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Binding Ties [MultiFormat]
eBook by Michele Acker

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime/Horror
eBook Description: What would a mother do to find her kidnapped son? Sandi Rose is used to being in control. When her thirteen year old son Neal is kidnapped, she uses her skills as an investigative reporter to try to find him...until police ban her from the case after she's caught breaking into a suspect's home. A week later Neal escapes. And the kidnappers vanish. Seven months pass... It should be over now, but it isn't. Neal is still tormented by nightmares and the police are no closer to finding the people who held and tortured him. When an innocent misunderstanding makes Sandi think her son has been kidnapped again, she realizes they can't continue on like this. Unless they want to spend the rest of their lives in fear, the kidnappers have to be caught. Since the police no longer seem to care, she is forced to solve the case herself. But someone will do anything to keep her from discovering the truth behind the kidnapping, even commit under. Now, falsely accused of the suspicious death of two co-workers and unable to prove her innocence. Sandi is caught up in a situation she can no longer control. What she eventually uncovers will shatter everything she's ever believed about her family and friends and will force Neal to make a decision that may well ruin both their lives. Excerpt: "Who's next?" Neal asked. No one stepped forward. Not that Neal blamed them. Ruben had already defeated two other kids that evening and was looking for his third. He stood off to the side now, pounding his gloved fists together and glaring at the crowd. It was up to Neal to provide his next opponent. "Well," he said, hands on his hips as he paced in front of the thirty or so kids standing in a ring around the dusty room, Derrick and Tyler marching along behind him like obedient soldiers. "Has anyone got the balls to fight, or are you all a bunch of lily-livered cowards?" He didn't shout. There was no need. They heard him well enough. Besides, his words had their own kind of power. No one liked to be called a coward. The crowd ranged in age from twelve to seventeen, but they all looked up to him, respected him. At thirteen, he'd been through more than all thirty combined. And survived. "If you're so brave, why don't you fight him yourself?" one of the kids yelled. Neal couldn't tell who. He shook his head. There was always an excuse. People loved excuses; it made them feel justified in their actions. Or inactions. Neal had experience with both. He walked over to Ruben, put a hand on his shoulder and looked out at the crowd. "Because I'm his coach." And because he was smarter than that. And because the big, stupid bully would do anything he told him as long as he found him kids to beat up. But he didn't say all that out loud. It was the gang's secret. Ruben and Derrick and Tyler. His gang. Finally, a kid stepped forward and raised a tentative hand. "I'll do it." Neal almost turned him down. The kid wouldn't provide much of a show. He was their age, chubby, wearing too-large pants, last year's sneakers and socks that kept sliding down inside his shoes. A real victim. The last kid Neal would have expected to volunteer, which was why he smiled and nodded and shook the kid's hand instead of telling him to get lost. It took guts to step up when you knew you were going to lose. "What's your name?" he asked. "Freddie," the kid said, glaring at Neal as if daring him to laugh. "Derrick, get Freddie here a helmet and a set of boxing gloves."

eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC/Damnation Books, Published: 2012, 2012
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2012




Chapter One

* * * *

Normality was no longer a possibility for the Rose family, if indeed it ever had been. But they had been normal once, or thought they had been, until the day thirteen year old Neal Rose was kidnapped.

His homecoming a week later brought no peace. The kidnappers were never caught or identified. Fear ruled their lives now, changing each of them in ways they never imagined.

* * * *

October--Seven Months Later

Tuesday

The minute Sandi pulled up in front of the school she knew something was wrong. Neal should have been waiting for her; she told him what time she was coming. There were lots of kids, talking and laughing and climbing into waiting cars, but her son wasn't one of them. She got out to look for him, darting across the school yard, calling his name. Trying not to panic. Maybe he was just in the office. Where it was safe.

Safe. She tried to hold that one word in her head as her steps quickened until she was running. Safe. He had to be safe. Anything else was unacceptable.

She pushed open the office door, her eyes searching for his blond crew cut. Only one boy occupied the otherwise empty office. It wasn't him. "Neal?" she called. He didn't answer. "Neal! Where are you?" Silence.

Frantically she turned to the kid, reaching out to grab him before she could restrain herself. Just as quickly, she let him go. Anger would get her nothing. He was just an innocent kid. She fought to control her voice. "My son. Neal Rose. Have you seen him?" The boy shook his head, his eyes wide and frightened. She knew she'd scared him, but right now she didn't care. Finding Neal was the only thing that mattered. Clamping her lips shut to hold in the screams, she searched through that office and the one next door and the one across the hall looking for someone, anyone, who could tell her if they'd seen him. All the offices were empty. "Where the hell is everyone?" she yelled. Why couldn't someone tell her what was going on?

