BY: TANYA NEWMAN
Two days before Christmas, shy bookstore owner Scotlyn Carter survived a traumatic bank robbery and subsequent kidnapping. Now, three months later, she still wakes up hearing the robber’s promise to find her—and kill her.
Then James McIntyre, the high school flame whose easy smile and mysterious eyes she could never forget, walks back into her life. As she falls for him once again, Scotlyn slowly begins to feel safe for the first time in a long time and thinks that maybe her nightmare will not come true, after all.
But James is not all that he seems. He is back in Scotlyn’s life for a reason and has been in contact with the very thieves who kidnapped her. And he’s harboring a dark secret that, if brought to light, could not only destroy their relationship—it could end their very lives.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: in The Good Thief by Tanya W. Newman, Scotlyn Carter is kidnapped by bank robbers, one of whom believes she has seen his face. She manages to escape, but lives in fear, knowing the bank robbers are looking for her and, if they find her, they will kill her. Just as she starts to relax, her old high school boyfriend comes in to the bookstore where she works with her father. Scotlyn hasn’t seen James in years, not since he left abruptly after walking her home from school. But she has never forgotten him and hopes they can now take up where they left off in high school. But James is not what he seems, and he has sought Scotlyn out for a reason. Just when she thinks she can trust again, she learns that everyone has secrets.
This is a well-written romantic suspense, with interesting characters, a strong plot, and plenty of tension. You just can’t help rooting for Scotlyn and hoping that James doesn’t turn out to be a scumbag. A good book for a rainy afternoon and a hot cup of tea.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Good Thief by Tanya W. Newman is a story of young love, revenge, betrayal, and greed. Our heroine, Scotlyn Carter, is just getting over being a hostage in a bank robbery when an old flame from high school, James McIntyre, waltzes back into her life. Scotlyn had a major crush on him in high school and, just when she thought they might have something together, James disappears, moving away from their hometown. Now he’s back and he’s a hunk. And Scotlyn falls fast and hard. But James isn’t all he seems to be, and there isn’t room in his life for an old, or new, love. At least that’s what he tells himself. Even worse, he’s afraid he may get Scotlyn killed. And that’s when the trouble really starts.
The Good Thief is a solid romantic suspense, with a complicated and interesting plot, intriguing characters, and plenty of surprises to keep you on your toes. A great read.
She could feel the end of the shotgun moving her hair over her ear and the tears silently creeping out of her tightly-shut eyes. She was shaking against the cold, wet leaves on the ground. Her breath was ragged with what little air she could take in.
Please, she thought.
The man holding the shotgun only stared down at her.
“Please, what? What did you see?” he demanded in that severe, brusque voice she’d become all too familiar with, able to read her thoughts, as always, before pulling the trigger…
Scotlyn Carter opened her eyes to the darkness. She couldn’t see anything before her, only blackness. She touched her hand to her face, feeling, as she knew she would, the wetness from the tears that always emerged from the dream into reality. She closed her eyes against the darkness, waited for her heart to slow, and forced herself to take slow breaths as she pushed herself toward consciousness and the reminder that it was only the same dream, the same nightmare. At least she was now able to sleep with her back to the door, in her own house. For a month after the robbery and subsequent kidnapping, she’d camped out on her dad’s sofa.
Scotlyn turned over in bed now, looked at the clock’s red digital numbers, and saw that it was a little after seven. She’d slept all of six hours.
Not bad, she thought. Sleep and relaxation had been a memory, stretching back three months to late December, the twenty-third to be exact. Scotlyn had a feeling she’d always remember that date and even fear it…
She’d just finished making the store’s deposit for the day and had turned to make her way out of the bank. Three men, large in stature and voice, wearing long black coats and black hockey masks, and carrying shotguns had burst in and ordered everyone on the floor, except the poor teller, who Scotlyn had been judging as wearing too much makeup and hairspray for a woman obviously in her fifties. Everyone started screaming, throwing their hands up, except for Scotlyn, who’d immediately hit the floor as if she’d been through this numerous times and knew the drill by heart. She’d never been much of a screamer, never been much of a talker, anyway, so she really didn’t feel surprised at her reaction. They’d ordered the teller to give them all of the money in the bank drawer before shoving her back to the vault and clearing most of that, too.
All Scotlyn could think about in those moments as she pressed her face to the cold linoleum floor was, This is really happening. These men are going to kill all of us.
But they didn’t. They were fast, professionals at what they did, obviously, and were out in probably less than two minutes, though one had made a simple, costly, mistake. Scotlyn had turned her face to the side, watching their booted feet move back and forth, not really knowing what was happening exactly, until she heard one of the men curse.
