Winner: San Diego Best Published Young Adult Novel (2013), Finalist: Next Generation Indie Book Award (2014)
During her abduction and assault, Audrey begins to hear a voice. She hopes she’s not going crazy, because after what she’s experienced, that’s the most logical explanation. However, as she begins to listen to the voice, Audrey realizes that someone may be telepathically trying to help her.
Unfortunately, rescue isn’t all she needs. In order to leave behind the constant reminders, she flees to her Aunt Kate’s house in San Diego, and assumes a new identity. It works until the eighteen-year-old twin boys who live next door threaten to break through the protective walls she’s worked so hard to build.
Between Caleb going out of his way to befriend her and Justin avoiding her at all costs, Audrey doesn’t know if normalcy will ever find her again. But one thing is certain: When a familiar danger resurfaces, it’s the same voice that she turns to — a voice that is not only real, but a lot closer than she realizes.
Gripping and tastefully told, The Voice is a story of healing, trust, and courage.
Justin’s Side (Copyright 2013, Unedited)
I yanked my hair. This could not be happening. He was there with her right now. I screamed.
“Dude,” Caleb said as he burst into my room. “You all right?”
“No.” I turned toward my twin brother.
“You look like shit.”
“I feel like it.”
“Is it . . . her?” he asked. I nodded. Caleb’s face paled. “You have to help.”
“I’m trying,” I said through clenched teeth. My body started shaking.
I wish he’d lie down. He looks like he’s about to fall over. Caleb’s thoughts drifted to me.
Rubbing my face, I sprawled out on my bed, trying to focus on what was right in front of me, but images of Audrey screaming in pain assaulted me. What was he doing to her? I just wished I knew where she was. If I did, I’d break the damn door down and save her myself.
Caleb spun the desk chair around and sat facing me. “Have you tried following him? You know, when he leaves?” I’m so flipping glad I’m not the one gifted with telepathy. I couldn’t handle it.
My helplessness was so consuming it felt like my body was engulfed in flames.
“Listen,” Caleb continued, “I know it’s hard. But the guy’s had her for over two months. He barely feeds her. She’s dying a slow, painful death. Maybe if you can get into his mind, you can figure out where he’s hiding her.” I’m so thankful I don’t know all the details. What Justin has told me is more than enough. Shit, I need to stop thinking about this. Sorry Justin.
I glanced at my brother. “Do you have any idea what you’re saying?” Going into the psycho’s mind would put me over the edge. There was no way I could enter the creep’s head and keep my sanity.
“Yeah, sorry. It was a dumb idea.” Caleb stood and left the room, closing the door behind him. I’m afraid if Audrey isn’t rescued soon, I’m going to lose Justin, too. The entire situation is totally screwed up.
He was right. I had to do something. I’d been with Audrey long enough, and I hadn’t been able to gather any clues to help her escape. I couldn’t take this much longer. If I couldn’t handle it, I’m not sure how she could either.
I closed my eyes, picturing Audrey in my mind. Even though I hadn’t met her in person, I knew what she looked like from a photo. Her beautiful smile, long brown hair, chocolate eyes. The familiar pull tugged me. I felt my head lift, stretching, reaching. And my mind slammed into hers.
Don’t think about it. He’ll be done soon. Bite your cheeks and bear the pain. I hate my life. I hate Bill.
I grabbed the trashcan next to my desk and vomited. I had to stay in her mind if I hoped to get into Bill’s. I couldn’t think about what he was doing to her, I just needed to keep the connection.
Thank God, she cried, her mind splintering with pain. Through her thoughts, I watched Bill pull up his pants. This was it. I used Audrey’s vision of Bill and what he looked like, forcing my mind to extend from hers to his.
My head pounded. This had to work.
Look at her, Bill thought, she’s shaking. Probably because she enjoyed it so much. Too bad I have to go now. I’d love to do her again. But I won’t give her the pleasure. I want her to want me. I’ll make her wait until next time.
Where are my keys? I need to lock the bedroom door. Not that Audrey will ever escape. This cabin turned out better than imagined. It’s so secluded that no one will ever find her. And when I tire of the little bitch, well, the possibilities of disposing of her body are endless.
