Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sample Sunday - NEW RELEASE



When no one comes to save have to save yourself

Maia Duncan learned "Stranger Danger" and the perils of the internet when she was just 12 years old.  Unfortunately after her captivity and forced participation into the sex trade, it was a lesson she learned too late.

But after six long years when her next assignment was to groom other young girls in the sex trade, Maia knew she had to escape...or die trying.


Maia’s heart pounded in her chest as she was being lead to the minivan.  As always, they were taken out in the cover of night, rarely seeing the sunlight or enjoying the fresh air on a spring day.  Her life had become that of a vampire, waiting for the sun to set then sneaking around town like a thief in the night.  It had been so long since Maia had seen daylight, she was certain she’d go blind from its brilliance.

Maia stood in the line behind the other girls as they waited to climb into the minivan.  She shivered from the chill in the air, though she was sure most of the chill she felt was from the trepidation she felt about what she had planned for tonight.  If she isn’t careful and is caught in her scheme, she knew her life would be forfeit.  And though she wasn’t ready to die without giving her idea for freedom a chance, she couldn’t help but feel the cold hands of fear grip her soul.

When the last girl climbed into the awaiting minivan, Maia began to climb in behind her.  As she lifted her leg to ascend the step, she was yanked back violently by the hair.  “You follow me, girl,” Drago said between clenched teeth.

“Ow.  What are you doing?” Maia cried out as she was being pulled towards the docks, her body was being half-dragged as she fought to keep up the pace set by the brute escorting her towards the darkened area.

“Shut up!  I’m gonna to give you a glimpse into your future,” Drago let out a short bark of laughter.  “Whatever you have planned, this should put a stop to it.”

Maia’s heels pounded on the wooden board as she trotted to keep up with Drago before he pulled a chunk of her hair from her head.  Her breath came out in short pants as the fear began to mount inside her.  No matter what, Drago was a cruel and violent man and whatever he had planned for her was not going to be pleasant.  In all the years she’s known him, he’d managed to put a fear inside her that would only be outdone by the next deed.

Drago continued to drag Maia through a confusing maze of buildings and alleys.  The skittering sounds of rats in the darkness was enough to make Maia want to yell out, but her fear of what was to come outweighed her immediate danger of being eaten alive by rodents.  She was sure what Drago had in store for her would make a rat pit seem like a vacation in paradise.

Drago stopped in front of a building that was known to house the new cargo when they arrived.  Maia could hear the wails and whimpers of the people inside as they were trying to come to terms with their new lot in life.  It was a piteous sound she had grown accustomed to hearing.  Not too long ago it was a sound she had made…but now she learned how to remain silent and take life as it came.  All the years of crying and pleading and the unanswered prayers weren’t enough to bring about the solace she craved.  In the end, she only had the strength of compliance in her heart and body to keep her alive.

Maia looked up at the three-story building.  The windows were covered by boards and appeared unused and abandoned.  But that was just a cover.  It was how all of the buildings on this pier looked.  They were all owned and operated by the same man…Paolo Freitas.  But inside, there were people…women, children, boys, girls…all used for the same purpose.  To make more money for Paolo.

“Go inside!” Drago ordered and shoved Maia so forcefully she nearly fell to her knees.

Maia blinked a few times as she walked into the dimly lit building.  The scurrying sounds of rats seemed more profound in this enclosed quarters.  She pressed down on her lips tightly as she attempted to prevent herself from crying out in distress.  Her steps slowed as her feet touched something on the ground in front of her, but Drago didn’t seem to care and gave her another shove forward.

“Move it!” he barked out.

The anger in his voice made her feet pick up the pace.  To where, she didn’t know.  She only did what she was told.  Afraid to go forward…afraid to stop.  The wailing sounds of young children on the other side of the doors made her wish she could do something…anything to help, but at the moment, she was not in a position to help herself.  For all she knew, she was walking her last mile to her execution.

Funny, she imagined herself fighting ‘til her last breath, yet here she was walking to an unknown destination for an unknown purpose, like a sheep being lead to slaughter.  If it came down to her life, would she fight or would she pray and ask God to accept her wretched soul into Heaven?  Do I deserve to go to Heaven?  Would hell be similar or worse than the last six years of my life?

