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The Outreach Committee

In L.A.'s South Bay, the Battered Women's Escape Foundation shelters and helps abused women. But no shelter is safe for the wives of influential men, who can find them anywhere. The top-secret Outreach Committee has a solution. But now their new Chairman is an abuser himself.
Can they once again get away with murder?

"Keeps the reader on the edge of their seat!"—IndieReader

""—Readers' Favorite

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About C.L. Woodhams

C.L. Woodhams' works have appeared in five anthologies and in various newspapers and newsletters. She has served as a judge for the San Diego Book Awards and for Southwest Manuscripters' contests. She works with Read Local San Diego to bring local authors and their readers together. C.L. Woodhams lives in Carlsbad, California, where she's busy writing her next mystery novels.

C.L. Woodhams chose her maternal grandmother's maiden name as her pen name, as it resembles the names of the English mystery writers she hopes to emulate. In her grandmother's era, women writers were forced to use their initials only, so that publishers who dealt only with men would publish their work.

Want to reach out? Contact her here.

Books in Print

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In LA's South Bay, the Battered Women's Escape Foundation (BWEF) shelters, counsels and trains abused women so they can start a new life. However, one group cannot take advantage of its haven: women whose wealthy, influential husbands are so well connected that they can find any shelter—and thus, their wives—with a phone call to a local official.

Mora Rey and Carol Ewald form the Outreach Committee. The "OC" mission: to rid these women of their abusive spouses by creating "accidents" to dispatch them. But when they learn that the BWEF's newest benefactor is an abuser himself, will they tread too far into dangerous waters?

ISBN 978-0-9908924-0-3 Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-0-9908924-1-0 eBook
LCCN 2014918629
Available at Amazon and E-reader sites

"Instead of a first wives' club, this is a widows' club, and their mission is to liberate other women from abusive relationships...The novel's attempt to raise awareness of domestic violence is admirable. Woodhams clearly sympathizes with abused women, particularly when it seems as if all the cards are stacked against them."—Kirkus Reviews

"Keeps the reader on the edge of their seat and out of their comfort zone. Woodhams deftly merges drama with elements from police procedurals and legal thrillers to produce a dynamic, tense, and suspenseful read."—IndieReader

""—Readers' Favorite

""—IndieReader Discovery Awards

""
"C.L. Woodhams shares a variety of perspectives and experiences [that] help a reader explore the thoughts and feelings of abusers as well as the women they supposedly love. A very well-written novel, The Outreach Committee hits home [as it] pulls back the curtains on what might actually happen in abusive situations of wealthier men and women...Woodhams' book offers a profound opportunity to understand the psychology of both sides while making a reader ponder what justice might really look like."—Red City Review

"Woodhams capably crafts a tale of vengeance with a clever central concept."—Publishers Weekly

"Captivated me from the very first page. The writing is stimulating, the story moves at just the right pace…The characters are moving, realistic and well defined…I felt a deep connection to these women, even without having their first-hand experiences…
I highly recommend The Outreach Committee by C.L. Woodhams to anyone that loves a good thriller…It will keep you on the edge of your seat with suspenseful entertainment, while also providing education and awareness on a very serious subject matter."—Reader Views

"This novel is full of suspense, but it has a message for those wishing to avoid spousal abuse, too."—L. W.

"I couldn't put it down. Clever, well-written, and suspenseful. I loved it and I'm happy to recommend it."—S. R.

"Well worth reading!"—D. G.

"I loved this book. So thought-provoking. I learned quite a bit about abuse in relationships."—J. G.

  • 2015 Beverly Hills Book Awards
    Finalist, Suspense
  • 2015 National Indie Excellence Book Awards
    Finalist, Suspense
  • 2015 New York Book Festival
    Honorable Mention, Fiction
  • 2015 San Francisco Book Festival
    Honorable Mention, Fiction
  • 2015 Green Book Festival
    Honorable Mention, Fiction
  • 2015/2016 Reader Views Literary Awards
    Third Place, Mystery/Thriller/Suspense
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In twenty-two short stories, Sweet Justice is administered with certainty to greedy and crooked members of the human race.

