USA Today Bestseller
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jackson comes a new novel of nerve-jangling suspense as a woman haunted by guilt realizes that nothing can be trusted—not even her own memory . . .
IF YOU THINK SOMEONE IS OUT TO GET YOU . . .
There are people in Edgewater, Oregon, who think that twenty years ago, Rachel Gaston got away with murder. But Rachel still has no idea how a foolish teenaged game turned deadly—or who replaced her soft pellet air gun with a real weapon. When a figure jumped out at her from the darkness, she fired without thinking. By the time she recognized her half-brother, Luke, it was too late. Blood bloomed around his chest . . .
AND SOMEONE REALLY IS . . .
Rachel’s horrifying dreams about that night continue. Her anxiety contributed to her divorce from Detective Cade Ryder, though he blames himself too. And now, as Rachel’s high school reunion nears, she feels her imagination playing tricks on her. She’s sure that there’s a hint of unfamiliar cologne in the air. That someone is tailing her car. Watching her home . . .
THEN YOU’RE NOT PARANOID . . .
She’s right to be scared. And as connections surface between a new string of murders and Luke’s death, Rachel realizes there’s no escaping the past. And the truth may be darker than her worst fears . . .
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Edgewater, Oregon Now
"Why not?" Violet Sperry poured herself another glass of wine and sank back into the thick pillows on the bed. She posed the question to her small dog, Honey, a silky Cavalier King Charles spaniel who was watching her from her doggy bed as Violet finished off the bottle. As if the dog could understand. But it was better than talking to yourself. At least she thought so. Or was it just as crazy to talk to the dog? She'd left one window open a crack, and a soft spring breeze was lifting the curtains as it swept into the room and brought with it the scent of honeysuckle, which blended with the heady aroma of the Merlot.
She swirled the glass and smiled at the glorious purple liquid before taking a satisfying sip of the oh-so-smooth wine. This would be her last glass. No matter what. She would not head downstairs and open another bottle. No, no, no. She set the empty one behind the lamp on her bedside table. She'd get rid of it — the "evidence" — tomorrow before Leonard returned.
Her husband of over fifteen years.
Once a slim athlete with a quick smile and thick brown hair, Leonard had been a man with a future when she'd met him, a man who was going to take on the world. He'd swept her off her feet and, really, he'd been the reason she'd moved past the trauma of the night of Luke Hollander's death. She'd been there twenty years ago. She'd seen him die. God, it was awful. She should never have gone to that damned cannery. She'd snuck out that night just to score points with Luke Hollander. Had she really intended to tell him that she was in love with him? He would have laughed her right out of that horrid old building. She hadn't been the only one with a major crush on Rachel Gaston's brother, or half brother or whatever he'd been.
Water under the bridge. Or maybe under the pier where that awful dilapidated building had been built.
Thankfully, it was all a long, long time ago.
And in the interim, she'd met Leonard, the man with all of his dreams.
None of which had panned out.
Yeah, they'd moved to Seattle, where he'd been intent on becoming an artist and had even bought into an art gallery, but that endeavor with its lofty ideals, pardon the pun, had been temporary. Of course. As had her stab at being a singer for a garage band that had never made it out of back alley pubs.
It hadn't worked out. For either of them.
After a couple of years Leonard had readily, no, almost eagerly, tossed away his dreams and moved back here to their hometown of Edgewater, where he'd taken a job with his father at the furniture store. There had been talk of him being a partner in the business, and eventually taking over Sperry's Fine Furnishings, but so far that hadn't panned out. His father was still in the store every day, looking over Leonard's shoulder as he tried his best to sell end tables, lamps, and side chairs to the stingy losers who still lived here.
Another swallow of wine to dispel any hint of dissatisfaction as she settled into the pillows of her bed, the best you could buy with a "breathable" but firm mattress and a contraption to make the head or foot rise with the mere push of a button.
