Tears for the Departed
Swann Saga - Book Two
Renee Swann's innocence was shattered in the Altinoma Valley, but she and her family survived. She believes she's endured the most horrific circumstances imaginable, but she's wrong. Now, nine years later, with a busy life and a good job in New York, Renee feels a growing uneasiness as the horrors of her past give way to a chilling new nightmare…and there's nowhere to hide. Can she survive the horror that took root long ago once more, or will this ultimate exploitation and degradation destroy her?
Follow the triumphs and tragedies of the Swann family in the first novel of this series. Valley of Tears is now available through www.melange-books.com. Look for the trilogy's conclusion in And the Heavens Wept, coming soon.
“Who’s gone?” Renee Swann asked, holding the phone with one hand and a small square of buttered toast with the other.
“Mattie Lawrence,” Renee’s assistant gushed excitedly. “Her super said she just packed a bag and told him she wouldn’t be back!”
“Damn,” Renee said under her breath. “Okay, Kate. We’ll find someone else. Check with the usual agencies and I’ll talk to Valor.”
Renee placed her phone back on its cradle. She remembered her dad saying similar words to her mother...a lifetime ago.
“Jennifer’s gone,” he had said.
The chilling comparison made the hair on her neck stand at attention. An invisible finger turned to that page of her life. Her thoughts drifted back almost a decade to Altinoma, when, at thirteen, she had been in the clutches of the Andrews. Unpleasant memories welled in the back of her skull, just a thought away from surfacing and taking center stage. “Not today,” she told herself. “I’ve got too much to do.”
Renee returned to her bedroom and pulled down on the fitted sheet that popped off the corner of the bed on restless nights. Then, she opened the bedroom louvers and closed the sliding glass door; the rituals of the morning, the things that anchored her to the reality that wanted to slip away during her night dreams. Images from the past crowded back into her mind as vivid as if they had happened the day before, visiting her parents’ grave, hiding in a hole in the ground with Donnie Andrews, visualizing the boogieman Doc Vickers said lived in the woods, and the moment she realized Donnie’s parents, Doc and Viola all lied to her, used her for their own purposes.
People long dead, wandering about in her head. “Demons be gone,” Renee said as she warmed to her first sip of cinnamon-laced coffee and forced her thoughts back to her present life. Mattie taking off surprised her. Although young and impressionable, she showed potential. She could only wonder if Mattie went home, somewhere in the Midwest or moved in with some guy she met in the business. Sometimes girls came back to give modeling another shot, but not usually.
“I’m here to stay. That’s for sure,” Renee said as she admired her New Jersey condo. The early morning sun slanted across soft contemporary furniture she picked out a piece at a time. Her place was a symbol of how far she’d come from the Altinoma Valley. Her career and independent lifestyle were her proudest achievements.
Renee finished her toast and walked over to her third floor picture window. Without thinking, she ran a brush through her hair. Four young boys played keep-away with a tennis shoe on the complex’s manicured greenbelt below. Although April had yet to arrive, the grass was a bright emerald, courtesy of Chem-Lawn.
Awfully early in the morning for those kids to be out there planning mischief. Renee did not trust many people. Someone tampered with her car once and wrote ugly words on her windshield. She hoped it hadn’t been kids from the neighborhood. The notion they could write such foul things disturbed her, but fixating on kids and ancient history would have to wait. Two fashion shows were scheduled for the summer line and she was a model short. Renee hoped she could count on Valor Chapman to come to her rescue.
She turned from the window and strolled into the bathroom. Tossing aside her hairbrush, she studied her reflection. “Need a dab of pancake and green eye-shadow to cover my dark circles.”
She hadn’t slept well lately. If pressured only by her job, life would be manageable. However, Altinoma’s history crept into her dreams. Her occasional flashbacks weighed heavily on her spirit, setting her adrift on a tide of uncertainty.
Her parents wanted so much for her to be over the two years in the valley, yet their suffering had been more horrible than hers, so she didn’t worry them about a bad dream now and then. Her resiliency toward these nightmares should be stronger by now, something she and Dr. Midhouse could discuss next time.
Renee drew on bright new eyes and lightly painted her lips. With a finishing touch of makeup applied, she charged out of the bathroom and into her walk-in closet in search of the right combination with which to face a cold and clammy day.
“Time to get perky, girl,” she announced as she slipped into a rust colored turtleneck and a tan, knee-length tweed skirt. She smoothed out her waistline and turned her fanny to the full-length mirror. At twenty-three, her body remained taut and her legs slim, acceptable for the people that mattered to her, the ones she could trust.
She gulped down the last of her coffee and pulled on her knee-high suede boots. “You’re in charge again,” she told her dressmaker mannequin as she locked the front door.
Once off the elevator, she donned her leather jacket, preparing for the morning chill waiting beyond the security door.
Walking to the parking area, a strange sensation swept through Renee like an electrical charge.Someone needs to talk to me, to tell me something important.