We’re all feeling it. Sometimes, it feels like we’re on the verge of snapping. All at once, in one universal Crack! of frustration, dread and rage. This tension, it’s getting to all of us and it got to me. I broke and retreated from the world and went to my happy place but the tension followed me. Instead of bending my brain away from the tension, I reveled in it and purged it. But, in my own dark but “healthy” way. I wanted to give you a ticket out of reality–to someplace better–but I still wanted to make you gasp and sit on the edge of your seat because sometimes, the best way to relieve stress and purge your frustrations is to laugh, cry and lose yourself someplace dark and a little twisted.
As this is book #9, I knew I had to give you something fresh and smart, not just dark and tense. I can’t drag you back to Lake Cliff and turn my boys’ lives upside down unless I’ve got something really exciting to share. I’ve got my beta and ARC readers sworn to secrecy because this one’s a thriller and not at all what you’re expecting but so far, they’re shook.
“I still shiver thinking about it. Incredible thrill!”
“I actually felt a threatening breath on the back of my neck and a sense of impeding doom in the pit of my stomach. It was thrilling, from the first pages up until the surprising finale!”
“Always pushing boundaries, this time you can feel the T-Rex testing the fence, and you’ll be on the edge of your seat waiting for it to escape.”
“What an exciting ride and what a fun twist.”
Ready to take a look? How about two whole, very tense chapters?
“Fuck, I really wanted it to be you,” Paul muttered as he squinted at the pistol. His pinkie was looped around the trigger so he could sniff the end of the muzzle. It wasn’t a Walther PPK and it smelled like it had been fired recently. He set the weapon back down then stood and scanned the office. The killer came in fast and hit the victim at his desk.
“I just talked to the housekeeper, Helen, and she was the last one to talk to Jeffrey Goodwin. She said Mr. Goodwin didn’t have any holes in his forehead or his chest when she left at around 10:00 p.m. last night. The cook came in at 4:00 this morning and found him,” Agent Burley said and Paul nodded along but he was barely listening. He saw Lavender with his own eyes and he was in Lake Cliff at midnight, chatting with Reginald from his kitchen.
“The Bureau appreciates you giving up your career in comedy to serve your country,” Paul said distantly. He turned and estimated the killer’s position and location and it looked like a quick, clean hit. “He came in through that door, surprising Goodwin…” Paul looked at the wound on Goodwin’s forehead and frowned. Based on the angle and bullet trajectory, Goodwin had to be standing or the killer was almost a foot shorter than Lavender, unless he was sitting by the door.
“I never had a career in comedy,” Burley noted.
“Clearly. Stick to your day job; you might have a career with the FBI if you knock it off with the shitty jokes. This was staged,” Paul added as he waved at the desk.
“How can you tell?”
“Look at the gunshot wound in the forehead.” Paul went around the desk and crouched next to Goodwin’s chair. According to his position and posture, Goodwin raised his arms defensively and was thrown back, suggesting he was looking up at a taller killer. “He looks like he was startled by someone at the door, right?” Paul asked as he waved at the door and Burley nodded. Paul stood and curled and pointed his fingers, as if he was holding a gun. “Now, look at the way the bullet entered the forehead. It’s almost straight, right?” He asked as he aimed his invisible gun at Goodwin’s forehead. “According to the position and the angle of the wound, he was looking lower and straight, at one of those chairs, not up. And he should have fallen forward, face-down onto the desk. Or, slumped and off to the side,” Paul explained. “Unless…” Paul stepped around the desk and lined up his invisible pistol with the wound. He had to raise his arm awkwardly and aimed from over his shoulder, by his ear.
“The victim was shot then posed to look like the killer came in through the door and surprised him,” Burley realized. Paul hummed flatly then tossed the invisible Smith & Wesson by the wastebasket.
“I think the killer was sitting in one of those chairs or he was short and standing behind them, or close to the door.” The killer was too short to be Lavender and the narrow window of time made it highly unlikely. Lavender could have made it to New York from Lake Cliff in less than four hours but Paul suspected that the coroner would put time of death closer to midnight. “He doesn’t play with the crime scene and the gun’s wrong.”
“Who?” Burley asked.
“The Murder Fairy. I wanted this to be him but it looks like something worse.”
“The Murder Fairy?” Burley laughed. “Is that like the Tooth Fairy?”
“Yup,” Paul said with a grim smile. “Just like the Tooth Fairy. Nobody’s sure the Murder Fairy’s real but we’ve got someone working at night, taking credit for his work and trying to convince us he exists.”
Sweet sand verbena. Lavender closed his eyes and breathed deep, wondering if he was truly smelling it or if he was remembering its scent. Could you smell something if it wasn’t truly there? But, I’m not here, he reminded himself. He opened his eyes and the desert was as brutally wild and endless as he remembered as well. The night sky was clear and glittered with more stars than he could ever recall seeing. Lavender appreciated the harsh beauty and admired the view before he drew his gun and climbed the steps. The high desert of southwestern Arizona wasn’t flat and bare like White Sands or the Salt Flats of Utah. It was more rugged and rocky with low mountains and the wind was still damp from an early evening monsoon. It wasn’t hard to understand why Martin Caldwell chose this spot in the middle of nowhere to hide.
