Lost Girl:Hidden Book One

By: Colleen Vanderlinden
Dedication


For Roger

Best friend, love of my life. Thanks for

all the times you said "you should do that."

I finally did!





Acknowledgements


This book would not have happened without the support of my amazing family. Thanks and hugs and kisses to my awesome children for their support, patience, and understanding that sometimes, I am not all quite here.

Thanks to Hidden's earliest readers for their never-ending encouragement and enthusiasm for Molly's story. Without that, I don't know how much I would have actually written. Many hugs to Jayna Longstreet, Kellie Roach, Kathy Kloba, Michelle Kay. You ladies rock.

And, finally, thanks to my husband, who does all of the technical stuff and designed my book cover and never once looked at me funny when I said I was writing about demons. I love you.





Chapter One




I shouldered my messenger bag as I walked out of the library and out onto campus. I could feel a migraine forming behind my eyes, and the sweltering, humid weather was not helping. I looked at the students lounging in the courtyard, talking on phones or goofing off with friends, as I walked to the parking structure. Lucky brats.

I couldn't help feeling more than a twinge of irritation as I caught their thoughts. This one worried about his girlfriend, a girl deeply contemplated the pros and cons of a nose job, and another moped about how much she hated working.

Join the club, kid, I thought, rolling my eyes. I wasn't much older than most of the underclassmen I passed, but I felt as if I'd lived whole lives longer than they had.

I stopped, as always, near the bulletin board just before I crossed Anthony Wayne Drive to the parking structures. Scanned it. A mix of job postings, recruitment notices, lost dog/car keys/book notices. Two fliers of missing girls. The first I'd already seen. I'd be taking care of that later that night. The second was new to me.

Marja Szymanski, 19, of Hamtramck. I pulled out my phone and took a picture of the flier. I would have liked something a little more detailed, but I'd research it when I had a minute. I shook my head. Impossible to keep up with them all.

When I got to the parking structure, I waved to the attendant, who waved at me with a hearty "hey, Molly!" just like he did every day, and climbed the four flights to where I was parked. By the time I got to my car, I was sweating as if I'd run a marathon.

I looked at my car, a pitch-black 1970 Barracuda I'd bought off of a little old man at a steal after I'd found his granddaughter and brought her home safe. I ran my hands along the trunk lovingly. I knew it was ridiculous. It was a car. A method of transportation. But it was mine, and it was bad ass.

I got in, rolled the window down, and turned up the stereo. AC/DC blared. Screw the migraine.

I sped out of the parking structure and headed toward Cass, then snaked toward Gratiot and toward home. I noticed people giving me weird, worried looks. Easy to catch their thoughts: young chick, in an expensive car, with the windows down, in this neighborhood? I smirked. I was the scariest thing out here.

I drove through the east side, finally reaching my neighborhood. "Neighborhood" was being generous. The houses on the blocks immediately surrounding mine, as well as on my block, had been leveled years ago. I lived on a vast urban prairie. Tall grass and ghetto palm as far as the eyes could see, except for the six lots I'd claimed as my own over the years. Mine. I pulled the car up into the garage, parked, and got out. I shut the garage doors behind me, and my two German shepherds loped up to me, tongues lolling, tails wagging. Kurt and Courtney. I was a 90s brat, after all.

I scratched them both behind the ears, patted them on their sides, and headed up the back steps to the kitchen door. When I got inside, I took a deep breath. Home. Finally.

I made a salad and grabbed some iced tea, sat at my 50s Formica table and ate it, listening to the Tigers on the radio. The quiet calm that surrounded my house was like an ointment that soothed away the irritations of my day job, the stresses of my night job. Hopefully, I wouldn't need the day job much longer. I'd paid cash for the house and car. I just wanted to build up a nest egg so I could afford basic expenses for a while, and then I would quit. And have time for more important things. I spent the next few hours napping and doing research for that evening's jobs.

At around ten, I started suiting up. Black top, long sleeves. Black cargo pants. Black Chucks. I brushed my long nearly-black hair mechanically, almost in a trance as I plotted that night's business. I put a variety of things into my pockets. Zip ties, tear gas, a pearl-handled switchblade. A prepaid cell phone. I sighed and looked at the mirror on my dresser. Not at my reflection; I knew what I'd see there; lots of pale skin and dark circles. But at the photograph taped to the upper left-hand corner. Forced myself to really look. The reason I did what I did, the shame I wouldn't let myself forget.

"Time to go save some lost girls," I murmured to the photograph. Then I patted it, gently, four times with my fingertips. Four taps, four lost girls who needed to be found. And that's what I would do.

I drove down Gratiot, to a neighborhood that looked a lot like mine, but, impossibly enough, even deader. Desolate.

I parked a few blocks away from where I needed to be, pulling into a garage that was leaning precariously, its wooden clapboards rotting, showing just a few remaining stubborn specks of white paint. Then I got out, stood at the window and lifted the pocket binoculars to my eyes, watched the corner on the next block. I'd picked up this location snooping around where one of the suspects in the kidnapping hung out. He wouldn't be alone. And the girls were alive, and relatively alright, so far. Of course, I'd known they'd still be alive. There was money to be made.

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