. “It’s less than an hour until court convenes. We won’t even have time to put you into one of our lovely orange jumpsuits.”

Anderson directed Tatia to an area with a backdrop that reminded Tatia of the back of the closet door where her mother measured her every few months to see how much she had grown. It was the first time she could remember being glad her mother was dead – at least she didn’t have to see what her daughter had become.

“Face the camera and hold this in front of you,” said Anderson as she handed her a slate with her name and a series of numbers on it. After snapping a front view and a profile shot, Anderson directed Tatia back to her desk. “Have a seat while I get your inmate ID.”

She came back in a few minutes with a strip of plastic that contained Tatia’s ID number, her name, her mug shot, and a bar code. As Anderson fastened the bracelet around Tatia’s wrist, she caught a glimpse of Tatia’s tattoo peeking out from under her three-quarter-length sleeve. She pushed the sleeve up a little and made a clucking sound with her tongue.

“Looks like you already have an ID. I thought Officer Adams said you were a solo act.”

Tatia pulled her sleeve down, folded her arms across her chest so the tattoo was well hidden, and exercised her right to remain silent.

# # #

Thank you for following Tatia’s adventures through the first 20 of 55 chapters. You can find the complete book on Amazon in either digital for $.99 or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5| Chapter 6 | Chapter 7| Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16| Chapter 17 | Chapter 18| Chapter 19

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo: Chapter 19 – ON THE STROLL… Read it here!

Tatia hated picking up clients on the street. She never knew whether she was picking up a crazy man or a cop.

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo and will continue through Chapter 20. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 19. Chapter 20 will be posted on Thursday.

Final_Tatia's Tattoo Cover trim size

CHAPTER 19: ON THE STROLL…

The first time she was arrested, she was sporting a dark, shoulder-length pageboy. A new client had requested a brunette, so Eric had purchased a wig for her. The client must have been pleased, because he left her a nice tip. After he left, she went into the bathroom to freshen up and make sure her hair was on straight. She didn’t really like the look. The darker color made her face look harsh and angular, and the darker make-up Cindy had told her to use looked overdone. Still, if the client was happy, Eric was happy – and if Eric was happy, so was she.

Eric had said she was booked almost solid for the next several hours, so she was surprised when her phone rang. When she was working, she set it to let only calls from Eric come through, and he never called her while she was entertaining clients.

“Hello?” she said, wondering what she had done wrong now.

“Hey, Tatia,” Eric said in a pleasant tone. “How’d the guy like you as brunette?”

Tatia relaxed a bit, hoping she wasn’t in trouble after all. “He liked it. He left me an extra twenty bucks.”

“Good job. I’ll split the tip with you.”

Tatia started to protest, but she knew better. At least he was only taking half. “Thanks, Eric.”

“No problem, kiddo. Hey, you had a couple of cancellations and a couple of unfilled time slots, so your next client won’t be there for an hour or so.”

Tatia breathed a silent sigh of relief and thought about the book she had just downloaded today. She always carried her reader with her, just in case, and she felt a rush of hopeful excitement at the prospect of some free time to read. Her hopes were short lived, though, as Eric continued.

“I want you to go out and see if you can scout up a quick walk-in or two, if you know what I mean.”

“Sure, Eric,” she said, careful to keep the disappointment out of her voice.

“Just be sure to be ready when your next client gets there at 1:30.”

“OK.”

“Great! Love ya, babe!”

She hated going on the stroll. It was scary enough when Eric pre-screened the clients on-line, but it terrified her to pick up strangers on the street. Not as much as facing Eric’s anger terrified her, though, so she slid into the clingy red dress and the knee-high black boots she had worn to work. She checked her hair and make-up one last time, grabbed her hot pink phone clutch, and slid her room key card into the pocket next to her fake ID. Then, she hit “Messages,” Cindy’s number, and her frequently used emoticons.

After one of the other girls had been mugged in an alley off the stroll the month before, Cindy had made up some special icons. One showed a screaming girl by a car; another showed the same screaming girl sitting on a bed, and the third showed a policeman. The idea was that, in case one of the girls had a problem, all she had to do was hit the appropriate emoticon, send it to Cindy, and she would send help. They hadn’t really talked about what would happen if Cindy was working, but Eric didn’t want them texting him. Even though Tatia had not run into trouble yet, she wanted to be as prepared as possible. Satisfied that she had covered all her bases, she snapped the gaudy rhinestone clasp closed, stepped out the door, and began the two-block walk to the area where prostitutes and their clients often connected.

Tatia sauntered casually down the sidewalk with the hip-swaying gait Cindy had taught her, the one that was guaranteed to attract attention. As she walked, she thought about her new book. She often browsed through the shelves at the library when she had time, making notes of books she might want to download. Recently, she had come across Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers and was instantly captivated. The cover blurb said it was about a girl who was sold into prostitution as a child but later found redemption in the love of God and the love of a godly man. It sounded like a fairy tale, but Tatia couldn’t resist finding out how the author imagined such a miracle might happen.

She was so deep in thought that she was startled when she heard a pleasant male voice say, “Hey there.”

“Oh,” she said, catching her breath as her hand flew up to her chest. “I didn’t hear you drive up.”

One of the reasons this area was so popular with the trade was that the one-way street allowed the drivers to talk to the girls without having to shout across the car or across an oncoming lane of traffic. Tatia recovered her composure and continued to walk slowly forward while offering the driver what she hoped was an inviting smile. He looked to be in his mid-thirties with sandy brown hair that looked as if he ran his hands through it a lot. He also had friendly eyes that crinkled a little bit at the corners when he returned her smile timidly.

“I’m sorry if I scared you,” he said, allowing the car to drift along beside her. “I thought maybe you were looking for some company. Maybe I made a mistake.”

“No, you’re not wrong. I was feeling kinda lonely, so I thought I’d take a walk.” She walked over to the car and leaned into the window. Cindy had taught her that, too. “What did you have in mind?”

“Ummm, I-I-I,” he stuttered. “I’m kinda new at this.”

He certainly wasn’t like a lot of the guys she saw cruising around, acting tough and trying to look cool. Tatia smiled, thinking he might be one of the not-so-bad ones. “Tell you what. I have a room a couple of blocks over. Do you want to come over and have a drink?”

“Sure,” he said, sounding relieved. “That sounds nice.”

Tatia walked around to the passenger’s side and stepped into the car, making sure the hem of her dress slid up provocatively. She buckled herself in and gave him directions to the motel. She told him where to park, led the way to her door, unlocked it, and invited him in.

“By the way,” she said, closing the door behind them, “my name’s Kaitlyn. I don’t really have anything to offer you to drink except a soda from the machine outside.”

“Hi, Kaitlyn. I’m Kevin. I’m not really thirsty anyway,” he said, looking down at the floor.

Tatia chuckled at his innocence. She sat down on the edge of the bed and crossed her long legs.

“Then what do you want, Kevin?” she asked. Knowing the clock was ticking and Eric was expecting results, she began to make suggestions and quote prices. Suddenly, the person in front of her transformed from a timid, insecure mouse into a strong, confident man on a mission, a man she instinctively knew was a cop.