One of the perks of being married to Leonard Sperry, furniture salesman extraordinaire.
She glanced at her phone, where the message from Lila was on display. Squinting, she read again: Don't forget. Meeting for the reunion. My house. Tomorrow @ 7:30. Go Eagles!
No way was Violet attending the stupid twenty-year reunion, let alone joining the planning committee. And to talk about the high school team? Twenty years after graduation? Ugh! She took a long swallow from her glass, then deleted the message. She'd never liked Lila back then, when she was a classmate, and she liked her even less now as some kind of Edgewater social climber and community leader. As if being married to an old man of an attorney and running around doing good deeds for this tiny nothing community were important. Besides, the man she married was old as dirt, and the father of a fellow classmate. "How sick is that?" she said into her glass.
And now Lila wanted her to be a part of the reunion meeting. Which was only part of her irritation. That stupid Mercedes Jennings ... no, her name had changed ... She was married to Tom Pope now. Well, anyway, that stupid Mercedes Pope was a damned reporter and wanted to interview her about Luke Hollander's death.
After twenty years. Some kind of retro piece for the local paper.
Make that no friggin' way.
High school and all the drama, tears, and tragedy were long over, thank God, and now she was married to Leonard and had three beautiful, wonderful fur babies and ... She glanced out the window at the dark night. God, how had her life turned into such a mess?
Honey had padded across the room and was whining at the bedside.
"Oh, you," Violet said, her mood lifting at the sight of her happy dog. "Can't sleep? Well, get on up here." She patted the duvet and Honey didn't hesitate, just hopped up quickly as if expecting Violet to change her mind. Not likely. Leonard was the one who drew the line at pets in the bed. "There you go." She petted the dog's coppery coat.
As Honey settled against her on the thick pillows, her small body curled against Violet, she clicked through the channels to catch a late show. Much as she hated to admit it, she didn't sleep well when Leonard was out of town. It was stupid really, that she felt safer with him snoring beside her. Yeah, he was thirty pounds overweight and his once-lush hair had thinned to the point that he clipped what remained close to his skull. He disapproved of her affinity for wine — like, really disapproved — but Len put up with her quirks. When she told him she wasn't interested in having children, he'd gone along with it.
Hence the dogs. Her babies. Three purebred Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Honey on the bed with her and the other two curled up in matching beds near the armoire in the corner. She tried to set her glass on the bedside table and it slipped, sloshing wine onto the bed and into the partially open drawer in her nightstand.
"No!" She freaked for a second, then decided she'd deal with the mess in the morning. It was only a couple of spots on the duvet; she'd flip it over. She'd clean up the splash in the drawer when she got up tomorrow before her husband returned. Leonard would never suspect.
She was a bit buzzy, well, make that more than a bit, but what did it matter since Leonard was out of town until tomorrow? And her bones seemed to be melting in such a lovely fashion. Closing her eyes, she was barely aware that the late show host's monologue was over and he was interviewing his first guest, an actress with a new movie out and ...
Honey shifted, a low growl coming from her throat.
"Shhh," Violet rasped thickly. She was drifting off.
A sharp bark.
Violet opened an eye and glanced to the beds where her other two dogs had been sleeping. Without her glasses she had to squint. The male, black and tan coat gleaming, was staring at the door. "Che, enough!" Geez, what was wrong with him? But he wasn't alone. From her bed, the third dog, Trix, a usually shy tricolor, was snarling, her gaze fixed on the entrance to the bedroom.
For a second, Violet felt a frisson of worry slide through her insides. What if Leonard had come back early? Crap! How could she hide her glass and the bottle and the ... ?
Wait a sec! If Leonard was returning, the dogs wouldn't be growling.... No, more likely they would be yipping excitedly, ready to leap up and greet him. And she hadn't heard the rumble of the garage door as it rolled open.
She glanced at the clock. The glowing letters were a little blurry, but she could still make out the time.
