Like Follow Kill – An Excerpt

Posted: October 16, 2019 in Uncategorized

 

 

NewCarissaTwitterPROLOGUE

I was born with a scream inside me. Lodged between my heart and throat. Can’t swallow it; can’t choke it down. Can’t spit that motherfucker out. It’s stuck, like me … anchored to the in between, slowly rotting in the core of me. It festers like a sore, oozing through my bloodstream, sending seeping shocks of silent fury to every nerve ending in my body. Like an IV, it drip, drip, drips, but there’s never a release. One of these days, I’ll open my mouth and the world will rumble from the roar.

CHAPTER ONE

My body is broken. Arms like dying, desperate fish, they flop on the seat beside me. Hips yanked from their sockets. Red-rose gashes on my chest and neck. A deep dark hole where my nose once was. And my teeth … these teeth don’t belong to me. Like broken eggshells, they stab the roof of my mouth, pricking my cheek and gums. Are they Chris’s teeth? If so, how did Chris’s pearly white, now-broken teeth end up in my mouth? Did I kiss him? No, not a kiss. I can’t remember the last time I kissed him … but I can taste his blood in my mouth. Chris with the cocoa-colored eyes and hair like silk on my skin. Chris with the lips, soft as falling feathers on a windy day … Chris: the love of my life. Chris: who is dead. One minute we were laughing … or were we shouting? Discussing our plans for the day … although now I’ve forgotten what those plans were. And the next … the next … we’re upside-down, strapped in our seats like a rollercoaster, only we can’t get off, we’re stuck, suspended in mid-air. The roof of my Buick becomes the sky. I’m mesmerized as it swirls like one of those psychedelic spinning tunnels, like they have at the county fair. Oh, the fair. That’s where we were going, weren’t we? Chris promised me a deep-fried Snickers bar. And I promised him I’d stay sober. Chris: The Love Of My Life and Chris: The Headless Man On The Seat Beside Me are one and the same. This is my fault. Chris is dead. I did this. I. Did. This. *** I stopped answering my phone months ago, but that didn’t stop my sister from calling. Every day, at five past noon—a phantom phone call, followed by a buzzing barrage of texts. Hannah is calling … read my phone screen. But Hannah was always calling. And I, her less attractive, less successful, less stable sister, was always ignoring those calls. As predicted, the texts came next:

Hannah: How are you today? Want to go out to lunch? Need me to stop by? Translation: Are you alive? When are you going to do normal things again? Don’t tell me I need to come over there and drag you out of bed again. Me: Busy. Can’t. No. My sister is more than my sister. She practically raised me after the death of our mother. I would love nothing more than to answer her calls, to have her beside me—but not this version of her. Not the sister that tiptoes around me like I’m a melting chunk of ice in the center of a deep, black sea. I’m a sinking ship she wants to save … but she’s too afraid to come aboard. Because, deep down, she knows I’ll suck her into the murky black hole, too, just like I did with Chris. Wiggling my jaw, I tried to ease the phantom tooth pains as I pulled myself out of my twin sized bed. The sheets and comforter lay tangled at my feet. Angry red numbers blinked at me from the clock on my bedside table. It was 12:30 in the afternoon, the time when most normal people were working. Everything hurt: my arms, legs, chest, and back. My teeth. Traces of the dream still lingered and would stay there for most of the day, the way they always did. My nightstand was covered in pill bottles. I twisted the caps off, one by one, and swiped out two pills of each. Pain pills. Anxiety meds. Leftover antibiotics. Another med to counter the side-effects of the first two. I washed them down with an ashy can of Mountain Dew. Grimaced. Every night, the same thing: the car accident reenacted, but the details were always fuzzy, always evolving … whether the actual memories of that night were becoming lucid or more convoluted, was unclear. I just wish they’d go away. Period. It’s not that I don’t want to think about Chris. I miss him … I love him … but I can’t. I can’t let myself go back to that place. I’m Hannah’s sinking ship, and Chris … well, Chris is mine. No, dear husband, I will not come aboard. Because if I do, if I let myself go there … that ship will suck me down, down, down, and never let me loose. During my wakeful hours, I’d become an expert at burying my feelings. But these dreams— these warped flashbacks of the accident—were trying to remedy that all on their own. I could push away the memories and the horrors while I was awake, but when I closed my eyes … the dreaming side of myself took control. That side of myself wouldn’t allow me to forget, no matter how much I wanted to. Maybe it’s payback for what I did. Karma. What goes around comes around—isn’t that how the saying goes? For the rest of my life, will I have to relive those awful, ticking moments in that crushed-up Buick? Of all the things about me that needed fixing, the sleep/dream issue was my priority. But my doctor wouldn’t prescribe sleep medication, or any other downers. They didn’t mix well with my other meds. I want to be reassembled. Scrapped for parts. My memories wiped clean. I padded down the hallway to the bathroom, leaving my buzzing phone behind. Without turning on the bathroom light, I began my lonely morning ritual in the dark—brushing my teeth,