“Crap!” she said under her breath. Her phone clutch was still in her hand, so she flipped open the clasp, touched the third icon, and hit send. “Eric’s gonna kill me.”

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo: Chapter 18 – LIMITED OPTIONS. Read it here!

Tatia learns to use her books to escape from reality. But even when she does exactly what Eric tells her to, she can’t escape his wrath.

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo and will continue through Chapter 20. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 18. Chapter 19 will be posted on Sunday.

Final_Tatia's Tattoo Cover trim size

CHAPTER 18: LIMITED OPTIONS

Eric took everyone to dinner at an Italian restaurant – nothing like where he had taken Tatia for her birthday, but the food was good, and it was a nice way to spend another few minutes feeling like a normal teenager. After dinner, Eric allowed Zach to drive down the Strip so they could see all the lights at night, but there was no time to stop. He had a full schedule of clients lined up for each girl, so they left the lights behind and spent the next several hours at the motel.

Tatia had been too tired to pay much attention to her assigned room earlier, but as she glanced around now, she noted that it was almost identical to every room she’d been in since she left Josie’s. As it turned out, it looked like every room on the way back to Texas, too – and like the rooms where Cindy had set up shop back in Cameron.

Tatia read a lot on the return trip, mostly in the car, but sometimes in the few minutes between clients. She had learned to separate herself mentally and emotionally from situations she couldn’t deal with, but she also discovered a new ability to withdraw into the world of her books while with her clients. It was a healthier method of getting through the night than the chemicals used by most of the other girls.

The reality of her new life was all too real, though. One morning shortly after the trip, she was between books, so she accepted Cindy’s invitation to go shoe shopping. Tatia was saving for a leather jacket she had seen at the mall, so she watched as her friend picked out a pair of fancy cross trainers and some evening sandals with spiked heels. As Cindy paid for shoes, Tatia knew they would join the many other pairs in the top of her closet, but she was glad to see Cindy look almost happy for a little while. They left the store, chatting about where to have lunch, when Cindy stopped dead still and stared at Tatia.

“Are you on the pill?” she asked urgently.

“No,” said Tatia, surprised by the sudden subject change. “But after that first night, Eric told me to make sure the guys use a condom. You know that, Cindy. You keep me supplied.”

“I know, but those things don’t always work,” she said, dialing her cell phone. “Yes, I’ll hold,” she said impatiently. Looking back at Tatia, she went on. “Eric usually takes care of this part of it. He’s got a special deal worked out with the doc. I can’t believe he forgot – but he sure throws a fit if one of the girls gets pregnant. Last time it happened I thought he was gonna kill her – like it was her fault. Anyway…” she held up her hand while she listened to someone on the other end of the phone.

“Yes, this is Cindy, Eric Hall’s administrative assistant. I need to talk with the doctor. Yes, I’ll hold.”

Later that afternoon, before Tatia’s first client was scheduled, she stood in the alley behind the doctor’s office as Cindy knocked on the door. A short, pudgy man in a lab coat opened the door, and Cindy introduced him as Dr. Simmons. He shook hands with Tatia, and as his eyes slid slowly down her body, she sighed inwardly as she realized her 8:00 o’clock wasn’t going to be her first client of the day after all.

When Tatia wasn’t working, she shared a room with Cindy in the two-bedroom apartment they both shared with Kaycee and Belinda. In the past, Cindy had an apartment by herself or sometimes with one roommate. However, she managed to incur Eric’s wrath more often lately, and while she was recovering from his expressions of that wrath, she comforted herself with junk food and spiked sodas. The evidence of Eric’s abuse and her overindulgence made her less popular with the clients, and her decreased production meant she lost the privilege of upgraded living quarters.

Tatia felt sorry for Cindy, but she was glad to be her roommate. Cindy had a laptop that she used to keep track of the business, and when she wasn’t busy, she let Tatia use it. Tatia had learned about email at the library, so at first she would check to see if anyone was trying to contact her. She received a few messages from Ms. Dunham asking where she was and if she was okay, but when she didn’t respond, even those emails stopped. Instead of focusing on an empty inbox, she surfed the Internet, looking for new sources for free e-books and reading about different authors on Goodreads and other sites devoted to the written word.

Sometimes she looked over Cindy’s shoulder while she was working, and she asked questions about the word and data processing programs she was using. Cindy didn’t seem to mind, and she even let Tatia do some elementary data entry from time to time.

The other girls were not nearly as companionable. They bickered and whined about real or imaginary violations of their limited personal space, and they argued over who worked the hardest and who Eric loved more. In spite of repeated hints and a few outright requests, they continued to smoke inside and to clutter the apartment with dirty clothes, crumpled fast food wrappers, and empty liquor bottles. Tatia worked harder to stay in Eric’s good graces, hoping he would relent and allow her to have her own place with Cindy as a roommate.

The majority of her time, though, was not spent in the apartment but rather in one of the many sleazy motel rooms where she worked. Since he had taken on a couple of new girls, Eric had expanded his underground advertising and his client base. Now that she was always available, he sometimes booked Tatia for ten to twelve hours straight, often selling her to over a hundred men a month.

At first she thought a lot about the time she spent with Eric before her birthday, and hoped that once he had built his finances back up, things would go back to the way they were. She had been disappointed that their first road trip had been a working one with others along instead of a romantic trip for two, but she still wanted to believe that maybe one day he would take her away. Then, one night after a particularly difficult client, she was washing up when Eric came bursting into the room. As she leaned over the sink, he grabbed her by the hair and flung her back into the room where she hit the edge of the bed and slid down onto the floor.

“Eric, what…” she began, looking up at him in confusion.

“Shut up,” he said, backhanding her across the mouth. “Your last customer was very unhappy with you,” he continued in a threatening voice. “I don’t like unhappy customers.”

“Neither do I, Eric. They don’t tip.”

“And did he tip you?” he asked stepping closer and sliding his belt out of its loops.

“No,” she said, her eyes wide with fear.

“He didn’t pay either,” said Eric.

By the time he left the room, she was so badly beaten that she couldn’t work for several days. Eric took her tips for the next several months to make up for the lost income, but there was no way for her to recover her lost dreams.

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4| Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 |Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo: Chapter 17 – CHOICES. Read it here!

Tatia finds out the difference between taking a road trip and being on the circuit – something she would rather not know, especially from experience.

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo and will continue through Chapter 20. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 17. Chapter 18 will be posted on Thursday.

Final_Tatia's Tattoo Cover trim size

CHAPTER 17: CHOICES

Tatia was exhausted when she arrived at the rendezvous point a few minutes before midnight the following night. She hadn’t slept well, and her last day of school had been emotionally draining. The hours dragged as she went through the motions of a normal evening that was anything but normal. When it was finally time to go, all she wanted to do was stretch out on the bed and sleep. Instead, she peeked into the kids’ rooms, blew them silent kisses, and slipped out the window one last time. She walked along an off-road nature trail to avoid running into a late-night patrol car, and she waited in the trees where she wouldn’t be seen by any passing cars. The sounds of the night made her nervous, and she was relieved when the Beemer pulled up shortly after she reached her hiding place.

Zach jumped out as soon as the car came to a stop. “Evenin’, Miss Tatia, I mean Miss Kaitlyn. Eric said I need to use your new name,” he said, wearing a characteristic grin on his face and a pair of wireless headphones around his neck.

