Coming September, 2023
In this town, the past is just the beginning of the end.
After secretly crossing the border back into the US, Olivia Hunter and her new ally, Miguel, head north to the town of Fairplay. With repeated visions about the town haunting her, she hopes to find the clues which will ultimately lead her to a life she cannot remember. When she discovers that the past may not be as welcoming as she hoped, Olivia finds herself on the run from an enemy she never saw coming.
Someone has been watching, waiting for the moment when a woman thought dead returns to seek vengeance on those who betrayed her family. But with her memories still missing and a corrupt bounty hunter in hot pursuit, will she discover the key to unlocking her past, or has the past saved its deadliest secret to the end?
Preview: Chapter 1
“I’ll be back when I’m back,” Norman Dankworth shouted over his shoulder as he stepped out into the night, and then under his breath, mumbled, “So shut the fuck up.” Slamming the door behind him, he shook his head, looked across the yard to his truck, and grinned. The night air felt cold, but not nearly as cold as the woman sitting inside the home, and getting any amount of distance between himself and Maureen was considered a win.
For twenty years, he had endured their marriage, with each year feeling longer than the last and he was sure she leveled up her nagging to new heights every few months. How else could things have gotten so bad between them when he could no longer stand to be in the same room as her?
He was still shaking his head as he slid in behind the steering wheel of his Ford, the pick-up about the only thing he considered loyal in his miserable life. Not even the ratty dog the bitch kept on her lap paid him much attention, except for the occasional growl whenever he passed near enough to it. He took another look up to the house as he fired up the engine, gave the gas pedal a push, and threw the truck into gear.
“Fuck you,” rolled from his mouth as the truck lurched forward and Norman’s attention immediately turned to his intended destination with Regency’s about the best bar in town for a man in such a depressed state. Not only were the drinks cheap, but the talent working behind the bar normally offered a bit of eye candy.
It hadn’t always been that way, of course, with the marriage almost bearable way back in the beginning. Up until the night of their first consummation, marriage had been the furthest thing from a young Norman Dankworth’s mind, but once he felt those incredible lips in a place he had only ever dreamed about, the nineteen-year-old knew he had to do everything in his power to make sure the experience happened again and not just once. Blowjobs had a way of changing the course of a man’s life and when it came to Norman, the woman giving him his first seemed to suck him into her life…balls and all.
He’d married Maureen within the year, her name Templeton back when she had still worn her skirts high enough to tease him with the tops of her legs. Back then, Norman often found himself admiring those legs, longing for the next time he could slip between them for a taste of that special honey. That had been the other reason he had found himself head over heels with Maureen. She let him…do stuff to her…stuff other girls would never have given in to. Experimentation was what she had called it and when given half the chance, Norman was more than happy to experiment with her.
He turned the truck onto Platte Drive as his thoughts took him back to those first few years and what he had often called wedded bliss to his buddies. Of course, they had laughed at the notion, telling him he needed to wait until the honey dried up to see what married life really involved.
As Norman passed by what the locals called “Fairplay Beach”, he remembered the time he and Maureen had stayed at the place until well after sunset, gone skinny dipping, and then ended up experimenting in the moonlight on the towels they had brought with them. The bittersweet memory now felt like sandpaper and speeding past the spot by the river didn’t help.
“To hell with it,” Norman grunted under his breath as he pushed the memory aside. He gripped the steering wheel tighter, slowed the truck down enough to take the next corner, then navigated the Bronco onto the 285 heading north. Another mile further along and the lights of Regency’s greeted him beside the highway, the bar located on the other side of a town Norman had called home since his third birthday.
Less than ten minutes later, the first beer barely touched the sides as Norman’s eyes remained glued onto the tight-fitting t-shirt worn by Beth Morley, the bar girl. Her smile was enough to warm his heart, but it was the bits he couldn’t see which intrigued him the most. Several others sitting silently at the bar also stole sideways glances at the woman, but only Norman didn’t bother hiding it.
“Careful she doesn’t see you staring like that, Normie,” Bruce Taverner whispered from beside him. He glanced briefly over at his neighbor, pursed his lips, and took another sip from his glass.
“Don’t care,” he said back. “She wouldn’t wear those tight shirts if she didn’t want people looking. That’s what they all want. Attention.”
“Maybe she just wants to look nice,” Bruce said, and this time Norman looked at him with more intrigue, long enough to make the man uncomfortable. “What?”
“Don’t you start with that bullshit,” Norman scowled, feeling something hot inside him stir to life. His fiery temper was one of the most notable things about him, a fact familiar to most in the town.
“Bullshit? What bullshit? I’m just sayin’, that’s all.”
“That bullshit about us not being allowed to look at girls wearing tight clothes; like some new rule. If they wear shirts tight enough to show their nipples, then I’m damn well gonna get a good look.” He took another sip as he mumbled under his breath. “Not like she’s ever gonna show ‘em to me for real.”
