His mother, Barbara, looks for help from Kent Harlan—the man whom she secretly, reluctantly loves and who once helped rescue her daughter from a mess of her own. Kent flies to her aid and begins the impossible work of getting Lance out of trouble, protecting a baby who has no home, and finding help for a teenage mother hiding behind her lies.
In this latest novel of suspense and family loyalty, bestselling author Terri Blackstock offers a harrowing look at drug addiction, human trafficking, and the devastating choices that can change lives forever.
About the Author
Terri Blackstock has sold over seven million books worldwide and is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author. She is the award-winning author of Intervention, Vicious Cycle, and Downfall, as well as such series as Cape Refuge, Newpointe 911, the SunCoast Chronicles, and the Restoration Series. Visit her website at www.terriblackstock.com Facebook: tblackstock Twitter: @terriblackstock
Read an Excerpt
Vicious CycleAn Intervention Novel
By Terri Blackstock
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 Terri Blackstock
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI should have died.
Jordan lay on her bloody sheets, her newborn daughter in her arms, and longed for one more hit. She had never hated herself more. Her baby had come two weeks early, and she hadn't been sober enough to get to the hospital. Giving birth at home had never been part of the plan, but there was no one in her house whose mind was clear enough to care.
What kind of mother traded prenatal vitamins for crystal meth? Her age was no excuse. At fifteen, Jordan knew better than to get high while she was pregnant. Now she had this beautiful little girl with big eyes and curly brown hair, innocence radiating like comfort from her warm skin. That innocence, so rare and short-lived in her family, made the birth all the more tragic. Worse, the baby seemed weak and hadn't cried much, and sometimes her little body went stiff and trembled.
Was she dying? Had Jordan tied off the umbilical cord wrong? Her mother, who had once worked as a nurse's aide, had told her to use a shoestring. What if that was wrong? What if she'd waited too long to cut the cord? It wasn't like she could trust her mother. It was clear she didn't have Jordan's or the baby's best interests in mind.
Jordan had made up her mind to give the baby up for adoption, even though she'd felt so close to her in the last few weeks as her daughter had kicked and squirmed inside her. While she was sober, she'd come to love the baby and dream of a future for her ... one that bore no resemblance to her own. But once Jordan went back into the arms of her lover — that drug that gave her a stronger high than the love of a boy — the baby stopped kicking. For the last week of her pregnancy, Jordan believed her baby was dead. So she'd smothered her fear, guilt, and grief in more drugs.
Then last night her water broke, and cramps seized her. She had responded to her fear as she did every emotion — by taking more drugs. By the time she felt the need to push, it was too late to get to the hospital, even if there had been someone who would drive her.
She craved another hit, but she was out of ice. Her mother and brother claimed to be out too. They'd already burned through Zeke's casino win, so one of them would have to find a way to score. Maybe it was better if they didn't, though. Her baby needed her.
She wrapped the child in a dirty towel, swaddling it like she'd seen on one of those baby shows. She hadn't expected to love it so fiercely. The baby had big eyes, and now and then she would open them and look up at Jordan, as if to say, "So you're the one who's supposed to protect me?"
The door to her bedroom burst open, and Jordan's mother, eyes dancing with drug-induced wildness, swooped in with sheets in her hand. She must have been holding out on Jordan. She had a secret stash of dope somewhere that she didn't want to share.
"Up, up, up," she said with trembling energy. "Come on, baby, you've made a mess. Now let's clean it up."
Since when did her mother care about neatness? Rotten dishes festered in every room, and garbage spilled over on the floors. "Mom, I have to get the baby to the hospital. She's not acting right, and I don't know about the cord."
Her mother leaned over the baby, stared down at her with hard, steel-gray eyes. "Looks fine to me. I've called the Nelsons. They'll be here soon. They're anxious to get their baby."
The Nelsons? No, this wasn't how it was supposed to go.
Her mother released the fitted sheet from the corners of one side of the mattress and pulled it up, clearly trying to roll them both out. Jordan braced herself. "Stop! Mom, I can't."
"Get up," her mother said, clapping. "Come on. We've got to get the little thing cleaned up before its mommy and daddy come. If they come back here I don't want them to see these sheets."
"Mom — you don't get to pick her parents!" Jordan got up, clutching the baby. Blood rushed from her head, blotches blurring her vision. "I've worked it all out with the adoption agency. I'll call them and tell them —"
Her mother's face hardened even more, all her wrinkles from hard living starkly visible now. "It's a done deal, darlin'. Baby, we have to do this. It's great for our family! This is the whole reason we let you leave rehab early."
"It's not the reason you gave me, Mom. You said you missed me, that I needed my mama while I was pregnant. But it was all a lie."
Her mother snapped the sheets. "Forty thousand dollars, baby. Do you know how much ice that'll buy?"
"Just take her to the hospital to make sure she's all right. Then we can talk about who —"
"No!" her mother bellowed, and the baby jerked and started to cry.
Jordan pulled the baby's head up to her shoulder and rubbed her back. She was so tiny, just a little ball. Her arms and legs thrashed, as if she protested her birth into the wrong family.