Against the voice screaming in her head, she turned her eyes toward the voice and caught a glimpse of his profile, only for a split second as he secured his mask once again. She’d shut her eyes tight as she saw him turning toward her and fought with everything inside of her not to scream as he walked slowly over to her. She could feel the end of the shotgun moving her hair over her ear and the tears silently creeping out of her eyes. The man never said a thing, only stared down at her, or so she guessed, until another man’s voice said, “Let’s go!”
That’s when he spoke, when he said the words that would forever resonate with her. “She saw me, man! Saw my face! I’ve got to shoot her!”
“No!” Scotlyn had screamed, feeling the sobs shake her body as the end of the shotgun moved over her hair. “I didn’t see anything, I swear!”
She would have said anything to keep that gun from going off.
One of the bank robbers, apparently the leader of the trio, came and stood by this one. “Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure?”
“No,” she reiterated, shaking her head.
“Clock’s ticking,” the robber near the front warned.
Scotlyn could feel the hesitation in the leader, then heard him curse before saying, “Put her in the van.”
“What?” the one she’d seen shrieked. “I can just shoot her now.”
“No!” the leader commanded. “Not here, not now.”
“Just get her and come on!”
He hauled her to her feet, turned her around, and fastened a bandana, tight, over her eyes, seemingly all in one movement. She couldn’t see a thing, and it hurt, too.
“No,” Scotlyn said again as he grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder, sack of potatoes style. “Please!”
Wow, he’s strong, she couldn’t help thinking. She didn’t weigh much, but still, the way he was able to just throw her over his shoulder with one arm like that.
“Shut up!” came his answer to her plea. “We’re going for a little ride.”
Oh no, she’d thought. This is going to be bad, so bad. She was never going to see her father, or her best friend, Jane, ever again. And they were probably going to read or see on the news about her dying in a ditch somewhere.
They made it outside, and Scotlyn could feel the crisp air surround her just before he flung her into a van and climbed in after her. Things were getting real.
“Go, go, go!” he screamed before he even got the van door closed and the driver sped the vehicle into motion. She could feel him swerve right.
Down South Harper Street, she thought as the sharp turn shoved her against the door to her left. She could feel the door handle, could feel the cold air from outside, and could make out that the door was slightly open, had probably been left ajar without them knowing.
And that’s when a plan started forming in her mind. But could she make it happen? Would she be able to do it?
“We taking her back to the house to do it, man?” the man beside her asked.
It she repeated, knowing exactly what he meant.
“Shut up! I can’t believe how stupid you were!” the driver said, and they started bickering back and forth about stupidity, ignoring her.
Dead at their hands, or a chance to live on the road, she thought, and, realizing her choice, grabbed the handle, pulled as hard as she could, and threw her blind body onto the road without another thought.
She hit the ground hard, much harder than she would’ve thought, and rolled several times. She didn’t see or hear any other cars and thought about how that was good, and bad, at the same time. She’d barely stopped rolling when she got up, yanked the bandana away, and started running.
Her head was spinning out of control, and so it took her a second to gather her bearings. She could hear the van screeching to a stop and the distant shouts as they turned it around on the narrow street.
She pumped harder and faster, ignoring everything, including the pain from her landing, as she sprinted down one street, then another, feeling nothing but the blood singing through her, the icy wind rushing against her. She heard the earsplitting crack of a gunshot and more yelling. She cried out and ducked, but kept running just the same.
‘Go, just go, don’t look back.’ She remembered her track coach’s words echoing in her ears. ‘You lose a second every time you look back.’
She made it to the old Laurel Springs Cemetery, her feet hitting the gravel drive now, thinking, as she dashed around tombstones and sprays of flowers, that it was somehow wrong to use a person’s final resting place as a hiding spot. She slipped on the wet grass before making it to a two-story white stone mausoleum, surging through the open middle area, straight to the woods behind the cemetery. It was only when she was behind the safety of the icy trees and brush, that she allowed herself to stop, to look behind her. She crouched down, her eyes darting everywhere, her heart still slamming against her chest.
But there was nothing. No one, no sound. It was several seconds before she saw him, jogging along the gravel path, still far away, in the cemetery. He looked all around. She didn’t move, didn’t breathe. The van pulled along the side road and someone rolled a window down as it stopped clear in the middle of the street. The trees blocked her view of who it was, but she heard the driver say, “Let’s go! Now!”
“I know she came through here! Just give me a minute. I know I can find her,” he screamed.
“Get the hell in the van before someone else sees you!” the man driving the van yelled back.
Yeah, Scotlyn cheered silently. Funny how no one else seemed to be around at that late hour. No one at all.
