Read an Excerpt
Men of the Texas Rangers Series
By Margaret Daley
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2012 Margaret Daley
All rights reserved.
Rose gripped her cell phone so tightly her muscles ached. "Where are you, Lily?"
"At—Nowhere Motel." A sob caught on the end of the last word. "Help— me." Lily's breath rattled, followed by a clunking sound as though she'd dropped the phone.
Rose paced the small bathroom at Beacon of Hope. "Lily?" Sweat coated her palms, and she rubbed her free hand against her jeans.
Silence taunted her.
What have you done? But the second that Rose asked that question, an image came to mind of her friend lying on the dingy gray sheets in the cheap motel, wasted, trying anyway she could to forget the horror of her life.
"Lily, talk to me. Stay on the line." Pulling the door open, Rose entered her room. When she saw her roommate, she came to a stop.
Cynthia's wide-eyed gaze fixed on Rose for a few seconds before the fourteen-year-old dropped her head and stared at the hardwood floor. Rose crossed to her dresser, dug into the back of the top drawer, and grabbed a small, worn leather case. She pushed past her roommate and headed into the upstairs hallway.
Striding toward the staircase, Rose dismissed her roommate's startled expression and focused on the crisis at hand. "Lily, are you still there?"
A sound as though someone fumbled the phone and caught it filtered through the connection. "Rose, I need—you."
"I told you I would come if you wanted to get out. I'll be—"
A click cut off the rest of Rose's words. No, Lily. Please hang on.
Rushing down the steps to the first floor, she quickly re-dialed the number and let it ring and ring. When she approached the program director's office, she finally pocketed her cell, took out her homemade tools, and picked the lock, a skill she learned to give her some sense of control over her life. In the past she'd done what she had to in order to survive.
Guided by the light through the slits in the blinds, Rose entered Kate's darkened office and switched on the desk light. A twinge of guilt pricked her. If Kate found her in here after-hours, how could she explain herself? Especially with what she was going to do next to the woman who had saved her and taken her in.
Kate's gonna be so disappointed in me for stealing—no, borrowing—the van. She's put so much faith in me. But I've got to save Lily. I promised her. When I bring Lily back here, Kate will understand.
Rose used her tools to open the locked drawer on the right. Pulling it out, she rummaged through the papers to find the set of keys at the bottom, then bumped the drawer closed with her hip.
I have no choice, Kate. Please forgive me.
The memory of the words, I need you, spurred Rose to move faster. She had to get to her friend. Get her out ... finally. Bring her to Kate.
Clutching the keys in one hand, she turned off the lamp and carefully made her way to the office door. She eased it open a few inches and peered out into the short hallway. The empty corridor mirrored the feeling inside her.
When would it go away? When will I feel whole?
After she checked to make sure the office door was locked, she hurried toward the side exit of the building that housed the residential program for teens like her. Outside the summer heat blasted her in the face even though it was past midnight. Her heart pounded as hard as her feet hitting against the concrete. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she rushed toward the parking lot to find Beacon of Hope's van. The security light cast a yellow glow on the vehicle at the back of the building. Visions of her friend slipping into drug-induced unconsciousness, no one there to care whether she died or not, prodded her to quicken her steps.
I won't let you down, Lily. She was the reason her friend was where she was right now, stuck in a life that was quickly killing her.
As Rose tried to unlock the white van, her hands shook so badly the keys dropped to the pavement. Snatching them up, she sucked in a breath, then another, but her lungs cried for more oxygen. With her second attempt, she managed to open the door and slip behind the steering wheel. Her trembling hands gripped the hot plastic. After backing out of the parking space, she pressed down on the accelerator and eased onto the street in front of Beacon of Hope. With little driving experience, she would have to go slower than she wanted. She couldn't get caught by the cops. This was her one chance to save her friend. If all went well, she could be back here with Lily before morning.
She tried to clear her mind and concentrate totally on the road before her. She couldn't. Memories of her two years as a prostitute tumbled through her mind, leaving a trail of regrets. One was having to leave Lily behind.
Nowhere Motel—her and Lily's name for one of the hellholes where they'd had to earn their living. A place—one of several used when they were brought to Dallas—near the highway on Cherry Street. A place where inhuman acts happened to humans—young girls who should be dressing up for their prom, not their next trick.
She'd escaped only because she'd been left for dead on the side of the road when a john discarded her like trash. But the Lord had other plans for her besides death. A judge had seen to it that she came to the Beacon of Hope program, and Kate had given her a glimpse of a better life.
And I'm gonna start with rescuing Lily. I'm not gonna let her die. She's gonna have a chance like me.
Rose slowed as she neared the motel, two rows of units. Bright lights illuminated the front rooms, which maintained an appearance of respectability, while the rooms in the back were shrouded in dimness.