"Its new parents can take it to the hospital," her mother said.
"Not it — her!" How could her mother talk about her as if she were an object? "And they're not her parents. I don't know them. They're not on the list the agency gave me."
Her mother flung the soiled sheets into a corner. The blood had seeped through and stained the mattress. "Look what you did, you piece of trash! Bleeding all over the mattress."
"If you'd taken me to the hospital —"
"To do what? Let them arrest you because you were high as a kite while you were giving birth to that kid? Let them arrest me? I'm on probation. You know they can't see me like this. And you're fifteen. They might have taken you away from me, put you into foster care. Then where would you be? Or they could take the baby away and put it into foster care. Then we got nothing to show for it. I ain't gonna let that happen."
Jordan squeezed her eyes shut. If she'd only stayed in rehab, under the protective wings of New Day.
She felt dizzy, weak, but as she held the baby, her mother threw the clean sheets at her. "Put these on the bed. But first get that stain out of the mattress."
"Mom ... I need some things." She kept her voice low. "Something to dress her in. Some diapers. Bottles."
"You can nurse her until they take her. I'm not putting one penny into this. They're paying me!" She yanked the baby out of Jordan's arms. "I'll hold it while you change the bed."
Jordan hesitated, uneasy about the fragile baby in the hands of a wild woman who didn't know her own drug-induced strength.
"Do it!" her mother screamed.
Again, the baby let out a terrified howl. Jordan took her back. "I will, Mom," she said softly. "Just let me put the baby down."
Breathing hard, her mother watched as Jordan laid the baby on the floor and tried to make her comfortable. Then Jordan got a towel and blotted at the blood stain on the mattress, watching the baby from the corner of her eye.
She couldn't get the stain out, so she grabbed the new sheets and tossed them over the mattress. Out of sight, out of mind, she hoped. As she worked, she panted, fighting dizziness. Her bones ached, and she shivered with chills, though her skin was damp with perspiration.
"Now clean the kid up. I want it to make a good impression. Wish she was a blonde. They pay more for blondes."
Jordan tried one last time. "Don't you think she'll look better to that couple if she's dressed? They're not gonna want to take her without a diaper or outfit. Get Zeke to go and get her some things."
Her mother hesitated, then walked out. A few minutes later, Jordan heard her shrieking at her brother. After a loud exchange, the front door slammed.
Jordan's hands trembled as she picked up the baby and wrapped her in the towel again. These people her mother had found to take the baby — how did they even know Jordan's mother and brother, who only hung out with losers and convicts? Forty thousand dollars was a lot of money. Maybe it meant they were desperate for a child and would be good parents.
But something about this whole scheme stank. She couldn't let it happen.
The baby's crying grew louder, then silenced as her little body arched and jerked. Was this a seizure? Panic drove Jordan to the window. She'd have to climb out with the baby and get to the car. But Zeke had taken it.
Jordan dragged a chair to the window. When Zeke came back, maybe she could make her escape. Her child's whole life hung on the frayed cord of a lot of maybes. And she knew from past experience that maybes never worked out in her favor.
Chapter TwoLooks like we've got a newbie," Lance Covington told his mother as they pulled into the parking lot at New Day Treatment Center.
Barbara glanced at the teenaged girl getting out of the car next to them. Her eyes were puffy from crying, and she looked as if her life was over. Her parents seemed even more distraught. Even from inside her car, Barbara sensed the tension rippling between the girl and her parents as they got her suitcase out of the trunk.
Barbara remembered that first day of Emily's treatment like it was last week, rather than a whole year ago. At least they'd found a place right here in their hometown, Jefferson City, so Barbara and Lance could visit every weekend. Though Emily had realized she needed help and gone to the teen treatment center voluntarily, Barbara had still battled crushing feelings of grief.
She'd taken Emily in with all the belongings they had so carefully packed to make her comfortable for a year's stay. The counselor examined every item to make certain no drugs were hidden away. Every container was opened, every pocket checked. And she paid careful attention to linings and hems, common hiding places of addicts.
The shakedown exposed a pack of cigarettes hidden in a pocket of one of Emily's sweaters. At least it wasn't drugs, but the small infraction disheartened Barbara enough to make her doubt Emily's sincerity.
"Mom, I'm giving up everything," Emily told her. "I thought a cigarette now and then would help ease me in."
Emily's explanation hadn't made Barbara feel better. What else had she sneaked in?
Doris, the intake counselor, seemed undaunted — she just tossed the cigarettes in the trash and kept paring Emily's belongings down to what would fit in a small plastic bin. When she finished weeding out the things Emily couldn't keep, Doris helped Barbara return them to her car. As she'd driven away that first day, Barbara had wept with worry over her daughter's plight. Most eighteen-year-old girls didn't have to give up a year of their lives to fight a battle raging inside them.
But now, a year later, Barbara knew it had all been worth it.
She wanted to tell those parents bringing their distraught daughter in today that it would be all right, that there was light at the end of their dark tunnel. That the year would fly by faster than they could imagine. That miracles happened here.
