Monday, January 18, 2010

Excerpt - THICKER THAN BLOOD by C.J. Darlington

Captain's Log, Stardate 01.18.2010

Thicker Than Blood
by
C.J. Darlington


Christy Williams finally has her life on track. She’s putting her past behind her and working hard to build a career as an antiquarian book buyer. But things begin to unravel when a stolen Hemingway first edition is found in her possession, framing her for a crime she didn’t commit. With no one to turn to, she yearns for her estranged younger sister, May, whom she abandoned after their parents’ untimely deaths. Soon, Christy’s fleeing from her shattered dreams, her ex-boyfriend, and God. Could May’s Triple Cross Ranch be the safe haven she’s searching for? Will the sisters realize that each possesses what the other desperately needs before it’s too late? A stunning debut from the latest Christian Writers Guild winner.

Excerpt of chapter one:

Thicker than Blood
Chapter 1
Christy Williams didn’t see the cop until his red lights flashed in her rearview mirror. By then it was too late. He was tailing her, and she had no choice but to ease her Honda Accord onto the snowy shoulder of the freeway and let the cruiser slide in behind.

Jerking up the emergency brake, she threw herself back into her seat with a curse. She hadn’t been speeding. She was sure of it. Christy forced herself to focus on the cruiser, squinting to see past its blinding headlights. She could barely make out the cop’s silhouette behind the wheel. What was he doing?

At last the burly officer emerged from the patrol car, approaching slowly, his hand resting on his holster.

Christy put down her window, and a blast of frigid night air hit her face and rolled across her lap.

“Turn the car off, ma’am.”

She did.

“I need your license, registration, and proof of insurance.”

“What’d I do?” She fumbled for the items, then handed them to the cop. His name tag read T. Jones in black lettering across from his badge.

Jones glanced at them with a smirk. He gave one back. “License. Not grocery card.”

Christy flushed as she flipped through her wallet again. Real smooth. She finally found her license and passed it to the cop. He took it with the other cards to his patrol car. What was this was all about? Had she been swerving? She quickly crunched down on two fresh squares of peppermint Dentyne Ice. Deep breath now. Chew. It’s just a routine stop. My taillight’s probably out. No need to panic. He doesn’t know.

Without the engine on the car turned cold fast. Christy zipped up her fleece jacket and checked the cop again. After a minute his door opened, and her pulse kicked up a notch. Please. Let this be nothing. She couldn’t face any more disappointment tonight.

Jones returned to her window. “Miss Williams, where you going?”

“Home.”

“From where?”

“Just a late movie with some friends, Officer.” She forced a smile, wishing it wasn’t a lie. To celebrate with friends and family who loved her was the way it should be. But instead she’d spent her birthday alone as usual, longing for what could have been.

“How many drinks have you had?”

Adrenaline splashed across her chest, and she tried to relax her arms. Don’t look nervous. Don’t look guilty. “None.”

“Know why I stopped you?”

“I wasn’t speeding.”

“You were doing 40 in a 65 zone.”

“Just being careful. I don’t like driving at night.”

Jones rested a thick hand on her door. He looked at her with a slight grin like he’d heard it all before. “Please step out of the car.”

Christy resisted the urge to glance at the passenger seat. Underneath it she’d carefully hidden her half-empty bottle of sherry. Knowing it would be useless to protest, she obeyed.

Outside, she shielded her eyes from the cruiser’s spotlight. “Sir, I’m tired. It’s my birthday. I just wanna get home.”

“I need you to do some standard roadside maneuvers for me.” Jones gripped her left bicep, his fingers closing almost entirely around it, and led her to stand between the two cars.

She’d seen sobriety tests on COPS enough times. This was her chance to prove herself. Christy concentrated hard on the officer’s instructions. She was gonna show this guy.

“You’ll stand with your heels together and your arms at your sides,” he said. “Then when I tell you, lift one foot about six inches off the ground and hold it there. Don’t use your arms. And no hopping or swaying. You understand?”

