Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Suicide Lake arrives!

My latest release, a romantic suspense entitled Suicide Lake, is slated for release on May 20, 2016. For a limited time, you can snag the ebook for only $.99! 



Those who have secrets… 

Renee Thornton is on the brink of despair, ready to take a final plunge and join the other tragic souls at the bottom of Bradford Lake—known to locals as Suicide Lake. 

Beneath the murky waters… 

Her plans change when she’s startled back to reality after a body brushes up against her from the depths below. Terrified, Renee runs away and slams into her old flame Cliff Simpson, a deputy with Whitten County Sheriff’s Department. 

Will stop at nothing… 

Strange events unfurl after the discovery of the corpse. Renee and Cliff find themselves caught up in a web of lies, deceit, and mystery. 

To keep them hidden… 

Now instead of being able to slip away silently and become another anonymous statistic, Renee finds herself entangled in a murder investigation. Is Cliff her ally or enemy? Who can she trust? What other secrets will rise to the surface?

Partial sneak peek at Chapter One!
POOR ME.
Poor little Renee Michelle Runsford, nee, Thornton.
That’s what people would say when my body was discovered, all bloated and flesh missing from being nibbled on by fish. Yet another sad story to be passed around on social media then forgotten. Boom! A big firework exploding in the sky for all to see and ogle. A burst of excitement for people to ooohh and aaahh over. When the bright lights disappeared, memories of me would last no longer than the smoky remnants.
Boo-freaking-hoo.
I threw a pebble into the water, watching the ripples spread out from the point of entry. They started out small then widened into large, lopsided circles. Some of the edges caught the orange rays of the disappearing sun, making the water look like it was on fire.
I didn’t miss the comparison to my life.

***

THE FIRST BIG boulder that crashed into my personal space happened at thirteen. Up until then, though not anywhere near close to the words normal or perfect, my life had been…tolerable. My father, the late, great piece of shit known to others as Raymond—I’m—too—much—of—a—Redneck—to—have—a—middle—name Thornton, disappeared from my life. Mom—the always sad and perpetually whiny Caroline Clark Thornton, told me dear old Dad found a new family to spend time with rather than us.
I was so hurt, so saddened to see Mom in such pain, I didn’t question her story. I was too preoccupied with other things like helping to pay the bills and attempting to maintain my grades. Determined to be supportive, I lied about my age and snagged my first job at a laundromat. The pay was pathetic yet it did help put food on the table.
Unfortunately, some of the money made its way to Gene’s Liquor Store and bought bottles of wine. I didn’t realize the connection until a few years later. By then, it was too late to help. Caroline—I—was—once—the—Homecoming—Queen Thornton was a raging alcoholic.