Tatia’s shoulders drooped, and she looked back the way she had come. It seemed she was leaving more behind than she had realized. She was leaving what little was left of herself behind and becoming whatever Eric wanted her to be.

“Miss Kaitlyn, we really need to get moving,” said Zach.

“I’m sorry,” she said, handing him her backpack.

He popped the trunk and stowed it among several bags of various descriptions. She was startled to see that her boots and the blue canvas shopping bag that held her work clothes were there.

“Zach,” she said. “You usually leave my work clothes at the motel after you check me in for the night. Why did you bring it with you?”

“I’ll let the girls explain that to you. Right now, Mr. Eric is in a hurry to get on the road.” He opened the back door and closed it behind her once she was seated beside Kaycee and Belinda, two of Eric’s other girls. Eric was in the front passenger seat, isolated from the rest of the passengers by a black satin eyeshade and a pair of wireless headphones. Zach slid into the driver’s seat, positioned his own headphones, and headed for the highway.

“What’s going on?” whispered Tatia. “I was supposed to have two clients tonight.”

Kaycee, a tiny girl with straight black hair and almond shaped eyes, whispered back. “Eric got a tip that the cops were gonna raid several of the motels tonight, so he cancelled all the appointments. We’ve been hanging out at the coffee shop for an hour or so waiting until time to meet you.”

“What about Cindy and the other girls?”

“They’re getting a night off, too, except for Cindy, of course. She’ll spend all night dealing with irate customers and trying to find safe places to set the girls up and get the cash flowing again. Eric hates downtime when he’s not making money. That’s why he’s hibernating. He’s in a really bad mood.”

Tatia was quiet for a few minutes, mulling over what she had just heard. Then she said, almost to herself, “I still don’t understand why Eric brought my work clothes.”

Belinda, who was a few years older than the other two, spoke up in the tone of a senior speaking to an inexperienced freshman. “You haven’t been on a road trip before, have you?”

“No, but Eric said we’d head up to Las Vegas for a little R & R,” said Tatia, a little defensively. “He said we might even do some sight-seeing, like the Grand Canyon or something.”

Belinda put her hand over her mouth to stifle a giggle. “Honey, the only sights you’ll be seeing are the ceilings of some different motels and maybe the inside of some truck sleepers. We’re not on a road trip – we’re on the circuit.” With that, she closed her eyes, pulled a sweat jacket over her shoulders like a blanket, and leaned her head against the window.

“Don’t let her get to you,” whispered Kaycee, leaning close to Tatia. “She’s just got her panties in a twist because she’s not queen bee anymore.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if you hadn’t noticed, Eric specializes in really young girls. Once you’re past thirteen or fourteen, a lot of our customers don’t want you. Belinda is seventeen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Eric doesn’t trade her to another stable.”

“But what about Cindy? She’s almost twenty.”

“Cindy’s special. I don’t mean like she and Eric are in love or anything, but she was his first girl, so I think he keeps her around for sentimental reasons. She also knows his business better than he does. She keeps track of his clients, the appointments, the girls – all that kind of stuff.”

As it turned out, Belinda was right. When Eric woke up, he plugged his laptop and his wireless card into the accessory plugs and accessed the Internet. Tatia learned later what he was doing.

First, he contacted a nearby motel known to be friendly to the trade where he booked a room for each of them. Then, he went to one of several underground websites that specialize in advertising the services of prostitutes on the move. He posted the ages and vital stats of the girls along with their availability, and within an hour, they were all booked for four solid hours – three to four clients an hour. After their work was done, the girls had time for a shower and a few hours sleep before they grabbed a quick breakfast and hit the road again.

The next two nights they didn’t bother with a motel. Instead, Eric put out the word that they would be at a well-known truck stop around midnight. Again, all three girls were busy for several hours, moving in the shadows at the back of the parking lot from one truck to another. The nights at the truck stops were the worst, because they slept in the car while they traveled to the next destination. Eric wouldn’t even allow them to shower in the truck stops because of the cops that often dropped in for coffee and a bite to eat. On those nights, the smell of sweat, unwashed bodies, and stale cigarette smoke clung to all of them and kept Tatia awake until she finally passed out from exhaustion.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, after leaving another truck stop behind, Tatia was sitting in a cloud of second-hand smoke, wondering how long it took to develop lung problems. When Kaycee offered her a cigarette, she accepted it out of boredom and self defense. It made her cough, and she hated the way it tasted, but it gave her something to do. Kaycee and Belinda agreed that she looked more sophisticated and a bit sexy when she smoked, so at the next stop, she bought a pack of her own along with a disposable lighter.

Later in the morning, they finally drove into Las Vegas. The girls gawked and oohed and aahed as they rolled slowly past one glitzy hotel after another, but Eric told Zach to keep driving. Finally, he directed the driver into the parking lot of a motel that was off the Strip. It was far from five stars but was still better than many they had seen. While Zach went in to register and get room keys, Eric turned toward the back seat.

“Okay, time for a little break. It’s 9:00 now. Go take a shower and get some rest. Meet me back here at 3:00 this afternoon, and we’ll go on a little outing. Dress casual.”

The girls each had a separate room, so they knew they’d be entertaining clients later, but they were too tired to care. Tatia took a hot shower and crawled into bed with her hair still wet. She set the alarm on her cell phone and immediately fell into a restless sleep – and a new nightmare.

She fought to free herself from the arms that grasped her, crying out silently for Mama. Mama didn’t come, though. She was lying in a box with Daddy, both of them cold and lifeless, staring up at her with painted faces that melted into a pile of ashes while Eric grabbed at her, pulling her through the door of a shabby motel room filled with men waiting in line beside a bed covered with dirty, rumpled sheets. They chanted her name again and again as she struggled toward a persistent ringing sound just outside the door.

The fog of sleep thinned slightly – enough for Tatia to realize the ringing was her alarm and that the restraint she felt was from the sheets that were tangled around her and not Eric’s arms. She groped for her phone and raised one eyelid far enough to peek at the time. She groaned when she saw that it was already 2:30. Still exhausted, her body aching from the abuse she had endured the last three nights, she wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and sink into the oblivion of sleep. She feared the nightmares that waited there, though, and she feared Eric’s anger if she didn’t show up as ordered, so she dragged herself out of the snarled bedclothes and headed for the bathroom.

At two minutes before 3:00, Tatia trudged across the parking lot toward Belinda and Kaycee who looked somewhat refreshed as they leaned against the car, chatting and waiting for Eric to arrive. They fell silent as they saw Tatia, and Belinda eyed her with a sneer.

“Hey, girl! You look like something I scooped out of my cat’s litter box. You having trouble keeping up the pace?”

Kaycee shushed her quietly. “Hush, Belinda. You know Eric doesn’t like it when you rag on the other girls. Besides, Tatia’s not an old pro like you.”

Belinda scowled at her emphasis on the word “old,” but Kaycee ignored her and turned her attention to Tatia. “What’s the matter, girlfriend? Didn’t you get any sleep?”

“Not so much,” she said, stifling a yawn. “Too many dreams.”

