Romance Fiction posted January 24, 2024 Chapters: -1- 2... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
One of Sami's students goes missing.

A chapter in the book Willing Hearts

Willing Hearts Chapter 1

by barbara.wilkey

Chapter 1

Monday Day 1 May 29th

Sami Martinez scooted aside her Great Dane, Jasper, retrieved the ringing phone from her jeans' back pocket, and answered, "Hello?"

"Coach, it's Myra Rodriguez."

"Is everything all right?"

"I know it's late." Myra took a breath. "Julie and I came to the community center, but she left with Tommy and now..."

"You don't have a ride home," interrupted Sami. "Has your foster dad been drinking?"

"Probably. I called, but Leon didn't answer. He's probably passed out. Alice works until midnight."

Sami checked her watch. Nine-fifteen. She sighed. "I'll come and get you. Which community center and what time does it close?"

"Thank you. On Mondays during the summer, it closes at ten o'clock. It's on the corner of Baylor and Parkway."

"That neighborhood isn't safe after dark. Don't leave the building until I call. With traffic, I'm probably twenty minutes out. Bye."

"Thank you. Bye."

Sami left her second floor, gated community apartment, and drove toward the zoo on Montreal Boulevard. I'll turn on Baylor. The community center should be on the next corner. Sometimes I wonder when girls make these choices what they're thinking. Sometimes? All the time.

She checked the car's clock. "At least traffic's reasonable. I should be there with fifteen minutes to spare." A few blocks later, she saw a row of red taillights and yelled, "No! I'm almost there."

Stalled in traffic, she called Myra, "The traffic's at a standstill by Harper Park. I'll be there as soon as possible."

"Thanks for calling. The center closes in twenty-five minutes."

"Wait inside as long as you can."

Sami tapped her fingers on the steering wheel while she waited. "This isn't good. What's the problem?" She rolled down the window, leaned out, and tried to look past the cars ahead of her. All she saw was a line of red taillights. "I need to get to the center before it closes. I'm only about five blocks away."

As she inched ahead, her phone rang. "Coach, they're starting to close down."

Exhaling, Sami said, "Myra, stay inside until they literally force you out. If I'm not there, stand next to the door. This traffic isn't letting up. I haven't moved in over five minutes."

"Please hurry."

"I'm trying." Sami hit the steering wheel. She put the car into park, got out, and walked halfway up the car in front, and looked ahead but still couldn't see the problem. "This is ridiculous." She climbed back inside.

A few minutes later, Myra called again. When Sami answered, she heard screaming. "Myra, what's going on?"

"There's a bunch of men forcing girls into a black van. The girls are fighting back..."

"Don't move from the door," she interrupted. "I'm almost there. Take a photo of the vehicle. I'm calling the police."

The 911 operator picked up, and Sami said, "Men are forcing teenage girls into a black van by the community center on the corner of Baylor and Parkway. The girls need help."

"Ma'am, I'll send an officer as soon as possible."

"One's needed now!"

The operator dropped the call.

Repeatedly hitting the steering wheel, Sami yelled, "Defund the police! Defund the police! See what good that's done!"

Sami answered her phone and heard, "Help!"

"Shut up, Bitch!" ordered a man. There was the sound of a slap before the phone went dead.

"No!" Tears rolled down Sami's cheeks.

Parking half on and half off the curb, Sami sprinted from her car to the community center's door. She attempted to open it. "No!" She leaned against the locked door as tears welled in her eyes.

Sami searched the area. Minutes later, a police cruiser parked, and she ran to it. When the middle-aged officer stepped out, she said, "You're too late. The van and the girls are gone."

"Ma'am, did you make the phone call?"

"Yes, I was picking up one of my students but got stalled in traffic. She called and said men were forcing girls into a black van. When I arrived, the vehicle and the girls were gone."

"What's the girl's name?"

"Myra Rodriguez?"

"You're her parent?"

"No, I'm Sami Martinez. She lives with foster parents, Leon and Alice Adams."

"She's in the system. How old is she?"

"Fourteen. She'll be fifteen in a few weeks."

The officer took notes as he glanced around. "I don't see any evidence of a struggle. She probably ran away and used you as an alibi."