***

THE NEXT ROCK thrown into my personal pond happened three years later and I still felt the ripples even after all this time. After a long Saturday working at the laundromat I arrived home and discovered Mom in a drunken stupor. Unlike most times when she overindulged and simply cried herself to sleep, ol’ Caroline Thornton was on a rampage. The ugly memories clouded my vision, my mother’s words as fresh in my mind as the day she spoke them.
“He left us! The no good, dirty, piece-of-shit! Left us to fend for ourselves. How could he? I mean, he married the Caroline Clark! I was homecoming queen, you know. Could’ve had any man I wanted in this county, yet I picked him. Gave him a family. Took care of our home. Cooked dinner. Serviced him whenever he wanted. Ungrateful bastard.”
“Mom, I think you’ve had enough for one night.”
“Don’t you talk to me like I’m a child, Renee! I’m the mother here. I’ll say when I’ve had enough, and I haven’t yet. Don’t think there’s enough booze in the world to forget what he did to me. To us.”
“Okay, Mom. I’m going to fix some coffee. It’s been a really long day. Would you like some?”
“Oh, my sweet Renee. Always looking out for me. Of course I would. You make the best coffee.”
“Thanks. I’ve had a lot of practice,” I muttered.
Fortunately, Mom was too intoxicated to catch my heavy sarcasm.
“You should let me highlight your hair. It’s too boring. You’ll never catch a man with that pile of mouse fur on your head. Some blonde streaks would help. And why aren’t you wearing any makeup? A lady should always put her best face on when she leaves the house. If you keep going out looking so frumpy, people will think you’re nothing but poor, white trash. You could be beautiful, Renee, just like me, if you try a little.”
“We are poor, Mom.”
“Well that certainly isn’t my fault! It’s your father’s. I’ve been trying to get a raise at work, but so far, no luck.”
“Maybe you should look for a different job, Mom. You’ve been slaving away at the store for years. If that doesn’t work, Mr. Richardson might give you one if you quit missing so much work.”
“Oh, little miss high and mighty! Big words coming from a girl who works in a laundromat all day! What you do isn’t near the stress I have at work. Period.”
“Here, Mom. Have some hot coffee.”
For a few minutes, the conversation dwindled down to nothing but sporadic comments about mundane things, mostly about my boring face, bland choice of clothing, and mousey hair. I thought the night would end on a somewhat normal note. I was used to Mom’s constant bitching about my appearance.
Boy, was I wrong.
After Mom finished her coffee, she pushed the empty cup to the center of the table. She fumbled around looking for a cigarette in the pockets of her tattered robe. Twice, she nearly fell from the chair. Once she found the pack, lit one, blew a heavy plume of smoke from thin lips smeared with red lipstick, she dropped the bombshell.
“Your dad didn’t leave us.”
Stunned, I replied, “What do you mean? Of course he did! For that Cyndi chick who worked at Snack-n-Go. Remember?”
“I sort of lied. To protect you.”
“Sort of lied to protect me? Exactly what does that mean? Did he leave you for another man or something?” I blurted out.
For the first time in years, Mom laughed. It was a strange sound, mixed with the heavy wetness constantly in the chest of a smoker. “Wow, sixteen and already a hard-core cynic. No, Renee, your dad wasn’t gay. He was a cheater like I said. And he did have an affair with Cyndi Robertson.”
Confused yet curious, I asked, “Then what part of your story was a lie?”
“That he left us.”
Irritated at her drunken ramblings, I stood and went to the sink, unwilling to listen to any more. “I’m going to take a shower and do my homework. Goodnight, Mom.”
“No, you aren’t. Sit down, I’m not finished with getting this off my chest. I’ve got to. If I don’t, I think I’ll go insane.”
Mom never shared her innermost thoughts and feelings with me. Something about the tone in her voice made the hairs stand up on my arms. “I’m listening.”
“I suspected he was cheating, so one night, I followed him. He said he was going for a ride on his Harley to clear his head. I knew he was lying because I saw it behind his eyes. Sure enough, I caught them together at Bradford Lake. Oh, I was so angry. One minute, I was screaming and yelling at them both, and the next, I was standing at the water’s edge covered in blood.”
“You…are you saying you killed Dad?” I whispered.
“Yep. And Cyndi. Took a tire iron and smashed their cheating heads in. Dumped them and the bike in the lake and came home.”

