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Have You Seen Her?
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Denise gives an overview of the book:

Wealthy Santa Barbara socialite, Marcia Hadley lives in a mansion overlooking the Pacific. She drives a new Jaguar and has all of the creature comforts most average women long for. But when her life becomes unbearable, she assumes another identity and flees to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Marcia never expects her move to the inner city and her minimum wage job to end up being the best things that ever happened to her.
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Wealthy Santa Barbara socialite, Marcia Hadley lives in a mansion overlooking the Pacific. She drives a new Jaguar and has all of the creature comforts most average women long for. But when her life becomes unbearable, she assumes another identity and flees to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Marcia never expects her move to the inner city and her minimum wage job to end up being the best things that ever happened to her.

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Chapter One  

 

When Marcia Hadley opened her eyes, she was crumbled in a heap in the corner of the kitchen. The stillness of the house echoed in her ears. He’s gone.She struggled to focus before her blurred vision drifted down to the front of her blouse.Blood!

The pounding inside her head sent her fingers up to the contusion rising on her temple.

I must’ve hit my head on something when I fell.But her head wasn’t bleeding. The slow trickle came from a gash across the base of her neck. The horror of what he’d done to her rendered her immobile. She remained crumpled in the corner of the kitchen until her thoughts became clearer. Her shaking hands fumbled overhead for a dishtowel from the drawer. She pressed it to her neck. After a couple of minutes she hooked her fingers over the edge of the counter and forced her weak legs to stand position. Seconds later the contents of her stomach boiled over into the sink.

The retching finally stopped. She splashed cold water on her face and neck and limped down the hall to the bathroom to check the wound in the mirror. The bleeding had tapered off. It looked like a superficial flesh wound. She willed her hands to be still long enough to mix some peroxide and water, dabbed the slash and covered it with Band-Aids. Her legs had gained enough strength to carry her into the master suite where she stripped off her blood-splattered clothes. She sat on the edge of their California king-size bed rocking with her arms folded across her aching middle. How had her life turned into this nightmare? Why hadn’t she kept her mouth shut?

Glorimar had gone home for the night. They were finishing up dinner.

“I need to talk to you about our vacation plans,” she’d said, dipping into the freshly made flan that Glorimar, their housekeeper had made.“What’s on your mind?” Reggie’s questioning gaze met hers across the beautifully appointed dining table Glorimar always set with a centerpiece of fresh flowers.“I’m concerned about you, honey.”

He rested his spoon on the dessert plate and squinted at her with wariness flashing in his eyes.  “Concerned about me how?

Her stomach clenched at his tone. She had to tread carefully. “I know you like to get a little buzz on every now and then to relax. It just seems like you’ve been relaxing a lot lately.”

He glared at her across the table. “What are you trying to say? Is that why you don’t want to go on vacation?” Razor sharp tension sounded in his voice.

“We don’t do vacations very well anymore.”He shot her a piercing glare. “So you’re saying you don’t want to go?” They took a lot of trips. Marcia couldn’t understand why he even wanted them to vacation together. The last few had been nothing but depressing at best. She didn’t want to take another lonely vacation again. This time she was determined to make her feelings known. “Not unless you plan to spend the time with me and not go off partying in some club while I’m up in the room by myself.” “You could come to the club with me, you know. It wouldn’t hurt you to party with your husband sometimes.”

“I’m sorry, honey. You know I’m not a nightclub person. Besides, it’s hard for me to get excited about another trip when we have issues to be worked out.”

A distinct hardness flashed in his chocolate eyes. “Issues? Why don’t you come right out and say what you mean?” He stood and paced around the dining room, a habit she recognized as the prelude to something physical.Anger flared through his glare. “You need to lighten up, Marsh. You’re only thirty years old, and you act like my grandmother.”

Determined to try to quell his anger before it escalated any further, she pushed back her chair and got up. Without saying a word, she turned her back on him and went into the kitchen to put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. He followed, carrying his plate not putting any space between them. “I want to have fun like anybody else,” she said over her shoulder. “I don’t think I have to get wrecked to do it though. I need to know if you’re all right, Reggie,” she added as sweetly as possible.

“If I’m all right? Why? Do you think I’m becoming dependent?” He spat out the word with contempt.

“It’s possible. We both know people who’ve developed habits. It wasn’t intentional.”

His mouth curved into a crooked sneer. He slammed the plate down, sloshing the dessert onto the countertop. “Well, I’m not one of them. So get off my back!”“I don’t want to see you getting into something you can’t get out of.”“How many times are we going to have this same argument? It’s getting really old. Nothing I do is good enough for you. Why do you have to be such an ungrateful bitch?”“See what I mean? You never screamed at me or called me names. You’re scaring me.”He grabbed her shoulders, whirled her around to face him with such force she didn’t have time to brace herself before he backhanded her across the mouth. “Most women would be happy with the life you have,” he screamed. “I give you everything you could possibly want.