"Myra wouldn't do that." Sami turned toward the community center, started walking, and pointed. "Look over here. There's scuff marks." Kneeling, she picked up a bracelet. "It's Myra's."

"I'm sure a lot of teenage girls have bracelets like that."

"Look closer. There's a sea stone. Read the inscription on the back. 'You can do amazing things.' It has a cross etched beside it. I gave it to Myra as a reminder of how wonderful she is. She'd never go anywhere without it."

"Ma'am, unless you have more, there's nothing we can do."

As the officer walked toward his cruiser, Sami sat on the curb by her car and studied the bracelet. He got inside his vehicle and then returned to her car. "Is this yours?" When she nodded, he said, "You're illegally parked. I'll give you a warning this time. Be more careful from now on."

"You've got to be kidding."

He ignored her and walked away.

Drying her eyes, Sami saw people walking by and prostitutes standing around. Somebody saw something. Why didn't he question them? She searched her phone for a photograph of Myra. Showing it, she asked everyone if they'd seen her.

Sami was ignored.

Across the street Noah Taylor watched. I wonder who she is and what's going on. What'd we miss?

He brought his wrist communicator to his mouth. "Jose, in front of the community center on the corner of Baylor and Parkway is a young female, in her mid-twenties. She has long dark brown or maybe black hair, wearing blue jeans and a light purple T-shirt. She's showing people something on her phone. Find out what it's about. My gut says we've missed something important."

"On it, Boss."

Noah took a deep breath. "Bob, she drives an illegally parked white Ford Focus, license number Texas SM13579. Run the plates. I need to know everything about her."

"Roger that."

Jose stood on the corner, glanced toward Noah, and said into his wrist communicator, "You didn't say she's attractive."

"How would I know that from this distance? Get the information, not a date." He paused a moment. "Jose, leave your communicator on. I need to hear what she says."

"Sure, Boss. She's moving closer."

Sami stood beside Jose. "Excuse me, Sir." She showed him Myra's photo. "Have you seen this young girl?" She turned and pointed. "She was standing by the community center door around ten o'clock waiting for me to give her a ride home."

"Sorry, Ma'am, I haven't." Jose hesitated. "Are you sure she didn't go someplace else? Maybe to get something to eat?"

She snapped, "No. She didn't." She started turning away.

"How do you know?"

"Because we were on the phone together. She said men were forcing girls inside a black van. I heard her scream and then a man's voice ordered her to shut up. I think he hit her. I heard a slap."

"Did you call the police?"

"Yes. They didn't take me seriously except to tell me my car's illegally parked."

"Sorry, Ma'am. I hope you find her." Jose watched Sami walk away. "Ma'am, just a minute." He paused until she turned and then he moved closer. "Why are you carrying that bracelet?"

"It's Myra's. I guess it fell off in the struggle." She pointed to the clasp. "It's broken."

He nodded and watched her leave.

When she was out of hearing range, Jose said, "Boss, you're right. We missed something big. This lady has information."

"We work for the Human Trafficking section of Homeland Security. Why didn't our sources know about tonight's hit? Why weren't we in the loop?"

Inside her apartment, Sami hugged her dog as tears streamed down her cheeks. "Jasper, I've got to find Myra. She's turning her life around. She trusted me. I let her down. She's kidnapped, and it's my fault." She took a deep breath and dried her eyes. "I'll find her." She studied Myra's bracelet and rubbed the multi-colored blue sea stone. "The police weren't even interested. This is a clue that might help find her."

Sami stood. "Come on, Jasper. I'll take you out." As she walked her dog, she paused and peeked behind her. "Jasper, I feel like I'm being watched." She exhaled. "This thing with Myra's playing with my mind. If there was someone there, you'd know, wouldn't you? Or at least if there was anyone dangerous."

Noah addressed his team through his wrist communicator, "What can you tell me about this young lady? Bob, go first."

"Her name's Sami Martinez; she's single and twenty-five. She teaches P.E., health, and works with at-risk girls at Trimmer High School. She also coaches girls' varsity basketball and softball. She lives in Sunset Apartments, apartment number 256. It's a gated complex off..."

"Let me guess, Sunset Ave?" interrupted Noah. "Good job. Jose, you got anything?"

