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Excerpt for THE MORNING AFTER

Zebra Books
March 2004, ISBN: 0821772953

Genre: Romantic Suspense

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Prologue

Oh, God it was cold . . . so cold . . .

Bobbi shivered. She was sluggish, could barely move, her mind groggy and dull. She wanted to sleep, to ignore the vague sense of uneasiness that teased at her mind. Her eyelids were heavy. As if she’d taken too many sleeping pills. An acrid odor reached her nostrils, something foul. She cringed and realized that her room was quiet. Still. Eerily so. No sound of the hall clock ticking off the seconds, or the fan from the furnace turning the air . . . no . . . the silence was deafening.

You’re not in your room.

The thought hit her hard.

You’re not in your bed.

She forced an eyelid open. She was . . .where?

The rancid smell made her gag. Slowly, her mind began to clear. Where the hell was she and why couldn’t she move? Her lungs were tight, the air thin, the darkness complete. Panic shot through her blood as she realized she was lying on her back, wedged against something hard, slick fabric pressed against her nose.

It was dark. Airless. She had trouble drawing a breath. And that God-awful smell . . . She nearly retched.

This was wrong, all wrong.

She tried to sit up.

Bam!

Her head cracked against something hard and she couldn’t move her arms. Not upward, not side to side. She was wedged tight in a small space, upon an uncomfortable bed . . . no not a bed, something softer and spongier and squishy, with hard points poking upward against her back. And that horrendous, rotting smell. Fear, cold as death, shrieked through her sluggish brain. She was crammed into some kind of tight box.

And then she knew.

With sickening clarity.

She was stuffed into a coffin?

God, no! That was impossible! Unthinkable. Her mind was just thick, that was all. And this claustrophobic paranoia was all part of some kind of weird, macabre dream. That was it. That had to be it. But her blood was pumping frantically through her body. Sheer terror sliced through her.

No, oh, no . . . please, no . . . this has to be a dream. Wake up, Bobbi. For God’s sake, wake the hell up!

She screamed and the shriek resounded in her ear drums, going nowhere, bouncing in the tight airless space.

Think. Don’t panic! Oh God, oh, God, oh, God.

Wildly she tried to kick upward, but her bare feet hit the hard surface, a toe nail catching on the lining. It ripped backward. Raw pain seared up her foot and she could feel her nail hanging by a thread of flesh.

This couldn’t be happening. It was a nightmare. Had to be. And yet . . . with all her might she tried to push, to climb out of this horrible confining space with its satin lining and . . . And . . Jesus Christ, she was lying on something soft in places, hard in others, a . . . a . . .

A body! You’re lying on a body!

“Noooooo! Please let me out!” She shredded the lining with her fingers, scratched, clawed and pounded, felt bones and rotting flesh and the bristle of hair against her bare skin. . . bare skin . . . dear God, was she naked? Shoved into this gruesome box without any clothes? Who had done this to her? Why. “Help! Please help me!” He own screams echoed in her ears, ricocheting back at her. “Oh, God, Oh, God . . .please, someone.” Jesus Christ, was she really lying upon a dead person? Her skin crawled at the thought of the rotting flesh beneath her, the lipless mouth pressed against the back of her neck, the boney ribs and hands and . . .

Maybe it’s still alive–just comatose like you were.

But she knew better. The once-live padding beneath her was cold as death and reeked and was probably already decomposing and . . . oh, please let this be a horrible, monstrous nightmare. Please let me wake up. She heard sobbing and realized the sounds escaped from her throat. Don’t panic. Try to figure a way out of this . . . while you still have air. The fact that you’re breathing means that you were probably just dropped here. Just because you’re in a coffin doesn’t necessarily mean you’re underground . . . But she smelled the dank earth, knew that this death box was already in a grave. It was only a matter of time before–-

Snap out of it and figure a way out of this! You’re a smart woman, think! THINK! If you’re not buried, just trapped in here, there could still be time . . . But she knew her the seconds were running out, each one bringing her closer to a macabre, unthinkable death. Please God, don’t let me die. Not like this . . . not . . . not like this.

“Help me! Help! HELP! she cried, shrieking and clawing wildly at the top of the coffin. She tore at the smooth satin lining, her long, manicured fingernails breaking, her skin ripping, sharp pain searing up the back of her hands. The stench was overwhelming, the air so cold and thin . . . it had to be a dream . . .had to. And yet the pain in her fingertips, the blood flowing under her nails convinced her that she was living a nightmare so evil she could barely imagine it.

Horror strangled her and she thought she might pass out. Screaming at the top of her lungs, she kicked, banging her knees and feet, her muscles cramping, her bare skin torn and bleeding, tears running from her eyes. “Don’t let me die this way, please, oh, please, don’t let me die this way . . .”

But the darkness remained. The squishy body beneath her didn’t move, decaying flesh touched hers, sharp ribs poked upward against her back. She shuddered, nearly vomited and screamed.

Above the sound of her voice she heard the chilling, resonate thud of dirt and stones raining onto the top of this hideous coffin.

“No! No!”

She pounded until her fists bled and burned, all the while pleading and crying. “Let me out! Please, please!”

Who would do this to her?

Why . . .oh, God why . . . who had she wronged so horribly? There were so many she’d lied to, their faces running through her half-crazed mind, chased by panic. But who would hate her enough to torture her this way? Who would have cause? Who would be so cruel?

She gasped. The air nearly gone. She was fading. Her mind spun wildly to thoughts of the men in her life and to one in particular, one who probably didn’t remember her name, one she had wronged fiercely.

Pierce Reed.

Detective with the Savannah Police Department.

A man honored, but with dark secrets of his own.

No . . .Reed wouldn’t do this to her, didn’t really know how deeply their lives were entwined, didn’t care.

It was another man, some monster who had trapped her here.

She began to shiver and weep.

“Let me out! Let me out,” she screamed, sobbing, her throat aching, her skin crawling with the thought of the decomposing human that was her bed. “Please, please, let me out of here . . . I’ll do anything . . . anything, oh, please, don’t do this . . . ” but she didn’t even know to whom she was begging and the shovels of dirt and pebbles kept raining on the grave.

She gasped, drawing in a ragged, burning breath of what was left of the air. Her lungs were on fire from lack of oxygen and she felt suddenly weak.

Helpless.

Doomed.

She made one, last vain attempt to claw her way out of her prison, but it was no use. The blackness crashed over her, crushing the fight from her, squeezing the life from her and her hands fell to her sides. This, then, was her tomb. Forever.

Above the gruesome silence she thought she heard laughter. It sounded far away, but she knew it was meant for her to hear. He wanted her to know. To hear him before she drew her last breath.

Whoever had done this to her was enjoying it.