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The Free Friday Read

Here is a sneak peek into Broken Promises a new O’Connells novel coming July 31

 July 2, 2021

By  Lorhainne Eckhart

Broken Promises

Broken Promises

What do you do when a woman shows up on your doorstep, suddenly wanting her daughter back?

More info →

Chapter 1

She was thirty-one years old, and she had a daughter, a tattoo she would never be able to remove, eighteen dollars and forty cents in her pocket, and a prison record that would keep her from ever having anything else. Reine Colbert wondered when she hadn’t felt this hollow ache that had become a part of her, of who she was, an anger that had only grown deeper, so much that it burned her with every breath she took.

She stared at the brick homes, sidewalks, and grass lawns of picture-perfect suburbia, with flowers planted in front of porches that welcomed visitors, family, and friends with glasses of lemonade, laughter, and small talk.

But that life wasn’t for someone like her. That life had been ripped from her. Reine had once had a husband, a daughter. She’d once felt joy. Now she felt only anger.

It hurt more than anything to feel she was supposed to be thankful that she got to breathe the same air as people who had homes, lives, and freedom. Wasn’t that exactly what her parole officer had said after he finished grinding her into the ground as she sat in his dingy office, realizing he didn’t see her as human? He’d stared at her file instead of her, making it clear she’d never matter. She’d better learn her place, keep her nose clean, take what was offered. And he didn’t want to hear any complaints or whining about anything, because rights were something she didn’t have.

No drugs, no liquor, no weapons.

And the last, which had nearly choked her, was no respect. That was something she wasn’t entitled to anymore. She’d been officially categorized as a person with no rights and no dignity, and she was terrified, as she stood on the concrete sidewalk, seeing weeds sprouting up between the cracks here and there, staring at a house, that what she was doing now could have her right back behind bars.

It would take just one call from someone who mattered, even though that would be cruel. Then again, cruelty had become familiar to her, and it was a quality she saw in everyone now.

Someone was watching her. This was that feeling prison had taught her, the one that had kept her alive and breathing. She waited a second before turning to see a woman with long dark hair across the street, staring.

Reine pulled at her old hoodie, lifting the hood over her shoulder-length dark hair even though it was mildly warm out. She made herself look away, around and up the street to see what could be coming at her. It was a quiet morning, and cars were parked in front of most of the houses. The sheriff’s cruiser was in the driveway as the early sun topped the horizon.

She reminded herself she couldn’t keep standing there, as someone would call the cops, and she’d be questioned, told she didn’t belong. Reine made herself take one step and then another, hoping whoever was watching her would let her be instead of hitting her with the knowledge that she didn’t belong there.

She kept moving in sneakers that were so worn she could feel each pebble she stepped on, but the pain was welcome as she walked up the sidewalk toward the two-story craftsman. Her legs were shaking, and her stomach was hollow, and Reine was very aware of the voices she could hear from inside.

The three front steps were painted gray. As she stepped up, she glanced down at the holes in her sneakers, and her heartbeat thudded long and loud in her ears. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. She wondered whether she’d ever shake that feeling of being watched, having to look over her shoulder, never feeling a moment’s peace because of that deep ache in her soul, a reminder of everything she’d lost.

She took another step up, and the creak of the wood ricocheted through her. Her inhale was long and loud in her ears, her heart pounding, her hands sweating. One more step, and she knew she shouldn’t be here, fearing the hand that would reach for her and pull her back, another living nightmare. Reine prayed for the day when that fear would truly leave her.

She fisted her shaking hand, feeling the sweat under her arms, down her back. Her blue jeans hung on her hips. The inside door was closed, and she stared at the screen mesh and lifted her hand to ring the doorbell, but instead she knocked on the white painted frame.

The sound was weak. Standing there, she wasn’t sure if anyone had heard her. She lifted her hand again when she heard voices and footsteps, and then the door opened. She’d never forget his face, his blue eyes, that all-cop look, even though she’d forgotten how tall he was, standing there in his sheriff’s uniform.

