Out of the Dark

Out of the Dark

by Sharon Sala
Out of the Dark

Out of the Dark

by Sharon Sala

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Overview

A beautiful artist is on the run from a cult in this “moving romantic suspense novel” by the New York Times–bestselling author of Snowfall (Publishers Weekly).
 
When she was a child, Jade’s mother took her away from her father and into the cultish world of the People of Joy. Then her mother died, and Jade was subjected to years of horrific abuse by cult members before she finally escaped. Now Jade is on the run—because the People of Joy will stop at nothing to keep their secrets safe. Living on the streets and always on the move, Jade turns to art for salvation and survival.
 
When Sam Cochrane spots a painting of his vanished wife, he knows the artist can lead him to the girl he’s never stopped searching for—his long-lost daughter, Jade. He hires friend and ex-cop Luke Kelly to help find her. Soon Jade and her father are reunited, but as Luke and Jade grow closer, the news of her miraculous return puts them in grave danger . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780795345302
Publisher: RosettaBooks
Publication date: 09/05/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 374
Sales rank: 76,521
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

About The Author

Sharon Sala is a long-time member of the Romance Writers of America, as well as a member of Oklahoma RWA. In 2014, she published her one-hundredth novel. A fan favorite, Sala is an eight-time RITA finalist, winner of the Janet Dailey Award, four-time Career Achievement winner from RT Magazine, five-time winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award, and five-time winner of the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence, as well as Bookseller’s Best Award. In 2011 she was named RWA’s recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Her novels have been on the top of major bestseller lists including the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly. Sala also writes under the name Dinah McCall.


Sharon Sala is a member of Romance Writers of America, as well as a member of Oklahoma RWA. She has 94 plus books in print, published in five different genres-Romance, Young Adult, Western, Fiction, and Women's Fiction. First published in 1991, she's an eight-time RITA finalist, winner of the Janet Dailey Award, four-time Career Achievement winner from RT Magazine, five-time winner of the National Reader's Choice Award, and five-time winner of the Colorado Romance Writer's Award of Excellence, as well as Bookseller's Best Award. In 2011 she was named RWA's recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Her books are New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher's Weekly best-sellers. Writing changed her life, her world, and her fate

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

St. Louis, Missouri — 1977

It was just after midnight when Margaret Cochrane opened her eyes to look at the face of her sleeping husband. She'd been Sam Cochrane's wife for seven years and Jade's mother for four, and once she'd loved Sam Cochrane more than life. But during the past year, she'd struggled unsuccessfully to hide her unhappiness with herself and with life. Times were changing. The country had been at war for years in a land she could barely pronounce. Young men had abdicated their military duty by escaping to countries outside of the U.S. to keep from being drafted. People Margaret's age had staged sit-ins in protest, burned flags and marched on Washington, D.C. She felt as if life had passed her by. She had so wanted to be a part of it — to make a change in the world. But her responsibilities as a wife and mother had precluded those options. To satisfy her emotional drought, she had decided to enroll in a self-realization course at a local community college.

Then one day, less than two weeks into the course, she had taken a shortcut across the campus greens to the bus stop and found the path blocked by a large gathering of people. She'd seen their kind before, but never up close. Both men and women wore their hair long and hanging loose about their faces. Some had flowers woven into their hair; others carried bouquets and handed out a flower to anyone who wandered by. They dressed like gypsies from some Hollywood movie, in bright, colorful fabrics — the women in dresses that brushed against their ankles, the men in tight pants and long psychedelic print shirts that hung halfway to their knees. They referred to themselves as the People of Joy and were led by a man who called himself Solomon.

Margaret stopped out of curiosity, listening halfheartedly to their talk of free love and making peace, not war, until the man who called himself Solomon stepped off the low wall on which he'd been standing and started toward her.