The pain brought with it a rush of tears. Her elbows connected with the kitchen counter before she found her footing. It was getting harder to ignore the wounds inflicted by this man she once loved. Physical ones healed, the emotional and mental ones lingered and festered. His eyes once burned with passion for her and for life. Back when she was a sophomore at UCLA and he was a junior. Her idea of the ultimate California black male, the track star with a laid-back West Coast attitude had mesmerized her. He had money - lots of it. And he wasn’t shy about spending it on her. He’d taken her to Hawaii for the weekend after they’d been dating for only three months. Expensive trips and lavish gifts marked their courtship. Reggie Hadley only had eyes for her. So when he proposed to her, she accepted without hesitation. Now those eyes only burned with anger.

Before she could scramble away, he grabbed her arm and struck her face with his open palm sending a momentary veil of blackness and sparkling lights before her eyes. Stinging pain vibrated through her body. She clutched the edge of the counter to keep from falling. Even though he wasn’t a big man, he was fit and strong. Horror mixed with fear urged her into action.

Fight! Fight him!

With all her strength she rocked back on her heels and jerked out of his grasp. She stumbled and fell to the floor from the force only to be paralyzed by blinding pain as his foot landed between her shoulder blades. She screamed. His twelve-hundred-dollar John Lobb loafers struck her once more sending lightning directly to her brain. He pulled her up by her hair. A flash of light bounced off the carving knife he’d snatched from the rack on the counter and mixed with the colors of pain flashing before her eyes. He’d never drawn a weapon on her before. Fists were his weapons of choice. The bile of panic welled in her throat.

How had they gotten so far from the dream wedding attended by three hundred guests and a reception at the Biltmore Hotel? Their life together as the prince and princess of Santa Barbara black society began with a ten-day honeymoon in Fiji. The gifts and trips continued after the honeymoon and throughout the early years of their marriage while Reggie concentrated on proving himself in the family business. His father convinced the board of directors to reward him with a magnificent salary, and he and Marcia enjoyed the fruits of his labor.The downward spiral had begun three years earlier during their seventh year of marriage. Negative effects of living the “good life” surfaced when Reggie acquired a new set of companions, all equally wealthy. But this new crowd partied hard and experimented with every drug known to mankind.

“I only meant I want us to have a good time together,” she stammered, desperate to calm him down. “Please put that away.”

He leaned toward her, eyes bulging, neck distended, nearly foaming at the mouth with rage “You’re coming with me, and you’re going to learn to loosen up. Do you understand me, Marcia?”

The last thing she remembered before fear sucked her into blackness was Reggie holding the point to her skin and dragging it across the base of her neck.

  

Marcia bought a notebook to keep notes on her plan and hid it under the carpet in the trunk of her car. Since Reggie didn’t maintain their vehicles himself, he would never find it there. She searched the Internet at the office researching possible destinations, making sure to delete everything when she finished, in case he had someone check to see what she’d been up to. Changing her identity meant she’d have to get identification with a new name, something she didn’t have a clue about. But she knew the young security guard at the building that housed the Los Angeles office might. He had an obvious crush on her. In his bodacious and usually awkward attempts to impress her, she’d discovered his life outside of work put him in touch with some of the shadier citizens in the Crenshaw area of Los Angeles. It took her weeks to work up the courage to approach him.

The next time the Hauser Agency held a seminar at the L.A. office, she found him at his post during the lunch break. She approached him trying her best to appear relaxed. “Hi, Tyrique.”

He looked up from his magazine and smiled. “Hello, beautiful. I didn’t know you were here today. What’s up?”

“Today’s our quarterly seminar. I’m on my lunch break right now. Have you had lunch yet?”

“No. I can’t leave until one.”

“I brought you a sandwich and some cookies.” She sat the food she’d pilfered from the meeting buffet on the desk in front of him. “May I talk to you for a minute? I need help with something.”

He unwrapped the sandwich and examined its contents. “Thanks. What do you need?”

She moved closer and whispered to avoid the echo that pervaded the empty lobby. “It’s personal. I’ll need a few minutes to explain.” She felt guilty at the expectation lighting his eyes.

“Tell me what you need. I’ll see if I can help,” he said through a mouthful of turkey, provolone and alfalfa sprouts.

“I’m in trouble and need to leave the state in a hurry.”

“You?” He sounded as if the idea were utterly ridiculous.

“Yes. I need to disappear for a while, but I can’t do that without new identification like a driver’s license, Social Security card, that kind of stuff. They need to be top quality. Do you know anyone who might be able to help me?”

