I’m excited to announce that Before The Nine Days is now available on Amazon. It’s Book Number 3 in the Katie Collins Romance serial, but this one is also a mystery. I’ve attached the prologue and first chapter for your reading pleasure.
Before The Nine Days
Katie Collins sat staring at the TV in her college dorm room, a stunned expression on her face. What she was watching was not only the popular TV show Unsolved Mysteries, but she was also watching the most painful piece of her life thus far be reenacted on national television.
As she sat on her desk chair looking at the television, her mouth hanging open, her brown hair pulled back in a rubber band, and Michael Jackson’s I Just Can’t Stop Loving You playing in the background, she listened as the host explained the new clues that had recently come up in the case and asked people to call in if they had more information.
She felt her chest tighten and her stomach cramp up as pictures flashed before her of her friend that had mysteriously disappeared while she was in high school and how her lifeless body had turned up in the woods three months later. The TV show flashed a picture of Katie, Mara, and Stacy. The girls had been fondly known around the neighborhood as the Three Musketeers. Katie twisted the ring from a bubblegum machine on her finger as she watched. The other two musketeers had each worn similar rings. It could have been any of them that ended up in the woods that day, but it had been Stacy.
Stacy’s picture appeared on the screen as the TV show host continued to narrate, telling how Stacy had been raped and stabbed sixteen times before her lifeless body had been dismembered and spread throughout a wooded area a few miles from where the girls had lived.
“Stabbed sixteen times,” the narrator commented. “One plunge of the knife for each year of her life.”
Katie hadn’t put the numbers together that way in her head before, and now she turned and vomited into the garbage can next to her desk as the full-screen picture of Stacy stared back at her. Stacy’s long, blonde hair with loose waves was pulled into a ponytail on the side of her head and held with one of the popular scrunchies. She had on the frosted lipstick that the girls had picked out together at the local drug store.
Stacy had been the pretty one in their trio. She had been tall and athletic and outgoing and perfect. She was everything that Katie wished she was. The girls had grown up on the same tree-lined street in St. Clair Shores, Michigan and had been friends since their first day walking home from school together.
Katie lifted her head from the garbage can as the narrator wrapped up the segment by stating that a recent tip suggested there was now a chance that a car crash was tied to the crime. Katie didn’t think it was possible to be more horrified than she already was. The car crash that was now linked to Stacy’s death was the crash that had killed her parents.
“There is a $100,000 reward offered for any information that leads to the solving of this heinous mystery that took place two years ago.”
Katie knew it was Stacy’s father, Pete Dresden, that had put up the money for the reward. Just as the girls had been a trio, their fathers had become a trio after years of driving the girls around and attending school events. The odd similarity was that someone was also missing from that trio now. Katie’s father.
Katie put a clammy hand on her hot forehead. She wasn’t feeling well. Memories and fear that she had attended therapy for and tried so hard to suppress were all rushing back, and now her head dropped forward, her arms wrapped around herself, and she began to rock gently as all of the memories that she’d never intended to think of again came rushing back. They were not only memories of her youth but of her last day of innocence. She didn’t notice the light blinking on her answering machine.
The three high school juniors sat around a table in the dining room of Katie’s family home. Homework and books were spread all over the table, a plate of cookies in the center. Giggling and whispering could be heard as far as the front porch as Mara, Katie, and Stacy enjoyed a life of normalcy that they had no idea was about to change.
“Robby Vianne is so totally cool,” gushed Stacy.
“Totally,” chirped in Katie.
“And his dad just got him that red convertible,” Mara followed up. “He’s so totally lucky.”
“Totally,” chirped Katie again. All of them had spent their high school careers trying to speak like “Valley Girls,” a trend that had swept the nation, and now they couldn’t turn it off if they wanted to.
“But I think Kit Carson is cuter and, like, he’s way smarter too,” Mara threw in.
“He’s totally cute,” Katie agreed.
“I’d kiss him,” Stacy commented thoughtfully.
“You’d kiss half the school if you could,” Mara commented.
Stacy let out a squawk as she threw the half-eaten cookie in her hand at Mara. “Would not!”
Mara dodged the cookie. “Would too. And don’t waste perfectly good cookies.”
Stacy looked at Katie remorsefully. “Sorry, Kates.” “Kates” had been Stacy’s nickname for Katie since they were about eight. It had started when Katie wouldn’t share her cookies at school, and Stacy had said, “It’s Kate’s. Everything is Kate’s.” Fortunately, she’d gotten better at sharing, or just bringing extra cookies, but the nickname had stuck. “But you would want to kiss Kit too, wouldn’t you?”
“Katie doesn’t kiss anyone,” Mara cut in again.
