I’m excited to be one of the stops on the blog tour for the release of Elle Klass’ Baby Girl Series Box Set! I loved the stories the first time I read them as separate books, which tended to be several months apart, which meant that I often forgot who some of the characters were during the time gaps. Thus, I truly enjoyed being able to reread the entire story, start to finish, as one contiguous story. Some scenes were expanded or even added which further enhanced this amazing tale of an abandoned girl’s quest to not only find out who she really is but to survive.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elle was born in Redwood City, California and spent her childhood growing up in the fabulous San Francisco Bay Area. She is an avid San Francisco Forty Niners fan. She has raised two beautiful daughters, and currently resides in Florida. For fun she reads, spends time at the beach, travels, and enjoys time with her favorite friends, and family. She is a night-owl known as most her creative energy and ideas strike after 9 p.m. I interviewed Elle here on my blog site a few months ago which you can find here.
The box set includes the entire saga as told in the original four books entitled In the Beginning, Moonlighting is Paris, City by the Bay, and Bite the Big Apple. The story begins when abandoned at 12, Baby Girl is forced to face the harsh realities of life and struggles to find her path. She forages for sustenance, steals from the wealthy, and sleeps in any dark hole she can find. A ‘family’ of sorts forms between her and a band of other youngsters. Together they fight for survival, friendship, and love in the midst, but that is only the beginning. Life throws her one curve ball after another until secrets are revealed and the search for her true origins begins and ends with the powerful truth.
Here are excerpts from each of the individual stories that comprise the Baby Girl Box Set.
Book 1: In the Beginning
We burned stray wood and paper in the trashcan for warmth, and stock-piled blankets, coats and extra clothes during the frigid winter months. Star and Peewee huddled together for warmth and Einstein held me close. The city was marvelous and bustling with life making it easy now to fit into a crowd and earn extra money. We tricked people out of hundreds of dollars in cash taking advantage of their generosity.
Einstein found an old small plastic Christmas tree in a dumpster and brought it to the warehouse. He insisted it wasn’t Christmas without presents so we found gifts for each other and placed them under the tree. It was the first Christmas in my life I celebrated. My mother never celebrated any holiday, nor did I ever receive gifts on special occasions such as my birthday. My mom’s gift every year was an expressionless ‘Happy birthday’. I found a working gold watch with engraving on the underside of the face plate, but that didn’t matter. I gave it to Einstein because of his preoccupation with keeping track of time. Star found and gave Peewee a new pair of shoes as his were falling apart at the seams and unsuitable for trudging through piles of snow. Star gave me a fiction book as I loved to read, and Einstein gave Star a tiara because she adored anything with sparkles and glitter. Instead of eating leftovers or cooking canned meats or hotdogs, we took our money and ate inside a nice restaurant. We splurged and partied creating an unforgettable Christmas.
Einstein survived on his own longer than the rest of us and wanted more than dumpster leftovers and abandoned warehouses. He grew eager to leave and developed a plan to heist jewelry and small valuable items from people’s homes while they were away on vacation. Later we’d sell everything for cash.
We became obsessed with staking out neighborhoods and houses. The four of us wanted the same thing, a “normal” life. We found homes spaced apart geographically, hoping to draw less attention than if we hit homes in the same areas. Einstein and I hit the first home and everything went smooth as melted caramel. We chose the house after observing the owner’s leaving the spare key hidden under a stone behind the house. The ordinary neighborhood and tract homes meant no alarms. For our first heist we made a wise choice.
Once inside the house we used our flashlights to find our way around, careful not to shine them towards the windows and take the chance of alerting the neighbors. In the master bedroom we found a solid gold chain, two gold rings with precious stones that Einstein said were amethyst, emeralds, and onyx but mostly costume stuff. How Einstein knew each stone stumped me. In the dining hutch we found crystal goblets. Einstein claimed they were real crystal because he wet his finger, swirled it around the top of one glass and made it sing. A cool trick I wouldn’t have known on my own. I took his knowledge of precious stones and crystal as clues to his upbringing and guessed he’d lived a more privileged life than myself.
