Twisted Innocence (Moonlighters Series Book 3), страница 1
BOOKS BY TERRI BLACKSTOCK
THE MOONLIGHTERS SERIES
1 Truth Stained Lies
THE RESTORATION SERIES
1 Last Light
2 Night Light
3 True Light
4 Dawn’s Light
THE INTERVENTION SERIES
2 Vicious Cycle
THE CAPE REFUGE SERIES
1 Cape Refuge
2 Southern Storm
3 River’s Edge
4 Breaker’s Reef
1 Private Justice
2 Shadow of Doubt
3 Word of Honor
4 Trial by Fire
5 Line of Duty
THE SUN COAST CHRONICLES
1 Evidence of Mercy
2 Justifiable Means
3 Ulterior Motives
4 Presumption of Guilt
1 Never Again Good-bye
2 When Dreams Cross
3 Blind Trust
4 Broken Wings
WITH BEVERLY LAHAYE
1 Seasons Under Heaven
2 Showers in Season
3 Times and Seasons
4 Season of Blessing
Shadow in Serenity
Miracles (The Listener/The Gifted)
The Heart Reader of Franklin High
The Gifted Sophomores
Copyright © 2015 by Terri Blackstock
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Blackstock, Terri, 1957-
Twisted innocence / Terri Blackstock.
pages. cm. -- (Moonlighters ; book 3)
ISBN 978-0-310-33236-7 (pbk.)
1. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
The New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org).
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All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other—except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.
Publisher’s Note: This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. All characters are fictional, and any similarity to people living or dead is purely coincidental.
ePub Edition © January 2015: ISBN 978-0-310-33240-4
14 15 16 17 18 19 20 / RRD / 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This book is lovingly dedicated to the Nazarene.
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Holly Cramer pulled to the curb of the condemned apartment building, her yellow taxi grinding gears and threatening to die. Though the sun hung bright overhead, the street was colorless, oppressive, with moldy, rotting houses and garbage festering in yards. Men loitered on the road up ahead in front of another boarded house. She shouldn’t have accepted this fare, but the customer had called her cell phone personally instead of going through the agency. She must be a repeat customer.
Holly tapped her horn and looked out her passenger window. The house showed no sign of life, but it wasn’t the wrong place. The girl had clearly said it was the green house on the corner of Burke and Darby. Holly checked her phone for the caller’s number and called her back.
It went straight to voice mail.
Holly sighed. Maybe this was a prank, some kid trying to yank her chain just to see if she’d come. She had done that enough herself as a kid. Back when she was still Panama City’s party girl, she’d done things under the influence that had been even more childish, like calling a guy fourteen times when she knew he was with his girlfriend, just to create trouble in paradise. She and her friends would giggle hysterically at the fight they imagined ensued, but the next day, as she nursed the punishment of a hangover, she would hate herself for it.
Not ready to give up on this fare just yet, Holly honked the horn again. The men up the street turned to look at her. Getting nervous, she reached into the pocket of her door, but of course her pistol wasn’t there. It was against the law for a cabbie to carry a firearm inside the car while they were on duty. It was locked safely in her trunk.
She thought of bucking the law and getting it out, but that would call more attention to her. This was stupid. She was a mother now, and the last place she should have been was in the slums, waiting for someone to blow her head off just for target practice.
But what if the woman who’d called wasn’t a kid at all, but someone stranded here who desperately needed a ride?
“Two minutes, then I’m leaving,” Holly whispered.
The loiterers up ahead were showing too much interest in her, and two swaggered toward her. That’s it. I’m outa here. She shifted into drive.
Holly pressed a foot on the brake and looked back, saw a man and woman coming out from behind the abandoned house. They were both skin and bones, and as they hurried closer, she noted their rotting teeth and the sores on their faces. Meth addicts, no doubt. She hoped they had cash.
“I almost left you,” she said as the wispy girl slid into the back.
“We came when we heard you.” The girl had an irritating smoke-scarred voice.
The guy opened the front door and thunked into her passenger seat. “I’d rather you sat in back,” Holly said, moving her money bag and purse to the center console.
“I like it up here,” the man said.
“Stevie has a phobia,” the girl added, as though that explained it. Holly decided it wasn’t worth fighting.
