Since Kat’s father is working out of town for a month, her insufferable Aunt Betsy moves in. Meanwhile, Kat’s friend, Randy, and brother, Dave, find Jake wounded in the forest. After hearing his story, they decide to help him hide from the police and their aunt.
When the secret is revealed, circumstances force Jake and Kat to flee into the wilderness on her horse, Stormwind. When they return home, she and her family begin fighting against a corrupt cop who is determined to serve justice. As Kat witnesses the best and worst in the people she meets, she discovers who her true friends are, and just what it takes to keep them safe.
Can Kat and her family prove Jake’s innocence and expose the true criminal…without becoming his next victim?
Targeted Age Group:: 11 – 15
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I started writing this sequel to “Stormwind of the North Country” when I was in high school in the mid-1990’s. I was inspired by the reports of an escaped convict who was loose in the area. I became fascinated by the man, who was said to be an expert outdoorsman, and imagined how he lived off the land and hid from the cops. He was eventually caught, but his escape had already given me plenty of story ideas! That’s when I began a book about Jake, a character from the first book, hiding from the police for a crime that he didn’t commit.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Kat, the main character, is the narrator of this story, like she was in her previous book, “Stormwind of the North Country.” When a family friend, Jake, becomes the prime suspect in the assault of a young woman Kat knows, she is so upset by the news of the attack that she refuses to believe that Jake is innocent. When Kat finally realizes that her stubbornness and betrayal exposed Jake to danger and she risked losing her best friend, Randy, she knows that it’s up to her to make things right…
Jake was originally a train-hopping, Great Depression-esque hobo, but I later modernized him to a hitchhiker/backpacker/outdoorsman type. He ended up being my favorite character from the first book, so I wanted to give him a story of his own. His intimidating appearance and drifter lifestyle hide the fact that he’s a good, kind-hearted man, of intelligence and high education.
Kat’s prim and proper Aunt Betsy is based on a combination of my paternal grandmother, and an aunt. However, her wealth and over-the-top snobbishness is purely my imagination.
In the first book, Kat and her friend, Emily, had been growing apart as their lives changed over the summer. However, in this book Kat’s former friend soon becomes her enemy…
At first, I just made up the other characters to fulfill their respective roles in the story: Carson (a cruel and corrupt police officer,) Pierre (Aunt Betsy’s chauffeur,) Matthew Bence (the true criminal,) Dr. Strats (the court-appointed psychologist,) and other characters like the judge, lawyers, and Kat’s teachers. As I wrote about each person, though, their personalities grew and developed in ways that surprised me. Characters from the first book also appear, such as Kat’s male friend Randy, her father, Luke, and brother, Dave.
Excerpt from Chapter 2: Jake
That night, I barged into Randy’s room without his permission, and sat on his bed. “Randy, we need to talk.”
He scowled at me. “You’re right, we do need to talk. Like about locks for our doors.”
“You know what I mean.”
Randy sighed. “Kat, I don’t know why you’re acting like this. I know you’re upset about Sarah; we all are, but that’s no excuse to take it out on Jake.”
“Why are you defending him? Jake’s a grown man, he can stand up for himself.”
“He’s shocked at you, Kat. He told me that when he lived with us last fall, you seemed…well, different. But he can’t believe how rude and nasty you are now.”
“I’m no different than I was then!”
“Really?” Randy’s voice softened. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Kat. You’re not the same girl I met last year. That girl believed in people, and she’d do anything to help her friends. Now it’s like you’re trying to fit in with those snobby girls at school, and that’s not who you are. You’re acting more like…like Emily.”
I stood up to my full height and spoke in my haughtiest voice. “I will never be like Emily.”
“Well, guess what? You already are. Look, I don’t care what you, or the law says. I’m not assisting a fugitive, I’m helping a friend. Listen to me: for five years, Jake broke the law to keep me safe. He was the first person who ever cared about me, and I’m not gonna let him down!”
“Randy, if he really loved you that much, then he would’ve stayed with us last year when we asked him to. But no, he was so selfish, he had to take off and see the world! Look, he’s no friend. He just wants free food, a free hideout…Randy, can’t you see that he’s just using you?”
“I think you’re the selfish one here, Katherine Amanda Normith!” Randy shouted. “The world doesn’t revolve around you. Jake is in a lot of trouble here, and I’m the only one who can help him. I’m loyal to him, not you, kid, and you better get used to the idea. What have you ever done for me?”
“Don’t you call me kid!” I said. “And if getting you a place to live doesn’t count for much, then —”
“What is going on in here?” Aunt Betsy said as she marched into the room. “I thought I heard shouting. And what are you doing in here, Katherine?”