Now Katie felt defensive. “I might kiss him.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” Mara cut in.
Stacy was giggling now, knowing the trouble she’d started. Both of the other girls had had boyfriends, albeit short term, but Katie had never really had any attention from guys, so there hadn’t been any opportunity. At least that’s how she saw it.
“It doesn’t sound like you girls are getting very much homework done.”
They all turned to see Katie’s mother leaning against the door frame to the kitchen, her arms crossed, and a smile on her face that told them that she had been listening to their conversation.
Katie’s mom was 5’6” with shoulder-length brown hair that she set in curlers every day. Like Katie, she was an average-looking woman, but she kept herself put together impeccably in a way that turned heads wherever she went.
“I think we’d work better if we were listening to the new George Michael tape,” Stacy commented, looking slyly at Mrs. Collins. She knew Katie’s mom had a crush on George Michael.
“There’s a new George Michael tape out?” Katie’s mother’s demeanor instantly changed.
“Totally,” Stacy replied.
“Yeah, totally,” Katie and Mara responded.
“I think we should go back to my house and get it,” Stacy offered.
Her mother’s regular persona returned. “How much longer do you need to spend on your homework? You should get that done first.”
“We’re practically done,” Mara told her.
“Yeah, practically,” Katie followed up the little lie.
Her mother hesitated before smiling. “Okay, get it and come right back. I expect this homework to get done tonight before we go to your grandparents’ house for dinner.”
Katie’s grandparents lived in a house on the other side of the block from her parents, and they usually went there via a secret path in the backyard that led to a gate that adjoined the two properties.
Katie nodded her promise to finish the homework, and the girls squealed as they jumped up, ran through the living room, and onto the front porch where their fathers sat drinking their after-work beers.
“Wait, wait, wait. Where are you girls going in such a rush?” Mr. Dresden questioned.
Katie looked back as the other two bounced down the front steps. She’d always liked Stacy’s dad. He had brown hair combed neatly to the side and still had his work shirt on, the top button undone. He was a prosecutor at the Attorney General’s Office in town and always had the inside scoop on everything.
“Back to Stacy’s house to get the new George Michael tape,” Katie informed.
She saw her dad roll his eyes, his reddish-brown hair catching in the breeze and causing him to look disheveled. “Was that your idea or your mother’s?”
Katie giggled as she followed her friends down the sidewalk and yelled back over her shoulder, “Both!”
Stacy’s house was two blocks down the same street, and the girls walked in a huddle of giggles down the sidewalk, not making especially fast progress.
“We should get your mom a George Michael poster for her birthday,” Stacy teased as she walked backwards in front of Katie and Mara.
“My dad would totally flip out,” Katie countered with a laugh.
“Do you think he’s worried your mom will run off with George Michael?” Mara teased on.
“I don’t know,” Katie answered thoughtfully. “Don’t you think he’s just too good looking? Like, why isn’t he a supermodel?”
“I know,” Stacy followed up, still walking backwards. “There’s, like, nothing wrong with him. He’s perfect.”
Mara nodded in agreement. “Totally.”
The sound of an engine behind them caused the girls to pause their walk and turn.
“Hi, Robby,” Stacy waved as the long, red convertible pulled up next to the girls. Stacy ran over boldly and leaned on the window ledge, her jean shorts looking especially short as she bent at the waist to arrive at face level with the driver.
“Hey, beautiful,” he addressed her casually as he lifted his hand to give her chin a little lift in jest. “Where are you guys going?”
Katie and Mara held back shyly as Stacy boldly spoke to the cutest senior in school. “We’re heading back to my place to get my new George Michael tape.”
“Now, what’s George Michael got that I haven’t got?”
Stacy looked back at her friends, and they all giggled.
“Why don’t you let me give you a ride, Stace?”
Stacy looked back at her friends who just stood there uninvited and dumbly watching before she shrugged at them. “I’ll go get it with Robby and be back at your house in ten minutes,” she yelled gleefully as she skipped around the car.
“Do you want us to come with you?” Katie offered as she stepped forward.
“Nah. You guys go get a head start on the pre-calc, and I’ll be right back.”
Mara and Katie looked uncomfortably at each other. “Are you sure?” Mara followed up.
“See you in ten!” Stacy squealed from the front seat.
The two girls watched the car squeal out of its parked spot and speed down the street.
Katie had a bad feeling in her stomach. She didn’t like Robby. He was too confident, too privileged, and too handsome; but there was just something else about him that she didn’t trust.
“Wanna head back?” Mara asked as she started to turn and walk towards Katie’s house.
“Yeah,” Katie responded as she turned and then looked back over her shoulder for a car that was no longer there.