"I followed her home. No visitors and no activity except she has a dog the size of a small horse. He's black. Maybe a Great Dane. I'm not good with dog breeds. He's gigantic. Larger than she is."

Chuckling, Noah said, "Okay, good job. I'm wondering when she spoke, did she have an accent? Her last name's Hispanic."

"If one at all, slight."

"Bob, check her family."

"Roger that."

Tuesday morning, Sami searched her phone for her best photograph of Myra. After she found the perfect one, she sent it to her email address and printed ten copies on cardstock. "Jasper, maybe today somebody will talk about what they saw."

Around mid-morning, Sami walked up and down Baylor Street, showing Myra's photo and listening for any news of last night's happenings. Nothing.

Once the community center opened, she went inside and spoke with a few staff members. They verified Myra being there, and that she was the last one out a few minutes after ten o'clock.

Sami asked, "Did you hear anything about girls being taken by men driving a black van?"

They said they hadn't.

Finally, Raul confessed, "Myra told me she didn't want to go outside because men were grabbing girls." He hung his head. "To be honest, I didn't believe her."

Glaring at him, Sami asked, "You need to talk to the police. How many other girls were here? They were probably kidnapped too."

Checking the sign-in sheet, Nancy said, "Maybe five or six." She glanced at Sami. "I think Myra came in with another girl."

"She did, but Julia left with a boy, so she called me for a ride home. I got stuck in traffic."

Not getting any further information from the community center staff, Sami went outside and showed the photo of Myra to everyone who took time to look. The people who'd looked said they hadn't seen her.

Early afternoon, Noah stood on the corner by the community center and watched Sami. Head this way. That's it. Come a little closer.

Sami stood beside him and held up the photo. "Excuse me, Sir. Have you seen this girl?"

He studied it. "Sorry, I haven't. Why? Is she missing?"

"Yes, last night about ten o'clock in front of the community center she was kidnapped, along with five or six other girls, by a man in a black van."

"That's a lot of girls for one man to take."

"You're right. I was talking to Myra on the phone and only heard one man's voice. I heard males yelling in the background, but don't know how many. Myra said there were a bunch of men."

"Is Myra the girl's name? How old is she?"

"Yes, Myra Rodriguez. She's fourteen. Will be fifteen in a few weeks."

"Are you sure it was a black van?"

"I didn't see it, but that's how Myra described it. I told her to take a picture, but I don't have her phone, so don't know. I've looked for it in case she dropped it but haven't found it." Sami pointed. "It should be somewhere around the community center."

"I'll let you know if I hear or see anything."

"Are you here often?"

"I am. I work in this and the surrounding neighborhoods."

"Were you here last night?"

"I was but not during the time frame you've mentioned." Noah nodded toward the diner. "It's a good place to get something cold to drink. A lot of regulars hang around there. Someone might have seen something."

"Thank you, Sir."

Sami glanced toward the diner, and then toward the area the prostitutes hung out. A cold drink would taste good. There'll be more girls hanging around later this afternoon.

Sami sat at a booth and studied the menu. Soon a waitress stood at her table. "I'm Sarah, what can I get you?"

"An iced tea and BLT."

"The BLT comes with chips. For an extra charge you can get fries."

"Thank you but chips will be fine."

After Sarah left, Sami walked around the dining area and showed the patrons the photo. About to give up, she went to the man sitting in the last booth and showed it to him. "Sir, have you seen this girl?"

Jose glanced up and grinned. "No, Ma'am, I haven't." He tilted his head. "Weren't you in the neighborhood last night showing a photo?"

"Sorry, Sir. I do remember you from last night. You work around here?"

"I do. If I hear anything, I promise to tell you."

Sami turned and rushed to the counter as a 'News' Special Report' aired on the TV. She shouted, "No! The girls aren't runaways. They were kidnapped. Why isn't Myra listed?" She ran from the diner.

Jose followed and spoke into his wrist communicator, "Boss, Sami just ran out and is headed for her car. I'm guessing she's on her way to the police station. A special report upset her. Do you want me to...?"

"Follow her," interrupted Noah. "But don't go inside. She would recognize you. Bob, go to the local police department. Find out what she says and what they tell her."

