Shadowed Footsteps Chapters 1 & 2
Exploited Innocence is being published February 1, 2022. New Release.
Writing Exploited Innocence was fun to write. It was one of those books that the twists and turns were very compelling to write. The back story is becoming clearer and you are learning who all the players are. It was one of those stories that took a while to write as it wanted to go off on different tangents but I finally reined it in and am thrilled with where it went. If you haven’t read what sparked the idea, click here.
Here is Chapter 1 & 2 of Exploited Innocence, for you to read.
I thought this would be a great way for you to get to know my work and read some of my latest book. You’ll know right away if it’s for you.
It is available for Pre-Order.
Exploited Innocence is book 3 in The Twisted Deception Suspense Thriller Mystery Series. All books in the series have standalone stories, no cliffhangers for it. But the story running in the background, the story that connects all the books, will keep you reading. Who is behind sending out the gems and what is their end game? An engaging thriller mystery with some interesting twists. Enjoy!
Exploited Innocence Book Blurb
Taesa will do anything to save her mom from the Alzheimer’s disease that is destroying her.
Taesa has started a new job, one that she loves but is hoping will give her the connections she needs. Her boss, though, has a past that is coming back with a vengeance and is putting Taesa squarely in the middle. Being pulled in many directions, Taesa has a difficult decision to make – lose her mom to the disease or destroy someone else’s life in the hope she can save her mom’s.
Kal has been entrusted with his mom’s million-dollar jewelry. Ones that are linked to a mysterious and sketchy past. There has already been more than one attempt at stealing them. If that isn’t enough, Kal’s adopted teenage sister comes to stay with him and is determined to find her real mom and dad. With or without his help. She has run away once and she seems to know more about the jewelry and their real value. And will use them if they will help find her real parents.
Taesa and Kal are asked to work together. Kal’s mom and Taesa’s boss’s have a past that is intricately connected not only to each other but to that of the jewelry that is being sent to each of the foster sisters. Their snooping puts them in the path of those wanting to hide their true identity and to keep the past in the past. Those people also want that jewelry. They will do anything to get it. Lie. Kidnap. Even kill.
Marlisa grew up in a Foster Home run by Mrs. Stephanos. Now, thirty-five years later, the bauble she played with as a child, has arrived. And it is worth over a million dollars. She is the fourth of the foster sisters to receive her jewelry. But who is sending them out? And what is their end game?
She picked up the sapphire bracelet/ring combination and held it in her white-gloved hands. That was rule number one: Never touch the jewelry without first putting on white gloves. It seemed so silly, but if it meant she could hold them, then she would. She’d never seen anything so beautiful. She could have done like some of her other foster sisters and ignored that rule, but she also didn’t want this to be taken from her. It was hers to care for. Even if it was fake. She could spend hours just staring at it.
Her sisters started calling her Sapphire, which made her more than happy. None of them used their own names. They got to choose. Each of them had chosen to use the name of the jewel they were taking care of.
A jewel was an odd thing for a child, a teenager really, to be given to watch over. Not that it was ever with her. Other than in the old, dilapidated train car that sat out back, half buried in the ground. The Can, as they called it. Inside though, it was a nice place to be. It wasn’t too warm, and it wasn’t too cold. The temperature was perfect. Each piece of jewelry was under glass, carefully arranged. There were so many pieces. Not that she got to see them. Each was in a separate room. At least, that’s what she assumed. She had to go by what her sisters told her. Not that they always told the truth, but since they each spent time in there, she had to guess it was true.
If each of them had a jewel, then there were at least eight. But she had heard that there were more. And that some had gone missing. She had no idea what happened to them, they were just gone. Mrs. Stephanos never explained about them, ever. The girls were lectured on taking care of them and ensuring they were safe. At times, she would wear one of the pieces of jewelry, like she was flaunting it. If she wasn’t happy with one of the girls, that’s whose jewelry she would wear. It was so mean.
Sapphire tried to avoid Mrs. Stephanos as much as possible. She scared her. Her biggest fear was that one day, Mrs. Stephanos would make her jewelry vanish as well. Until then, though, she was going to spend as much time with it as she could.
The brilliant blue of the sapphire made her think of her brother’s eyes. Dean had been such a happy guy. His eyes always lit up, especially when he’d see her. It’s what kept her going, thinking about him and that warm feeling he had always given her. She was sure that was what had drawn her to this piece of jewelry in the first place. Her brother…
Tears leaked out of her eyes. She swiped at them, knowing that if she was caught showing any emotion, especially tears or a runny nose that could splash onto the jewelry, she’d be banned. For a long time. She couldn’t risk that.
