Excerpt — “The Search”

Once we arrived at the hotel, Aiden headed up to his room to fetch his laptop and notes, and Daphne went into the breakfast room, presumably to find a spot for us. I headed over to the little coffee area to fill three cups and find some waters.

“Becca?”

I turned and saw Eleanor standing in the middle of the lobby. “Oh, I’m so glad it’s you. I was planning to call you this week.”

She was wearing her usual Church of the Forgotten garb—a full-length, shapeless dress with long sleeves made from a muslin fabric with tiny flowers on it, though this time, they were red. She carried a covered wicker basket, as did the younger woman who was accompanying her, who was dressed in a similar outfit, except with yellow flowers.

I swallowed and forced myself to smile. “Hi, Eleanor. It’s nice to see you, too.”

Her smile looked equally forced, and I thought about the last time I interacted with her. She had showed up on my doorstep after I sent the police to investigate her barn. I had thought if I didn’t reach out, she would write me off and decide I wasn’t worth the hassle.

But, at least in this moment, she seemed ready, even eager, for a conversation. She walked toward me, leaving the younger woman standing precisely where was, like she had turned into a statue, her eyes cast downward. “What are you doing here? Do you have friends visiting?”

I was about to say no when I realized how foolish that would be. How else would I explain my presence in a hotel? “A couple of friends and I are going to do a little work together in the breakfast room.” I gestured toward the room as the little voice inside me screamed to stop talking. Eleanor didn’t need to know all the details. “What about you? Are you here to see a guest, too?” My smile became more natural as I talked.

Eleanor laughed, deep and throaty. “Oh, heavens no. I’m here because the Redemption Inn is interested in buying some produce and eggs from us.” She cocked her head, a bemused expression on her face. “You know, I’m still interested in buying tea from you.”

“Oh, ah …” Flustered, I glanced around, hoping to see Daphne or Aiden or even Lynne, the owner of the Redemption Inn, who might save me from the uncomfortable conversation I’d found myself in. I honestly couldn’t believe Eleanor wanted anything to do with me. “I’ve been really busy.” Even to my own ears, it sounded lame. Everyone was busy nowadays. It was a sorry excuse, and one that, most of the time, really meant whoever said it was too busy for you.

But Eleanor seemed unruffled. “I can imagine. Modern society does seem to require everyone to be constantly running around doing a million things at once. That’s why so many of us are drawn to a simpler life … one where success isn’t defined by endless circles of busy-ness.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. “It must be nice,” I said, immediately kicking myself. Why would I open the door to let her recruit me into her cult?

Oddly, she didn’t pounce on the opportunity as expected. Instead, she just watched me carefully.

“But some people like being busy,” she said. “It gives them purpose. And there is certainly plenty to do on a farm. There’s always something that needs doing.”

“I can imagine,” I said, not entirely sure where she was going. Did she think I was one of the ones who craved being busy? If I wasn’t so suspicious of her motives, I would assure her I was not. I liked having a comfortable number of tasks to do in one day—not too many and not too few. I definitely did not enjoy the adrenaline rush of putting out fires and being the one everyone depended on to get things done. I had plenty of friends like that in New York, who I was sure thought I was secretly lazy, because I wasn’t like them. That had been another benefit of moving to a small town like Redemption.

But seeing as I had no desire to hand any more personal information over to Eleanor, I kept all of that to myself.

Eleanor took another step closer to me, an unnatural gleam in her eyes. “I can tell you that I don’t think any of that is the real draw to a community like ours.”

“Oh? What is?”

Her lips parted, revealing a flash of white teeth that seemed way too white for a woman who had supposedly renounced all modern conveniences to live on a farm on the outskirts of small-town Redemption. “Safety.”

I raised an eyebrow. I hadn’t expected that. “Safety?”

She nodded. “Above everything else, humans crave safety. You can blame our lizard brain for that.” She cocked her head. “Humans are pack animals. We’re meant to live in communities, taking care of each other, protecting each other, keeping each other safe. But our modern society has us all living alone in tiny rooms staring at little screens. It’s not natural. And you can only go against the laws of nature for so long.”

“That’s true,” I said cautiously, after it was clear she was waiting for me to respond.

