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Excerpt for ABSOLUTE FEAR

Kensington Books
April 2007, ISBN: 0758211821

Genre: Romantic Suspense

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On Sale March 27, 2007!


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Prologue

Near New Orleans, LA

Three Months Earlier

The voice of God pounded through his brain:

Kill.

Kill them both.

The man and the woman.

Sacrifice them.

Tonight.

This is your penance.


He lay on the sweat-stained sheets of his bed while neon light pulsed blood-red through the slats of blinds that didn’t quite close over the windows. The Voice thundered in his ears. Reverberated through his head. Echoed so loudly It drowned out the others, the little screechy, irritating, finger-nails-on-chalkboard voices that he thought of as belonging to bothersome insects. They too issued orders. They too disturbed his sleep, but they were small, annoying and not as powerful as The Voice, the one he was certain was from God Himself.

A niggling doubt wormed through his mind, suggesting that the Voice was evil, that It might be speaking the words of Lucifer, the Lord of Darkness.

His jaw tightened. He couldn’t think this way. He had to have faith. Faith in the Voice, in what It told him, in It’s ultimate wisdom.

Quickly he rolled off the cot and onto his knees. Deftly, from years of practice and sacrifice, he deftly made the sign of the cross over his naked chest. Beads of perspiration collected on his scalp as he prayed for guidance, begged to be His messenger, felt a thrum of anticipation that it was he who had been sought out. He was God’s disciple. “Show me the way,” he prayed, licking his lips. “Tell me what I must do.”

Kill.

The Voice was clear.

Slay them both.

Sacrifice the man and woman.


He frowned as he prayed, not completely understanding. The woman, Eve, he understood. Oh, how long he’d waited to do just what the Voice commanded. He envisioned her. Heart-shaped face with a strong, impertinent chin. The faintest hint of freckles bridging her a short, straight nose. Intense eyes as clear as and blue as a tropical lagoon and fiery, storm-tossed hair.

So beautiful.

So headstrong.

And such a whore.

He imagined what she let men do to that athletic body . . . oh, he’d seen her before, peeked through the slit between her curtains and seen taunt skin stretched over feminine muscles that moved so fluidly as she bathed. Her breasts were small, firm and tipped with rosy-hued nipples that tightened as she stepped into the bath water.

Oh, he’d watched her, spying upon her as those long legs stepped over the edge of the tub, unknowingly flashing him just a glimpse of the pink folds and red curls at the juncture of her thighs.

Thinking of her, he licked his lips and felt that special tingle that only she could entice from him, the hot run of blood that flushed his skin and caused his cock to thicken in anticipation.


If only he could run his fingers inside her legs, lick those tight little breasts, fuck the hell out of her. She was a whore anyway. In his mind’s eye he saw himself mounting her, his toned body over hers, his cock driving deep into that hot, wanton wasteland where others had spilled their seed.

He was breathing hard.

Knew what he was thinking was a sin.

But just once he wanted to fuck her.

Before the killing.

But what of the man?

Realizing he was still on his knees, he made another swift sign of the cross and felt a jab of shame that God might read his thoughts and know his weakness. He had to fight the lust. Had to.

And yet, as he stood, stretching his honed muscles, he felt needles of anticipation piercing his skin, desire causing his groin to tighten almost painfully.

He dressed in the dark, pulling on his camouflage pants and jacket, ski mask and boots, the uniform he hung from a peg near the door. His weapons were already stowed in his truck, hidden in a special locked drawer in the false bottom of his tool box. Knives, pistols, silencers, plastic explosives, even a pea-shooter and darts with poisoned tips, along with the plastic explosives.

He slid out of his dark room and stepped into the dark, mist-laden night.

He was ready.


Eve checked her watch.

Ten forty-five.

“Great,” she muttered between clenched teeth.

She was running late.