Bruce began to cackle as he tried to take a drink of his own, but it didn’t quite make it and he had to sit the glass down on the bar again.
“Don’t let her hear you talk like that,” he repeated, but rather than see the humor in the exchange, Norman felt himself slide the other way.
“What the hell are you laughing at? Don’t you ever get tired of these bitches wearing such revealing clothes and then crying fowl when they see someone notice?” His voice carried far enough for a couple of the other patrons to hear and they turned their attention to him as his anger began to slide south uncontrollably. Bruce reached out to give his arm a pat, but Norman pushed it away. “Don’t fucken touch me. It’s that kind of bullshit that’s turning this country into a toilet bowl. People crying about-”
“Gentlemen,” Beth called from the other end of the bar. “Could we keep the excitement down a little?” It was a request understood by all except one and he wasn’t about to let things go so easily.
“No, damn it,” Norman called back, his anger rising to the upper limits of control as he turned back to Bruce. The rest of the bar fell silent in preparation for the inevitable showdown. “It’s people like you who condone this crap…this acceptance of every ridiculous new rule thrown at us. First, they called it sexual harassment where a man couldn’t even acknowledge a woman’s beauty, and now every second guy wants to be a woman and we’re all supposed sit quietly back and let-”
“NORMAN DANKWORTH, THAT’S ENOUGH!”
Norman hadn’t noticed Beth making her way back toward them, but when she damn near screamed for his silence, he just about jumped in surprise. Not only did he stop to look at her, he also took a step back. The color filling the bartender’s cheeks appeared as hot as the anger coursing through him, but it wasn’t enough to stop his rant.
“NO, IT’S NOT, DAMN IT,” he screamed back at her. “IT’S BITCHES LIKE YOU WHO-” was all he got out before strong hands suddenly clamped onto his shoulders and pulled him back several feet.
“You’re banned from here,” Beth called after him, but her words failed to reach his ears as Norman turned his anger to the security guard dragging him toward the exit. He tried to fight but knew it was a wasted effort with his escort not only outweighing him by a good hundred pounds or so but also outsizing him by more than a dozen inches. Behind them, a dozen sets of eyes watched as one of their regular fellow patrons left the bar for what none of them knew to be the final time.
“LET ME THE FUCK GO,” Norman screamed, spittle flying in every direction as he did his best to put up a fight, but the hands held strong and once through the door, propelled him back out into the dim lights of the parking lot.
While Norman did his best to try and remain stoic before getting his ass thrown out of the bar, his feet deceived him once the security guard gave him an extra shove down the stairs. Tangling up beneath him, he managed to take the first two steps in his stride, but the third proved impossible and he hit the ground hard. Pain bit into the palms of his hands as he looked back at the guard, with Norman ready to launch himself back at the man, but by then, his chance for retaliation had already passed.
Standing alone in the parking lot, Norman considered his options, and while his anger still sat at a couple of degrees above boiling, he knew trying his luck in the bar for a second time wouldn’t end well. Beth might have been a sweetheart for the majority of the time, but most knew crossing her would mean a lifetime ban, something he had seen her initiate once before.
With the heat still running through him, Norman took a minute to stare up at the night sky. How did things turn shit so quickly? It wasn’t the first time his temper had gotten him into trouble and he had no reservations about it not being the last. The moon hung high, the brilliant silver disc staring back at him with a face of contempt. The beating in his chest took a bit longer than normal to subside and he took a couple of deep breaths to try and help it as a tingle shot through his left hand.
“They can all go to hell,” Norman finally whispered up to the ball of light, sent a jeer back over his shoulder, and returned to the truck.
While there were a couple of other bars he could have gone to, the mood for a social ale had left him as he turned his attention to a bottle of Johnny Walker he had hidden inside the wall cavity of the garage. He figured the bitch would more than likely already be snoring on the couch, giving him the perfect night of drinking alone, something he’d never shied away from. Drinking alone seemed to come with the territory of a long marriage and it was something he’d gotten used to over the course of many years.
As he pulled the Bronco back into his own driveway a few minutes later, the faint light behind the living room curtains threw weird shadows across the material. Norman sighed as he watched them dancing like a strange theatrical performance, picturing his wife laying back in her barker lounger with the knitting lying in a heap in her lap. She’d no doubt fallen asleep again watching her endless reruns of Bold and the Beautiful, a vision he grimaced at.