gargling mouthwash, combing the knots from my hair. The dream snaked its way back into my brain while I brushed. Cringing, I recalled the gummy taste of my own teeth. The teeth that I had initially—and strangely—believed to be my husband’s teeth. I can still taste blood in my mouth. But whose blood is it? It’s like sucking on a battery dipped in sugar. Taking a deep breath, I flicked the light switch on before giving myself a chance to change my mind. My toothbrush fell from my mouth, bouncing in the sink, as I studied my reflection in the bathroom mirror. No matter how many times I saw my face, I’d never get used to it now. I look worse than the last time I checked. It looked like someone was pinching my nose, the bridge a hard knot in the center of my face, the nostrils squished flat on both sides. The plastic surgeon had done the best possible job. There’s only so much we can do, Camilla … The skin on my nose was darker, which made sense—it didn’t belong to me. Ten surgeries and counting. So far—two to “repair” my nose using someone else’s skin and cartilage, four to fix my broken teeth with mostly false ones, and another four to fix my legs. My hips hadn’t been pulled from their sockets, but it sure had felt that way at the time. But both legs had been broken, one worse than the other, and now two metal rods and countless screws resided inside me, extending from my shin bones all the way to the top of my thighs. My wrist had been sprained. My elbow shattered. My heart smashed to bits. I was beautiful once. Chris used to say so. Until my reckless driving had led us to the backend of a flatbed truck. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to hear the gravelly shake of his voice … to see that one eyebrow flexing playfully as he tucked my always-messy brown hair behind my ears … You’re the most beautiful girl I ever did see: his words. We hadn’t been upside down either, like the dream implied—another figment of my twisty reinterpretation of what actually happened that night. The car was crushed beneath the semi’s trailer, my whole world spinning like a top because that’s what happens when you have a concussion. A big chunk of my nose was severed by windshield glass. And Chris … he’d lost more than his nose. His death was horrific. He didn’t deserve to die that way. Splashing icy cold water on my face, I forced myself not to think of him. Deep down, I knew that if I gave in to that craving … to think about Chris, to go back in my mind to how things used to be … that it would become an obsession. If I think too long and hard about Chris, I may never stop. The anxiety pills helped with the flashbacks while I was awake. It’s like there’s this version of me, living inside my head, and once the meds kick in, I can hear her in the corner, her voice murky and low … she’s scared, she’s worried, she’s ashamed … but then the pills flood my bloodstream and her voice gets drowned out completely. I imagine her in there somewhere, floating in the lazy river of my bloodstream, wondering when I’ll let her back out. The numbness never lasts—drugs help, but they can’t alleviate my misery. They can’t cure loneliness, either. Sometimes that girl drifts so far downstream, I don’t think I’ll ever reach her again … I flipped the light switch back off, the sudden change in lighting causing a sharp twinge in my right temple. The head pains often came and went so quickly, almost like they were a figment of

my imagination. I liked leaving every light in the house off and the shutters closed until darkness came, and I was forced to illuminate myself and my surroundings. But one light in the house was always shining—the glare from my laptop computer. It beckoned me from my desktop in the living room. Now, here is an addiction I can handle, and sometimes, control. I turned on the coffee pot in the kitchen then sat down in front of my computer, a rushing wave of relief rolling through me. This was my life now—the internet, my only window to the outside world. Lucky for me, it’s a pretty large window. A lonely window, but a window, nevertheless … “I wonder where we’re going today?” I refreshed my browser from where it had frozen last night, and Valerie Hutchens’ shiny face blossomed like a milky-white flower across my home screen. _TheWorldIsMine_26 had over 2,000 posts and nearly 10,000 followers, and like Valerie herself, the Instagram account was growing and improving daily. “Where are you now, Valerie?” I clicked on her newest Instagram story. Branson, Missouri. Straddling this world and the next. #livingmybestlife, her caption told me. Valerie’s hair was different today—her sunny blonde bob had skinny curtains of pale pink on either side of her face. Maroon lips. Kohl-rimmed eyes. A body that was neither fat nor walking stick thin, just perfect. Valerie Hutchens is perfect. In this latest story, she was straddling two train rails, arms spread wide in a V. Her palms were open, fingertips reaching for the sky. Dusty sunlight shimmered through her pale white dress. She had on brown leather boots—the boots she’d bought in Texas three weeks ago, I remembered—so tall they almost reached the hem of her dress. I could feel the goosebump-inducing burn of the sun on the back of her arms and legs. She was looking at something overhead, something no one else could see … It’s like she doesn’t care if we’re watching. Like she’s simply living out loud, while the rest of us sit here in awe of her, just like we did back then. But technically, that wasn’t true. If Valerie didn’t care what people thought, she wouldn’t be posting about her travels all day and all night on social media, I reminded myself. But still, I didn’t really believe that either. Valerie operated on her own agenda, independent of everyone else—she always has. I liked her post—I always do—then I flicked the screen off. Next, I forced myself to go shower and make some lunch. My addiction to Valerie had become so great that I was restricting myself to one check per hour. And believe me, an hour was generous. *** Lunch was a sizzling plate of chicken fajitas and spicy black beans. The best fajita in the whole world lives right here in Branson #nomnom, according to Valerie. It did look tasty—the juicy strips of meat and plump toppings spread out on an iron skillet billowing with steam.