"The stories in Sweet Justice are strangely creepy yet justly entertaining."—Bernadette L. Shih, AuthorLing Ling: The Most Beautiful Giant Panda in the World
Love: Leap of the Heart and a Sweet Tear
Good Friends

"I have enjoyed the wicked wit of this author for many years; she never fails to surprise and entertain."—Varda One, AuthorWriting As Adventure, A Writer's Companion.

"Delightfully wicked! C.L. Woodhams' characters add the nectar to Sweet Justice! An entertaining read."—Mary Blei, AuthorThat's Truckdrivin

ISBN 978-1-4019392-4-0 Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-4010392-5-7 Hardcover
ISBN 978-1-4500033-6-0 eBook
Available at Amazon and Xlibris.

Works in Progress

C.L. Woodhams is at work on the first two novels in a series of cozy mysteries.

Widow's Walk introduces amateur sleuth Amy Alice McClamrock and her mystery-solving friends, the Bayside Mystery Writers, who are determined to solve the puzzle of Amy's beloved grandmother's untimely death.

In All That Glitters, Amy and her sleuthing friends search for the attempted murderer or murderers of Bayside's handsome young mayor, who have already succeeded in killing another citizen.

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Articles

The North County Writers Bloc – It's More Than a Critique Group

Successful writers agree: participating in a critique group improves their writing skills; provides support and encouragement; and motivates them to reach their goals. When I moved to a new community, I made finding a critique group my top priority. My work needed, and I craved, the honest, interested and in depth analysis such a group would provide. Little did I know that weekly group meetings would bring excursions into the unknown. First I had to define what I wanted from a writers' group. I knew I needed one whose members were successful writers. I expected the members to understand and teach writing techniques and to honestly, but kindly, critique my work. At least one member who had taught creative writing would be ideal. A range of ages would give a multi-generational perspective. They would be working on a variety of projects so their review of my work would have differing expectations. I also wanted to meet during the day, at a location not too far away.

I knew, from experience, that I did not want a group in which the members read the others' work before the meeting and discussed it when they met. I felt this took too much time from my own writing and editing. I preferred to hear each author read his own work. I decided weekly meetings would give me enough time to create a new scene or chapter to read each time. A longer space between meetings would slow down feedback on my work.

After moving, I attended each writing venue listed in the local papers; there, I inquired about critique groups. Finally, I was referred to a group meeting at my local library. I called the library and was told the group met each Friday morning for three hours. My heart pumping wildly, I entered the meeting room. The meeting hadn't started, but the fifteen chattering people all seemed to be friends. Would I fit in? Were they a clique?

I was introduced to the members of the North County Writers Bloc and given a list of their names to follow as each person read his work. The leader, a retired English professor, told me I was welcome if I was an active writer. I had taken my book of short stories to show them (and to impress them, of course). They asked me to read from it. I read my favorite story and was heartened to hear their laughter at just the right moments. When I finished, their critique started. I heard about my problems with points of view, how I could improve, and what they liked in the story. This was not a group dedicated only to telling the writer he was wonderful! I had found a home.

I have belonged to the Writers Bloc for two years now. To my delight, it has proven to be more than a critique group. Before each meeting we discuss news about the writing business, self publishing, and query letters. Our successes and rejections are cheered and booed. Recently we branched out to arrange book signings and panel discussions promoting our published writers' work. We work with Read Local San Diego to encourage libraries and book stores to feature local authors. Several of us attended a writers' conference together and brought our experience back to the group. We've also started a blog to promote the group and to help other writers with our "words of wisdom."

On Friday mornings, I travel back in time: with a young girl who wants to be a pony express rider; with a young woman who spied for the North in the Civil War; and I participate in the guild wars of the 1500s in Italy. I ponder with a playwright the rumor that Queen Elizabeth was a man; and come of age with a young South African girl as her country sheds apartheid.

In modern times, I visit the new US embassy in Bagdad, travel to Central America on a budget, seeing all the sights and sampling the local cuisine. I meet the residents of an Oklahoma residential hotel, experiencing with humor their small town quirks. The other writers help me give men who abuse their wives a final send off in my suspense novel.