“If Cindy were here, she could fix that,” said Belinda with a raised eyebrow.

“Right,” said Kaycee, “and then she’d need something to wake up, and on and on.”

“Don’t be so self-righteous. I’ve seen you pop a few uppers and downers in your time.”

Before the conversation turned into a real scrap, Eric and Zach showed up and jumped into the car. The two girls glared at each other as they slid into the back seat, and Tatia followed silently, ignoring them both and leaning her head against the window.

Eric directed Zach to a nearby shopping mall – not one of the fancy ones for tourists but one that looked as if it was frequented by the locals. When Zach had parked, Eric pulled out his money clip and gave each one of them, including Zach, two hundred dollars.

“You’ve worked hard. I have a meeting, so go have some fun. You, too, Zach. I’ll drive myself. Stay together or split up, whatever you want. Just be back at this entrance at 6:00 pm. We’ll go have some dinner before we go back to the motel. Don’t make me wait – we’re booked solid tonight.”

Belinda and Kaycee, drawn back together by the prospect of spending money, immediately began planning new outfits. Kaycee asked Tatia if she wanted to come with them, but she shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m going to look for a bookstore.”

Nobody asked Zach, but he walked beside Tatia as she headed for the entrance. “I don’t care much for clothes, so I think I’ll tag along with you if that’s okay.”

“Sure, Zach,” she said, brightening up a little. “I’d enjoy the company.”

“So you like to read, huh?” he asked.

“Yes, I usually take a book or two everywhere I go. But when Eric told me about this trip, I didn’t realize we’d be spending so much time in the car and, well, indoors. I didn’t bring anything to read, and I don’t sleep very well in the car, so there’s nothing to do but smoke – and I don’t like cigarettes much.”

“Yeah,” he laughed. “Reading is much better for your health.” They walked in silence for a few minutes, looking in the windows and watching the other shoppers. Then, Zach broke the silence. “Hey, I have an idea. Have you ever used one of those e-readers?”

“No, I haven’t, but that’s a great idea.”

“I think some of them even light up so you can read in the dark.”

She was energized, now that she had a goal. They found a map of the mall and located an electronics store one floor up and a few stores down on the right. She found a helpful salesman, and while he was showing her the options, Zach entertained himself by testing out all the latest headphones. She settled for a simple backlit reader so she would have as much left over as possible for e-books. The salesman helped her buy a couple of books and then helped her set up a gift card online with her extra money. All she had to do when she finished the books she had was choose another title.

When she was finished, she found Zach comparing the pictures on a line of TVs. “I’m all set and ready to read,” she said holding up her bag. “We have over an hour left. Now we need to spend your money.”

“No,” he said, suddenly seeming a little shy. “I’m saving for an engagement ring. With what Eric gave me today, I’m almost there.”

“Well congratulations,” said Tatia. “She’s a very lucky lady.”

“No, I’m the lucky one,” he said.

“So, how about the food court. I know Eric said we were going to dinner, but spending money makes me hungry.”

“Sounds good. I could use a snack.”

They found the food court without too much trouble, and he bought a slice of pepperoni while she ordered a cup of non-fat strawberry frozen yogurt. While they ate, they chatted about books they had read and places they would like to travel. When they finished, they disposed of their trash and strolled toward the entrance, as comfortable in each other’s company as if they had known each other forever.

They reached the parking lot before any of the others, so they found a bench and sat down. She reached in her purse, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and offered him one.

“No, thanks. I don’t smoke,” he said.

“But you have a pack right there in your shirt pocket.”

“Yes, I do, but have you ever seen me smoke one?”

She thought for a moment before answering. “Now that you mention it, no I haven’t.”

“I carry them because Eric expects me to have them in case he runs out. I don’t like the taste of them, and I don’t like how I smell after I’ve smoked them.”

“Yeah, me too. In fact, I had never smoked until this trip, but Belinda and Kaycee said I look good smoking.”

“Tatia, you’re a beautiful young lady, and you look good regardless of what you’re doing. But I personally don’t find a smoking woman particularly attractive.”

Tatia’s cheeks colored at the unexpected compliment. “Thanks for the kind words and the good advice.” She looked at the cigarettes and put them back in her purse. “You’re right, of course. I don’t seem to have much choice about what I do for a living, but I have decided not to drink or do drugs. I guess I can do without this vice, too. Maybe I’ll keep these just in case Eric runs out.”

They laughed as Belinda and Kaycee ran up behind them, giggling breathlessly, and Eric screeched to a stop in front of them and beeped the horn.

“Well,” said Zach, standing up. “Duty calls.”

“Yeah,” Tatia sighed. “No rest for the wicked.”

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 |Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 |Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 |Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo: Chapter 16 – PREPARATIONS. Read it here!

Tatia shares Josie’s suspicions with Eric, and he suggests a road trip and a complete break from her old life. What lies ahead for her on that road?

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 16. Chapter 17 will be posted on Sunday.

Final_Tatia's Tattoo Cover trim size

CHAPTER 16: PREPARATIONS

Tatia was a little disappointed to see the Beemer parked at the library and the driver, Zach, leaning against the back door, but she had learned to limit her expectations. “Afternoon, Miss Tatia,” he said. “How was school?”

She held out her hand and waggled it back and forth.

He laughed. “That good, huh?”

“Yeah,” she said as he opened the door. She smiled when she saw Eric sitting inside holding out a large decaf mocha. “But I think it just got better.”

She slid in as the door closed, dropped her backpack on the floor, fastened her seat belt, and took the cup from Eric. “Thanks, I needed this!” She took a sip and settled back contentedly in her seat. She was learning to enjoy the simple things.

Zach started the engine and looked at Eric in the rear-view mirror. “Where to, Boss?”

“Just drive around – and put on your headphones.”

“You got it,” Zach answered with a grin. He slipped on a pair of wireless headphones and cranked up the music so loud that Tatia could hear the bass line in the back seat.

“Trouble at home, huh?” asked Eric.

“Trouble everywhere,” she said, and she explained what was going on.

“Hmmm,” he said when she had finished. “I hadn’t planned on doing this for another few months, but it may be time for a road trip.”

“A road trip? You’re not going to leave me here to handle this all by myself, are you?”

“Now, would I do that to my best girl?” he said, leaning over and kissing her lightly. “No, I’m thinking you and me – and maybe two or three of the other girls – might head up to Las Vegas for a little R & R. How does that sound?”

“It sounds like fun, but won’t things just be worse when we get back?”

“They’ll be a lot different, but I don’t think they’ll be worse,” he explained. “I’m talking about making a complete break – leaving Josie and school and all that kid stuff behind.”

“I don’t know, Eric. Being a runaway is not a good thing when you’re a foster kid.”

“But you’re not a kid anymore,” he said, holding her face gently in his hand. “You’re Kaitlyn Golden, nineteen-year-old woman of the world. I mean, have you ever traveled, ever been anywhere outside of Texas?”

“No,” she admitted. “It would be fun to see a little bit of the world. Do you think we could see the Grand Canyon?”

“I don’t see why not!”

“Well, if we’re going to do this, it needs to be soon. Report cards are due next week, and then it’s gonna hit the fan.”