No, her husband wouldn't show up this late without calling. She fumbled on the bed table for her phone and glanced at the messages. Nothing from Leonard.
Her heart froze.
Had she heard something?
A noise from the hallway?
But all of the dogs were in here with her.
She swallowed and muted the television. On the screen the host and his guest were laughing uproariously though the TV was silent.
Violet strained to listen over the beating of her heart.
She heard nothing.
Not a sound.
But she felt as if something were wrong. Very, very wrong.
Don't let your nerves get the better of you.
Not a sound.
Beside her, Honey was stiff, her big eyes focused on the door.
Jesus, the damned dogs were freaking her out.
Trix snarled again.
This was no good. No damned good.
But probably nothing.
Had to be nothing.
Licking her lips, she tamped down her fear. The house was locked tight. She was sure of it. She'd checked the doors and windows herself. Hadn't she? No one could get in ... well, unless they slipped through the doggy door in the kitchen or ... oh, crap! The outside door to the garage. It was usually bolted shut but Leonard sometimes forgot to secure it when he took out the garbage and, of course, the inside door between the house and garage was always kept unlocked.
Her pulse inched up a notch, but she fought the anxiety whispering through her.
No reason to panic.
Licking her lips again, she slowly opened the drawer to her nightstand, found her glasses, and slipped them on, despite the fact that they were blurry from the wine. Then, she silently retrieved her pistol. For a second, she flashed back to the first time she'd held a gun. That night. Two decades earlier. But then she'd held a pellet pistol in her palm. This heavier gun was the real thing, a Smith & Wesson 9mm Shield, a semiautomatic that could do real damage. She flipped off the safety, her fingers curling over the somewhat sticky grip.
Swallowing hard, trying to clear her fuzzy mind, she slipped out of the sheets. When Honey started to follow she ordered, "Stay," under her breath, then turned her gaze onto the other two dogs, who were now standing in their beds, and hissed, "Stay!"
It's nothing. They most likely heard the neighbors ... or maybe a mouse ... or something, just not an intruder. Please, God, not an intruder.
She pressed her bare feet into her slippers and started for the door, nearly stumbling and dropping the damned pistol.
Get it together.
Another bark from Che.
From the other side of the door.
She should call the police.
Who cared if they found her tipsy — no, drunk — and holding a firearm? It didn't matter that she could be imagining the whole scenario of someone breaking in.
But the dogs.
All at attention, watching the damned door.
It's nothing. It's nothing.
She reached for the door with her left hand, the gun in her right. Letting out her breath she twisted the knob, then swung the door inward and peered into the hallway, where a night-light gave off a weak glow, barely illuminating the stairwell.
She blinked and squinted.
No shadows moving.
No one lurking.
All in your mind.
Wait a second.
The door to the second bedroom seemed ajar. Surely it hadn't been that way when she'd passed it on the way to her room.
Or had it?
The hairs on the back of her neck lifted and she slipped to the door, pushed it open slowly, heard the slight creak of the old hinges.
She took one step into the room, saw the shades half down, light from the street lamp filtering onto the guest bed. She reached for the light switch.
The door crashed into her.
Pain exploded in her face.
The cartilage in her nose cracked.
Her glasses crunched and fell to the floor.
Blood spurted everywhere.
"Ooow!" she screamed and raised her gun.
Strong fingers grabbed her wrist and twisted.
Agony tore up her arm and her elbow felt as if it would tear apart.
She forced her fingers to squeeze.
The pistol blasted, the sound deafening. She flinched as whoever was in the room yanked the gun from her hand and wrenched her arm so hard she was certain it was breaking. She cried out in shrill pain and struggled to get away, but her attacker forced her backward. Her feet slipped. The dogs — her babies — were barking crazily now, scratching at the bedroom door.