I travel to the future with an exotic blind woman who has ESP and visit an aerospace facility where many of the employees are aliens working alongside their human counterparts.

But travel is not my only adventure in the Writers Bloc. I also hear the memoirs of two adventuresome women, follow the life of a football star, and giggle at the antics of a puppet while its creator reads the children's play she wrote featuring him.

The Writers Bloc has spawned several poets who thrill and entertain us. One of them paints watercolors to accompany his work. Another spells out for us the humorous aspects of growing up and getting older.

I look forward to Friday mornings. I know I'll immerse myself in others' work, rejoice with my friends' successes and receive invaluable feedback. The North County Writers Bloc is more than a critique group. I come away from their meetings with a feeling of accomplishment, a goal for the next session and the knowledge that I've put in a meaningful morning's work.

Brolly

You may call it bumbershoot, brolly, parasol, or even a weapon, but chances are you don't call it shade. Yet, that is exactly how the ubiquitous umbrella began its centuries' -long existence. Its name is derived from the Latin words, "umbra" for shadow and "umbel" for flower petals.

In Egypt where the umbrella is said to have originated, the walls of the Pharaoh's tomb depict the king shaded by an umbrella held by a servant or slave. The umbrella was such an important part of life in Burma at one time that the government issued regulations for its size, shape and color. It protected royalty and women from the sun, presumably because hairdos, crowns or other head ornaments interfered with a hat.

The Greeks brought the sunshade umbrella to Europe. The Romans are credited with converting it to its dominant use today, shedding rain. One can imagine that as they traveled further North in search of lands to conquer, the Romans found less sun and more rain.

The basic design of the umbrella has changed little. The material of the ribs changed from wood to steel to aluminum. Each change lightened it until it was no longer necessary to have a servant carry it.

Umbrellas have grown and shrunk over the years. Miniatures grace exotic tropical punches, "beach" umbrellas shade bathing beauties, patios, farmers on their tractors and patrons of outdoor cafes. Christos' 28 foot poppy-colored umbrella sprouted for a short time in the Tejon Pass, California, during the fifth year of a crippling drought.

The umbrella endured in basic black, like the Model T, until women's fashions decreed that color be introduced. Its name changed to parasol. During the 1800s, no Paris showing of the latest fashions was complete without a presentation of parasol designs. Parasols, however, were much too delicate and elaborate to go out in the rain. Their deeper shape and smaller diameter turned them into a decorative accessory.

The handles adorning a parasol garnered as much personal interest as the color of its silk lining or fringe. Handles, such as the one made of sterling silver and mother of pearl, were treasured and carried by their owners through many cover changes. They were often carved of exotic woods, some even of woods especially trained to the correct shape while still growing on the tree. A horn, porcelain, gold or silver knob often terminated straight wood handles. Tasseled cords held these around a lady's wrist. Department stores published rates for re-covering parasols to match a lady's outfit.

Harrods of London's catalogue in the Victorian era offered a buggy whip and parasol combination. One can imagine, I suppose, that a buggy was taken out only on sunny days or the horses needed encouragement in the rain.

The combination of the umbrella with other uses has been more successful and lasting. It is used as a walking stick in foggy, rainy areas today and to conceal a razor sharp dagger or poisoned needle in real life and adventure novels. In London, James Smith and Sons Limited will even customize an umbrella to your height.

Advertisements have exploited the umbrella. A young girl carrying an umbrella, salt spilling behind her, illustrates Morton Salt's slogan, "When it rains, it pours." Travelers Insurance used an umbrella as its trademark and all insurance companies sell excess coverage or "umbrella policies."

In fiction, the umbrella's magical properties were delightfully controlled by Mary Poppins and Scarlet O'Hara twirled the parasol flirtatiously.

Technological advances and mass production brought the umbrella to its self-opening egalitarian status we know today. We can own a wardrobe of umbrellas. This wardrobe is most likely to be collected for convenience instead of fashion, however. Umbrellas reside in the car and the office as well as the hall closet.

