Book Title: In the Best Interest of the Child
Author: Felicia Denise
Genre: Women's Fiction/Psychological
Release Date: September 17, 2016
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions
Ten-year-old Olivia Chandler has a school she loves, good friends, a nice home, a talented mom, and a successful father she adores. Tragedy rips all of this away from her, and plunges Olivia into the foster care system, where for eight years she is neglected, humiliated, abused, and nearly raped.
Fate smiles on Olivia shortly before she ages out of the system, allowing her the means to attend college and law school.
Years later, Olivia is a successful child advocate attorney, giving a voice to children who are so easily ignored by those claiming to act in their best interest. She has little time for personal relationships, and her lifelong fear of abandonment reminds her never to get too close to anyone.
The successful attorney stumbles though when she’s assigned a case by the court that too closely mirrors her own haunted childhood. Olivia never gives her minor clients less than her all, and the only way she can help her eleven year old client is to face down and acknowledge her demons. This same case also brings a man into her life who sees her for who she truly is, and will not allow Olivia to push him away.
Making sure Rena was still sleeping, Olivia exited her vehicle, following the sidewalk to the driveway where a flatbed tow truck came fully into view. A large, burly, dark haired man was winching a late model Mercedes up onto the flatbed. Nearby, a far shorter man stood with his arms folded across his chest obviously not happy. As she got closer, Olivia believed the shorter man to be near her age, even though a head full of curly black hair gave him a more youthful appearance. Olivia smiled as she passed the tow truck driver, noticing how his eyes lingered on her hips. The shorter man didn't seem to notice her until she was right in front of him, and he started as though coming out of a trance.
"Hello. Can I help you?" Olivia widened her smile.
"Hello. I'm looking for the Bellamy residence." He regarded her warily.
"I'm Courtney Bellamy. What can I do for you?" She stuck out her right hand.
"Mr. Bellamy, I'm Olivia Chandler, Rena's court-appointed attorney. It's nice to meet you." Courtney Bellamy visibly relaxed.
"Nice to meet you, Ms. Chandler. My wife, Marissa, mentioned you were meeting with Rena today. We can go inside and chat shortly, I just have to see when this guy will have my car up and running." He spoke the last part of the sentence in a raised voice, making sure the tow truck driver heard him. The driver pulled a face in his direction.
"C'mon, Court! I don't even know what's wrong with it. How can I tell you when it will be fixed?"
"There is way too much going on in this family for us to depend on one car, Bruce. There will be whining, tears and harsh words...and my wife will be upset too!" Olivia and Bruce both laughed out loud at Courtney's snarky comment.
"Let me get it back to the shop and find the problem. If it's not a quick fix, I have a loaner vehicle you can use until yours is ready. Deal?" Courtney pumped his fist in the air.
"This is why you're my favorite mechanic! I love you, man!" Bruce guffawed.
"No. I'm your favorite mechanic because I'm your cousin and give you family discounts!"
"Well, there's that too," Courtney quipped. Reaching for the side door entrance, Courtney Bellamy addressed Olivia.
"Forgive me, Ms. Chandler. Would you like to have a seat inside while I wrap this up?"
"Please, it's Olivia. And actually, I have a sleeping Rena in my car out front."
"Oh! I thought the medical shuttle was bringing her home. And call me Courtney."
"That was the initial plan, but she was getting tired, and I didn't want her to have to sit and wait not knowing how long the shuttle would take to get to her. Bringing her myself was easier."
"How kind of you. Let me grab her chair, and I'll meet you out front."
"Sounds good." Olivia turned and started back down the driveway." Courtney threw one last taunt at his cousin.
"Bruce, if you put one scratch on my baby, I'm calling your mother!"
"And if you call my mother, I will call YOUR mother and tell her who really broke the garage window when we were kids." Courtney gasped.
"You wouldn't dare!" he countered.
"Stay away from my mother, and I'll stay away from yours." He caught Olivia's eye as she passed and winked. She laughed at the easy banter of the cousins, and just for a second wondered what it was like to have someone in your life who had known you all of your life. She heard her name being called just as she reached the sidewalk. Olivia turned to see Bruce jogging towards her. He stopped only after he had more than invaded her personal space. He was taller than she first thought. Her three inch heels put her at an even five foot, ten inches, and she still had to take a step back and raise her head to fully see his face. His light brown eyes had an amused glint to match the devilish smirk on his clean shaven face. His collar length dark brown hair was curly, though not as much as Courtney's, and had the beginnings of grey at the temples much like her own.