But telling them those things wouldn't assuage their pain. The decision to check their child into a year-long program couldn't have been easy, and it didn't come without guilt and feelings of failure.
Barbara and Lance got out of their car and reached the main building before the fragile family did, so she opened the door for them and offered a reassuring smile. The sound of singing came from the main room, and all three newcomers looked toward it.
"It's the choir," Barbara said. "They sound beautiful, don't they?"
The girl nodded and tossed her hair back from her face, as if she wanted to look her best if any of the girls caught a glimpse of her. "I didn't expect to hear singing," she said.
The song ended as they walked into the foyer. Beyond the doors to the left, the girls in the main room erupted in laughter. Barbara looked for Emily and saw her sitting on the edge of a table, surrounded by friends. She looked so healthy, so well. So unlike her appearance when they'd brought her in a year ago.
Barbara smiled at the new girl's mother. "They laugh a lot here."
Her words, meant to reassure the grieving mother, did nothing to change her expression. To this woman, days of laughter probably seemed far into the future — maybe even a hopeless dream.
"Man, I'm gonna miss this place," Lance said.
Barbara chuckled and glanced at her gangly son, who'd grown four inches in the last year. "Where else do you have so many adoring fans?"
He laughed and regarded the new girl. "What are you in for? Wait, don't tell me — pills, right?"
"Lance!" Horrified, Barbara turned to the girl and her parents. "I'm so sorry."
The girl looked down at her feet.
"Hey, no offense, okay?" Lance said. "I didn't mean anything bad."
Barbara touched his shoulder. "Just ... don't talk."
He started to say something, and she put her hand over his mouth, eyes flashing. "Nothing!"
Lance shut up.
The receptionist wasn't at her desk, so they all stood there awkwardly for a moment, no one speaking. Finally, the girl looked back at Lance. "They let guys go here?"
"No, just girls on this campus. The boys' campus is across town. My sister's here. I visit every Saturday. This your first time in rehab?"
Again, Barbara wanted to slap him. "Lance, that's enough."
"What?" he asked. "I'm just having a conversation."
"It's none of your business."
The girl studied her feet again. This time her mother spoke. "It's not her first time."
"First time to stay for a whole year," the girl muttered with disgust. "Last time was only a month."
Lance had never been more chatty. "A month won't cut it," he said. "Takes at least a year for a brain to unfry."
Barbara covered her face and groaned.
The girl's cheekbones reddened, but she forced a smile. "It's okay."
"I'm just sayin', it's good here. Not like jail or anything. My sister hasn't hated it."
Barbara wanted to tell them that New Day had given her her daughter back when she'd almost despaired over Emily's future. But not now — this family was probably seething over Lance's lack of tact.
The receptionist came to her desk and slid the glass back from the window. Smiling, she said, "Hi, are you the Beattys?"
"Yes," the mother said.
"Good. And you're Tammy?"
The girl nodded glumly.
"Nice to meet you. Come on back and we'll get you started."
As the girl's father opened the door to the counseling hallway, Tammy turned back to Lance. "See ya."
"Yeah, hang in there, okay? Food's good."
When the door closed, Barbara turned on her son. "What is wrong with you?" "I was just trying to make her feel better."
"By asking what drugs she's addicted to?"
"Well, it's not like it's a big secret, Mom. She's checking into rehab."
"She's fragile, Lance, and so is her family. You shouldn't have interrogated her."
"Which one of us did she say 'see ya' to? You or me?"
"And that tells you what?" Barbara asked.
"That she liked me. That she wasn't ticked."
Barbara blew out a sigh. "Just ... if you see them again, please don't ask her questions like that. And keep your comments about fried minds to yourself. Like you're the expert, all of a sudden."
"Hey, I went to family counseling."
Barbara almost wished she hadn't dragged him there with her. The cliché was true. A little knowledge could be a dangerous thing.
The receptionist returned and nodded to Barbara and Lance. "You guys can come on back too. Esther will be right in."
Barbara thanked her and they stepped through the door. The Beattys stood at the end of the hall, waiting to talk to Doris, the admissions counselor. Doris was tough as nails. Barbara hoped her manner didn't make the new family feel worse, especially when they began the shakedown. The girl would be frazzled by the time she was shown to the Phase 1 orientation area where she would begin detox.
Barbara said a silent prayer that the girl would hang in there and that her parents would feel relief instead of fear on their drive home.
When they were settled in the office, Esther, Emily's counselor, came in, holding a mug of coffee. "We're so excited about Emily's graduation," she said. "It's a huge accomplishment to stay the full year. I worry so much about the ones who don't. We had one walk out just this week, and she was a very tough case. Broke my heart. I have a really bad feeling about her."
"Who was it?" Lance asked.
Esther shot him a grin. "Lance, you know the confidentiality rules. I can't talk about it. But we're thrilled when the others see one like Emily get to the finish line. It reminds them that they can do it too." Setting her mug down, she opened a file, pulled out several papers. "Are you ready to have her home?"
Excerpted from Vicious Cycle by Terri Blackstock Copyright © 2011 by Terri Blackstock. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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