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Authors: S.R. Booth

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The Secret (The Scinegue Series Book 1)

BOOK: The Secret (The Scinegue Series Book 1)
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The Secret

By S.R. Booth

Copyright © 2013 S.R. Booth.

All rights reserved.

 

Edited by Expert Words

(
www.expertwords.net
)

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. All characters, locations and events in this book are either fictitious or used fictitiously. Any similarities to real persons living or deceased, locations, or events are purely coincidental.

 

 

 

To my parents who eagerly read every page

To those who offered wonderful advice and encouragement

To Expert Words who jumped in at the last minute and saved Scinegue

To my daughters for their patience and suggestions—poor Farmer Dan

And to my husband for his unwavering support

 

 

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Matthew 25:40

 

 

Books by S.R. Booth

The Secret

The Pledge

The Forest

Bradley and Nicole

 

Saving Will

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Sneak Peek: The Pledge

 

Prologue

 

S
tanley Bennett checked the time again. His hand trembled, but he didn’t notice. What he did notice was the golden hands on his watch seemed frozen. They’d barely crept forward since the last time he looked. It would still be another hour, maybe even two, before his plan was set in motion.

For better or for worse.

He should be doing something else besides standing there,
the thought crested above all others. He should really be at work, but he didn’t move. He couldn’t. He stood framed in the window of his lavish house and stared unblinking at the simple bag of trash that rested against the curb out front.

His breathing was slow and even, his heart rate steady, but his mind raced. He’d worked for Scinegue for years and had fully supported what they were doing—
what he thought they were doing,
he corrected—but if what he’d discovered was true, they must be stopped. He knew what he stood to lose; his house, his car ... maybe even his life—but as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t ignore this.

He closed eyes that burned from lack of moisture and rubbed them with the palms of his hands before letting his focus revert to the innocuous bag of trash that could hold the key to changing everything. He wasn’t prepared to take on the company himself. He was opposed to what it was doing, but he had a family.

Others had disappeared within the company. He knew he could ‘disappear’ just as easily, which would be bad enough, but what about his family? Would they ‘disappear’ as well? He pushed away the question that chilled his blood and turned his thoughts back to his plan.

He might have found someone who could help.

He was too closely monitored to make direct contact. He couldn’t afford for anyone to make a connection between them. Foolhardy on one hand, his plan also held the greatest chance of succeeding with the least amount of risk to himself. He couldn’t afford for this to go wrong.

His pulse spiked for just a second as he again considered what would happen if he was caught. If he was right—if everything he’d uncovered was what he feared—he wouldn’t survive a mistake.

It would go as planned
, he reassured himself with a brief nod. Every detail had been precisely executed, and the connection he’d discovered had been confirmed.

And it felt right. He released a shaky breath as he acknowledged that had been the deciding factor. It simply
felt
like this was what he was supposed to do.

But if he was wrong...

 
Chapter 1

 

W
ith the key halfway in the door that led from the garage into the house Billy Roth suddenly stopped and leaned forward, letting his head rest against its smooth coolness. He closed his eyes a
s
question after question crowded his mind.

What kind of company did he work for? Could it really be as ominous as Ben made it sound? What should he tell Sarah about today? What
would
he tell her?

He resisted pounding his head against the door in frustration knowing it would do nothing to answer the odd questions that had come up at work and would probably just leave him with a headache. Instead he unlocked the door and pushed it open.

The delicious aroma from whatever Sarah was cooking surrounded him
,
even before he registered the lively 80s music she was playing. He inhaled deeply, enjoying the savory scent as he walked inside.

He never knew if he would be coming home to a house filled with pumping rock or mellow soul, but he did know he could judge Sarah’s mood by her selection. Today the music told him she was happy and upbeat. He sure didn’t want to darken her mood with his news.

He found Sarah in the kitchen as he usually did, given her love for cooking and baking. She was washing dishes amongst the white cabinets and powder-blue countertops in their tiny, dated kitchen and sang along with the music. Her shiny blond ponytail was swinging as her dish towel swiped dishes in time with the beat. ‘Cute as a button’ was the description he often heard referring to her, and even though he wasn’t exactly sure where that expression came from, he found it fitting.

She didn’t notice him come in so Billy leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms over his chest, content to watch her as his thoughts continued to race.

She looked so happy and ... innocent, he guessed was the word, and a sad smile tugged at his lips. Dressed in a pair of worn jeans and a crisp white button-down with the sleeves rolled up, she easily still looked like a college student.

He rubbed a hand over his chin. He’d felt as carefree and innocent as she appeared to be when he left the house that morning. Only two years separated them, but after the day he’d just experienced he now felt many years her senior, as if the weight of the world—at least their small piece of it—rested firmly on his broad shoulders.

Billy pushed away from the wall and closed the distance between them with a few silent steps. He wrapped his arms around her, causing her to drop the shiny metal lid she was drying with a resounding crash. She uttered a cry of surprise and spun around then gently pounded Billy’s chest as a broad smile covered her face.

