Susan and mystery man Rob grow close as he tries to orchestrate her escape. When the duo discovers the truth behind Susan’s captivity, they realize she is in grave danger, and they must act quickly. Susan and Rob will need more than passion for each other and their wits to succeed. They will need help from old friends, including Kelsey Reed.
In the previous book, Life First, Susan gave Kelsey a chance at a second life, but will she get her own?
Targeted Age Group:: 16+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
This book is the sequel to Life First, so I was inspired by the events of the first book. I wanted to know what happened next. I actually started writing the third book in the series first, thinking it would be the second book. However, the third book is set two years after the events of the first book. It seemed like I had let too much time pass, so I started to fill in the events of the past two years and realized that while there wasn’t a lot of story for Kelsey, the protagonist of Life First, there was tons for Susan. So, this book was a really great way to flesh out what happened in the interim–and most of it happened to Susan, not Kelsey. The good news is, we see a fair amount of Kelsey in this book. We just see more of Susan. I think readers will like the twists and turns in this book. And when you get to book three, everything comes together in really unexpected ways.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Some of the characters are our favorites from Life First. The new characters emerged either from that snippet of book three in the series I’d started to write, thinking it would be book 2, or from the necessity of this story. Susan came from Life First. Rob, her love interest in this book, as well as his mother, were both mentioned in my start for the original second book. Colonel Parker emerged because I needed a villain. And he certainly rose to the occasion, I think. But, readers are the ultimate judge of how successful a character is.
I learned a little more than a year ago that regrets aren’t worth having. It was obvious after a surgical error left me paralyzed from the waist down that regrets don’t change anything. So I’ve stopped indulging in them.
Therefore, it would be wrong to say I regret helping Kelsey.
However, I did miscalculate. I thought switching places with her so she could escape the holding facility would lack consequences of significance. I thought claiming I’d been drugged and taken against my will would get me deemed an “innocent bystander,” and I’d be sent home.
I wasn’t. Two months later, as Kelsey enjoys freedom in a new country, I am trapped in a government facility with no clue why I was brought here or when I will be released.
My captors say they believe I wasn’t involved in the escape. They tell me I was used by Kelsey and will not be punished. But they don’t let me leave. Instead, I have been subjected to therapy where I have to talk about my life with a psychiatrist. I’ve also had a couple of medical exams and been told it’s important for me to stay healthy.
I am given three meals a day plus a snack, and allowed to go into the courtyard to get fresh air. I can watch certain recorded programming, but nothing live. I was given an electronic reader and a tablet to keep a journal in. I believe the journal is monitored, so I write nothing meaningful in it: what I do each day, how I yearn to be home. I do not write my true feelings. I do not write about Kelsey or Luke.
It is frustrating and lonely here. I want to see someone: my uncle, my cousins, hell, even my aunt. Yet, I’ve had no visitors. I received a note from Sen. Lewis Reed, Kelsey’s father. It had almost a dozen words: “Trying to get you out. Stay strong. You are not forgotten.”
That was it. Enough to inspire both hope and despair. Sen. Reed has lost the bulk of his clout since Kelsey fled after being marked. Being the father of someone so entirely antithetical to the Life First doctrine tarnished his name so much that I’m not sure he has any political favors left to call in. As “not forgotten” as I am, I fear he can’t help me.
That means I’m stuck here, even though I don’t know why. If they said they didn’t believe me, that they were prosecuting me for helping Kelsey escape, I would at least know what to do. Know I was entitled to a hearing, an attorney. Something. Now, I know nothing, except that I am not free to leave.
I am less bothered by being here than I am by not knowing when they intend to release me. If I knew there was an end in sight, I could simply bide my time, and wait it out. The surroundings are more than comfortable. I’m in a suite. Furnished like a fancy hotel, it includes a living area, kitchenette and bedroom. It’s inside a villa-style building: a completely enclosed rectangle with an inner courtyard. While the architecture style is Romanesque, I’m pretty confident it’s a government building, as evidenced by the men in FoSS military uniforms who stand sentry at the exits.
The villa is surrounded by an eight-foot tall stone wall. Out front, there is a driveway with a wrought-iron gate in the center. I suspect the property is secluded on several acres.
When I first arrived, I was allowed out front. One day, I screamed at the top of my lungs. The guards looked put-out, at most. They didn’t rush me back inside, and there was no evidence that anyone on the other side of the wall heard me. Not even a less-than-neighborly, “Shut up; you’re making a racket.” Since then, I have not been brought to the front of the villa again. And based on the fact that no one can hear me scream — or that no one cares when they do hear — my prospects of outside help seem dim.
The only place I have been allowed to roam freely is my suite, which is on the first floor. I’ve been taken to exam rooms on the first floor, as well. While I have passed a staircase that leads to a second floor, the upstairs is a mystery to me because no one has taken me there. I’d try to check it out myself, but I’m sure my captors would notice if I attempted to heave myself up the stairs, my paralyzed legs flailing behind me.
As I was brought here while unconscious — transferred from the holding facility while still drugged — I’m still not certain where I am exactly. The people who work here are taciturn, but when they do utter a few syllables, they are laced with Southern accents. It is also warmer here than when I left Maryland, so I suspect I’m somewhere further south of the Mason-Dixon Line, perhaps South Carolina.
While their accents suggest I’m due a certain amount of down-home hospitality, the people I’ve encountered have provided almost no information. The guards say nothing. I asked the man who took me to the medical exam room, “Why am I here?”
