Secrets and Second Chances Book 1
by Donna M. Zadunajsky
Genre: Mystery, Suspense 467 pages
Alexis has had big dreams all her life, and she’s worked hard to make them happen! After college, she married and had a beautiful baby boy, living her dream as “Mommy” until Colton was safely entrenched in grade school. She lands her dream job at NASA, and her supportive husband, Jay, takes the lead on raising their son. The perfect family, right?
Twelve years later with no warning and no reason, Jay commits suicide. Colton goes into denial and blames his mother; Alexis buries herself in her work.
Seven months later, Alexis’s biggest dream comes true. She’s going to be on the next space shuttle! Her victory is short-lived when she finds out she has breast cancer. As her health declines, Colton delves into the dangerous circumstances of his father’s death.
“Family Secrets” crept into Alexis’s life when she wasn’t paying attention. Will she and her son ever find out the truth? Or is it too late?
Alexis rushed down the hall and stood in front of the elevator. She poked the arrow down button with her index finger. A bell dinged, and the doors opened. She dashed in—took a quick peek behind her to see if Dr. Ramsey had followed her—then hit the L for the lobby. She was so thankful there was no one else in the elevator. She needed to calm down and think about what Dr. Ramsey had told her.
She took deep, easy breathes, in through her nose and out through her mouth. As the elevator doors slid open; bright light blinded her. She raised her left hand and rubbed her eyes, feeling a headache starting to surface. She walked out of the elevator and through the lobby of the medical center. The future woman astronaut of the United States of America left without giving her doctor the chance to change her destiny and her dream. “Just who am I trying to kid?” Alexis screamed silently to herself.
Sarah Ramsey—she was practically a friend because they’d known each other so long—Sarah wanted to help, but Alexis just wasn’t ready yet.
By the time she reached her car and sat inside, all the anger she’d taken out on her friend just minutes before came pouring out. Alexis Finley had always considered herself a strong person and didn’t let anything get in her way, but the cancer was beyond her control. She needed to sit and think about what the doctor had said and make some decisions, even if it meant postponing her dreams. How could she give up her dreams when she was almost there?
Alexis pounded the steering wheel with her right palm, accidently hitting the horn. It blared, abrupt and loud. She didn’t even glance around to see if anyone was looking at her. She didn’t care if they were. She finally realized she could either sit here and feel sorry for herself, dwelling over how life wasn’t fair, or she could do something about it. But what could she do?
Her dream had always been to explore outer space, and she was determined not to let anything stop her. She had to come up with a plan. There had to be something she could do and still live all her dreams, but she wasn’t sure what that plan was yet.
Searching for the keys in her lap, she found them and started the car, Alexis knew she didn’t want to go home, nor did she want to be around other people. She just wanted to be alone and think. It was time to come up with a new, temporary plan. After all, she wasn’t dying…yet…or was she?
Secrets and Second Chances Book 2 231 pages
... Hidden Secrets will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew...
Carla Michaels’s life isn't what she thought it was. She met her loving husband in college. She had a career as a teacher. All she ever wanted to complete her life was a baby. After five miscarriages, Carla had almost given up hope of ever becoming a mother.
Then a devastating tragedy strikes and everything she had ever loved is gone—now she’s left torn and shattered, wondering if she can go on with life.
Unexpectedly, she receives an envelope full of books. Journals that were kept hidden from her. A mystery starts to play out as secrets are revealed.
Will she get a second chance at life? Will the hidden secrets destroy her? Or will she find the strength to survive once she knows the truth?
“Hidden Secrets” will pull at your heartstrings until the very last page. Some secrets are not meant to be hidden…
I opened the rear door of my grey Infiniti Sedan and grabbed my briefcase. I decided this morning I’d have my second graders work on an art project about what they did over their long weekend. I, on the other hand, had spent most of my time on the sofa with my feet elevated.
I was nearly six months pregnant and feeling the fatigue in my legs and feet. My job as a schoolteacher had me standing for long periods at a time. I knew I’d eventually have to start teaching my pupils from my chair, as much as possible.
A strong breeze ruffled my light brown shoulder-length hair. I brushed the hair away from my eyes, tucking several strands behind my ear. I closed the rear car door and made my way inside the school.
Every morning, I’d stop at the front office to gather papers from my mailbox and chat with my friend, Veronica Rowan.
Veronica was a secretary in the front office. She answered the phones and assisted anyone that came into the office needing help or advice about school-related issues. She also helped with daily tasks, when needed.
When my husband Tim and I moved from Florida to Illinois after college, I didn’t know anyone in town. The first time I had met Veronica was when I started teaching at Haven Elementary—ten years ago.
