A New Day is in the hands of my amazing beta reading team, and I’m starting to receive feedback. I have a bit more tinkering to do, things I want to improve in addition to the questions I’m getting from my betas, and then I’ll have ARCs ready for a few author friends and reviewers.
If you’ve read the description that I posted last week, it’s pretty clear that Jolene is a different type of heroine for me. A bit more complex, a bit less heroic, I guess. But having written one book and outlined/done some pre-writing on the second, I can say that she has a special place in my heart.
A New Day will be out on November 17th, and I know that several of you appreciate the convenience of pre-orders, so I wanted to make sure I had one available this time around. So you can pre-order A New Day now! Also, if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member, this, like almost all of my other books, will be available on KU.
I can’t wait for you to meet Jolene. In fact, I want you to meet her now. Here’s the first chapter of A New Day in its entirety. I hope you enjoy it!
A New Day: StrikeForce #1
by Colleen Vanderlinden
I hunched my back a bit as I walked, ear to my phone, looking to anyone who happened to see me like I was deep in discussion with someone. I spoke in a low voice, despite the fact that there was no one on the line. To anyone who passed, I looked like your typical college-age chick, probably arguing with her boyfriend over something stupid. I barely glanced at the mansion as I walked past it, even though it felt like every cell in my body was aware of it. It’s like being a junkie and knowing, just goddamn knowing, that there’s a fix nearby. The adrenaline was already flowing, my heart pumping. I bounced a little on the balls of my feet as I paused, still playing the role of “girl on the phone.”
There. I bit back a grin. My little jammer, the tiny device I’d made from parts I’d snatched from Radio Shack, had done its job yet again. The security system in the McMansion behind its emerald hedges and pristine ultra-green lawn was as useless as the locks they’d undoubtedly installed on the doors and windows.
There wasn’t much that could keep me out.
I probably had about a half hour, tops, before anyone came around. I’d been casing the place for a couple of weeks now, primarily with the two tiny cameras I’d installed in the shrubbery. I could monitor the comings and goings. These people weren’t home a whole lot, some finance dickwad and his vapid little redheaded girlfriend. They had a security guy who came by regularly, but he wasn’t nearly as regular when the redhead wasn’t around.
I did grin to myself then. It was the uniform. The finance guy had paid for the chick’s boobs, but I’d caught her dragging the security guard into the house at least twice.
Anyone watching would see the blonde girl take the phone away from her ear and look at it in dismay, then walk quickly away, as if, maybe, she just wanted to get home. I was so fucking good at this by now, it was second nature. I could pretend to be anybody, anything, knowing that a payday was around the corner.
Mama had bills to pay. Tuition was due in two weeks, and I knew a few people who could use a favor. I looked at the mansion out of the corner of my eye as I turned the corner. These bitches wouldn’t miss whatever I managed to take from them. Not the way any of my people would.
I went around the block, ducked into a little diner where I’d stowed a couple of essentials and walked out the alley exit wearing a dark gray hoodie, a black scarf covering my hair. Gloves on my hands.
No one even gave me a second look, and I jogged through the neighborhood. The house behind the mansion, one of them anyway, was empty and had been for the past month. I pulled the hood up over my head, pulled the black scarf I had around my neck up over my mouth and nose, so only my eyes were visible. After checking around, I went up the driveway as if I had every damn right to be there, then quickly pulled myself up onto the wall that separated this yard from the mansion’s sprawling grounds.
No dogs. The redhead was not an animal person, and I was grateful. Always made my job easier.
I smiled under the scarf. They had fucking glass back doors.
Within seconds, after double-checking that my jammers were still in effect, I punched the pane closest to the handle with my gloved hand, reached in, turned the lock, and I was in.
I smirked as I made my way through the kitchen. Typical rich bullshit. Espresso maker that cost more than my mother made in a year, refrigerator that would hold enough food to feed my whole damn neighborhood. Marble floors, counters. And where there wasn’t marble, stainless steel. Cold-ass rich people, I thought.
I passed by the electronics and other bullshit it the living room. I couldn’t carry it and it wasn’t enough of a moneymaker.
