Fatal Agreements ebook and audio versions release April 23, 2018. The paperback is currently on sale. I am thrilled to partner again with the incredible voice talent of Andrea Emmes to bring the characters to life!
The paperback is available for purchase here and the ebook is on pre-order for the special price of $1.99 on Amazon, Nook, iTunes, and Kobo.
Whispered rumors tickled the ears of the residents of an entire town for decades about the disturbing secrets of the old Halstead House, dating all the way back to the early 1920s. Most people didn't believe them. Several people will soon discover they should have listened.
Three years after struggling to cope with the death of her beloved father and escaping an abusive relationship, Samantha Chapman decides it's time to return to her hometown of Hot Springs. She buys the ramshackle Halstead House, eager to transform the dilapidated, abandoned piece of history into her new law office and residence, hoping it will be the start of a brighter chapter and a safe haven to escape her personal demons.
Instead of newfound freedom, things take a dark turn when the resurrection of the old home reveals the disturbing secrets hidden within its walls. When youthful transgressions of numerous people come to light, including ones some members of the Chapman family are desperate to contain, it reveals the sins of the past. They collide with the grave mistakes of the present, creating a perfect storm of chaos and death for not only the Chapman family but others as well.
Some will survive.
Others will get burned.
Sam and her loves ones realize some family secrets should have remained buried.
Sneak peek at first chapter:
Wednesday, April 14, 1993
“I HOPE OUR chat made my intentions clear about what I expect from you, Samantha. Another incident like today will force me to contact your parents about your behavior. Again. This is junior high not elementary school. The days of disrupting class are over. Do I make myself clear?”
Biting her lip to keep from saying something nasty, Sam nodded. Rather than look at the irritated, sour face of Principal Townsend, she kept her gaze on her lap. She understood the proper response was “Yes, ma’am,” yet the words wouldn’t form on her lips. She was still too angry to play nice after Ms. Jolly sent her to the office.
The old hag English teacher, one of many in a school overrun with them, should have sent both guilty parties. Sam had no control over someone passing her something during class. Resa should be sitting right next to her, forced to listen to Terrible Townsend’s yammering about following rules and respect.
Sam tried to talk her way out of the situation. The thought of spending more time in detention or listening to yet another lecture from her mother made her mad. She tried to reason with the principal earlier, but it was a waste of time. Sam didn’t understand why she was the only one sent to the office. Resa passed the note to Sam during a pop quiz, not the other way around. Of course, Resa’s actions were sneaky. Sam’s loud argument in class with Ms. Jolly about the existence of the note and the request to produce it earned the trip to Terrible Townsend’s office.
“I can’t hear your head nod, Samantha.”
Raising her gaze, Sam stifled a laugh. Ms. Townsend’s ugly, beady eyes glared back, awaiting the proper response. Eager to escape the office, join Suzy for lunch, and read the note which started the mess, Sam caved. “Yes ma’am.”
“Thank you. You’re excused.”
Jumping to her feet, Sam strode toward the door.
“One more thing before you leave, Samantha.”
Cringing at the false assumption Ms. Townsend would let her go without some sort of punishment, Sam’s fingers wound around the doorknob. Terrible Townsend was fond of handing out detention as though it were Halloween candy. “Yes, Ms. Townsend?”
“When you enter high school, you should enroll on the debate team.”
Shocked by the words, Sam turned around. “Excuse me?”
After removing her glasses, Ms. Townsend stood, smoothing out imaginary wrinkles on her linen dress shirt. “Samantha Chapman, you have a way with words like your sister, though she’s yet to come out of her shyness. You have the command of a room like your parents; a perfect mixture of Big Sam’s joviality and Charmaine’s cool elegance. For a few seconds, you almost swayed me over to see your side of things. Your temper derailed you. It is something you need to work on controlling. I believe you are a natural debater and would make a great litigator someday.”
“Litigator?” Sam had no idea what the term meant.
Coming around from behind the desk, Ms. Townsend smiled, something she rarely did when alone, much less around the student body of Lake Hamilton Junior High. The student’s bright blue eyes were wild with curiosity and a hint of pride. As an educator, Ms. Townsend had seen the look enough times during her career in the public-school system. Samantha Chapman would go places if she learned to corral her mouth.
“Have you ever watched the TV show L.A. Law?”
“No.” Sam wondered where the strange conversation was headed.
“Lawyers who argue cases in front of judges and juries are known as litigators. I think you might be blessed with the raw abilities I mentioned. Don’t waste them. Focus your natural gifts and harness them while taming your tongue. If you do, I assure you great things will happen in your life, not only for you, but for those around you.”