“Sorry,” Randy said quickly. “She was just leaving.”
“I certainly hope so! You need to return to your bedroom, Katherine. It isn’t proper for you to be in here.” She turned and headed back to her room, leaving Randy’s door wide open.
Excerpt from Chapter 6: The Scrap of Flannel
That night, Aunt Betsy almost went to pieces when she saw my sprained ankle. As if following Jake’s advice, she and Pierre rushed me to the local clinic, where I had to repeat my embarrassing story about my fall down the hill. I knew better than to mention the pond, and Hesperus, and hypothermia. Aunt Betsy was panicking enough without knowing that I’d fallen in the pond.
“Nothing is broken; it’s just a bad sprain,” the doctor said as he looked at an x-ray of my foot. “Just keep it elevated, and take it easy for awhile.”
I could have told him that, I thought. Aunt Betsy paid the doctor’s bill with her credit card, never even wincing at how expensive it was. But all the way home, she moaned and fretted about my “hazardous” life out here in the country, which encouraged me to do “dangerous” things like riding horses, or walking in the woods alone…and now, skiing. I only slumped back against the limo’s comfortable seat, exhausted, trying to ignore my lecturing aunt, as endless classical music droned out of the car’s stereo. It was several days before she even let me go out to the barn. Randy and Dave had had to feed the horses for me.
But the following Saturday, I sat on Stormwind at the edge of the summer cottage’s yard. It had taken me a little over an hour to ride out there. Over the past months, Stormwind and I had become a familiar sight in Sprucewood, as I trotted her through town just as casually as other kids rode their bikes. Nobody stopped or questioned me when we crossed the empty soccer field and followed the back trail to the cottage.
My injured foot, still wrapped in a bandage and jammed into my boot, throbbed with a slight ache as it rested in the stirrup. It had been a week since my fall in the pond, and I had hobbled painfully around the house for several days until the swelling had gone down. I could walk okay now, but I had to wait until Aunt Betsy left on another shopping trip, before I could escape out to the barn.
I urged Stormwind forward, walking calmly past the cedar hedge to a big wooden shed on the other side of the yard. There was plenty of room behind the shed where Stormwind could hide. I hoped that she’d behave herself and not try to untie her leadrope. A short time ago, she had learned that she could pull at the knot with her teeth and set herself free.
Careful to land on my good foot, I dismounted, tied up Stormwind, and walked toward the house. I had a story planned just in case anyone asked what I was doing — I was lost and trying to find the way back to town — but the place was as deserted as it had been when Emily was here with me. Even the snow was untouched. “Now or never,” I muttered as I reached in my pocket and touched the scrap of torn cloth that I had snitched from Jake’s backpack, when he was in the bathroom that morning.
I stepped up on the porch and pushed at the front door. It opened just as easily as it had a week ago.
I tried to console myself that I wasn’t breaking or entering…was I? I wasn’t going to steal anything, just inspect the jacket to see if the scrap of flannel fit over the torn out hole. And if someone else had already broken in, wasn’t I was just another visitor?
I knew that Jake would be mad and worried about me if he knew what I was doing. He’d tell me that I shouldn’t be here alone, taking a big risk of being caught in someone else’s house. But if I could prove that I found the true criminal and cleared Jake’s name, then I could earn Randy’s friendship again.
Even if I uncovered the evidence, though, I knew that I couldn’t go to the police with my find. They wouldn’t believe me if I told them that I did some important work here, trying to solve a crime and gather evidence. Instead, I would get in trouble for trespassing, or even worse, be accused of robbing the place. Jake, Randy, Dave, and I would all just have to figure out what to do next, without getting the cops involved.
I took a deep breath and crept across the living room, as the sun beamed through the big picture window and my breath clouded the chilly air. Without another thought, I spread the jacket over the recliner and laid the scrap of flannel over the jagged rip. The plaid pattern lined up just like a missing puzzle piece. It was a perfect fit.
Although I suspected that would happen, I stood and stared down at it for a moment, amazed at how everything was coming together. I almost wished that Jake and the boys were here to celebrate with me, but I knew that this was for me to do, alone. I had already caused enough problems for them. I wanted desperately to help them in some way, and make up for what I did.
Excerpt from Chapter 15: The Summer Cottage
“That’s the truck,” I whispered, pointing out the red pickup in the driveway. “But there’s no sign of Randy or Jake. If they’re here, we would’ve seen them by now.”
