Check out the sample chapter I’m submitting for the James Patterson Co-writing Contest! I’m really excited about this story, and so impatient to get the whole thing out there. The submission deadline is tomorrow, and I’m doing the final tweaks tonight, so if you have any feedback (which I would LOVE), be sure to submit it in the comments ASAP!
Thanks again for all the support!
The chapter I’m submitting is the second chapter, when the main character, Charlie, has just come home from a week-long business trip to find someone else living there.
“Your house?” Charlie sputtered. Her fear was subsiding, and in its place she felt a rising wave of righteous anger. “This is my house. I’ve lived here for the past ten years. Where are my things? Where’s my husband? Where are my children?”
The last words came out in a breathy scream, as the fear came back and squeezed her guts. Where were her kids? The world was so big, and if she couldn’t count on finding them in her home, if other people were in her home, then where could they be? Where in the wide, wide world could they be? This man, he was in her house, he must know something –
The man had stopped stalking down the stairs. His expression softened, from outrage into something approaching sympathy.
“Is your husband’s name Jason?”
“Yes! Jason Maddox!” Relief flooded her. This was some weird mistake. He knew her husband. “How do you know him? Are you a client? Where is he?”
The man was looking at her, surprised. “I bought the house from him. I just closed last week and got moved in. You didn’t know -” The confusion in his face cleared up a bit, the sympathy returning. “Oh, are you going through a divorce? You didn’t know he was selling the house? I’m real sorry you’re finding out like this.”
Charlie was floored. And outraged. “A divorce? No. My husband and I are very happily married, thank you. Something else must be going on here. This is our dream home. We are raising our children here. He wouldn’t just move, and not tell me.” The words sounded crazy as soon as she spoke them. Move, and not tell me. “We’re happy!”
“Lady, I hate to break it to you, but you are obviously not as happily married as you thought. I never met your husband, but I started looking at this house three months ago, and I’m not sure how long it was on the market before that, but this has been in the works for at least that long. I’ve had an appraiser come out, and a home inspector, all on different days. It’s not exactly a spur of the moment purchase.”
“I want to see them.”
“What? What do you mean? See what?” The man stared at her as if she wasn’t making any sense.
“The closing documents. If you bought my house, you’ll have the papers to prove it.”
He stared at her for a moment, and she suddenly realized that her most immediate concern might not be her missing family. She was alone, in a secluded house, with a stranger. And a large, muscle-bound stranger, at that. She took a step back nervously in the direction of the front door, ready to bolt if he tried to come closer.
The stranger could see her sudden fear of him. He said, slowly, “I understand. You walk in and find a stranger in your house, and you can’t just take his word. I’m not going to come closer to you. I’m going to go to the office and get the paperwork. You can stay by the door.” Without waiting for her to reply, he walked steadily to the glass-paned french doors of the office and disappeared inside. Years ago, when she and Jason had been house-hunting, flushed with the giddiness of newlyweds, that beautiful, wood paneled library had filled her with a different kind of passion: to buy this house, at its extraordinarily undervalued price, and turn it into a home.
He returned and handed her a legal-sized vinyl envelope, thick with papers. She opened it, and quickly leafed through. She noted a page with her address on it, and felt faint. When she saw Jason’s signature on one of the pages midway through, she stuffed the papers back in the package and handed it back to the man.
“Mr. -” Charlie didn’t know the name of the man living in her house. She looked at him questioningly.
“Hyde. Jack Hyde.”
“Mr. Hyde. I’m going to call my husband, get this figured out.”
“Call me Jack. That sounds like a good idea. Please, have a seat in the living room. Can I get you something to drink?”
Charlie realized she was parched, from her long trip and from the panic that was sucking her dry. “Some water would be perfect. Thank you.”
As he wandered off to the kitchen – MY kitchen, she thought – she pulled out her cell phone and hit the icon to call Jason. She knew this was a misunderstanding. She couldn’t think of how this had happened, or why, but she knew that as soon as she spoke to Jason, he would explain everything. She was angry, and scared, but she also knew she would forgive him as soon as he expl-
“The subscriber you have dialed is not in service. If you feel you have received this message in error please hang up and try your call again later.”
Charlie’s mind went blank as her phone slipped from her hand, and all she could feel was the confusion and anxiety of the past ten minutes explode into full blown terror, racing from her heart, through her blood, filling every nook and cranny of her body with icy heat. Her stomach clenched with nausea, and her head felt like it was packed with cotton.
She couldn’t breathe. What was going on? Where was her family, oh, God, her kids!
Jack walked in, water glass in hand. When she didn’t immediately take the offered glass, he set it on the coffee table and looked at her. She was breathing heavily, in the throes of a panic attack; she registered his presence, but it meant nothing. He was just part of the background roar accompanying the terrible hammering beat in her head.