"Forgive me if I'm being forward, Ms. Chandler, but I wanted to give you my business card. I own Bellamy's over on Mason. If you ever need anything...um, for your car...give me a call. She reached for the card. "Anything...at all." The man was positively shameless. Olivia couldn't help but grin.
"Call me Olivia, and thank you. That's nice of you." Glancing at the card in her hand, a realization suddenly dawned on her. "Wait. You're that Bellamy? Bellamy Motorsports of "We have twelve locations to serve you in Hennepin and Olmstead counties?" His face took on the brightest shade of red as he blushed like a teenager.
"Guess you've seen our commercials, huh?" She laughed as she backed towards her car.
"Yes. A time or two...or twelve. The commercials never mentioned you were so...hands on." His eyes widened, but she pointed at the tow truck and continued before he could respond. "The boss answering service calls?" He slid his hands into his back pockets and cocked his head to the side.
"Okay, you got me. But Court won't let anyone else touch his Precious. I was with him the day he bought her, but I'm not sure who owns whom. Marissa always teases him by telling him she leaving and he can have the house, but she's taking the kid and the car. He nearly has a heart attack."
Olivia reached her car and noticed Rena was still sleeping. There was no sign of Courtney at the front door yet. She heard movement behind her and noticed Bruce had taken a couple of steps in her direction.
"I didn't see a ring. Are you married?"
"Do you wanna be?" Olivia laughed in spite of herself.
"You're definitely not the shy type, are you Bruce?"
"Nope. But I'm usually not this forward either." Suddenly serious, he continued. "It's just not everyday I meet a woman I'm so drawn to." The sincerity in his voice caused her pulse to race.
"I'm flattered, Bruce." He started to say something else, but both their attention was drawn to the front door as Courtney backed the wheelchair down the one step entrance, then turned and headed towards Olivia's car.
"Olivia?" She glanced in Bruce's direction, but looked away quickly, unable to hold his intense gaze. "Olivia?" Taking a deep breath, she met his gaze. "Call me." She smiled and gave him a single nod. His attention made her feel light-headed, but she knew she'd never call him. She couldn't. He definitely seemed like the type of man who wanted all or nothing...and nothing was all she had.
Courtney brought the wheelchair to a stop in front of her. "Cinderella's carriage has arrived. Shall we wake her?" Olivia moved to the car door as she unlocked it with the remote. She reached in to unfasten Rena's seatbelt, but caught the banter between the cousins.
"Bruce, go fix my car."
"Shut it, Court!"
"I'm nominating your house for Thanksgiving dinner this year!"
"And I'll nominate yours for Christmas dinner! And I'll insist great-aunt Mae bring her dogs...all four of them!"
"You're an evil man, Bellamy."
"We share DNA, Bellamy."
If Olivia didn't know they were grown men, she would have sworn they were seventh graders. Rena began to stir, and looked around, confused.
"Hey angel. You're home." Still disoriented, Rena tried to sit upright. She cried in obvious pain and gripped Olivia's arm. "It's okay, angel! It's okay, I got you. Just breathe through it. C'mon, now. Breathe." Olivia took her own advice and took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself. She couldn't comfort the child if she needed comfort herself.
"Olivia?" She looked back at Courtney. "She's as light as a feather, but that cast adds weight. Step back and I'll transfer her to the chair." Rena still held Olivia's arm, but her grip was loosening.
"You okay, angel? Mr. Bellamy wants to transfer you to the chair. You'll probably feel better once you can stretch out in your bed, okay?" Rena nodded, and Olivia stepped back out of the way to give Courtney room to transfer her to the chair. She could feel Bruce's eyes on her but refused to look at him. Her face grew hot and she felt awkward and out of place. Her resolve was weakening and she was about to look in his direction, when a green minivan pulled up behind her car. Bruce clapped his hands together excitedly.
"Oh yeah! The fun is really about to start." Olivia could tell he was enjoying the moment and glanced back to the minivan not knowing what to expect. A plump woman hurriedly exited the van and rushed towards them. She was short - maybe an even five feet in height - and African American with a mass of hair worn in a long, natural, wavy style. Though plump, her hourglass shape was more than obvious. She wore very little makeup, and she didn't need too. Her full lips and smooth brown skin were enhanced by large expressive eyes that right now were filled with worry.
"What happened? Is everything alright?" Just as she reached Olivia's car, Courtney raised Rena into his arms, pivoted, and placed her into the wheelchair. The woman glanced from face to face waiting for an answer. She threw a quick wave in Bruce's direction, and he returned it. Olivia smiled at her while Courtney leaned over Rena's chair and kissed the woman on the cheek.
