Best of Texas Book Award for Suspense Novel: Unaware by Susan P. Baker

Then one day, when her husband is out of town, the stranger lurks in her garage, waiting until she and the children go to bed.

Unaware by Susan P. Baker has received the Best in Texas Book Award for Suspense Novel. The award is presented by the Texas Association of Authors.

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Susan P. Baker

The Story:

What you don’t know CAN hurt you. Frustrated with the two controlling men in her life, Dena Barlow Armstrong has outlined a rosy future for herself and her children, independent of them.

Her husband, Zack, constantly pushes her to turn over her inheritance to him, and when she doesn’t, he punishes her with his indifference.

Her law partner and cousin, Lucas, controls her money and the types of cases she accepts. Just as Dena begins to achieve her goal of independence, someone emerges with very different plans for her. Unaware of the danger she faces, Dena lives each day as a wife, mother, and attorney.

Then one day, when her husband is out of town, the stranger lurks in her garage, waiting until she and the children go to bed…

This standalone novel is Susan P. Baker’s sixth mystery/suspense novel.

Sampler from Chapter 1:

Lieutenant Martin Richardson pushed his cold, half-eaten shrimp po-boy aside and kicked back in his leather chair, propping his bad leg up on his desk. He glanced at his cell phone for the umpteenth time. Still nothing from his little sister. His stomach burned with anger. If the asshole had harmed her before she could get to that woman lawyer’s office, he was a dead man.

Joe Morales, Martin’s ex-partner, arrived at the top of the stairs with a stocky man in tow. Joe seated the man next to a desk and glanced toward Martin’s office. Two other officers brushed past him, escorting two women toward the lineup room. A skinny kid of about fifteen, handcuffed to an old wooden desk chair, struggled to pull his hand free and uttered epithets at everyone who scooted by him. A sobbing woman perched in a chair on the other side of Joe’s desk. Earlier, she’d told Martin she wouldn’t talk to anyone but a female officer, so Martin had sent for Sergeant Loyola, who was taking her sweet time in getting there.

Joe stuck his head in the door. “Lieutenant, this guy’s house is across the street from the store on 39th. I think he saw the boys that killed the owner. You want to be in on the questioning? He’s pretty scared.”

“Thanks, Joe.” Martin rubbed his calf where a shotgun blast had damaged it when he’d been a rookie many years earlier. He appreciated Joe’s asking, though it wasn’t required for the Lieutenant to be at the interview. “Get him a cup of coffee. I’ve got a couple of calls to make, and then I’ll be in there.” He reached for the phone. He’d like to grab a bite to eat with Joe later and catch up on things. In the last two years, Martin had lost two partners: Joe, when Martin had made lieutenant, and Liz, when she’d dumped him and moved to California with her best friend.

His insides were hollow with dissatisfaction. He was finally making decent money. He was over his wife’s splitting on him. They should have never gotten married in the first place. The years he’d spent getting a college degree instead of working his way through the ranks had paid off. And now he didn’t like it. He missed the streets. He had no personal life. He was thirty-two. Childless. And didn’t even have prospects.

He did know a lot of women. The ones at Frank’s Gym often flirted with him. The trouble was—Martin’s sisters had said—he was too picky. He should have remarried within a year of Elizabeth’s taking a hike.

Martin finished his calls and pulled his leg down. He spun around in his chair. Maybe the summer heat was making him restless. He wanted a relationship. Remembering what his divorce therapist had said before he’d quit seeing him—that it would happen when it was right—he told himself to be patient. He sure was tired of waiting, though.

He didn’t think he was particularly picky. He wanted an educated woman. Divorced was okay, but no kids. He wanted his own. He wanted a woman who had the guts to stand up for herself without being aggressive. He wanted intelligent conversation. If she also wanted to walk on the beach and go to the theater, not just the movies, that would be okay, too, as long as she didn’t complain when he watched football.

Pulling himself up to his full six feet, Martin walked into the patrol room, feeling like an intruder. He hadn’t been talking to the murder witness five minutes when his baby sister, Ginny, topped the stairs.

He jerked his thumb toward his office and followed her with his eyes as she went in and closed the door. She’d been crying. Hell, every time he saw her lately she’d been crying. What was it this time?

“All right, Mr. Jackson,” Martin said, clapping the witness on the shoulder, “I guarantee you that if you can ID those two boys, we’ll keep them in detention. Okay?” He shook the man’s hand. “Talk to Detective Morales here. He can explain to you how the system works.”

Martin walked back into his office and closed the door behind him. Ginny sat in one of the chairs opposite his desk. She stared at her lap and thumbed through a stack of papers. Her long, straight blond hair had tangles on the left side, which he recognized was from twirling her hair around her forefinger like she had when she was little. Patting her on the head as if she were a puppy, he rounded his desk and perched on the edge, facing her.

“Why didn’t you call? I was worried.”

She looked up with red-rimmed eyes. “I’m sorry. I forgot to charge my phone again.”

He hated the whiny tone in her voice and swallowed back a harsh comment. “So what’d she say? Will she take your case?”

Ginny nodded. Mascara smears down her cheeks made her look like a clown in full makeup. “She’s going to file a protective order.”