“Becca.” A male voice called out, and I turned to see Aiden standing by the entrance to the breakfast room. He waved when he saw me. “Just wanted to let you know we’re ready.”

“Okay,” I called back and turned to Eleanor. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to go. My friends are expecting me.”

“Of course,” she said, her plastic smile plastered on her face again. “We too need to get going. I have an appointment with Lynne.”

I took a step backward. “Okay. I guess I’ll be seeing you.”

Eleanor continued to stand where I left her, her eyes lidded as she watched me back away. “I hope so, Becca.” Her voice was serious. “And I hope you remember if you ever need anything, anything at all, we’re here for you.”

I stopped. I couldn’t help myself. “But why?” The words came out of me before I could decide how wise it was to verbalize them. “Why would you possibly be there for me? You don’t even know me.”

 She tilted her head again. “Oh, but I do, Becca. I know you. You’re one of us. And someday, you’ll know it, too.” She smiled at me, but there was no warmth or joy in it. Instead, it seemed like the satisfaction of a predator successfully cornering its prey. I really wanted to back away, but my legs felt like they had turned to blocks of ice. I could only stand there, frozen, staring at the hungry smile.

“Becca? You coming?” It was Aiden again, and his voice seemed to cut through whatever hypnotic spell Eleanor had put me under. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why she had that effect on me, but at that point, I didn’t care. I just wanted to get away.

“Yes, right there,” I said as I started moving toward Aiden. “It was great seeing you,” I said to Eleanor, even though I was lying through my teeth.

“Yes, you too,” she called back. That strange smile still played at her lips, and even though I felt somehow exposed turning my back on her, like she would suddenly leap on me and tear my throat open, I forced myself to do it anyway. I wasn’t going to let her think I was afraid of her.

Aiden was waiting for me. He smiled at Eleanor over my shoulder. “You looked like you could use the help,” he said, his voice low. His breath brushed my ear, causing me to shiver. Man, Eleanor had really done a number on me. I had to get myself under control.

“Thanks. She can be tough to get away from,” I said. I was so close to Aiden, I could smell the faint trace of aftershave combined with his shampoo. I eased a step away as we began walking toward Daphne, who had set up a table in the corner of the breakfast room.

“How do you know Eleanor?” Aiden asked. “You know she’s the head of the Church of the Forgotten, right?”

“I assumed she was the head, although she never actually said that,” I said. “I met her earlier this summer.” I half-smiled. “She wants to buy tea from me.”

Aiden stopped walking. “She wants to buy tea from you?” He seemed almost shocked, which didn’t make sense.

“Remember, I make custom tea blends. I inherited the business from my aunt Charlie, the same aunt I inherited my house from,” I explained, thinking maybe I’d forgotten to tell him about my business.

His expression didn’t change. “And she approached you? About buying tea?”

“Yeesss,” I said slowly. “Why?”

He resumed walking. “I just … I’m just a little surprised is all.”

“Why? Have you heard bad things about my tea?” I joked.

He smiled, but it was perfunctory. “No, nothing like that. Have you sold her any?”

“No.”

“Good.” His voice was serious. “Keep it that way.”

“Keep what that way?” Daphne asked as we reached the table.

“Aiden doesn’t want me selling tea to Eleanor,” I said, pulling out the chair in front of her while Aiden sat next to her. “Although he hasn’t told me why.”

Daphne shot me a suspicious look. “Isn’t it obvious?”

I eyed Aiden, but he was focused on getting himself setup. “Well, yes, but …”

“Are you planning to sell teas to Eleanor?” Daphne interrupted.

“Of course not.”

“Then we’re all on the same page,” Aiden said briskly, putting his phone in the middle of the table.

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2 thoughts on “Excerpt — “The Search””

  1. Barbara Gutierrez

    Hi,I have loved reading all of your books. I am 54 years old . So i have started reading the Redemption books from the Beginning again so I better understand them. AS I am reading them again I am wondering if Beca and CB are twins.?

    1. Michele Pariza Wacek

      Hi Barbara, all your questions should be answered after Book 9, What Wasn’t Forgotten. And Thank YOU for letting me know that you love my books!

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