After witnessing her sister’s murder, Prue Collins is sent to a lake house outside a small town in Astoria, Oregon, under the protection of the most unlikely guardian.
Rude and sarcastic, Ex-Officer Henry Clay wants nothing to do with his new roommate and doesn’t mask any hard feelings, only secrets. His wheelchair gives Prue a glimpse of his tragic past and she can’t fight curiosity as more clues come her way, opening her eyes to the true stranger she’s been sent to live with—and possibly, meant to help save.
But the truth is a loose string on an old shirt—you pull at it, and the entire fabric could come undone. Will Prue leave well enough alone or risk everything, even her own heart, to know the truth?
Targeted Age Group:: Young Adults & Older
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wrote the first draft of this book four years ago because I saw a girl (in my mind’s eye) who made a certain decision that changed her life, and then tragedy struck when it was supposed to be a time of joy. And in the background I saw a man, wounded and bitter by the decisions of his own life, who struggled with the fact that he was still alive. He doesn’t want anyone to get close, and will bite any hand that reaches for him. Then comes Prue, scared and in a tailspin but with a certain amount of conviction that confounds Henry, and also draws him.
The story is set in a small town outside Astoria, Oregon full of rain and cloudy weather. It also has a certain lake that pops up every now and then into the story. What inspired this? My love for all things rainy and cloudy! I live in Arizona and we don’t get many rainy days so I soak them up like a sponge when they do occur. Plus, some of my favorite movies are set in Oregon (Goonies, Kindergarten Cop) and I have always wanted to go to Astoria.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I answered this a little bit in the above question about the two main characters, but “Henry” has a nice handful of supporting characters that I think are just as great and needed.
Mr. Wilson runs a shop in the small town shaped like a horseshoe, and has a peculiar hobby of collecting rocks.
I’m not sure how I came up with him, he was kinda just there working in his shop when Prue walks in. With all the characters, as I wrote this novel, it felt like an unraveling of a quilt or a map (yeah, that sounds better). It kept leading me to a certain point, I didn’t know where, and yet, things stay connected and story lines deepened for characters I didn’t know at first had so much blood and life to them. It’s exciting to see how it all came together.
I would like to mention more characters but I don’t want to spoil the surprise 🙂
[The following is the first three Chapters of “Henry”]
“Three perfectly fertilized embryos!”
Dr. Hayward cheered, grabbing the yellow folder from her desk and lifting it high in the air as if it were a trophy. Perhaps it was.
I looked to my sister, Hannah. Tears ran down her cheeks as she smiled at me. We sat in plush gray chairs, arms and hands linked together, as Dr. Hayward, or Juliet, as Hannah called her, sat opposite us.
I gave Hannah a long hug, a smile to my own lips, and whispered in her ear, “Congratulations. It’s going to work this time.”
“I can’t believe it!” she said, squeezing me tight. “Jacob will be so happy!”
“Now,” Dr. Hayward said, garnering our attention once again. “Though there are three embryos, that doesn’t mean you will be having triplets!” She laughed, and Hannah let out a chuckled sob. I passed her a balled up tissue from my purse, and though normally she would gag at the thought, she took the wad at once.
“I have full confidence that one of the three will mature and fully develop, unlike past attempts.” Dr. Hayward looked to Hannah sympathetically, but nothing could break my sister’s happiness now. “Any questions?”
“How long before we know if . . . ?”
“Give it at least two weeks, then come back to the clinic and a nurse will draw blood for an accurate pregnancy test.”
“How long until the results come in?” I asked.
“You can come back the next day, or I can call you over the phone.”
“Ooh,” Hannah gasped. “We can announce the news at the baby shower! Everyone will be so surprised!”
“You already have a baby shower?” Dr. Hayward said, the doubtful tone grating on my heart.
“It was Prue’s idea,” Hannah explained, then faltered. “Or do you think that’s too hopeful?”
I looked to Dr. Hayward and raised my brows, my heart pounding more rapidly.
She then smiled. “That sounds like a fantastic idea. I am very confident that a pregnancy will occur, almost a hundred percent.”
I let out a sigh of relief.
“You hear that sis?” I nudged Hannah with my elbow. “No doubts this time. It has to work—even your doctor says so.”
Hannah smiled, her eyes shining. “You’re right.”
“As always.” I laughed.
“Well, we can at least put everyone at ease that there is a great chance this time for a baby,” she added.
“Good idea,” Dr. Hayward said, and she stood from her desk, our cue to follow, and led us out of her office down the hallway. Emily, the receptionist, saw our enthusiastic faces as we came around the corner, and she gave Hannah a tight hug as I stood at a distance.
“Congratulations!” Emily squealed.
“Thank you,” Hannah said, pulling back. She wiped the tears from her eyes, still smiling, and I grabbed her hand to lead us out.
We waved goodbye to Dr. Hayward as she called to us from down the hall.
“See you in two weeks!”
Two weeks later
“We both went to the blood test yesterday, but I haven’t seen or heard from her since,” I told my mother as I drove us to Hannah’s house. We were picking her up to go look at cake ideas for the baby shower.