She had changed her clothes since this afternoon. In a dark back booth, she wore a low-lit smile, in what appeared to be a mostly empty restaurant. She posed for the camera in a lacy black shawl that slipped from her shoulders. If I maximized the screen, I could almost see the constellation of freckles on her right shoulder … four dots in the shape of a diamond, with a few little dots forming a tail, almost like a Valerie version of the Little Dipper on her skin. Her smudgy black makeup from this afternoon was gone, replaced with pale-pink shadow on her lids, no trace of concealer. Lovingly, Valerie stared down at her plate of fajitas and beans. Her beauty was inspiring, but also a constant reminder of my own ugliness. My own isolation … I can’t remember the last time I ate Mexican. Or ate out anywhere for that matter, I thought, slowly chewing my limp cheese-and-mayonnaise sandwich. The cheese had expired two days ago, the edges of the slice slightly stiff. Chewing, I tried not to taste it. My cherry-oak computer desk was littered with soda cans and leftover plates from last night’s snacking-while-stalking session. What a mess. Valerie makes me feel like a total slob. At the same time, I can’t stop watching … My incision sites on my legs were sore but manageable; the headaches were painful but short lived. The damage to my face was mostly about vanity … The accident had changed me, and the damage was done. But it wasn’t so much damage that I couldn’t get around, or walk, or even drive for that matter. I had to be careful about driving because of my medication, but the doctor had cleared me anyway, much to my dismay. Ten weeks of physical therapy and now my therapist was encouraging me to get out and move more. I can leave this apartment. I can clean up after myself. I’m capable of so much more … But the truth was … I didn’t want to leave. I wasn’t ready to face the world, or more specifically, the people in town who knew about the accident. The accident that I caused. I slammed my fists down on the desk on either side of the keyboard, rattling half-empty cans and spilling the contents of a dusty old pencil-holder. Focus. Focus on what she’s doing. Valerie’s newly dyed hair was pulled up into a sloppy ponytail, loose strands of petal pink curling around her face and neck. I’ll never forget the first time I saw her. Valerie wasn’t local; not one of those kids you’d known since grade school, wiping boogers on the back of your seat in first grade, then sporting a Wonderbra in seventh. We didn’t know anything about this new girl, not really … She came from … where was it? Arizona, I think. Her parents were either dead or deadbeats; she’d moved in with her aunt. She was the ‘new girl’. But to us, it was like she’d stepped off another planet and crashed into our hemisphere without any warning. And without an invitation. Two weeks into seventh grade—my first year as a middle-schooler at Harmony—the alien showed up at our morning assembly. I was proud of how I looked that year. My breasts had developed into tiny buds that weren’t much, but they made me feel good, and I’d worked all summer, doing odd jobs, mostly babysitting, in order to buy six new outfits for school. Designer jeans. Fancy flannel button-ups (they were reversible!). A couple name-brand hoodies. A pair of

painfully stiff Doc Martens. White, no-show socks and panties with designs on them that weren’t cartoons. Every morning, I spent no less than an hour making my hair and makeup as flawless as they could possibly get. The only girls I envied were the few who did it better than me—some girls had better clothes, or they didn’t have to wear a repeat outfit on week two. Some of the girls had a knack for hair and makeup. I envied some, but not many. I felt good in my skin … well, I thought I did. But then the alien showed up, posing as a girl named Valerie Hutchens. When she walked into our morning assembly, the envy I felt was instantaneous. It consumed me … But what I couldn’t understand was why. She was wearing a T-shirt that obviously belonged to her father, or maybe an older brother. Violent Femmes, the front of it read, the es on the end so faded that I couldn’t actually read it, I just knew the band, so I filled in the blanks. The shirt was three sizes too big for her and the crack of her shorts was crooked in the back. No-name shoes without any socks, the laces untied. Tweety Bird panties protruding over the top of her shorts every time she bent over to pick something up. On that first day, she walked in and took a seat in the first open spot on the bleachers. She smiled at our principal, Mrs. Sauer, and even though Mrs. Sauer never smiled, she smiled back at Valerie that day. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she finger-combed her shiny, shoulder-length blonde hair. Long hair was in style that year at Harmony, or it was supposed to be … but somehow, Valerie’s short, stylish ’do ruined all that—it made me self-conscious of my own long, brown locks, and it wasn’t long before the “in style” was nasty tees and short hair and don’t-give-a-fuck shoes, because, let’s face it, what was really in style was: Valerie Hutchens. Can I borrow a pencil? she’d asked one of the boys on the seat above her. He fell all over himself scrounging one up. Keep it, he said. I’m Luke. Luke was a nerd, so I rolled my eyes. But Valerie didn’t—she smiled with all her teeth, not a flirtatious smile but a genuine one, and then busied herself, writing in a black-and-white notebook poised in her lap. What is she writing about? It seemed so stupid, so unimportant, how I felt this urge—this need —to know exactly what words she scribbled into that tattered old book of hers. But I never found out; no one did. She kept her writing to herself, just like she kept everything. She was so available, yet so private at the same time … As the school weeks marched on, I learned a few more things about Valerie Hutchens: she was just as nice as she was pretty; she was smart as a whip without even trying; and she was talented in all things extracurricular: volleyball, music, theater, cheerleading, art, you name it. She signed up for everything. And it didn’t seem like a ploy to gain popularity, just an actual interest in all things Harmony. The boys followed her around like puppies; the girls wanted to be her friends. And although she was kind to everyone, she was never really close to anyone. Including me. I admired her from a distance for the next six years as she blossomed into a young adult and carried her magnetism with her into high school. It wasn’t until tenth or eleventh grade that I realized why I wanted to be friends with Valerie. It wasn’t her talents or her creativity. It wasn’t her good looks or the way she lit up a room when she walked inside it. It wasn’t even the fact that she was so goddamned nice and likable. It was the way she didn’t give a shit about any of these things.