For novelty's sake, we can purchase two handled umbrellas for courting purposes or one in the shape of our favorite team's football helmet. The latter, for use by staunch supporters cheering their team in inclement weather, has a cutout which allows an unobstructed view of the field. For some unknown reason, the see-through bubble shaped umbrella of the late1960s folded quickly. The upside down umbrella to protect your dog followed suit.

Coming full circle, with an increase in our concerns about damage to our skin from the sun's rays, we carry an umbrella now more frequently in its original capacity, portable shade.

We may no longer think if it as a fashion accessory, but until we can control the weather at will, the umbrella remains a necessity, rain or shine.

Trophies

I earned another trophy today. No, it's not all shiny bright and engraved with my name. The president won't call to congratulate me. But, I'm proud of it, just the same. I won this trophy for cleaning the garage.

Two years ago, my husband died suddenly, leaving me a garage that was full of household hazardous waste, car parts, hobby paraphernalia and sports equipment. His dead El Camino was squeezed in there, too.

The routine is familiar. I plan ahead to the day when my truck will be out on the drive, giving me access to loaded shelves. I will work for an hour, or until the trash cans are full.

Yes, I said "my truck." It was my first garage-cleaning trophy, the same aforementioned El Camino. I lost sleep over it; automotive mechanics was definitely not my forte. How could I bring it to life? Spurred on by the license renewal notice, I bought a battery charger at K Mart and followed the directions. The truck started! Hong's Auto Repair changed the spark plugs and connected it to the smog test machine. It passed. Sometime during that day, "John's truck" became "my truck." My trophy.

Today, as usual, I had to start with the whys. Why did John have to die so young? Why didn't I nag him about being a pack rat? Or not cleaning up the garage? Are all ex-farmers that way? Why couldn't he have been a man of one interest, like model airplanes? Instead of a gardener, beekeeper, marksman, fisherman, car tinkerer, wine maker, scuba diver, cook, and tool collector. (The tool collection increased each time John worked on my car. I, of course, had the responsibility for buying the "proper tool.")

Today, I am down to the fun part. The fertilizers, pesticides, wine making supplies and pure junk are gone. This morning, I investigated the stuff that John cared enough about to put in a labeled carton. The label and the box contents often did not match, so opening each one brought a smile with a trip down memory lane, an "ugh" of disgust, or a puzzle to solve. Should I store this copper-wire-wrapped gizmo with the car parts to give to a trade school, or with the metal to sell, or just toss it in the already too heavy trash can? I yielded to temptation and put it on the "I don't know what to do with this/maybe a garage sale" shelf.

I found today's garage-cleaning trophy inside a small box which John had placed in a larger carton, marked "misc. camping supplies." The soft white leather of an ice skate shoe glistened at me as I opened the flap - the blades still shiny and free of rust. I sat there on the step ladder, the skates on my lap, and journeyed back to the Christmas I'd received them.

My family had moved from St. Louis, MO to Red Bank, NJ to be near my father, an army reserve officer who'd been called up in World War II, and stationed at Fort Monmouth. We lived near the Navasink Inlet which afforded ice skating in the cold winters.

My twin brother and I had begged Santa Claus for ice skates. Mother had found two pair at Sears, made before the war. The shoes of my figure skates were white, and my brother's hockey skates black. My fun loving father switched one skate from each pair with one from the other pair before Mother wrapped them. I remembered the shivery excitement of finding skates under that tree - and the despair when I realized someone had made a mistake. My skates didn't match. I couldn't use them that very day. Finally, my father confessed. (I still get emotionally involved in an issue before looking for logical solutions.)

Those skates from long ago brought more memories: the feel of freezing breezes on my face as I crossed rough ice; my pride in learning to stop on my toes; the tingle of fingers warming over a bonfire; and the scary thrill of gingerly sneaking onto the ice while ignoring the "thin ice" signs in the spring.

Today, as I dusted my latest garage cleaning trophy, those ice skates, I contemplated where to display them. I have no trophy wall in the den. My modern fireplace has no mantle. I think I'll hang them from the rear view mirror of my truck.