I considered Veronica a good friend. Not a best friend, like my two friends Alexis and Ashley, but still a friend no less. I am a person with trust issues, dating back to my teens. Once I made the choice of trusting you and accepting you into my life, you became someone dear to me. The worst mistake anyone could make was to betray that trust, break that bond! A cheating boyfriend with your best friend would do that to you. As I got older, I knew who my friends really were. Too many times, I was burned and left to pick up the pieces.
Once a month, Veronica and I would accompany each other to the library for our mystery book club. On occasion, we’d get together for dinner at my house or sometimes, Veronica’s. Veronica’s boyfriend Pat Atkins, who worked with Tim at a law firm they both leased and shared, would play pool downstairs in the man cave, while the two of us sat and talked about the latest fashion, school, and the next book we were going to read.
“Good morning, Carla,” Veronica sang.
“Good morning,” I replied, smiling back at her.
“Oh!” Veronica shrieked. “I love your dress. It’s perfect for the weather we’ve been having.” Her blue eyes sparkled in the fluorescent light.
“Thank you. I’ve been wanting to wear it before I got too big.” This morning I had chosen a maternity dress with a floral design that flowed past my knees. I usually wore maternity pants, but with the temperatures reaching the mid-seventies to eighties these past few days in February, of all months, I wanted to stay as comfortable as possible.
“Yes. A little too warm for this time of year, but I won’t complain,” I expressed. Even though I was from Ohio, I honestly missed living in Florida where the days are always warm; the thought lingered in my mind.
The phone rang before Veronica could reply. She raised her pointer finger to me, indicating to give her a minute. As Veronica talked on the phone, I whispered that I’d see her later and waved goodbye. Veronica nodded and continued her conversation on the phone, while twisting her finger in a lock of sandy blonde hair, resting on her shoulder.
I left the office and walked down the hall towards my classroom. My eyes sketched over the drawings that were hung on the wall between each classroom. The pictures taped to the wall told me what was taught in that specific class. The science room, where the third graders were taught, had poster boards with different types of weather on them.
Social Studies, also done by third graders, had photos of every president that had served in the United States, and on the other side of the door hung the Declaration of Independence.
When I came to the next room, I stopped and admired the drawings on the wall. My second graders drew the pictures. I couldn’t get over how imaginative they were at such a young age. Their dreams expressed and painted on paper.
For a moment, my thoughts went to my unborn child. Him or her, what would they grow up to be? There were many possibilities, of course. Every day that I’d spent teaching the next generation gave my life meaning. I smiled, unlocked the door to the room, and flipped on the lights.
Before leaving for the long weekend, I’d written, “Good morning second graders,” on the blackboard. I always thought of my students as my own and wanted them to feel comfortable and not overwhelmed in my class.
I made my way to the desk in front of me and opened the bottom drawer. Taking the straps of my purse off my shoulder, I set the bag inside and closed it. I laid my briefcase on the desk and pushed the buttons, until I heard a click. I took out the graded papers I did over the weekend and closed the lid, setting the case under the desk.
Within a few minutes, all of the students would arrive at school. I walked to the back of the room, grabbed a handful of colored drawing paper, and started placing one sheet on each desk.
The desks were placed four in a group so the children could interact with one another. Each desk had the student’s name written on colored paper and taped neatly at the top. When I finished, I stood at the chalkboard, writing five new words for my students to learn.
The room was quiet, except for the clacking of the chalk hitting the chalkboard. My mind focused only on what I was doing and nothing else. At peace with myself before my students were to arrive and fill the empty room.
I was so engrossed in my work that I didn’t hear or see the little girl standing in the doorway. I jumped, my heart pounding beneath my dress, when I heard the young voice speak to me.
“Good morning, Mrs. Michaels,” the little girl greeted.
I quickly turned, grabbing the ledge of the blackboard. Once I saw who it was, I smiled and exhaled the breath I was holding. Ever since my pregnancy, I’d become easier to scare. Something I’d have to get accustomed to.
“Good morning to you too, Samantha. How was your weekend?”
The smile on Samantha’s face turned to a frown from what I’d asked. Samantha with her wavy dirty-blonde hair, shrugged her shoulders, and without saying another word, turned and walked to the back of the room. She placed her paper bag lunch in a bin at the back of the class and took her seat.
I wasn’t surprised that Samantha was the first to arrive. In fact, I’d be more concerned if she weren’t here.
I watched as Samantha took her seat, looked at her hands, and then a single tear slid down her face. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen her cry, but I wished it was the last. Something inside me told me things were not going well at home. I’d noticed bruises on her arms and legs. When I had asked Samantha what had happened, she had replied that she fell off her bike or tripped over her toys that she’d left in the middle of the floor.
Of course, I thought for sure Samantha was lying to me. That she didn’t want me as her teacher to know what really happened to her. I felt certain that Samantha was being abused. When I confronted Principal Steve Clapton, he said he’d look into the situation and get back to me, but that had been weeks ago.