Without a word, he went back to the kitchen (MY kitchen, some little part of her brain insisted) and returned with a small brown paper lunch bag. He held the bag up to her face.
“Breathe into it. Just breathe. That’s right, long breath in through your nose, long breath out through your mouth.” His words were detached and calm, meant to be soothing, but they grated on her.
“I know how to do it!” she snapped back, snatching the bag. She closed her eyes and focused on her air, directing it through her body, into the bag and back in through her nose. Slowly, the pounding pain and the rhythmic roar receded. She was light headed, still anxious, but she thought she could function.
She held the bag out to Jack. “Thank you, that was kind. I’m sorry I was short; anxiety makes me cranky.” Cranky. That was something she would say to Ollie or Zoe, not to another adult. Their sweet little faces flashed in her mind, and her heart kicked up again. She pulled the bag back up to her face and took a few more breaths before holding it out again.
Jack smiled sympathetically. “Why don’t you hold onto it for a bit?”
She nodded, and dropped the bag into her lap. She knew she should say something about what just happened, but she wasn’t sure she even knew what happened. A man was in her house. Jason sold the house. Jason’s phone was disconnected. Those were facts. She just didn’t know what to do with them, where to put them so they fit together to give her the whole picture.
Jack spoke softly as he interrupted her thoughts, as if he didn’t want to startle her. “So, um, I don’t want to get you upset again, but clearly something happened. Do you want to tell me? I’ll help, if I can.”
Help. She needed help, from someone. But who? Over the years, her few casual friendships had drifted away as her husband, and then later, her children took over every minute that wasn’t already committed to work. Her home was in town but on twelve acres, too far from the nearest neighbors for them to have become, well, neighborly. She was friendly but not friends with her coworkers. Her parents were dead, and the one person she had ever called a best friend had been out of her life for eleven years.
The police. This is what the police were for, to help people that bad things were happening to. She would tell the police, they would investigate and find her family.
Charlie turned to Jack. “I think we should call the police.” At the look of protest on his face, she said hurriedly, “I understand that you didn’t do anything wrong. You bought this house” my house, whispered her mind, “in good faith. But that being said, my family is missing. I don’t believe Jason would voluntarily do anything like this, so clearly someone has forced him to do this. Maybe it wasn’t even Jason that sold the house to you; you said you never met him. But my family is out there somewhere, possibly in danger, and I don’t have the first idea where to look. I also have nowhere else to go, so if you would allow me to stay here for a bit longer while I get things worked out, that would be very helpful, and very much appreciated.”
Jack was silent for a moment, thoughtful, then looked as if he had made a decision. He looked at Charlie and said directly, “It’s already late. You’re going to spend some time dealing with the police, and you look like you’re about to fall over right now. Why don’t you call the police and then put your things in the guest room while you wait for them to get here? You can stay here tonight.”
Charlie was taken aback. “Stay here? Jack, it’s very nice of you to offer, but you don’t know me, and I don’t know you. I don’t think that would be comfortable for either of us.”
“I know that this was your house, that your family is missing, and you’re in shock. In spite of my reaction when I found you in the house, I’m not unsympathetic. I actually feel a bit guilty for my part in… whatever this is. If you have somewhere else to go, that’s fine, but you just said you didn’t, and I noticed that you haven’t tried calling anyone else, so I’m guessing you’re stranded. Besides, if I was going to be a threat to you, well – you’re calling the police, right? So if anything happened to you, I’d be their first suspect.”
Charlie smiled a little. “What if I’m the threat? You’re trusting a woman that broke into your house and said it was hers.”
Jack smiled back. “I’m pretty good at taking care of myself. And if you were trying to scam me, you’d probably come up with something a bit more believable.”
The smile left Charlie’s face, and she stared at her lap. How could she joke right now? Jason, Ollie, Zoe – their names were a staccato rhythm in her head. She had to find them…
Focus. Jack’s proposition was tempting; she was so tired, and was exhausted just by the thought of getting another cab, driving to a hotel and checking in, after talking to the police. But staying here, in her home that was no longer her home, was worse.
A niggling thought buzzed in the back of her head. Credit card. Her debit card had been declined in the cab. If her house was sold, and Jason’s phone was disconnected, did she even have access to their accounts? She had a little cash left, but she would need a credit card to get a room.
Until she figured out what she had left in the morning, she would have to spend the night here.
Charlie straightened her spine and lifted her chin. “Thank you, Jack. I accept.”
Picking her phone up off the floor, she dialed 911. “I need assistance at 2259 Miller Road.”