Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Priceless" by Suzannah Burke.

I have had some wonderful feedback on my newest wip. "Priceless" I have posted for your comments and feedback chapter 1. The book is a departure from my "Psycholigical Thriller" genre...and my "Comedy" A HUGE departure, I am nervous about the response, but eager for the honesty I have come to expect from my we go...

PRICELESS by Suzannah Burke Chapter 1.

Maddison Howard decided to wear her hair up-swept, the dark mass of curls was much too girlish to be left down. She took a steadying breath and looked into the mirror, her reflection was pleasing to the eye, until her gaze wandered down and took in the jagged scar which ran like a bolt of lightning from the base of her slender throat, slashing its way across her satin skin and ending under her right arm. She scolded herself, "Oh, no-you-don't! No tears, not now."

It had been four years since the accident, four long, empty years since she had lost her beloved Eric, and the child she had been carrying.

The jagged scar was a constant reminder of the horror of that day. The pain went beyond the physical. Maddison made it a point to avoid mirrors whenever she could. It was the mirrors in her mind she couldn't avoid.

Friends and family kept telling her she was so strong. It wasn't difficult to appear that way when you could feel nothing. The accident had claimed three victims that day. The fact that she was breathing was a technicality. Inside she felt empty. Her soul had gone with her husband and child. The wall she had built around herself protected her from the pain of remembering.

She chose to leave the small country town where she had been born and raised.

She moved from outback property to property, signing on to drive cattle, sheep and horses, wherever she was needed. Long days in the saddle helped keep her sane.

Falling into an exhausted sleep under the the ceiling of stars each night gave her a measure of peace.

Maddison forced her thoughts back to the moment, focusing on the turbulent week that had passed and wondering just what the hell the future would bring.

At least make up would erase the temporary blemish of the dark circles under her large brown eyes. They were courtesy of three sleepless nights, and the seventeen hour flight from her home in Sydney, Australia, to Los Angeles, California.

The black suit she had purchased lay on the narrow bed, mocking her. Another death, it said. One more funeral. One more memory that would fade with time.

The suit would hide the visible scar. Her wall would hide the rest.

This would be her last morning staying in the cheap room. In fact, this would be the last morning of the private life she so treasured.

She dressed and completed her hair and make-up; aware that she looked far more self-contained than she felt.

There had been no time. No time to think, no time to grieve, more importantly, no time to meet with the little girl whose mother had died a bare week before. A little girl just five-years-old, who was to become Maddison's sole responsibility from today, until the youngster turned twenty-one.

Maddison had been stunned by Carol's tragic death. At the age of just twenty-seven, Carol's star had flamed brilliantly, and then, she was gone.

Maddison had existed in a state of turmoil since the law firm of Hinch and Beckerman, based in L.A., had finally tracked her down on the outback property in New South Wales, Australia. Where she worked as a Jillaroo.

The lawyers informed her that Carol Templeman, her friend since childhood, had died. She, Maddison Howard, had been appointed sole guardian of Carol's five-year-old child, Danielle, together with an estate valued in excess of One hundred million dollars.

The days following that fateful call had merged into a jungle of paperwork, passport documents and visa's. Thankfully, Carol's American lawyers, had appointed a local firm to handle every aspect of this for her. They were most anxious for her to be in Los Angeles, as soon as humanly possible. The funeral arrangements were under control. Carol had left very clear instructions on how she wanted it handled.

Frankly, Maddison was more anxious to meet the little girl, to reassure herself that she was okay.

She had arrived late yesterday evening to be met by Michael Hinch, the Junior partner in the law firm. He was taken aback at her refusal to accept the suite of rooms in the plush Los Angeles hotel. She had opted instead, for this small room. To the lawyer's further surprise she had insisted on paying her own air fares and accommodation. Calmly explaining that as she had yet to come into the inheritance, she was not entitled to use any of the enormous amount of money left in her control.

Danielle's existence had been Hollywood's best kept secret, with only the law firm, and the household staff of the mansion in the hills, aware of her parentage, until now.

Carol, was, at the time of her death, listed in the top five money earners in Hollywood. Subsequent investments by her army of advisors had increased her earnings substantially.

The story of Carol's death from pancreatic cancer was news enough! But mix that with the existence of a hitherto unheard of offspring, plus the huge dollars involved in the estate. Add to that already explosive mixture, an unknown young woman from Australia, and you had the perfect story. Headline heaven!