I walked up behind Samantha and combed my fingers gently over the girl’s soft waves. I placed a tissue in Samantha’s hand, and then whispered in her ear that everything would be all right and that I was here, if she needed someone to talk to. Samantha smiled, wiped the tears from her face and shoved the Kleenex in the pocket of her shorts.
Throughout the day as I taught my students, I kept my eye on Samantha. I wished with all my heart I could protect her from whomever was hurting her.
A thought came to me while I was at lunch. I’d send a note home with Samantha, requesting that her parents meet with me. I would start with how well Samantha was doing in my class, and then finesse in some questions about the bruises I’d noticed. If their story matched Samantha’s, then I’d try to believe that they weren’t abusing her.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The bell rang and I quickly glanced up at the clock. I couldn’t believe how fast the day had flown by. It felt like the students had just arrived, and now they were going home for the day.
Mrs. Larson from across the hall came over and gathered up the students. I was relieved it was Mrs. Larson’s day to take the kids to the buses. I was feeling extremely tired and was looking forward to putting my feet up when I got home.
Before the children left, I handed Samantha an envelope and requested that she give it to her parents when she arrived home from school. Samantha’s face clouded over with fear, but I reassured her that it was nothing to worry about. That I just wanted to meet with her mom and dad, and inform them of Samantha’s accomplishments and how proud I was of her and her artwork. Samantha then smiled and hurried out of the room with the other children to catch their bus.
After collecting the drawings from each desk, I made my way towards the front of the classroom. This morning I’d thought I felt a twinge, maybe a little pain. But, I had stopped worrying or at least I’d tried. I didn’t want to be one of those emotional pregnant women, filled with uneasiness. Even though I had reason to worry, this being my fifth pregnancy and the only one I’d carried this far into term.
Before I could reach the desk, I grabbed my belly as pain shot up through my mid-section, feeling like I’d been stabbed with a knife. Not that I’d ever been stabbed before, but this had to be the sensation.
My knees buckled from under me and I fell to the floor. Kneeling on all fours, I lifted my right hand to my belly. Warmth rolled down the length of my inner thigh. Using the hand that held my bulging belly, I maneuvered my body just enough to lift the floral print maternity dress and reached a hand underneath. When I brought my hand back in front of me, I saw red blood covering my fair skin.
My thoughts hazed over and returned to the children I taught. Class had ended and my students had left, just mere minutes ago. Second graders with all the other tragedies they would witness as they aged, shouldn’t have to see their teacher like this.
“No!” I gasped, as shooting pain spiraled through me. “This can’t be happening! Not now, not again!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
As my mind desperately fought against what I knew my body was doing—trying to reject my baby—I couldn’t help but remember all I had been through. It flashed through my thoughts in quick, jagged scenes that showed the heartbreak I had been through that I was so sure this was a thing of the past. Was the past coming back to haunt me again?
Dr. Shaffer, my OB/GYN, had told me that everything was moving along as planned. I wasn’t having any morning sickness or complications. I was told the baby was fine, that everything seemed fine. My past pregnancies, I’d never made it to the second trimester.
When I asked about being tested, the doctor had first told me that since it was my first miscarriage, he couldn’t test me unless I continued to have them. The doctor assured me that many women had miscarriages; it was just the body’s way of rejecting the fetus, if there was something wrong with the fetus or the pregnancy. The doctor explained that sometimes a healthy embryo could be rejected if it had adhered to an area in the womb, which wouldn’t allow the fetus to develop correctly.
“This doesn’t happen often,” Dr. Shaffer had explained, “and usually it’s only with a first pregnancy. If you continue to miscarry then we will run tests to determine if there is something wrong with your embryotic eggs or the health of the womb itself.”
After the second miscarriage, the doctor ran a few tests, but every time he’d found nothing wrong. As time went by, I started having abdominal pain. Sometimes the pain was so intense, I had to crawl on my hands and knees to get from one room to the other. That’s when the doctor requested a laparoscopy to be performed.
After the surgery, the doctor informed me and my husband that I had Endometriosis and scar tissue throughout my abdominal area. He concluded that he removed all of the Endometriosis and scar tissue, and that I should be fine now and would be able to get pregnant without any more complications. Three-months later, I got pregnant, but lost that baby as well. Eight years of trying and five pregnancies later, I’d made it to my sixth month, almost to the third trimester.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Holding one hand on my belly, I inched my way to the front of the classroom. I reached for the corner of the desk and pulled myself up. The school phone lay just out of my reach.
I slowly made my way around the left side of the desk and slid my hand across the top towards the phone, while the right hand hugged the life inside me. Shooting pains came and went, but I could feel that the blood continued to seep.
A sharp cramp caused me to knock the phone out of its cradle as I screamed out in pain. I didn’t know if I had time to call my husband Tim and tell him what was happening. I knew I needed to get to the hospital, now—before it was too late. I pressed the speaker button and dialed the front office, waiting for Veronica to answer.
