I’m please to announce that my third novel, Aggravated Circumstances, is now available in both eBook and paperback from all the major booksellers. This book is very personal to me, as it draws ion my experiences in child welfare law. In spite of the sometimes difficult subject mater, though, it was an enjoyable book to write and I consider it to be a story of hope. I’ll be on a blog our in June to promote the book, and I can’t wait. Here’s a little preview of the book.
A family can be torn apart in an instant. Putting it back together is a harder task.
A relapsed addict opens the door to find a cop with a search warrant, setting off a chain of events that will cause four lives to intersect.
Devin Lenox has already lost one child to the system and this time she vows it will be different. If she’s going to make it, though, she’ll need something she’s never had before- someone on her side.
Her battle with depression behind her, Elisa Cahill looks forward to resuming her legal career. Devin’s case seems like the perfect opportunity to do that, and bury her own past demons in the process, at least if old grudges don’t prove to be her undoing.
Child protection worker Taylor Ross struggles to balance a social life with her demanding job and has little sympathy for people like Devin, at least at first. When Taylor starts to see Devin in a new light, she finds herself at odds with her superiors. Will she be willing to go to bat for Devin, and what price will she pay if she does?
Sarah Canfield is a compassionate judge who is not afraid to make difficult decisions, but will her past link to Devin undermine her objectivity and cause her to put her own family at risk?
A look inside the child welfare system, the people who work in it and the lives it impacts, Aggravated Circumstances is a story of despair, hope and recovery.
I hear the sound of a baby crying, but I can’t tell where it’s coming from. Is it close? Far? I open my eyes and glance around the room. Everything is hazy, out of focus. That’s the thing about the rush. It’s never long enough, and once it fades, you just feel… well, you’re just sort of there.
It starts with the nausea. That only lasts a few seconds. Any longer, and the allure wouldn’t be as great, but the rush is so powerful that five seconds of nausea is a small price to pay to get there.
Someone once described the rush as feeling like a thousand orgasms. I didn’t believe them until I tried it myself. Then I thought they understated it.
It’s not long enough, though. Ten, twenty minutes at most, followed by jelly.
That’s where I am now. My arms feel like jelly. My legs are heavy, like they’re attached to cement blocks.
I hear another cry and I try to get up, but the cement wins. I slump back against the couch.
I don’t know if it’s minutes or hours before the pounding penetrates my haze. As it gets louder, I realize it’s knocking. I try again to pull myself up, and this time my legs aren’t so leaden. I drag myself to the door and pull it open.
At the sound of my name, I nod, but my neck feels heavy, too.
“Officer Hunter, Concord PD.” He flashes a badge and thrusts a piece of paper at me. “I have a search warrant.”
Taylor Ross stood in her underwear, fresh from the shower, trying to decide between the blue dress or the red. Neither appealed to her. Blue seemed boring, red clichéd. Black, maybe? No. Black said funeral, and this was no funeral. This was Colin Radcliffe.
“Red,” Taylor declared, and pulled the dress off the hanger. She’d just stepped into it and was fighting the zipper when her phone rang. Expecting it be Colin, she lunged at the phone sitting on her dresser and glanced at the display.
“Shit.” Not Colin, and not good. Taylor tapped her finger on the screen to answer and held it to her ear. “Please tell me this is a cruel joke.”
“No joke,” her supervisor said before rattling off an address.
“I have a date tonight, Margo,” Taylor protested.
“Not anymore you don’t.” Margo laughed mirthlessly. “You shouldn’t make dates for nights you’re on call. You know that, Taylor. Get there ASAP.”
The other end of the phone went silent. “Shit.” Taylor kicked off the red dress, leaving it in a heap on the floor. She threw on jeans and a hoodie and ran a comb through her still damp light brown hair. No sense in dressing up for this. She grabbed her car keys from the hook by the door and texted Colin as she walked to her car.
Sorry. Crisis time. Call u later.
Seventeen minutes later, Taylor pulled to a stop in front of a familiar address. As she got out of the car, a uniformed police officer came down the front steps of the mobile home.
Taylor held out her state ID card, which hung around her neck on a lanyard. “Taylor Ross, Division for Children, Youth and Families.”
He nodded. “Alex Hunter. Thanks for coming.”
“Not much choice.” Taylor walked with him toward the mobile home. “What’s the scoop?”
“Unsolicited, credible report of drug use. Concerns about a child in the home,” Hunter explained. “Got a warrant and here we are. Mom’s higher than a kite. Kid’s crying in the corner in soiled clothes. Syringes everywhere.” He shook his head as he held the front door open for her. “I hate this part of my job.”
“Yeah. Preaching to the choir.” Taylor sucked in a breath before walking into the house. This never got any easier.
She scanned the room, noting the worn furniture. She glanced at the coffee table, finding it littered with drug paraphernalia. The officer hadn’t exaggerated. In the corner by the kitchen, a toddler was being comforted by a female police offer. Taylor started in that direction.