The piranha within the media were in a feeding frenzy.

The knock on the door startled Maddison back to the present. She grabbed her handbag and opened the door to find a very tall man standing there.

"Miss Howard?" he asked.

"Yes, yes, that's me. And you are?" she responded.

"The name's Leonard, Ma'am," he said as he handed Maddison his photo I.D, "I'm one of the bodyguards who will be looking out for you and the little girl," he stated.

"Bodyguards! You're kidding me? Is that really necessary?" Maddison asked.

Leonard gave her a look which appeared to ask what planet she was from, "Ma'am," he asked, "Have you looked out the window this morning?" He moved across to the narrow piece of glass and drew back the curtain, beckoning Maddison to join him. He heard her audible gasp at the sight of the crowd downstairs.  A jostling, swarming mass of people that uniformed police officers were attempting to contain, behind a number of swiftly erected barricades.

"I don't understand!"  Maddison said, "How, how did they find out, about me I mean? Who told them where I was staying?"

Leonard gave her a tight smile. "The news leaked out, either from the lawyers, or the household staff up at the mansion," he continued, "My firm is trying to track down the source, trust me whoever it is will be dealt with." he answered calmly.

Nothing in Maddison's experience had prepared her for this, there were hundreds of people out there. "Who, what! I don't get it, are they all Carol's fans, or people from the media?" she asked.

"We call them 'Paparazzi', Miss Howard," he answered. "You and Danielle are the hottest news to hit this town in a very long time!" he stated.

"Where is Danielle? Surely she's not with you, in that, that, hornet's nest?" she asked quickly.

"No Ma'am, she's safe and sound, she and your house-keeper Mrs Mendoza, are waiting for you at Hinch and Beckerman." He answered, as he strode to the door, carefully checking the hallway, before ushering his new boss to the elevator.

"I, have a house-keeper?" asked Maddison in amazement, as she kept up with his long stride.

"Oh hell!" he muttered, as he stopped and looked at her, "You really don't know this business, do you, Ma'am?" he asked with concern.

"Well, no!" she responded honestly, "No, I don't. In fact, I'm not sure I want to," she said.  "Can we just go and pick up Danielle?" she was clearly worried, "That poor baby has had more than enough to deal with."

"Okay! Leonard responded, "But Ma'am, when we exit the elevator I want you to stay tucked in behind me, two more of my guys are waiting in the lobby."

Maddison touched his arm and said softly, "Leonard, please, I am not Ma'am, I am not Ms Howard or Miss Howard, my name is Maddison, okay." She noted the surprised look on his face as she continued, "Oh, and Leonard, be patient with me, please. I'm more used to herding cattle than people, and from what I can see so far, my damn cows are a heap smarter." She graced him with a grin.

Leonard assessed her again, this time looking into the dark eyes, instead of at the amazing figure, that the black suit did nothing to diminish, "Maddison it is. Do you seriously herd cattle?" he asked.

"Sure do! Cattle, horses, sheep! Whatever my employers want. I'm a country girl, born and raised." she stated proudly.

Leonard beamed a smile of killer proportions at her as they headed into the foyer.

After a quick introduction to his partners, Mitch and Tony, Leonard handed her a black shawl, "Maddison I want you to put this over your head and shoulders," he paused, noting her look. "Believe me it is necessary. They have no photographs of either you, or Danielle. I'd like to keep it that way for as long as possible!" He made his point very clearly.

The young woman nodded her agreement, it made sense to her. "Thank you." she  said, giving him a quick smile. She placed the shawl over her head, obscuring her face as instructed.  She was no fool. It was best to let these men do what they were trained to do.

"I'm grateful, guys, I know I'm way out of my depth in this situation." she acknowledged quietly.

Leonard shared a quick word with his partners, then made a call on his cell phone.

"Maddison, the Limos gonna come round out front, as close as it can get. You'll be just fine. The three of us are not letting anyone close, okay." he stated.

"Okay, let's just do this, I want to get to Danielle as soon as possible." she responded.

The bodyguards formed a protective barrier around her, and they emerged from the lobby.

Maddison kept her head down, as the guys began forcing their way forward, the noise was unbelievable, people were screaming out her name, and flash bulbs made the frenetic scene seem even more unreal.

The police were doing their damnedest to hold back the frantic crowd, trying without much luck to keep them behind the barriers.