He flashed an apologetic smile and said, “I really don’t know, Ma’am. I’m just the advance technician.” An advance technician? That’s the most meaningless term I’ve ever heard.
In my time here, I’ve only seen one other person who didn’t look like a worker: a woman being wheeled on a gurney. It was about a week after I arrived, and the woman had olive skin, a trim physique and long black hair that mainly lay pressed beneath her. A handful of glossy black strands rested on her arm, stopping just beneath her elbow. She wore a hospital gown and was covered from the waist down with a blanket. She turned toward me, deep brown eyes watching me curiously, probably the same way I was looking at her. When the man pushing her gurney caught us staring, he told her to close her eyes, and quickly rolled her down the corridor.
When I play the memory in my head, it seems like the exchange — our eyes locking as we examined each other — was lengthy. In reality, it was probably no more than a few seconds. Had I not been so surprised to see her, had I been thinking clearly, I would have called out to her, shouted something to see what response she gave.
Instead, as I saw her gurney turn the corner so it was out of my view, I asked the technician with me who she was and why she was here. “I can’t say, Ma’am,” he sputtered.
Useless. No one here is willing to explain anything. It is frustrating beyond belief. Barbara, the woman who cleans my room and brings me food, is willing to talk a little. She always smiles and asks, “What are you reading?” Probably because whenever she comes, I pick up my reader and act like I’m completely enthralled. I do read. There’s not a whole lot else to do. The reader came loaded with thousands of books, and it bothers me that there are so many. How long do they intend to keep me?
The reader is in my lap now, as I sit in my wheelchair looking out a window facing the courtyard. In the center of the courtyard is a large magnolia tree with hefty white flowers blooming. The surrounding lawn is so well-manicured, I am certain that even if there were another side to see, the grass wouldn’t be any greener over there.
I hear an electronic click, a sign that someone is about to come in. The suite door is always locked, so I cannot leave unless someone lets me out with an electronic keycard. I have considered trying to steal a card, but the keycard reader is conveniently about six feet off the ground, next to the door. I cannot reach it from my wheelchair. Barbara assures me that if the fire alarm is pulled, all doors in the building will unlock, and I’ll be able to wheel myself to safety. I’m not entirely sure I trust that. I’m sure Barbara believes it, but anyone inclined to hold me against my will is probably inclined to let me perish in a fire so I don’t talk about it.
The door opens just a crack, and in slides a man I’ve never seen before.
He is tall with dirty blond hair, and wears blue jeans and a long-sleeved white shirt that hugs his muscular torso. He gives a backward glance at the door as if afraid he’s being followed, then scans the room until he sees me.
His eyes widen slightly once they settle on me, like he’s shocked to find me here. Though I can’t imagine what he thought he’d discover here, if not me.
“Who are you?” I ask.
His warm hazel eyes fix on me, and he parts his lips slightly, as if he intends to reply. Instead, he closes his mouth and takes long, purposeful steps toward me. Some part of my brain is telling me I should be alarmed. I mean, a strong, furtive stranger just snuck into my room and is coming straight at me. But, another part of my brain — the part that’s winning — says to stay put, this will be worth my while. My heart quickens in anticipation until he stops right in front of me. “Rob,” he says, tipping his head respectfully. His voice is strong, self-assured and kind. “My name is Rob.”
He doesn’t reach for me, make any sudden movements or do anything that makes me think I should be afraid. I offer a nod in return, but not my name. I am intrigued by Rob, whose eyes seem to have flecks of green in them, and whose hair is sun-streaked in places. His skin is smooth, he has a strong jaw and his expression and demeanor say, “Trust me.” Only I know I can’t trust anyone here, because no one is telling me anything. However, he is the only person here I’ve even been tempted to trust.
“You’re Susan,” he says, half question, half statement.
“Yes,” I respond, not sure if I’ve given into this urge to trust him, or if I’m simply unable to break the habits of polite society.
He kneels so he is on eye level with me, and while the movement has brought him closer to me, I don’t feel a desire to move away. Rob’s face is a mix of curiosity and distress. “Do you want to be here?”
It is the first time anyone has asked me this, and though I know I don’t want to be held captive in this place, I feel an intense need to clarify his question. “Do I want to be here with you right now? Or do you mean in general, in this place?”
He raises an eyebrow, and one corner of his mouth ticks upward into a half smile, but it melts away momentarily. “Here in this facility. Did you come here of your own free will, or are you kept here against your will?”
“Against my will,” I say fervently. He nods, rises, then heads back to the door as quickly as he came. He lifts his arm, waves his key card at the reader to the left of the door, waits for the click, and opens the door slightly. He peeks into the hallway, then turns back to me.
“I will help you get out of here. I will come back for you. I promise.” With that, he slips out and gently pulls the door shut. I am alone and dumbstruck. I feel certain of one thing, though. He spoke the truth: he will come back for me.
R.J. Crayton grew up in Illinois and now lives in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC. She is a fiction writer by day and a ninja mom by night (What is a ninja mom, you ask? It’s the same as a regular mom, only by adding the word ninja, it explicitly reveals the stealth and awesomeness required for the job of mom). Before having children, Crayton was a journalist. She’s worked at big publications like the Wichita Eagle and the Kansas City Star, and little publications like Solid Waste Report and Education Technology News. Her first novels, Life First and Second Life, were published in 2013. The third novel in the series will be released in 2014. Crayton is a monthly contributor to the Indies Unlimited blog and a regular contributor to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies blog.
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