“Here.  Open the door,” Drago’s voice growled behind her.

Maia didn’t question him.  She reached for the knob and turned.  The room was smaller than the one she shared with Becca and China.  It was bare except for a pallet that was made in the corner of the room by the clothes on their backs.  One little girl lay sleeping on it as the other three girls…approximately 13 to 15 years in age, remained huddled on the other side of the room.

The room was lit by a single, low watt bulb in the center of the ceiling and the shadows that were cast off the walls appeared like demons waiting to collect the souls of the damned.

“Choose,” Drago said.

It was a single word command, but it spoke volumes to Maia.  Choose.  “I…I can’t,” Maia’s voice squeaked, showing her fear and her weakness.  She resented her voice for betraying her, but she was frightened.  Not for herself, but for the others.  “What are you going to do?”

This time she looked at Drago.  For the first time she saw the feral expression on his face.  It was a look of a man gone mad.  Maia realized Drago loved what he did, instilling fear in the heart of a defenseless person.  In his pathetic life, this made him strong and bold.  But he was a coward and a bully.  He was pure evil.

Drago pulled the gun he had concealed in his jacket and pointed it to the girl who stood as they entered the room.  One bullet to the head and she slumped on the ground.  The other girls screamed and cowered in the corner, but to no avail.  They too will meet the same fate.

“Choose!” Drago demanded.  This time he pointed his gun at the sleeping form on the pallet.  Maia was certain she was no older than 5 or 6…the same age as China when she had come to these shores.

“No!  Please, don’t.  I’ll choose,” Maia pleaded.

Drago pulled the gun back and waited for Maia to make a choice.  “Well, I don’t have all night.”

“I…I choose the child, the one who’s sleeping.”  She squeezed her eyes shut as she knew what this meant.  Drago was going to execute the other girls right in front of her, leaving her to forever remember their lives were in her hands and she failed them.  She did not want to watch…she couldn’t.

“Ah…so you have a soft spot, huh?” Drago teased.  He aimed his gun at the girls cowering in the corner and pointed his barrel at one.  “Come!”

The young girl was clearly traumatized and her knees shook as she made her way over to Drago.  She looked imploringly at Maia, but Maia turned her eyes, ashamed of what she’d done and afraid of what she’d see in the other girl’s expression.

The gun went off with another loud bang that echoed through the small room and reverberated straight through Maia’s heart.  But she didn’t look.  She had seen enough dead girls in her lifetime and she did not want to see another.  Still, she knew she would forever dream about this night.  Much like she did the other nights that haunted her dreams.

Another shot rang out…another thud landed on the floor where the doomed girl stood.  Maia let out a small yelp of surprise at the noise.  She knew it was coming, but it still made her startle with helplessness for being unable to stop it.  It was the sound of a life being taken.  For the second time in her life, Maia felt the blood of another person’s life on her hands.

The blast of shots ringing out in the silence woke the sleeping child.  She sat up and wiped her eyes and began to wail as she found herself in a strange place with strange people and death surrounding her.  Maia was sure she wasn’t old enough to understand what was happening, but she knew she was frightened.  Who wouldn’t be?  It was all Maia could do not to wet her own pants at the moment.

Maia rushed to the startled child and scooped her up in her arms.  She tried to quiet her down, but her attempts only made matters worse.  “Shh…don’t cry.  It’s going to be alright,” Maia said in a soft, motherly tone.  She knew the tiny, little girl didn’t understand her words, but she hoped she was familiar with her tone.  The tone of a mother’s love.

Drago took two long strides over to Maia and the crying child and placed the muzzle of his gun to her small head.  The gesture brought out an instinct in Maia she didn’t know she possessed.  Maia twisted her body in such a way she was protecting the child with her own body, but the gun was now pointing at her.  But she didn’t care.  If he killed her right now, she would not be here to witness him kill this poor, innocent child.  She would never be able to live with herself if he did.  In her heart, she knew she would fight until he was forced to kill her, too.

