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       Last Resort, p.1

           Jill Sanders
Last Resort
Last Resort

  ~ The Grayton's ~

  Cassey & Luke

  © 2014 Jill Sanders

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  To my wonderful husband and kids,

  who listen to me talk about my book friends

  way too much.


  When Cassey’s business is in jeopardy, she gets an interesting offer from a local hotel owner. He has been trying to run her business into the ground so his family can snatch up the land for cheap. But, how can she turn him away when just the sight of the man makes her heart jump out of her chest?

  Luke was sent by his father, owner of the swankiest and longest-operating resort along the Florida's Gulf coast, to gain one of the best properties at any cost. But when he sees the owner of the bar and grill, he’s torn between his duty to his family and his desire for the silver-eyed beauty.

  Table of Contents

  Dedication 1

  Summary 2

  Chapter One 19

  Chapter Two 35

  Chapter Three 47

  Chapter Four 63

  Chapter Five 75

  Chapter Six 93

  Chapter Seven 105

  Chapter Eight 117

  Chapter Nine 133

  Chapter Ten 145

  Chapter Eleven 161

  Chapter Twelve 175

  Chapter Thirteen 191

  Chapter Fourteen 205

  Chapter Fifteen 217

  Chapter Sixteen 229

  Chapter Seventeen 241

  Chapter Eighteen 253

  Epilogue 263

  Other books by Jill Sanders 266

  Last Resort


  Jill Sanders


  She was running for her life. Knowing what she would see if she looked back, she kept her eyes trained forward. She tried to avoid roots or limbs that might trip her up, taking each step as carefully as she could at this speed. Her mind flashed to images of what she’d witnessed minutes before, yet she was oddly clear about what she needed to do for a seven-year-old.

  Branches scraped her legs and arms as she ran, and her breath hitched with every step she took. Her ears were straining to hear if she was being chased, but she couldn’t hear anything beyond her breathing and her loud heartbeat.

  When she couldn’t run any longer, she ducked behind a large tree and squatted until she was in a tight ball. She tried to slow her breathing down so she could listen, but it took forever to get her breath under control. She didn’t hear the footsteps until a shadow fell a few feet from her.

  Wrapping her arms around her knees, she waited for what she knew was coming. She was sure she knew what the outcome of the night would be, so nothing could have prepared her for what happened next.

  “Are you all right?” a soft voice asked next to her.

  Her head jerked up. Her long, dark, stringy hair got in her face, so she shoved the strands away with her dirty hands.

  She looked up and noticed the angel who stood over her. Everything about the woman was aglow; even the woman’s clothes shined in the evening light. Her long blonde hair looked soft, softer than anything Cassandra had ever seen. The woman’s hands were stretched out to her, and she could see gold rings on almost every finger.

  “Here now, no one is going to hurt you anymore. Come with me, Cassandra. I’ll keep you safe.” The woman’s soft voice almost mesmerized her.

  Slipping her little, dirty hand in the woman’s larger one, she sighed as she felt her soft, warm skin next to hers. She’d never experienced anything so soft in her life.

  “How?” she whispered, looking around just in case. “How do you know my name?”

  The woman shook her head. “I’ll tell you in the car. Come on, we have to move; they’re on their way here now.”

  Cassandra could hear them now. The sound was almost deafening to her tiny ears as her heart rate spiked. She bolted from her hiding spot and ran beside the woman.

  The road, which she’d been told never to go near, was only a few feet from them, yet the limbs were thicker here and they had to fight their way through it. The woman’s dress ripped as thorns pulled at it. Cassandra’s legs and arms bled as deep scratches appeared on her skin.

  Finally, they hit the clearing and the woman pulled open a car door.

  “Quick, get in.” She rushed around to the driver’s door and jumped in.

  Cassandra sat in the large front seat, her legs tucked up to her chest, her eyes glued to the trees, waiting, watching.

  As they sped off, she sighed and her eyes slid closed for just a moment as she let her guard down. Then she opened them and looked at the woman.

  “Who are you? How do you know my name?”

  The woman smiled at her and glanced in the rearview mirror.

  “My name is Lilly. I’m your caseworker.”

  Cassandra’s eyes were glued to her. “What is that?”

  Lilly chuckled. “It’s like a guardian angel.” She smiled and put her hand over Cassandra’s hair. Cassandra flinched away, not knowing what the gesture meant. She’d never been touched so softly before.

  “What’s a guardian angel?” she asked, sliding towards the door a little more.

  “Someone who makes sure that you will never be hurt again.”

  “How are you going to do that?” Cassandra got up on her knees and looked out the back window of the car, making sure they weren’t being followed.

  “By taking you somewhere where they can’t find you. I know this place”—she smiled, looking down at her—“where kids like you can be safe.”

