To show you how my writing process goes, this was originally the first scene in Phoenix Inheritance. It’s now scene #3, as Renee has just picked up her autistic son, Charlie, after an incident at school.

A storm’s coming, quite literally.


Renee’s hand-knit scarf rippled in the wind as she wrestled the last patio chair toward the open garage. The sky overhead had already turned from bright blue to a foreboding shade of gray. The colorful fall was now more like a moving, shifting Ansel Adams photograph.

Charlie trailed behind her, but she kept watch on him all the same, especially since he was particularly afraid of storms. She didn’t want him panicking inside while she was busy outside.

“Almost done,” she said.

“Can I help?” Snowflakes dotted his dark hat and he looked so sweet in that instant that she wished she could bottle it. He was a great kid. There had to be a way to help him cope. There had to be.

“Nah, I’m good. Just keep me company and remind me next time not to buy such heavy patio chairs.” She’d bought them so the winds wouldn’t knock them around. She’d forgotten about the part where she needed to drag them inside for the winter.
She glanced at the huge oak trees that dotted the borders of her yard. Their branches were still laden with leaves, making them vulnerable to the weight of the falling snow.

Charlie tugged at her sleeve. “When will it be time for hot chocolate?”

“Right about now, soon as we get the chair set and go inside.”


Thor and Loki barked from the inside of the house. They didn’t like her being out
without them. Silly boys. Too cold for them to romp outside now. The temperature must have dropped twenty degrees in the last two hours.

She turned the corner and slid the chair into her garage. There. Done. Nothing left now but hunker down and hope for the best.
Her son tapped her hip and pointed. “Mom! Look! The cat’s back! I have to get him!” Not that stray cat again. “He’ll be fine. Cats can survive storms.”

“But he says I have to come get him. He wants my help.”

The problems at school were bad enough. She’d hoped this insistence on talking to animals was just a phase. Could he really be hearing voices?

“I’ll walk over there to see how he is. You stay here,” she said.

“No, he said I have to come!”

Renee reached out to grab Charlie’s sleeve, anticipating what was coming, but he was too fast for her and she missed. He took off at full speed across the lawn, toward the trees and the edge of the forest. She sped after him, yelling at him to stop but he ignored her. She ran full out, the cold air stinging her lungs.

Just before she caught up to Charlie, her feet slipped on the wet leaves. She stumbled, went down to one knee and saw him plunge into the woods, helpless to stop him.

“Wait!” she yelled again but the only response was the sound of leaves crunching far ahead. She scrambled to her feet.

Oh, God, oh God. There was a nasty drop-off only about ninety yards into the trees. Visions of Charlie going over the edge had her stomach in knots. She might have thrown up if she wasn’t so busy running after him. Here she’d been pissed at the school for letting him out of their sight and she’d made the same damn mistake.

She leapt over a bush and hit the brambles at a run. Branches swatted her face and prickers grabbed at her pants. The snow fell harder and faster. The trees seemed to all meld together, obscuring visibility. She couldn’t see Charlie at all, and she wasn’t sure she heard him anymore either. She wanted to rage, to slam against the nearest tree in frustration.

But panicking would be the absolutely wrong thing to do. She halted.


Her throat was so closed up in fear that her yell came out as a whisper. She drew a deep breath and tried again. This time, his name came out as a scream. Still no answer.

Everything she’d learned in her search-and-rescue work told her panicking would get her nowhere. Yeah, that training worked awesomely when it wasn’t her own kid. She cupped her hands around her mouth and screamed his name again. Answer me!
Silence. Where could he have gone so fast? She had visions of him going over that edge and hitting the bottom hard. She blinked away tears.

“Mom! Help!”

Oh, God. That came from the direction of the drop-off.

“Coming, Charlie!” She tried not to run because she couldn’t see more than two feet in front of her, but the fear in her son’s voice drove her.

“Mom, I’m gonna fall!”

“I’m right here!”

Her lead foot pushed against empty air. She grabbed the nearest branch before she went
over the edge, only just halting her fall.

“Charlie!” Where was he? She dropped to her knees to peer over the edge, trying to see
through all the fat, wet snowflakes. This was the only place he could be. But where? All the way to the bottom? No, no. Dammit…


The voice came from directly below, and she finally spotted him. He smiled, but she fought not to collapse in terror. The only thing keeping him from plunging to the bottom was that he was hanging on to the exposed roots of a white birch tree that was growing half sideways out of the cliff.

After the birch tree, it was a thirty-foot drop.

Oh, and a little arm porn for you all.

To save their son, they might have to sacrifice their love--and their lives.

To save their son, they might have to sacrifice their love–and their lives.