All righty, all the doors are locked and the blinds are closed. I’m good to go.
I hate this dirt road; it’s hard to drive on. Finally the main road is up ahead. Wait—there’s a car coming. I’ve never seen a car around here. At least the cabin’s another mile back. Looks like three men are inside the car dressed in hunting gear. Good. They’re not searching for Audrey.
Now was my one and only shot. I forced my mind into one of the hunter’s minds—the only one Bill saw clearly. Breathing was becoming hard. I didn’t know how much longer I could hold on.
Almost there. Hope we catch a deer today.
Now it was my turn to put thoughts in his head. The dirt road you just passed. There was a car. He had been hunting. He found a good spot. You should go check it out.
My mind went black and I lost the connection. Every part of my body tingled. I needed to warn Audrey before I passed out.
Audrey? I asked.
“Here,” she replied, her voice flat, emotionless.
I need you to do something for me.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I need you to scream, as loud as you can. Now, Audrey! Scream!
She was scared and too afraid to say anything. Scream! I urged. The hunters had to be close. If they didn’t hear her, they’d never stop and check the place out. She had to get their attention.
Audrey screamed, the sound tearing me apart. It was filled with so much hatred and pain.
Yell the word help, I insisted. Please, dear God, let this work.
Her mind panicked. There was a thumping noise coming from outside.
Keep screaming! It had to be the hunters.
No, she thought, please don’t let it be Bill.
I was trying to piece the images from her mind together. Three men burst into the room. It was the hunters. They’d found her. Audrey, tell them who you are. Your name.
“I’m Audrey Marshall. Please help me.”
My world went black.
My eyes flew open. It was 4:55 A.M. Holy crap, did the hunters find Audrey? Or had I dreamt the entire thing? Pennsylvania was three hours ahead of California, so the news should have something about the event. Getting out of bed, I turned on my computer, doing a quick search.
Headlines read, “Kidnapped Teen Found in Woods,” and “Teen Girl Reunited with Family.” I clicked on the pictures. Audrey looked like a ghost. She was so skinny. The clothes she wore hung from her body. Her hair was stringy and messy. I scanned through one article. Audrey was being treated at a local Pittsburgh hospital and the family was asking the media to respect their privacy during this emotional time. It didn’t say anything about Bill or his arrest. Scanning through another article, it said Audrey named her kidnapper and he was in custody at this time.
Holy crap, I did it. Those freaking hunters saved her.
I glanced at her picture again. Audrey’s eyes were dull, lifeless. God, I hope she’d be okay. I wanted to check on her to make sure, but I promised Caleb that once she was rescued, I’d leave her alone. Caleb was afraid Audrey wouldn’t keep my telepathy a secret. Besides, it’s not like she needed me anymore. She was back with her family now.
After turning off my computer, I slipped into my running clothes and grabbed my iPod. Early morning was always my favorite time. The voices that assaulted me during the day were sleeping. For some crazy reason I didn’t hear people’s dreams, only their active thoughts. Thankfully. That would totally suck if I had to listen to people’s dreams, too. Their thoughts were bad enough.
Jogging through the quiet streets, I couldn’t help but think of Audrey. Wonder if Kate next door heard the news? I’m sure she did. She was Audrey’s aunt after all.
Audrey. I was going to miss talking to her. She was one of the sweetest girls I’d ever known. Not that I was friendly with a lot of girls, but she was always so honest and straightforward. All I ever wanted was to help—for her to be found. I didn’t expect to actually like the girl. I didn’t expect to connect with her on any level.
I didn’t expect to find a friend.
Caleb would laugh if he could hear me now. Friend. Well, Audrey wasn’t exactly a friend. She was more than a friend. But she lived on the other side of the country, and she didn’t know my identity. She asked me several times who I was, but I didn’t tell her. There was no way possible to explain my ability to communicate telepathically. And there certainly was no way to explain how I’d managed to do it over such a great distance.