“How did you know to do that?”
The corners of his lips turned upward in a smile. “I can’t tell you all my secrets.”
We wrapped the goblets in dish towels using great care and placed them into our backpacks.
After Einstein and I successfully hit a few homes, Star decided she wanted in on the scam. Einstein thought it was a bad idea because of Peewee, but Star insisted. She wanted a piece of the action. She and Einstein butted heads over it causing friction amongst us.
One night Star and Peewee followed us out and caught up to us as we finished hijacking items from the house. The second we stepped outside the house a familiar whisper, “Cleo” alerted me Star followed us. My body halted mid-stride as I caught sight of her and Peewee’s shadows standing against the wall of the house. Einstein motioned for them to edge their way to the back of the house where there were no light sensors. Star shuffled towards us, but Peewee stepped out too far and the lights went on brightening the entire side of the house. Oh crap! We fled in varying directions. I held the bag of loot in my hand and once I ran I didn’t turn my head to look behind me. I hastened my pace at the sounds of people. Several blocks away I cowered in an alley to catch my breath. Einstein was right behind me and ducked into the alley with me.
“Star and Peewee, are they with you?”
He shook his head as if to say ‘no’ and turned his eyes downward. “It’s time to leave” he said after a moment of silence.
“OK, yeah, we need to get back.”
He grasped my shoulders. “Leave – as in this city. There were too many lights, commotion, and sirens at the scene for Star and Peewee to slip away. They aren’t as savvy as we are. The police are gonna be looking for us next.”
My mind absorbed with escaping I missed the wailing sirens. He was right and my head reeled at the implications his words threw at me.
“You think they’ll tell on us?”
The nod of his head told me ‘yes’.
I couldn’t leave yet I needed my bag from its secret place.
“We gotta go back to the warehouse. I have something hidden there that I need.” His eyes grew soft, and he agreed.
Back at the warehouse, I went straight to my secret place. Within minutes the sound of voices tickled our eardrums and lights flashing beneath us.
“Squish in beside me.”
Without a moment to spare Einstein squeezed in the cubby hole. Radios blared on the other side of the cubby and police scoured the building but came up empty. I whispered in Einstein’s ear, “Star and Peewee squealed quick.”
“They did – or the police are here for something else.” ‘Something else’ was possible. Either way, neither of us wanted to get caught. Hours passed with Einstein and I scrunched on top of each other. Teenage hormones, close quarters, and our semi attraction to each other brought our relationship to a new level. Our hearts raced together from the excitement. Einstein held me flush against him.
“I love you Cleo.”
The sound of his words caused a wave of want to wash came over me and I kissed him. My first kiss ever. I drove my tongue deep inside his mouth. Einstein’s words and kiss melted my heart. My own mother never showed me any affection. As I kissed him, he kissed me back. We explored under each other’s clothes. Our fingers and hands discovering the joys of the opposite sex. I yearned for his love and firm embrace. The moment thrilled me, I didn’t want it to end.
The next day we waited for Star and Peewee, but we both knew the police found them. Under the cover of dusk we snuck out, taking great pains to not get caught.
Book 2: Moonlighting in Paris
Here and Gone
Our engagement party stood out as the soirée of all soirées: co-workers, friends, and I invited Kamisha. I unexpectedly grew used to the flamboyant lifestyle, but on the inside – it wasn’t me. The focus of the night centered on Didier and I and it overwhelmed me. People I barely knew, or never met congratulated me, and young ladies eyed me with envy. Whispers circulated the room: Who is she? Where did she come from? Then You don’t belong… You don’t belong in smudged lipstick echoed inside me. I snuck away finding a deserted room I closed the door behind me and took a deep breath then composed myself. The echoes in my head faded, and I emerged into the hallway.