“So what’s wrong? Isn’t that what we wanted?”

“Yes. I’m just afraid of what he’ll do when he gets served the papers. He’ll kill me. I know him.” She wiped her nose with her fingers.

He handed her his handkerchief. “He isn’t going to do that, Sis. I won’t let him. What do you have there?” He stared at the papers in her lap.

Ginny wiped her nose and eyes. Black smudges transferred to the handkerchief. “A copy of the contract and interview sheet Mrs. Armstrong had me fill out. She says we’re common law married because we lived together and told people we were married. We did talk about being married.” Tears coursed down her face again. “We have to get a divorce.”

“I thought these days if you were common law you could just split up and be divorced after awhile.”

“But I’m going to have a baby, and if I don’t get a divorce, it’ll be illegitimate. I don’t want my baby to be a bastard.” She burst into tears.

Outrage struck him like a wallop to the stomach. “A baby. Shit.” He jumped off the desk. “Didn’t you use protection?”

She raised her head, tears streaming. “I know it was stupid. He said it wouldn’t hurt just one time to do it without a condom.”

“And you’re just gullible enough to do anything that monster says, right? What have I told you from the very beginning?” He poked his finger at her face. “You shouldn’t have gotten involved with someone so much older than you. There was a reason he wasn’t already with somebody else.”

Ginny pushed his hand away. “All right, Martin. I said I knew it was stupid. What do you want?” She blew her nose again and glared at him.

“For you to get an abortion.”

Her eyes grew large and round. “No. Never. I can’t believe you would even suggest such a thing.”

“Aw, c’mon, Sis. If you have that baby, you won’t get rid of that creep for the rest of our lives. Do you want that?” His heel banged against his desk, making a deep metallic noise. “Do you want him beating you, stalking you, making you miserable forever? You’d better think about it. You can always have another kid when you settle down with someone decent.”

“No. I won’t murder my baby.” She cupped her stomach as if she were holding an infant. “You can ask me anything, but not that. I won’t kill my baby.”

How could he make her understand? Having lost their parents when Ginny was still a minor, he and their older sister, Mary, had raised her. He’d spent those years instilling in her all his values, teaching a naïve little girl how to reason things out. Her irrational behavior, her willfulness, her pigheadedness frustrated him. “Jesus H. Christ. Have you gone off the deep end? How much pregnant are you anyway? A week? A month? It’s not a baby, yet. It’s a … a … thing … a mass of cells.”

“I don’t care what you say.” Ginny crossed her arms. “I will never murder my baby.”

“Stop saying that. What’s got into you, anyway?”

She stared at the floor.

He looked out the window at the patrol room. Everything out there appeared normal. It ought to be a madhouse, to complement what was going on in his office and in his gut. It was hard enough to think about that creep laying a hand on his baby sister, much less having sex with her, but to even think that he would be father to Martin’s niece or nephew. God. The poor kid would never have a chance. Sellers would make all of their lives miserable. There had to be a solution. He focused his attention on Ginny again. “Okay. Here’s what you can do. Give it up for adoption.”

Ginny shook her head, her hair flying. “How could I do that? Give up my own child to strangers? How could you ask me to do that?”

“You’re being hardheaded. You can’t just keep the baby. Can’t you see you have to sever all connections to the man?”

“You don’t understand. Alan’s mother abandoned him when he was a little baby. How could I do that to his son?”

“Easy. The kid would be better off with two parents who loved him and wanted him and didn’t beat on each other.”

“I never hit Alan.”

“I know that. It was just a ‘for instance.’ You know what I mean.”

She covered her face with her hands. “I don’t know what to do.”

“What did the lawyer say?”

“She made me a list of options.” Ginny pulled a sheet of paper from the stack and handed it to him.

  1. Abortion.
  2. Adoption with father’s consent.
  3. Adoption without father’s consent. Perjury.
  4. Don’t tell the father. Keep the baby.
  5. Don’t tell the father. Give the baby to a relative to raise.
  6. Divorce and name him as the father. Ask for child support.
  7. Divorce and don’t mention the baby. Name the father on the birth certificate. Don’t tell the father.
  8. No divorce. File a paternity suit a year after separation and after the baby is born. Ask for child support but no possession time for the father due to his violent history.
  9. No divorce. After the baby is born,ask the father to sign a waiver of interest in the child and keep the child.
  10. Divorce. List the baby as a child of the marriage. File a termination of parental rights suit and ask the father to sign an affidavit of relinquishment. Terminate his rights.

“There’re enough options here,” he said, handing the paper back.

“I know. She said she’d let me know if she thought of anything else.”

“What else could there be?”

Ginny shrugged. “But she’s going to file a divorce with the protective order. She said there’s a sixty-day waiting period in Texas, and we might as well start it running. If we decide not to go through with it, we can dismiss it later.”

“Is she putting the baby in?”

“Not right now. She wants me to think everything over. She said we could add the baby later if we wanted to.”

“What does she think you should do?”

Ginny hugged herself. “She wouldn’t say. She said it’s a personal decision between my doctor and me.”

Martin pulled Ginny into his arms. “And so it is, Sis.”

Please click HERE to purchase Unaware: A Suspense Novel from Texas Authors.

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