Drago looked at Maia for a long moment, his jaw clenching in a rhythm that showed his discontent.  His finger itched to pull the trigger.  Maia could sense his taste for blood as he bit down on his tongue to resist the overwhelming urge to shoot.  His eyes grew dark and empty, hatred marred his ugly features.  Then he did the unthinkable…he pulled the gun back and put it back in his holster beneath his jacket and shoved Maia and her sobbing bundle forward and out of the room.

The Gift of Joy - Contemporary Romance
Second Chances - Contemporary Romance/Suspense
The Nation's Daughter - Crime/Legal/Thriller

Sunday, October 16, 2011

#Sample Sunday - INTO THIN AIR


Unedited Version


 This was Maia Duncan’s favorite time of day.  This was the short thirty minutes she had to herself to be whomever she chose…a pretend world that seemed to be the only safe place a twelve year old girl with low self-esteem could dream up and finally become an equal with her over confident counterparts.  The anonymity of the internet.
Although her parents constantly lavished her with compliments of her blossoming beauty, Maia did not delude herself into believing she had striking, good looks nor did she wish for them. But she did pray one day her unappealing overbite and pimply face would grow into the swan her mother promised she would become someday.
Prtygrl14:  “What are you doing?”
Shygrl12:  “Nothin’ ‘bout 2 start my homework. What ‘bout you?”
Prtygrl14:  “Nuttin’ much. I’m tryin on sum nu clothes 4 an audition.”
This revelation brought a twinge of envy to Maia’s heart.  Not that she wasn’t happy for her friend, but she couldn’t help but feel jealous of someone with the confidence and spirit as Pamela, her new friend she’s come to know as Pretty Girl 14.
Shygrl12:  “What kinda audition? Ooh, don’t tell me you get 2 model on a runway, I’d just die with envy.”
Prtygrl14:  “LMAO! I wish! No, but I do get 2 model some pretty cool bathing suits & clothes. Some I get 2 keep.”
After Maia’s parent’s divorce she could only dream of new clothes.  Her father wasn’t as generous with the child support, so Maia had to wear hand-me-downs from family members or church member’s children who no longer had a use for their old clothes.  Just the thought of having a new outfit was enough to make Maia drool.  A coy smile played on her lips as she got lost in the notion for a brief moment.
Prtygrl14:  “Hey ya still there?”
Shygrl12:  “Yea, just dreaming about some nu clothes. U’re so lucky.”
Prtygrl14:  “I’m not lucky, it’s easy. All u hav 2 do is take a few pics & they pay u. It only takes a couple hrs for ea photo shoot. U shud try it.”
Maia looked at her reflection in the computer screen.  She was not pleased with what looked back at her.  In her mind, she was not the budding flower that would blossom into the beautiful rose her mother would promise each day.  What she saw was a dark mop of hair that could not be tamed, pimples that covered her cheeks and forehead that resembled a crater catastrophe and features that were too harsh to be considered feminine…thanks to her father’s dominating features.
Maia let out a piteous sigh.
Shygrl12:  “I’ll leave the modeling 2 u. I’m not born w/looks…brains maybe LMBO”
Prtygrl14:  “U don’t give urself enuf credit. There’s nuttin a lil makeup can’t fix. Trust me, I kno.”
Shygrl12:  “Only beautiful ppl say things like that. Girls like me kno better. I need more than makeup to fix all of my problems.”
Prtygrl14:  “Do u have a webcam?”
Shygrl12:  “No. My mom says I’m not old enuf 2 b responsible w/that kinda technology. I think it’s bcuz she’s 2 cheap.”
Prtygrl14:  “If u were a model u cud make ur own money & buy ur own things. That’s what I did. I have all the cool gadgets now…my mom said we were poor, but I think she was just being cheap 2.”
Shygrl12:  “I kno what u mean. They just don’t understand what teenagers need to b cool these days. They nvr had internet or needed a cell phone. I wish I did have my own money so I cud buy myself all of the nice things other kids have.”
Prtygrl14:  “Well, the guy that takes my pics is pretty cool. Mayb he will let u take a few pics and pay u. Ur mother won’t have 2 kno. It’s not like she’ll b browsing thru teen magazines Haha!”
Maia could feel the yearning at the pit of her belly, but with that came all of the warning bells and whistles her mother planted in her head to make her afraid to do something as daring as defy her when it came to internet safety.  Still, her mother didn’t know what it was like to be a teenager in this other kids teased her for not having the latest or nicest things.