“That isn’t like Hannah not to call,” Mom murmured from the passenger seat.
I shrugged, my eyes to the road. “She is probably just busy planning the party next week. You know Hannah and her lists.”
I rolled down my window and reached a hand to the keypad near the front gates of Hannah’s neighborhood. She lived the wealthy life with a mansion, and a successful businessman-husband who could give her everything except the one thing in the world she wanted. A child. But that was over now, and finally—finally—her chance was here.
“I can’t tell if the lights are on,” Mom said when I parked in the driveway and turned off the car.
“That’s because it’s daylight,” I said, grinning.
Mom rolled her eyes at me and opened her door. I followed, but got to the front steps before her. My hand reached to turn the doorknob, then paused.
“I forgot my spare key, do you have yours?” I asked just as the door slid back smoothly.
Odd, I thought. The door wasn’t even closed all the way.
“Never mind,” I mumbled, stepping inside the house.
Only sunlight lit the living room to our left and the shadows seemed wrong in the quiet setting. I headed toward the kitchen, the hairs on the back of my neck rising from the silence.
“I’ll go see if she’s upstairs,” Mom said. “Maybe she and Jacob went out to the store or something.”
I didn’t answer, only listened to her hurried footsteps against the carpeted stairs, as I surveyed the kitchen.
The coffee pot was half-full, and a crème-colored mug sat on the kitchen table. I walked to it, taking note of the empty chair and an unfolded newspaper. Steam rose from the cup and the paper was barely opened. Hannah never drank coffee, which meant that Jacob was still home, but I didn’t see her usual cup of tea.
The scent of eggs cooking had taken on a burn. I rushed to the stove and switched the knob to OFF, grabbed a towel, and lifted the blackened pan onto a cool center. My heartbeat was loud in my eardrums, and I didn’t know why. Then I heard Mom scream.
“Mom!” I shouted, my voice shaking, and my legs moved without thought. I came to the stair landing and shouted again, but no response came. I ran to master bedroom, through the opened double doors, and slowed down.
Mom stood next to the bed, her hand covering her mouth in horror, and I rushed to her side, almost stepping on Jacob’s leg.
“No!” I gasped, bile burning the back of my throat as I looked down.
Jacob was on the ground, his blue eyes staring up at nothing. A growing circle of blood stained his abdomen, and another one spreading just above his chest, his hands covered with the dark liquid.
Mom and I stared at him for a second, frozen in place and in silence, but then his lips moved and we jumped back in sync.
“The nursery,” he whispered, letting out his last breath.
I gave no second thought.
I ran from the bedroom and down the hall, not sure about anything, but barged into the nursery, my fist knocking the door open. I came to a stop at my sister’s bare feet, a large figure hovering at her head.
“Hannah,” I said, and my voice cracked.
The intruder’s head snapped to me like a viper ready to strike, a bloodied knife in his hand. His entire face covered by black cloth, I could only make out his small eyes where he had cut out holes to see. I didn’t know what to do, my mind was blank; I was a deer in headlights waiting for the truck to ram me over.
“Prue,” her delicate voice sounded my name. “Run!”
All at once, Hannah came alive. She sat up, her hands grabbing at the man’s face, tearing at his ears until finally ripping off his mask. He yelled as her nails dug into his skin, leaving red lines down his cheeks.
He shoved her hands away and then leaned back suddenly, only to plunge forward with the knife. Hannah let out a small breath as her back hit the floor, and she didn’t move again.
Now it was my turn to die.
When he faced me again, I took in his every feature. His head was shaved, leaving only black roots. A brutish face with dark eyes and bushy brows and a sneer that made my skin crawl. He was large and tan. He then stood, taking a step toward me, the blade ready in his hand.
Sirens screamed in the distance.
“Prue!” Mom called frantically from the hallway. “I called the police! Where are you? Where’s Hannah?”
I wanted to yell for her to stay away but my mouth wouldn’t move, locked and frozen by fear. I felt the blood drain from my body before the knife could even come and make a wound.
The man hesitated, surprising me, and he stepped toward the window. He stared at me, his eyes cold, and slicing the blade before his neck in mime, he then pointed the tip toward me.
“Next time,” he said. And without any justice, he broke the glass of the window and jumped out to freedom.
I hurried to Hannah, her face pale and her eyes closed. I caressed her brow, spoke her name, praying for her to wake up, to come back.
“No! Hannah! No!” Mom shouted at the doorway, sobs choking her. Hannah didn’t respond to either of us.
I crept away from her body until my back hit the wall, needing something to keep me steady. I couldn’t feel my hands. They must have been shaking. Tears fixed in my eyes, unable to release, and my mouth was still numb. Mom wailed, but the sound couldn’t touch me, couldn’t make it real.
Paramedics rushed in, cops rushed in, the world rushed in.
And they drowned me whole.
Three hours later
I sat in a cold room with a long steel table, two chairs, a security camera, and a two-way mirror.
The chair was hard, but nothing compared to the stares of the two cops facing me. One female, the other male, both wore dark-colored suits. My tired eyes could barely take them in, but my ears did, very much so.
