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"... quite gripping. Rather than "painting" a story, it's more like the author has architected a three dimensional structure of a story. Well done!"
"... keep you on the edge of your chair."
"... I couldn't put it down!"
"... expertly reeled me in to the finish."
"... incredibly descriptive language ..."
"... a plot that captures your imagination and takes you to a setting that is as beautiful as it is dangerous."
"The unpredictable plot kept me guessing throughout."
Short Version of HAVEN'S FLIGHT:
How can you flee from an unseen enemy?
Haven Ellingsen enrolled in Life Ventures Therapy Camp in the Cascade Mountains to help her heal from horrible memories of her mother’s violent death at the hands of an armed robber. But now, a greater fear dogs her steps. The rustle of leaves or the snap of a twig could be nothing. Or it might signal the sinister presence of the stalker who won’t stop following her. It seems like a cruel trick from God to throw Haven into another dangerous situation only a year after her mom’s murder.
He hides near her tent and listens to the girl talk with the counselor. Mostly she talks about her father. She’s unhappy, and he can’t stand to listen and do nothing about it. He needs to rescue her. He needs to make sure she doesn’t ever go back to that man. His own father was the cause of his mother’s death. And Ruth’s. He can’t let that happen again. Not with this girl. When the time is right, he’ll take her away to his hidden cabin where she’ll be safe. And he will feel peace for the first time in years.
Can one month of survival training equip a girl to face all that the rugged wilderness and a madman can dish out?
Thomas Dade Boone held his breath and eased the back door shut. Then he listened hard, fearing the creak of his father’s pursuing foot on the upstairs landing. Hearing nothing, he turned noiselessly, hefted his duffle bag, and stepped onto the dark, dew-filled grass.
He patted his back pocket one more time to reassure himself that his wallet hadn’t somehow fallen out. He’d failed to escape his drunken father before. This time, he had money. This time, he would not fail.
A June fog eerily shrouded the half-acre that separated the old Tennessee country house from the barn and chicken coop. Beyond those buildings, in the midnight gloom of trees, his girl waited for him. Beautiful, dainty, and blue-eyed.
If the moon had been out, he would have glimpsed the shimmer of her long, pale hair reflected by the rays of the moon. Ruth. He crept around the barn and strained to see her. Once reunited in the trees, she’d reach her arms around his neck the way she’d done that other day in the barn, and pull his face down to hers for a kiss.
In the morning, his father would see that his bed hadn’t been slept in. Then he’d phone Ruth’s mama and find that her things were missing, too. They’d know. They should’ve known from the day Mrs. Gatling—soon to be Mrs. Bartholomew Boone, Thomas’s step-mama—brought Ruth over and introduced her as his future step-sister. That was nigh on four months ago. Ruth could never be his sister. Not when he’d fallen in love with her on first gander.
He cleared the open space in front of the barnyard, felt with his foot for the drainage ditch that formed the boundary of his father’s property, and leaped the six feet to the soft dirt on the other side. Beyond the ditch, a row of maple trees hid his father’s property from neighbors.
“Here, Tommy.” A feminine hand grasped his and tugged him under the branches of the nearest maple. “Did you get your daddy’s money?” Her fingers wormed around his back pocket.
“Hold your horses,” he whispered and nudged her hand away. “I got it. C’mon. Let’s git a ways down the road before we do any more talkin’.”
He gripped his duffle and they took off diagonally across the woods. In another quarter mile, they met the gravel lane to his father’s farm where it rounded the last acre of baby corn before intersecting with the county road. Though he couldn’t see it through the fog, just a tad farther down the road lay the bridge, then the town and the bus station.
He used his flashlight just long enough to help Ruth scramble across the dry ditch and up onto the road. Distant lights from the closest neighboring farm glowed like fading embers. A dog’s bark echoed from somewhere far off. His nostrils twitched at the familiar earthy scent of cow manure rising from the nearby fields.
“Can’t we use the flashlight? It’s too dark, Tommy. I’m gonna trip.”
“No, girl.” He pulled her closer. “Too risky jes yet. Someone might see the light and git suspicious.”
The warmth of her body and the brush of her bare arm filled his gut with fire. If they hadn’t been in such a hurry to get to town he would have held her and shown her just how she made him feel. “After we git over the bridge we can use the flashlight. There’re so many trees on the other side, nobody’ll see us.”
Minutes passed. No sign of pursuit. It had to be safe enough to talk now. “Once we’re in town we’ll have ’bout an hour till the bus comes through.”
Ruth gasped when she stumbled into an unseen rut in the road. She gripped his hand. “How long will it take to get to Cincinnati?”
“’Bout six hours, I think.” He shifted the duffle bag and rolled his shoulder to work out the stiffness. “But once we git there, we can buy a ticket to anywhere.”
“We got that much money?”
“Uh-huh. Tons.” A soft breeze cleared the haze for a moment, and the sickle moon dimly revealed Ruth’s pretty face. She gazed up at him with such adoration that he dropped the duffle, scooped her up and swung her around, making him dizzy.
“I love you, Ruth.” He lowered his lips to hers, and she clung to his neck.
They’d get so far away that his father would never be able to knock him around anymore. Some safe place. In a few months, he’d be old enough to marry Ruth, and then they could get started on having all those babies she was always talking about. His father wouldn’t win this time.
He set her down and they started to walk again.
“How come you didn’t bring your rifle? How you gonna hunt without it?”
Thomas gave a little snort. “Now can you just see us gittin’ onto the bus and me totin’ that thing? Looks suspicious enough, us being teenagers.”