“Okay. You have a couple of clients tomorrow night. Just slip a few extra changes of clothes into your backpack, and you just don’t go home.”

Tatia drew in a shaky breath and blew it out. “Okay. Let’s do it!”

Eric slipped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her as close as he could without strangling her with her shoulder harness. “That’s my girl!” he said, giving her a squeeze. Always ready for adventure, right?”

She laid her head on his shoulder, enjoying the momentary tenderness in spite a nagging feeling that this might be more of a disaster than an adventure. His attention was short-lived, though, and after a minute, he released her dismissively and said, “Well, babe, I gotta get back to work.” He leaned up and tapped Zach on the shoulder. Zach lifted up his headphone on one side and turned his head toward Eric without taking his eyes off the road.

“Drop Tatia at the usual spot, then head back into Cameron.”

Zach nodded and dropped the headphone back into place.

Tatia finished her mocha while Eric focused on his phone. When the car stopped, she hopped out before Zach had time to come around and open the door. “Bye, Eric. See you tomorrow night.”

“Sure, babe,” he said absently. “I’ll send the car at the usual time.”

She picked up her backpack and trudged home, wondering how big a mistake she was making. She knew that after tomorrow night she would be basically homeless, sharing an apartment with several of the other girls, depending on the good will of the man who had stolen what was left of her childhood. Still, sometimes he was totally loving and generous, more than anyone since her mother and father. As long as she did what he told her, she would be fine – at least that’s what she told herself.

Tatia arrived home well before dinner, much to Josie’s surprise. She worked hard, catching up on the cleaning and laundry she had neglected recently. While she waited for the dryer to finish, she helped Josie with dinner, and afterward, she helped the younger kids with their baths, read them a story, and put them to bed. When all the clothes were folded and put away, she went to say goodnight to Josie.

“It’s good to have the old Tatia back,” said Josie as she gave Tatia an awkward hug. “I hated to come down on you like that this morning, but sometimes all of us need a little wake-up call.”

“Yeah,” said Tatia. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a pain.”

Josie smiled. “I understand. Sleep well, and if you don’t, come wake me and we’ll have some hot chocolate or something.”

“Thanks. Good night,” Tatia said, knowing Josie really didn’t understand. No one did. She also knew how Josie was if she was awakened in the middle of the night. She’d rather deal with the nightmares.

She went into her room and closed the door. She sat down on the bed and looked around, taking a mental inventory of her possessions. After tomorrow night, everything she owned would fit in her backpack – along with the small collection of “work clothes” that Cindy kept in her apartment. She would leave everything else behind and hope that Josie would pass on anything worth saving to the younger girls.

She began to sort through her clothes, putting the ones she would take into a single drawer. She looked through her small collection of stuffed animals and decided to leave them all behind with her childhood. She had few other toys – two dolls and a few games, none of which she would need where she was going. Finally, she sat down at her tiny desk and went through the drawers. She took out the spiral notebook she had used as a journal since Ms. Dunham had suggested it the year before along with the pink gel pen Eric had give her a lifetime ago. She also grabbed a blank spiral and a couple of extra pens. She was about to close the drawer when she caught sight of the box that held her keepsakes from camp.

She carried the box to the bed where she spent the next half hour reliving what she was sure would be the last happy time of her life. She reread all the notes from her counselor and from camp aunts, uncles, and grandparents. She admired the bookmark she had made and the key chain she had woven. She spent most of her time looking through the photo album her counselor had put together using the many pictures the camp photographers had snapped during the week. Tears began to run down her face and drip off her chin when she looked at the picture of herself dressed in her business outfit, trying to imagine what it would be like to be a famous lawyer on her way to the trial of the century. She closed the album, not wanting to be reminded of how far she was from that dream.

She put the album back in the box with the intention of leaving it behind with all the memories. Then her hand brushed against something hard, and she saw the smooth rock with the word “Strength” painted on it. She smiled through the tears as she remembered Mrs. G’s words when she gave it to her – “I see strength in you.” – the same words the Ink Guy has said to her. She picked up the stone and saw Mrs. G’s card underneath. She remembered Mrs. G telling her that she could call any time she was in trouble. This certainly qualified, but she doubted that even Mrs. G could solve this problem. Still, there was something inside her that said there was still hope, and she realized she wasn’t ready to cut all ties to her past. Instead of putting it back in the desk, she put the box in the drawer with the clothes she planned to take.

All she had left to pack were her toiletries which she would put in at the last minute, so she was as ready as she could be. She took a quick shower and crawled into bed, wondering where she would sleep the following night.

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital  for $.99 or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 |Chapter 2 | Chapter 3| Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6| Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 |Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo: Chapter 15 – Suspicion. Read it here!

Tatia’s excuses are wearing thin, and her foster mother Josie is getting suspicious.

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 15. Chapter 16 will be posted on Thursday.

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CHAPTER 15: SUSPICION

School started the week after Tatia’s makeover, and her double life began to take even more of a toll. She was so tired during the day that, even though she didn’t actually fall asleep, her class participation suffered, she missed assignments, and her grades were well below previous years. She managed to cover the interim reports of failing grades by forging Josie’s signature, but she hadn’t come up with a plan to avoid showing her report card when the other kids came home with theirs.

Her Saturday excuses were wearing thin, too. She had become lax in doing her chores, Macy had begun to whine about babysitting so often, and Josie had become suspicious. She was growing tired of taking up the slack, and she started asking questions that were hard to answer.

On a Wednesday morning after a very late night, Tatia woke up late and was rushing out without breakfast when Josie blocked the door. “Cade had an interesting story at breakfast this morning,” she said.

Cade was her five-year-old foster brother, and Tatia’s heart jumped into her throat as she wondered what he might have said. “He loves making up interesting stories,” she said. “I’m really running late this morning. Can you tell me about it when I get home?”

“You can spare a minute. Cade said he got up to go to the bathroom, and he heard something in your room. He peeked in the door and saw a burglar climbing in your window. What do you have to say about that?”

“He probably had a dream. That’s all.”

“I thought of that, but I went out and checked around your window. Your window screen was on the ground propped up against the side of the house, and there were lots of footprints in the flowerbed under it.”

Tatia’s heart was beating faster as she searched for a plausible answer. “I haven’t been sleeping well lately. The nightmares have come back. Sometimes when I wake up and have trouble going back to sleep, I go for a walk.”

“And you climb out the window to go for your nightly walks?”

“I don’t want to wake the kids. You know they leave their doors open. Now, I really have to go or I’ll be late for first period.”

“Okay,” Josie said, stepping out of the way. “But you’d better not be lying to me. If I find out you’ve been sneaking out to see some boy or letting one come into your room, I’ll tell Ms. Dunham to find another placement for you.”

“I’m not seeing a boy, Josie. I promise,” said Tatia as she made a mad dash for the bus.

She made it to the corner just in time and fell breathlessly into her seat just as the bus pulled away from the stop. She pulled her cell phone out of her backpack and dashed off a text to Eric.

I need to talk to you after school. Josie suspects.

He hadn’t been meeting her after school for the last several weeks and hadn’t been picking her up for work himself. He had explained that business was so good that managing it was taking more time. Tatia knew what kind of managing he had been doing, because she had seen him squiring around a hot new brunette. She didn’t really mind. Her fantasy of his being her Prince Charming had faded the day he stood over her with his belt in hand. With his attention focused elsewhere, she was less likely to experience a repeat performance.

