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Authors: Karen Rose

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense

Nothing to Fear

BOOK: Nothing to Fear
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Nothing to Fear
Karen Rose
Hachette Audio (2005)
Rating:
★★★☆☆

Review

"A caring women’s advocate heroine, a determined, gritty hero, and a diabolical villain drive the plot of Rose’s riveting story." --
Library Journal

"NOTHING TO FEAR is a tense chilling suspense that readers will appreciate from start to finish." --
Harriet Klausner

"Rose’s well-crafted story sets pulses pounding and pages turning." --
Bookpage

Product Description

As director of an inner-city woman's shelter, Dana Dupinsky safeguards many secrets. Some are new identities; some are new addresses; and some are even hidden truths about herself. Passionately dedicated to Hanover House and the women she protects, Dana has always been reluctant to look for love. But now, just as a case puts her and a child in mortal danger, it seems that love has come looking for her.
Security expert Ethan Buchanan learned to stalk men in the Afghan desert. Now he vows to track down the ruthless woman who kidnapped his godson-and falling for Dana is not in the plan. Yet her very presence seems to chase away the ghosts that haunt him, and her skillful evasion of personal questions raises his hunting instincts. For there's a deadly new secret at Hanover House. A brutal killer is weaving a web of revenge with a stolen boy at its center. And Dana is the next victim on the list...

Karen Rose - Nothing to Fear

Western Florida, June 5, 2:30 P.M.

It had been a traditional funeral. A few mourners wore green polyester golf pants, but most wore black despite the steamy humidity of the Florida afternoon.

From her vantage point five tombstones away Sue Conway could hear the minister intone the familiar, “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” She dropped her eyes to the flowers she’d put on a stranger’s grave, hiding her scowl. The damn funeral would be over soon and she still hadn’t seen the one person she’d hoped to draw out.

The minister stepped back, letting the mourners say their final good-byes and wander away. The group was still in a state of stunned disbelief as evidenced by the murmurs Sue could easily hear through the surveillance device she wore in her ear.

“I used to feel so safe,” said one.

“The community will never be the same,” said another.

“I never used to lock my doors before. I sure as hell will now.”

No one in their cluster had been murdered before. And to be murdered so viciously . . . it was more than they could comprehend.

The murder hadn’t been her first, but had given her more pleasure than any other. The moans, the sound of bones crunching in her hands. The blood spurting as she’d cut, just a little at a time. She’d dreamed of it for so long, fantasized each little cry, each slice into flesh and bone, each drop of blood. It had been pure, unadulterated pleasure. If nothing else, she had that to hold on to even as she continued her search.

Because even under extreme torture her victim had not given her what she’d demanded. She’d have to continue her search and when she found the real prize . . . this murder would seem like a walk in the park. She had years to make up for, a host of fantasies stored, an amazing amount of retribution to mete out. But nothing would begin until all the players were on the stage. Because once she started, she didn’t want to stop.

She knelt, her pose prayerful as the service ended and the mourners dispersed. A few minutes passed, then she heard the rasping voice of the cemetery director.

“Lower it in, boys.”

Sue pulled the earpiece from her ear before the amplified sound of the crane lowering the coffin shattered her eardrum. She sighed. This show was now over, and the guest of honor had never appeared. She stood up, brushed the dirt from her skirt, and set off for her car, only to slow her pace when a peripheral movement caught her eye.

She stepped behind a large monument and watched as a small car with an Avis sticker pulled into the access road servicing this part of the cemetery. The car stopped and the driver got out.

Sue’s heart began to pound. A hundred different thoughts rushed in at once. Finally, was the thought that rose to the top of the pile. With difficulty she silenced what would have been a shout of triumph.

The guest of honor had come after all. Now, retribution could commence. But carefully, and according to the plan of her making. It would not be today. All the pieces needed to be in place, the destination carefully chosen.

But now she held all the cards. She was in control.

Be afraid. I’m coming.

Chapter One

Wight’s Landing, Isle of Wight Bay, Maryland Wednesday, July 28, 2:00 A.M.

Ow. That hurt. It was his first blurry thought as fingers gripped his shoulder and shook. Hard. That really hurt. Stop it.

The shaking continued, but he wouldn’t open his eyes. It couldn’t be morning yet. He drew in a breath, smelled her perfume. It wasn’t fair. She’d promised him the whole week off. No lessons. No flash cards. No stupid word games or speech therapy. Just fun in the sun. Fishing, crabbing. Riding the waves. Video games all night. Sleeping in as long as he wanted. Yet here she was, shaking him awake.

He knew she’d break her promise. They all did, sooner or later. He’d just wait her out, just like he’d waited out all the other speech therapists. Sooner or later, they’d leave. Cheryl had stuck around longer than most. He had to give her credit for that.