  Cassandra doubted there was a place like that. Looking out the window of the car as it traveled quickly down the dark road, she thought that there wasn’t anyone out there like her. Especially not someone who had gone through what she had. She knew why she had suffered, why she’d been forced to do things she didn’t want to—she was the devil’s child. Or so her father and stepmother had told her for as long as she could remember.

  Her stepmother, Kimberly, had entered her life when she was two. She didn’t remember much from before that, but her father had told her that her mother, whom he described as an angel, had died giving birth to her. She had hoped that Kimberly’s arrival would save her from the hell she was living—never leaving a ten-by-ten-foot cell—but she quickly learned that wouldn’t be the case. This became very clear when Kimberly beat her that first week for stealing a piece of her bread.

  As the car drove down the dark highway, Cassandra fell asleep, her little body tense even in sleep. She woke when they came to a stop.

  “Sorry, I have to stop for gas. Would you like something to eat?” Lilly asked gently.

  “Yes!” she thought. But she knew better than to answer an adult’s question. Looking down at her hands, she shook her head.

  “Well, I’m starving.” Lilly’s voice was so calm, it almost made Cassandra believe she could trust her. “You stay put. Promise me?”

  Cassandra glanced at the woman. Her smile was so bright. Her blue eyes looked so kind. If ever there was an angel, Cassandra believed it was her caseworker, Lilly. Nodding her head, she looked back down at her dirty hands.

  Lilly got out of the car, shutting the door gently behind her.

  Cassandra didn’t watch as she pumped gas; she kept her eyes and head down like she’d been taught. But when Lilly walked towards the little gas station, she picked her eyes up and glanced towards the building. After she saw Lilly walk through the doors, she looked around. This was a new place. It wasn’t the
gas station her father had stopped at. This was someplace she’d never been before. Her eyes got wide as she looked at the bright lights. There were large machines sitting right outside the doors.

  Cassandra couldn’t read well, so she didn’t know what the red and white words said. She’d learned her colors from a book she’d had when she was four. Red was spelled R-E-D. She knew all the colors and often would close her eyes and remember every page of the small cloth book that her stepmother had burned one day when she’d been looking at it instead of sleeping.

  When she saw Lilly walking back, she quickly ducked her head back down, looking at her dirty fingers. Then she noticed the dirt on the carpet of the car from her shoes. Jumping down, she quickly picked up the larger pieces and shoved them into her mouth and tried to swallow them.

  “Here now,” Lilly said, getting into the car. “What are you doing?”

  “Nothing.” She sat back up and prayed that the woman didn’t see the dirt she wasn’t quick enough to get.

  “What do you have in your mouth?” Lilly asked.

  “Nothing,” Cassandra said again, looking out the window. Tears were streaming down her face.

  “Cassandra, look at me, please.” The “please” broke through her defenses, and she looked over at the woman.

  “I’m not going to hurt you. No one is going to hurt you again. I promise. Now tell me what you have in your mouth, please.”

  “Dirt,” she blurted out. “I’m sorry. I got dirt in your pretty car. I didn’t…” She stopped talking and jumped away when Lilly reached over and touched her hand gently.

  “Cassandra, look down here.” She pointed to her side of the car. Dirt was all over the floor, even on her clothes. “I’m dirtier than you are, I think.” She smiled at her and something shifted in Cassandra’s heart.

  “You…” She took a deep breath. “You aren’t mad at me?”

  Lilly shook her head. “No, honey. Now open your door and spit the dirt out. It must taste gross.”

  Cassandra did as she was asked. She’d learned long ago to always do what grownups told her to.

  “Now, I bet this will taste a great deal better.” She pulled a white bag between them. “I know it’s not good to give children soda, but I think this one time we can make an exception.” She pulled out a can that looked just like the machine she’d been looking at earlier.

  “What is it?” Cassandra asked and then quickly tucked herself into a ball. She knew better than to ask questions. She must be tired to let her guard slip so much.

  “It’s okay, honey. You can ask all the questions you want. It’s called a Coke. Would you like to try it?”

  Cassandra nodded.

  “I have a turkey sandwich and some potato chips here. I bought enough for you, just in case you got hungry. We still have a long way to drive before morning.”

  Cassandra looked at the sandwich. It was wrapped in a bag, and the chips were her favorite kind. She’d snuck one from Kimberly’s large bag once and had gotten a whooping, but it had been worth it.

  Lilly took out another sandwich and a bag of potato chips and started eating. Cassandra watched her for a few minutes, and then slowly reached over for the food. She wasn’t starved. Her father had seen to it that she’d looked plenty healthy when the police showed up, but she was given only what she needed.