Valerie Hutchens never laid awake at night, worrying about what she would wear to school, or who her friends were, or if she’d make the basketball team. Valerie was a floater, freely drifting through life on a fluffy cloud, always living in the here and now. She had the confidence that I lacked, which is why I wanted to be her friend. That smile … I wanted to be on the receiving end of it. But her eyes floated over me; I might as well have been a ghost, stalking the airless halls of Harmony … I would have preferred being hated or mocked … anything besides ignored. I watched the others who followed her around—Luke and some of the other nerdy boys. Valerie was too nice to turn them away, too cool to give them a real chance. I wouldn’t stoop to their level; I wouldn’t grovel for her attention. Shortly after my accident, memories of Valerie came floating back like they’d never left in the first place. It wasn’t until I had managed to get out of bed and venture back online that I thought about the girl from high school. Her perfect face consumed me. I don’t know what triggered it—I just woke up one day and wondered if she was on Facebook. Like so many of my other classmates and former friends, I expected her to have a profile where she doted on her husband and kids; maybe occasionally bragged about her Etsy business … but Valerie didn’t have a Facebook profile, much to my surprise. Apparently, Facebook isn’t really that cool anymore among young people. Who knew? I certainly never got the damn memo. But Valerie did. Of course she did. A few weeks later, I tried searching again. Only this time, I used Google to find her. She hated Facebook, but she was active on Instagram and Snapchat. In fact, she spent more time posting than she did living, or so it appeared at first. Since finding her profiles, I’d become absorbed in all things Valerie Hutchens. When Valerie goes to the beach, so do I. I can almost taste the salt of the ocean, hear the whisper of waves in Panama City … Valerie was a pharmaceutical rep, which meant she traveled for her job—a lot, apparently. How ironic, that I was the one choking down the pills while she was the one peddling them. But that wasn’t her only job. She was also an aspiring writer, like me. Almost done with my first novel. Will you guys read it someday? Please say yes! #amwriting #writerforlife. It was a black-and-white photo of her sitting on the edge of a pier in Ocean City, Maryland, dangling her toes over the edge, all the while balancing a notebook full of tiny, neat words on her lap. Hell, it could have been the cover of her very own book—that’s how good the picture was. But the photo itself made me nervous—What if a sudden breeze came rushing by, and her pretty little words floated out to sea? But, of course, Valerie didn’t worry about things like that. Because bad things didn’t happen to people like Valerie. Bad things happened to me. Look on the bright side, every once in a while, Kid, Chris’s words and cheesy smile ripped like blades through my cerebrum. He was the optimist; I was the realist—and together, we kept each other in check. But not anymore. There’s no one left to lean on. I pushed aside thoughts of Chris, focusing only on Valerie. Maximizing the old picture of her on the pier, I tried to catch a few of her words. But I couldn’t make them out. Even now, nearly fifteen years later, I couldn’t sneak a peek into

Valerie’s inner world, no matter how hard I tried … My favorite post of Valerie’s was one from about a month ago. She was standing outside our old middle school. Passing through town again, thought I’d stop and see Aunt Janet! Look where I am! I don’t remember much about Harmony, but it feels right being back in Wisconsin. Only back for one day. What should I do? #Imbaaaack #homesweethome #instawisconsin She couldn’t remember much about Harmony, but one thing was certain: Harmony hadn’t forgotten about her. Dozens of people commented on her post, including her old pal Luke, and I recognized some of my other classmates by either their usernames or profile pics. I even recognized our old high-school algebra professor in the comments—young and old alike, everyone worshipped Valerie. Apparently, I’m not the only one still watching Valerie from a distance. I felt embarrassed for all the commenters. But most of all, I felt embarrassed for me. Back pressed to the brick under the Harmony Middle School sign, she had one leg bent, her foot pressed to the wall, both hands casually tucked in her torn jean pockets. I imagined myself sending her a private message—Just saw that you’re in town! This is Camilla Brown. Do you remember me from school? I thought if you weren’t busy, we could meet for coffee or drinks. Catch up? But of course, I didn’t send it. I’m ashamed to even admit that I practiced writing it. Even if my fucking face and body weren’t twisted and lame, I still didn’t think I could face her. I liked her post—the way I always did—then erased the message. Closing my eyes, I tried to imagine what a meet-up with Valerie would look like. Do I think she would meet up with me if I asked real nicely? Yes, I do. Because Valerie is polite like that. Valerie is … well, Valerie. Always charming, always kind, always out of my league … When I imagined us sitting across from each other in a local café, chatting away like old friends, I couldn’t help picturing my real face—correction: my old face—the one I had before the accident. It wasn’t until weeks later, when she was back out on the road, far enough away that it felt safe, that I sent my first message. She’d responded—it had taken a few days, but still—and since then, we’d chatted briefly. She remembered me from school. She asked me how I was doing. She didn’t mention the accident or Chris, so one could only hope she hadn’t heard … In my messages, I complimented her pictures. I tried to keep it short and sweet, un-desperate. We talked a little bit about writing, although she still hadn’t told me—or any of her other followers—what she was writing, exactly. I didn’t mention my face, and I never suggested that we hang out in person. She didn’t either … perhaps she is waiting for me to suggest it? There was no point in trying to see her in person. There weren’t going to be any chatty meetups. Because I didn’t want to be her friend—I don’t think I ever really wanted to be her friend. No, that wasn’t it at all. I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of Valerie’s smiles, I wanted to wipe them off her pretty face.