She allowed herself one last thought of her brother. He’d been standing with his shoulders sagging, his large moon eyes looking at her, tears and snot running down his face. His big round face. The one that many had made fun of. But to her, he’d always been her champion. Why he had been born with Down syndrome, she didn’t understand. But she wouldn’t have changed anything about him. She’d been lucky to have been raised with him, that her mom hadn’t sent him away. But then her mom died and her father, who’d left because of Dean and his disability, wasn’t about to deal with him. He’d immediately put his son, her brother, in an institution. Sapphire had cried and screamed so much that it had annoyed their new stepmom. Sapphire had soon found herself shipped off and had become part of the foster system.
There was a soft whoosh. It was the sound of the big door opening. She swiped at her face and pinched her cheeks so that her entire face would be red. She kept her head tucked into her shoulder.
It was Ruby. Her voice came through the closed door. It was one of the rules: Close and lock the door behind you when you were in The Can and when you weren’t. Ruby was always trying to be nice, but Sapphire wasn’t going there. She didn’t want to make friends. The only thing she wanted was to get back to her brother. And that wasn’t going to happen. Not until she could get out of there. Not until she had a way of supporting them both.
She gently placed the sapphire bracelet and ring set down on the velvet bed. The bracelet was a wide white-gold band that had sapphires adorning it, in the shape of a moon and star that crossed over. There was a thin white-gold chain that linked the bracelet to a white-gold ring that had a beautiful large sapphire sitting up prominently, tiny diamonds surrounding it. She gave it one last longing look before sliding closed the glass cover and locking it.
Stepping into the hallway, quickly closing and locking the door behind her, she ignored her stepsister, Ruby, who stood in the hall waiting for her. When Sapphire gave her a stern look, Ruby scurried outside. Taking a moment to herself, Sapphire stood in the darkened hallway for a moment before making her way outside. As soon as she stepped out, she realized she was still wearing her gloves, that were mandatory to put them on before handling the jewelry. Although she was pretty sure she was the only one to wear them. She leaned back and tossed the gloves onto the bench just inside the door. She’d get heck for not putting them away, but she couldn’t go back in. Emotions were clogging her throat. Everyone else was out working. Two of her foster sisters, Emerald and the new one, were feeding the pigs. Another was tilling the garden. Another was trimming the bushes near the house. She had no idea where the other two, Opal and Amethyst, were. They were always missing. Always in trouble. Mrs. Stephanos wasn’t anywhere in sight, either.
Slipping around behind the large metal canister, The Can, Sapphire walked up the rocky, moss-covered incline and down the other side. She stopped at the small creek. Slipping off her shoes, she stepped into the chilly water and walked through the creek until she came to within about ten feet of the fence. It was electrified. It crossed over the stream, above the water, although now that it was spring, the water was much higher, leaving only inches between the fence and the water. The girls weren’t allowed on the other side of the fence. But that didn’t stop some of them. It had always stopped Sapphire. She wasn’t too interested in the outside world.
She looked down at the water and then at the fence. One of the first things Mrs. Stephanos had taught them was about electricity and water. If you wanted to die, it worked. It was simple and fast. Sapphire had seen a squirrel get fried. When it was scampering across the wire, it slipped and its tail hit the water.
Sapphire moved a step closer. It wasn’t pretty but it would solve everything. She lifted her hand, slowly stretching out her fingers.
“Do it. Just do it.”
Sapphire spun around. Amethyst was standing a few feet behind her. Sapphire should have been paying attention. Amethyst wasn’t someone you turned your back on. Ever. Her eyes looked wild. Cold. Her black hair looked like it had been caught in a windstorm, wild and tangled. Her large, pointed nose even more pronounced. All she needed was a black witch’s hat and a black cat and she’d fill those shoes easily.
She was high on something. It seemed to be her almost constant state. She and Opal were always high. Sapphire had no idea where they got the drugs from. She didn’t care what they were up to, as long as they left her alone. What bothered her was that Jade, sweet, innocent Jade, was starting to follow them around like a puppy. It made her sad, but it wasn’t her problem. She just wanted to be left alone.
Sapphire edged to the side, knowing she needed to get away from the water.
“Chicken?” Amethyst edged toward her, bending her legs, crouching. She looked like a cat ready to pounce.
Sapphire dove to the side, just as Amethyst dove for her.
“Leave now or I’ll call Security.”
“No. Please. He can help.”
“I get it, but you have to stop stalking Dr. Ranitz. Leave. Now.”
“Please. My mom—”
The woman gave her one last ‘are you leaving look’ before she picked up the phone. “Security. We need you…”
Taesa spun on her heel, yanked open the door, and darted into the hallway. A security guard headed down the hall toward her. She sprinted the other direction.
She yanked open the exit door and ran down the three flights of stairs and outside. She didn’t quit running for several blocks, not until she was sure she wasn’t being followed. Slowing, she took in some deep, slow breaths.