“We believe that your sister and brother-in-law were killed for money,” the woman, Officer Lee, stated firmly, resting her palm on the table. Her dark purple lip-gloss complemented her ebony skin and brown eyes.
I cleared my throat, blinking a few times before allowing myself to speak.
“Money?” I paused to let the question linger. “They didn’t keep money in the house,” I said, my gaze unfocused. “I mean, they put it in banks. To keep it safe.” I almost broke right then, but something kept the strings of me together. “Are you sure?”
Officer Virgil spoke up, “Did you know the man Jacob started his company with?”
I shook my head. “All I know is that they were best friends in college, but had a falling out when the company started to grow, and they parted ways. Jacob was entitled to the whole business because the friend laundered money or something.” My mouth was sticky with thirst. I needed a glass of water.
Virgil pulled a yellow folder from his armpit and dropped it in front of me onto the table. He flipped open the cover, revealing a profile with a photo inside.
“His name is Mark Brooks.”
I stared at the square picture of a man a few years older than Jacob, with plain brown hair and a round face.
Lee cut in. “You see, if you get down to the final print of past contracts, even though the company was given to Jacob, Brooks is still named to inherit the company and all fortunes in case of Jacob’s death.”
“What about my sister?” I asked. Though I suddenly realized, it didn’t matter now.
The two looked at each other, hesitating. Finally, Lee confessed, “According to the business contract, your sister would have never gotten a cent of the money.”
“So they killed her for nothing?” I said. Fire burned inside my chest, giving life to my body.
They killed her for nothing! I watched her die for nothing!
“There was one exception,” Virgil added. “If an heir was produced, then the company would be taken care of by the board until the child reached legal age.”
His words silenced my rage. A child?
“Unless we can prove that Brooks was behind this, he gets everything.”
“Prue,” Lee called, and I didn’t even realize they had asked me a question in the first place. “What is it?”
My eyes slowly roamed to her face as my finger slid to the photograph. “This wasn’t the man I saw.”
The room went electric.
“What do you mean? Who did you see?”
I thought of the man hovering above Hannah, stabbing her in front of me and wanting to spill my blood as well. Panic began to freeze my limbs.
“The man who killed them . . . I saw his face,” I said.
“Then what happened?”
I spoke in a trance, ignoring the heavy smell of black coffee on Virgil’s breath as he leaned close to me, his expression serious, and I replied, “He told me I was next.”
They called the Chief.
Less than two minutes after my confession, an older man in uniform with graying blonde hair and a matching mustache walked into the fluorescent room, his nametag reading ‘Chief Brandon’.
“Ms. Collins,” the Chief said kindly, taking a seat opposite me. “We have a problem.”
He waited for me to respond, but my silence gave him full reign.
“Since there is no way for you to inherit money from Jacob’s business, we thought your safety was set. But now that we know you have seen the murderer’s face . . . things have changed.”
Again he waited, and again, I gave only silence.
He sighed, the compassion in his eyes making me think twice about him. “This man has made it clear you are his next target. With your testimony, once we catch him, he can be sent to jail for a long time, and we can get closer to getting Mr. Brooks. But we must protect you.”
I scoffed. “What can you do?”
My sister was dead. She was my protection. She protected me my whole life since she was eight years old and I was born. My shield against the world was gone and I vulnerable to it. Who could protect me now?
“We will send you to a safe house and you will be cut off from all connection to your friends and your family. There, you will go under a new name and a new way of life. Under no circumstances must anyone have knowledge of your whereabouts.”
“How long?” I asked, my throat burning, and I wondered why they didn’t have a glass of water for me like in the movies.
“Until the man you saw, and hopefully Mr. Brooks, are both in jail.”
Chief Brandon stood up, the chair legs scraping the cemented floor. “I will have a uniform take you home so you can pack some of your things, and he will bring you here tomorrow morning where we should have a placement for you. Any questions?”
I stared up to him, and licked my dry lips. “Can I have a glass of water?”
[End of Excerpt]
About the Author:
Hi, my name is Sydney Paige McCutcheon and “Henry” is my debut novel.
I have been writing since I was a little girl, starting out with poetry and short stories, and wrote my first completed book over the course of my Senior year in High School. That summer I wrote the first draft of “Henry”.
I love books of many genres, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult, and some Fantasy. I also like to write with many different genres in mind and I am excited to be working on a Historical Fiction novel of my own.
Poetry is still something I love and I want to publish my own poetry book! That is something I am currently working on. What will be published next, God only knows, but I am excited for it!
When not writing I love spending time with my family, and also playing card games and board games. To rate my competitiveness, I guess it is a 5 from a 1 to 10 scale with potential to increase. (Okay, make it an eight).
Now in sports, unless it’s tennis, I’m not competitive at all, haha. And when other people get competitive, I like to skip the drama and do something else. Adding to that, my sister is competitive. We kinda balance each other, which makes sense because we are also best friends.
I am on Goodreads Author page and I have a blog through them. I love coffee, I just finished a cup now, and I also love action television shows and all things superhero!
Thanks for reading about my book and checking out Bookgoodies!
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