"Roger that."

Inside the police station, Sami walked to the front counter.

An officer asked, "Ma'am, can I help you?"

"I'm Sami Martinez. Last night I called in a report about men forcing teenage girls from the community center inside a black van."

He nodded. "I saw a memo about that. It was on the corner of Baylor and Parkway, correct?"

"Yes. I just saw a news report stating the girls are runaways. That's not true. They were kidnapped. Why isn't Myra Rodriguez listed as one of the girls? Have the police questioned anybody in that area to see if they saw anything? Have they talked to the community center staff? Why aren't the police working this as a kidnapping?"

A police detective stood in the doorway of his office. "Ma'am, we have no evidence, other than what you claim that there was a kidnapping. It's not unusual for teenage girls to get angry with their parents and run away."

"I was on the phone with Myra Rodriguez when it happened. I told you exactly what she told me. I guess that's not good enough. She's missing. Why isn't she listed as one of the missing girls?"

"Ma'am, her foster parents stated she isn't missing."

"That's ridiculous. She was waiting for me to pick her up." Sami turned and stormed out.

Bob sighed as he spoke into his wrist communicator, "Boss, you heard?"

"Sure did. Jose, follow and see where she goes."

"On it, Boss."

Sami parked in front of Leon and Alice Adams's house. Why wouldn't they report her as missing? It doesn't make sense.

After she knocked on the door, Alice answered, "Ms. Martinez, nice to see you. Come in out of the heat. Myra isn't home, right now. Can I do something for you?"

Sami nodded toward Leon sitting in a tattered recliner. "Myra called last night from the community center and asked me to pick her up, but I got stalled in traffic. We were on the phone, and I heard a man force her to go with him. Why haven't you reported her as missing?"

Leon glared at her. "Because she's notorious for running away. She'll get hungry and be home in a few days. We'd be out the money while she's off having fun."

"Sir, I've known Myra since January of her eighth-grade year; that's eighteen months. I happen to know during that time, she's never ran away. So, what you're telling me is because you'll lose a few dollars while she's missing you won't report her, is that correct?"


"Myra's in danger. You need to report her as missing."

"That's not going to happen." Leon stood. "Goodbye."

Sami left the house and sat in her car.

Jose watched from across the street. "Boss, I don't know what happened in there, but it wasn't good. Sami's in her car yelling. What do you want me to do?"

"Watch her. Don't talk to her now. She'll know we're following." Noah paused. "Somehow we need to place a listening device on her."

Chuckling, Jose said, "We won't get inside her apartment with that giant of a dog. We'd better come up with a different plan."

Noah answered, "Think about it."

Sami got herself together and went back to the community center area. I'm the only person searching for Myra and the rest of the girls.

She faced the prostitutes huddled together. They saw something but won't even acknowledge me. Why?

The waitress from the diner walked up to her. "Hello, I'm Sarah, remember me? You left in such a hurry; you forgot your order."

She reached into her jeans' back pocket. "I'm sorry. I'm Sami. I'll pay for what I ordered."

Sarah pressed her hand against Sami's Fitbit tracker as she refused the money. "That's not why I'm here. One of our customers saw how upset you were and wanted you to have lunch. He paid for it and told us to wait until you returned." She held out a sack and drink. "I made this fresh a few minutes ago. Please enjoy."

"Thank you. Does this man have a name? I'd like to thank him."

"Sorry. He didn't say." Sarah glanced toward the diner. "I need to get back."

Sami sipped the iced tea. This hits the spot. She scanned the area for a place to sit. She walked to her car and sat on the shady curb next to it. "This is probably the best spot."

"Coach! Coach!"

Hearing her name, Sami turned her head, jumped up, and hugged the teenager. "Julia, I'm glad you're safe."

Tears streamed down Julia's cheeks. "It's my fault. I shouldn't have left Myra alone. I'm sorry."

Sami joined in with tears. "If it's anybody's fault, it's mine. I didn't get here in time." She paused. "If you'd have stayed, you probably would've been kidnapped too."

Julia dried her tears. "I saw the news. Why isn't Myra listed?"

"The Adams didn't report her as missing."


