"The scenes are graphic and descriptive it paints a fantastic backdrop that really makes the storyline pop. All the twists, turns, ups and downs brings our girls bad side out and leaves her a force to be reckoned with. Yeah, you don't want to mess with our girl. Hanson did a remarkable job bringing this read to life flawlessly. Fantastic job Hanson, thanks for sharing this awesome read with us." Kaye, Goodreads
Published: August 16th, 2018
Kayla Falk is trying to move past the traumatic events of her mission in Syria and settle into a comfortable engineering job. However, when Morgan Bellamy, the younger sister of Kayla’s late best friend, disappears while on vacation, Kayla doesn’t hesitate to jump into action to find her. As Kayla investigates, she learns that Morgan has become trapped in a hellish human trafficking situation. Kayla is determined to find Morgan before she slips into the shadows forever.
Content Warning: This book is about sex trafficking. While I avoid explicit, graphic depictions of sexual violence, due to the nature of the subject matter, it is definitely implied that it takes place.
Blue eyes and a laughing smile, framed by wavy golden hair.
Those blue eyes stared back at Kayla Falk as she looked at the picture on her desk of her best friend Olivia. Her late best friend, that is. Even now, more than a year after returning from Syria, Kayla couldn’t quite believe that she’d never again hear the laugh that went with that smile. She had hoped the pain would fade away after enough time in a calm engineering job in Minneapolis, but it never did. It just lingered and, if anything, became heavier with time.
The shout tore her from her thoughts. Kayla blinked away the tears that had formed in her green eyes and turned her swivel chair around to see Olivia’s blue eyes looking back at her.
Except, they weren’t Olivia’s.
These eyes belonged to Morgan, Olivia’s younger sister, who stood in the doorway to Kayla’s office. “Hey, Morgan.” Her voice broke, though she smiled at the sight of her friend. “What are you doing here?”
“Are you all right?” asked Morgan, tilting her head.
Kayla cleared her throat. “Just have a tickle in my throat.”
“If you say so. Anyway, just stopping in to say bye to my dad before I meet up with Amanda and head out to the Black Hills. You know, you should really come with us,” said Morgan.
“I wish I could, but I really need to get some work done here.” Kayla gestured to the pile of paperwork that had spilled from its tray and invaded the rest of her desk.
Morgan rolled her eyes and brushed a strand of brown hair out of her face. “Come on. You work for my dad. He’ll let you come if you want to.”
“I’m sure he would. But he’s not the only one waiting for me.” Kayla waved around at the offices of the other engineers. “I have a pile of schematics to finish and pass along.”
“You still working on that wind turbine prototype?” Morgan asked.
“Yup, that’s it. It’s not quite coming along the way I’d hoped it would.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out. Maybe a nice break would inspire you a bit.” Morgan gave Kayla an encouraging smile. “If you can’t get away for a few days, can you at least come to lunch? I can text Amanda to wait a bit longer.”
“Sure, I can make that work.” Kayla turned around to lock her computer. “Where were you thinking of eating?” She threw her coat over her shoulders and walked out of her office with Morgan.
“How about we just hit that sandwich shop down the street?” Morgan suggested. “It’s not far, and they have decent food.”
“Sounds good to me.”
As they headed downstairs, Kayla asked, “How’s the new laptop working out?”
“I love it! It’ll be a big help this next semester. Thanks again. That was quite a Christmas present.”
They stepped out onto the street, with the chill air of the Minnesota winter greeting them and snowflakes floating through the air.
“Don’t worry about it. From what I saw of the old one, you really needed it.”
“For sure. Now it won’t take me eighty years to just open a browser tab.”
They arrived at the restaurant and placed their orders at the counter.
Once they had gotten their food, they carried their trays over to a corner booth and sat down. Between bites of her hot roast beef sandwich, Kayla asked, “So, what are your plans in the Black Hills?”
Morgan shrugged. “We don’t have a lot of concrete plans. I know we’re going to be in Deadwood for New Year’s, but we’re going to be in the Hills for a week after that. I’m not sure how we’ll fill the time. We’ll probably just make it up as we go.”
“That’s a good way to do it. There’s a lot to do and see out there so you won’t get bored.”
“Yeah, I know it’s cold, but there’s some beautiful scenery around there. Just driving through the Hills would be awesome.”
“Why did you decide to go to Deadwood for New Year’s?”
“I’ve heard it can be quite the party. Tons of people come out, and they do fireworks at midnight. Sounds like some of our friends are going to be there as well, so we’re hoping to run into them.”
“I hope you enjoy your last winter break. After this year, you won’t get time off like this again.”
“I know, but I am excited to finish school and finally do something for real.” Morgan flashed a smile and let out a bubbly giggle. “Did I tell you I got that pharmacist position at the children’s hospital?”
Kayla laughed. “You’ve only mentioned it a couple hundred times. I am happy for you, though. It seems like a perfect fit for you.”
“Yeah, after all of the volunteering I’ve done with the children’s hospital, I want to be somewhere I can make a real difference, not just stuck behind a counter at Walmart or something like that.”
“And Sioux Falls isn’t very far away, so you can come back to visit pretty easily.”
“Exactly.” Morgan finished her sandwich and crumpled up the paper wrapping, then checked her phone. “Looks like Amanda is outside with her car. I suppose we should get going. Rapid City is supposed to get some snow tonight, and we want to be there before it hits.”
