Sneak Peek of How Far

How Far by Rachel Branton front coverI’m excited to announce that my newest stand-alone novel How Far will be released at the end of this month. You can read a complete book description here or you can read the sneak peek of How Far right here.

How Far is the last of the books I originally published with a publisher and am re-releasing on my own after a five-year “discussion” about returning my rights. Part of the agreement is that I have to use new titles, so How Far is new. I’d planned just a quick read through, but I ended up doing more reworking than I did with any of the others I got back. This includes reorganizing the first eight chapters, added text throughout the book, and a complete revision of several key scenes. It’s a long story, nearly 100,000 words, with about 10% added from the original and 20% word changes. I feel it’s the same story, but I’m telling it differently.

Oh, and be sure to check out the Author’s Note and the Discussion Guide that are included at the end of the published novel (both in print and ebook versions). How Far was inspired by a news story that rocked the nation some years back. You may recognize the event that I talk about in my author’s note, but it is not by any stretch of the imagination a retelling of how it should have been. It’s just my story. A good one, I hope.

It’ll be coming at the end of this month to all ebook retailers. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Parker Hathaway walked slowly, almost casually, to the front door of the house in South Salt Lake, not crouching or darting, yet keeping to the shadows made by the huge walnut tree in the front yard. The back door would have been a better choice for staying out of view, but it was too close to the neighbor’s dog kennel. If the child’s mother awoke, she’d call the police.

Or maybe not. Given her current circumstances, Dakota Allen was more likely to call the hulking, balding boyfriend who’d been hanging around almost constantly during the past week, though Parker had made sure his battered car wasn’t in the driveway tonight. Of course, Dakota might still be awake. He didn’t know anything about her sleeping habits these days. Did she drop off the moment her head touched the pillow? Or maybe she lay awake nights like he did, thinking of how he had to do something—anything—to prevent the disaster he knew was imminent.

It didn’t matter. He hadn’t come for her. When he was through here, she’d hate him with a murderous passion that might barely begin to approach the feelings he harbored for her.

He shivered in the cold, and thoughts of the small whisky bottle he’d once kept in the cab of his truck made him ache with longing. But that was a place he would never go again. He forced his thoughts back to the task at hand. Two more minutes, maybe three tops, if all went well. He slipped the credit card into the crack between the door frame and the faceplate of the lock mechanism. Good, the dead bolt hadn’t been engaged. He’d hoped for that. Maybe she’d been too tired. Or maybe she simply didn’t care. Women like Dakota didn’t. Not about the things that most people considered important. They were too busy using others to expect to be victims themselves.

Even if she’d thrown the dead bolt, he’d come prepared with the glass cutter in the truck, but this was better, cleaner. Less evidence that he’d been inside the house. What he planned to do there could land him behind bars. Deep behind bars.

Far more easily than Parker had dared hope, the card released the latch. He eased the door open, and only as he went inside did he allow his gaze to scan the neighborhood. Not furtively but carelessly, as though he belonged. Indeed, he had belonged to a neighborhood exactly like this one for as long as he’d been able to bear it. A neighborhood like this and all it entailed was what had driven him near the edge of sanity.

No one was in sight, and even if someone was looking out a window at that moment, they might assume he was the husband coming home after a night shift. They were used to having people come and go at all hours here. Three o’clock on a weekday morning, the time he’d chosen, was when they had the least traffic. He’d watched for three nights to be sure, eating up tankfuls of gasoline in the car he’d borrowed for the purpose.

He took a step inside, shut the door quietly, and then took another step as his eyes strained to be sure the tiny living room was empty. The furnishings were plain and mismatched, with a tattered brown couch, a blue love seat, and a white coffee table that had seen better days. The floor was clean. This surprised him, and he felt his first tremor of doubt.

No. Doubts were fatal. He had no choice but to continue. Desperation drove Parker onward. Another step and the floorboards creaked. He froze, listened for a full minute, and then continued when only silence met his ears. Moonlight filtered in from the kitchen window between sheer curtains that even in the dim light appeared tired and desolate. The counters were clear, though dishes were piled high in the sink, some with globs of food stuck to them. Turning his head, he slid down the dark hallway, a step at a time, stopping to listen between each movement.

Two rooms were at the end, both doors closed. What mother closed her bedroom door in the middle of the night with a helpless child sleeping nearby? How would she hear its cry? He took the left door, the front bedroom. He’d seen Madison in the window and knew it was hers.

Carefully, he twisted the doorknob and pushed open the door. There was the faintest of creaks but not loud enough for alarm. The bedroom was not as plain as the living room. Here, colorful posters lined the walls, numerous stuffed animals filled a book shelf or lay scattered over the floor and bed, and an easel for drawing stood in one corner. All the furniture was made of light oak and definitely on the new side.

His breath caught in his throat as he saw Madison lying in her bed beneath the window, a smile curving the edges of her button lips. Moonlight spilled onto her outstretched hand, a hand that beckoned to him. His heart constricted as it always did at seeing her face.