He did, but not before turning and screaming one more time at the empty cemetery, at the woman listening, the woman he couldn’t see. “You’d better hope I never find you! Because I’ll kill you. I promise, I will. I know what you look like, what you sound like! I will find you!”
Scotlyn sat up, stretching her slender arms over her head. She sat for a long time, replaying the man’s words, verbatim, over and over, for a long time, until they didn’t seem like words anymore. She reached to her nightstand for her Albuterol inhaler and breathed deeply from it before turning her head up to the ceiling and closing her eyes, letting it do its thing. Sure, being so quiet and shy in school had made her a victim of some minor bullying, but nothing, no memory, had left quite a mark on her soul the way that man’s words had. He threatened to kill her, no he’d promised to kill her.
She turned her head down and looked at her inhaler still in her hands. Despite the man’s words, that haunted her like they did every morning, today felt good. Normal. Like there was nothing to fear. And maybe there wasn’t. Maybe that man she’d glimpsed wouldn’t make good on his word. Maybe he wouldn’t find her. Maybe he wouldn’t kill her if he did. Maybe he was just…gone.
After a while, she kicked the warm comforter away, almost reluctantly, and swung her feet onto the hardwood floor. She didn’t bother making her bed and stepped over the pile of clothes in the laundry basket on her way to the bathroom, wondering if those were dirty or clean. She padded down the hall to the icy bathroom that she’d tiled in blue and white, washed her hands and face, and pulled her long, dark hair into a ponytail.
Striking, she thought to herself as she looked in the square mirror above the sink. Her eyes were dark blue with a few flecks of silver here and there. That, combined with her pale white skin and black hair had caused Raylan, her last boyfriend, to describe her as striking. She and Raylan had broken up a few weeks prior to the robbery. She’d half expected him to call her after the robbery, seeing as how it had been in the papers. But though some people had witnessed her kidnapping, no one knew her, or knew she’d escaped. She hadn’t said a word about the incident, except to one person, her therapist. Thank God, she had already made the deposit that day and there had been no one in the bank she knew or who recognized her.
Scotlyn looked at herself a moment longer in the mirror, wondering if it was such a good thing to keep this to herself and Dr. Brenner. He’d commented on that a few times, but never pressured her and had always insisted that everything she told him was confidential.
Scotlyn shook her head at her reflection and let the memory of Raylan slip away as she padded through the house to her little yellow kitchen. The sun streamed in from the bay windows that overlooked her small fenced-in backyard, brightening the room even more.
One good thing, at least the robbery had given her something new to feel other than depression over yet another broken relationship. She supposed the depression was inevitable, just like fear was now, though it wasn’t really that bad, she thought as she poured herself a cup of coffee. There had only been one guy in her life to leave her with a prolonged sadness she still sometimes felt, and it was a guy who’d never asked her out, never even touched her. James McIntyre. He’d moved to Laurel Springs in the middle of their junior year of high school, and like her, he was the only child of a single father. He was also quiet like her, but had an easy charm about him that allowed him to make friends easily. Maybe it was the way he could just do anything without really trying that she liked about him. He excelled at track and played soccer. He was the only person in their English class to make an A on the poem they were assigned to write. He even worked in his father’s garage after school, knowing, at sixteen, just about everything his mechanic father did about cars.
Scotlyn leaned against the counter and took long, slow sips from her cup as the full memory of him returned, the memory she’d naturally run to while hiding there in the woods for hours after that white van had sped off. She remembered how she was so nervous the day they’d been paired as lab partners in Chemistry because she, of course, wasn’t doing so well in the class. Any course involving numbers tripped her up. She’d get the shakes and cold sweats every time her Algebra instructor called her to the front to work a problem, especially since he’d chastised her for being unable to just “get it,” and convinced her that she couldn’t succeed anywhere but at a community college. But at least she knew now how untrue that was, even if she didn’t back then. All one had to do was ask her about something intangible, something that could be interpreted, like a Georgia O’Keefe painting or a novel by one of the Bronte sisters, and she was off and running, feeling her confidence glow.
Scotlyn had initially wished she’d been paired with this handsome, dark-haired young man in one of those classes she knew inside and out, where she could actually impress him rather than fall on her face with her lack of knowledge. No, what she really liked was to watch him as he raked his hand through his dark hair or drummed his pencil against the side of his face as he listened to what the teacher was saying, much the same way she watched people at lunch. Rather than eating, she sketched them as they moved in and out of groups while she largely sat alone. People of her generation had always seemed as if they were from foreign countries, speaking languages she couldn’t, and didn’t care to, understand.