One look from the dark-eyed, charismatic leader and she'd been hooked. He'd smiled at her, touched her face, then her hair, with the back of his hand. She felt the warmth of his breath as he bent down and placed a flower in her hair above her ear. As he did, the crowd around them had laughed then applauded, and something within Margaret had soared. One day ran into the next, and then the next, until she was at the campus almost daily. Seven days after her first encounter with Solomon, she'd gone again, only this time with Jade.

The People treated her child as if she was a princess, exclaiming over Jade's stunning beauty, even weaving flowers into her curly black hair and painting a tiny butterfly on the baby doll curve of her cheek. They praised Margaret until she felt as if she'd given birth to a holy child. Within the short space of that week, the emptiness in her heart had been replaced with a false sense of family. And so the brainwashing of Margaret Cochrane had begun.

Six months later, she was about to break her marriage vows to the man she'd sworn to love, honor and cherish. If that wasn't daunting enough, she was also about to steal away his only child. More than once she'd thought about telling him, but she knew he would never understand.

She slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Sam, then stood within the darkness of the room, looking down at his face. He was so good-looking, and he did love her. But he was always busy, and he didn't understand her. It seemed to Margaret as if everything mattered more to him than she did. There was a brief moment of hesitation before her eyes narrowed purposefully. Quickly she slipped off her nightgown and dressed, choosing a long, ankle-length dress made of a blue, flowered fabric that she'd purchased yesterday. She picked up her shoes, waiting to put them on until she had stepped into the hall. With a quick backward glance over her shoulder, she hurried next door to Jade's room and slipped inside.

The baby was sleeping like the angel she was. Margaret thought of what she was about to do and hesitated again. Sam was going to be devastated. He doted on Jade, and it would be easier if she left Jade behind. Margaret knew it wouldn't be difficult for him to find a nanny. But then she thought of how the People had praised her for giving birth to such a perfect child and was afraid to leave her behind. Jade had become part of her identity with the People.

Having settled that in her mind, she bent down, and as she did, her long blond hair fell forward, hiding her face like a veil. She brushed the dark tangles from her baby's cheek then whispered softly in her ear.

"Jade ... wake up, honey. We're going for a ride."

Four-year-old Jade Cochrane rolled over onto her side, subconsciously pulling away from her mother's grasp.

"No, Mommy," she muttered, her voice thick with sleep. "Don't wanna go."

Margaret glanced nervously over her shoulder, then grabbed the pink blanket that was Jade's sleeping companion and wrapped her up in a larger blanket before lifting her out of the bed.

"Sure you do," Margaret whispered. "You're Mommy's girl, and Mommy can't go without you."

Unaware that the pink blanket had fallen onto the floor, Margaret carried Jade out of the room, then hurried down the stairs of the old family mansion. Within seconds, she was out the door and running down the long drive toward an old blue Volkswagen van parked at the curb. As she approached, the side door slid open. Two bearded men wearing soft flowing robes and ponytails met her with open arms, took Jade out of her arms, then followed her into the van. Within seconds, the door slid shut. There was a moment when Margaret looked up at the two men in the darkness and started to panic. Then one of the men took a hand-rolled joint out of his mouth and offered it to her.

"Here, pretty lady ... have a toke."

Margaret shivered as she put the marijuana cigarette into her mouth. She inhaled sharply, held her breath for a moment to let the drug cycle through her brain, then exhaled through her nose. The kick of the drug silenced her conscience as competently as if she'd put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. Two more pulls from the joint and she knew that she was right where she wanted to be.

Jade whimpered. One of the men pulled the covers up over her shoulder, then shifted her to the back of the van as the other man reached for the joint dangling between Margaret's fingers. He took a long drag, then put the vehicle in gear and sped away.

Inside the house, Sam Cochrane rolled over in bed, felt the empty pillow beside his head and sat upright with a jerk. His wife's absence wasn't unusual. She often got up in the night to check on Jade. But there was something about the silence of the house that felt different. There was a vacuum in the space where love was supposed to be.

"Maggie?"

No one answered.