OUT 10/25/19! Preorder your copy here: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780008362638/like-follow-kill/

 

Advertisements

Without a Trace ebook is only 99 cents for a limited time!

Lily was last seen being tucked into bed by her adoring mother, Nova. But the next morning, the bed is empty except for a creepy toy rabbit.

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2FTiddx

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/without-a-trace/id1446543723?mt=11

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2UBiL0Y

Barnes&Noble Nook: https://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/without-a-trace-carissa-ann-lynch/1130004493?ean=9780008324506r

Without a Trace – out now!

Posted: April 5, 2019 in Uncategorized

Lily’s gone.

Someone took her.

Unless she was she never there…

A little girl has gone missing.

Lily was last seen being tucked into bed by her adoring mother, Nova. But the next morning, the bed is empty except for a creepy toy rabbit.

Has Nova’s abusive ex stolen his “little bunny” back for good?

At first, Officer Ellie James assumes this is a clear custody battle. Until she discovers that there are no pictures of the girl and her drawers are full of unused toys and brand new clothes that have never been worn…

Is Ellie searching for a missing child who doesn’t actually exist?

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2FTiddx

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/without-a-trace/id1446543723?mt=11

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2UBiL0Y

Barnes&Noble Nook: https://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/without-a-trace-carissa-ann-lynch/1130004493?ean=9780008324506

WITHOUT A TRACE: An Excerpt

Posted: March 22, 2019 in Uncategorized

WITHOUT A TRACE, coming April 5th.

Preorder your copy here: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780008324506/without-a-trace/

Chapter One

The Mother

NOVA

I shivered as I stepped off the front porch and followed the well-beaten path down to the shady tree line. It was early, the sun playing peek-a-boo through the trees, and little wet kisses of dew were sprinkled around the yard like watery pockets of glitter. Such a peaceful morning, like the promise of a brand-new day. A beautiful day, in fact.

It was a rental property, but still, it felt like mine. Like the perfect place to raise my daughter.

Suddenly, the wind whipped through the trees, shocking the breath from my chest. It reminded me of what I already knew—looks can be deceiving.

Clouds bubbled up in the sky, the morning sun dissolving away like a figment of my imagination. As a flurry of cold air rushed around me and through me, I pulled my jacket tight against my chest and glanced back at our new house. It was a small log cabin, like something you’d see at a state park or campground. But the size was perfect for the two of us, and unlike my husband, I liked the coziness and simplicity of a single-family home.

Lily would be waking up any second now, and I didn’t want her to be afraid in our empty, new house.

How can I raise a daughter who is strong and brave when I’m so damn scared all the time?

I took one last look at the trees, at the once-soothing sunrise. Branches morphed into bony claws. They reached for me, gnarly and twisted, eager to pierce through my ragged flesh like broken bones…

Whipping around, I raced back toward the house. A low moan escaped from between my teeth as the house swayed from side to side, like one of those carnival mirrors. The distance between the front door and the tree line suddenly stretched, for what looked like miles…

My sneakers were squishy on the cool, wet grass, and as I slipped and slid across the yard, I imagined the mud was quicksand, sucking me deep down into the earth, consuming me whole…

Once inside, I locked the door and pressed my back against it, sucking in long, craggy breaths until they evened out. It only took a few minutes to still my thumping heart.

That’s better. Well done, Nova, I commended myself. Each time I panicked, it was taking fewer and fewer minutes to calm back down.

Hell, maybe after a few weeks of being here, I won’t have panic attacks at all.

Fumbling for a light switch in the kitchen, I stubbed my toe on Lily’s tiny Cars suitcase. It was still lying in the middle of the kitchen floor, next to my duffel bag, where we’d tossed our luggage last night.

In the light of day, our new kitchen looked different than it did last night. White paint on the cupboards looked yellowish and worn. The sink was rusty, and a slow drip of water ping ping pinged in the basin below. Looking around, I tried to imagine this kitchen as our own—baking cookies for Lily while she sat on the edge of the counter, kicking the backs of her heels against the cupboards below. Normally, I would make her get down because Martin didn’t like that.