Short Stories

Arrested Development

April Samson threw down the newspaper she'd been reading and stalked toward the front door to her apartment, only to be intercepted by her father. "The police are wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Ronnie couldn't do all those horrible things they're accusing him of!" She wiped a tear with her fist. "He'd never cheat on me with someone he found on Craig's List. He loved me."

Her father hugged her tight. "There, there, Baby, Mom and I'll work through this with you."

April sniffled, and leaned into his hug. She gripped his strong arms so she wouldn't fall. Her whole skeleton felt like bungee cords. She whimpered, remembering how she'd helped Ronnie memorize the names of all her bones. She'd learned them with him, but now she couldn't say the name of any of them. She looked around at their apartment. His medical books were splayed on the desk. She'd take them to him when she visited so he wouldn't lose his place in his classes. But the paper said the medical school had suspended him. Did that mean they thought he was guilty, too?

April's mother entered the room with a rainbow armload of lingerie she'd pulled from the clothes dryer. "April, your laundry's done; I'll finish packing and then we can go home."

"Home? I'm already there. This is Ronnie's and my home." April looked around her, bewildered. Why are they telling me I should leave our apartment? We called it our Robin's Nest. Ronnie will be back soon. He'll need me here to hug him and wash his clothes – cook him his favorite chocolate bread pudding.

"Baby, they…they think they have a lot of evidence against Ronnie. Even if he's innocent, it will take him a long time to prove it to the authorities." Her father moved her to the sofa and gently pushed her down. He lifted her legs and turned her so she could stretch out its full length.

April bounced up. "Even if. What do you mean even if?" She squinted her eyes and glared at her father. "You think he's guilty, don't you?" She turned to her mom, catching a guilty look before her mother could turn her head. "You both think he's guilty. Don't you?"

"Now, Baby, don't get upset. We don't know Ronnie very well. We believe you think he's not guilty and I for one am willing to consider that." The worried mother glanced sideways at her husband, craving his concurrence.

"Of course, I'm willing to consider Ronnie is innocent. If for no other reason but that you love him and are planning to marry him."

"You'll both consider it, is that all? Dad, you're a lawyer, can't you help him, get him out of jail?"

"Baby, I write trusts and wills, I don't know anything about criminal law."

"Ronnie is not a criminal!" April snatched the laundry from her mother and headed to the bedroom, the one she shared with Ronnie. She turned to face her parents, "And stop calling me Baby. I'm an adult, engaged to be married, wanting a baby of my own." She pressed a hand to her abdomen. Her mother reached out to envelop April in a hug. April pulled away. "Just go. I'm staying here, in our apartment."

Her parents gone, April doubled over on the queen sized bed they'd made love in that morning. She'd planned to tell him she thought she was pregnant, but hadn't, still unsure how he'd take the news. She'd use the baby to cheer him up when he called from jail. She wrapped her arms under her sore breasts. If she were preggie, she'd be showing by the wedding. She'd better tell her dress designer, chosen only last week. As dark settled over the room, April drifted into a troubled sleep. Tomorrow, she'd work out how to help Ronnie.

A noise jolted April from her troubled sleep. She sat up, pulling the quilt around her chin. "Ronnie, is that you?" As the cat jumped on the bed, she pushed it. "Shadow, you get down. You know Ronnie doesn't like you on the bed. He says you're dirty." The cat snuggled next to her, putting a tentative paw on her hand. She sank back on the pillow, sobbing and snuggling the warm purring body. "Ronnie's not coming back for a while. I guess you can stay tonight."

Her sobs exhausted, April turned on the light and picked up the note pad on the night stand. As long as she couldn't sleep, she might as well work on the wedding plans. Should they move the ceremony up so her pregnancy would show less? She sighed deeply. That would depend on how long it would take for Ronnie to prove his innocence.

Many times she had waited in the dark room for him to come to bed. When he was cramming in the living room, or meeting his study team for a group discussion late into the dark hours. He came home exhausted, smelling as if he'd been to the gym when he'd studied with that bunch. They must really study hard, push each other. He'd jump into the shower and she'd hear the water running for such a long time. When he came to bed, she'd offer him a massage, but he'd angrily turn her away.