“Hey! You’ve got to stop sneaking up on me like that,” she scolded in a mock serious tone.

Her playfulness lifted a layer of the stress that was weighing him down, and he did his best to hide the rest. “Maybe if your music wasn’t so loud, I wouldn’t be able to sneak up on you.” He grinned down at her.

“I just couldn’t resist that seductive little dance you were doing for me,” he added. “It was for me, right?” He swept a playful look around the room, and she swatted his chest again before standing on tiptoe to kiss him.

“All for you,” she joked. However she was dancing, she felt sure it had been anything but seductive. The thought made her lips curve into a smile as they pressed against his again.

Billy allowed the kiss to linger then deepen before he pulled back and used his fingers to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “How was your day?” he asked, his voice low and rough.

“Good.” She reached back to turn down the volume of the music on her smart phone before stooping to pick up the lid from the floor to put it back in the sink.

“I decided today would be my baking day, so it was pretty busy. I made some cookies.” She gestured to the rack of freshly baked cookies still cooling on the cupboard. “Your favorite, chocolate chip. With nuts,” she told him with a smile, knowing his penchant for the added nuts.

“I also baked six loaves of bread to restock the freezer. I think I got every surface in the kitchen dirty,” she added with a laugh, and Billy noted the floured counters and stacks of washed cookie sheets and bread pans.

“I’m just finishing up the dishes, then I’ll wipe down the counters. I do have dinner ready, though.” She flashed a smile over her shoulder as she turned back to the sink, knowing he would be hungry as he always was after work.

Billy lifted the lid of the large blue cast-iron pot sitting on the stove. Sarah had been pretty proud of herself when she had found it online for what she considered a steal, always careful to watch her spending. “I can’t believe you use this heavy thing.” He pictured his tiny wife maneuvering the heavy pot, and shook his head.

He leaned over to inhale the delicious aroma that rose with the steam. He emitted a low sound of gratitude, drawing a laugh from Sarah. “Mmm, that really smells good. Stew?”

“It is stew. Chicken with fresh veggies from the garden. And it wouldn’t be nearly as yummy if I didn’t make it in that ‘heavy thing,’” she chuckled, enjoying Billy’s perplexity with her choice of cookware.

“Chicken, huh? Did Ella outlive her usefulness?” he joked, referring to one of the chickens their neighbors, the Bensons, raised.

“Billy, you can’t name your food!” She looked over her shoulder and wrinkled her nose at him, rinsing soap suds off the last washed bowl.

Billy laughed and raised both hands in surrender. “For someone who is able to process her own food, you sure are squeamish about giving it a name.”

He dipped a spoon into the pot for a taste.“Wow! This is so good. Your cooking just gets better and better.”

“Thank you. It did turn out good, didn’t it?” she asked, with a sparkle in her eyes and a touch of pleasure in her light southern drawl. “I played around with the seasoning a little bit and roasted the chicken before adding it to the veggies. I’m glad you like it.”

She turned off the water and wiped her hands on the dish towel. “The dishes are done. Go wash up. I’ll have everything ready to eat when you get back.”

He gave her a mischievous grin as he snatched a warm cookie off the rack and took a big bite. He chuckled and dodged the wadded dish towel she threw at him before disappearing around the corner.

 

L
ight brown hair still damp and a little spiky from his shower, Billy sat beside Sarah at their small breakfast table. It was set with cheery, multi-colored crockery bowls filled with the steaming stew and tall glasses of iced tea. They ate and visited, each enjoying their meal.

Billy savored his last bite of stew then reached for another cookie. “I think I spend half of my day at work just imagining what kind of delicious meal I’ll be coming home to for dinner. Thanks for cooking.”

“Well, since I’m home every day now, I have time to cook more than frozen dinners.” Her smile held a tinge of sadness. She’d quit her part-time job when she found out she was pregnant, but had lost the baby soon after.

“So how was work today?” she asked with forced cheerfulness, redirecting her thoughts to a happier subject.

Billy considered her question as he played with his spoon. Should he tell her he might be out of work tomorrow and make her worry all night, or hold out until he knew for sure?

Billy’s coworker, Ben Richardson

a man a couple of inches shorter than Billy’s six-two with salt and pepper hair still sporting the buzz-cut he preferred from his days of serving in the military

had been with the company much longer than Billy, and he was optimistic that nothing would happen at all. But Ben didn’t see the man standing in the window watching them.

Deciding he needed to tell Sarah what had happened at work, Billy huffed out a deep breath. “My day was actually kind of strange,” he began, choosing his words carefully as he gathered their empty dishes from the table and carried them to the sink.

“Strange how?” Sarah followed him to the kitchen and started the water to wash their dishes. The tropical scent from the dish soap filled the air, and she and Billy fell into a familiar harmony as they tidied the kitchen.

“Well, we were collecting the trash in the super fancy neighborhood, Scinegue.” Billy took the clean bowl she handed him and started to dry it. “You know the gated community that’s named after the company and has all those big houses? The one we have to be so particular about.”