But now Lily and I can do whatever we want.

And a rundown, drippy kitchen was better than any sort of kitchen we might share with Martin.

A scarred wooden table with four chairs was set in the kitchen. There were other modest furnishings, too—a chair in the living room, beds and dressers in both bedrooms—which was one reason I chose this place. It was the perfect getaway spot, out in the middle of nowhere, and we didn’t need to bring much to get started.

The refrigerator and cabinets were still empty and in need of a good scrubbing. We’d grabbed some fast food on the way to West Virginia, but I hadn’t wanted to stop at the grocery store yet.

All I wanted to do was get us here.

But now that we were, I’d have to spend the weekend making it as homey and comfortable as possible for Lily.

We’re doing this. We’re starting over. This is our home now.

For months, years, I’d imagined this moment. But then, it had just been a fantasy, a twisted version of hyper-reality. I never really thought I would leave. Even the night before we left, I’d expected myself to back out. To freeze. To panic and collapse in the middle of the street after loading our cases. But I didn’t. And it wasn’t until we were almost a hundred miles outside of Granton that I knew it was really happening…that we were leaving Martin for good.

My duffel bag lay sprawled open on the floor beside the table, from where I’d taken out my pajamas last night. We were so tired when we got here, to the point of delirium. It had taken nearly ten hours to reach Northfolk, the rising hills and winding curves of West Virginia making me skittery and afraid. I couldn’t stop checking the rearview mirror and my heart was thrumming in my ears the entire drive. During the daytime, it hadn’t been so bad. But at night, I’d imagined every pair of headlights were the angry, glowing orbs of Martin’s truck, chasing us up the wild, mountain roads…

Lily had handled the move so well, believing me when I told her that we were going on an adventure. With her mousy brown hair and cornflower blue eyes, she looked just like Martin. But, luckily, she hadn’t inherited his meanness, or his wild mood swings.

Lily was, by all accounts, a normal four-year-old girl. But that wouldn’t have lasted long, not while living with Martin. Eventually, his violence would have moved onto her, seeping into her pores and saturating her life with his poison.

She was innocent, so seemingly unaware, yet she’d already learned to fear her father and his unpredictable ways. And the way Martin looked at her…his eyes searching, evaluating her every move, it made me uneasy.

I’m taking her away from her dad. What kind of mother does that?

Emotions played tug-of-war inside me—I felt guilty for stripping her of her fatherly influence, but I was relieved—exuberant, even—to give her a fresh, safe start in life. During the drive to Northfolk, I’d been so focused on getting away, that the guilt hadn’t had time to settle in yet. And last night, I’d been too tired to stay up worrying. But now…now all those worries came rushing back at once.

What will I tell her when she’s older? Surely, she will remember Martin. Will I tell her why we left? How much memory can a four-year-old retain?

“I m-made the right decision,” I told myself, firmly, for the hundredth time this morning.

Pressing my face against the window pane, my eyes scanned the backyard. From behind a layer of murky glass, the branches no longer seemed murderous or threatening. Even the clouds were wimpy, less dark. It was ironic, really. After years of feeling claustrophobic, shut inside the house with Martin, now it was the outdoors that overwhelmed me.

Everything overwhelms me.

Again, my thought from earlier came crawling back: how can I raise my daughter to be a stronger, better version of me when I’m so scared of the world and the men that live in it?

Clutching the necklace at my throat, my fingers curled around the dainty silver cross that Martin had given me on our anniversary. The holy symbol should have brought me comfort, but all I could think about were his hands pressed against my throat, the crossbars digging sharply into my flesh as I struggled for a tiny bit of air…

Tenderly, I reached back and unclasped it. It seemed wrong to throw it away, but then again, I couldn’t keep it. It hadn’t protected me when I’d needed it to, and expelling Martin’s memory from our lives was my top priority now. Before I could change my mind, I carried the lightweight pendant over to the waste basket and tossed it inside.

I didn’t put on makeup this morning. There was no rushing around to make Martin’s breakfast, or to see him off to work.

No slamming doors or missing shoes or screaming.

No angry fists pummeling my body.

Most mornings, the air felt suffocating and dense. I’d wake up panting, a surge of panic hammering through my bloodstream and lifting me from bed. I was always afraid I’d oversleep, and sometimes I did. If Martin was late for work or didn’t have the things he needed in the mornings, he blamed it on me. And worst of all, he seemed to enjoy punishing me for my mistakes.

He must have been so angry when he realized we were gone. We didn’t take much when we left, just Lily’s suitcase and my bag. But he must have known immediately.

The first thing he probably did was call my cell phone, and from there, it wouldn’t have taken him long to find where I’d left it—on the nightstand next to our bed.

He can’t reach us here.

There was no note. No paper trails. I’d saved up small amounts of cash over the past year, so there wouldn’t be any need for ATM withdrawals. I had enough money to last us for a while, until I could figure out how to get some more.

Pinching my eyes closed, I couldn’t shake the image of his seething blue eyes, the angry caterpillar brows furrowing in anger.