Their boots crunched on the gravel road. A cricket chirped, then silenced as they passed nearby. “Besides, I’ll get a job, and then I can buy a really good gun. I’ll bag a deer, and you can make us venison steaks every night.”
Ruth sighed with a voice as sweet as molasses on a cornmeal biscuit. He ran his hand down her soft hair. Yes, they’d find a place where his father wouldn’t be able to track them. As far as his money would take them.
The foggy night air laid a sheen over his face. Gurgling sounds, the echo of currents slapping the banks, the silken slipping of leaves as they washed over soggy branches—the song of the river—made him quicken his pace. They rounded a bend and their feet met concrete. The bridge loomed up ahead. Thomas hadn’t set foot on the bridge since …. A pain, hardly dulled by the passage of nine years, squeezed his heart … since his Mama had died.
She’d been running from Father, too.
He held his breath for the last seconds it took to reach the structure. At the edge, he peered over the bridge’s guardrail. The water flowed swift and deep. Deadly, after a season of rain, with a jagged log or two hiding in the murky underwater, like mean old snapping turtles. Crazy currents. He’d taken the canoe out last year when it was like this. Wanted—out of some perverse need—to see the spot where his mama had died. He’d accidentally rammed the canoe into a submerged log. When his father saw the hole in the boat and found out where he’d been, he beat him with two belts tied up together.
Thomas started at the approaching crunch of tires on the gravel road behind him. His heart pounded at the sound of the motor. Had to be Father’s truck. The lights of a big vehicle crashed through the murk, and its diesel engine snorted like a raging feral hog. Fear and hatred seized Thomas’s gut and twisted it till his breath came out in short gasps. Ruth stood paralyzed and her big eyes searched his with a pleading look.
“I’m scared, Tommy.”
“Quick, Ruth, run ‘n hide down the bank.”
But Ruth seemed glued to her spot on the paved bridge. “Run, girl, before he sees you.” The roar of the truck drowned out his voice. Thomas shoved her behind his body and braced his legs as if fixing to stand up to the blast of a hurricane. He blinked into the glare of Father’s headlights.
The truck screeched to a halt and Judge Bartholomew Boone opened the door and launched himself onto the pavement. He stuffed the truck keys into his pocket. Thomas trembled when the silhouette of his father’s form passed in front of the headlights. Strong, purposeful steps approached. Though not as tall as Thomas, he had a head and shoulders of massive proportion and a voice to match. Even big men trembled when Father’s voice thundered from the judge’s bench.
“Thomas, step aside.” His father’s eyes dismissed him as if he were no more than another small-time criminal in his court, facing sentence.
Thomas turned slightly and shook his head. “N-no, Sir.”
Only a twitch in his father’s graying mustache betrayed surprise. “Boy, do you dare to disobey your father?” The man raised his arm to backhand Thomas’s face.
No, no, no, no. You won’t win this time. Before the slap connected, Thomas lunged and sent his own fist into the man’s gut.
Judge Boone hunched over and clutched his stomach, unable to speak.
“You’re never going to hit me again.” Thomas’s jaw clenched so tight he almost couldn’t get the words out.
Ruth started to cry.
“You-you made Mama go away. You take away everything I care about. Well, you can’t take Ruth.”
Thomas turned, pushed Ruth ahead of him, and hurried away. They’d made it halfway across the bridge when a hand grasped his shoulder and spun him around. His father’s fist met bone and flesh. Thomas crashed to the pavement, clutching his jaw. The world seemed to tilt and twirl. It took Ruth’s scream to bring him back to full consciousness. His eyes focused on his father, dragging Ruth toward the truck.
Thomas scrambled to his feet and ran after them. He threw himself onto his father’s shoulders. Ruth scurried out of the way of his flying fists. But this time the judge was ready. He guarded his head and blocked his son’s punches.
“You come at me again, boy, and I’ll have you thrown in jail for a year.”
Breathing hard, Thomas stared at his father, at the sagging jowls and the discolored cheeks that came from hard drinking, the cruelty that had etched deep lines around the man’s eyes.
“I’ll tell them about you—how you beat me like an old mule.”
“You think they’d believe you?”
When his father snickered, Thomas’s breath emptied like a punch to the gut.
“I’m a judge and you, well, you’re just a troubled boy who never got over his ma dying.”
From somewhere deep, a roar thundered up Thomas’s torso and erupted. He lurched for the man’s throat. But strong as he was, he could not overpower his father. Another blow made him stagger backward.
Ruth ran to him and tried to stop him. “Please, Tommy, take me away from here. Let’s go.”
Thomas’s father laughed. “You think you’re going to get far? The police will pick you up before you even get over the county line.” He straightened and swaggered back to the truck. In the glare of the headlights he called out, “By tomorrow morning, you’ll be in jail and Ruth will be back where she belongs.”
All true. The police would be looking on every road, every bus station, every train station. At the age of seventeen, the law would say Thomas had no safer place than his parent’s home. And Ruth was only sixteen. After Mrs. Gatling married his father, Ruth would surely have to endure the same kind of beatings Thomas had lived with all his life.
“You can’t beat me, Thomas. I always win.” As if to rub it in, he lifted the corner of his lip like a dog at a fire hydrant.
Thomas’s face drained of expression. His father would win again. There was no way to keep Ruth safe. Except.
The whoosh of Tommy’s pulse surged in his brain, rivaling the roar of the river fifty feet below them. He shut his eyes and saw again the image of his mama’s car as it sailed off the bridge, sailed far away from his father. The river had rescued Mama. It would do the same again.
He looked down at Ruth.
“Please, Tommy, let’s get away.”
Yes, get away. For good.
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