Stunned by the surprising praise, Sam blinked several times before responding. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“Go before you eat lunch too fast. No need for you to get sick.”
Disappearing out the door, Sam headed toward the cafeteria while extracting Resa’s note from the front pocket of her jeans. A hint of smile danced on her lips while thinking about Ms. Townsend, pleased she didn’t hand out any detention. Maybe it was time to give the woman another nickname? She wished her mother would say such nice things; be more complimentary, but the kind words were saved for Suzy only.
Opening the crinkled paper, she paused in the hallway, ignoring the sounds of laughter and clanking of dishes coming from the cafeteria. The aroma of sloppy joes and coleslaw filled the hall, making her mouth water and stomach rumble.
“There you are! Come on, hurry!” Resa’s long fingernails dug into Sam’s forearm. Her blonde, frizzy curls bounced in time with her rapid pace while tugging her friend toward the cafeteria doors.
“What’s going on?”
The paper slipped from Sam’s fingers, flittering to the floor.
Bending over, Resa scooped up the note while continuing to drag Sam toward the doorway. “I tried to warn you when overhearing Kathy and Tanya planning it out in first period. I begged them not to do it, but Kathy wouldn’t listen. Hurry up because he’s started! Kip’s at her table!”
“Kathy’s game. Suzy’s today’s victim.”
Yanking her arm away, Sam stopped inches from the double metal doors leading to the cafeteria. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. He plans on flirting with Suzy before asking her to the Spring Fling dance loud enough for everyone to hear the words before he…”
“Oh, shit!” Sam’s pulse quickened.
Kathy Poole was known for insensitive pranks. Even the slightest annoyance like bumping into her in the hallway was justifiable cause to be in her crosshairs.
Pushing Resa aside, she peered around the doors. Kip Hale sat on the edge of the table, peering down at Suzy, his smile fake and movements practiced. Suzy’s blue eyes were laser-locked on Kip’s tan, gorgeous face, mesmerized as though the boy cast some sort of hypnotic spell over her love-struck mind.
Sam spotted Kathy Poole, Tanya Reynolds and the rest of the cheer team three tables over, hands covering their mouths as bouts of laughter made their bodies shudder. Sam didn’t care for any of the snotty cheerleaders, yet she despised Kathy Poole. Tanya and the others were mindless followers—Kathy was the mean ringleader.
Every single student at Lake Hamilton Junior High understood head cheerleader Kathy Poole claimed track star Kip Hale as her own, including Sam’s twin sister, Suzy, who had a massive crush on the hunk.
The “game” would break Suzy’s love-stricken heart. Suzy tried out for next year’s squad and made it, beating out one of Kathy’s friends.
Shoving her books into Resa’s hands, Sam scowled. “If you’re the one who blabbed about Suzy’s feelings toward Kip, I’ll whip your ass next.”
Resa said nothing so Sam ran to Suzy’s aide.
The din of laughter from the boisterous students disappeared after they let out a collective gasp while watching Sam race across the floor, her unruly coppery hair flapping behind her like fluttering flames.
Kip’s devious smile vanished as Sam barreled toward him.
Suzy turned her head at the commotion.
The flush of embarrassment made Suzy’s normally pale cheeks vibrant burgundy. The smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheekbones disappeared. A trail of wet tears spilled from her sister’s eyes, rolling down the red cheeks in a steady stream.
“What an idiot! I can’t believe she fell for it! Like Kip would ever take her ugly ass on a date or to the Spring Fling dance! She looks like Bozo’s kid!”
The snickers from Kathy’s table ignited Sam’s fuse. She balled up her fist, never slowing her pace.
Kip stood, holding his hands out in mock surrender. “Hey, it was a joke…”
She never let him finish the sentence. The sound and feel of her fist smashing into his face made her own devious smirk appear even though the impact hurt like hell.
Kip flew backward, head grazing the edge of the table behind him. He landed with a loud thump on the stained tile floor.
Kathy stopped laughing as blood squirted from in between her boyfriend’s fingers. “You crazy bitch! Look what you did to him!”
“I’m not finished yet.”
Sam turned the focus of her rage on Kathy, splitting her lip before the faculty swooped in to intervene. The metal braces on the girl’s teeth ripped open her knuckles. She didn’t care. Wrapping her fingers around a wad of thick, brown hair, Sam yanked, ripping out a large chunk.