She'd met Ronnie at the spa where she worked as a massage therapist. He liked her deep muscle treatment best. A couple of times she'd thought he was going to hit her, she hurt him so bad, but then he'd say he liked it.

She didn't spend as much time with Ronnie as she'd like, but then he was busy in med school learning how to do surgery, save people's lives. How could the police think he could have murdered anyone? Doctors take the oath that they will do no harm.

The phone woke April the next morning. "Good morning, Ba…Darling. It's Mom. How are you doing? Did you get any sleep?"

"Yes, Mother, I slept." April pushed her hair from her eyes. "Why wouldn't I?"

"I thought you might lie awake worrying, that's all."

"Mom, there's nothing to worry about, I told you. Ronnie couldn't knife someone to death. He's studying to be a doctor." April shivered as her brain flashed a picture of an irate Ronnie stabbing a loaf of bread last week, when he read the tuition bill from the university. He had learned to use scalpels last semester. Explained to her what each could do, and where to cut for each operation.

"I admire you dear, for taking this so calmly. But then, you probably know him better than anyone." The mother coughed. "I never heard him talk about this Craig's List, did you? I doubt he knew it even existed."

"Oh, Mother! Of course he knew it existed. We used it to furnish our apartment – even got the china cabinet you admire so much from there." April pushed the power button on her computer. Ronnie had used it with her for their furniture search. His computer was used just for school. Or was it? While her mother talked, she went into the living room and stared at the blank spot on his desk. Of course, the police had taken his laptop. He'll be furious if they lose any of his study materials.

"Dear, I know you're madly in love with Ronnie, but you have to admit that you don't have a long history with him. There may be things about his background you haven't heard about."

"He's a private person, Mom. He thinks you're nosy, if you want to know. Makes him share even less about himself."

"Well, I have to say, you have a hard few months ahead of you, April. At least you're not pregnant. We can be thankful for that in these troubled times."

"Mom, I ..."

"Just imagine all those violent genes a child could inherit, if he is guilty." April quietly cradled the phone.

Sitting in the small gloomy apartment they could afford on her salary, April brooded about her future. Her bank account contained two month's rent at most. She'd have to quit work when she got so big she couldn't get close enough to her patrons to properly massage them. Then what would she do?

Ronnie insisted they go to the casino when funds were low. Much of time he won, but she never wanted to try even the slot machines. Why would the police think he robbed women he met on Craig's List when all he had to do was play Black Jack? And the erotic massages. Why would he answer ads for them on Craig's List like the police said he did? He got them free at home whenever he wanted one, which wasn't very often.

To keep herself busy, April polished the windows, chased the dust bunnies from under the bed, and headed towards Ronnie's desk to straighten it. He always kept it so organized. Normally she was not allowed to touch it; she knew nothing about medicine and could throw a critical paper away thinking it was trash. At least that's what he said. She'd pack up some of the books for when she'd be allowed to see him at the jail. Her hand moved to pick up a book, then stopped. What if he was released and came home to find she'd messed with his domain? Well, if he did, she'd just have to explain to him why. She attacked her project with gusto. Opening a bottom drawer to file a study folder, April gasped and ran toward the bathroom, a hand covering her mouth. Why was the chef's knife she'd been missing wrapped in a brown stained towel in Ronnie's desk drawer? Had he cut himself with it?

I have to be pregnant. Otherwise a little old knife out of place wouldn't bother me. I've heard a woman's whole perspective changes when she conceives. That must be it. She finished her task and jumped into the shower. The water soothed her tense body, its swish calmed her thrashing thoughts. She dressed in her rose gown and peignoir, Ronnie's favorite. She settled down to watch a movie, - forget for a moment.

A loud knock interrupted April's peace. "Police."

Trembling, April opened the door. "Yes?" A firm push on the door sent her staggering backward. She grabbed the hall tree to catch her balance.

Holding up a thick paper, the officer said, "We have a warrant to search your home."

"Can you tell me what it's all about? You won't make a mess will you? I just cleaned the apartment."

The officer grimaced. "We were trying to get here before you did that." He turned to his partner. You start at his desk; I'll take the bedroom. The desk. Thank heavens she'd cleaned that knife and put it away. The dirty cloth was picked up with the trash that afternoon. She sat and watched the police search every drawer and cupboard. They wouldn't find anything to incriminate Ronnie. They were wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Weren't they?