Running felt revitalizing. I breathed in the fresh air. Saving this girl certainly had to right a major part of the wrong committed by my father. Not that it would ever make up for what he did, but it definitely evened out the field a bit. My strange, freaky ability, finally came to some use.
I picked up the pace, forcing my legs to move faster, my lungs to work harder. Audrey was safe. So why did I feel a hole in my chest?
We were only two weeks into the school year, and it already sucked big time. Since I missed so many practices this summer, I had been kicked off the football team. Not that I really cared. I only played cause Caleb wanted me to and most my friends were on the team. The problem was having to explain to colleges why I wasn’t on the team any longer. I’d have to think of a good excuse because I couldn’t tell them I was busy telepathically communicating with the girl of my dreams, trying to save her. Did I just say girl of my dreams? Huh. Interesting. Well, I needed to stop thinking about her. She was home now. Safe. With her family. I did my part.
Several students turned toward me. I glanced up, and Mr. Stone was staring at me with his arms crossed. Reaching into my pocket, I fumbled with my iPod, turning down the volume.
Is he going to answer the question? Is Justin even paying attention? Mr. Stone’s thoughts invaded me. He probably doesn’t have a clue since he’s missed so much school. Wonder if he’s sick or just a punk kid that doesn’t care. I’ll have to talk to his mom about it.
There was an equation on the board. I had no idea what the answer was. All I needed was for Mr. Stone to think the answer, and I’d be okay.
Wonder what his problem is.
Why does he have a hooded sweatshirt on? It’s like ninety degrees out.
He is so cute.
Justin has missed a ton of school. He’s probably on something. Wonder if Caleb knows. That’s probably why he was kicked off the team.
Come on. This is so easy, f(x)dx = F(b)-F(a).
Call on someone else already.
“f(x)dx = F(b)-F(a),” I said, hoping I repeated the answer correctly.
Mr. Stone raised his eyebrows. So he does have a clue.
I cranked the volume on my iPod again, trying to drown out everyone’s thoughts.
When the bell rang at the end of the day, I pulled my hood over my head and turned up my iPod. I hated how big the school was, but at least it was easy to get lost.
Now that I wasn’t on the football team and Audrey was home, I had nothing to do after school. There had to be a place I could sit and do homework away from everyone while I waited for Caleb. He told me I could still work out with the football players—lift weights and stuff. While it sounded like a good distraction, something to focus on, I wasn’t ready.
Balling my hands into fists, my arms started shaking. Maybe in a couple of weeks I’d be ready. Once I finally got some sleep and was eating normally. And Audrey wasn’t consuming my every thought. Maybe if I just checked on her once, just to be sure she was okay, to see how she was doing. No, I’d promised Caleb I wouldn’t.
I found myself before Kate’s classroom. She was standing at the front of the room, writing on the whiteboard. Before I knew what I was doing, I entered her room.
“Hey Justin,” she said with a small smile. “Can I help you?”
Fumbling with my iPod, I turned it off. “Can I sit and do homework in your room?”
She grabbed her cell. Two missed calls. I need to call my sister back to check on Audrey. Kate glanced up at me. “Of course.” Justin needs me right now. He’s been kicked off the football team. I can just text my sister. It’ll be fine.
“Thanks,” I said, sliding onto a chair. I pulled out my physics book.
Kate went to her desk and began texting. How’s Audrey? Send. Kate bit her thumbnail.
My heart pounded waiting for the reply.
Not good, Kate read the text from her sister in her mind. Audrey is covered with bruises and malnourished. She’s not talking much. The psychiatrist is with her now.
Kate’s eyes filled with tears. I pretended to be doing my homework.
Do you need me? Send.
Yes, but please wait. You were just here. Focus on your wedding. I’ll let you know how you can help.
Focus on the wedding? Kate thought. I’ve only been back two weeks and Mike hasn’t mentioned the wedding once.
Okay. Love you. Send. Kate slid her phone into her purse.
Poor Audrey, Kate thought. Thank God she was found. I pray she’s actually okay. The thought of Bill raping her for two months is disgusting. I don’t know if I would have survived the ordeal. And Audrey is so young. She’s going to be screwed up for the rest of her life. Will she ever be able to love a man? Will she be able to be intimate?