Panic tightened around her throat like a coiling snake, stealing her breath. She closed her eyes and called again. "Neal? Neal! Neal..."

Nothing.

Her mind searched for an answer, trying to stay calm. Maybe...maybe Keith would know what was going on. Maybe Neal's with him... She raced down the corridor to her boyfriend's office, pressing her hand against the stitch in her side. The kids she passed stared after her, their mouths open. She didn't notice. It took all her concentration to hold back the panic, to keep it from taking control of her. But she could do nothing to hold back the fear.

Fear was an emotion she'd grown accustomed to over the last few months. It settled in the back of her mind, pushing against her consciousness like the words from a song or a painting she couldn't forget. She didn't want it there, would have done anything to excise it, but she'd forgotten what the world was like before the fear. It was part of her life now, an almost comforting presence. She didn't know what she'd do without it.

What else could she blame for her lack of control?

But fear wouldn't help her find Neal. Instead she countered it with anger. When fear made her want to hide in a closet and weep until the tears were gone, anger kept her strong, focused. It helped. Some. But it didn't erase the fear completely. Nothing did.

When she reached Keith's office, she slammed open the door, hoping, praying they'd be together. Keith was alone. Startled at her abrupt entrance, he jumped out of his chair. "Sandi? What is it? What's wrong?"

She fought to catch her breath. "Have you seen Neal?"

"No, not since lunchtime. Why?"

A moan escaped. She tried not to fall apart. He had to be safe. He just had to be. Stop panicking. He's thirteen years old for God's sake...

Age hadn't meant a thing seven months before.

"I told him I'd pick him up today, but he wasn't there." She reached out to Keith. "I can't find him. I've looked everywhere and I can't... Oh God, what if...what if they took him again? What if this time I don't get him back? What if--"

Keith gripped her shoulders. It was the only thing that kept her upright. "I'm sure he's fine. Don't worry, we'll find him. Have you tried the gym?"

"No. Why?"

"They had a rally today, just before school let out. Afterwards they were going to have tryouts for the junior varsity basketball team. Maybe he stayed to watch."

Sandi felt a surge of hope. That's why there was no one in the office. "But he knew I was coming. He was supposed to wait." She shook her head. "Why would he do that? He doesn't even like basketball."

Keith hugged her briefly. "You know how teenagers can be. Any excuse to spend time with their friends. They get all caught up in having fun and lose track of time. He probably has no idea how late it is."

"You're right. I'm probably panicking for nothing." But the fear didn't go away. She had to know. One way or the other, she had to know. "Let's go find him."

She started out the door first, sprinting towards the gym. But she was tired and Keith quickly outpaced her. He raced down the hall, leaving her to catch up. She tried, but she kept falling behind. Strong emotions sapped her energy. They always had. She wanted nothing more than to lie down and sleep then wake up to find everything was okay. Her mother had lived her life that way, sleeping through every traumatic event in her daughter's life. Sandi long ago vowed never to let that happen to her. Some days it was hard. Some days she wanted to just give in, go to sleep and never wake up.

But not today. Not ever. She was stronger than her mother. People needed her. She couldn't let them down.

Determination propelled her feet and she caught up with Keith just as he pushed open the gym doors. Laughter and screams and excited shouting rolled over her, engulfed her. Several boys in shorts and T-shirts shot baskets on the gym floor, while maybe a dozen others sat on the sidelines waiting their turn. Up in the bleachers groups of kids, more than she expected, cheered for their favorites. A teacher stood here and there, supervising.

For a moment she felt intense anger. How dare these people be so happy? Didn't they know her son was missing? Didn't they know she was falling apart?

Then she paused. There was really no reason to think he was missing. He could be anywhere. He could be home already, couldn't he? Just because... No. She refused to think about it. Of course he was okay. She wouldn't accept anything else. She tried to take some comfort in that thought, but comfort was something she'd stopped feeling a long time ago.

Slowly, she followed Keith around the edge of the gym, searching the crowd for any signs of her son. He wasn't in the bleachers and he wasn't waiting in line. So, where was he? "Do you see him?" she asked Keith. Maybe his eyes were better than hers.

"Not yet."


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