She knew when James moved to sit beside her that he’d find her just as stupid as she felt. But he didn’t. He was good at helping her figure out the answers and actually understand the material, nodding and smiling when he could see the answers coming together in her mind. When class was over, he walked steadily beside her to English, the other class they shared, telling her his own story about growing up in Montana on his uncle’s ranch, until they moved back to South Carolina, where his father had originally grown up. He asked to see her sketchpad, and admired the soft lines of her drawings. All of this–his quiet way of speaking, of listening and never interrupting as she told him about her own life–led to an almost immediate attraction and the old nervousness was replaced with a different, better one. They talked every class period, and walking together to English class became a tradition, of sorts. Then one Friday in late May, he asked if he could walk her home. She only lived about a mile from school and walked slowly with him, trying to drag it out. They chatted about their classes and classmates, and assignments, as always. He had a nervous way of laughing after saying something sometimes, the way she did. She really thought he was maybe going to ask her out for that very night. But, he never did. He just left her with that easygoing, crooked smile of his.
When he didn’t come back to school after three days of being away, Scotlyn asked her Chemistry teacher about him. He informed her that James and his father had moved back to Montana that past weekend.
Scotlyn had to run to the restroom instead of going to English class, so no one would see her crying. He knew he was leaving. That was why he wanted to walk her home, why he never bothered to ask her out on a real date. He was gone, probably forever.
Scotlyn, not realizing she was half-smiling at the memory of him, took another sip of the coffee and looked at the clock on the stove–7:23. She didn’t have to see Dr. Brenner until nine-thirty. She had just enough time to go for a run if she really wanted. She could feel her shoulders droop a little. A quiet morning with just her coffee and her thoughts sounded better. Or maybe she could sit at the breakfast table and paint an image of how the sun was streaming in through her bay windows. She took another sip and considered.
Dr. Brenner, at first encouraging, had lately been downright insistent that she leave the house more.
Scotlyn pulled one foot up to her back, stretching her thigh. Her legs, once so strong from all of the avid running she used to do, were now weakened to the point of frozen pain every time she dared to pound the pavement. She uncoiled her leg and looked outside. It was daylight, morning, perfectly safe. Conceding, she set her coffee on the counter and went back to her room to fish through the laundry basket. She found some yoga pants, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a white pullover. James still lingered in her head, but she didn’t mind. His memory warmed her. She still wondered if maybe she’d actually loved James, and that’s why she found it so hard to let him go, even now, or maybe she felt she could have loved him. Whatever the case, the memory of him never really left. Even her old yearbook was creased with where she’d opened it hundreds of times to look at the only picture taken of him running track and, of course, winning the race he was running. She never told anyone, not Jane, not her father, about her feelings for James, just kept them tucked away in the back of her mind, a perfect memory she could visit when things weren’t going so great. Sometimes she found herself sketching the way she saw him back then–angular cheekbones, dark hair and eyes, but then she’d feel weird and rip the drawings out of her sketchbook and throw them out, leading her to sometimes wonder if maybe he’d never left her mind because he had left her in reality. He’d left before a relationship could even begin between them. Ever since she could remember, she’d been the one to leave first, the one who could not commit, even now. She wondered if her free-spirited spitfire of a mother, a woman she’d never met, a woman who couldn’t commit even to her daughter, had given that to her.
The curiosity faded as Scotlyn stuffed her backup inhaler in her pocket, found her keys and cell under a pile of unopened mail on her glass breakfast table, and checked her phone to be sure it was on and had plenty of juice since she’d forgotten to charge it the night before. If her father called her and couldn’t reach her, he was likely to call the police station and hospital before showing up at her door and giving her a lecture.
Scotlyn closed and locked the door behind her just as an arctic blast rushed against her face. She shivered, zipped her pullover up to her neck, and decided just to break into a run to warm herself up faster, rather than trying to stretch. She knew she’d regret it later, but decided to deal with the consequences when they happened. She hopped down the concrete steps leading to the sidewalk and stepped into an easy, slow gait. She knew her weak lungs would slow her to a walk soon, but she’d keep up as much as she could. She turned up Church Street and passed the large First Baptist Church, with its stained glass windows and immense white pillars out front, before stopping, wondering if she should go left or right onto Main Street. Right would take her along a quiet, tree-lined route of old homes, quaint as they were when they were first built hundreds of years ago. But turning left…
Scotlyn rolled her eyes at herself. She’d turned right during her run last week. She knew she couldn’t avoid turning left forever. Dr. Brenner was right. Getting through the fear would take a certain amount of head-on confrontation. The robbers were probably long gone. Really, what were the chances that, after three months, they were sitting there waiting for her to pass the bank? So, after a few seconds and a few breaths, she turned left, toward the town square. Quite a few cars were on the road despite the hour, and Scotlyn lifted her hand in greeting at each one, though she didn’t know a single person who passed her. That was the way it was here. Although Scotlyn sometimes got annoyed and just wished she could focus on her run without worrying about others, most of the time she enjoyed the friendliness. It made her feel better, safer, somehow. What didn’t make her feel safe, however, was what she was now approaching. She kept her head down, only looking at the large, white bank with upturned eyes and found herself picking up her pace. Her lungs went into a bit of a panic, but she concentrated on breathing, on willing them to behave.