The Laundromat

I'll be a horny toad if I let that man control how I feel. I'll show Hairy Henry the Horrible just how much he mattered to me. I'll wash all my memories of him down the drain. Smart of me to remember the all night Laundromat. I can do it all at one time. Now if I can just get this heavy door open without dropping my dirty laundry in the parking lot. Whew! What a load. If I had any more stuff, my little VW bug would squat on its wheels and refuse to go.

Now, how much money am I going to need? I hope twenty dollars in quarters will be enough. I don't want to leave my clothes there in the middle of the night while I go to the bar next door to get change. Oh good, no one else here. I can use as many washers as I want. Coming here in the middle of the night was a smart move. Course I couldn't sleep anyway, but I'd never tell Hairy Hen that.

Just think how good I'm going to feel when I wash everything in the apartment that he could have touched. I'll just get the worst started first. These queen sheets should fit in one washer, if I push them down. The sheets they'd made love on last night – before he told her he had rented an apartment for his secretary, Melissa, and was moving in with her.

I knew something was wrong. He was acting so sneaky the last two months. He used to expect me to pick up after him all the time. Then he started picking up after himself. That is until last night when he left these sopping wet towels on the bathroom floor. I'll stuff them in here with the sheets. I don't want to contaminate my clothes with his smell; that'd just make it harder. How did he call her when he wasn't in the office? I checked the phone bills the last two months. I didn't see any strange numbers.

Oh look, here's some of those expensive socks he bought. They're hairy and wild colors. What should I do with them? I could use them for dust rags; they fit on my hands. But then, I'd think about him every time I dusted. Well, that wouldn't be too often: I'm not the best of housekeepers. I only clean when Grammy is coming over. That's what I'll do! I'll give her the socks to make the monkey dolls she sews for Children's Hospital. Grammy never liked Henry; guess she was right. I'll call and tell her so – when I can say his name without crying.

Drat! Here comes someone in with a bunch of dirty clothes. "Hey. That washer has my clothes in it. There's some empties in the back." He's kinda cute. No, Liz, you're off men for at least as long as you dated Henry. Remember your insight at the therapy sessions after you broke up your relationship with George: it takes as long as the length of the relationship to get over it. That means no new men in your life until next November. Drat! There goes my summer.

"Okay. Okay. Don't get your drawers twisted, lady. I wouldn't want to put my clothes in there anyway; the water is all red."

"Red? Oh my gosh! He would look in that one. And I thought I was doing so well, getting rid of everything. What must he think? I have to say something. What should it be? Oh, I know: "Oh, dear; I must have dropped my red sweats in with the sheets."

"Hey, I did that with my good white shirts. Had to take them to a commercial laundry to get the pink out." Whew. That was close. Just what I need! I'll pour in more bleach. So what if I wash the flowers off the sheets? I couldn't sleep on them anyway. They're full of bad memories. Just think, I bought them to celebrate our seven month anniversary on. What a dunce I am! Blind, too. Most men get a seven year itch; Hairy Henry got it in seven months.

I'll put this machine on delicate and wash my lingerie. Should I keep these "weekies"? What fun we had had, joking about pulling off the panties, before bed each night. I made sure I wore the right one for each day. We had the most fun with the Sunday ones, feeling sinful making love instead of going to church. The first week was a fun seven days. He'd bought them for Valentine's day; said he maybe should have bought two sets they were so much fun. Hey, I bet that's what he did do. Bought one set for me and one for Melissa. I decided to wash them and then put them in the Goodwill barrel.

Oooh, another reminder! I just can't throw this black lace nightgown away. I felt so sexy in it. Another futile celebration purchase. I was sure it would turn Henry on and he'd pull it off me and throw me on the bed. Of all things, I had to gyrate in a strip tease to arouse him. And that didn't last. I thought he'd just had a little too much to drink or something. Never dreamed he couldn't perform 'cause Ms. Melissa had drained him dry.