Despite the fact that the night outside the windshield of her Camry was thick with fog, she stepped on the gas. Her dented Toyota had nearly a hundred and twenty thousand miles on the engine, but still leapt forward, ever reliable.

So she wouldn’t be on time. So what? A few minutes one way or the other wouldn’t hurt.

She took a corner a little too fast, cut into the inside lane and nearly hit an oncoming pickup. The driver blasted his horn and she jerked on the wheel, slowing a little, her damned heart jack-hammering.

Roy could wait, she thought, thinking of the frantic phone call she’d received less than half an hour earlier. “Eve, you’ve got to come,” he’d said in a rush, his voice tense. “To the cabin, you know the one, where we used to go in the summer as kids. My uncle’s place. But hurry. I’ll . . .I’ll uh, meet you at eleven.”

“It’s the middle of the night,” she’d protested. “I’m not going to--”

“I’ve got evidence.”


“Evidence of what?” she’d asked, her attention suddenly grabbed.

“I’ll tell you when you get here. Just come. Alone.”

“Hell, Roy, you don’t have to go all cloak and dagger on me. Just tell me what’s going on!”

He’d hung up.

“No, wait! Roy! Oh, for God’s sake,” she’d growled, then poked a few buttons on her phone, hoping to capture his number on caller ID and return the call, but her screen had come up with the phrase “Unknown Caller” and she was left gnashing her teeth in frustration, her heart pounding with a case of nerves. What “evidence” had Roy found? What was he talking about? Half a dozen possibilities, none of them good, had run through her mind and she’d thrown on her jeans, a sweater and grabbed a rain coat as she’d headed for the door.

So now she was driving. In the middle of a moonless Louisiana night, toward the swamp land where Roy’s uncle, Vernon, owned an old fishing cabin. If it still existed. The last time she’d been there, over ten years earlier, the place had been going to seed. She couldn’t imagine what it might be like now.

So glanced in the rearview mirror and saw he worry in her eyes. What the hell was going on?

She hadn’t spoken to Roy in over a year.

Why would he call now?


He’s in trouble again, of course. You know Roy. He’s a prime example of borderline paranoia; he’s got his own special brand of neurosis.

So why do you always come running, when he calls, huh?

What kind of pull does he have over you?

What’s your own special brand of neurosis that you have to bail him out over and over again?

“Oh, shut up,” she growled at herself. The problem with being part of a post grad psychiatry program was that she was always psychoanalyzing herself.

It got old.

She snapped on the radio. Notes from the tail end of some country ballad about a love triangle only got worse trailed into a commercial for the latest weight loss program. Not much help. Switching stations and listening with half an ear, she peered through the rising mist . . . Vernon’s place was nearby, she thought, but it had been more than a decade since she’d visited. Squinting, she spotted a faded “No Hunting” sign that had been nailed to the trunk of a tall pine tree and been blasted with a shotgun several times over, the letters nearly obliterated by buckshot.


Only one other vehicle passed as the road wound through the swampland. She shivered, though the night was far from cool. Finally, the headlight’s beams splashed upon a burned out snag of a cottonwood tree and just beyond was the entrance to Vernon Kajak’s property. The rusted gate was hanging open, the old cattle guard still in tact and causing her tires to rumble and quake as she drove into the private acres.

The drive was little more than twin ruts. Where there once had been gravel, there was now only scattered stones and mud. Weeds scraped the undercarriage. Her Camry shuddered and bounced over the potholes and protruding rocks and she slowed to a creep as she picked her way through the bleached trunks of the cypress trees and brush.

God, it was dark. Eerie. The stuff from which horror films were made.

Eve had never been faint of heart, nor was she a coward, but she wasn’t an idiot either and driving around in the middle of the Louisiana swamp on a gloomy night seemed, at most, like a bad idea. Years practicing Tae kwan do and a small canister of pepper spray tucked inside her purse didn’t seem like enough fire power to fight whatever evil might lie in the dense undergrowth. “Oh, get over yourself,” she said, glancing in the rearview mirror and reading the worry in her eyes.