No doubts here. They belonged together. I’m here, sweetheart. In three steps he was kneeling at her bed, his hands reaching toward her.

A sound made his hands jerk to a stop—a soft murmur that came not from the bed but from the crib against the wall. Curious, he stood and peeked inside. Another child lay there, dressed in a blue, short-sleeved T-shirt, his mud-colored hair curling softly at his nape. He was huddled face down with his hands and feet tucked under his small body, as if trying to protect himself from the cold. Parker hadn’t realized this child would be here tonight. Scrubbing a hand over the week-old growth on his face, he considered the boy. He wished he could take them both.

Better stick to the plan, he thought. Where he was going with Madison, he couldn’t take the boy. He would only be a liability. Jaw clenched, Parker grabbed the furry blanket near the boy’s feet and pulled it up to his neck.

Resolutely, he turned his back on the crib, kneeling again near the bed. He pulled down her blanket, scooting one hand under her warm body. She wore a thin nightgown with cap sleeves, completely inappropriate for the November night, even in a heated house. With his other hand, he grabbed the princess lap blanket folded at the bottom of the bed and pulled it up to her neck, tucking the furry warmth around her body as he drew her toward him.

She stirred as Parker rose to his feet and folded her tightly against his chest. He rocked her until she buried her face in his shirt and was still. It’ll all be over soon, he promised. Turning, he tripped over a jumble of stuffed animals on the floor, but he caught himself in time. The dresser was open, and clothes peeked out this way and that. She wouldn’t need them.

He was nearing the bedroom door when footsteps made him freeze. There was no time to hide before the other bedroom door was flung open. Dakota, most likely. He stood motionless in the darkness as she stumbled to the bathroom down the hall, not shutting the door behind her. The sound of urination filled the quiet of the house.

Parker swore under his breath. The closet—he should hide there. But if she were to check on the children, the missing girl would be noticed immediately. Then he’d have to do something to prevent the mother from calling anyone.

Or he could put Madison back in her bed.

Swiftly, he crossed the room and laid the child down, pulling the larger blanket over her to hide the furry one. Then he sprinted to the closet.

He needn’t have worried because the woman didn’t come into the children’s bedroom. Yet she didn’t shut her door, either. He waited for her to fall asleep again, though he knew every minute put him closer to discovery.

After fifteen minutes, he could wait no longer. Again, Parker knelt by the bed and scooped up the little girl. This time she didn’t react but slept on like an angel. Down the dark hallway he went, shuffling slowly to be sure he didn’t trip over anything. Then he was at the front door, shutting it behind him and stepping quietly over crunchy mounds of snow. His blue truck was parked between this house and the neighbor’s. He climbed inside and, still holding the child, started the engine.

The cab was cold—he hadn’t planned for the wait inside the house—but he’d brought blankets. Headlights appeared ahead, and he stiffened until a car passed, the lights fading behind him. He should have borrowed his friend’s car again instead of using his own truck, but that hadn’t been possible tonight, and he couldn’t afford to wait. The cost might be too high.

Two blocks away, he stopped and settled Madison on the seat next to him, tucking blankets around her to help her feel secure.

The faint red lights from the dashboard barely illuminated her baby face, but he could see that her eyes had opened, small slits in her chubby roundness. “Daddy? Is that you?”

The light made it difficult for her to really see much of anything, and her apparent trust made the ache in his chest intensify. Parker swallowed, the dryness hurting his throat. “It’s okay, sweetheart,” he murmured. “Sleep, now. That’s my girl.”

Obediently, she shut her eyes and was lost again in her dreams.

He drove to I-15, heading south. What he wouldn’t give for a drink. Just a sip to burn a little warmth down his throat. He knew it was a battle he’d fight for the rest of his life, but no way would he let that vice steal what he had worked so hard to achieve. His entire life and future were tied up in that little girl lying there so peacefully on the seat. He must arrive at his destination. Then he could decide what to do next.

Chapter 2

Public defender Caitlin McLoughlin rolled onto her back and opened her eyes, staring at the dark ceiling of her bedroom in her West Valley home, lit only faintly by light from the street lamp that filtered through her blinds. How she could work all day and feel so exhausted and yet still not sleep didn’t make any sense, but here she was again—rehashing the past and worrying her choices would take everything from her.

Tomorrow deputy district attorney Mace Keeley would finish presenting his evidence, and she’d have to begin her defense. The problem was that her client was guilty. Thoroughly and utterly guilty. In a vicious and premeditated attack two and a half years earlier, Chet Belstead had pushed his former girlfriend down in the grass at a local park and raped her. There were also five deep stab wounds, with jagged lines connecting them across the woman’s back like a contorted dot-to-dot picture. It was a miracle she’d survived.

When she’d first been assigned the case, Caitlin had hoped Belstead was innocent. It happened now and again, in her work as a public defender, that her client was mistakenly accused or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. But those cases were few and far between these days, or perhaps they were assigned to attorneys who weren’t as experienced or as good as Caitlin. These days she almost always got the dirty ones.