Switching the engine off, Norman secured the truck’s handbrake, pulled the key from the ignition, and climbed out. He paused briefly to look up at the moon again but caught just the last sliver of it before the disc disappeared behind thick clouds. The night grew instantly darker and as Norman turned his attention back to the house, he felt a sudden shudder run down his entire body. The tingle began at the top of his spine and like an electric pulse, ran down his back with purpose. One arm shook uncontrollably for a split second as if possessed, briefly flapping before falling silently back beside him. He stopped again as goosebumps broke out across his forearms and Norman was sure the wind picked up at that exact moment. Chills ran across his skin as he looked behind him, peering into the trees for any sign of life. Nothing but shadows met his gaze, while above him, leaves continued rustling as the wind picked up some more.
Putting it down to nothing more than the heeby-jeebies, Norman shrugged the sensation off and continued toward the house. It wasn’t until he reached the top of the stairs that he noticed the beating in his chest again, each thump more intense than the last. Sure that he’d be OK once inside, he hurried to the front door and pulled it open, but couldn’t deny the same feeling he was being watched. Not wanting to risk another look, he stepped into the safety of the hallway and closed the door behind him with a deep sigh of relief.
It took Norman a moment to lose that weird sense of panic and once he was sure nothing was going to rip the door open and drag him back out into the darkness, he began to chuckle at the notion. He’d never been one to fear the dark and wasn’t about to start now. Relief washed over him as he suppressed the laughter with the back of his hand while the illumination from the television again changed the lighting again. Dark patterns still danced across the wall and it was the image of his wife in the next room which brought his mood back to familiar territory.
Feeling his frown lines return, Norman shook his head at the prospect of having to sit with her instead of the eye candy down at the bar. Drinking had become one of his few escapes, a pastime better spent when surrounded by like-minded people, namely those in a similar position to himself. Sitting in his own living room watching some mind-numbing sitcom while the snoring beast sat a few feet across from him was not his idea of a great time.
That was when he remembered the whisky safely hidden in the garage. He’d forgotten to retrieve it upon his return and felt a sense of unease at the prospect of heading back outside. He looked through the living room door but from his vantage point, could only see the left half of the bookshelf, the rest of the room hidden behind the wall. That was when he figured checking the state of his wife. If she was indeed asleep, then he’d head out to the garage and do his drinking there. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d escaped to what he considered his man cave and the garage offered him a certain sense of separation. If she was still awake, a fact most improbable since she still hadn’t called out to him, then he’d wait until she went to bed and only then grab the bottle for a night of Johnny Walker and ESPN.
Norman took a deep breath as he decided to check out the scenery, the sigh held deep inside his gut. He stepped lightly to try and avoid waking her and when he poked his head around the corner, at first couldn’t make sense of what he saw. It took his feet a couple of steps to catch up with his brain, but by then, the rest of him had already rounded the corner and entered the room.
The television had been muted, just as he had expected. It wasn’t unusual for Maureen to kill the volume when tired, as she knew most of the dialogue anyway. But it wasn’t the television which drew his attention. That honor had fallen on a weird sight on the far wall where a face appeared to be staring back at him.
Norman’s brain took a second or two to make sense of the sensory overload. The first thing which hit him was the smell, a rich coppery presence hanging heavy in the air. He’d smelt blood before, but nowhere near the level now invading his nostrils. The thickness of it only seemed to amplify the horror hanging before him, a horror which finally began to take shape as he lost control of his own bodily functions.
The hot stream of urine running down his leg barely registered as he stared at the corpse nailed to the wall. Not only had she been stripped completely naked, but whoever had murdered her, had taken care to remove her arms, legs, and head, and then nail them into their previous positions, albeit several inches away from their former locations on the torso.
The scream Norman could feel building deep in the pit of his stomach never made it out into the world. Instead, it appeared caught as the rest of his bladder finally emptied and he found himself standing in a puddle of piss. The woman who had once told him she loved him beyond anything now hung before him like a slaughtered beast. Tears filled his eyes, the weight of horror too heavy to bear.
“Maureen, love,” he whispered, the words barely legible. “Who did this?”
“I did,” a voice suddenly said from behind him, catching Norman completely by surprise. He spun around and found himself face to face with a man grinning wide enough for his teeth to show. His dark hair appeared matted in places, with blood splatters crisscrossing his face like a road map.
“Wh…wh…why would…” Norman began, but the rest of the words never made it as the man suddenly stepped forward. The knife he held thrust toward its latest victim faster than Norman could ever evade and as the blade sank into the soft flesh of his neck, a new warmth ran down his legs.
“Why?” The grinning man pulled the blade out just as fast and before Norman’s legs collapsed underneath him, he heard the final words of his mortal existence as the man ripped the blade hard and fast across his throat. “Because you need to help me bring Samantha Rader back to town.”
His body hit the ground a second later, but by then the darkness had already begun to swallow him up. With life running from him in a hot slurry of gore, Norman pondered his final thought as his arm rose somewhere above him. And when the knife began to cut into the tendons of his shoulder, he wondered why the moon hadn’t warned him when it had the chance.