I slammed my book closed. Bruised, malnourished, not talking? What did he expect? That she’d be home with her family like nothing had happened?
“Thanks, Kate,” I mumbled as I left the classroom. Shoving my ear buds back in, I cranked my music and headed to the stadium.
As soon as Caleb finished practice, we got in the Jeep and went to the Community Church. We didn’t go to all of the support meetings—Mom did. But a new girl was joining the group and we always liked to welcome the newbies.
This girl was different from most. We hadn’t discovered her at a party nor had I heard her thoughts. Mom had found her. Well, found isn’t really the right word. The girl just moved to the area over the summer. When she registered for school, Mom met her. They’d gotten to talking, Mom somehow sensing something dark and hidden in the girl. And just like that, the girl revealed she’d been molested.
Caleb pulled into the church parking lot and parked next to Mom’s car. I climbed out of the Jeep. Maybe Audrey was attending a similar support group for sexually assaulted victims. Hopefully she’d find the help she needed. My head pounded just thinking about Audrey. I wanted to reach out and find her. Instead, I forced myself to follow Caleb inside the hall.
You okay? Caleb’s thoughts drifted to me.
Yeah, I’m good.
Caleb nodded, placated by my response.
“Thanks for coming today,” Mom said as she came forward, giving each of us a brief hug. She checked her phone. “Everyone will be here soon.” Mom already had the table set with two plates of cookies and drinks.
“Look good,” Caleb said, popping a cookie in his mouth.
Shaking her head, Mom said, “I’m going into the meeting room to arrange the chairs. Greet everyone and send them in. Make sure you introduce yourself to Bree.” And Justin, are you okay?
Yeah. Apparently that was my word of the day.
You look better. You did good. I’m proud of you. If you want to talk tonight, we can. I love you. Mom turned and left.
My chest tightened.
Caleb nudged me with his elbow. “Hannah and I are officially together.”
I gathered that. You’ve been hanging out a lot.
Caleb popped another cooking in his mouth just as the door opened and Ella and Lillie came in. Ella smiled and nodded while Lillie kept her eyes glued to the ground. They went straight into the meeting room.
Hannah’s hot and all, but she doesn’t seem, I wasn’t sure what to say to Caleb to not offend him, like girlfriend material, I finished lamely.
Caleb chuckled. I’m not looking for anything serious. I just want a distraction. Caleb’s thoughts turned to football. He must be trying to hide something from me.
You mean something different because of Audrey? I asked him.
The door opened and a few more girls came in. Some headed straight into the meeting room. Others grabbed a drink before going in.
I can’t believe I have to do this, a girl’s angry voice slammed into me. A car door shut and I glanced outside. A girl stormed into the room.
“I assume the meeting is here?” she asked. The girl had short, spiky black hair. She was my height, but super skinny.
Angry is better than a sobbing mess, Caleb thought.
Caleb pointed to the room. “In there,” he said. “I assume you’re Bree.”
Bree went into the room, not looking back.
Did Mom tell you anything about her? Caleb asked.
Mom had told me a bit, but I didn’t answer because there was an old woman staring at me with a strange expression. She had to be Bree’s grandma.
Well, that’s everyone, Caleb thought. Let’s go. I don’t know why we had to meet someone who doesn’t even want to be here.
I can’t believe you just said that.
I didn’t say it. I thought it. Caleb smiled.
Don’t be a jerk. I shook my head.
Will you two stop it? the elderly woman’s thoughts yelled at us. You’re driving me crazy.
Caleb and I stood there staring at her. How in the world did she just communicate with us?
So, you’re telepathic? she asked me.
You mean you’re telepathic? I countered.
She smiled. “It’s been awhile since I’ve met someone like me.” How are you managing?
“Good,” I lied.
Images of the past summer floated through my mind.
“Interesting,” she said.
I wasn’t used to someone reading my thoughts. I felt oddly exposed. Then I realized I wasn’t hearing her thoughts.