Leonard opened the limo door, helping Maddison in as quickly as he could and climbing in after her. Tony, replaced the driver. Mitch, clambered in the front along side him.

"Drive." Leonard commanded, and then turned to Maddison, "Sorry if I got a little rough back there, but those bastards were starting to break through the Police cordon."

"It's alright. I--I'm fine. Is that how people in Hollywood show their respect?" she asked.

"Not all of them, Maddison," responded Tony from the driver’s seat, "It just seems that way."

"Leonard, will the funeral be as bad as that?" asked Maddison softly.

 "Well," he replied carefully, "I expect it will be considerably worse, everyone whose anyone in this town will be there, it's an absolute smörgåsbord for the Paparazzi."

"Shit!" was her dismayed response.

The lawyer's office address was surprisingly, not targeted. Allowing them to park the Limo directly in front. Maddison was escorted upstairs.

As she entered the elegant suite of rooms she spotted a little girl with a halo of blonde curls sitting with an older lady.

Maddison looked enquiringly at Leonard. He gave her a nod and a smile.

Maddison walked across and crouched down in front of the little girl.

Looking into the eyes of the tiny stranger caused her to take a shaky breath, for they were Carol's eyes, deep dark blue. Yet unlike Carol's, they held no laughter in their depths, no wicked sense of fun. Only a lingering, haunting sadness that wrenched at Maddison's heart. She ached to fold this little one in her arms and make all that pain go away.

Before she could speak a brisk older man strode over, his hand extended as he spoke, "Ah, Miss Howard, I am Joshua Beckerman, senior partner." he said whilst assisting Maddison to her feet. "A tragic business this." he continued, "If you'll come this way, I have all the documents ready for your signature."

She looked at Danielle, "I'll be back in just a minute, all right honey."she said.
The little girl said nothing, just continued to sit quietly, unmoving.

The documents were explained, signed and notarized. Eighty million dollars would continue to be managed in a trust fund, with a more than generous allowance paid each month to Maddison for the care and expenses in raising Danielle. Maddison was stunned to learn that Carol had left her Twenty million dollars of her own, to do with as she wished. The older man made it very clear that his firm would be more than happy to assist her in any investments she may care to make!

Joshua Beckerman cleared his throat and looked uncomfortable as he said to Maddison, "Carol didn't see much of Danielle, my dear. I'm afraid that the child has not had much in the way of... , er, maternal caring. Apart from Mrs Mendoza and a succession of unsuitable nannies, she's been pretty much alone."

Maddison nodded her head, but made no comment. The older man then handed her an envelope. On the front in Carol's unmistakable handwriting were the instructions, “To be read After the funeral.”

"You will undoubtedly have many more questions, my firm will be at your disposal, at all times." Joshua Beckerman extended his hand, Maddison shook it  and returned to the outer office.

She looked across at Danielle and gave her a soft smile.The little one looked at her but didn't return it. Maddison knew instinctively that she would need to earn the child's trust before any bond could be formed.

Once seated in the limo, Maddison tried to warm the small hand that lay limp and unresponsive in her own. There was no answering pressure, the small fine-boned fingers appeared to crave no warmth, or reassurance.

The limousine curved up a steep driveway towards the Chapel, and the circus outside it came into view.

Danielle's tiny body began to tremble, and her hand now clung to Maddison's.

"Oh Dear God," murmured Maddison, she felt close to breaking down at the total ugliness of it all.

"Tony, don't stop. Drive on through!" she commanded suddenly.

The bodyguard turned to her and asked, "Are you sure, Maddison?"

"Yes, damn it, I am! I will not subject Danielle to being the main course in this smörgåsbord." She was clearly furious.

Tony gave her a wicked grin and said, "You got it, Maddison!" as he put his foot down and deftly handled the Limo, maneuvering around the large crowd and back out the gates.

"Is the mansion surrounded like this as well?" she asked briskly.

"Yes, ma'am," Mitch responded.

"Alright then, do you guys have a plan B?"

"Uh, no, we weren't expecting you to, um, you know, be so protective of the child." Mitch muttered, clearly embarrassed.

Maddison corrected him, "The child's name is Danielle, all right, guys."

"Leonard, can you get me Mr Beckerman on the phone, please."she asked.

"Sure thing." Leonard replied as he punched in the numbers and passed her the cell-phone.