He had also explained that the extra business was bringing in extra money that had allowed him to purchase a late model Beemer and hire a driver to pick her up. She rather enjoyed being chauffeured around. If she was alone in the back seat, she sometimes had time for a quick nap. Some days, though, when there were lots of clients, they made several stops to pick up other girls, and it was almost like a party until they arrived in Cameron and the driver began dropping them off at various motels. After an evening of dealing with the reality of their lives, the ride home was much less festive.

In spite of his busy schedule, Eric still checked on Tatia regularly, and he always told her she could contact him any time she needed him. Apparently, he meant it. By the time she arrived at school, he had responded.

How about a decaf mocha?

She sent him a thumbs up emoticon and slipped the phone into her backpack.

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11| Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo – Chapter 14 – A New Identity. Read it here!

As Eric took everything from her, even her name, she learned that compliance was the only way to survive.

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 14. Chapter 15 will be posted on Sunday.

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CHAPTER 14: A NEW IDENTITY

The next time Tatia saw Eric after the beating, he was attentive and as sweet to her as if nothing had happened. First, he took her to the mall where he bought her a pair of high-heeled, knee-high boots and a sassy mini dress. Then, they visited the cosmetics department at one of the anchor stores where he seemed to know several of the girls behind the counter.

“Hi, Eric,” cooed a gorgeous redhead named Kitty. “What can I do for you today?” she asked suggestively.

“Kitty, this is Tatia. It’s time to get rid of the little girl look and go with something more sophisticated,” he explained. “She also has a new outfit. I’d appreciate it if you’d show her to one of your dressing rooms where she can change. I’ll be back in thirty minutes to pick her up.” With that, he spun on his heels and walked out, leaving Tatia standing alone in the middle of the aisle looking confused.

“Don’t worry, honey,” said Kitty. “You’re in expert hands. Have a seat on that stool while I pull a few samples together.”

For the next few minutes, Kitty skillfully applied a light-weight foundation, translucent powder, blush, and a staggering array of eye make-up. Some of the brushes tickled, and Tatia thought again of the butterfly Jesse had painted on her cheek a few short months ago. She pushed the thought away, though, as Kitty looked at her curiously and dabbed a tear away from the corner of her eye.

At each step, Kitty explained what she was doing so Tatia would be able to duplicate the look on her own later. When she was satisfied with the results, she released Tatia’s blonde curls from the ponytail she wore and fluffed them with her hands until they fell softly around her face. She surveyed her work and smiled.

“Good! Now, let’s go get you dressed.”

When Eric returned a few minutes later, he whistled appreciatively and said, “Now that’s what I’m talking about. Thanks, Kitty. Put it on my bill.”

“Don’t worry,” she grinned. “I will.”

Tatia followed him through the mall and out to the parking lot, glancing in the windows at a reflection she hardly recognized.

“Thanks for the new look, Eric,” she said as she climbed into the car.

“You’ll earn it,” he said without looking at her.

Yeah, that’s what I figured, she thought to herself.

Instead of driving straight to the motel, he pulled into an old strip center and stopped in front of a narrow establishment with a neon sign that said “Coffee Shop” in the window. She followed him in and was surprised at the trendy-looking interior. There were three small tables and a comfortable seating area in the corner by the window. A well-equipped serving bar was tucked into the back corner, and the tantalizing aroma of fresh-roasted coffee beans filled the air.

“Hi, Eric,” greeted the barista behind the counter. “What’ll it be?”

“A double espresso for me and a decaf mocha for the lady – as soon as she returns from the ladies’ room.”

“Coming right up, Eric. Miss, the restroom is just past the bar on the right. Ignore the sign on the left stall and use that one.”

Tatia followed instructions without question, assuming she was about to pay for her afternoon at the mall. She found the restroom and walked in, expecting to find a client waiting for her. Instead, the room was unoccupied. The left stall sported an out-of-order sign, so Tatia opened the door and peeked in. As she stepped inside, she heard a buzzer sound somewhere behind the side wall, and the wall swung away, revealing a hidden room.

“You must be Tatia,” said a voice from the darkness in the corner. “Come on in and have a seat.”

She wasn’t sure what she was stepping into, but she did as she was told and sat down on the small stool that was a few feet in front of what looked like a camera. The voice and the man who owned it stepped behind what really was a camera, made a few adjustments, and said “Smile.” She smiled and was momentarily blinded by a flash. “Okay. That’ll do. Go enjoy your coffee, and I’ll have this out in a few minutes.”

Totally confused, she retraced her steps into the coffee shop and made her way toward the seating area in the corner. Eric was sitting on a latte-colored leather sofa, talking with a distinguished looking older man who was in a matching chair that was set at a right angle to the sofa. The older man rose as she approached, and she smiled, wondering if this was her next client.

“Tatia,” said Eric, “this is Joseph. Joseph, Tatia.”

“Hello, Joseph.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Tatia.”

Eric patted the sofa next to him. “Have a seat,” he said. “Have you ever had a decaf mocha?”

“No.”

He picked up a steaming cup from the table and handed it to her. “Let me know what you think.”

She sipped the chocolaty liquid and smiled. “It’s delicious. Thanks, Eric.”

He patted her on the leg in a proprietary manner. “Enjoy,” he said as he resumed his chat with the man who was sitting in the chair beside him.

Tatia could tell they were talking business, so she tried to shut them out. She occupied herself with her new favorite drink and with enjoying a few more minutes without having to sell her body.

She had just finished her mocha and was wondering what was next when the barista walked out to the table. “Excuse me, Miss. I believe you dropped this in the restroom.” He held out a small laminated card, and Tatia took it from him.

“Thanks,” she said as she looked down and saw a picture of herself staring back at her. She realized she was holding a Texas driver’s license that said her name was Kaitlyn Golden and that she was nineteen years old. She looked at Eric with a question in her eyes.

He glanced at her and said, “Put that in your purse and try not to be so careless with it.”

“Sure, Eric.”

“Come on. Play time’s over,” he said, standing and shaking hands with Joseph. She followed Eric to the car, thinking about the difference between this afternoon and the last time she had been with him. She was learning that the more money she made for him and the more compliant she was, the better he would treat her. She knew there was no way out, at least in the foreseeable future, so she made up her mind to smile and pretend to welcome each new customer.

# # #

Want to read more? Buy the complete book on Amazon in either digital or paperback.

Preface and Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3| Chapter 4|Chapter 5 |Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 |Chapter 11| Chapter 12 | Chapter 13

Blessings,

Linda

Tatia’s Tattoo – Read Chapter 13 Here!

Tatia’s nightmare worsens as Eric treats her like the slave she has become and marks her as his property.

For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 13. Chapter 14 will be posted on Thursday.