Besides, she and Pamela had been chatting for over a month and she was nice.  She was another teenager just like herself, with a mother who didn’t understand what it was like to be teased for being poor.  Yet, Pamela had done something about it.  Something Maia wished she was brave enough to do herself.
Again, Maia got caught up in her daydream about new clothes and shoes and maybe a few new gadgets…like a cell phone or a webcam so she and Pamela could see each other and talk instead of typing all the time.  That would be so freaking awesome, Maia thought to herself.
Shygrl12:  “Wudn’t he need a parent’s sig 2 take pics?”
Prtygrl14:  “No! I take pics all the time. My mom nvr knows where I get my money. I tell her I save up my allowance.  LMAO…she’s so lame.”
Shygrl12:  “I don’t get allowance.”
Prtygrl14:  “Oh, ur mom is cheap! U need 2 think seriously about going 2 one of the auditions. U’d b surprised how easy it is.”
Maia could hear her mother’s keys jingling as she attempted to unlock the front door.  Over the last month, Maia’s keen sense of hearing increased ever since their outburst about Maia’s constant preoccupation with chatting on the internet.  Besides, she was not supposed to even think about getting on the computer until all of her homework was done and she hadn’t even started yet.
Shygrl12:  “My mom’s here…gotta go!”
Prtygrl14:  “Ok, but think about it.  Talk 2moro.”
The screen went black.
Maia raced to the bed and dumped her books out of her backpack and began reading a random book just as her mother walked into her room.  Maia hated that her mother didn’t respect her privacy and would just walk in without knocking.  But that was another argument Maia lost, with the threat of her mother taking the door off the hinges if she ever found the door locked.
It seemed more and more she and her mother were at odds about one thing or another.  One day it’s her internet time…another it’s her privacy.  No matter what Maia seemed to want to do, her mother always found fault.  Nothing she did seemed to be good enough for her mother.  She didn’t even allow Maia to talk about boys…even her favorite boy band was off limits in her mother’s house.
But living with her father was out of the question.  With the contentious divorce between her parents, Maia was lucky if she saw him once a month or during the holidays.  He did everything he could to avoid his ex-wife and Maia was beginning to understand why.  Ever since her mother didn’t have her father around to nag, Maia seemed to be her new target.  There was nothing she could do or say to satisfy her mother and everything became a big fight.  There wasn’t a day Maia didn’t wish she was 18 so she could finally move out and be on her own and make her own decisions.
Brenda Duncan walked into Maia’s room and looked around as if to spy a boy hiding in the corner of the room.  She always had that suspicious appearance ever since she had to entrust Maia to come home alone and become another latch-key kid in a single parent home.  To her mother, it was akin to being an outcast in society…a step away from teen pregnancy, drugs and alcohol…and in no particular order.
As her mother did her surreptitious perusal, Maia continued to pretend she was engrossed in her studies.  But what she was really doing was thinking about how suffocating and untrusting her mother had become since the divorce.
“How was school?” Brenda finally asked when everything was met with her satisfaction. 
Maia could see the physical relief her mother displayed that Maia did not defy her by having anyone in the house when she wasn’t home and she was not on the internet.  “It was okay.”  Maia never looked up from her book.  Lately it was safer to keep her responses to her mother short and sweet.  It seemed the only way to prevent an argument.
“Doing your homework I see,” Brenda remarked, attempting small talk.
But Maia was not buying it.  She was not going to let her mother bait her into conversation.  Before long, she’ll be in a heated discussion about her worthless father or how Maia was not doing well enough in school and her grades were dropping…anything to start a fight to vent her own ineptness.
“Yeah,” was all Maia said in response.
Brenda stared at Maia for a long moment but didn’t say anything else.  Maia knew she wanted to say something, but she didn’t.  Whatever she wanted to say, she kept it to herself and walked out of the room to leave Maia to her own thoughts.  Thoughts about how nice it would be to finally have some of the things in life the other kids in her school had.  How nice it would be not to be talked about because she didn’t have something as simple as a cell phone, even kids younger than she had one.  It was embarrassing, but that was the least of the things that made her feel ashamed of her circumstances.