She clicked off the radio and picked up her cell phone, only to note that it was receiving no service.

“Of course,” she muttered sarcastically under her breath. “Wouldn’t you know . . .”


Her car crept forward and she narrowed her eyes, straining to see the cabin.

Everything that had happened today was out of sync, just not quite right.

It had started with the fight with Cole . . . how had that happened? Okay, so she’d been prickly after a visit from her father, but had that warranted the kind of cold fury that had been unleashed upon her by the man she had, until five hours earlier planned to marry?

Then, there had been the call from Roy out of the blue.

Odd.

Not to mention the seeping, clinging fog.

There was just this general feeling of malaise, an uneasiness that everything about this too quiet night was a little out of kilter.

She checked her watch again.

In a few minutes it would be over.

The cabin was less than a quarter of a mile ahead.

He waited.

Trembling.

Anticipating.

Ears straining.


Every nerve-ending stretched to the breaking point.

But the Voice was silent.

There was no praise for his act; no recriminations for not completing the job.

His heart raced and he licked his lips as cold December cut through this part of the bayou. The moon, nearly obscured by the rising fog, offered only a chilling slice of illumination in the night.

Senses heightened, he smelled the metallic odor of blood as it dripped from the fingertips of his gloves.

Talk to me, he silently begged the Voice. I have done your bidding as best I could. She wasn’t there, not where you said she’d be. I couldn’t kill her. Should I track her down? Hunt her?

His breath became faster of the thought of stalking her, cornering her, witnessing his fear, then taking her.

But the night was deathly quiet.

No frogs croaked.

No cicadas hummed

No crickets chirped.

There was nothing but silence and the sound of his short, rapid breaths that mingled with the fog in the still air.

The Voice Of God, it seemed, had become mute.

Because he’d erred.


Horridly.

And now he was being punished.

He tried to concentrate. Had he been mistaken. Hadn’t the Voice told him there would be two inside? Two to sacrifice? Yes, he was certain that was it. A man and a woman, Eve, were supposed to be inside and yet he’d only found the man.

“Forgive me,” he whispered in agony. What would this penance be this time? He thought of the scars upon his back from flagellation, the burns on his palms from hot coals. He shuddered to think what was to come.

And yet . ..

His heart was still beating erratically, his blood still singing in his veins from the kill. Oh, how exquisite had been that first slice of his blade to the soft tissue of the throat. And the thin, pulsing seam of red as the blood began to flow . . . He closed his eyes and felt the rush all over again.

Nervously, he chewed on the inside of his cheek.

Disappointment gnawed at his guts.

Still he waited.

The Voice had never been wrong before.

And who was he to doubt God’s instructions?


Sometimes he become confused. Often the other voices screaming at him . . . screechy, irritating little things that would hiss, whine and yell at him, clouding his judgement, causing his head to pound making him to wonder about his own sanity. But tonight, they, too, were silent.

“Help me,” he mouthed. “Talk to me. Please assure me that I am doing your bidding.”

There was no response, only the sound of a short gust of wind rattling leaves as it whipped through the cypress and live oaks in this part of the swamp.

He would wait.

Quickly, pleadingly, he made a desperate, deft sign of a cross over his chest and as he did, he heard the soft rumble of a car’s engine approaching.

YES!!!

His eyes flew open.

Tires crunched on the sparse gravel.

He didn’t have to see the car to know it was a Toyota. Eve’s vehicle. Anticipation zinged through his blood as he spied the headlights, mist swirling in their weak golden beams. Gloved hand tightening over the handle of the knife, with its razor thin blade, sharp enough to slice flesh quickly to the bone.

Crouching, he began to steal silently through the undergrowth and stopped near the garage, behind a rotting tree stump, close enough that he could reach her in three steps when she walked to the door.