She was being forced backward, bare feet sliding on the carpet, her eyes a blur with the blood. "No!" she cried as her back cracked against the railing. She blinked, tried to focus, just as something was forced over her eyes. A blindfold? Oh, Jesus, was this monster going to try to take her somewhere and didn't want her to see the area or who was attacking her?
Fear curdled in her guts. This maniac was going to rape or mutilate her and surely kill her.
She fought harder. Frantically she scraped at her face, trying to remove the mask, but it was fixed solidly. Glued to her skin.
Panicked, completely blinded, she flailed at her attacker, trying to scratch, to gain some kind of purchase, but it was for naught. Still drunk, her movements imprecise, her head pounding in pain, she swung wildly and missed, turning around just as she felt her body being hoisted with an effort.
A raspy voice demanded, "How does it feel to really be blind?"
And then she was flying through the air, and dropping, a hand brushing the chain on the chandelier, the crystals tinkling. She knew in that split second that the marble floor of the foyer was rushing up at her.
She screamed at the top of her lungs but was silenced by the smack of the stone floor.
She hit hard, her body slamming against the floor.
Every bone jarred, her skull cracking on impact. Her breath swooping out in a hissing rush, her teeth broken and rattling. She let out a low moan that sounded wet and tasted of the blood filling her mouth.
She tried to move.
Thankfully she remained conscious only long enough to be certain almost every bone in her body had shattered.CHAPTER 2
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Gunshots echo through the Sea View cannery.
Rachel flattens against the wall. It sounds so real. Not like the click of the soft-pellet guns. But the report of a real pistol. Here, in this cavernous, decaying building that smells of rotten fish and sweat.
She looks down, sees the gun in her hand.
Heart hammering, she tosses the damned weapon aside. It skids across the floor only to slide into the open chute and tumble to the raging river below.
"Rachel?" Luke's voice comes to her and she sees him, pale faced and staggering, hand clutched to his chest, blood staining his splayed fingers. "Why?" He is perplexed as he falls. "Why did you — ?"
Oh. God. No!
This time the scream is her own as he stumbles backward, his face disintegrating into a fleshy pulp being devoured by worms.
No! No! No!
Rachel's eyes flew open and she found herself staring at the ceiling of her own bedroom, the only light coming from the blue glow of her digital clock.
Five thirty-seven in the damned morning.
Calm down. It was just a dream. A nightmare. The same one that destroys your sleep two or three times a week.
Dear Lord. She let out a long, shaky breath and pushed the hair from her eyes. The house was quiet. Still. Only the rumble of the furnace creating any noise, but she did hear the muted pop of the newspaper deliveryman's old crate of a car, backfiring a street or two over.
If only she could stop this!
At least she hadn't woken her kids, nor, it seemed, her dog. A tawny, longhaired mutt whose square face suggested boxer while the wispy hair on his legs hinted at some kind of shepherd hidden somewhere in his lineage, Reno had been a family member since the day Cade had walked out the door. Rachel had rescued the gangly pup and he'd been the glue that had held the family together during those first painful weeks and months of the family shattering. From the first night, he'd claimed the foot of the bed as his resting spot and Rachel had never found the energy to force him into his kennel downstairs. Also, there was the simple fact that she felt safer with the dog in the room with her now that Cade was gone. She no longer even entertained the idea of making Reno sleep downstairs, and besides, she figured she had more important issues to deal with, or "bigger fish to fry," as her father had always said. He might still, but she couldn't be certain because she didn't talk to her dad too much these days.
Another issue to deal with.
As if she didn't have enough. She pulled the duvet over her head and burrowed deeper into her pillow. She still could get a few more minutes of shut-eye, if she could find a way to nod off again, preferably catching up with sleep that was devoid of nightmares. If she was going to dream, why not about something happy? A vacation in the Bahamas? Christmas with her grandparents? Or hot sex with some leading man? She could think of a few she wouldn't mind fantasizing about. ...(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Paranoid"
Copyright © 2019 Lisa Jackson LLC.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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