About the Books
A decades old mystery and a deadly game of cat and mouse will change Charlotte Marshall forever.
Charlotte has a good life: friends, family, a successful career. Her perfect life is destroyed when research for a book and a connection from her past plunges her into the middle of her worst nightmare.
On the run, with no one to trust, Charlotte begins to unravel the work of a sadistic murderer. Afraid and alone, she will learn the meaning of trust and just when to run.
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It’s ironic really, the chain of events that led me here, kneeling in the dirt with a gun to my head.
My tale of woe, if I can be so bold as to call it that, started innocently enough. It started with spelling words and dinner.
As a student I was smart but a horrible speller. (Dyslexia will do that to you.) In order to get me through my spelling test every week, my mother, who naturally was a school teacher, worked with me every night on my spelling words. While I sat at the table working on my spelling, she watched the news and made dinner. It would not be an understatement to say it was the least favorite part of my day. I would sit at the kitchen table wanting to be outside or really just about anywhere else, and write out my words for the week ten times each, then in a sentence, then test myself with flashcards.
Certain, certain, certain. I am certain I do not want to be doing this.
However, however, however. However, I don’t have a choice…
“Earlier today, police in Cherry Hill responded to a call from local kids at the park…”
Balance, balance, balance. What sentence could I use for balance…? The seal balanced a ball on his nose. Stupid but it would work.
“…the body of an unidentified female adolescent was discovered…”
My attention was caught. Spelling words forgotten.
“…sources say the victim was raped and tortured before she was murdered. Her body was mutilated. Police are asking that anyone…”
What? The words of the newscaster left me feeling unsettled. I knew something bad had happened; for the first time, the world was scary. I knew enough to put that together, but the why left me shaken. Why would someone kill a girl?
“I don’t get it, Mom, what happened?”
Once my mom realized I was talking about the news, the TV was turned off and I was redirected back to my spelling words. I bent back over my spelling words while my mind whirled. I knew there was something different about this story. The unknown girl stuck in my head.
Nine months ago Charlotte Marshall survived a nightmare when she was hunted by a sadistic killer. Now routine, ritual, and a vigorous self-defense schedule barely keep the fear at bay.
Desperate to move on Charlotte finds hope in volunteering with FindMe, an organization dedicated to finding missing people and helping their families. Her first case ends up being more than she bargained for, and she soon learns that a little hope can be a dangerous thing.
While Charlotte unravels a mystery, an old enemy circles waiting for just the right moment to strike. Charlotte will have to choose to stand and fight, or to give in to the fear that waits for her.
My own scream woke me.
Zero to sixty in less than a second. One second I was sound asleep, and the next I was bolt upright in bed with the sound of my scream still echoing across the bedroom. My heart thundered in my chest, and my panting breaths sounded loud in the silence. My shaking hands gripped the blanket in tight fists. Kitty looked up at me from her cozy spot at the end of the bed. Yellow eyes blinked. Then she meowed in sympathy and dropped her calico head back down onto her paws. She used to love sleeping curled right up against me. But my regular nightmares disrupted her. Unfortunately nightmares are not an uncommon occurrence. I have suffered from them ever since Lawrence Pheares.
Nine months ago I faced a monster, a murderer responsible for the deaths of twenty-three innocent girls. At night he haunts me. Sometimes the dreams are a reenactment of the events. I see Pheares choking me. Or I remember Jack and Pheares fighting. Sometimes the nightmares are filled with images of my lost girls. I watch helpless as Emily runs from a mad man. I cannot save her. The worst ones though, the dreams that make it impossible for me to go back to sleep, are the ones like the nightmare I just woke up from. They leave me with a jumble of images and tangled feelings. Nothing concrete that makes sense. When I wake up screaming, I am overwhelmed with terror. That’s the only feeling or sense I get from these dreams, bone deep fear.
According to my therapist I am suffering from PTSD. Simple letters for a life that is changed by trauma. Nine months ago I had lived the nightmare. It all began so simply. I was doing research for my next novel when I stumbled onto a serial killer and twenty-three girls who were abducted, raped, tortured, murdered, and then thrown away. When I found the killer, he found me. I almost didn’t survive. In the end I beat Lawrence Pheares, but in doing so I was forever changed.
Without conscious thought, my hand reached over to cover the E tattooed on the inside of my right arm, a daily reminder of what I had survived and a tribute to those innocent girls who did not.
In the months since I discovered evidence of a serial killer and my life became entwined with those lost girls who were heartlessly killed by a madman, I had become a different person, scared of my own shadow. At first it wasn’t so bad. I was still cruising on adrenaline. Now every day is a battle.