The door closed behind me and a warm, sweaty hand slipped across my mouth. Heavy breathing followed by a crackling voice said, “You need to go back to wherever you came from, Justine.” Her voice reverberated inside me and Sam’s self-defense skills blossomed into action as I grabbed hold of the mystery woman’s arm and slung her over my shoulder. A puff of dark hair and a small frame came thundering forward, landing on the floor with a loud thud. I drove my shoe into her side for good measure and ran down the hall, rounding the corner I ran into Sam.
The expression on my face gave away my fear. “Wow! Where have you been? What happened?”
“I threw her in the hall, on the floor.” I squeaked. He burst down the hall.
Didier’s forehead creased with lines and his eyes grew dark as he walked towards me. He scrutinized our actions. “Where is Sam?”
“I used the skills he taught me. A woman caught me from behind, I flipped her, and left her in the hall crumpled on the floor.”
A look I didn’t expect came over his face as his lips curled into a smile of satisfaction. “I will remember not to get on your bad side. Was she the same woman from Aruba?”
“I don’t think so. Her hair was dark and short, although her size and frame are correct. With her hair covering her face, I can’t be sure.”
The woman disappeared by the time Sam arrived. He and security scoured every inch of the hotel, and scanned the video footage, though apparently she busted the camera in that hallway. My immediate thought was, how convenient you little bitch. They didn’t find her, although we didn’t come up empty handed. I threw her so hard she left a small blood stain behind, it got collected and sent in for analysis. In the cover of night she fled, but I would soon know who she was and I’d be ready. My devious mind schemed for her return.
Over the next few weeks, I assisted in planning my wedding and succumbed to being a public societal figure. In the past I worried about my transgressions slamming me in the face, but now I looked my fear in the eye and assisted in the hosting and planning of various charity events. I wanted this would-be assailant woman to find me. With my ears open and eyes peeled, I watched and waited.
Book 3: City by the Bay
The Tomato Shack
I worked up the courage over a weekend to visit the places my mom frequented, according to the letters, every three years with Slug. The Tomato Shack was a divey little sub sandwich shop outside Sacramento. The blue paint on the outside peeled and cracked from sun and lack of upkeep. Each window displayed the ad, Lunch Sandwich Special 12 inch Sub Plus Large Drink and Bag of Chips $5.00, along with multiple sets of fingerprints. Inside, dirt built up in the corners of the tile floor, and dark mucky splotches muddled the walls. The whole place reminded of an unclean public restroom. The counter and tables looked clean, although I doubted bleach had touched them for years.
A young girl, no more than sixteen, stood behind the counter. She twisted at her blond ringlets while smacking on what sounded like an entire package of bubble gum, her hands gliding over the screen of her phone. I grasped she wouldn’t be able to provide me any info, although I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. She glanced my way with steely, battleship-gray eyes as I approached the counter, “Ready to order?” she asked, placing her phone on the counter with a sigh like I was intruding on her.
I flipped my P.I. card at her. “I’m looking for information. Is there a manager or owner whom I could speak with?”
“My dad owns the place. He’ll be in tomorrow.” Her words came out in spurts between chomps, followed up with a mega-sized bubble I expected to pop all over her face. She sucked it back in without a single strand sticking to her face. Her blank stare told me her synapses halted firing and her brain was a few walnuts shy of the tree.
“Thanks, about what time?”
Chomp, chomp, smack. Her eyes jolted to life alerting me that her synapses were back online. “‘Bout one in the afternoon.”
“I’ll be back then.”
My next stop was 1523 Tanwood Dr. Rows of duplexes lined the street on both sides circling around a cul-de-sac. The construction was ‘80s style with lackluster brown paint on each and every cloned home. 1523 sat on the outer edge of the cul-de-sac. I walked up the street, contemplating what to say. I considered this place had been something to Slug, not my mother, and many years passed since he’d sent the letter. Neighborhoods like these were transient, revolving doors for people trying to make a start or dealing drugs. Thoughts flopped around in my head something like a lizard’s tail missing its body. The front door coming ever closer with each step.