Ms. Townsend arrived, pulling the girls apart as another teacher helped Kip to his feet.
Kathy sobbed on the floor.
“My office, all of you! Now. Looks like our little chat earlier fell upon deaf ears, Samantha.”
Glaring at Ms. Townsend, Sam yanked her arm from the woman’s grip. “They deserved it, trust me. No one messes with my sister. No one.”
HOURS LATER, EARS ringing from her mother’s yelling, Sam stared at the ceiling while Suzy finished brushing her teeth in the bathroom. Ms. Townsend suspended her for three days, which ended up getting her grounded for three weeks. She didn’t care. The punishment was worth it because Kathy, Kip, and Tanya were suspended as well. She won her argument this time with Ms. Townsend.
After Resa showed the note to the principal, their plan in black and white doomed them. Less than twenty minutes after the battle in the cafeteria, several students humiliated by the trio in the past came forward. Once they spilled their stories, Kip was kicked off the track team, Kathy and Tanya stripped of being cheerleaders, and they all received a week’s suspension.
A soft knock on the bedroom door made Sam smile. Suzy slammed the bathroom door shut.
“Hey slugger. I brought some ice for your hand.”
“Thanks, Daddy.” Sam noticed the gleam in his baby blue eyes. It looked like he had some new grays, making his fading auburn hair shimmer under the overhead light. “Does this mean you aren’t mad at me anymore?”
Easing down on the edge of the bed, Big Sam smiled after handing the ice pack to his daughter. “Your ma’s the one who’s got her feathers all ruffled. Not me. I’m a preening peacock. You stood up for your kin when the bullies attacked. I’m proud of you.”
Sam’s mouth dropped open. “You are? Why didn’t you say something when Mom was tearing into me?”
“Because over the years, I learned when to try and battle your ma and when to let her have the reins and run amok. Tonight, I picked the latter.”
After resituating the ice pack, Sam asked, “When my grounding’s over, may I start watching L.A. Law on Thursday nights?”
Big Sam raised an inquisitive brow. “Fine by me but TV ain’t my preferred entertainment choice. You know your ma watches Knots Landing on Thursday nights. Good luck convincing her to give up her nighttime soaps. Why the sudden interest?”
Sam shrugged her shoulders. “I’m thinking about what I want to be when I grow up. Being a lawyer sounds like fun.”
Ruffling the mop of dark auburn curls on his daughter’s head, Big Sam smiled. “You can be anything you want, darling daughter. Put your mind to it and stay focused. I’m behind you, and your sister, one-hundred percent with whatever career choices picked.”
Yanking the door open, Suzy stormed out of the bathroom and jumped into bed. “I hope you aren’t letting her off the hook, Daddy. What she did was wrong.”
Sam gaped at her sister.
Big Sam chuckled, rising to his feet. He found it rather amusing the twins looked identical yet had polar-opposite personalities. One’s attitude was courtesy of his wife, and the other was more in tune with his laid-back style.
He sensed an epic battle looming between his girls. “Well, enough raging estrogen for one day. Time for me to retire to the back porch with a good book and cigar. Try not to leave marks on each other or make a mess, girls. Love you both.”
Neither sister spoke for a full minute after their father left. Sam sensed Suzy’s anger from the across the dark room. She couldn’t fathom why in the world her twin was mad at her instead of the mean kids at school.
“You ruined my life.”
“My turn to talk, Sam! You did enough gabbing all day, and when talking didn’t work, you acted like a boxer. Don’t stick your nose into my personal life again. Ever. I’ll handle things on my own. You may not mind being a social outcast, but I do, so butt out.”
Stung by the harsh words, Sam remained quiet. Suzy had never, ever, spoken to her like that before. For thirteen years they were consumed by the tight, twin bond between them. Silent tears trickled from her eyes, soaking the pillowcase while fuming over the day’s events.
Streaks of lightning lit up their bedroom, followed by a crack of thunder so loud their beds shook. Sam was terrified of storms and Suzy knew it. Closing her eyes, she counted to ten, waiting for her sibling to come snuggle next to her like she always did when thunderstorms came.
Suzy never moved a muscle.
When the second boom rattled the bed, Sam’s eyes popped open. “Are you…?”
“No, I’m not. Deal with your fears while I handle mine.”
Sam sensed things would never be right between them. The knowledge made her sad and angry at the same time. She did nothing wrong and yet was being treated as though she did.
She wouldn’t grasp until many years later the devastating effects of the day’s incident, and how her actions to protect her sister would end up being the downfall of her entire family.