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CHAPTER 13: LONG SLEEVES

Tatia survived the rest of the weekend and avoided Josie’s questions and most of her regular chores by saying she had a stomach virus. When Monday rolled around, she wished for school so she could avoid closer scrutiny, but she offered to take the kids to the park instead, knowing that Josie would stay home. She dragged herself behind the noisy herd, making half-hearted attempts to keep the little ones out of the road. She drifted through the next hour or so, pushing swings, spotting budding gymnasts, and examining scraped knees but feeling more isolated and out of place than ever. When the complaints about being tired, thirsty, or hungry began, she asked the next oldest foster sibling if she would take the kids home.

“While you do what?” snapped Macy who was always spoiling for a fight. “Go shopping or sneak off to the DQ by yourself?”

Tatia sighed, lacking the energy to think of a smart comeback. “No, Macy. I want to go to the library and check out a book. You can come with me and bring all of them along if you like.”

Macy wrinkled her nose as she always did at any mention of books. “No thanks! Come on kids. Our resident genius is going to the library, and we’re going home for a delicious lunch of mac and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

When Tatia began her solitary walk toward the library, she felt a small sense of relief until she saw Eric’s car parked in front of it. She tried to walk past as if she didn’t see him, but he opened his door, stood up, and leaned against the car as if nothing had happened.

“Hi, gorgeous!” he called.

“Hi, Eric,” she said softly, looking at him in spite of herself. Why did he have to be so good looking!

“I was passing through and saw you with the kids. I was hoping you’d stop by here. Have you got time to go for an ice cream?”

She hesitated for a moment, but the need to be with someone with whom she didn’t have to put on a front was too strong.

“Sure,” she sighed. “Let me run in and grab a book so I don’t have to answer questions when I get home.”

She came out a few minutes later with two books under her arm and climbed into the car. He began chatting as soon as she had fastened her seat belt and kept up a steady stream of chatter until their ice cream was almost gone and they were parked on an isolated side road on the way to her house. He popped the last bite of cone into his mouth and wiped his hands on a napkin. Then, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a twenty dollar bill. He placed it on Tatia’s lap while she scraped the last bits of cookies and cream off the bottom of her cup.

“What’s that for?” she asked, licking her spoon.

“I forgot to give it to you the other night. My friend enjoyed himself so much he gave me a little extra for you. Buy yourself something special.”

Tatia looked at the bill as if it were something vile. “I don’t want it,” she said.

“Why not?” he asked. “Are you too good to take money for making somebody feel good?”

“It’s not that, Eric. You said I wouldn’t have to do it ever again. I just want to forget that it ever happened.”

“Did I say that? Well, that was before I knew how good you would be and how much my friend would like you. Do you know how much he liked you?” he asked, leaning close and whispering in her ear. “He liked you so much he wants to see you again tomorrow night.”

“No, Eric!” she cried out in horror, turning to look at him. She saw the anger flash in his eyes, and fear flared in her stomach.

“Don’t you tell me no,” he snarled. He put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her roughly toward him until they were almost nose to nose. He slid his hand slowly from her shoulder toward her neck and began to squeeze her trapezius muscle gently. “You’re my girl now, and my girls do what I tell them when I tell them. Understand?” She nodded, and her eyes began to water as he gradually increased the pressure. “I don’t want to have to treat you like I do Cindy, and I sure don’t want to tell Josie and your social worker what you were doing Saturday night when you were supposed to be at a birthday party.”

“Eric, you’re hurting me!”

He gave her muscle one last painful twist before releasing his hold. “Now,” he said, with a predatory smile, “take your gift and put it in your pocket and be grateful I didn’t keep it. I’ll need you to meet me here at eleven o’clock tomorrow night. Josie and the rug rats should be asleep by then, so you can sneak out. I’ll have you back before they wake up, and you can sleep in Wednesday morning.”

Before the week was over, Tatia had met two more of Eric’s friends, and by the end of July, he had stopped calling them friends and had begun referring to them as clients. She was soon working two or three nights a week which wasn’t a problem since everyone was asleep before she slipped out. However, she was also working several hours on Saturday, so she had become adept at inventing excuses.

At first she was afraid Josie would question her about the mysterious new friends she met at the mall every week, but Tatia began using part of her tip money to pay Macy to watch the kids. Macy loved to shop, and as long as the money kept coming, she asked no questions – and as long as Tatia’s chores were done before she left, Josie didn’t seem to care either.

Tatia hated her new life, but she learned quickly not to express her feelings. One Saturday shortly before school started back, Eric dropped in between clients to see how she was doing, and she announced that she was going home and that she was not coming back.

“Oh, really!” he sneered as she turned her back on him and headed for the bathroom, intending to change out of her “working clothes” and back into her jeans and T-shirt. His fist hit her just below the shoulder blades, knocking the breath out of her and throwing her to the floor. Before she could recover, he removed the crocodile belt from the waist of his custom-tailored slacks and beat her with it until he could see the red welts across her back through the sheer fabric of her blouse. While she lay on the floor in a pool of tears and sweat, he slipped the belt back into place and made a big show of composing himself.

“Let’s get one thing straight. You are mine, and you will do whatever I tell you to do with whoever I tell you and whenever I tell you. Do you understand?”

When she didn’t respond, he grabbed her by the shoulder, flipped her over on her back, and leaned down so close she could smell the liquor on his breath. “I said, ‘Do you understand?’”

She nodded.

“And don’t get any ideas about running away from me. I found you once, and I know how to find you again. In fact, it may be time to make sure you know who you belong to.”

He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and hit Cindy’s speed dial. “Hey Cindy, make yourself useful. Tatia needs a little ointment on her back, so get over to her room and see what you can do. Contact her next client and send him to Cheri…I don’t care what she was planning. Now she’s planning to take care of another client. And when you get that set up, get hold of the Ink Guy and see if he can do a rush job this afternoon. Tell him there’s a big tip in it for him if he can be finished by six o’clock.”

He disconnected, slid the phone back into his pocket, and turned his attention back to Tatia who was now lying on her side with her eyes closed and her knees pulled up to her chest. He kicked the bottom of her foot to get her attention, and she looked up at him through swollen, bloodshot eyes.

“Now that we understand each other, I’m giving you the rest of the afternoon off. But I don’t want you to leave this room until I tell you to.”

“Okay,” she whispered.

“Cindy is coming in shortly to check on your back, and then a guy is coming in to give you a tattoo.”

“A tattoo?” her eyes widened. “But I don’t…” She stopped when she saw the anger in his eyes.

“That’s better. You’re learning.”

A light tap on the door drew his attention. “Yeah?”

“It’s me,” called Cindy.

“Well, what are you standing out there for?”

The door opened and Cindy came in carrying a small first aid kit. Even in the dim light, Tatia could see that her right eye was swollen and discolored and her jaw was somewhat puffy. Eric grabbed her by the back of the neck in what might have seemed like an affectionate grip except for the grimace on Cindy’s face.

“Now Cindy here is a slow learner,” he said, giving her a less than gentle shake, “aren’t you, Cindy?”

“Yes, Eric,” she said without looking at him.

“Okay,” he said, loosening his hold on Cindy. “Looks like we’re good here. You two have your instructions, and I have work to do.”

He slammed his way out the door, and Cindy knelt on the floor next to Tatia. “Honey, are you okay?”

In answer, Tatia began to sob quietly.

“Can you stand up?”

Tatia rolled over onto her hands and knees and then sat back on her heels. “I’m a little light headed.”