Her headlights washed over the grayed walls of the tiny cabin and the engine died. In a split second the door opened and he caught a glimpse of her, red curls scraped away from her face, jaw set, eyes darting quickly. She cast a glance at Roy’s truck, parked beneath the overhang of a carport, then using a small flashlight, she walked swiftly toward the cabin’s door, tested it and found it locked.

“Roy?” she called, knocking loudly, a hint of her perfume wafting his way. “Hey . . . what’s going on?” Then added more softly, “If this is some kind of sick joke, I swear, you’ll pay . . .”

Oh, it’s no joke, he thought, every nerve stretched to the breaking point. She was so close. If he leaped out, he could tackle her.

She shined the flashlight’s beam over the dilapidated siding and onto a sagging, battered shutter. “What’re the chances?” She reached behind the broken slats and extracted a key. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she muttered, inserting the key into the deadbolt.

With a click, the old lock gave way.

As she stepped into the house, he started to move. He had his knife, gripped tightly in his hand and he desperately wanted to use it, to watch as it slit her soft white flesh. But, just in case, there was always the pistol, a small caliber, but deadly enough.


A light snapped on inside the cabin.

Through the dusty glass of the kitchen window, he saw her, her hair pulled away from a long column of her throat. His heart kicked into overdrive and he licked his lips, envisioning the act:

She’d hear his footsteps, turn, gasped when their eyes met, then he’d move quickly, slashing that perfect long throat, slicing her jugular, crimson blood spraying.

He drew in a swift breath.

His cock got hard.

He could almost taste her.

Eve.

The original sinner.

Time to pay.

“Roy, are you here?” Eve called. She didn’t know whether to be scared or pissed as hell as she stepped through the kitchen where a thin layer of dust covered everything. “You know, “ she said, feeling sweat bead in her hair as she spied a half drunk bottle of beer left on the scarred drop-leafed table, “This is creeping me out. I mean, if this is one of your games, I think I’ll just have to kill you–“


She heard a scrape, turned, her heart in her throat as a small black body scampered across the yellowed linoleum to hide beneath an ancient refrigerator. “Crap!” The mouse’s tail slid out of sight. “Oh, Jesus.” Her heart pounded crazily. She shouldn’t have come here and she’d known it from the get-go. When Roy had called, she should have insisted he come to her or they meet somewhere public. Being out her was creeping her out.

Where the hell was he? “Roy?” He had to be here. His car was parked in the carport, the hood still warm. “Roy? This isn’t funny, okay? Where are you?”

The door to the bathroom was hanging open, but it was dark inside. She tried the switch, but the bulb had burned out long ago and when she shined her flashlight across the sink and toilet, she saw only rust, stains and dirt. She should go home. Now. Something was definitely wrong here.

She walked three steps to the living room where a lamp on an old end table was burning bright. Obviously Roy had been here . . . no, not really, obviously someone had been here though the room itself looked as if no one had been inside for a decade. Dust and cobwebs covered the floor, pinewood walls and ceiling. Even the ashes and pieces of burnt wood in grate seemed ancient. A yellowed fishing magazine, its pages curled had been published nearly eleven years earlier. It was as if time had stopped, here in this dilapidated cabin on the bayou.

So what the hell was she doing here?


To see Roy? To find out what he meant by “evidence?”

What the hell kind of evidence was Roy talking about?

Something to do with Dad, she thought again. That’s what Roy meant. You know it. You can feel it in your bones. Roy knows whether Dear Old Dad is innocent . . . or guilty as sin.

She swallowed hard and pulled her cell phone from her purse. Still no service.

“Roy? Look, you’ve got about two minutes and then I’m outta here and I don’t give a damn about whatever ‘evidence’ you think you’ve got. Email me, okay?”

Irritated, she took one last look around. Just past the open stairway was a short hall leading to the one bedroom on the main floor. The door gaped open.

Steeling herself, she walked toward it.