Scotlyn sprinted across the street without looking side to side first, and wondered if she’d be able to pass that building ever again without every detail of the day coming back. She made it to the town square, with its immense, iron-gray courthouse, with about a thousand steps to the front door. Brick-faced, quaint shops surrounded the building, including a dress shop and jewelry store that had been there since before Scotlyn was born. There were also gift shops, a small one-picture theater, a sandwich shop, a Greek-Italian restaurant, a couple of law offices, and of course, her father’s bookstore on the other end of the square. Scotlyn hurried past, hoping he didn’t see her jogging and now wondering why she’d decided to come this route. She knew he’d ream her if he found out she was out running in the cold, with asthma. Scotlyn slowed, looking up one side of the road and down the other before crossing under the red light and turning again, picking up the pace and racing past the old Laurel Springs Cemetery with its dilapidated, yet charmingly antique wrought-iron fence as if she were running away from the scene of a crime.
She gulped down half a bottle of water when she made it back home and shed her clothes as she walked to the bathroom to run a hot shower. It soothed her muscles that were tired and sore in that nice way after a workout, causing her to stay in longer than she needed, and by the time she forced herself out, she was running late. She dried off in a hurry and flipped on the television as she rooted around, in yet another laundry basket, for some unwrinkled clothes. Her ears perked up when she heard something the newscaster was saying about some robbery that had taken place in Columbia at a precious metals warehouse. Apparently someone, or a group, had broken in at night and had stolen about half a million dollars’ worth of precious metals, leaving behind no trace or hint of anything. Scotlyn set aside a long-sleeved white T-shirt and some jeans, and absentmindedly wondered if the group who did this could be the same group that robbed the bank she was in a couple of months ago. She wasn’t surprised, when the newscaster closed the story with a recap on the bank robbery in Laurel Springs, and set about drying her hair. She went to grab her clothes but stopped when she passed her full-length mirror. For weeks after she escaped, she’d seen black and purple bruises covering her shoulder, hip, and leg when she passed that mirror. The stabbing, then aching, pain had kept her from sleeping on that side of her body for at least a month. She ran her hand down that shoulder and arm, past her hip. The bruises weren’t there anymore, but she felt them still, and, if she looked hard enough, could still see them. Scotlyn closed her eyes and turned away. She hurriedly dressed, all the while refusing to look in that mirror again, and finished off the outfit with some low-cut black boots and a silver Celtic cross hanging from a black leather cord necklace. The necklace was one of the only things Scotlyn’s mother had left behind before leaving Scotlyn and her father for good. Scotlyn didn’t know if her mother had left it for her intentionally, or had just forgotten it. Scotlyn touched it now, remembering how she’d found it one summer afternoon on her dad’s bureau when she was eight, saw that it had obviously been untouched in ages, and took it to him. He’d told her it was her mother’s, or had been, anyway.
“I don’t know why she left it,” she remembered him saying as he turned it over in his hand before handing it to her with a sad smile. “But you can have it.”
To this day, Scotlyn wore it almost every day.
She applied a little powder, mascara, and some lip balm and grabbed her black leather blazer as she ran out the door. Only ten minutes now to get to Dr. Brenner’s and it would take at least fifteen if the traffic was good. Scotlyn was wondering how fast she could high-tail it across town without getting stopped when she threw her car into drive and raced out of her driveway, spitting gravel behind her.
She made herself slow down, though, as she got on the little four-lane road leading to Dr. Brenner’s office, still running late but feeling light and happy, as if something good were about to happen. But then she passed into the outskirts of town, and the roads became narrower, the buildings sparser.
She didn’t know if it was the fear that was still percolating after three months, or maybe the newscaster’s report finding its way to the front of her mind again. Or maybe it was the way some spidery tree branches above suddenly cast a long shadow along the inside of her car, but something changed. She could feel her smile fall away, could hear her dad’s words again, words he used so much they should’ve been his catchphrase. But this time, instead of dismissing them, she heeded them, over and over until they became a mantra in her mind.
‘Careful. Be careful.’
© 2016 by Tanya W. Newman