She’d failed. Again. This was her last chance. There was no way Dr. Ranitz was going to see her now. Her head pounded with what she should have done. How she could have approached this differently. What could she do now? So much buzzed through her mind that she was barely taking in what was around her. She walked. Unable to think. Unable to process.
Everything had gone wrong. How? What she needed was so simple. Why wouldn’t anyone listen to her?
A man was down on his hands and knees on a lawn. It wasn’t shocking, but it was enough to bring her awareness to the present. Her first thought was that he was drunk and puking. A reminder of her graduation adventure, a long time ago. Her mom had said it had been a good lesson for her. A sharp pain jabbed at her heart as she thought about the woman who’d raised her. The woman she was losing.
The man moved. He seemed to be studying something. She moved a bit closer and leaned down slightly but kept her distance. He turned his head slightly, which was when she realized he had Down syndrome. Unsure whether he was okay or not, she stepped closer.
He was so intent on what he was doing, it was like a magnet drawing her to check it out. She stepped onto the lawn and bent at the waist to see what he was looking at so intently. He had a pair of scissors and appeared to be cutting the grass.
The song, “The Sounds of Silence,” started playing on her phone. She straightened and ripped it out of her pocket.
“Hi, dear. How are you?”
Taesa’s legs almost gave out from under her. “Goo…” She cleared her throat, forcing a light happy tone to her voice. “Sorry, I was just eating something. I’m good. How are you?”
“It’s a good day, dear. I’m so sorry that you have to go through this. I wish I could stop it.”
Me too. Taesa blinked back the emotion that was threatening to bring on a tidal wave of tears. She might not be able to stop her mom’s Alzheimer’s, but she was going to try.
“What are you working on now?” She wished she could call back that question. Her mom had always been a busy woman, so artistic. She’d always been creating something new. Now, that question often triggered confusion. Taesa pressed the fingers of her left hand into her temple to ease the throbbing that had started. “I told you about my new job, right? I work at Marlisa’s Moment. It’s a good show. I know you’ve watched it a time or two.” After Taesa had gotten the job, she’d had her mom’s worker show it to her on the internet.
“That’s right. You’re helping with planning the show or something?”
No, just the assistant. “Yeah, I have a bit of a say in what happens. I’m really enjoying it.”
“I’m proud of you. I love you.”
“Love you too, Mom.”
“When are you coming to visit?”
Taesa closed her eyes for a moment. That had been the downfall of moving to Vancouver, it put distance between her and her mom. But it had also been the good part. She didn’t have to be there to watch her mom forget who she was.
“Well, that’s nice.”
The shift in her mom’s tone was subtle, but Taesa knew what it meant. She cupped her hand over her mouth as she held the phone away. The last thing she wanted was for her mom to hear her cry.
“I’ve got to go. It looks like Nurse Ratched is headed my way.” One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was one of her mom’s favorite movies. The fact that she remembered Nurse Ratched and connected her to where she was living was ironic but heartbreaking at the same time.
There was silence. Her mom had hung up. Her mom had forgotten who she was. Her mom was gone, again. Taesa had to get her help. Feeling weak-kneed, she leaned against a tree at the end of the driveway.
The voice was gentle, but it startled Taesa. She looked over her shoulder. The man with Down Syndrome was looking at her with a kind, open expression.
“Yeah. My mom’s not well.” Why she felt the need to tell him, she wasn’t sure but there was a gentleness about him that was very compelling.
“My mom left me. She died. But that’s okay, I know she doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“That’s okay. It was a long time ago. I still talk to her, though. What’s wrong with your mom?”
“She has Alzheimer’s. She forgets things.”
“That’s not good. I forget things too, but I know it’s not the same.”
Taesa smiled. “No. It’s not the same.”
“Okay.” He waved his hand. “I have to get back to work.”
Taesa moved closer to see what he was doing. He was cutting the grass. With scissors.
She looked around. There was no sign of anyone. She glanced toward the house. No one was standing at the window. “Wouldn’t a lawnmower or weedwhacker be easier?”
“No. Doesn’t make it even.” He got up, walked about three feet, got back down and started snipping away again with the scissors.
“Is this your place?”
Taesa couldn’t help but smile. He gave as much information as her boss, Marlisa, often did. A car pulled into the driveway. A tall man got out and leaned over the top of the car, looking at the man on his lawn.
“Yeah, Kal. Just about finished.”
“You’re doing a great job.”
Taesa’s brows furrowed. She walked over to the man who’d just arrived. He ducked back inside the car and came out with a bag of groceries.
His head snapped around to look at her. “Uh—who are you?”
“Your guy is cutting the grass with scissors.”
“I know. He does an incredible job.” Kal stepped back, closing his car door with his hip. He chuckled.