Tyrique almost choked on his lunch. “Are you for real? I mean, sure I might know somebody who could make the documents. Maybe you need somebody to eliminate the problem instead.”

If I thought I could get away with it, I would.

She smiled, wondering if he really knew people who performed elimination services. “That’s not the answer.”

He brushed the crumbs from his hands onto his blue uniform pants and stroked his chin. “It’s gonna cost you.”

“I don’t care how much it costs. I’ll pay you and your connection well for your help and your silence.”

“All right. Let me check around and get back to you.” His gaze lingered on her face.

He’s waiting for my phone number. “I’ll get back with you. I can’t take any risks.“

He scribbled on a Post-It. “Here’s my cell number. Call me Friday night after ten.”

“Thank you so much. You don’t know what this means to me.”

For the next three days a nervous anticipation kept her thoughts on the details of her plan. On Friday night, she called him.

“Hi, it’s Marcia. Is this a good time?”“Hey, baby. I got that information you needed. Hold on. Let me go outside so I can talk.” The noise in the background sounded as if he was in a club or a bar. “Okay,” he said after a few seconds. “My boy said he could do whatever you need. You have to give him a few details like your height, weight, eye color and what state you want this stuff for. And he’s gonna need a picture. You’re changing the way you look, right?”“Of course. How will I get this to him?”“I’ll deliver it myself.”“Can I call you back at this number when I get the photo?”“Anytime.” Silence hung between them a few seconds. “Marcia, are you gonna be all right?”“I will be if I can get away from here as soon as possible.”She had to make it as hard as she possibly could for Reggie to find her. Her new look had to be far from anything Reggie would expect. Only she couldn’t make such a drastic change living in Santa Barbara. The risk of someone recognizing her was too great.

A Korean wig shop in L.A. provided a short, curly, strawberry blonde wig that complemented her skin perfectly. Cheap, non-prescription, hazel-colored contact lenses created the physical change Marcia wanted. Where she planned to go, a sister with blonde hair wouldn’t stand out.

By the middle of the following week, Marcia had a set of pictures she’d taken at one of those budget portrait studios in an L.A. mall. Amazed at the finished product, she studied them with the critical eye of a stranger. The short hair looked natural, and the muted eye color didn’t stand out. She’d been afraid they might photograph with that spooky vampire look. She met Tyrique in a Crenshaw park one afternoon to deliver the package. He promised to have the finished product to her in a week’s time.

A safety deposit box at a bank in Los Angeles, ninety-two miles south of Santa Barbara, hid her important papers and getaway money. Each week she took some of her casual clothes to the bus station in L.A. and stashed them in lockers. Her most expensive jewelry, suits and furs - the coyote jacket, the full-length black mink and her favorite blue fox ski parka had found new homes in consignment stores netting a total of $15,000. The last items she sold were her “guilt jewelry,” the gifts Reggie always bought her during his remorseful stages.

The name Danielle Reynolds, a combination of her middle name and her mother’s maiden name, now appeared on a bootleg driver’s license, Social Security card and voter registration card. The next task was to sell her Jaguar.“I don’t know what’s wrong with my car” she told Reggie in a casual tone the next morning at breakfast. “There’s this annoying squeak in the rear end that’s driving me crazy. Tomorrow I’m putting it in somewhere for servicing.”He gazed into his coffee cup. “What’s wrong with Forsyth? They’ve serviced it before.”“They can’t seem to figure out what the problem is. I talked to Bauer in Santa Ana. The service manager said they’ll give me a loaner while they’re working on my car.”

“Fine, if you think they’re better,” he said without looking up. He seemed preoccupied and distant even though she’d asked him to forgive her for being difficult and had sex with him last night. She had gone to great lengths to convince him everything was normal, as normal as their sick relationship had become. She endured his touch, a touch she’d once cherished, all the while reminding herself that it was the last time his sweat would ever soil her skin again.

Marcia accepted an insulting offer of $69,000 for the car from a Jaguar dealer in suburban Los Angeles. The same morning the check cleared her account, she sold her wedding rings to a jeweler and took maximum cash advances on their joint credit cards before throwing them in a dumpster. Using them would leave a paper trail. Actually she hoped someone might find them and make it appear as if the cards had been stolen.

After she emptied her checking account and the safe deposit box, she wrapped the money in small hand towels, stuffed them inside her carry-on bag and in the lining of her purse. Thirty minutes later, donning the blonde wig, contacts and sunglasses, Dani Reynolds boarded a Greyhound bus heading to south Philadelphia. Flying would have required her to show ID and have her bags searched. Airports also had security cameras.