What's this? Ha! His Ralph Lauren jeans. Am I ever going to have a ton of fun with them. I'll wash them in the hottest water to shrink them so much he can't get his big toe in them. Not that he'd dare come back for them. Oh, good, there's still a half bottle of bleach. That should make them look like they belong to a hippie. I'd better go through the pockets. He often stuffed his money in them. Said a billfold ruined the line of his backside. What's this? It's a cell phone. It isn't his; his was black. This one is lavender. Hmmm. It's one of those programmed with a certain number of minutes. Perfect for making calls that can't be traced. Bet that's how he talked with Melissa. I'll just redial the last number he called.

"Hello, Hunk," a dripping sugar voice answered after the first ring. "Did you tell Liz about us?" I was right; he'd used the lavender phone to call her so it wouldn't show on our phone bill. I'd heard Melissa's dramatic nasal tones enough to recognize her. Hope she heard the water gushing as I threw the lavender love phone into the washer. I hate her! Wish I could drown her as easily as that phone.

How can it be Monday already? Washing all traces of Henry the Horrible out of my life and our apartment took all of Saturday night and yesterday. Boy am I tired this morning. I'm glad I called in sick. I couldn't have faced the questions about my weekend without crying. Crying in the office is a no-no. Stupid me had to go and brag about my plans for the anniversary weekend. Show off the black nightgown. I hope I'll feel better tomorrow. Now who's calling?

"Is this Liz?" I know that voice. Been expecting Messy Melissa to call.

"Yes?"

"This is Melissa Adams, Henry's personal assistant at work?" And a lot of other things outside work. If you think I didn't know about you, you'd be absolutely right – until Saturday night.

"So?"

"Our general manager asked me to call. I, I … we're worried about Henry. He's not answering his cell phone and no one's seen him since he left the office on Friday."

"Is that right?"

Feature

Facts and Fantasies

Signs of Domestic Violence

Each year, two million women in the United States suffer from domestic violence. The women of The Outreach Committee created their own method of erasing spousal abuse. One that would not work in the real world. They all agree that recognizing the signs of abusive behavior from the beginning—and avoiding the person exhibiting them—is a woman's best defense. Some early signs of abuse to look for in a budding relationship:

  • Jealousy when you speak to others.
  • Isolating you from your family and friends.
  • Making you responsible for his feelings.
  • Blaming others for his problems or mistakes.
  • Unrealistic expectations for you or your relationship.
  • He's easily insulted.

Woodhams' Words of Wisdom for Writers

Writers work alone; theirs is a solitary existence. We may be our own best critics, but our work shines with the knowledgeable input of others. Was the voice you chose for a character the right one? Would that character act in the manner you've devised? Is the plot believable? Are your sentences too long—or too short? Grammar correct? A writer looking for like-minded groups will find several categories of organizations:

  • A critique group whose members regularly meet for the express purpose of reading and critiquing each others' work and developing the craft of writing. Example: The North County Writers Bloc.
  • A group featuring inspiring speakers who are successful writers. Example: LA's Southwest Manuscripters; NAWLA (Los Angeles); Sisters In Crime.
  • Groups who educate us on the business of writing and publishing. Example: Writers and Publishers of San Diego; Read Local San Diego.
  • Online writers' blogs, which discuss all aspects of writing.
  • Don't forget writers conferences, which give writers opportunities to promote their work to agents and publishers.

About My Blog

While researching material for my suspense novel, The Outreach Committee, I found many articles defining domestic violence, but few concrete plans for breaking free. Therefore, I've established a blog, womenbreakfreefromabuse.wordpress.com.

This blog's purpose is to give abused women ideas on how to escape the horrors they face at home each and every day. If you know of anyone who has broken free from abuse, or someone who is considering escape, please refer them to this blog.

We'll start by talking about the origins of men's abuse of women. Next, we'll discuss the signs of a developing abusive relationship that a woman in love may overlook. Coping mechanisms while still in the abusive environment will be important to those not yet ready to leave. The most useful comments will be from the women who share their success stories for others to consider.

Please visit womenbreakfreefromabuse.wordpress.com, join us, and contribute your thoughts and break-free experience.