Body odor filled the cab, along with the acrid smell of their habits. Breathing through her mouth, Holly set her meter. “Where to?”
“How much to take us downtown?” Stevie asked as Holly pulled away from the curb, past the dealers.
Holly sighed. She hated nonspecific destinations. “Probably about ten bucks, give or take. Depends on traffic and whether I have to take detours, and where I drop you off.”
“Okay, whatever. Just get us out of here.”
That didn’t sound promising. The man jittered as she turned off the street. “Have I driven you before?” she asked, glancing at the girl in her rearview mirror. “You didn’t call through the agency.”
“Yeah, you drove me once. Few months ago, you picked me up when my boyfriend ditched me. I still had your card in my purse. Not too many chicks driving cabs.”
Yes, she recognized the girl who had run out in front of her cab when Holly was following a subject. She’d had no choice but to give her a ride. The girl had deteriorated since then. Her habit was slowly eating away at her.
Holly didn’t try to figure out why they’d wanted a woman driver. Tweekers were always paranoid, so maybe they considered a woman to be safer. Relieved to be out of that neighborhood, she breathed easier and pulled onto a road where businesses had long ago closed. She would be glad when she got back onto more populated streets.
Just as Holly’s sense of security returned, Stevie slid up his dirty T-shirt and took hold of something in his waistband. She gasped as he pulled out a .38 revolver, cocked it, and pointed it at her.
“Are you kidding me?” She swerved and almost ran off the road. “What are you doing?”
“Keep both hands on the steering wheel and pull over!” He jabbed at her temple. “Do it!”
That would make as much sense as driving off a bridge. Pulling over would ensure that they stole her car and killed her, leaving Lily to grow up without her mother. Holly slowed and pretended to pull over, then stomped the accelerator, swerving hard to make the man lose his balance as she tried to knock the gun from his hand. Shrieking, the girl leaned forward and threw a belt over Holly’s throat, threatening to choke her. “He said pull over!”
Holly groped at the belt but kept her foot on the accelerator. “Are you brain dead?” she choked out. “I’m driving!” The car picked up speed . . . sixty . . . seventy . . . “You kill me and you’re both dead too!”
The girl loosened the belt, leaving it around Holly’s neck, and the man steadied his aim. Holly deliberately ran off the road, then swerved sharply back onto the asphalt. This time she knocked the gun from his hand. He groped for it on the floorboard, found it, then swung it up into her face, its metal splitting her lip.
Tasting blood, Holly swerved again and stabbed her fingers into the soft tissue of Stevie’s eyes. He cried out in pain, and she knocked the gun free again.
The girl jerked the belt, forcing Holly’s head back against the headrest. Holly clawed at it and slammed on the brakes, throwing her passengers forward. The girl lost her leverage, and Holly got her fingers between the belt and her throat and ripped it away, then slammed the accelerator again.
The crazed man grabbed the wheel and pulled, forcing her to turn into a parking lot. She stomped to a screeching halt just before ramming into a building.
Holly dove for the gun on the floorboard, but the guy kneed her in the face, then thrust a knuckle punch to her eye. Recoiling, she tried to grab the gun, but he came up with his finger on the trigger. “Give me your cash! All of it!” he shouted.
“I don’t have any,” she lied.
The girl bent over the seat, snatched the money bag and Holly’s purse, and bolted out the back door. Holly watched, astonished, as the girl left Stevie behind and ran behind the building.
Cursing, he flung the door open, lunged out, and ran after the woman. Holly stumbled out, wiping the blood from the bloody gash over her eye. She opened her trunk, grabbed her gun, and aimed at him over the hood. “Stop or I’ll shoot!” He disappeared around the building.
“I have to pay my mortgage!” she cried, knowing it was useless.
She couldn’t run after them. She’d only given birth four weeks ago. She dropped back into the car and pulled around the building, looking for them. The girl had scaled a fence and dropped to the other side. Now she was running into the woods. The man was almost over the fence.
Holly slammed her fist against the steering wheel and tried to calculate how much money they’d gotten. She would have to start all over . . . be away from Lily twice as long.
She pulled her phone out of her jeans pocket and called the police, then looked at herself in the rearview mirror. Her lip was already swelling and blood was smeared across her cheek. The gash over her eye dripped blood and her lid was puffing shut.