I made my way up the stairs, to the bedrooms. It was easy to find the master, its double doors open at the end of the hallway, overlooking the lake.
I quickly rifled through the dressers, through the boxes on the dressing table, the closets. By the time I was done, my pockets bulged comfortingly with gold, diamonds, and other gems. They’d even left a folded wad of cash in a dresser drawer.
I estimated what I’d managed to grab already. Couple thousand worth, probably. I glanced at the dressing table. Pictures in crystal frames, of the redhead and the finance guy, his hair dyed an unnatural shade of black for a man his age. Behind it, a necklace hung on a tiny jewelry tree, diamonds and rubies twinkling in the meager light coming from outside. I snatched it and headed out. Time was running out.
I was on the bottom step when I saw the telltale sight of red lights flashing into the front of the house.
I crept low, keeping out of the sight of anyone who happened to be looking in the front windows. I slunk toward the back of the house, back to the kitchen. Flashlights glared at the back doors, exposing my handiwork.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
My heart pounded, and I focused myself to calm down. This wasn’t the first time I’d screwed up like this. They were still outside. I was inside, and I knew the house.
I knew about the passage underneath that connected it to the gatehouse of the mansion across the street. A gatehouse that was never used. It was just a storage building, now. Two houses, built by old Detroit Mafia family members, the tunnel made to connect the houses without anyone having to go out in the open. Still there. Still functional. They’d had tours through it, when the local historical society did their “rumrunning weekend” thing. It had been in the news.
I do my goddamn homework.
Even if they realized which house this was, that it had the tunnel, I’d be long gone.
Sirens sounded outside, the low timbre of male voices, and I crept to the basement door, closed it behind myself, and slipped down the stairs. There. To the left was the wooden door. I glanced around. I could make it even easier on myself, maybe. There was a recliner nearby. I guess it was like a rec room or something, down there. I pulled it in front of the door, as if it was meant to be there, then I flipped the lock on the door and stepped through, closing it behind myself, and the dark swallowed me whole.
I stood there for a second, sucking air into my lungs. Not fear, though.
I grinned, then jogged down the tunnel, my hands out ahead of me. When I reached the opposite door, it unlocked, just as I knew it would.
I’d assured that it would be unlocked. Escape routes. It’s why I’d been at this for over four years and was still in business. It was why metro Detroit’s rich and twisted feared me. I was a ghost.
A ghost who made off with all of their good shit.
I popped into the gatehouse, crouched, and glanced across the street. Five police cars in the winding driveway, the glare of flashlights sweeping the premises. Time to move, now, before they thought to look around. As far as they figured, I was still in the house.
I pulled my hood down, pulled the scarf off of my face and hair. I glanced at my phone, then down the street.
There. Right on time.
The SMART bus slowed as it neared the stop at the corner. I held my hand up as I walked casually down the driveway, not drawing the attention of anyone across the street. I stepped onto the bus, paid my fare, and smiled at the driver.
“What’s goin’ on over there?” the elderly driver asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “They all just pulled up over there.”
“Probably that burglar,” he said with a grunt.
I made a look of wide-eyed horror. “You think so?”
He nodded, pulled the door closed. “Big house like that? It was him. More damn power to him, too,” he muttered as he pulled away from the curb.
I settled into a seat near the center of the bus, looking at my phone just like everyone else. I barely gave all of the police cars a glance as we drove past. Instead, I looked at my phone without seeing it and relished the feel of Mama’s rent and medical bill payments in my pockets.
Two bus changes later, and I got off at the stop a few stops away from my house. I never wanted to get too close, just in case. My stomach turned, my hands shook. The adrenaline was wearing off, and it was hitting me, how goddamn close that had been.