***
MOM’S WORDS HAD burned a hole in my chest. I left that night, running out of the house despite her drunken pleas to come back. I ran down the dark street of our trailer park, through the center of town, out past the baseball fields, until I collapsed into a sobbing heap.
The only comfort I found was in the arms of the man who would end up being my ex. He happened by and saw me crying and pulled up. His strong arms enveloped me in a warm embrace while I wept. He didn’t ask what was wrong, just provided companionship.
Oh, and a bottle of tequila, which we drank together under the moonlight until both of us were so drunk, I’m not sure how we ended up having sex.
We did, and the stick turned blue two months later.
A month before I gave birth, Mom died in a car accident on her way home from a bar, and I married the father of my child. A sweet, baby boy who only lived for six months. Burying the little body of my son sent me to my first trip inside a psychiatric hospital.
Things had been screwed up ever since.
Now I was homeless after losing my oh-so-exciting menial job. The job prospects were nil for a forty-nine-year-old high school dropout living in a small town. With minimal education, I didn’t qualify for much. I couldn’t compete with young, twenty-somethings who were well schooled in technology. Unemployment kept me fed and the lights on but wasn’t enough to pay the mortgage. After the six months of minuscule checks stopped, I couldn’t even afford the filing fee for bankruptcy.
No siblings. No children. No extended family. No close friends willing to take me in, so things boiled down to one, horrifying truth.
I’d been forced to rely on a woman who for years had been a painful thorn in my side. With my house in foreclosure, I swallowed my pride and showed up on the doorstep of Eleanor Runsford. To her credit, she opened the door and ushered me inside. I’d been living in a back bedroom, hiding myself from the world, for two months. 
God really had a sick sense of humor and to be quite honest, I was tired of it.
Staring down at the worn out comforter I brought with me, I let a deep sigh escape, feeling oddly connected to the disheveled rag.  At one point, it had been a vibrant collage of colors, loved by someone, a warm treasure they snuggled up to every night.
Not anymore. The colors had faded into a dingy mishmash of nothing, a used up rag cared for by no one.  Tossed uncaringly into a back bedroom where no one would see it. Just like me.  No one would ever miss the pile of thread should it disappear, and I doubted anyone would really miss me, either.

***

I ROLLED THE full bottle of Xanax around in my hands for the longest moment. The small piece of plastic, a worthless outer shell that would serve as proof I took my own life, was one of the last things I would ever touch.
How utterly symbolic.
Although Eleanor had a myriad of medications to choose from, Xanax seemed the fastest avenue and was the one she had the most of. This was not the first time I contemplated killing myself but I had never come this close to actually accomplishing it. The previous times I entertained these thoughts I was like Hamlet, lamenting my lot in life and all the sadness and pain that had been my constant companion. All the other times I stopped myself, unwilling to end my life for fear of God’s retribution against suicide.
When these morbid, suicidal thoughts entered my mind, it was due to a panicked state I created over an event leading me to want to end it all. I would bounce between hysterical crying jags to under-the-covers-for-days bouts of depression.
This time was different. My mind was no longer like a tennis ball bouncing around a tennis court. No more thoughts bounding wildly from one side to the other. A few weeks ago, I began wandering into the deepest, darkest recesses and crouched in the back corner, closing every tie to my world as I went.  And as my mind retreated, my soul followed, veering so far away from God I just didn’t care anymore if offing myself would damn me for all eternity. 
Hell, I was damned right here on Earth already.
Fear of fire and brimstone was replaced by this constant throbbing of mind-numbing memories. My new medical issues didn’t help any, either. I wanted more than anything to vanquish everything away. To blink my eyes just once and start over; to be the recipient of some other-worldly miracle. Seriously, just to clasp, even if only briefly, onto the notion that there was some sort of hope.
Those wishes never came to pass, so here I sat, ready for the end.
The enjoyment of life had been drained from my body and soul with each wound I sustained over the years. I was being bled dry and the final mortal wounds came this year, one right after another. Vicious blows that didn’t just knock me on my ass but stomped me into the ground.  Now, I was a lifeless corpse stumbling through life with no purpose or direction.
It was time to go. Time to join the others and take the plunge into Suicide Lake.