For a moment, the silence hung thick in the air as she stared at the man who was responsible for everything she didn’t have.

“Marcus, who’s at the door?” someone called out. It was her voice, Charlotte.

Reine fisted her hands where they hung at her sides and stared through the screen that separated her from a man she felt only bitterness for. She took in the confusion that knit his brows, his hand on the door. He didn’t answer his wife.

“Reine?”

Was he happy or angry? She couldn’t tell from his deep voice. The screen was still closed, but then he pushed it open with a loud squeak. She heard the sounds of children and a voice she’d go to her grave knowing, because it was a part of her.

Eva.

“I don’t understand. What…? How?” Marcus gestured toward her, and she could hear the confusion as his gaze bore down on her. “What are you doing here?”

She pulled her hood down. “Hello, Marcus,” she said, her heart still hammering as she took in the gun holstered on his duty belt. Once, she’d never have believed she could come to hate that uniform, but now she did because of what it had taken from her.

He was still standing in the doorway, looking down at her. She knew she wouldn’t be invited in. What, exactly, had she expected?

“Marcus, you didn’t answer. Who’s here…?” There she was, Charlotte, dressed for work in a brown deputy’s shirt, her long dark hair pulled up. Her eyes widened as she stood beside Marcus, staring down at her. Charlotte’s head just topped his shoulders, but they were both taller than her.

She was still trembling inside, facing the gatekeepers to her Eva. More guards, even though she was no longer behind the walls of a prison.

“Reine, what are you doing here?” Charlotte said. “I didn’t know you were out. What’s going on?”

Not even a welcome or a smile. That was something she expected, and there it was, the change in Charlotte’s face, in her eyes. Gone was the caring, and the woman who’d taken her daughter was staring at her now in a way that told her she didn’t want her here.

“I’m here to see my daughter,” Reine said.

She didn’t miss the exchange between husband and wife as if her fate was still up for debate, as if someone else decided what she could and couldn’t do.

“You’re out of prison?” Marcus said. “I don’t understand. When did this happen?”

When had she become so aware of the tone of people’s voices? Marcus’s had an edge she hadn’t expected.

“Yes, I’m out. I hope that’s not a problem for you.” She wondered if sarcasm dripped from her words. Maybe that was why she still hadn’t been invited in.

Marcus stepped out of the house, forcing her to take a step back, something she was too familiar with. Then he took another and another, and she had to fight the urge to look back to see the steps she could fall down. He was right in front of her, his hands on his duty belt beside cuffs she hoped never to feel around her wrists again. But she refused to cower even though she was terrified of what he could do to her.

The screen door hadn’t closed, and she knew Charlotte was still standing there, holding it open.

“Marcus, the children…”

Was that worry or fear in Charlotte’s voice? Reine couldn’t look at her because the sheriff was staring down at her with a hard expression, the only way people looked at her now.

“Go inside and take Eva and Cameron upstairs,” he said without pulling his eyes from her.

Reine wasn’t about to lower her gaze, either, even though looking a guard in the eye in prison would have been seen as challenging, threatening, with repercussions that ranged from having her privileges taken away to being beaten or tossed in isolation. Cruel was cruel, and that had been all she’d known for too long.

Reine made herself take a breath and instinctively fisted her hands at her sides again.

“Marcus, everything okay here? Jenny said there may be something wrong,” came a voice from behind her.

She had to look away, down to the man looking up at her from the sidewalk in a park warden’s uniform. He was tall, too, and from the way he looked at her, she could feel this going sideways.

“No, everything is fine, Ryan,” Marcus said. “This is Reine. She’s out of prison.” He sounded so matter of fact, but the way he talked about her, as if addressing the weather or the news, ached.

From how the other man was looking at her now, she expected to be told to leave or maybe walked down the street by the two of them, out of the neighborhood, with a warning never to come back.

