Improving communication skills is never easy. In this case, it could be murder!
Maven Morris is a speech-language pathologist on medical leave–or as she likes to put it: out to pasture. When she’s offered a lucrative position by one of the community’s most powerful men to help his traumatic-brain-injured daughter improve her communication skills, Maven discovers deadly secrets behind the iron gates of the mansion.
Now, she must find the courage to seek justice no matter who gets hurt–even if it’s her.
What was taking them so long?
Ella Decker smiled as she put away the last dish. It had been a fun night even if it had been a shock to see them standing at her door. And Matt seemed nice enough, even though it was the first time they’d met.
A blind date? Just what she needed, or so everyone else thought. Her life was too busy for a boyfriend. Getting chosen to be on the USA Olympic Team was the only thing that mattered, but she supposed it was important to have a little fun now and then.
They said it would only take a minute.
Ella slid the patio door open and walked outside to see what was keeping her guests.
The spring night was warm and breezy. Stars sparkled against a backdrop of black velvet.
She stepped out on the redwood deck. Her mouth turned to cotton and she wasn’t able to breathe.
A man was kneeling on the grass with his hands tied behind his back.
Her date, Matt, stood behind him pointing a gun at the man’s head.
She blinked once—twice, her gaze glued to the gun. This couldn’t be real. Her throat constricted as she attempted to scream. Taking a deep breath, she tried again. “What are you doing, Matt?”
Matt looked at her. His gaze flashed in anger. “Go inside. This has nothing to do with you. It’s business.”
This was crazy. It had to be a prank of some sort, but nobody was smiling. Especially not the man kneeling on the ground.
“What kind of business?”
“The kind you don’t want to know about.” Matt glared at her. “Now be a good girl and go inside. It’s not your concern.” How dare he talk to her as if she was a child?
“Not my concern? This is my home. You’re both invited guests in my house.” Well, actually, they hadn’t been invited at all—they’d shown up uninvited, and now she understood why.
His gun moved from the man’s head towards her.
Her heart thumped, but she refused to back down. “I’m not going anywhere and you aren’t going—”
Matt pointed at the other man. A man she thought she knew, but now realized she didn’t. “Take care of her. Unless you want me to?”
The other man walked between her and Matt. He hugged her as if that would reassure her. “Go inside. I’ll take care of this. We’re just talking to him. Like Matt said, it’s business. Nothing for you to worry about.”
“Are you nuts?” She spat out the words. “Nothing to worry about? You need to stop this right now. “
“I can’t, but I’ll explain everything later.” He pushed her gently towards the door.
She shrugged his arms off. “I won’t let you hurt him.”
“We won’t. Just go inside. Please.”
Their gazes met.
She wanted to believe him. As far as she knew, he’d never lied to her before. But then again, she never thought he’d do something like this. She nodded and backed inside, not able to take her gaze off the scene.
They wouldn’t hurt him. It was like they said; they were just talking to him. Trying to scare him for some reason, but they wouldn’t really shoot him. They wouldn’t kill him.
That would make them monsters.
She stared through the sliding door of the dining room, barely able to breathe. Her body shook. The longer they talked, the more she knew she needed to call the cops, no matter what would happen after that. She wouldn’t let this happen.
The man with the gun stepped closer to the kneeling man.
She jerked open the sliding glass door and ran out of the house, moving towards the men. “I’ll not let you hurt him. Stop right now or I’ll call the police.”
Matt nodded at the other man. “Take her inside. Now.”
He ran up the stairs, onto the deck, and then grabbed her arm. He whispered to her as he led her back into the house. “Stop causing problems or you’ll get hurt, too. This has nothing to do with you.” He pushed her inside and then slid the door shut. He ran down the deck steps.
Her knees shook so hard that she pressed her hands against the window to keep from falling. This couldn’t be happening, but it was. She had to stop it. Before she could move, a flash, a popping sound, and then another.
The kneeling man no longer knelt. He’d collapsed on the ground, not moving. Was he still alive?
She had to call 911 and get an ambulance to try to help the man. But first, she needed to leave. They would never let her call for an ambulance or the police.
She grabbed her cell phone out of her purse and ran for the front door. Running into the trees, the blackness of the night crowded in on Ella as she attempted to make her way through the thicket.
The call to the police would have to wait until she found a safe place to hide. A safe place? No place would ever be safe after what she’d seen.
Not until they were behind bars. Not until they paid for what they’d done.
Moving through the woods, a sharp pain sliced through her terror. Her arm. It was too dark to see. Her fingers found the pain. Wetness. She must have scratched it on a branch, or maybe an old, rusty nail from a long-forgotten tree swing.
A noise. Someone was creeping through the darkness as they searched for her.
“Ella, come here. We aren’t going to hurt you.” A voice called out. “You need to come back. It’s not safe out here at night.” A voice she knew so well. A voice she trusted. A voice she loved.
Life would never be the same again.
She swiped away the tears.
She wanted to believe him, but he’d said they wouldn’t hurt the man either. He’d lied.
If they found her, she would be dead, too, just like the man. She couldn’t let them find her. But if she moved, they would hear her.
She searched the darkness for somewhere to hide, but there was no place.
They were stronger and faster. They would overpower her. There was no way to get away from them, but she couldn’t simply stand here.
If they found her, she wouldn’t see the morning.
On hands and knees, she crawled through the trees and the bushes inch by inch, praying only she could hear the soft rustling sounds she created. Muscles tight with fear, she grew tired and laid her head on the ground. She forced her ragged breath to slow, her eyes closed. The horrible scene replaced the darkness once again.
His eyes—dark and soulless as the gun flashed silver, and then the man slumped over lifeless. No matter what he’d done, the dead man didn’t deserve that. It had been an execution, plain and simple.
She forced her eyes open. She couldn’t think about that now. She had to get away. Back on her knees, she crawled through the darkness as she wiped away tears. How could they have killed that man? She would never have believed it if she hadn’t seen it, and she would never forget it.
A different kind of noise reached her ears. Traffic. Traffic meant cars. Cars meant people. People meant help. Help meant they couldn’t kill her—at least not tonight.
It was her chance. Without hesitation, Ella jumped up and dashed towards the noises—towards safety. She wouldn’t live the way they wanted. She wasn’t a monster. She wouldn’t live with the monsters. No matter what.
“I hear her. This way.” His voice called out in the darkness. “Find her. Now.”
She ignored the voice and kept running towards the traffic—towards safety. Her heart pounded as she ran. She was unsure if it was from the exertion or the terror. Not that it mattered. The only thing that mattered was getting away from the monsters.
How could she not have known? She should have known.
The trees thinned out and the noise from the traffic was louder now.
Turning towards the sounds, she ran down the hill and into the road.
Bright lights came towards her—too fast.
Question 1: What are some things to do if you are suffering from depression?
Answer 1: Doctors/Meds/Therapy/Exercise/Prayer
Question 2: How do you separate your job idenitity from who you are as a person?
Answer 2: Remember that's what you do, not who you are.
Question 3: How do you think you would react if you suddenly couldn't express your thoughts, ideas, and feelings?
Answer 3: Frustration, anger, confusion.
Question 4: Why do you think Maven became so emotionally involved with Ella?
Answer 4: Loneliness in her own life or concern for Ella?
Question 5: Do you think Ella's parents were right or wrong about not pushing for more answers about their daughter's accident? Why or why not?
Answer 5: Yes and no!