He’s probably mad enough to kill me right now. To kill us both.

I could almost taste his rage from six hundred miles away. It tickled the back of my throat and burned the edges of my tongue.

Fear. I can taste that, too.

The fear I’d felt earlier was rushing back. My old friend Panic seized my chest, like a boulder pressing down on my belly, making every breath tight and controlled.

He might find us. What will I do if he does?

As I passed through the hallway, fingertips grazing the unfamiliar walls of the cabin, I thought I heard a muffled grunt coming from behind Lily’s closed bedroom door.

Nonono. He’s not in there. I’m only imagining he is.

I’d imagined his voice last night, too, before I fell asleep. The angry, breathy snores that he made while he slept. My body so accustomed to sleeping next to his, I’d lain against the edge of the mattress, curled into a tight little ball, despite all the extra space.

“One, t-two, th-three…” I counted out loud.

I read somewhere that counting helps alleviate anxiety. My lips silently formed the words, but the clenching in my chest remained. Suddenly, I was hurtling back to our house in Tennessee. Fear slithered in through the logs. Martin’s anger dissolving and sinking down through the rafters…

“F-four, f-five, six…” My skin tickled and crawled, my stutter rearing its head again, becoming worse, the way it always did when I sensed a confrontation coming. As I moved through the hallway, I fought the urge to look back over my shoulder.

Martin is not standing behind me. He’s not! I chastised myself.

The hallway tilted and swayed, then slowly, the buttery yellow paint dissolved. I wasn’t back home in Tennessee; I was in our new house, faraway from Martin.

Safe.

“A-are you a-awake yet, Bunny?” My stumbled words a mere whisper through the heavy door.

Bunny. It was a nickname given to her by Martin, and I’d have to remember to stop using it. It would only serve as a reminder of him, and Lily wouldn’t need any of those, now that he was out of our lives for good.

Closing my eyes and taking a deep breath, I nudged the bedroom door open. Soft sunlight streamed in through motheaten curtains above the bed. There was no Martin.

See? Nothing to be afraid of.

Lily, so tiny, was curled up beneath the blankets in a ball, unmoving. Like me, she was always trying to make herself smaller and unseen…

Lily had never been a good sleeper. She was prone to nightmares, but last night, she’d slept all the way through. Reaching across the bed, I slid the curtains back, welcoming more light into the room. The bright white heat was soothing, like a warm cloth across my face. I released a long stream of breath, relieved.

“Rise and shine, B—” I stopped myself from using the nickname again, squeezing my lips together. There were so many bad habits to break, and this was only just one of them…

I prodded the soft little lump in the middle of the bed. But Lily didn’t move a muscle.

Finally, I rolled the covers back, imagining her sweet morning smile and sleepy doe-like eyes.

I know they say you should always love your children no matter what, and I do, but for some reason, my heart just soars when I see her doughy cheeks every morning. She is always at her sweetest when she first wakes up.

“Lily?”

A strange wisp of gray-white hair poked out from beneath the blanket. I stared at it, my mind not comprehending the strange bit of fur.

Tentatively, I rolled the covers down. Button-eyes stared back at me, black and menacing.

It was a toy rabbit, but not like the ones Lily used to keep on her bed in Tennessee. This bunny looked ugly and old, its limp arms and legs adorned with black, plastic claws.

I poked at the strange stuffed toy, shaken.

“B-bunny? Where are you?” I grasped the corner of the blanket in one hand, then yanked it the rest of the way off.

Lily wasn’t in her bed.

A deep guttural scream pierced the morning air.

 

MY SISTER IS MISSING is only 99 cents for a limited time!

 

A twenty-year-old local mystery that has never been solved.

 

A bone-chilling VHS tape depicting a horrific crime.

 

Neighbors with something to hide.

 

And a sister who is missing.

 

Emily has to find out the truth. But is her sister Madeline the victim…or the one to blame?

 

Add to your TBR today!

http://bit.ly/MySisterIsMissingTBR

 

 

 

NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE FOR $.99:

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2XY4gmU

Amazon Universal: http://mybook.to/MSIMBuy

My Sister is Missing – out now!

Posted: February 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

MY SISTER IS MISSING is out now in digital format!

My sister had a secret.

Then she disappeared…

Is Madeline the victim…or the one to blame?

http://smarturl.it/SisterMissingEB

My Sister is Missing Excerpt

Posted: December 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

Thrilled to share an excerpt from my upcoming novel, MY SISTER IS MISSING. Coming soon from Killer Reads…