  

The trip couldn’t have been worse - cramped, noisy, smelly and unbearably long. In three days she’d been through California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. Between West Virginia and Jersey she got stuck sitting in the back of the bus right by the bathroom. She laughed to herself at how she used to think flying coach was a fate worst than death.

With months of preparation and countless nights of fears that the plan might not work now behind her, she finally stepped off the bus at the Philadelphia terminal. A cab took her to a rent-by-the-week hotel chain she’d chosen from the Internet. The better hotels, where Reggie would expect her to stay, were out of the question. The lack of ambience didn’t matter. She had no intention of being there longer than a week.She approached the front desk. Good. The desk clerk is a man.“Hi, I’d like a room with a double bed for a week.” She gave him her flirtiest smile.“May I see some ID, please?”Prepared for this eventuality, Marcia launched into the story she’d practiced over and over in her head. She didn’t want to use her bootleg ID unless she had no other choice.“I’m sorry. I don’t have anything. Someone stole my purse in the airport in Quebec when I left Canada. All of my other important papers are being shipped to me along with the rest of my belongings when I find a permanent place here.” She paused, trying to look as if she was mulling over a solution in her mind. “Umm … what I could do is have my old job fax you something in the morning. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind doing it if you fax them your request in writing. You can’t imagine how hard it’s been trying to function with no identification,” she hesitated for a few moments. “I can pay for the week in cash if you wish.” The magic word made the issue a moot point.“Well, if you’re paying in cash, ID won’t be necessary,” the clerk said with a smile. He went on to ask her name and register her for the week.“Can you tell me if there’s someplace in walking distance where I can buy groceries? I don’t have a car yet.”“Sure. There’s an IGA right around the corner. Go to the right then make a left at the stop sign.”

He handed her the keys and she put a ten-dollar bill in his hand. “You’ve been so kind. Thanks for your help.”

She drew a deep breath when she got back outside, steeling herself to lug the two suitcases up the stairs to her room.No bellman here.A funky low-budget hotel odor assaulted her senses when she opened the door -- that “lived in by a thousand other people” smell. The rooms reeked of stale cooking odors from the small kitchenette that lingered in the drapes and carpet sending her to retrieve the small can of Lysol from her suitcase she’d packed to use in public bathrooms during the bus trip. She sprayed every surface in the room until the can gave an empty hiss, then she propped the door open with a chair to let some fresh air in. Once the odor dissipated she fished her brand new can of pepper spray out of the suitcase. A woman alone always had to be mindful of the threat of crime and violence.Item one on the agenda was to find a hair salon to match her hair to the new ID photo. Even though she’d chosen a lightweight wig with a breathable cap, it felt like a helmet over top the wig cap holding her own shoulder length hair in place. Wearing it for three days had given her a constant headache. Armed with her trusty pepper spray, she locked the door and hit the street.A typical urban area, the block housed to two check cashing stores, a storefront church, liquor store, pawnshop, and African hair-braiding salon. Marcia passed Mama June’s Bar-B-Q Café and the home of Sister Tamara - Palm Reader and came to a beauty shop. The young woman sitting at a table near the door didn’t even part her lips to speak when she walked in, so Marcia directed her question to the entire room.“Excuse me. Do you have a colorist here?”“She isn’t working today,” one of the stylists called out from a booth near the back. “Do you want to make an appointment?”“No. I need it done today. Can you recommend anywhere else in the area?”“You can check Phat Hedz on Broad Street. I’m sure they have somebody who does color.”“Thanks.” Marcia waved as she went back out onto the street.A map from the Convention and Visitors Bureau helped her locate Broad Street. She found a phone booth and called the shop from the street. The stylist told her to come right over. Thankfully it was within walking distance. Used to patronizing the finest salons in Santa Barbara, Marcia breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that the salon was a decent place. The last thing she wanted was someone doing a butcher job on her hair.

Two hours later she stepped out onto the street sporting a dramatic wavy blonde cut not even an inch long. Her next stop in the cellular phone store produced a new phone with pre-paid service to replace the phone she’d purposely left in the house in California.

A tempting color photo of an authentic Philly cheese steak sandwich in the window drew her into a busy luncheonette with a strange craving for the famous Philadelphia meal dripping with onions and cheese. A typical California health food fanatic, Marcia felt guilty for allowing herself to be swayed by the unhealthy fare but couldn’t resist. She took a booth in the back and waited for the waitress to bring her order thinking about the look on Reggie’s face when he got the statements for the $20,000 in cash advances she’d taken out on their joint credit cards.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Denise

Contemporary women’s fiction/romance author Chicki Brown has published four Kindle best selling novels.

 

An avid reader, her favorite authors are Beverly Jenkins, Eric Jerome Dickey, Lisa Kleypas, J.R. Ward and Suzanne Brockmann.

 

A New...

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