I took a deep breath, and walked, and put my hand around the pepper spray in my pocket. The last thing I needed now was some asshole trying to mug me. It had only happened once before. My neighbors watched out for me. Not that they knew anything. They knew that when they needed help, they could come to me. If I was in a few-block vicinity of my house, I was generally safe. I was the neighborhood sweetheart, the smart girl who was going to finally get out, the sweetie who always lent a hand if they needed it, the pretty girl who needed to find a nice man. I was known as someone you could come to if you needed a couple of bucks, because unlike just about everyone in my neighborhood, I had a job, and a decent one. I was college educated, and my mama had raised me right.
That was what they thought. And I was more than fine with that.
“Hey, Jolene,” Robbie Davis called from his driveway, where he and three of his friends were gathered around Robbie’s Harley.
“Hey,” I called.
“You see this baby?” he asked, gesturing to the bike.
“You wanna go for a ride?”
His friends whistled and made motions with their hands, and I stuck my middle finger up.
“I didn’t mean like that,” he said.
“Sure you didn’t,” his friend Lamar said with a laugh. We went to the same gym. He was one of the few guys who still agreed to spar with me. “Don’t mess with her, man. Jolene could bench press any one of us.”
“Right,” Robbie said with an eye roll.
“Do you even lift, bro?” I asked with a smirk. “Seriously, nice bike, though. Tell Amy I said hey.”
“She doing all right?”
“She is. Thanks again for… uh. You know,” he said, looking uncomfortable.
I waved it off. “I owed her. She was really nice to me in high school. I remember that.”
“We’ll pay you back.”
I shook my head. “If you want, when you want. I’m not waiting around for it. Okay?”
He nodded again, relief crossing his face. “Thanks.”
I nodded and walked on, glancing around. It was impossible not to compare the squalor in my neighborhood with the perfect, manicured place I’d just been. There were no emerald green lawns here, no stone walls. Sure the hell weren’t any mansions. Cars on cinder blocks, single-wides with cheap plastic chairs on the lawns. The gravel roads were lined with old, rusty cars. Friday nights, you could count on at least one visit from the Warren PD. I stuck my hands back in my pockets, hunched my shoulders and headed for our trailer, at the end of Perdition Lane.
Whoever had designed the park had had a fucking sense of humor. Perdition, Salvation, Purgatory Lanes, winding their way between the trailers. Probably the same assholes who lived in the neighborhoods I robbed. Slumlords, making their money off of desperation.
I clenched my jaw and walked the curve, and our trailer came into view. My mama had done the best she could. We’d lived in a decent little house before my dad had died. Heart attack, and I still prayed my thanks for it. He’d been at his place on the assembly line and just keeled over. It had been both a relief and a heartbreak for mama. Relief, because she didn’t have to fear his fists anymore. Heartbreak, because sometimes smart women do stupid things, like love someone who’s nothing but bitterness and anger.
That’s not saying that she didn’t keep going, for me. We’d lost the house, despite the fact that she’d taken on two jobs. She still worked both of them, wouldn’t quit no matter how much I told her she could cut back, that I would help.
“Finish college, Jolene. Make a life for yourself. That’s all I want,” she told me, every time I told her to count on me. She’d only just recently started letting me pay for groceries, especially after I told her that I’d found a nice job near campus. The medical bills, I intercepted and paid before she even saw them. Diabetes was a bitch. Dialysis was another bitch. She refused to take it easy, no matter what I said. Someday, she’d retire, and she’d live the way she should finally be able to.
Our little yellow and white trailer was well kept. Nice little garden beds in front, everything neat and clean. Mama always had tried to make sure we took pride in our home, no matter where we lived. Our house was spotless, neat, and comfortable. I was raised with manners, no matter how often I forgot them. I knew how to act when I needed to behave.
I unlocked the front door and clicked on the lamp just inside. The living room, kitchen, and little banquette seat were all visible from the front door. Toward the back, there were two bedrooms and a little bathroom. That was it. Five hundred square feet for my mom and me. We’d done okay. I wanted so much more.
I pulled shades, glanced at the note on the refrigerator.
“Mac and cheese in the oven,” it said. “Love, Mama.” I shook my head. No matter how many times I told her not to cook for me, she did it.