She looked like someone who belonged here. Someone like them.
Holly stopped at a convenience store on the way home and washed her face in the dirty bathroom, splashing away her tears. She looked like she’d been in a drunken fight with a no-good boyfriend. Her sister Juliet would come unglued.
In fact, Holly didn’t want to let anyone see her, but the police had encouraged her to go by the bank to cancel her credit cards. She hoped it didn’t take long—she needed to see her baby. Maybe then she’d stop shaking. Breathing in strength and trying to look strong, she took care of business, then headed home.
Juliet sat on the floor in Holly’s small living room, holding Lily against one shoulder as little Robbie slept in her lap. Only Juliet could pull that off.
“Hey.” Holly dropped her keys on the counter, keeping her face down and hidden.
“Just in time. I think Lily’s going to want to be fed soon.”
“Yeah, sorry I’m late.” Holly couldn’t keep her face away from Juliet forever. She needed to hold her child. She crossed the room and took Lily from Juliet.
Juliet gasped. “Holly! What happened?”
Lily nuzzled against Holly’s neck, and Holly held her for a moment, breathing in the calming scent of her.
“Are you all right?” Juliet said. “Do I need to take you to the hospital?”
“No, I’ll be okay. I got mugged.”
Juliet came to her feet and laid Robbie on the couch. “Mugged? Holly!”
Holly burst into tears again. “They cleaned me out. Two dopeheads that I should have realized were bad news when I picked them up.”
“Oh, honey.” Juliet rushed into the kitchen and searched through the cabinets. “We have to clean that. Come here. Did you call the police?”
“Yeah, I called them. They came, but it was too late. The dopeheads had gotten away. I had to go by the bank to cancel my debit card. Real classy, going in with a bloody lip and eye.”
Juliet found hydrogen peroxide and poured some over a paper towel. Wadding it, she dabbed at Holly’s lip and eyebrow.
“I feel so stupid.”
“Holly, I’ve worried about this very thing happening.”
“Well, it finally did. Are you happy? You can say I told you so. But I have to make a living, Juliet.” The
“How many were there? Can you identify them?”
“I’ll recognize them if I ever see them again, but the chances of us finding them are pretty slim. They were meth heads. Skinny as toothpicks and pocked with sores. One of them was named Steve or Stevie, but who knows if that was his real name. I doubt the other one would have called him by his real name, knowing they were going to rob me. The money’s gone. I’ll just have to earn it back.”
“Thank God you’re okay. That’s the important thing. Oh, Holly. I wish I could help you.”
Juliet had financial problems of her own. Holly’s oldest sibling had once been rich, the wife of an orthopedic surgeon. Now she was a widow with three children and had to live on a budget. She couldn’t bail Holly out of her messes anymore.
But that didn’t mean she wouldn’t try. “Maybe it’s time for you to work full-time for Michael. Business is getting to be more than we can handle working part-time.”
“You’d think the fact that he’s in prison would’ve put a damper on business, wouldn’t you?”
“For any normal guy. But Michael’s not a normal guy.”
Holly smiled. Everyone in the area knew Michael’s whole felony conviction was a farce.
“Anyway, what if you gave up driving the cab and just did that?”
Holly couldn’t believe Juliet would suggest such a thing after loaning her the cash to buy the cab. It had been a way for Holly to hold down a job she couldn’t be fired from—unlike all the other jobs she’d had. Juliet had a friend from church who owned a taxi service, and they’d agreed to add Holly’s cab to their fleet in exchange for a commission when she was on the clock. By the time she paid them, bought gas, maintained her vehicle, paid taxes, and made her loan payment to Juliet, she could barely pay her personal bills.
Welcome to the adult world—a world she had studiously avoided until her pregnancy.
“How would I pay you back?”
“You could sell the cab to the agency and buy a normal car.”
Holly sighed. “I can’t live on ten bucks an hour.”
“Maybe we can raise your pay.” Juliet poured more hydrogen peroxide on the paper towel and dabbed at Holly’s eyebrow again. “Are you sure you don’t need stitches?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll go to the doctor after I feed Lily. I just don’t know how I’ll pay for it. I have a huge deductible.” How was she going to pay her mortgage, utilities, diapers, babysitters . . .?