“Okay. I’ll walk out with you.”
The two of them threw their sandwich wrappers away and walked out the door. Morgan found Amanda’s car and walked up to it. Kayla smiled at Amanda when they made eye contact through the car window. As Morgan reached for the handle, she looked back. “Hey, Kayla, before I head off, have you actually met Amanda?”
“I think I saw her maybe once. Didn’t she pick you up from our sparring practice once?”
Morgan opened the door. “Hey Amanda, come out and meet Kayla.”
Amanda came around the car, her long black hair lying over her shoulders. “I finally get to meet the badass who took out those terrorists at the Union,” she said with a grin.
Kayla touched her collarbone and glanced away. “Yeah, that was me . . . and Olivia.”
“Kayla doesn’t really like to talk about it, Amanda,” said Morgan.
“Sorry, that didn’t come out right. It’s just . . . my brother was one of the people they shot and I wanted to thank you. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry about Olivia. She was always kind to me.”
Kayla gave her a nod and a small smile, then turned to Morgan. “I really should get back to work.”
Morgan placed a hand on Kayla’s shoulder. “Are you sure you can’t ride with us for a couple of laps around the block? I don’t really think my dad is running a stopwatch on your lunch breaks, especially since he knows you’re out with me. Just take it easy and enjoy the time we have together.”
Kayla laughed. “Not now, but we’ll all go out when you get back.”
“If you really have to get back, I’ll let you go.” Morgan pulled the door open and slid into the passenger seat as Amanda went back to the driver’s side.
“Have a safe trip!” said Kayla as she waved to them.
“We will! See you in a week!” Morgan waved.
# January 8th, 2018 #
Kayla sat upright at her keyboard and heard a knock at her office door. She turned around to see David, her boss and Morgan’s father, standing in the doorway. His brow was scrunched with worry, and his Bellamy-blue eyes had bags underneath.
“Kayla, can I talk to you for a moment?” he asked.
“Sure. You look stressed. What’s wrong?”
“Have you heard from Morgan at all?”
Kayla shook her head. “Not since her ‘Happy New Year’ text a week ago. Why?”
David stepped into the room and pulled the door shut. “I haven’t heard anything from her either. I didn’t want to worry about it too much since she’s on vacation, and you know how she is about responding when she’s busy. But they were supposed to be back yesterday. I’ve tried texting and calling her a few times and haven’t gotten anything back.”
“Maybe she just lost her phone. I’m sure Deadwood was crazy that night.”
“I’ve talked to Amanda’s mom, and she’s not having any luck either. Somehow, I doubt they’ve both managed to lose their phones at the same time. And even if they did, they’d have called to let us know they were going to be coming late.”
Kayla frowned. It did seem strange that they would both drop off the grid simultaneously. “Do you think something’s happened to them?”
David shrugged and shook his head. “I have no idea. I haven’t seen anything in the news, at least.” He looked down and wrung his hands before looking back at Kayla. “Would you do me a favor and head out to the Black Hills to see if you can find her? I’d go myself, but I need to look after things here, and I don’t want to be the overprotective father if it’s nothing. I know you’re trying to wrap up this project, but it’s keeping me up at night to think that something could happen to her.”
Tears welled in his eyes and his voice caught in his throat. “I can’t lose Morgan, too.”
Kayla looked over at the photo of Olivia, with Morgan’s same sapphire eyes looking back at her. Kayla still hadn’t told David or Morgan that she had been the one to kill Olivia to spare her from a painful death after being poisoned. I can’t lose Morgan, either, Kayla thought.
“Yes,” she said as she stood up. “I’ll find Morgan. She’s the closest I have to a sister. Everything else can wait.”
“Really? Thank you so much, Kayla.” David wrapped Kayla in a tight embrace. “I always forget that you’re nearly my height until I hug you.”
Kayla returned the hug for a moment but quickly stepped back and glanced away from David. “You don’t need to thank me. You’ve lost one of your daughters already because of me.” Her voice trailed off. After a moment, she clenched her jaw and fixed his eyes with hers. “Now, I’m going to bring the other one back to you.”
“You know I don’t blame you for what happened to Olivia. I know you did your best.”
Kayla held up her hand to stop David from speaking. “I know you don’t blame me, but I blame me because it was my fault.”
He stepped toward her, but Kayla put a firm hand on his shoulder. “I don’t feel like arguing about it. Where do you think I should start looking for Morgan?”
David shook his head. “I don’t really have any clues to offer you. The last place I knew she visited is Deadwood. I don’t know anything more specific than that. She has some pictures up on Facebook, though. Maybe you could look through those to see if any of them would help.”
“I’ll do that. I’ll just head home now to start packing and thinking about where to look.”
“Yes, please. Get started as soon as possible.”
Kayla took a long stride through the door and turned toward the stairs to leave, then turned back. “David,” she said, causing him to look back at her, “I’ll find her. I promise.”
About the author:
K lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he works as a software developer. In his spare time, when he isn’t writing, he enjoys reading, working out, playing video games, and spending time with his wonderful fiancee, Bobbi. Some of his favorite authors are Tom Clancy, George R. R. Martin, and Sarah Maas.
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