“You have my daughter, Marcus,” she said. “I want to see Eva right now.”

He lifted his gaze back to her sharply with an expression she didn’t like, shaking his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Reine. She’s happy now, and she wouldn’t understand. You just showing up here like this isn’t good for her. It’s confusing, and—”

“She’s my daughter!” She thumped her chest with her fisted hand, cutting him off, and it felt so damn good to do it, because it was something she’d never have been allowed to do in prison.

His gaze snapped to the sudden movement, and she reminded herself she was in front of a cop, standing right on his doorstep. She needed to be careful not to be construed as threatening or aggressive, even though the words she wanted to say were screaming through her head. The anger that radiated through her was clouding her reasoning.

“No, Reine,” Marcus said. “She’s our daughter now. Charlotte and I adopted her. Did you forget it was your idea? Now you’re showing up here without calling, demanding to see her. What is this?”

That was something else she’d become far too used to, being denied everything she loved. The lump in her throat threatened to choke her, and tears burned her eyes from the anger that was only swelling deeper, bigger, burning a hole right through her.

“This is about my daughter, Marcus. Mine. I gave birth to her, and she was taken from me…”

He lifted a hand, and for a moment she thought he would touch her, so she jerked her shoulder sharply away. He must have known, as he pulled his hand back. “I can see you’re angry and hurt, but I really don’t think right now is a good time,” he said. “We’ll talk, and maybe we can look at something down the road when you’re a little more settled.” His hand went to his duty belt again, and she felt the dismissal, knowing the other man was still standing there, watching her, maybe waiting for her to move too fast or do something he didn’t like.

Reine didn’t nod. This was too familiar, being told to leave. Then they’d circle the wagons and make sure Eva was moved further out of reach. She was shaking her head as she said, “No, I’m not leaving. I came to see my daughter, and you can’t keep her from me.”

“Reine, you’re making this very difficult. I said no. What is it you really want here? What is this really about? If you were truly thinking of Eva’s best interest, you wouldn’t be here now, showing up without calling.”

She tried to look past him, but he was right there, blocking the door. She lifted her chin and refused to look away from the hard blue eyes of the cop looking down on her. “What I really want is to have the life that was stolen from me. That’s what I really want, Marcus. But I can’t have that, and I have to live with the shitty hand I was dealt. I’ve already asked you, and you’ve denied me seeing my daughter. So hear me, Marcus O’Connell. I’m standing here on your doorstep, and you have my daughter inside, and I’m telling you I want her back. Not to visit, not to make an appointment so you can decide whether I can or can’t see her. I want her back. She’s mine.” She was trembling and knew she should be terrified by the way he was staring down at her.

“No, absolutely not,” he snapped.

She picked up the sharp edge in his voice and heard the creak of the step behind her, knowing her time was up. A hand would grab her and push her away.

She didn’t think. She could feel the panic and the agony of her daughter being ripped away from her again. It was her sweet face, her image, and her name that had kept her sane, so she did the only thing she could think of. She opened her mouth and yelled, “Eva!”


The O'Connells

The O’Connells of Livingston, Montana, are not your typical family. Follow them on their journey to the dark and dangerous side of love in a series of romantic thrillers you won’t want to miss.


The O'Connells Audio

The Neighbor

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The Neighbor

The Third Call

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The Third Call

The Secret Husband

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The Secret Husband

The Quiet Day

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The Commitment

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The Missing Father

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The Missing  Father

The Hometown Hero

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Justice Audiobook

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The Return of the O’Connells

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And Then She Was Gone – audiobook

Broken Promises Audiobook

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“Totally Engrossing.  You know there hasn’t been a story in this series that hasn’t had a powerful message, and this one is no exception.” ★★★★★ Catlou, Amazon Reviewer

Above the Law

Above the Law

His crime was unforgivable, but the law protects him.

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