After she parked across the street from Nowhere, she sat in the van staring at the place, its neon sign to welcome travelers taunting her. Sweat rolled down her face, and she swiped at it. But nothing she did stopped the fear from overwhelming her to the point of paralysis. Memories of what went on in the back rooms of the motel threatened to thwart her attempt to rescue Lily before it began.
I owe her. I have to make up for what I did to her.
She pried her hands from the steering wheel and climbed from the van. After jogging across the two lanes, she circled around to the second building that abutted the access road to the highway.
The sounds of cars whizzing by filled the night. People going about their ordinary life while some were barely hanging on. A loud, robust laugh drifted to her as she snuck past the first unit, heading for room three, the one Lily always used at Nowhere. Someone opened a door nearby and stepped out of a room ahead of her. Rose darted back into a shadowed alcove at the end, pressing her body flat against the rough cinder block wall. Perspiration drenched her shirt and face. The stench of something dead reeked from a dumpster a few yards away. Nausea roiled in her stomach.
Two, sometimes three, of his guards would patrol, making sure the girls stayed in line. She wasn't sure this was a guard, but she couldn't risk even a quick look. She waited until the man disappeared up the stairs, then hurried toward the third unit. With damp palms, she inched the unlocked door open and peeked through the slit.
Dressed in a little-girl outfit that only underscored Lily's age of fifteen, she lay sprawled on the bed, her long red hair fanning the pillow, the sheets bunched at the end. Her friend shifted, her eyes blinking open. Groaning, she shoved herself up on one elbow, only to collapse back onto the mattress.
Footsteps on the stairs sent a shaft of fear through Rose. Her heartbeat accelerated. She pushed into the room and closed the door, clicking the lock in place. She almost laughed at her ridiculous action as though that would keep anyone out. But she left it locked.
The scent of sex, alcohol, and sweat assailed her nostrils and brought back a rush of memories she'd wanted to bury forever. For a few seconds she remained paralyzed by the door as memories bombarded her from all sides. Hands groping for her. A sweaty body weighed down on top of hers. The fog she'd lived in to escape.
She shook them from her thoughts. Can't go there. Lily is depending on me.
Turning toward her friend, she started across the room. Lily's glazed eyes fixed on her. For several heartbeats, nothing dawned in their depths. Then a flicker of recognition.
She tried to rise, saying, "Rose, so sorry ..." Lily slurred her words as she sank back. "Sor—reee."
"I'm here to get you out." Rose sat on the edge of the bed. "You've got—"
A noise behind her and to the left cut off her next words. She glanced over her shoulder as the bathroom door crashed open, and he charged into the room.
"Did you really think I'd let you go?"
His gravelly voice froze Rose for a few seconds. King never came to Nowhere Motel. Too beneath him. He should be—
Finally, terror propelled her into action. She scrambled off the bed and ran for the door. She grappled for the lock, her sweat-drenched fingers slipping on the cold metal.
King slammed her against the wall beside the door—her only escape route. He pressed her back to hold her pinned, the scent of peppermint sickening her. He loved to suck on peppermint candies, and she'd come to hate that smell. The aroma enhanced her desperation.
Words from her street days spewed from her mouth. She twisted and tried to buck him off. He thrust her harder against the wall until she couldn't catch her breath. Lightheaded from the lack of air, she went still.
"You'll always be mine. That john paid for losing you." Her pimp threw the lock on the door and opened it. "Tony."
Oxygen rushed back into her lungs and with it returned the frantic need to get away.
But before she could make a move, King's fingers clamped around her upper arm so tightly she thought he would break it. A six-foot-tall guard appeared in the doorway as King dragged her across the room and flung her on the bed. One of her arms flopped then bounced on the mattress near Lily. Her friend's head lolled to the side. Her eyes closed.
"Hold her." King withdrew a syringe, filled with a clear liquid, from his pocket.
"No," Rose screamed and scrambled over Lily's body. She had to get away. She wouldn't go there again.
Tony lunged across the bed and grabbed her leg. His fingers dug into her ankle. Inch by inch he hauled her to him. Lily moaned as Rose slid across her, but Lily's eyes stayed closed.
Can't give up. Rose kicked free and launched herself at the guard, raking her fingernails down his cheek.
He struck her face with his fist. Pain radiated outward from her jaw. Her vision blurred. A metallic taste coated her tongue. The room tumbled through her mind, as if she'd been stuffed into a dryer in the middle of its cycle. The ringing in her ears drowned out what Tony said. Throwing his body over hers, he trapped her on the bed.
Her pimp loomed over her. Through the haze, she saw the malicious grin as King gripped her arm and yanked it toward him.