“Yeah.”

“Now at the same time, count aloud like this: one thousand and one, one thousand and two, one thousand and three. For thirty seconds, looking down at your foot.”

Christy crossed her shaky arms, nodding. As much as she hated the embarrassment of being on display, she had to do it. If she refused, he’d arrest her for sure.

“I’ll tell you when to put your foot down.” Jones looked her right in the eyes, his breaths condensing and swirling around his head. “Understand exactly what I want here?”

“I got it.”

He repeated the instructions, demonstrating the moves himself, and Christy assured him she knew what to do. If she passed this thing, would he let her go?

Jones stepped away from her. “You can start now.”

She filled her lungs, then slowly let her breath out, willing herself to calm down. Uncrossing her arms, she squeezed them against her rib cage and lifted her right foot. Was that six inches? She raised it a little more. That seemed right. Her heart pounding, she made herself breathe, determined not to take her eyes off her foot. Focus. Don’t sway. Then she remembered to count. She hadn’t been counting. She risked a glance at the stoic cop. Had he noticed?

“One thousand and one. One thousand and two.” Christy felt herself sway slightly. For a split second she tapped her toe to the ground just to right herself, but it was quick and then she was back to counting. “One thousand and three.”

Half a minute. That’s all we’re talking about. Just to thirty.

“One thousand and four. One thousand and five.”

I can do this.

“One thousand and six.”

Keep my balance. Keep my cool.

“One thousand and seven.”

Christy got to thirteen before she realized her arms had somehow lifted away from her body, like a trapeze artist walking the wire. She smacked them back down and kept counting. “One thousand and fourteen. One thousand and fifteen.”

Her leg was made of lead. Lift it up. A little higher.

“One thousand and sixteen.”

Quit shaking.

“One thousand seventeen.”

Focus!

“One thousand eighteen.”

“Okay, you can put your leg down.”

She let out a burst of air. She must’ve been holding her breath. “How’d I do?”

Jones didn’t answer, his face a mask of professionalism.

It was downhill from there. He put her through two more sobriety tests. She messed up four times walking that stupid line, and she had no idea what he was after when she followed his pen back and forth with her eyes.

Then the cop started grilling her again. “Honesty would go a long way here. Sure you didn’t drink anything?”

That’s when reality sunk in. Christy knew better than to get behind the wheel, yet she’d risked innocent lives and drove anyway. The last thing she’d ever want to do is cause an accident, especially tonight.

“I . . . ” She blinked back the tears that sprung to her eyes, desperate to keep from bawling in front of this cop who was only doing his job. After a late day at work she’d spent the evening in her car parked by Union Reservoir, sipping sherry and reading Hercule Poirot mysteries by the dome light. All she’d wanted was to forget it was her birthday. Revel in the buzz that would abandon her by morning.

Christy let out a long breath. “There’s a bottle of sherry under my seat.”

Jones nodded, producing handcuffs from his belt. He pointed at the car. “Hands on the hood, please.”

Christy rested her palms on the gritty, salt-stained metal, the front bumper jamming into her knees. She deserved to be locked up.

“Carryin’ anything I should know about?”

“No.”

After frisking her, he pulled each of her arms behind her back, clicking icy cuffs around her wrists. A semi zoomed past them, spraying cinder-filled slush against the cruiser door, and she imagined the trucker craning to see who the loser was this time.

Jones led her to the back door of the patrol car, opened it, and guided her head inside. She barely had time to glimpse a second cruiser pulling up behind them before the door slammed shut behind her, as much like a cell door clanging as the one she knew waited for her at the police station.

Her shoulders went limp. Another truck sailed past, shaking the patrol car. The cop’s garbled voice came from outside. She didn’t try to comprehend what he was saying. No doubt he was reporting to his buddy about the drunk he’d caught.

Christy hung her head as the cuffs dug into her flesh. Thirty-three years old.

Happy birthday.

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