“No! You’re not going near my kid!” The woman jumped up from the couch. She grabbed for Taylor’s arm, missed and stumbled back.
“I’d settle down if I were you,” Hunter warned. “Unless you want to add assaulting a state employee to your list of charges.”
“She’s a fucking baby-stealing bitch!”
Yeah. Devin remembered her. Taylor assessed the tracks on Devin’s arms and her pin-sized pupils, seeing all she needed to. She walked to the officer holding the child. “What’s your name?” she asked, crouching to the floor at the little girl’s level, even though she figured the child was too young to answer. Brown eyes. Reddish-brown hair. Tears running down her face. Probably scared to death.
“Her name’s Hannah,” the police officer answered. “We’ve confirmed that much. Age twenty-two months. We talked to the neighbor. There’s no other family. As far as she knows, the father’s in prison.”
“Peachy,” Taylor muttered, but she wasn’t surprised.
“We’re taking mom into custody.”
Taylor pulled herself to her feet. “And that’s why you called me.” She retrieved her cell phone from the front pocket of her sweatshirt and walked to the door. “I’ll be right back.”
“You’re not taking my kid!” Devin yelled.
“That’s not up to me, Devin.” Taylor went outside and scrolled through her phone directory and tapped the number she wanted. She sat down on the front step as it dialed through.
The judge answered on the second ring. “Sarah Howton-Canfield.”
Taylor glanced at her watch. Six-thirty. Colin Radcliffe had probably long since given up on her. The judge was probably in the middle of a family dinner. Just one of those nights. “Hello, Your Honor. It’s Taylor Ross from DCYF. I’m sorry to bother you after hours.”
“It’s part of the job,” the judge said. “Hi, Taylor. What have you got?”
“Twenty-two-month-old child. Mom high on drugs. Police raided the house, and she’s being taken into custody on charges.”
“Are there any relatives available who can care for the child?” the judge asked.
“None that we’re aware of.”
Over the phone line, Taylor heard an audible sigh. She knew the juvenile court judge hated this part of the job as much as Taylor did.
“I’ll verbally authorize the removal. Be at my chambers first thing tomorrow with the completed paperwork, and we’ll have a protective custody hearing.”
“Yes, Judge.” She’d get to work on that paperwork right after she found a placement for the child. In other words, it would be a really long night.
“Is there anything else?”
Taylor hesitated. “It might not be important, but maybe you should know… the child’s mother is Devin Lenox.”
Silence followed on the other end of the line.
“Judge? Did you hear me?”
“I heard. I don’t see how that changes anything about the facts of the case.” Her tone was clipped.
“It doesn’t, no.”
“Then it’s not important.”
“Yes, Your Honor.” I just thought you’d want to know. Apparently not. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” Taylor stood up from her perch on the step, shoved her phone back in her pocket and opened the door.
She nodded at the police officer holding Hannah and went to her, trying to avoid eye contact with Devin.
“No! You’re not taking my fucking kid!”
Taylor turned around, Hannah perched against her hip. “I’m sorry. I have to. Judge’s orders.”
“Ms. Lenox, you can come with me,” Officer Hunter said. “We’re going to get you a nice, cozy cell downtown.”
Taylor tried to block out Devin’s screams as she carried Hannah to the car and strapped her into the car seat in the back. No, I don’t have kids myself. I just always have a car seat handy in case I’m court-ordered to take someone else’s away. She rolled her eyes. Was it any wonder her social life sucked?
She settled into the driver’s seat and pulled out her phone again, sending a quick text to her back-up worker to meet her at the office to start searching for foster homes. With that out of the way, she scrolled through her other messages.
Four from Colin, but he’d have to wait. Taylor tossed the phone onto the passenger seat. As she turned the key in the ignition, she glanced in the rear-view mirror at Hannah’s frightened, tear-stained face.
“It’s okay,” Taylor said. “We’ll find you a safe home.”
I wake up shivering, but drenched in sweat. I scratch at my arm, sure that something is crawling on me. All I see are needle marks. My leg spasms and I kick at the bed.
Bed? Wait a minute. Where the hell am I?
I glance around, disoriented, and notice the bars. That’s when I realize where I am and what it means. “No!” The scream shakes me.
A uniformed guard appears on the other side and holds a plastic cup through the bars. “In case you’re thirsty,” she says.
I get up from the bed and grab the cup from her, gulping the water down. “Thanks.” Extreme thirst is one of the worst parts of coming down. I pass the cup back through the bars.
“Don’t mention it.”
“Where’s my daughter?” I ask. “Do you know?” Fear grips me. I don’t want to hear the answer.
“No clue.” She gives a shrug and glances at the clock behind her. “You have a court hearing in about five hours. I’m sure you’ll find out then. Might as well try to sleep in the meantime.”
Sleep. I’m supposed to sleep? I stumble back to the bed, but sleep isn’t an option.
I bury my face in my hands and let the tears come. “I’m so sorry, baby.”
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