Taking a deep breath, Sami said, "It's not my place to say."

"I'm guessing it's about money. Myra complained that the money they received for foster parenting went to beer."

"That explains a lot." Sami glanced at her sack on the curb. "I was about to eat. You look hungry. Want to share a BLT and some chips?"

"That's your lunch."

"Now, it's our lunch."

They sat in silence, each lost in thought as they shared the sandwich, chips, and drink.

After they finished, Sami stood. "I need to get back to asking if anybody saw anything."

"I'll help."

"No!" Sami hugged Julia. "The best way you can help is to stay away. I don't want you to go missing too. If your friends say anything, let me know. It might be important. Please promise you'll stay away from this area."

"I promise."

"Thank you. Now go home." Sami watched Julia leave and then attempted to show the working girls the photo, but they ignored her.

That evening, Jose walked into Noah's office. Noah exhaled. "Jose, Sarah attached a listening device to Sami's Fitbit tracker. So far, she's had a one-way conversation with Jasper. Who's Jasper?"

"Must be that dog she owns."

"Makes sense. He never answers." He pointed to a chair. "Have a seat. Bob's parked outside her apartment. She told Jasper she was calling her mom. Maybe she'll discuss what she knows."

"Let's hope. If she puts it on speaker, we can hear both sides."

After the greeting and with encouragement from her mom, Sami explained the Adams didn't report Myra as missing so they wouldn't lose any foster parenting money.

Laura, her mom asked, "What are you going to do now?"

"I don't know. If I reported them, which I should, when Myra's found, she won't have any place to go and will live in the group home until new foster parents are found. She'd be starting over again."

"Did she really have a good life with them? You've mentioned Leon's drinking and Alice worked long hours."


"Sami, what are you thinking? I can hear the wheels turning in your head."

Jose chuckled. "Her mom's good."

Noah frowned. "Shh, we'll miss something."

"I'm thinking about becoming a foster parent. I could take Myra. I have two bedrooms. This place is big enough for us."

"You're single. Don't foster parents come in pairs?"

"Maybe I could get an exception."

Laura exhaled. "I know you don't want to hear this, but I've read these girls are hooked on drugs, prostituted out, and abused. They become sex slaves. Myra won't be the same person. You need to consider that."

"Mom, stop! I'm going to find her."

"Okay." Laura hesitated. "What's your plan?"

"I'm sure the prostitutes on that corner know something. They were standing around while these girls were kidnapped. They won't even give me the time of day."

"You're an outsider. They don't trust you."


"Mom, you just gave me an idea. Tomorrow I'm going shopping and buy clothes, so I look like them."

Noah stood and paced. "Bad idea. Bad idea."

Jose inhaled. "As attractive as she is, I'm going to spend my day protecting her, aren't I?"

Noah nodded. "Yep. At least we know her plan and can prepare."

Laura gasped. "No, you're not, young lady. That's dangerous."

"Mom, it's the only way I'm going to get information."

"Promise you'll pray about that crazy idea and sleep on it."

"I promise. Goodnight, Mom."


Jose took a drink from a water bottle. "Maybe after she sleeps on it, she'll change her mind."

Shaking his head, Noah asked, "Do you honestly believe that?"


Sami Martinez - Twenty-five-year-old high school teacher, who's working to find a kidnapped teenage girl.

Noah Taylor. - Homeland Security team leader, who works in the Human Trafficking department.

Jose, Bob, & Sarah - Agents who work under Noah.

Laura Martinez - Sami's mom.

Jasper - Sami's Great Dane, a large breed dog.

Myra Rodriguez - Kidnapped teenage girl who Sami was close to.

Julia - Teenage girl, who was friends with Myra and Sami works with.

A First Book Chapter contest entry



Most of you know I don't normally enter contests. A friend, hmm, encouraged me to try this one. So, against my better judgement, I am trying. Because this is a contest entry, it's 3847 words. I'm going to try to post a chapter every Wednesday. If I can't keep up with it. I will post a chapter every other Wednesday until Seth and Emma are finished and then I'll post it on Sunday's.

I had originally posted a photo for this, but it got lost. I will see if I can figure out where it went. If I do I want to thank Google images for the post of human trafficking.

Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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