I went back to my room, pulled the shades in there, and then finally emptied my pockets onto my dark blue bedspread. The jewelry glittered against it, almost seeming to mock the cheapness of the fabric. Three necklaces, four rings, six bracelets, some cufflinks. All of it really good shit. I’d have to pay Luther a visit tomorrow, see what I could get for it.
I pulled the roll of bills out of my other pocket, tossed it onto the bed. I opened my bottom dresser drawer, then pulled up the false wood bottom I’d put in, under my sweaters. I set in my frequency jammer, making sure it was powered off, then the jewelry. I pulled off my hoodie and scarves, and put them in there as well as my gloves.
Then I picked up the roll of bills again, fanned it out and counted it.
“Jackpot,” I murmured.
Tuition was paid, looked like.
I put the bills in the false bottom, put everything back on top of it, then went out to the kitchen and scooped some of my mom’s mac and cheese into a bowl. I ate it, standing at the kitchen counter. I picked up the remote and flicked on the little TV in the living room. The Red Wings were playing, and I left that on as I ate.
I felt like I could breathe again. My mom’s bills would get paid. Tuition for my last semester at U of D would be paid. Time to move out, mostly so I wouldn’t run the risk of my mother finding the stuff I hid in my dresser. It was time. Past time.
I could even afford to spread the love a little, after this job. As I glanced around, my gaze landed on my stack of textbooks on the dining room table. I had chapters to read, notes and shit to take.
I washed my dishes, made sure the porch light was on for mama, then settled onto the lumpy couch in the living room on my stomach, my notebook and textbook in front of me, and I got to work, reading about urban policy and planning, my body still buzzing from my near run-in with the cops, the unmistakable buzz that came from pulling of yet another job.
Number thirty-nine. Nearly forty in four years. In that time, well over quarter of a million dollars in stolen goods. It was probably worth even more than that, but there was Luther’s cut to figure into it. It wasn’t easy to find someone reliable to fence shit, but Luther was something special.
As I read, my mind wandered. Four years. Would I still be doing this stuff when I was thirty? Forty? Once I’d graduated and started working in a more official capacity with community groups?
I hoped so. There as nothing like it. Nothing like taking the shit the rich couldn’t really appreciate and turning it into something that people like my family and our neighbors needed. I knew I was supposed to feel guilty. I just didn’t give a fuck. It’s not like any of them, any of the people I stole from, gave a damn about any of us. Insurance would pay for the things they’d lost. I just couldn’t manage to feel bad about it.
After a while, I let my face rest against my notebook and closed my eyes. Just for a little while, I told myself.
I woke a while later to a gentle hand on my shoulder, the antiseptic scent that clung to mama’s hospital scrubs.
“Did you eat, Jo?” she asked when she saw that I was awake. I peered up at her and nodded. My mom was a nice looking lady. Blond hair, like me, eyes that reminded me of the cobalt tiles I’d seen in some of the buildings downtown. She wasn’t a skinny woman, but she was soft and comforting. The type one diabetes she’d lived with her whole life, the hard life she’d lived after my dad died should have made her bitter. It sure the hell had made me bitter. But she was sweet, gentle. Patient, which was something I’d never be.
“It was good. Thanks, mama. You know you don’t have to do that,” I said, sitting up. She waved it off and went into the bathroom. A few seconds later, I could hear the shower running, and I got up, stacked my books and notebook back on the table, and went into the kitchen. I pulled a bowl out of the cupboard and put some mac and cheese in it, added a sprinkle of cheese to the top, and put it in the microwave. I fixed a small side salad, set the dressing bottle on the table, then set the table. I poured a glass of milk and then grabbed mama’s pill case, laid out the three she was supposed to take with dinner next to her glass. By the time she was out of the bathroom, her hair wrapped in a towel, I had the table set, and her dinner waiting.
She patted my cheek gently as she passed me, and then I sat at the table with her. The TV was still on. Eleven o’clock news.
“How was work?” I asked.
“Same as always. Long,” she said with a smile. She popped the pills into her mouth and gulped down some milk. “How’s your studying going?”
“Boring,” I said. “But it’s the beginning, intro stuff. That’s always boring.”