He got up out of bed and hurried next door to their daughter's room. The room was dark, the door ajar. He shoved it aside and walked in, only to find the bed empty and his daughter gone. When he saw the pink blanket lying on the floor next to the bed and Jade nowhere in sight, his heart skipped a beat. Jade never slept without it. This time, when he called his wife's name, he was yelling.

"Maggie!"

Still no answer.

He turned on lights as he ran through the house, running up to the third floor, then back through the second, before going down the stairs to the main floor. It wasn't until he got to the foyer and found the door standing open that reality hit.

They were gone, and while the possibility of foul play couldn't be ruled out, in his heart, he knew what she'd done. The signs had been right in front of him for weeks, but he'd ignored them, refusing to believe Maggie was that unhappy, unwilling to admit that any part of it was his fault. He'd seen the love beads lying on her dresser, noticed the changes she'd made in her hairstyle and clothes. Last week he'd come home early and seen what society called a "hippie" van pulling out of the driveway. When he'd questioned Maggie about it, she'd shrugged it off by saying it was only people asking for directions. He hadn't believed her, but he'd been unwilling to broach the subject. And now it was too late.

He ran out onto the lawn and then down the driveway just in time to see a pair of taillights disappearing down the street.

"Maggie! Come back! Come back! For God's sake ... come back!"

His screams shattered the silence of the night as he raced down the street chasing the taillights, but it was no use. The vehicle disappeared. She was gone, and she'd taken their baby with her.

1997

Pink and green reflections from the flashing neon sign outside the bedroom window painted the couple sleeping on the bed in eerie, garish flashes of color, giving their faces a harlequined appearance.

Outside the hotel, a police car sped past with sirens screaming. At the sound, the woman flinched and then started to moan, which quickly roused the man sleeping beside her.

His name was Raphael, and for as long as he could remember, Jade had been the only person he had ever loved. He rose up on one elbow to look at her, wincing as movement caused the room to tilt. Ignoring a slight wave of nausea, he swiped a shaky hand across his face, then looked down at Jade.

She was dreaming again. He could see it on her face. The hell of their childhood had scarred them both in ways no one could know. If he had believed in God, he would have prayed for peace in their hearts, but the way he figured it, God was just a myth. If He had existed, He would never have let happen what had happened to them. So it was up to him to ease Jade's nightmares.

He bent down until his mouth was only inches away from her ear, then whispered softly, "Jade ... Jade ... it's all right, baby ... it's all right. No one's going to hurt you ... not anymore."

Then he slipped his arm beneath the curve of her neck and pulled her close against his chest.

Somewhere within the depths of Jade's mind, the familiarity of Raphael's voice registered. When it did, her panic subsided. She shuddered, then sighed.

"Yes, that's it," Raphael whispered, stroking her hair until he felt her body relax. "You're safe. You're safe. You're always safe with me."

Jade slept again, but Raphael did not. Sleep had become his nemesis, stealing time he was reluctant to waste. There was a knot in his stomach that had nothing to do with the nausea he'd suffered only moments ago. It was fear, pure and simple. Jade was his life — his world — but in his need to protect her from the hell of their past, he'd done something wrong, something that he had to put right. She'd come to depend upon him so much that he wasn't sure if she would ever be able to function on her own. He hadn't meant to do it, but it had happened just the same.

Still asleep, she turned in his arms and then laid her cheek against his chest. The warmth of her sigh was a caress upon his skin. He swallowed past the knot in his throat, then threaded his fingers through her hair, unconsciously fisting the length of it in his palm.

"Love you, pretty girl," he said softly, then turned his head toward the window, waiting for dawn.

* * *

"Are you sure you want to take this?" Raphael asked, as he steadied the oversized painting Jade had just handed him against his leg.

Jade glanced up from the stack of paintings she was packing, eyed the one Raphael was holding, then shrugged.

"It's just a painting. We need the money."

Raphael frowned. "We always need the money, but this is a painting of your mother."

Jade straightened, then turned, fixing him with a cool, pointed look.

"That's not my mother. That's Ivy."

Raphael's frown deepened. "They are one and the same, and you know it."