She didn't mince her words, simply telling the lawyer that she had decided it was not in Danielle's best interest, either to attend the service, or return to the estate at this time. She could not be dissuaded, ending the conversation with the promise that she would keep the firm appraised of her location. And hastily reassuring the lawyer that she would retain the services of the three bodyguards.

Danielle had stopped shaking and maintained hold of Maddison's hand. Maddison put her arm around her and the child snuggled in close.

"Okay, do you guys know of any place we can bunk down for the night that's safe, and unknown to the press?" she asked hopefully.

The men looked at each other, and all seemed to reach the same conclusion.

"We have a cabin," said Leonard, "It's a four hour drive. If you don't mind roughing it, your welcome to use it."

"Trust me, if I can handle a cattle drive, I can sure as hell handle a cabin. Thanks guys."

As another thought struck her she said, "We had better get ourselves some different transport, we kinda stick out like dogs' balls in this thing." She wasn't sure why they all started laughing, it was a common enough expression back home.

"You sure are a surprise package, Maddison" said Leonard, and the others joined in with a chorus of, "Amen, to that!"

After a brief discussion it was decided that Tony would drive the Limo back to the Chapel, the darkened windows of the vehicle should keep the crowd guessing for a short while. Hopefully long enough for the others to make a head start in Leonard's off road vehicle.

Thankfully, Leonard lived only short distance from the Chapel, and they exchanged vehicles quickly.  In a move that clearly could not be anticipated by the 'Paparazzi.'

 Danielle had fallen asleep, and had curled up with her head on Maddison's lap. Maddison felt a rush of emotion, as she stroked the blonde hair gently. It had been a very big day. For both of them.

They stopped for supplies, including some jeans and sweaters for Maddison and Danielle. The guys had purchased them and she was unsure if anything would fit, but right now that didn't matter. She just wanted to get where they were going and settle Danielle down for the night.

As it neared dusk, they pulled up in front of the cabin, Maddison was awestruck by the view across a huge lake surrounded by trees in a full kaleidoscope of autumn color.

"Oh, how beautiful, this is just perfect, guys."she exclaimed with pleasure.

The cabin was larger than she'd expected and quite cosy, two bunk beds in each of the two bedrooms, a big old wood-stove, and open fire place in a large room with views out across the lake.

Maddison carried Danielle's sleeping form inside and gently laid her down on the bunk nearest the door, to be certain she'd hear her if she awoke. She covered her with a warm quilt, and tip-toed from the room.

"Coffee, Maddison?" asked Leonard as he shrugged of his suit coat, revealing a shoulder-holster underneath.

He noticed her glance,"I'm licensed to carry, so are the other two."

Maddison surprised the hell out of all of them by laughing, "Relax guys, I learned to shoot before I learned how to write my name. I was just wondering if I could get me one of those fancy assed shoulder-holsters." she said.

"Oh, and Leonard; coffee later, right now I would love one king sized, industrial strength drink; Jack Daniels if you have it, neat." she requested.

"Comin', right up!" If he was surprised, he didn't show it.

Maddison took the drink, and removed Carol's letter from her handbag.
 She gave Leonard a nod to indicate that she was going outside.

She took a long pull at her drink, and sat on a fallen log on the edge of the lake.
 Her hands shook a little as she removed the letter and began to read.

Dearest Maddi,

Am I still the only person on the planet allowed to call you  that, I wonder?

I'm not good at saying sorry my friend, you know that better than anybody. But I am sorry, sweetie. More than I can say, that I have let so much time go by without a word.

I know that losing Eric and the baby, just about destroyed you, my Maddi, but I couldn't come to you. I know that was wrong of me.

 I also know that you would as always, have made excuses for me. There are no good excuses Maddi, there is just my usual inability to put anyone else’s needs ahead of my own.

Something about this dying business tends to want to make one blindingly honest I've found. But then you have been that way since we were kids.

I know you must have a million questions. I'll do my best to answer at least some of them.

Danni has only just turned five at the time of writing.

The doctors have said that if the Cancer runs its course I have about six-maybe-seven weeks left. I am in a good deal of pain at the moment, I've refused the heavy morphine,  just for a while, so that I can be lucid enough to do what needs to be done.

Danni's a great little kid, Maddi, very bright, and as pig-headed as I am.

She doesn't know me very well , that will come as no surprise to you I guess! I was so concerned about my damned image, that I hid her away, she has only had the company of Connie Mendoza my housekeeper, and a string of nannies, who got too damn curious about her 'family'.