The door now stared me in the face, the doorbell a hands length away. Without warning heavy metal music blasted like an automatic rifle against my eardrums, and the sound of a sputtering engine halted me in my tracks. I turned to see a late model Camaro pulling into the driveway. A fortyish man stepped out of the vehicle, a mane of thick brown hair flowed in a bad mullet from his head, a denim jacket minus sleeves covered his torso. The sleeves handmade judging by the frazzled ends of the fabric around his arms, with a black rock T underneath, and jeans that boasted more holes than my worst pair during my homeless days, covered his legs. “I’m not buying, so go away,” sputtered off his lips with a vengeance.
Did I look like a saleswoman in my jeans and T-shirt? His obvious negativity towards me resonated inside my head, forcing me to make up a story and quick. “No, no, I’m not here selling anything. In fact, I’m hoping you can help me?”
“You’re a little young for me, but maybe we can work something out.” He murmured edging ever closer attempting to invade my space. I felt uncomfortable, and thoughts of planting my foot straight into his most prized bodily possession lingered at the edge of reality. Carefully, I chose my words, “Are you Frank Tomey?”
I knew Slug, Frank, or whoever, was sitting inside a jail cell; however, I meant business. He stopped a few feet from me; narrowed his eyes into tiny slits while rolling his fat sickly yellowish tongue across his lips. “Frank. What do you want with him?” Satisfaction overwhelmed me. He knew him. My fabrication formulated with every word that sprung from my mouth.
“I believe I’m his daughter. Many years ago he dated my mom.” At this point I pulled out the picture of Perdy I lifted from her mother’s and poised it in front of his face.
“I never seen her and haven’t talked to Frank in a decade.” His eyes prickled at me to go away, and with each ensuing second that passed the air thickened with tension. I stood my ground, an out of shape, ‘80s castaway was no match for me.
I drilled him with my cold hard stare until he relented. “Alright, Frank is my kid brother but we don’t talk. He got messed up in some bad shit I didn’t need rolling back on me.”
I continued my glare, attempting to boil information from his innards. “I didn’t know he had a kid, doubt he knew he had a kid. You gonna keep staring me down?” Since studying La Tige’s tactics this had been my first opportunity to use them and they worked far better than I expected. Sweat drops bubbled on his forehead. “He’s in jail, killed some kid a few years ago. He’s not a good guy. Not even when he was a young pup. Always played dirty.”
Now that he was talking I dared to reenter the conversation using the sympathy card. “I’m not looking for him to be a father figure. I just want to know about him.”
“It’s been a long night. Can this wait?”
“No, it took me days, and switching several busses to get here after finding a love letter he wrote to my mother asking her to meet him here, and to bring me.” I fudged the love letter thing, thinking that my continued appeal to his compassionate side would at least get me in the door.
He rolled his eyes. “A love letter? He’s a psychopath, an extreme narcissist.” He flopped his hands to his sides in surrender. “Come in. I’ll tell you what I got.” And whatever I asked he answered.
The tales he told were too far-fetched not to be true. “Frank left home at 17, went to Georgia, or Alabama. I forget. He hooked up with some chick, I’m guessing your mom. Then he got a big job in New York working as an enforcer for a rich, powerful family named Britt or Bridge, Bridd? I figured they were mafia, but the name sounded English. I’d figured it would be Scarletti or something Italian. After that he’d come visit every few years. Driving a truck, I’m on the road a lot, so I’d let him crash here. He talked big about his job, being the muscle for that family puffed up his self-centered ego. After a while I didn’t hear from him no more. He’s my brother, but he’s a bad egg, so I didn’t miss him. Then several years ago, he calls me from jail. Hadn’t heard from him in years and suddenly he wants money for a lawyer.” He clicked his tongue. “He’s not head smart, but I can’t remember him ever mentioning a kid.”