Maia played around with her food on her plate as Pamela’s words bounced around in her head.  She almost smiled at the moment she came to the realization she had already decided that she was going to do it.  But her mother’s stern scrutiny prevented her smile from appearing on her face.  Instead Maia remained a blank slate, stoic and unexpressive…a trait she learned from watching her father over the years.
“What are you thinking about?” Brenda finally asked.
Maia knew she would not be able to fool her mother for long, but she knew she wasn’t going to confess the truth either.  So she had thought of a lie earlier she knew her mother would fall for.  Like Pamela had said earlier…mothers are lame.
“I have a friend in school who’s going to give me some of her clothes,” Maia lied.
Brenda had her pride, but it was long hidden by the necessity of survival.  There was a time when she’d reject the charity of another, but after the divorce it was a bitter pill to have to not only ask for, but accept the assistance from strangers.  Maia knew it killed her, but she liked having the same things as other kids her age.  Just because her parents were no longer together didn’t mean she should suffer.
Brenda’s face was suspicious, but she didn’t voice it.  She only asked, “Why would she offer to give you her clothes?”
Maia shrugged as if that simple gesture explained all of her mother’s unanswered questions.
“I’ve never heard you talk about Pamela before.  Is she a new friend?” Brenda asked.
Maia had forgotten how Brenda was when it came to knowing everyone she knew.  Maia had to think quickly if she wanted to avoid another blow-up with her mother and get caught up in her lie.  “She’s new.  She’s only been at the school for a month.”
“Maybe I’ll get to meet this new friend,” Brenda said.  It was the tone she used when she didn’t completely believe what Maia was saying, but came up short of calling her a liar.
“Sure, maybe you’ll see her when you drop me off.  Sometimes she waits for me…but sometimes she’s late so you might not get a chance to meet her,” Maia lied again.
“That’ll be nice.  I like knowing all of the people you know.  Is she nice?” Brenda asked.  It was her subtle way of asking if she talked about boys or sex or anything she didn’t deem appropriate for Maia.
“Yeah.  You’ll like her.  She’s smart and beautiful.  She’s a model,” Maia said before she could stop herself.  She had gotten so caught up in her own lie; she had carried it too far.  Now she was adding more information for her mother question her about.  She wanted to bite her deceitful tongue from her mouth.
“A model, huh?  What type of model?” Brenda asked.
“Um..I don’t know.  Just a model.  She gets clothes from some of her photo shoots and some of them she said she’ll give to me,” Maia said.
Brenda’s lips pressed into a thin line, a gesture she used to prevent the words she felt from spewing from her mouth.  Maia had seen this expression a million times when her mother didn’t want to fight, but the words were just on the tip of her tongue to throw an innocent conversation into a downward spiral which lead to yelling, crying and hurt feelings.
“Maia, please tell me this isn’t one of your friends you’ve met on the internet,” she finally said it.  It was too serious to keep to herself.
Maia let out an audible sigh and dropped her fork in her plate with a loud clank.  “You never trust me.  You always want to find something to fight about.  Now I see why daddy left!”
Brenda leapt from her chair in a shot, her first instinct to slap Maia across the face, but thought better of it…counted to ten and sat back down.  She was not going to be goaded into a fight by a 12 year old when this was serious.  Maia had no idea the predators who stalked young, na├»ve little girls like herself.  It was her job as her mother to educate and protect her.
“Maia you’re only 12 years old, you have no idea the evil that’s out there in the world waiting for someone like you to prey on,” Brenda said calmly.  “I don’t say these things to fight, I say it because I love you and I want you to be protected and safe.”
“Well, you can’t save me from everything.  When are you going to let me learn things on my own and make my own mistakes?  You’re not always going to be there for me…then what?  You need to trust me to take care of myself and let me grow up,” Maia made an impassioned plea.
Maia loved her mother, but she was feeling smothered by her mother’s love.  All she wanted was to have a chance to do some of the things regular kids did.  What was so wrong with going to the movies once in a while?  What was so terrible talking about boys with her friends?  It wasn’t like she was going to leave with a stranger or have unprotected sex and get pregnant.  She was smarter than that.  Still, she resented the fact that her mother didn’t trust her enough to let her make some of the decisions for herself.  She was growing up, but her mother was treating her like she was still a baby.
“Maia, I know you think that I’m not letting you grow up, but it’s not that.  I don’t want anything to happen to you.  I want you to be safe,” Brenda said.
A lone tear rolled down Maia’s cheek.  She swiped at it with disgust.  She hated to fight with her mother, but she also hated that her mother treated her like a child.  She was growing up and her mother was going to have to get used to it.  “I’m tired of you treating me like a baby.  You don’t let me do anything.  You even try to pick my friends for me.  Give me some credit to pick my own friends.”
Brenda was silenced for the first time in her life.  She had nothing she could say.  Maia was right, but her maternal instincts kept telling her she was doing the right thing, but she remembered being 12 and her and her mother had a similar fight…how she resented her mother for not allowing her the freedom to make decisions on her own.  As a result, it prompted Brenda to rebel at an early age…another fear she held, but refused to face at the moment.
“Alright, I’ll back off a little.  But if I see where you’re not making the right decision or choice in friends, I’m going to reassert my authority…no bones about it,” Brenda said, but conceded that Maia should be allowed to select her own friends.  She could always intervene if needed.
This time Maia did smile.  It was a hard fought, but genuine smile.  The one day Maia decided she would defy her mother, she decides to concede to her demand for more freedom.  Maia should have felt horrible for breaking her mother’s trust by what she was planning, but she was too excited to think about the ramifications.  Anyway, if her mother never found out what would it hurt?
Brenda smiled back at her daughter, finally feeling as though they had reached an agreement…praying she was not going to live to regret this day.  It was a break through, of sorts.  It was a day that was bound to come, but Brenda admittedly was not ready for it to be now.  Secretly she wished she had a few more years before Maia would assert her need for freedom and independence.