He swatted her hand and tried to roll over, but she grabbed him and yanked him up by his T-shirt. Her hand clamped over his mouth just as his eyes flew open. Just as he took in her face, white as a ghost in the moonlight, and her dark eyes, wide and scared. Not just scared. Cheryl was terrified, and in that moment, so was he. He stopped struggling.

“Say nothing.” She mouthed it. He nodded. She let go of his mouth and pulled him from the bed, shoving the processor in his hand. Normally he fought putting it on, put her off as long as he could. Now, he slipped it behind his ear without a word.

And flinched as the roaring began. As the processor “turned on his ears” as Cheryl would say, instantly changing the calm, quiet world of his deafness to a loud painful mess of sound. He concentrated to ignore it. To hear what he needed to hear in the ocean of noise. Now she didn’t say anything, just pulled him across the room, into the closet.

She pushed him in the corner of the closet and to the floor. Crouched down to meet his eyes.

“Someone’s downstairs.” She whispered and signed it at the same time, her normally smooth hands shaking. Her whole body was shaking. “Paul went to check. Don’t come out until I come get you.” She gripped his chin. “Understand? Stay here. Say nothing.”

He nodded and she snapped upright, grabbing the stack of life jackets that his father had stored on the top shelf of the closet. Then they were covering him, smelly and musty. The door closed and he was left in the darkness.

He was hiding. Like a coward.

Temper began to simmer, mixing in with the fear. He wasn’t a coward. He was going to be thirteen, for God’s sake. She’d shoved him in the closet like a little kid. Buried him under a pile of smelly life jackets, while Paul went to check. Carefully he pushed one of the life jackets far enough away from his eye to stare at the door, trying to think of what to do. He wasn’t going to just sit here while someone broke into his house. He certainly wasn’t going to let Paul take all the credit for chasing them away.

Dim light appeared at the crack under the door and all his courage disappeared. Someone was in his room. He shrank back into the corner of the closet, his heart beating so loud he thought he could hear it. The hairs raised on the back of his neck. Painful shudders shook him. No way. I have to do something.

A scream cut through the ocean of sound. Cheryl. I have to help her.

But his body was frozen. Frozen into a useless lump in a closet under a pile of life jackets. He concentrated, listening. Pushed the roar aside like Cheryl had taught him to do. And listened.

There was nothing. They were gone. He should get up. He should.

Then there was a loud crack of sound, so loud it hurt. His head jerked back, struck the closet wall, that pain mixing in with the other.

A gun. They had a gun. Someone had shot a gun. Cheryl. They’d killed Cheryl.

And they’d kill him, too. Or worse. Do something. Do something.

What? He didn’t know. Didn’t know what to do. Dad. What would his father do?

He felt a sharp pain in his chest. He was too old to cry for his parents, but he wished they were here. Wished they hadn’t picked tonight to go into Annapolis. It was their anniversary. They’d gone dancing. They’d come back and find him dead. Mom would cry.

He blinked, realized his own face was wet. He was hiding in a closet, crying like a baby, while they killed Cheryl. And he couldn’t move.

He flinched at the second shot, quieter this time. Then more screaming.

She was screaming. Cheryl was still alive. Screaming. The sound stabbed his brain like a million knives. He could hear it. Feel it. A million knives slashing. Heart pounding, hands trembling, he yanked the processor from behind his ear.

And it was quiet. The minutes ticked by in his head. Then the closet door opened.

He shrank back into the corner, clenching his eyes shut, his teeth together. Trying not to make a sound. One life jacket was pulled away. Then another. And another. The musty smell no longer tickled his nose and he could feel the air on his face.

He made himself open his eyes, felt the whimper stick in his throat. Looked up.

She was tall, taller than Cheryl. Bigger. Her hair was wild.

Her eyes were crazy. White. She has white eyes.

Her mouth was smiling, an evil smile that made him want to scream.

But he didn’t. Because her shirt was splattered with blood and in her hand she was holding a gun and it was pointed at him.

Eastern West Virginia, Thursday, July 29,
3:30 A.M.

The shrill ringing of her cell phone woke her easily. She was a light sleeper. She hadn’t always been, but prison had a way of changing little things like that. Even though she’d been out for six months now, it was one of the changes that stuck. Even though she’d been out for six months now, prison was still the first thing she thought of when she woke.

For that alone, there would be retribution.

Only her brother Bryce knew her cell number, still she cautiously answered, “Yeah?”

“It’s me.”