When I let myself really think about it, thoughts of Georgia frighten me the most. I never learned from Pheares what role she played in the killings, but I knew in my heart that she had one. Pheares was dead. But I knew Georgia was still out there. There was no evidence of this, but my gut told me different. I knew she was alive. I could feel her watching me.
I looked over at my bedside clock. It was four forty-three in the morning. There was no point in trying to go back to sleep. My body was slick with sweat and the hands I ran over my face shook. Max, my black Pit Bull mix, looked at me from his spot beside my bed. His ears were perked. Brown eyes focused on me. He looked ready to get up with me or go back to sleep, depending on my next move. These days Max rarely leaves my side. He is a good friend.
I swung my legs over and sat on the edge of the bed. A few deep breaths later my heart was no longer racing, and I was ready to get up.
I start every morning with yoga. It is one of my therapies. Sometimes I think if I don’t do the little things like yoga, running, and journaling, I will plunge into a well of terror that will dominate me. So every morning, no matter what, I make myself stick to my routine, as though that alone will save me. That morning my poses were a little shaky from my nightmare, but I made it through them. Mountain pose. Forward bend. Down dog. I could feel myself steadying. Warrior two. Down dog. Tree pose. I finished with two sun salutations then stood in mountain pose just breathing.
Max knows my new pattern. When my routine was finished he was ready to go. He leaned his big body against me and gave that look dog owners everywhere know – outside please.
I will admit I am afraid of becoming agoraphobic. It would be so easy. But I make myself go outside. If I didn’t, I think I could live a very content and safe life, never leaving the safety of my home. But that would mean that Pheares won. I can’t let him win. So, every day I force myself to venture outdoors. I stand outside and consider it a small victory in the midst of many battles. Max helps.
I grabbed Max’s leash from the hall closet and layered on warm winter gear. Coat, gloves, hat, boots. December in New Jersey is cold. It was so early that it was dark outside and very still. It had already been a rough icy winter. There were several inches of snow on the ground. I paused at my front door, Max waited patiently on his leash beside me. A few deep breaths, and I was able to convince myself to open the door.
My last home burned down, part of the drama I endured nine months ago with Pheares. He burned my home and destroyed everything I owned. He took so much from me, but at the end I was still standing. After a brief stay in a temporary condo, courtesy of my agent, my new home is comfortably located in a quiet development with lots of space between the houses and a big fenced backyard for Max. The small two story home has a nice open floor plan downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. It backs up to trees and a lake, so it is quiet.
It feels like too much quiet sometimes, but I like it.
The only nice thing about taking Max outside in the winter is that he is as happy to move quickly and get back inside as I am. He is not a fan of the cold. My breath left cold puffs of fog in the air and I shifted in place to stay warm. It was eerily quiet out, still too early for most of the world to be stirring. As I waited for Max to finish his business, headlights flashed over my front door. A car turned the corner onto my street. I tensed. As it rolled closer I recognized the logo of the security company hired to patrol my neighborhood. It was one of things that attracted me to this development. I was looking for a sense of security, wanting to feel safe. It hasn’t worked, but I gave the security car a wave as it slowly moved past my house. Looks like Carl. I had made a point to know every guard that patrolled. I know everyone who is a help or a possible threat in my fragile world.
Max finished his business, shivered from the chilly air, and whined to go back inside. We ran toward the door. After the cold the first wave of warmth was almost too much. I didn’t really relax until I heard the locks click. I was glad to be out of the cold and the dark. I always breathe a little easier when I am safely locked inside my home.
I striped off all the winter gear I had piled on and put them back in their respective places in the hall closet.
After a shower to wash away the sweat from my nightmare and yoga, and then a bowl of Cheerios, I felt almost ready to face the day.
I stood facing the mirror wearing a pair of yoga pants and a sports bra, my other daily ritual. I took stock of my body and its changes. Same long light blonde hair pulled back into a sensible ponytail, same dark blue eyes and overbite. The differences from nine months ago are obvious. I’ve lost over twenty-five pounds. Anything less than a hundred and twenty on my frame is too skinny. I was too skinny. The dark circles under my eyes were almost permanent. The biggest change though is my eyes. I used to be innocent, innocent to murder and cruelty. I’m not anymore. My eyes now are old. The changes were obvious. However, they were not all negative. I was strong. My arms had muscles they never had before. I was tough, inside and out. Looking at my reflection I repeated the same positive mantra I said every morning. You are strong. You are a survivor. Then I finished getting dressed and drove into Philly.
About the Author
Books are Becky Johnson’s passion and always have been. She used to get in trouble in school for reading during class!
Becky has Master’s degrees in social work and history, and for her day job she is a social worker. In her writing she tries to answer a question that is important to both social work and history: Why? She always wants to know why people do the things they do or feel the way they feel.
When not reading or writing she enjoys yoga, cooking, and makes a pretty mean chili!