She nodded. We chatted while she ate, and then, after I cleared the table and she washed her dishes, we went into the living room.
“You want me to braid your hair?” she asked.
“Please,” I said. I didn’t know, after all these years, whether this was something she needed or something I needed. Maybe it was both. She felt like she was taking care of me, and I felt like a little girl again under my mother’s careful attention. The feel of her fingernails gently scraping my scalp as she sectioned my hair, the light pull as she braided my long, wavy hair. The first time she’d done this for me had been the night my dad had died, and I’d somehow understood, even then, that she was looking for something to make her feel sane, useful. Something concrete to hold onto. She was better now, but this was one of our things. I thought again of the money and jewelry in my dresser.
“Mama, are you sure you can’t leave this one? The bills seem to be under control now,” I said softly.
“For now, they are,” she said quietly. “You never know when something will come up. The car breaks down, I need another damn pill for something. I’m okay, Jo. I don’t mind it.”
“But you don’t have to anymore. You know I’ll help,” I argued.
“I know you will. And you do. But I am your mama. It’s my job to take care of you, not the other way around.”
“You’ve always taken care of me,” I told her. “You’re the best.”
She secured the braid with an elastic band, and then gave it a gentle tug, just as she did every night.
“And I will take care of you for the rest of my life,” she said. I stood up, then sat on the sofa next to her. “You are the light of my life, Jolene. You always have been, and I want to see you take your big brains, and your unstoppable attitude and go out into the world and make a good life for yourself. You can’t do that if you’re trying to babysit your mama.”
“It’s not babysitting,” I argued. “You deserve to relax a little.”
She laughed. “Oh, honey,” she said, waving me off. “Why? To sit here and think about how things might have been? To wish I’d done better for you?”
“You’ve done great for me!”
She smiled, a bit of sadness to it. “I had bigger dreams than this.”
“Dreams are annoying that way. Real hard to live up to them.”
She leaned forward and took my chin in her hand, forcing me to look at her. “Dreams are all that matter. Dreams make you get your ass up in the morning and try, even when you don’t want to. Dreams are life, and you’re too young to have given up on them already, Jolene Faraday.”
I swallowed, nodded, and she let go of my chin. I rested my head on her shoulder, as I had most nights, and we watched the news together. The top story was about my heist in Grosse Pointe Park. Video of police cars in the driveway, interviews about how it wasn’t yet clear what had been taken. The usual.
So close. It had been too close this time. Still, it was hard to regret it too much when I thought about all the shit I could pay with what I’d grabbed that night. A few close calls with cops were worth it. A few moments of fear, panic. It didn’t matter.
My mom yawed and rested her head against mine. “Happy birthday, Jolene,” she said quietly.
“Thanks, Mama. The mac and cheese was a nice surprise. Thank you,” I said, and she squeezed my hand.
“Don’t stay up too late,” she said. She got up and headed to her room. “Love you, ladybug.”
“Love you more, Mama.” I watched her shuffle into her bedroom and close the door behind her. There would be tears, sobs she thought I couldn’t hear, born of the frustration that came with feeling stuck, like nothing was ever enough.
Broken dreams. There was not a chance in hell I’d let myself be haunted by them the way she was. It just wasn’t worth it.
I sat there and watched the news, barely paying attention until they got to the world news. Apparently there had been a whole shitload of freak earthquakes and lightning storms in Europe and Asia over the past two days. They were already calling it the “Second Confluence.” We’ve been through it once already, when I was fourteen. Earthquakes, lightning strikes, and then all of a sudden, people had superpowers. Not everybody, just random people here and there. Threw the world into chaos for a couple of years. We had them here, too. StrikeForce was the official super hero team. We didn’t have many super villain types here, but the few we did seemed to get taken in pretty quickly, and we didn’t hear from them again.
I watched the news a while longer, listening to the commentary, the predictions of another wave of powered people. “Just glad it’s not happening here,” I muttered to myself as I clicked the living room lamps off. I had class early the next morning.
So, there we go! Available November 17th on Amazon — or via pre-order now!