***

I LOOKED OUT across the water and over to the tree line. Gray, leafless and dead; a perfect summation of what my life had become. My final day in this wretched world and my last view was of dead trees, a used up comforter, and gripping a plastic pill bottle. 
Why would I have expected more?
Uncapping the lid, I shook out my salvation, counting them as I went. Twenty pills seemed enough to do the trick, so I grabbed my water bottle in my lap to chase them. I wanted my body to become as tranquil as the water in front of me, ready for the constant ache in my back and heart, to cease. 
The sun was almost gone. Three pills downed, I stopped. Before swallowing any more, I took in one last look of the beautiful lake. I understood, fully and completely, why others came to this spot to end their lives. The tranquility was a welcome reprieve from the chaotic world. A final memory burned into the brain of peace and beauty.
I glanced back down when something hard bumped against my foot. The last glint of the sun’s rays danced off the top of the water. Squinting, I noticed the dark, red glow was back.
Instead of basking in the lovely color on the gentle ripples, I screamed.
The red sheen wasn’t from the sun.
It was from blood, and it coated my feet, which rested right next to a stiff hand poking up from the depths below.
I jumped to my feet, scrambling to get away from the corpse. The comforter, water bottle, and pills went flying. Instead of going after them, I let them disappear under the water.
Heart pounding and body shaking, I backed away from the edge of the boardwalk. My first instinct was to grab my cell and call for help. I felt around in my pocket, only to remember I didn’t bring it with me because it had been turned off three days earlier for nonpayment.
“Damnit!”
“Ma’am? Are you okay?”
Spinning around, I came face-to-face with a man. It took me several seconds to realize he was a cop.
And I knew him.
“Clifton! You scared the shit out of me! What are you…oh, never mind. I’m just glad you’re here. I, uh, didn’t bring my phone, so I was going to head to town and call for help.”
Clifton Simpson walked toward me. In the dimming light, dressed in his uniform with the vest underneath giving him extra padding, he seemed bigger than I remembered.
“Renee? Renee Runsford?”
“Thornton. I changed back after my divorce.”
Clifton moved closer, all of his six-foot plus frame only inches away. He smelled like stale coffee, sweat, and cheap cologne. I hadn’t seen him in years but recognized the thick head of jet black hair—now interspersed with flecks of white—and his deep, rhythmic voice. How I didn’t hear him walking down the boardwalk earlier escaped me. Guess I was too wrapped up inside thoughts of my horrible life.
“Oh, that’s right. Forgot. Sorry. So, we got a call from a concerned citizen. Said they saw a woman sitting out here on the edge of the dock, alone. Asked for a unit to stop by and check it out, so here I am. What are you doing out here, Renee? You been drinking? You look unsteady.”
“My mother was the drinker in my family, not me, so no. I look unsteady because I just touched a dead body.”
“Excuse me?” Clifton replied. His forehead knitted together in disbelief and confusion. “A body?”
Stepping away, I moved to the edge of the dock and pointed. “Yeah, body. Didn’t you hear me scream?”
Clifton pulled out a flashlight and walked past me, peering over the edge. “I did, but thought…oh, shit. Doesn’t really matter at this point what I thought.”
Backing away, Clifton put his arm on my chest, forcing me to step back. He grabbed the microphone on his shoulder and radioed for assistance.
The warm breeze from earlier was gone, along with the annoying mosquitoes. Darkness settled like a death shroud over the lake. A chill of fear made me shiver. Clifton noticed and led me to his unit. He pulled out a jacket and handed it to me.
“You should’ve worn something warmer,” he said.
“Wasn’t planning on staying out here long,” I grumbled. My mood was deteriorating as the Xanax flowed through my veins. Sirens wailed in the distance. “May I go now? Sounds like your buddies are close.”
“Sorry, Renee, but you’ll need to stay here until one of the detectives speak with you.”
Aghast, worried they’d notice I was barred out, I opened my mouth to protest. I shut it just as fast when I remembered the pills—and the bottle with Eleanor’s name—had fallen into the lake.
The radio on Clifton’s shoulder crackled to life, saving me from having to respond. The sirens were closer and I could see headlights bouncing through the winding road leading to the lake.
So much for a quiet, peaceful evening to end my life. There certainly would be noise and activity now.
Damn.
Of course, someone else’s tragedy trumped my own.
Figures.


Available now for only $.99 at the following retail sites:

Audiobook coming soon, narrated by the incredible Sara Morsey!