My Sister Is Missing cover
Chapter One
That old saying, you can never go home again, tickled the edges of my memory and floated on the back of my tongue as I accelerated through the Bare Border welcome sign in my rented Honda Civic. The car was supposed to be the ‘luxury option’. Stupid me – I’d actually expected something fancy, like a Rolls Royce. The Honda wasn’t bad looking, but as soon as it hit 45 mph, the doors had begun to rattle and shake, the wheels threatening to tumble loose, and the peppery must of cigarette smoke from the previous driver was making my temples ache. In truth, I longed for a cigarette myself, but the last time I’d smoked was, well … it was the last time I came back home.
Nine years ago, I’d come to Bare Border for my sister’s wedding, but even then, I’d only stayed for the ceremony and reception. I didn’t visit with family. I didn’t stay overnight. I’d shared the champagne toast, made a clumsy congratulations speech, then ducked out before the clock struck midnight, Cinderella-style.
I didn’t want to stay in Bare Border then, and I don’t want to be here now.
But Madeline had asked me to come; not just for a visit, but to ‘stay for a while’, however long ‘a while’ meant. She wanted to talk to me about something, but not over the phone. My big sister had never been the mysterious type; in fact, she was pretty terrible at keeping secrets, or at least the old version of her used to be, the one I remembered from my childhood.
What do I really know about her now, besides the fact that she’s a mother, and happily married?
I don’t know what I was expecting when I passed through the entrance to my hometown – storm clouds and thunder? An ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach? The theme song to Stranger Things prickling my subconscious? What I found instead was a scene from a movie script, but not the creepy, menacing variety. The afternoon sky was a silk-screen blue, the sidewalk teeming with children on bikes, and tiny mazes of houses puckered out between the only buildings in town— Maggie’s Mart, the elementary school, the library, the post office, and a couple of fast food joints. It looked downright charming and quaint.
As I passed through the town square, I spied the bingo hall that also functioned as a church, creeping up ahead on my left – where my sister was married. From this vantage point, everything about my hometown looked the same as it always had, how I remembered it…
Maybe you can go home again, an annoying voice tickled my ear.
I think the expression means that you can go home, but it will never be the home you remember. Nothing is static; everything looks different through a child’s eyes. But in my twenty-nine- year-old periphery—nothing about Bare Border had changed.
But, then again, this was as far as I’d been in just under a decade.
Rundown storefronts and residential houses faded away as I navigated up the steepest hill I’d ever climbed in my life. Even though it had been a long time, I knew I had to speed up, or else risk rolling backwards.
I punched the pedal to the floor, revving the engine up the twisty incline, instantly shifting around the once familiar curves from my past. The Honda rattled dangerously as I gripped the wheel with both hands.
It’s not until I reached the top of ‘Star Mountain’, as the locals called it, that I realized I’d been holding my breath. I hadn’t tackled this hill since I was twenty years old, and when you’re twenty, nothing seems scary. But now it wasn’t the climb itself that gave me a jolt, but the drop off on either side of it. There was nowhere to go but down, down, down if you fell … and what’s at the bottom? I wondered. I’d never really cared to ask when I was a teen.
Thankfully, the road flattened out again, and right away, I was back on autopilot, taking a right on Painter’s Creek Road and then a sharp left on Knobby Pine. There were no more children on bikes, the old farm roads abandoned. Population: nobody cares. There were just too few to count, although that number had probably grown since I’d last come back.
A thousand times I’d made these turns—making the drive back and forth from my first job at Maggie’s Mart, driving myself to junior prom after Paul Templeton had stood me up, and my first wreck, when I’d T-boned Mrs Roselle. For the record, the accident wasn’t my fault – that woman always ran the stop sign on Lowell’s Lane, which intersected with Painter’s Creek Road.
My sister’s house, and the place where I grew up, was right up ahead, exactly where I left it all those years ago…
The trees opened up and there it was: the crooked old sign for the ‘Bare Border Inn’. It whistled back and forth in the wind as I turned down my sister’s driveway. The ‘inn’ was nothing more than a two-story, eight-room house that my grandparents used to run as a bed and breakfast back in the Fifties. To me, it had always just been our house, but my mom and dad had never taken down the sign.
This place has character. History. You can’t get rid of that, my mother had told me.
The bubbly vibrations of gravel beneath my tires welcomed me home for the first time in years.
I’d ripped and roared through town, but now all I wanted to do was slow down. I wasn’t ready for this reunion – the one between my sister and I or the one with my own childhood. Going back was like returning to the scene of a crime when you were guilty: it wasn’t advisable.
But I’m not a criminal. I have nothing to run from, right?
The house itself loomed like a ghoulish shadow, a black silhouette against a backdrop of crisp summer sun. Only, the sun was fading now, a gloomy dull film settling over the rickety inn…
The driveway was longer than I remembered, and the further I got down it, the foggier the air around the Civic became.
The inn was set back from the road in a clearing, thick woods surrounding it on two sides. Almost like an appendage, like it was a part of the woods, not the other way around. I could sense movement beyond the trees … barefoot children scurrying through the branches, keeping beat with the sluggish pace of the rental car.
These were the children of summer. Bees zipping, bird wings flapping, the rolling water of the creek – all part of their never- ending summer soundtrack. In reality, there wasn’t anyone moving through the trees, only ghosts of the children my sister and I once were. The sticky taste of cherry Kool-Aid still clung to my upper lip, mixed with the sweat and dirt from running in that muggy, marshy forest…
There was a pang in my chest – the concept of family was something I hadn’t thought about in a long time.

Reserve your copy: http://smarturl.it/SisterMissingEB

Request on netgalley: http://netgal.ly/AAbtQ4