Because I’m shielding them.
You can do that? I asked.
And more. She smiled. I can block other thoughts out as well. So it’s not so overwhelming.
The iPod suddenly felt very heavy in my pocket. The idea of blocking out thoughts was beyond anything I’d ever hoped for.
I can teach you.
Caleb looked from me to Bree’s grandma. He shoved another cookie in his mouth. “I’ll be in the Jeep,” Caleb mumbled.
I haven’t met anyone as strong as you in quite some time.
Why are you offering to help me?
Because I’ve been where you are. I understand. But also for a selfish reason. I need your help in return.
Of course there’s a catch.
I want you to help my granddaughter, Bree.
Help her how? I asked. My eyes narrowed in and I crossed my arms.
She could use a friend. She doesn’t have any at your school. Just introduce her to a few people, show her around, that’s all.
I stared into the old woman’s gray eyes that matched her hair.
“My name’s Judy. You can stop referring to me as the old woman.” So what’ll it be?
I wasn’t sure I could actually help Bree make friends—especially if she was angry all of the time. But maybe she just needed one person to be nice to her. I could do that. “I’d be glad to take you up on your offer,” I said.
Why is life so painful? I want to jump out of this window right now and end everything. Audrey’s thoughts slammed into my mind.
Pushing my chair away from my desk, I stood and rubbed my forehead. What was going on? I had been doing math homework, not even thinking about Audrey. So why did I hear her thoughts? I wasn’t trying to seek her mind.
Sheer pain crashed into me. My head throbbed in agony.
I hate my life! Audrey’s thoughts shouted. I don’t want to live. I can’t breathe. I can’t go on another minute like this. I’ll jump head first. God, why is Kate crying again? I don’t want to think of the cabin and what happened. That’s it—I’m climbing up and jumping right now.
Caleb threw open my bedroom door. “Justin! It’s Audrey!”
“I know,” I said, everything suddenly making sense. “She’s right next door, isn’t she?” Audrey had mentioned Kate. She must be next door with her aunt.
And she was going to commit suicide unless I stopped her.
Don’t, I begged. Think of what it would do to your family if you killed yourself now.
I felt her hesitate. Glancing at Caleb, I held up my hand, indicating for him to wait. I needed to focus on Audrey right now.
Pictures of the cabin and what she’d endured while held captive swirled through her mind. Since she was next door, the images were more vibrant and her emotions more intense. I fell to my knees.
“Justin,” Caleb said, “what’s going on?”
I explained about Audrey trying to kill herself. My mind opened, listening for her. She seemed to be asleep now. Although still in pain, she hadn’t gone through with it.
“She’s off the window ledge,” I said. “She’s alive.”
Caleb sighed. “When Mom said she was here, I came straight to tell you.” Caleb sat on the edge of my bed. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you helped her, but I thought you agreed to leave her alone.”
I sat down next to my brother. “I didn’t try and seek her out. She’s so close that her thoughts naturally came to me.”
“Are you okay?” he asked.
I shook my head. “What am I supposed to do?”
I have no idea. But it’s clear you have feelings for her.
“Yeah, but she’s been raped. There’s no way she’s ready for a relationship. She probably won’t ever want one.”
“You don’t know that,” Caleb said. “In any case, I think we should keep tabs on her.”
“So now you’re saying it’s okay for me to communicate telepathically with her?” Now that she was right next door, her images and thoughts were a thousand times more intense than they’d been across the country.
“If she’s suicidal, then yes, it’s our duty to watch out for her.”
How was I supposed to face her? Would she know the voice in her head was me? Would she be okay with that? Or would I only remind her of her darkest hours?
“I don’t know,” I said.
“We have to do what’s right.” Caleb got up and left my room, leaving me to my own thoughts.
Caleb and I were washing dishes when the phone rang.
Mom answered and her face paled. “Of course, Kate,” Mom said. “Don’t worry. I’m sure the boys can help.” I can’t believe Audrey ran away.
“What?” I asked.
“That was Kate. Audrey took off about twenty minutes ago. She ran out the front door. Kate has no idea where she went. She’s been driving around looking for her. She needs help.”