She’d known Belstead was guilty from the moment she walked into the room at the county jail where they’d met for the first time. He’d been far too slow to bring his hazel eyes to meet hers, dragging up her body as if caressing every curve. When his eyes finally did lock onto hers, a lazy, annoyingly confident smile slashed across his plain face, as if daring her to mention his behavior. She understood at once that underneath his apparent normalcy was a monster that existed only to gratify himself.

Instead of calling him out, she’d begun firing questions at him, willing her pale, freckled cheeks not to flush with frustration. She’d acquired those telltale cheeks from her Irish father, along with her copper-colored hair, but from her English mother she’d inherited a stiff backbone and the famous English aplomb that served her well as a defense attorney. She’d had to draw a lot on that backbone during her initial meeting with Belstead—and in all the meetings after. For two and a half years, she’d soldiered on. It was almost over now.

Belstead had faked innocence in the beginning. They all did, so he wasn’t too different from her other guilty clients. She hadn’t been fooled. He was easier than most to figure out. She’d once made the mistake of taking off her jacket in his presence, when the heat of the holding cell had become unbearable. Though her blouse was more than modest, his stare made her feel dirty. That was when he’d casually mentioned the knife, wrapped in his thin jacket and thrown away in an unused trash can. Perhaps he thought the danger the knife represented made him more attractive to her.

After a few more weeks of subtle prodding, she learned the route he’d taken home from the park that night, and that information allowed her to determine the most obvious place he might have deposited the knife. He’d believed she would never manage to connect the bits of information he’d given her—and even if she did, so what? She was bound by ethics as his legal counsel to keep her mouth shut and let him go free. In his mind there was no possible way he could be convicted.

He was almost right. He had worn a mask, and there was no physical evidence to connect him with the crime. Nothing except the lack of an alibi and the fact that he’d threatened his ex with violence after she began dating another man. That he’d been seen loitering near the grocery store where she worked on the night of the attack wasn’t exactly solid proof.

Enough evidence for a trial but never for a conviction. Caitlin was good at her job, and she had known Belstead would walk away free—until she made sure he wouldn’t.

She’d made a call to Kenny Pratt, a local private investigator she sometimes used and asked him to canvas the area to find out if any of the nearby residents had seen something unusual. She told him she had a robbery case she was working on. That was it, nothing more. Nothing about Belstead or about rape and attempted murder.

He’d called her back two weeks later. “I found a teenager,” Kenny had told Caitlin. “Says he was in his car with his girlfriend in the driveway of her parent’s house and he saw a guy run by, looking real nervous. There’s a streetlight right outside, and he claims the man had a big stain on his shirt. Something dark. And before you ask, he couldn’t tell if it was blood. It was too dark. The girl didn’t see anything. But both of them heard a banging at the abandoned house next door. Maybe a garbage can lid. I checked out the house, and it still looks abandoned. The garbage can is sitting in the carport near the back door. It’s about half full. I didn’t go through it. Anyway, it wasn’t on the night you were asking about. It was two days before. They knew the date because they’d been to a school football game.”

Two days before the date she’d given Kenny landed the event squarely on the night of Belstead’s attack. She’d known Kenny would report anything he discovered—anything near the date in question. She forced her voice to be calm. “Not something I can use, but you might encourage the boy to call the police. Whatever the man dumped might still be there. Maybe it connects to something else they’re working on. That’s a scary neighborhood down there.”

“I’ll do that. You want me to keep poking around? I covered the whole block, but I might have missed someone.”

“No. I think it’s a dead end. It tells me what I needed to know.”

“Okay. It’s your call.”

“Send me a bill.”

He laughed. “I always do.”

The police had taken a day to find the knife and another two to connect it to the rape. That was fast, considering the four months that had passed since the crime. Simple. No real connection to her at all.

I shouldn’t have done it, she thought, still staring at the ceiling. Despite her continuous rationalization over the past months, she’d been wrong to go that far. She had put herself at risk—and that meant putting Amy at risk.

The thought of Amy made her stomach ache. Amy was in the next room sleeping even now, tucked in with her dolls and stuffed animals. Sweet Amy, who knew only the world of a child and would never have to make the decisions Caitlin did.

Feeling for her phone, Caitlin turned it on. Four o’clock already, which meant two hours before she had to be in the shower. Sighing, she dropped it back onto her nightstand, closed her eyes, and tried to sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Teyla Rachel Branton

 

 

Copyright 2019 Teyla Rachel Branton
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6 Responses to “Sneak Peek of How Far”

  1. Lillian

    Love your books they truly inspire me. Thank you

    Reply
  2. Theresa

    I’m excited to read the rest of the book. Pretty ballsy female character! I love it!!!

    Reply
  3. Rebecca

    It draws me in, and I definitely will plan on reading it!

    Reply

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