Shit! She had a cell phone! He hadn’t thought of that. The Voice hadn’t warned him about the phone. But as he stared through the window, watching her walking carefully through the house, he saw the damned phone and knew she’d call 911. The number was probably on speed dial.

He had to stop her. Fast!

Without a sound, he sheathed his knife, flicked open his ankle holster and pulled out his pistol.

Time to finish this.

Nerves on edge, she pushed open the bedroom door. It creaked on old hinges. “Roy?”

She heard the faintest of moans.

“Roy?” The hairs on the back of her neck raised as she fumbled for the light switch. With a click, the room was instantly awash with light from an ancient the ceiling fixture.

She screamed.

Roy lay on the floor by the old metal bedframe. Blood slowly oozed from a huge gash on his neck and spread over the floor.

“Oh, God.” She stumbled forward. The blood was flowing. His chest moving ever so slightly as he struggled to breathe. He was still alive!

“I’m here, Roy, hang on!” she cried, terror clawing through her, bile rising in her throat. “Who did this . . . oh, sweet Jesus . . .” She tried to staunch the flow of blood with one hand while dialing with the trembling fingers of the other. The phone slid from her hand, sliding through a thick smear of blood. In and instant, still holding her fingers to Roy’s throat, she retrieved the bloody cell with her free hand and punched out 911 with sticky, shaking fingers. “Help,” she pleaded, but the screen told her there was no service. No calls were going through.

“Damn!” Panic welled up inside her. She was frantic.


Calm down, Eve. You can’t help Roy without a clear head. Don’t lose it. Think! Does the cabin have a phone? A land line? The electricity’s working. Maybe Vernon keeps phone service for emergencies . . . Her gaze swept the room and skated over the pinewood walls. No phone outlet, but near Roy’s head, upon the yellowed pinewood walls was a message, written in blood:

212

She recoiled and gasped.

What the hell did that mean?

Had Roy written it?

Or someone else . . . Oh, God was Roy’s assailant still here? Maybe in the house? She thought of the can of pepper spray in her purse . . . a useless weapon.

She didn’t have time to waste, she had to get help . . . the blood flowing through the fingers at Roy’s neck had eased to nothing. Oh, God . . .

Another low moan and it was over. Roy took one last shallow, wet breath.

“No! Oh, God, no . . . Roy! Roy!” But the hand on his neck found no pulse. “You can’t die, oh, please–“

A floorboard creaked.

She froze.

The killer was still here!

Either inside the house or on the porch.


Oh, God.

Heart thundering in her ears, she tried her damned phone again. Come on, come on,” she thought, listening for any sound, her gaze moving quickly around the room and to the doorway. If she could only snap out the light, or crawl out the window.

Another soft footstep. Leather sliding over wood.

Her insides turned to water.

She reached into the purse, bloody fingers scrabbling for the pepper spray as she kept her gaze moving from the doorway to the two windows to the mirror and her own panicked face. She risked glancing down, found the spray and had the cannister out of her purse when she heard the footsteps again. More loudly. Coming at her.

He knew where she was.

Get out, Eve, get out now!

She shot to her feet, adrenalin fueled by horror pushing her. She reached for the light switch, slapped it off. Darkness rained.

She turned quickly, her shoes sliding in Roy’s blood. She fell noisily, biting back a scream, holding fast to the canister. Her leg scraped down the iron bedframe. Her head thudded against the wall. Pain exploded behind her eyes.

More footsteps!

Don’t pass out. For God’s sake, don’t lose consciousness!

She flung herself toward a window.

Pitched forward.

She saw him.

In the glass.

He was holding something in his hand. Pointing it at her.

She recognized him in a heartbeat.

Cole?

The man she loved?

Cole Dennis was going to shoot her?

NO!

Bam!

A gun went off.

The muzzle blazed fire!

Glass shattered.

White hot pain exploded in her head.

Her knees buckled. She crumpled onto the floor. The dark room swirled around her and Dennis Cole’s angry face was the last image burned into her brain.