  “Kids don’t need to eat much. After all, all you do is sleep and poop,” her father had told her over and over. She always thought there was something wrong with her because she wanted to go outside and play—to run in the dirt road, to jump off the tire hill that was in their front yard, or to just lay in the grass and watch the clouds go by.

  She slowly opened the bag and took a bite of the sandwich. It was good. So good, she quickly ate every crumb. When Lilly opened the bag of chips for her, she ate every last one of those. Then she heard a noise she hadn’t heard before and jumped.

  “Would you like to try this?” Lilly held out the Coke can. Cassandra nodded and took the soda. She took a sip and her eyes slid closed. The bubbles ticked her nose and made her throat feel funny. She looked over at Lilly. Lilly had a smile on her face. “It’s good, huh?”

  Lilly opened her own soda and drank from it. “Oh!” Lilly said, making Cassandra jump, spilling a little Coke on her clothes.

  “I’m sorry.” She started frantically wiping the dark liquid off her dirty clothes.

  “Honey, it’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” Lilly smiled at her. “I’m sorry for scaring you. I was just going to give you this.” She pulled out a package from the white bag. “They’re cupcakes.”

  There were two circles in a clear package. Cassandra had never seen anything like it. They had white swirly lines across them. Reaching over, Cassandra took them from Lilly’s waiting hands.

  “Thank you,” Cassandra said and sat them on her lap before taking another drink from her soda.

  “Well, aren’t you going to eat them?” Lilly asked.

  “They’re awful pretty,” Cassandra said.

  Lilly laughed. “Yes, I suppose they are. Here, let me help you open the package.”

  Lilly opened the bag and handed one circle to her. When Cassandra bit into it, the richness sank into every pore of her little body. She felt goose bumps rise on her arms and legs. The little hairs on her entire body stood straight up.

  “What is this?” Cassandra asked, a smile on her face for the first time.

  “Chocolate,” Lilly said, smiling back.

  The rest of the car trip, Cassandra looked out the dark window and thought about chocolate. How could she get more? Where would she get more? Was it something everyone had?

  Her little mind finally ran out of questions, and she rested her head against the car door again. She woke when the car stopped suddenly. This time, the sun was just rising.

  “Here we are,” Lilly said in a cheerful voice. “Your new home.”

  The place was huge. Cassandra looked out the front window and instantly was afraid. It had three stories and was cleaner than anything she’d ever imagined.

  “There are four other kids around your age living here now, but others come and go. You’ll enjoy it here.” Lilly got out of the car after honking the horn several times. She walked around and opened Cassandra’s door, smiling the entire time.

  Cassandra shrunk herself back into the car seat, holding the empty cupcake package tightly to her chest. She shook her head, no.

  “I don’t wanna stay here.”

  Lilly knelt down beside her. “It’s okay, honey. No one is going to hurt you here. I promise you.”

  Shaking her head again, she watched as three boys her age came running out the front door. Their clothes were clean and they had new shoes on their feet. Two had dark hair, one with blue eyes and one with dark brown eyes. The last boy had blond hair like Lilly.

  Cassandra didn’t know much about boys, but she knew they looked tough, and she didn’t want to deal with them. She shook her head from side to side, faster.

  “Look, here comes Marissa. She’s your age and just arrived here last month.”

  Cassandra looked over just in time to see a girl around her age walk out the front door. She had a small kitty in her hands and was wearing a white dress and sandals. Her blonde hair was pulled back in short braids.

  Cassandra looked at Lilly. “I know they have some chocolate in there and if you don’t like it here, you can come home with me. Okay?”

  Finally, Cassandra nodded and got out of the car, holding onto Lilly’s hand as they walked up the front steps under the watchful eye of the four kids and four adults.

  Cassandra didn’t pay much attention to the kids since she knew the adults were the ones in charge. There were two women and an older man who looked frail. She knew she could outrun him if she had to. One of the women looked strong and capable; the other looked overweight and older. Cassandra knew that didn’t mean she couldn’t run fast since Kimberly had been pudgy and fast.

“Hi, everyone, this is Cassey.” Lilly looked down and winked at her. Cassandra liked the shorter name; she’d always thought her name was too long and too big for her.

  “Hi, Cassey,” everyone said together.

  “Cassey,” Lilly said, smiling down at her, “this is Mr. and Mrs. Grayton. They own this house. And these are their daughters, Julie and Karen. Julie teaches school and will be responsible for you.”

  “Hello,” she said under her breath.

  “Hi,” Julie said, kneeling down to her. Her hands were tan and she wore a faded pair of jeans and a button-up shirt with flowers on it. Her short brown hair was curly and looked soft like Lilly’s. Her brown eyes looked rich and warm like the rest of her. “I’ve made some pancakes for breakfast. Would you like to come in and have some?”

  Cassey looked up to Lilly and when Lilly nodded, she looked at Julie and said, “Yes, please.”

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