"No, they aren't. My mother was a ... she ... damn it, Rafie, I can barely remember her or Ivy. My mother turned into some mushroom smoking hippie named Ivy. When she died, she left me in hell. Why should I care about some stupid picture of her? I don't even know why I painted it to begin with, so pack it."

"Yes, ma'am."

Jade glared at the smirk on Raphael's face, trying to maintain her anger, but she couldn't. Instead they packed up their stuff and headed out the door. A neighbor was giving them a ride in his truck to the street fair. The sun was shining; the sky was clear. It was promising to be a good day.

Jade smiled at Raphael as they rode in the back of the truck, holding on to the paintings she was hoping to sell. He glanced at her and winked, then focused on the stack of canvases he was holding.

Jade sighed. She could never be mad at the man who'd saved her life. He wasn't just her best friend, he was the other half of her heart. And the fact that she'd taken the last of their savings to pay booth rent at a street fair in downtown San Francisco had been risky. They'd been hungry too often and homeless far more than she cared to count, so saving back any of her paintings, even the one of Ivy, was not only foolish, it was wasteful. Yet as they rode through the busy San Francisco streets, Jade couldn't help staring at the faces of the people they passed — convinced that one day their past would catch up with them and terrified of what would happen when it did.

* * *

She had little to no memory of anything before Ivy. Only now and then did she dream about a tall, dark-haired man who had played with her in a wading pool and rocked her to sleep. But the facial features were always vague, and when she woke, the image was always gone.

Most of the time, the face in her nightmares belonged to Solomon. Solomon of the smiling face — who smelled of incense and smoke — who brushed her hair and stroked her face and, the day after Ivy had died, had sold her tiny, six-year-old prepubescent body to a pedophile who preyed on little girls. He had been the first, but certainly not the last, man who'd paid money to ravage her body. And for the ensuing six years, she, like Raphael, became a marketable product for the People of Joy.

She couldn't remember a time when Raphael had not been part of her life — the young, beautiful boy/child three years her senior who had never known a mother or a father and, to the best of his knowledge, didn't have a last name. He was a product of the same commune in which Ivy had died and had no existence outside of Solomon's control. Solomon had been his father figure. He had known nothing beyond obeying the wishes of the charismatic leader — doing anything to garner the rare moments of affection Solomon had bestowed upon him. He'd suffered the "uncles" who Solomon had brought for him to play with, not knowing that there was any other kind of life.

Then one day something happened that shattered his perception. It was a small crack — hardly more than a weakness in the ties that bound him to the world into which he'd been born. But to a child who'd never had a say in one waking moment of his life, it was huge. Raphael hadn't known it was possible to say no until he'd witnessed Jade throw a screaming fit and refuse to obey Solomon's demand.

She'd been screaming for her mother, and Solomon had laughed and told her that her mother was gone and was never coming back. Raphael wanted to tell her that it would be okay, that the uncles wouldn't keep her, that they always left after they were through playing, but he didn't get the chance.

And even though her tiny rebellion had been futile, it had planted a seed in his head that had slowly taken root. He hadn't known, until he'd witnessed Jade's rebellion, that it was okay to have an opinion of his own.

The bond that was forged between the two children grew stronger with each passing year, so that by the time Jade was twelve and Raphael fifteen, they had become inseparable.

Then the unthinkable happened. Jade began to mature. Her body was no longer that of a thin, hairless doll. She was becoming a woman, which made one "uncle" very unhappy.

Frank Lawson had paid Solomon five hundred dollars for an entire night with Jade. He'd been with her numerous times before, but never for the whole night, and not in the past six months. When she'd arrived in his room and he had seen what nature had done to her body, it infuriated him. The sight of her budding breasts and shapely hips had ended his erection in a way that nothing else could have done. Angry and embarrassed that he couldn't "get it up," he tried a little acid. Within minutes, her tiny breasts seemed to grow before him, turning colors, then changing shapes, while the terror on her face turned her into a laughing, shrieking bitch.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Out of the Dark"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Sharon Sala.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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