She sat up, cursing the stiffness in her back. Sleeping in the backseat of a small car was far from ideal, but she’d certainly slept in worse places. “They’re home?” Her mouth curved and her heart began to beat a little faster. The Vaughns had come home. Found the wrecked house. The empty bed. The note pinned to the pillow. The gift waiting for them in the shed. They’d be terrified. They’d cry. They’d be powerless.

Powerless. It wasn’t nearly enough, but it was a damn good start.

“I’m n-not r-really sh-sure.” Bryce stammered it out, fear lacing every stuttered syllable.

Visions of triumph abruptly fizzled. “What do you mean?” she asked, each word evenly spaced. If he’d fucked this up, he’d do a hell of a lot worse than shake. “Where are you?”

“In jail.” She closed her eyes. Reminded herself that the throwaway cell she’d bought in Maryland was untraceable. Still, the thought of him calling her from a jail made her seethe. “They a-arrested me for r-robbing a store. I need you to b-bail me out.”

Her laugh was cold and brief. They were on the verge of millions and he’d robbed a goddamn store. “You want me to bail you out. You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Dammit,” he hissed. “I called you because . . . you know. I c-could have called Earl.”

He’d called because he was no longer at his post. No longer keeping watch over the beach house to report on the Vaughns’ activities. No longer able to tell her when they came home and whether or not they’d called the fucking police.

“You’re only seventeen. They’ll slap you on the wrists and put you in juvie.”

“No.” Bryce’s voice dropped to a terrified whisper. “They s-say they’ll charge me as an adult. I’ll go to p-p-prison. Please,” he begged pitifully. “Get me out of here.”

That she and Bryce shared DNA seemed an impossibility. And even the fact that they did wasn’t enough to make her stick her neck out for him at this point. But she did need to get him out of jail before some slick DA got him to spill his damn guts. That Bryce would hold his stuttering tongue in the face of even the most civilized of interrogation techniques was too much to hope for. Growing up with Uncle Earl had mushed his brain. Growing up with Aunt Lucy had mushed his will. It was a pity she hadn’t been around to see to his upbringing herself, but she’d been . . . indisposed. Incarcerated. And now Bryce was on his way there, too. Their father must be spinning in his grave like a rotisserie chicken.

“I’ll call Earl,” she snapped. “I’ll tell him I’m a clerk at the jail.” That her uncle would recognize her voice wasn’t likely as they hadn’t spoken in years. “Where are you?”

“O-OceanCity.”

At least he’d had the brains not to do it in that little bumfuck town of Wight’s Landing. OceanCity was an hour away. Nobody would think to tie the two together, even if the Vaughns did call the cops. “I’ll call Earl. You keep your damn mouth shut and your eyes open.” She smirked. “And if anybody drops any soap, don’t bend over to pick it up.”

“That’s not f-f-funny, S-S-Sue.”

Hearing him stammer her name wiped the smirk from her face. “No, it’s not. Neither is you calling me from a damn jail.” With that she disconnected and took a look out of the back window at the dark forest in which she’d parked to get some sleep. She was far off the beaten path and had been since leaving the Maryland Eastern Shore the morning before. She’d made terrible time on the single-lane roads, having to stop every few hours to give the kid water so that he didn’t dehydrate in the trunk, but she was avoiding the interstates for now. She wasn’t sure when the Vaughns would be home and even though she’d warned them not to call the cops, they just might. She wouldn’t let herself be found. She had too much at stake. The prize was just too sweet.

She climbed out of the car and popped the trunk. Eyed the two figures curled into fetal balls. They were still there, just where she’d left them. Still tied, just as she’d tied them.

Her prize. Her retribution.

Alexander Quentin Vaughn. A big name for such a scrawny kid. He was twelve, but he didn’t look any older than ten. Bryce had summed it all up pretty well when they’d first laid eyes on the little brat cowering in that closet in the beach house. “Kid don’t look like he’s worth a million bucks,” Bryce had said and in the strictest sense he’d been right. The kid was worth five times that.

But money wasn’t everything.

Sometimes revenge meant a great deal more.

And when you could get them both at the same time . . . That was justice.

Alexander Quentin Vaughn. And his live-in speech therapist, who had put up one hell of a fight. The Vaughns owed Cheryl Rickman combat pay, assuming she lived to collect it, which she would not. Rickman knew it, too, from the look of dazed terror in her eyes. Sue had only kept Rickman alive this long because she could communicate with the kid.

The boy blinked back tears now. Shrank back until his scrawny body bumped Rickman’s. Tying him had probably been unnecessary. He couldn’t weigh more than eighty pounds soaking wet and didn’t fight worth diddlyshit. The gag was probably overkill as well, but Sue didn’t know if he could scream. Just because he was deaf and mute didn’t mean he couldn’t scream.

BOOK: Nothing to Fear
8.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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