Sure I visited, always arriving with gifts and surprises, and I left just as quickly as I could. I'm pretty sure she doesn't even know that I'm her Mommy. I'm just the pretty lady who visits sometimes.

Her father died about a year ago from a drug overdose, he had no family, and wanted nothing to do with Danni. She doesn't know anything about him.

I met him on the set of my first movie, {which was dreadful!} but the critics were kind to me. The rest as they say is history.

I wasn't in love with him, Maddi, he was just a great looking guy, who said all the right words, and made all the right moves. His name was David Petrowski, There are photo's of him in my bureau drawer, if you feel that Danni needs to see them at any time, I leave that completely up to you.

When I learned I was dying, I should have contacted you then, I know it was wrong of me to spring it on you like this.

I wasn't afraid you'd say no, not for a moment.

I was more afraid that you would want to come and be with me.

I didn't want you to see me like this Maddi, too bloody vain I guess.

There is no one else that I would entrust her to, just you.

I know you so well Maddi, you were the only person in my crazy life who ever just loved me, no ifs, no buts, no maybes.

I can't change who I am, or the mistakes I've made. All I can do is give Danni the best possible chance to grow and become the woman that her mother is not.

You, are that chance Maddi.

It's funny in a way, all the things I teased you about when we were  growing up, are the exact reasons I want you to be a mother to my child.

You always appeared so certain of who you were and where you were going with your life: Yet you never lectured me about what I was doing.

You would just stick that damn stubborn chin of yours out and dare the world to take you on.

I remember how you would defend whatever hapless victim I was busily crucifying at the time.

How I used to laugh at your indignation when you thought I was using someone. I thought then that you were so damn moral and righteous ; when all you really were was kind.

You didn't need the approval of the crowd the way I did. I almost hated you for that.

I hated the way everyone wanted to party with me; yet it was always you they turned to with their problems, you they trusted with their hopes and their dreams.

I've  often wondered how it would feel to inspire that type of trust.

Mostly I was in awe of your honesty, it hurt sometimes and yet you were and are the only human being I have ever known, that has never let me down.

You accepted who I was without judgment.

 I know that despite the pain I caused you, {most of it quite deliberate}, you continued to defend me to any fool that dared put me down in your presence.

I want that for Danni, I want her to grow up unafraid; proud of who she is and certain of her place in this crazy old world.
She hasn't had the greatest start, Maddi, yet I know with everything that’s in me that you are her one chance at becoming a whole person; with pride and humor and dignity...

Teach her Maddi. Please. Teach her how to love and be loved.

And above all else my dear dear friend; love her the way you have loved me...unconditionally.

Thank you, and goodbye my Maddi.                                        


Maddison felt the wall that she had so carefully erected begin to fall. She sat and let it happen.

The tears too long unshed hit her in racking sobs, she let them, it was time.

Leonard had been watching her quietly from the front porch, and when she at last grew quiet he approached her without speaking. Maddison looked up at him with pain-filled eyes, grateful for the comfort of his presence.

At last she found her voice and asked,"Is Danielle still sleeping?"

"No, she woke up about ten minutes ago, poor little tyke. She's just laying there curled up in a ball." he responded.

He wasn't surprised when his new boss got up and went inside. This Maddison Howard woman, was quite a lady... , he caught the thought and shrugged his shoulders, reminding himself that she was also his boss.

Maddison entered the room quietly and walked across to where Daniell lay. Without speaking she sat on the bed watching the little one for a moment.

Then she reached out and gently stroked the damp curls, very softly.

The child quivered and drew in a shaky breath, "It's okay to cry, Danielle." Maddison spoke softly as she lifted the youngster up into her arms and held her, rocking her back and forth in an age old rhythm. "It's all right, baby," she crooned. "It's gonna be all right."

Finally, she felt the little girl shudder and tightened her arms around her.  She continued to rock her as she wept. The weeping stopped after a time, and Danielle looked up at Maddison with those huge blue eyes,"Wh... , what do I call you?" she asked.

Maddison placed her hand under Daniele's small chin, and smiled down into the dear little face. She could hear Carol's voice echoing through the years, "You can call me Maddi, little one. You can call me Maddi."

Chapter 2 Will be up tomorrow. Thanks for reading. OPINIONS please, folks.

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