I pondered his words, swishing them around mentally. “I don’t think he wanted much to do with me. She raised me alone, never said a word about who my father was. When I grew old enough to ask she blew it off, changing the subject. I found the letters while snooping around her room.” It wasn’t a total embellishment; at least the snooping and single mom things were true. He gave me Slug’s (Frank’s) address in prison. One day I’d pay old Slug a visit, but not until I fit the puzzle pieces together.
The following day arrived with a chill in the air and fog so dense I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. By noon a carpet of blue sprawled across the sky, and the fog dissipated without leaving a trace. The sandwich shop looked just as dismal and murky as the previous day. A pimply faced young man replaced gum-smacking blondie at the counter. I went through the same routine without squandering a single second. “I was here yesterday and a young blond girl told me the owner would be in today?”
“Dad, a lady’s here to see you!” He hollered. His buzz cut moved as his mouth opened.
A family-run business, perhaps he didn’t sell enough sandwiches to hire real help. Within a few minutes a staunch, grossly overweight man shuffled towards me. His eyes were tiny beads set inside rolls of dough, and large wet stains filled the cloth beneath his armpits, I noticed as he offered me his hand, mumbling something that sounded like, “What can I help you with?”
I shook his pudgy, cold, clammy hand. “I work for a P.I. We’re looking for a woman. She used to frequent here about fifteen years ago.” I pulled out Perdy’s picture, which he took and examined, holding it an arm’s length from his face.
He rubbed his available hand across his mouth and nose as if deep in thought, his chest heaved in and out. “I remember her. She met a man in the parking lot once, called the police on him. He hit her right outside the door, and knocked her on the ground; her nose was flowing like a sieve. Scared my customers.”
I looked around at the vacant shop attempting to envision people eating here. He must have read my body language. “This place used to get business, high school kids, day time regulars, until crime moved in and everyone else moved out. Police cleaned it up, but it’s too late, everyone’s gone.” His voice laced with melancholy for the booming place his restaurant had been.
He talked in short sentences, followed by heavy breathing as if each word formed was a struggle. I felt no need to keep this man talking or reflecting on a time past. I had enough. I’d call the sheriff’s office tomorrow and get the police report faxed.
Book 4: Bite the Big Apple
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Catch Me if You Can
I searched the surrounding woods looking in all the nooks and crannies I would have hid inside of. My advantage, I played in the woods as a child and knew the best hiding places. I found them in a hollowed out tree trunk, one of my favorite childhood spots. I walked up to the tree keeping my voice calm. “Come on out. I’m not going to turn you in.”
One at a time they crawled out of the tree trunk. Both stood before me staring at the ground. “We’re sorry. We didn’t know you lived there.” Said the girl.
“I don’t anymore. What are your names?” Their eyes met then both sets locked onto my eyes.
“I’m Rosey and he’s Thorn.” Obviously made up names, same M.O. as Einstein and I.
“Rosey and Thorn, nice to meet you. Are you hungry?”
Thorn grabbed Rosey’s hand. “Yes, thank you. What’s your name?” I envisioned the many times Einstein held my hand in a similar way.
“Shanna, I don’t drive but town is a short walk.”
“Why don’t you own a car?”
Rosey poked Thorn in the side and whispered, “She invites us to eat and you complain she doesn’t have a car?”
I chuckled. “I don’t like to drive.”
We strolled into town and chatted most the way. Once we sat down for dinner they ate like little pigs, another sign confirming they ran away. When they filled their bellies I asked them questions.
“I won’t waste my time or yours. Rosey and Thorn are not your real names. I want to help you but you have to trust me.”
“We can leave, thanks for dinner,” said Thorn.
I put my palm out instructing them to stop then waved my hand towards the seat for them to sit. They were compliant and planted their butts back into the booth.
Rosey opened her mouth first. “My mother is ill. She can’t work and my father is dead.”
I raised my eyebrow then turned to Thorn. “And you?”
He sat silent for a moment his head angled towards the table. He rose his head without looking at me. “OK, Rosey is a better liar than me. Her mother isn’t ill and her father isn’t dead. We go into your cabin sometimes and smoke pot.”