“Of course I know it. It’s the one where you’re not even supposed to talk too loud, right? A bunch of crazy snobs it sounds like!” She rolled her eyes thinking of the super strict policies the neighborhood enforced.

She remembered Billy telling her that one time they’d driven through some mud in a construction area on their way to the neighborhood. The guards at the front gate wouldn’t allow them to enter until they washed the caked mud from the truck’s tires.


Sin-a-gue
. What kind of name is that anyway? Does that mean something in another language?”

“I don’t know. Ben and I just call it the ‘gated neighborhood’. Maybe that’s what it means.” He lifted his shoulders in a quick shrug. The name was the least of his worries.

“Anyway,” he continued, “we were about halfway down our last street. You know usually there’s not much for us to pick up since they have us run the route five days a week for the residents’
convenience
.”

Sarah raised her eyes to the ceiling and shook her head but didn’t interrupt him.

“Well, today one house had a ton of bags set out. I was letting my mind wander, thinking about getting a free workout hefting all those heavy trash bags.” He gave her a crooked grin and flexed an arm.

“I was really swinging them into the truck, when all of a sudden I swung one that was as light as a feather and the whole bottom tore out. Papers flew everywhere.
Everywhere
.” His eyes bored into hers, wondering if she understood the severity of what he was telling her, wondering if he should tell her the rest. His voice was low and dark as he continued, “Ben even came back to help me, and he usually doesn’t get out of the truck, so I knew he was worried.”

“Ugh,” Sarah scrunched her nose up in sympathy. “I’m sorry that happened. I’m sure it was a pain picking up all that paper.” She reached over and rubbed her hand over his arm. “You did get a good workout though!” She squeezed his toned bicep and tried to tease a smile from him.

His lips curved into the semblance of a smile, but she could tell it was forced, and she felt her first niggle of real concern. “It was a pain,” he agreed, picturing the papers scattered across the street. “But that’s not the strange part. I looked around after we picked everything up to see if we’d somehow gotten lucky and gone unnoticed, and there was a guy standing at the window of that house. He didn’t move away when he saw me look his direction, either. We maintained eye contact for a split second and time seemed to freeze. You know that feeling?” he questioned, and Sarah nodded as her concern grew.

“I’ve never had anyone in that neighborhood make any kind of contact before, but he just stood there watching. I’m sure he was probably just trying to see what we looked like so he could report us. I got this feeling when our eyes met, though. It sounds crazy, even to me, but he didn’t
seem
angry. His body language seemed anxious, maybe even excited.”

“Do you think he’ll report you?” Sarah asked, as the impact of what he was telling her hit. Cleaning up a mess was one thing. Having a report filed against him at a company as particular as Scinegue, was something else entirely.

He pushed a hand through his short hair as he considered her question. “Those people report every little thing. They don’t put up with anything. But like I said, I didn’t
feel
like he would.” He paused and stared toward the far wall, reliving the moment.

“I don’t know why I feel like that. We were so far apart; I could barely see his expression. He had his hands pressed up against the window on either side of his face in a way that made him look anxious, and I just had that feeling.” Billy shrugged.

“And then it got even more strange,” his voice rose as he continued. “Remember I told you about Jerald Tanner ‘disappearing’ after he waved back at that little girl who was playing in her yard when we drove by?” He reached up to put the glasses he dried in the cupboard but kept his eyes on Sarah.

“Sure I remember. Did you finally hear from him?” Sarah asked with a glance in his direction. She knew how much it bothered Billy that his coworker left without a word or a trace. “I figured he was just embarrassed about losing his job or something like that and didn’t want to talk to anyone who knew about it.”

“No,” he frowned with a shake of his head, “I wish that was it. Actually, I learned that he wasn’t the first one to
disappear
after having a mishap at work.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sarah frowned herself, trying to decipher what he meant about people disappearing.

They finished the kitchen, and Billy stood deep in thought for a minute before walking to the living room.

“Billy?” Sarah dried her hands and followed him. “What does that mean?”

Billy sat on their old, red plaid couch that had graced Sarah’s parents’ living room for many years before they passed it down to Billy and Sarah when they remodeled. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “Ben came over to me after work today. He was getting ready to leave, and it was like he made a decision to tell me something. He chewed me out a little for not being careful enough with the trash
,
then he said people who mess up around there disappear.”

“You mean they get fired?” Sarah narrowed her eyes and tilted her head to the side as she tried to clarify.

“Well, that’s what I thought at first too, but he said they disappear. As in not just gone from the job. Just gone. Like Jerald.” Billy glanced at her face to gauge her reaction to his words.

“You know I’ve really looked for him,” Billy continued. “I thought it was too strange for him to lose his job and move the same day. I’ve tried tracking him down online and I talked to his neighbors. I can’t find a trace of him. And no one is too excited to talk about him. To talk to his neighbors, you would think they never even knew him.”

BOOK: The Secret (The Scinegue Series Book 1)
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