“Hey!  Don’t forget your backpack,” Brenda yelled through the passenger side window when Maia jumped from the car and ran towards the school.
Maia trotted back and grabbed her backpack from her mother.  She could hardly contain the grin that took over her face since the night before.  After she went to her room last night, she chatted with Pamela for a few minutes…long enough to tell her she was ready to go to the photo shoot with her.  She prayed she would not be embarrassed for being so lacking in the looks department, but somehow Pamela made her feel like she could accomplish anything with a little blush and lipstick.
Deep down, Maia knew this day was going to change her life forever.  And though those warning bells and whistles her mother planted in her head tried to take up residence in her psyche, she ignored it and pushed it to the back of her mind.  She was not going to let this opportunity go by.  Who knows, one day she may become a famous model and have a very interesting story to tell about how it all began…with the friend on the internet.
With that thought Maia let out a short giggle.
“You seem to be in a good mood this morning,” Brenda said.  “I’m glad our little talk last night makes you happy.”
Maia smiled at her mother.  Yeah, mothers are lame, she thought.  If only her mother knew what she was really thinking about she’d be grounded until she was 100.
“I’m glad we had our talk.  You can trust me to take care of myself,” Maia said before she turned to run towards the school and meet up with Pamela in the back of the school as planned.
“Maia!  Don’t forget to come straight home from school.  Your father will be there to pick you up for the weekend,” Brenda yelled to her daughter’s retreating back.
Maia turned and waved to her mother as she drove away and out of sight.
Maia ran to the back of the school to meet Prtygrl14 to start her new life...
This was also the day Maia vanished into thin air...

Copyright © 2010 Valerie Maarten

Thursday, October 6, 2011


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