“Hey, I was just about to call you and see if you wanted to go to the bookstore with me,” Veronica said, her voice high and perky.
“Veronica, I need help,” I cried out. “Something’s wrong with the baby!”
“Oh, my God! Are you going into labor? Oh, my God, oh, my God,” Veronica kept shouting into the phone.
“I don’t know. There’s so much blood. Hurry, please!” I shouted.
Another contraction ripped through my abdomen, making me scream out in pain. My legs went weak and I took a step forward. My right foot caught the edge of the briefcase sticking out from under the desk. I went down, my head whacked the corner of the desk, and I fell to the floor. All went black…
Secrets and Second Chances Book 3 285 pages
Craven Falls, Ohio, is a small town with twenty-eight hundred residents—a town where everyone knows almost everyone else and where nothing ever happens, until one day two children disappear.
Ashley Teodora spends her days juggling work, school, and her five-year-old daughter, Lily. She receives a phone call from her best friend, Carla Michaels, needing her to go to Illinois to help Carla who is going through a tough time in her life. When Ashley returns home, she receives horrifying news that turns her world upside down; her precious Lily has been abducted!
Reece Garran is released from prison after a five-year sentence. His primary goal is to find the woman whose memory kept him alive all those years while behind bars. This woman had captured his heart and wouldn’t let go. When the transport bus pulls into the town of Craven Falls, Reece thinks it’s just another small ordinary town until he finds a reason to stay.
Catherine Teodora, Ashley’s mother, loves crocheting, baking, gardening, and spending time with her granddaughter, Lily. On a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, Catherine’s world is torn to pieces. All she did was look away for a split-second, and Lily was gone!
A family pulls together in a time of need, but what happens when those that are close to you are hiding behind twisted secrets? Will they stand by one another and find Lily? Or will the secrets tear this family apart?
For months, Tate had done nothing but watch, plan, and learn everything about Ashley. She was beautiful, but that didn’t do a woman justice, not in the world we lived in today. Beauty was just the half of it.
He watched Ashley wake in the morning. She didn’t know that he could see everything she did. Like when she made her coffee, adding cream and two sugars; then stirred, and tapping the spoon twice before setting it down on the red ceramic spoon-holder next to the coffeepot.
The way she gathered her blonde hair and twisted it into a bun on the top of her head before she crawled under the covers at night to read for exactly one-half-hour before placing the book down on the nightstand and clicking off the light.
Ashley repeated this routine every day—from the moment she woke in the morning to the time she picked up her daughter Lily from her mother’s place three miles down the road every evening. Although, on occasion, there were nights she didn’t come home. That was when she’d sleep over at her boyfriend’s house and her sweet little daughter stayed with her grandma.
Tate had on several occasions camped out and watched the grandmother who lived by herself in a two-story house surrounded by woods. Those woods made it an easy place to hide and watch the grandmother.
The grandma’s house was much easier than Ashley’s place to watch because Ashley lived in an apartment. There was no place to really hide so that was when he rented the apartment across the parking lot from her. It gave him a direct view into her home.
The grandma had been a grieving widow for some time. At least that’s what he’d gathered since Tate had never seen a man at her place. He watched her from time to time, but not as often as he followed Ashley around because she was who intrigued him the most.
The child, Lily, was almost a spitting image of Ashley, except for one thing; her long-wavy black hair, which Tate assumed, came from her father’s side of the family. He’d never seen the little girl’s father to know if she looked anything like him. The little girl’s father wasn’t in the picture. He hadn’t been for as long as Tate had been watching them. Tate hadn’t any clue where the sperm donor went or what happened to him—to them. Did they have a fight? Or did he just ditch her the moment he found out Ashley was pregnant with his baby? That would be something only God knew.
It was sad to see Ashley raise this child alone, but that would change in time. She would come to see that Tate was good for her. It would only take a little push in the right direction, and Tate knew just what to do to get her to see what love was. Show Ashley how wonderful and true it could be.
Ashley’s so-called boyfriend wasn’t who she thought he was. He wasn’t true to her. He didn’t love her the way a man should love a woman, especially someone as beautiful and smart as her—like Ashley. Her name sounded so sweet rolling off his tongue every time he said it.
As for the little girl, Lily, she would learn to love him and worship him. She would never be without a father again. A man who would give her everything she would ever need—want, but that would all come soon enough. Soon they would know all about him. Soon Ashley would be with him.
Because after today the cat would come out to play…
Donna M. Zadunajsky started out writing children’s books before she accomplished and published her first novel, Broken Promises, in June 2012. She then has written several more novels and her first novella, HELP ME!, which is a subject about suicide and bullying.
Her third novel Family Secrets, “Secrets and Second Chances”, which is first in a series she is writing, was given a publishing contract through California Times Publishing.