I nodded. “The made up names?”
“We didn’t want to get caught. It’s still illegal for us.”
“Unless you have a medicinal card which two minors wouldn’t have. Where do you get the pot?”
Thorn shrugged. “My dad’s stash.”
“Do you live close?”
“I do, Thorn is my cousin. He’s staying with me this weekend.” Rosey slid out of the booth.
“I’ll walk you both home.”
Relief washed over my body until I saw Rosey’s house. The siding missing in spots, junk cars littered the driveway, and the front window had a long crack in it. Poor didn’t mean her parents weren’t loving people. I sucked in my judgements until I met her parent’s.
“Thanks, you don’t need to follow us inside.”
“I’d like to say hi to your parents.”
An outside light lit up as we walked towards the house. And the front door opened. A bulky man stood in the doorway, blocking the inside light. “That you Jen?”
“Who’s that with you?”
“Shanna, we met her in town today.”
Her father carried his large bulk towards me. “Shanna, nice to meet you and thank you for seeing they got home safe. Would you like to step inside for a minute?” I accepted his offer as I worried for the teens. After thirty minutes of discussion he passed my test, and I left. The shack stood on the other side of the patch of woods from their house.
Crickets chirped their night time song, and the gibbous moon lighted my way. I stayed one last night. The next morning I bought $346 worth of groceries and had them delivered to Rosey’s (Jen’s) house.
* * *
Cleo is the main character in the Baby Girl series so let’s learn a little bit more about this feisty and resourceful girl.
MF: What is your name?
MF: Do you have a nickname?
I’ve had more names than blades of grass on a lush lawn Justine and Shanna to name a couple.
MF: What is your hair color?
My natural color is dark brown but it’s been various shades depending on my persona.
MF: What is your eye color?
MF: How old are you?
MF: Where were you born?
Brennan California. Not really, I grew up there but was born in a hospital in New York.
MF: Where have you lived since then?
Most everywhere in the U.S. – Alabama, California, New York, Seattle. I also lived in Paris for a couple years.
MF: Where do you currently call home?
Where ever my heart takes me.
MF: What is in your refrigerator right now?
I love to cook so a little of this a little of that. You won’t find any hot dogs or junk food.
MF: What is on your bedroom floor?
The carpet. OK, seriously my favorite pair of flip-flops. They’re black with beads adorning the toe piece.
MF: What is on your nightstand?
A picture of my fun in Santa Cruz. Fetch, Kacy, myself, and Javier took a group photo in the hot tub. The picture brings back fun memories I like to think about when I’m falling asleep. I have an alarm clock shaped like a shell that plays Wipeout.
MF: What is in your garbage can?
Trash, an empty bottle of Sauvignon blanc,
MF: Who are the people you are closest to?
La Tige, Kacy, James and Will. We talk and visit every chance we get. La Tige isn’t a big talker so I dominate our conversations but he’s like a father to me. Kacy is the best friend a girl could ever have.
MF: Who is your funniest friend?
Kacy! She is crazy and makes silly facial expressions while doing impressions.
MF: What is your most treasured possession?
My back pack memories – pictures of Einstein, memorabilia of our times together.
MF: What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Einstein was my first love. A huge part of my heart will always belong to him.
MF: What do you most value in your friends?
Their big hearts. I grew up without a “real” family. My best friends are my family. La Tige has done more to help me than any single person without prodding. Kacy and I have an inseparable bond and Will is Will. James was always there for me when I needed shady business done. It felt really great to do something for him.
MF: What is your motto?
Don’t give up!
Cleo’s Pinterest Page – https://www.pinterest.com/elleklass/cleos-favorites/
* * *
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Youtube Trailer- https://youtu.be/pVBnqyMGAY4
ELLE’S SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
Blog – http://thetroubledoyster.blogspot.com/
Website – http://elleklass.weebly.com/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/ElleKlass
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7216745.Elle_Klass
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/ElleKlass