“You find it funny that he’s busting his ass doing something so ridiculous? What the hell is wrong with you?” Taesa spun on her heel.
“Hey, if you can get him to stop, be my guest.”
Taesa marched over to the man on the ground. “Excuse me. What’s your name?”
“Sorry. I’m Taesa.”
“Charlie. I’m busy.”
Taesa smiled. “I see that. Does this man always make you work so hard?” She flipped her thumb toward Kal, who she noted had moved to his veranda, his bag of groceries at his feet, his eyes glued on the two of them. A half smirk curled his lips.
Charlie reared up on his knees. “Kal is nice. Kal is good. You be nice to him. He’s my friend.”
Taken aback by Charlie’s anger, she stepped back. “I hope he pays you.”
“Yes. You say sorry.”
“I’m sorry, Charlie. I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”
“K. I have another boss, but Kal’s the best.” He smiled at her, all animosity gone. He went back to manicuring the lawn.
Taesa realized she had stuck her nose where it didn’t belong. She took a few steps back, intending to walk away.
She glanced up at the tall man she’d accosted. Heat bloomed in her cheeks in an instant. “I… uh…”
“Hey. Don’t worry about it. Charlie has that effect. Believe me, I have tried to get him to stop. I want to show you something.” He tilted his head sideways and back. “Go around the back of the house. I’ll meet you there. I just have to put these in the kitchen.”
Taesa cautiously went around the side of the house. Kal came out the back door. He walked to a shed in the back corner and yanked open the door.
“I bought him all of this. I even bought a lawnmower. He uses it but says it cuts uneven.”
Taesa peeked inside. It was full of gardening stuff. “I’m an idiot. I get it.”
“Maybe. But great to see that you were willing to stick up for Charlie. Not many do that.”
Their eyes met. A feeling of warmth filled her. The attraction was instant. And not something she had time for. Nor the energy. “I have to go.” She spun around, but Kal was soon walking beside her. As they rounded the side of the house, Charlie looked up from his position on the grass.
“You should wear runners, not heels. They hurt the grass.”
“Okay, Charlie.” Feeling totally taken to task, she started to walk away.
“I’m done. I’ll come with you.” Charlie got up, waved at Kal, and left with her.
She wracked her brain for something to say. “Do you live near here?”
He shook his head.
“Sorry I wasn’t trying… It’s okay. You’re right, don’t tell strangers where you live.”
“Mom taught me that. Sorry about your mom. Does she live with you?”
“No. No, she lives in a nursing home.”
“Oh, she’s old.”
“It’s okay to be sad.”
Charlie’s words almost had her bursting into tears. She felt powerless. As they rounded the corner, a dark green sleek car pulled up, level with them. The passenger window eased down.
Her body instantly went rigid, and if it hadn’t been for Charlie being with her, she’d have blasted the man with much more colorful language.
“Who do you think you are? I am—”
Charlie climbed into the car. “It’s my boss. Bye, Taesa.” He didn’t look too happy.
Taesa frowned as they drove away. Why she’d thought the man was talking to her, she wasn’t sure. Feeling foolish, she berated herself for acting like such an idiot. She was making snap, nasty judgments about people she’d just met. Her mom would be so disappointed in how she was acting. Definitely not how she’d taught her. And sadly, it was more like how her mom was now showing up. Her personality was changing. The kind, gentle woman who’d raised her, now had moments of aggression and moments of uncontrollable anxiety. Her life, her essence was disappearing from her mind.
Taesa choked back her tears as she made her way home. What was happening to her mom wasn’t fair, but it didn’t excuse her acting like an ass to everyone. And it wasn’t going to make her friends, which she might need, if she was going to be able to get her mom the help she needed.
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Multi-Award winning author, Maggie Thom loves the challenge of creating a web of secrets, lies and deceit. She doesn’t want you to figure it out until the end. Author of The Caspian Wine Suspense/Thriller/Mystery Series – Captured Lies (Award Winning), Deceitful Truths & Split Seconds (award winning) - and her other individual novels Tainted Waters (2013 Suspense/Thriller Book of the Year through Turning the Pages Magazine), Deadly Ties, Fractured Lines, and Blurred Lines (free on her website maggiethom.com). Her new series, The Twisted Deception Series - Fostered Identity, Shadowed Footsteps, Exploited Innocence (2022), Lost Tears (2022), and Last Betrayal (2022). Take the roller coaster ride. It’s worth it.
Her motto: Read to escape… Escape to read…
Her motto: Read to escape… Escape to read…
"Maggie Thom… proves her strength as a master of words, plots and finely chiseled characters… she weaves a brilliant cloth of the many colors of deceit.”Dii - TomeTender
"Maggie Thom writes a fast paced thriller laced with romance that keeps the reader interested and on edge!" InDtale Magazine