"Hi, Honey. This is Rena's attorney, Olivia Chandler, and she just brought the munchkin home. Olivia, this is my wife, Marissa." She took Olivia's outstretched hand in both of hers and squeezed.
"Oh yes. We spoke on the phone. So nice to meet you. And thank you for seeing her home." She lightly patted Rena's shoulder and kissed the top of her head. "Hey Munchkin. Did you hit all your markers in therapy today?" Rena nodded slightly.
"All except the steps. I could only do two." Marissa stepped behind her chair and started towards the front door.
"That's still good. Remember last week you could only do one? Progress, munchkin, progress." She stopped suddenly and turned around. "Courtney, what are you doing here?"
He folded his arms across his chest defiantly.
"I live here."
Bruce, Rena and Olivia all snickered. Marissa pursed her lips.
"It's the middle of the day, Courtney." He started.
"Oh! Geeze, yes. So much happening at once. The school called me. Brian has a low grade fever and an upset stomach. He's up in his room. The school nurse said she called you first, but didn't get an answer. I figured you were still with your mom at the dialysis center."
"They were short staffed today for some reason, so Mom got a late start on her treatment." She glanced up at the house. I told that boy to go easy on the chili con carne last night. He never listens and this always happens." She nodded her head in Bruce's direction. "And why is Bigfoot here?" The laugh escaped Olivia's mouth before she could suppress it. These people were nuts...and she loved it. Bruce shot a glance at her and mouthed the word "traitor."
"After I got Bri settled inside, I was going to return to the office, and my car wouldn't start. I called Bruce to come over and diagnose the problem, but...she's really sick. He has to take her in." Courtney Bellamy looked as though tears might be a real possibility.
Marissa turned her head and covered her mouth to hide the grin. She looked back and addressed Olivia.
"Please excuse our family. We're not usually this scatterbrained and dysfunctional. And we usually care more about our sick children than our sick cars." Before Olivia could tell her they were all just fine, Bruce chimed in.
"Look up 'dysfunctional' in Webster's and you'll find our family portrait." Marissa popped a clenched fist on one hip and shot back.
"Don't you have little children to scare or people to annoy?"
"Yes, and here I am!"
Olivia heard someone join her in the laughter, but when she glanced at Courtney, his eyes were full of love and fixed on his wife. Olivia stepped around Marissa and looked down at Rena, who had dissolved into a fit of laughter. She clutched her bag of snacks with one hand and her stomach with the other. Olivia's heart melted at the sight. She then noticed Courtney had stepped behind his wife, sliding his hand around her waist. Rena was still laughing when he softly said, "Once they get started, they won't stop until Rena laughs." He kissed his wife behind the ear while giving the thumbs up to his cousin.
Olivia was taken aback. Most of what she'd just witnessed was a performance purely for Rena's benefit. She was so glad she had not prejudged these people and admonished herself for any negative thoughts she may have had about them. These were good, loving people who were just living life. Parents and kids get sick and cars break down, but it didn't distract them enough that they didn't have time for a little girl who was...at least temporarily...an orphan. Although Olivia was sure the Bellamys and Averests must have had a pretty strong friendship for Courtney and Marissa to take Rena in, she felt this family would probably help any child in need. Olivia followed as Marissa pushed Rena into the house, but something made her stop and look over in Bruce's direction. He was still standing there, hands in pockets, focused on her. Shaking her head, she smiled at him, which caused him to throw a big toothy grin back at her.
Marissa had cleared the doorway and Courtney held the door for Olivia. When she walked past him, he touched her arm lightly and quietly said, "He's a good guy." Her face heated up again, but she was rescued when she heard Marissa call out to her to follow her voice to get to Rena's room.
An avid reader from a very early age, Felicia would re-write the stories she read, making the women a little bit tougher. Not to outdo the men, but raised by parents who taught their six daughters to always stand up for themselves, and to always “be a lady”, Felicia has very little patience with ‘crybabies’ – female or male. Introduced to creative writing in grade school, Felicia amused herself by creating stories, poems, and song lyrics…that she never showed to anyone.
Now embracing the concept of sharing, Felicia’s first published novel, In The Best Interest of the Child” debuts in September 2016.
Felicia left the harsh winters of Michigan and now resides in Arizona with her husband of more than thirty years, who’s always trying to read over her shoulder. Their three adult children are scattered around Arizona. She is looking forward to having grandchildren, but feels she may win the lottery first…or get struck by lightning. Though she enjoys a good rain storm, Felicia no longer goes outside when it rains. She’s not taking any chances.