“That’s just the adrenaline. It’ll go away. Come on, hold onto my arm, and we’ll get you over to the bed.”

With a gentleness she had learned from experience, Cindy removed Tatia’s blouse and inspected the welts on her back. “The good news is he didn’t break the skin, so you won’t have to worry about your clothes sticking to you. You’re going to be bruised and sore, though, and it’s gonna be hard to wear a bra for a few days.”

She dumped the ice bucket into the sink and filled it the rest of the way with water, using a hand towel to make a cold compress. Tatia gasped when she laid it on her back.

“I know it’s cold, but it will keep the swelling down and numb the pain some. Lie still. I’m gonna run back to my room and get you one of my T-shirts to wear home. It’ll be more comfortable than that little skin-tight number you wore over here. Do you want me to get you a downer while I’m at it?”

“No, I’m okay.”

“Are you sure? You might need it when you get the tat. This guy is pretty good, but it still stings a lot.”

“I’ll bet it does, but I don’t like the way they make me feel.”

“Okay. I’ll be right back.”

Tatia lay still, trying not to think or feel until she heard the door open again. Cindy came in with a soda in one hand, a T-shirt draped over her arm, and a plastic grocery sack in the other hand. She set her open soda on the night stand and flopped down on the other side of the bed.

“Here’s a shirt for you,” she said, laying it on the pillow next to Tatia’s head. It was long-sleeved turquoise shirt with a sparkly appliqué of a butterfly on the front. Tatia was relieved to see it wasn’t one of her heavy metal shirts. Cindy continued as she emptied the grocery bag. “I brought a soda for you. I put a little something extra in mine, but I didn’t think you’d want that. I also brought chips and cookies. Since we have some time off, we might as well make a party of it, right?”

Tatia managed a wan smile and said, “Cindy, you’re a good friend.”

“Aw shucks,” Cindy teased, but Tatia could see she was pleased. “I think that cold pack has been on long enough. Let me smooth on a little topical ointment. I don’t know if it will help, but it won’t hurt. Then you can put on the shirt and join the party.”

A few minutes later, the two were sitting cross-legged on the bed giggling like the teenagers they were, sharing jokes and stories and trying to forget the reality of their lives for a few minutes. At one point, Tatia pushed the sleeves of her shirt up – again. It was too big to begin with, and she was used to wearing short sleeves or tank tops.

“Cindy,” she asked, “why do you always wear long sleeves?”

Cindy looked at her for a minute and then sighed. She slowly pulled up her sleeve to reveal her own mark of shame. Tears slid down Tatia’s cheeks as she reached out and touched the imbedded ink, not wanting to believe it was real.

“Cindy, why do we have to get tattoos?”

“Well, you know how they brand cows?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s kinda like that.”

The party was pretty much over after that. Cindy continued to sip her spiked soda, while Tatia scrubbed her face, put on her jeans, and put the rest of her belongings in her backpack. She wanted to be ready when Eric released her. She had just finished and sat down on the bed when there was a tap on the door. Cindy stood up and threw her empty can in the trash can.

“I’ll get it on my way out. I gotta get back to work.”

“I thought you had the afternoon off.”

“Yeah, I’m not seeing any clients, but I have money to account for and stuff like that.”

“Okay.” Tatia didn’t want her to go. She had felt almost normal for a little while. “Thanks for everything.”

Cindy stopped with her hand on the doorknob and looked back at Tatia. “Any time, kiddo.” She opened the door and spoke to the visitor on her way out. “Hi, you know what to do. Here’s what he wants,” she said, handing him a small slip of paper.

Tatia heard her steps fading as she walked away and down the stairs, and a large, muscular man stepped through the door. He had an equipment bag over his shoulder, a folding stool under one arm, and what looked like a wooden TV table under the other. She could see why he was called the Ink Guy. Every inch of visible skin was covered with a tattoo of some kind. In spite of the circumstances, she was fascinated with the variety of pictures that decorated his arms, chest, face, and even his bald head. “Hi,” she said in a small voice.

“Hello, Miss,” he replied in a gentle tone that surprised her. “You know why I’m here, right?”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever had a tattoo?” he asked.

“No.”

“Well, try to relax and enjoy the experience. I’ve been on both sides of a tattoo machine – a lot – so I know what I’m doing. The design we’ll be doing today is simple, so it won’t take too long, and since there’s only one color, it’s a one-step process. We won’t have to come back and do any fill-in.”

Tatia couldn’t help but smile at his obviously practiced patter designed to put her at ease and distract her from the reality that he was about to mark her like the many slaves who had been marked before her. He set his table down beside the bed and slid his bag off his shoulder onto it. He pulled out a bottle and a hand towel and handed them to her. “This is antiseptic hand wash. Use it to wash both hands and all the way up to your elbows. And use my towel to dry off, not the one from the motel.”

She did as she was told, and when she came back in he was sitting on his stool beside the table, wiping down the surface with an antiseptic wipe. He looked up at her and smiled in a reassuring way. “Lie down on this side of the bed and get comfortable. I’m going to lay your arm on this little table, and I want you to be as relaxed as possible.”

“I’ll need to lie on my side. My back is…” she hesitated, looking for words to explain.

He looked at her with sadness and understanding. “You do whatever you need to do to get through this. I’m flexible.”

After she settled into a relatively comfortable position, she extended her arm onto the table, and he sprayed something on it that tingled a little bit. “I’ve sprayed your arm with a topical anesthetic that will ease some of the discomfort,” he said. “I’ll give it a few minutes to take effect, and then I’ll wipe it with some alcohol to further clean the area where I’ll be working. Now, close your eyes and think pleasant thoughts while I get my equipment ready, and then we’ll get started.”

She watched his face while he worked, trying to identify various tattoos and trying to understand the look of hurt she saw in his eyes. “I used to have a friend who liked tattoos.”

“Yeah?” he said, glancing up with a half smile. “What happened?”

“Oh, that was before, you know. I’ll probably never see him again.”

He stopped and looked into her eyes. “Miss, sometimes we do what we have to do to survive. We do what we’re told, when we’re told, and where we’re told. But they can’t take what’s inside us unless we let them. I sense a strong spirit in you. Don’t let them break that spirit.”

She continued to watch his face and examine his tattoos, carefully avoiding looking down at her arm. She never did know his name, but he did his job quickly and efficiently and with relatively little pain. When he was finished, he wiped it once more with alcohol, apologizing for the sting. He applied some over-the-counter triple antibiotic ointment and taped a sterile gauze pad over the new tattoo.

“This ointment will keep it from getting infected, and the gauze is just in case it seeps a little. You can remove it in twelve to eighteen hours and then apply this ointment a couple of times a day for the next week, just to be sure. If you do decide to put a new bandage on it, be sure the adhesive doesn’t touch the ink. As it heals, it may itch and peel a bit. Some moisturizing lotion might help. Any questions?”

She shook her head and took the tube of ointment he gave her. She pulled her sleeve down over the bandage, and she knew it would be a long time before she wore a tank top again.

# # #

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Preface and Chapter 1| Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4| Chapter 5 | Chapter 6| Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 |Chapter 11 |Chapter 12

Blessings,

Linda

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