Caleb grabbed his car keys.
Mom walked over to me, placing her hands upon my shoulders. “Justin,” she looked into my eyes. “I know this is hard for you. But your ability, what you can do, makes me proud. I know you can find Audrey and help her.”
Thanks, Mom. “Come on, Caleb.”
“Oh, and one more thing,” Mom called after us. “Call Audrey by the name Makayla. Kate said she doesn’t want anyone to know who she really is. You know, reporters and all.”
When we got in the Jeep, I leaned back, opening my mind. I immediately connected with her. Audrey was looking for a way to kill herself. She thought ending her life would end the pain.
Wrong, I thought to her. It doesn’t really make any sense to kill yourself now, does it? I was desperate to locate her. I tried to focus on what she was seeing. A sidewalk, cars whizzing by.
“Head toward Ted Williams Parkway,” I instructed Caleb.
Yes, she said, it does.
You could’ve killed yourself that first day. I knew how Bill had managed to capture her. I had asked when she was in the cabin, and she’d told me. Still, seeing the images again, hearing her thoughts, it was too much. My body started shaking.
“You okay?” Caleb asked.
“Slow down,” I said, not answering him. “She’s got to be around here somewhere.”
Audrey was crying, still not convinced living was worth it.
But the worst is over. I thought to her. You didn’t go through all that just to let him win.
Finally, I felt a crack in her thinking. The first glimmer of something, maybe hope, that I had ever felt from her. I needed to capitalize on this opportunity. I continued thinking to her, And don’t forget about your family. Your brothers, your parents, your aunt. Think of what it would do to them if you killed yourself after everything they went through to get you back.
Audrey was thinking about her family now. Love filled her heart, trying to push the hatred away.
She collapsed on the sidewalk, crying. Relief coursed through my body. She wasn’t going to kill herself.
“There she is,” I said, pointing to a dark lump on the sidewalk ahead.
“Are you sure?” Caleb asked. “That doesn’t even look like a person.”
“She’s cried herself to sleep.”
I can’t believe we found her, Caleb thought. This is insane. What’s it going to do to Justin?
Caleb pulled the Jeep over to the side of the road. The headlights illuminated Audrey’s body. She looked so fragile and broken. My chest tightened. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t actually face Audrey. She’d know I was the voice in her head and that I knew everything that had happened to her.
Caleb got out of the Jeep. “Coming?” he asked. I shook my head. He walked over to her, saying her name. She didn’t move.
She’s asleep, I thought to him. I opened the door and stood next to the car, watching.
Caleb crouched down and lightly rocked her shoulder. Audrey jumped, recoiling away from him.
“Makayla?” Caleb asked, almost forgetting to use the fake name.
Audrey sat up and backed away. What have I gotten myself into? she thought.
It’s okay, Audrey, I said to her. You can trust him. Go with him. He’ll take you back to your aunt.
“Please don’t leave me again,” she whispered.
With the lights shining on her face, I couldn’t see her eyes clearly. Curling my hands into fists, I forced myself to stay rooted in place.
Caleb held out his hand. “Makayla? Kate’s looking for you.”
Confusion and fear emanated from Audrey. She glanced at Caleb’s hand and revulsion filled her.
It’s okay, I thought. You can get up on your own. Come on now, get up and follow him. Kate’s worried.
Audrey slowly stood.
“Are you all right? I’m Caleb. This is my brother, Justin,” he pointed to me. “We live next door to your aunt.”
Audrey’s body swayed, and she started to fall. I lurched forward, but was too far away. Luckily, Caleb grabbed her before she hit the concrete. He picked Audrey up and brought her to the Jeep. I swung the door open and he set her inside.
Her eyes were wide and she was scared to death. Caleb reached for the seatbelt, and Audrey fainted.
“Crap,” Caleb mumbled, buckling her in. He turned to me. “Don’t just stand there, get in the car. We need to get her back to Kate’s.”
I had to force my legs to move. Audrey was in the car. And she was completely broken. I had no idea how to help her. How to make her whole again.