“Well, that’s what they wanted, wasn’t it? To catch Bence? Maybe they’re busy.”
“Shhh. Now, get off. And stay low.”
We dismounted and hurried Stormwind behind the shed. I really had imagined ourselves joining Randy and Jake in their great adventure, catching the bad guy, but figured that it would be just another long, uneventful stakeout. Now that our quarry was finally here, I wondered if we made a big mistake.
“Stay here,” I told Dave as I tied Stormwind’s leadrope to a nearby tree. I could barely hear a muffled male voice coming from the cottage, where the front door had been left wide open. “Dave, don’t move…no matter what happens. But if I tell you to run, just do it. I don’t care where. Just go.”
“But Kat! -”
“Shhh!” I opened my backpack and handed Dave a walkie-talkie, tucking the other one under the bow around my waist. “You promised you’d do whatever I tell you,” I reminded him.
I squatted and crept toward the cottage, glancing back at Dave and Stormwind. He looked at me and backed out of sight behind the shed.
The big picture window was just ahead, hidden by the cedar hedge. I stood and parted the thick branches, straining to catch a glimpse inside. A familiar red-haired man paced restlessly around the living room, the tear in his coat gaping wide open. Bence!
Even though I had seen his yearbook picture, I was surprised at how young he looked, up close. He sure didn’t appear to be a villain…yet there he was, holding a rifle leveled at Randy and Jake, as they cowered on the couch.
“You thought you were being cute, didn’tcha, old man? You and your little sidekick, here. Tryin’ to haul me in to the sheriff like a little western posse. Well, I know who you are, Jacob Drake. I saw your face all over the TV, tellin’ the cops that…Bence did it.” The man chuckled. “Well, you have no proof of that. As far as they’re concerned, you killed her that day. You’re the only witness…but you won’t be for long.” He shook the rifle menacingly at Jake, and gestured at Randy. “And Blondie over here is a fool to believe you. So’s that kid with the white horse. The girl. I caught her pokin’ around here one day.”
I ducked back behind the hedge, ready to run back to Dave and Stormwind and get help. There were usually policemen doing business at the Town Hall, but after what happened with Carson, I was afraid to get them involved. Not until they could see the evidence against Bence – the stolen jewelry and torn jacket – for themselves. Not until Jake cleared his name.
Taking a deep breath, I stood up again and spied on Bence and his captives.
“Son, you should just put the gun down, and cool off a little,” Jake said calmly. “Look, how old are you, anyway? Twenty-two? Twenty-three? You’re about to make a mistake that could ruin the rest of your life.”
“No, you made the mistake, old man. Stickin’ that big nose of yours where it don’t belong -”
“Then just let the boy go. He has nothing to do with this.”
Bence smirked. “He does now.” He laughed as Randy gasped and shrank back closer to Jake.
I didn’t need to see any more. Randy was the bravest person I knew. It was a shock to see him huddled against Jake like a little child. I knew that no matter what happened, I couldn’t leave him and Jake alone here. Crouching behind the hedge once again, I scuttled around a rusting oil tank beside the back door, crept up on the deck, and tried the doorknob. It was unlocked.
I pulled out my radio. “Dave! Dave!”
“Kat? You better come back here. Stormwind keeps trying to untie her rope -”
“Dave, listen to me. Jake and Randy are in a lot of trouble; I have to get them out. Look, I’m at the back door of the house. I need you to distract Bence. Wait until I tell you, and then get a rock and throw it in the front door. Hide behind his truck. Think you can throw that far?”
“Kat, I’m the pitcher for my baseball team. I’m sure I can throw a rock across a driveway -”
“Then do it,” I snapped. “Then…just hide. Or run. Just be careful.”
I doubted that Bence would come out the back door, but squatted behind the oil tank, just in case. I took a deep breath and tried to calm my rattled nerves. I never imagined that Bence would be so…ruthless. Or that guns would be involved. I thought this would be just a lark, a fun adventure with my friends. If anything happened to Dave, I would never forgive myself.
I stood up behind the tank, ready to move, and listened. “Dave,” I whispered. “Now!”
“Hey!” I heard Bence shout. “What the -”
When I heard him stomping across the front porch, I jogged up the deck stairs and pushed open the back door. A handful of bullets glinted on the kitchen table, and without a second thought, I scooped them up and tossed them under the back deck. I looked down the hall and spotted Bence out the open front door, standing in the driveway, scanning the yard with his gun ready. I flinched as he shot in the air, hoping that Dave was OK…and well-hidden.
I dashed across the kitchen, down the hall, and burst into the living room, out of breath.
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