When he held up the syringe, her heart beat so fast she thought she would pass out from the hammering force against her ribcage. She gasped for a mouth full of air, but it wasn't enough.
"No, please not that," she whimpered as he jabbed the needle into her arm.CHAPTER 2
As Kate Winslow jotted down a note at the bottom of a letter she'd received, the door to her office at Beacon of Hope opened. She glanced up.
"Where's the white van?" Harriet, one of the teachers on staff, asked from the entrance.
"In the south parking lot."
"It's not there. I'm supposed to take the girls to the ranch today. We went out there to leave and couldn't find it."
Kate pushed her chair back and caught sight of the barely open right-hand drawer. Pulling it toward her, she searched beneath the papers for the vehicle's second set of keys. Nothing. Finally, she pulled the drawer completely out and dumped the contents on her desk. Still nothing.
"Someone took my keys."
"And stole the van." Harriet covered the distance to Kate's desk. "One of the girls?"
"Not from my group."
Kate inhaled a deep breath, holding it for a few seconds before releasing it slowly. "We need to do a check. Was everyone at breakfast?"
"No. Rose and Beth were missing. Rose often doesn't eat breakfast, and someone said Beth wasn't feeling well."
"I'll take Rose's room. You check Beth's."
Dread gnawed at Kate as she climbed the stairs to the second floor where the girls often gathered when they weren't busy. Rose had been in the program six months and was really doing well. Kate didn't want to see anything go wrong with the sixteen-year-old's path to a better life.
So often when she received a teenage girl in the program, her physical wounds were healed because she'd come from somewhere besides the Dallas area, and it took a while for the system to send them here. But not Rose. She'd been found by a couple nearly dead on the side of the road just south of the city. Her face, still bruised and cut from the beating she'd received, took weeks to heal. Weeks during which Kate had grown attached to the child. Even more than the other twenty-three girls she housed at Beacon of Hope.
At the door to Rose's room, Kate knocked. When half a minute with no reply passed, she pushed the door open and entered. After she made a visual sweep of the area—noting Rose's made bed—Kate checked the small bathroom the teen and her roommate shared with the girls next door.
Why would Rose take the van? Has she run away? That doesn't make sense, not after our heart-to-heart conversation yesterday.
Kate inspected the closet, full of the teenager's clothes, then pulled open the dresser drawers to see if anything was missing. Everything seemed to be there. Rose wouldn't leave without taking her possessions. She had so little, but she'd always taken special care of what she had.
So what are you doing, Rose? Going back to your old life?
That just didn't seem possible. Rose had begun to have dreams of what her future could be. Yesterday she'd talked about what she was going to do after she got her GED.
Maybe Rose was in the infirmary. Hope flared in Kate. She swung around toward the door and left at a quickened pace.
A minute later, she entered the small infirmary. Harriet, one of the school staff, stood talking with the nurse on duty who was wrapping an Ace bandage around the ankle of a student. Beth lay on a bed next to them. There was no one else present.
Visions of what Rose had looked like when she'd first come to the program flashed into Kate's mind. How the young girl had survived such a beating still amazed her. Fear for her charge clawed at her composure.
If she's back on the street, what will happen to Rose if her ex-pimp finds her? The question chilled her. She shuddered, hugging her arms to her. I have to find her before it happens.
Kate signaled for Harriet to step into the hallway. "Rose is missing from her room. I'm going to talk with her roommate while you do a thorough search of the building. Get Jillian and some other staffers to help you. Before we do anything else, I need to know that she's gone for sure."
"I'll tell my girls to wait in the rec hall. Her roommate, Cynthia, is part of my group. I'll send her to your office."
"Let's keep this quiet for now, just among the staff." There were no bars on the windows or locks to keep the teens inside at Beacon of Hope, because she never wanted the girls to feel like criminals. The teens had to agree to come to the voluntary program. They weren't forced, but that didn't mean some didn't feel they had a choice really. She knew she still had to contact the police if someone left on her own. They were still minors, and, legally, they were runaways. But she didn't have to report the van stolen by Rose. At least not until she had exhausted all possibilities concerning the girl. The teen didn't need any more problems.
"We've done well. Remember the success stories. They outnumber the ones who go back to the streets."
And Rose was going to be one of those success stories. Why did you leave, Rose? If I knew that, I might know where you went. "You're right, but sometimes it's hard to remember that when you lose someone special. Rose has so much promise."
"Don't forget there are few places like Beacon of Hope in the United States. The police and courts are beginning to see the need for this type of program. Where are the teens most people have forgotten going to go for help if we aren't here?"
Excerpted from Saving Hope by Margaret Daley. Copyright © 2012 Margaret Daley. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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