The arid wind ruffled his hair but Lavender felt a chill, despite its warmth, as he considered the modern adobe mansion. He shrugged and rubbed his ear against his shoulder then clenched his fist, attempting to ease his nerves but they itched and twisted tighter. Everything was right and the night was perfectly calm yet his senses recoiled and his stomach clenched.
“You know why this feels wrong. Aside from the obvious,” Lady Lucy murmured softly, from over his shoulder. Lavender snorted then scratched his temple with the end of his gun.
“I do but why do I keep coming back?” He asked, then turned. “And why haven’t you returned my calls?” He raised his brows at her and she was serene and smirking as her long ash blonde locks swayed with the breeze.
“I’m returning your call now.” She raised her brows back at him and he narrowed his eyes at her.
“The goats keeping you busy in the vale?”
“It’s not my goats or my business disturbing your beauty sleep,” she replied and Lavender humphed dismissively.
“Why do I keep coming back here?” He asked as he scanned the door. The house was meant to look like an old mission but it had a modern security system that was already disabled.
“Something about this haunts you.”
“Of course, it haunts me. Everything about this haunts me but I didn’t know what else to do. This isn’t what you were referring to in London, is it? Your premonition?” He asked her. Lucy’s brow furrowed as she considered and Lavender held his breath, hopefully. She shook her head and his shoulders drooped.
“I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you more.” She reached and brushed the hair away from his brow then cupped his cheek. Her soft green eyes sparkled as they searched his. “This does feel like it’s woven from a similar thread or part of the same cloth, if that helps,” she offered then she winced. “It doesn’t, does it?”
“No.” He shook his head and turned back to the house. “I did what I had to do. I had to keep this away from Lake Cliff away from them.”
“Did you really think you could make a deal with the Devil and win? This monster was always going to come back and bite you in the arse,” she said. Lavender cringed sheepishly and swayed toward her.
“There’s only room for one monster in Lake Cliff and I’m afraid he’s become rather comfortable. I have it under control.”
“What if you’re wrong? What if this is about to devour the things you hold very dear?” She argued. Or is that another warning? He wondered.
“What would you have me do? It was an impossible situation,” Lavender said and she hummed sympathetically.
“I don’t envy you but I can’t help wondering if this was avoidable…”
“Now, look,” Lavender said as he held up his other hand defensively. “I’ve been good since our first meeting, in London, thank you. And I’ve been very helpful,” he added. She grinned knowingly at him.
“You were here for very bad reasons,” she said and he sighed and hung his head.
“He was a very bad man and he met with a very bad end,” Lavender replied then stretched his neck to stifle a shiver. Lucy’s eyes tightened and the smile fell from her face.
“But not at your hands and you’re afraid of what’s behind this door.”
“I know what’s behind this door. It’s terrible and it terrifies me but I don’t understand why I’m here again. I see terrible things all the time,” he pointed out.
“You know it’s coming and you can’t stop it,” Lucy whispered then nodded at the door. Lavender’s nose wrinkled as he stared at the rustic wooden panels and iron bolts.
“What if I didn’t open it?” He asked but she was gone. “Wonderful.” Lavender sighed and shifted his shoulders again but they didn’t loosen and his stomach was sour. Is it? Probably. His stomach always turned when he thought of Martin Caldwell. Lavender’s cheeks puffed out as he grabbed the handle and eased the door open. He leaned over the threshold and his heartbeat slowed and became heavy and his blood ran cold as he stepped into Lane and Aiden’s house. “No!” Lavender gasped and covered his mouth. His stomach heaved at the blood dripping off the counter and the front of the cabinets. There was a pattering sound and he spun then bit back a sob. A tattooed arm reached from the hall and a bloody hand hung limply over the top step. “No!” Lavender cried as he sat up and his chest heaved as he searched the room around his bed.
“What is it?” Sage asked groggily as he pulled Lavender down and into his arms. Sage shushed soothingly and sifted his fingers through Lavender’s hair. “What’s wrong? It’s not like you to have bad dreams.”
“It’s not like me to dream,” Lavender murmured. His mind and his conscience were rarely troubled. “Everything’s going to be fine,” he promised. He wound his arms around Sage and rubbed his cheek against his hair. Sage yawned in agreement as he patted Lavender’s back and nuzzled into his neck.
“I know. We can survive anything as long as we have each other,” he babbled. Lavender chuckled softly and cherished the absolute peace and stillness of the night and Sage’s naked body as it wrapped protectively around him. He locked out the vision from his nightmare and vowed he’d do whatever it took to make sure Lake Cliff—and everyone in it—remained perfectly peaceful and safe.
Welcome back to Lake Cliff, reader.
You’re in for a wild ride.
Available 6/4 for $2.99 on Amazon and KU.
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