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By Brandilyn Collins
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One She'd forgotten to turn on the porch lights.
Kaycee Raye pulled into her driveway and slowed her red PT Cruiser. Her gaze bored into the night. The streetlamp across the road behind her dispelled too few shadows. Someone could be out there, watching.
Her gaze cut left to the neighbor's decrepit black barn and its fence in need of paint. The barn hulked sullen and taunting, its bowed slats the perfect hiding place for peering eyes.
She looked down Village Circle, running to the left of the barn into the apartment complex of Jessamine Village. All was quiet. Not unusual for nighttime in Wilmore, Kentucky, a small town about twenty minutes south of Lexington.
To the right of Kaycee's house old Mrs. Foley's wide front porch was lit. Kaycee stared into the dimness beyond the lamplight, searching for movement.
A curtain on Mrs. Foley's side living room window edged back. Kaycee tensed. Backlit by a yellow glow, the elderly woman's thin frame hunched behind the glass. Watching.
Kaycee's fingers curled around the steering wheel. It's only Mrs. Foley, it's only Mrs. Foley. The woman was harmless. Still, a vise clamped around Kaycee's chest. Since childhood she'd fought the strangling sense of being watched. Talk about Las Vegas odds - what were the chances of her buying a house next to a snoopy old woman?
Kaycee struggled to grasp the coping skills she'd learned over the years. Rational argument. Deep breathing for calm. Willing her muscles to relax. But her lungs only constricted more.
Swallowing hard, she eyed Mrs. Foley's silhouette. Las Vegas odds? Maybe. But fears could come true, even one's worst fear. Hadn't that happened to Kaycee's best friend, Mandy Parksley? Mandy had been plagued by the fear that, like her own mother, she would die young and leave her daughter, Hannah, behind. Kaycee insisted that would never come to pass. Mandy was healthy and fit. But at thirty-three she'd suddenly developed a brain tumor - and died within nine months.
Mrs. Foley's head moved slightly, as if she was trying to see inside Kaycee's car. That did it. Time to flush the woman out. Kaycee flicked on the light inside her Cruiser, leaned sideways, and waved with animation. "Hey there, Mrs. Foley!" She forced the words through clenched teeth.
The woman jerked away from the window, her curtain fluttering shut.
Breath returned to Kaycee slowly.
The bulb in her car seemed to brighten, exposing her to the night. Kaycee smacked off the light and glanced around.
Push back the fear.
But she couldn't. At Mandy's death a year ago, Kaycee's lifelong coping skills had crumbled. Rational thinking no longer worked. If Mandy's worst fear could happen, why couldn't Kaycee's? Maybe there were people out there watching.
How ironic that Mandy had been drawn to her through Kaycee's syndicated newspaper column about overcoming fear. "Who's There?" had millions of readers across the country, all so grateful to Kaycee for helping them fight back. Crazy but courageous Kaycee Raye. If she could overcome her multiple fears, so could they.
In the end, she hadn't been able to help Mandy.
If her readers only knew how far down she'd spiraled since then.
Shoulders tight, Kaycee hit the remote button to open her garage and drove inside. As the door closed she slid from her car, gripping her purse. She hurried under the covered walkway to her back entrance, key in hand. Kaycee shoved open the door, her fingers scrabbling around the door frame for the overhead light switch. As the fluorescent light flickered on, she whisked inside, shut the door, and locked it.
Eyes closed, she exhaled.
The weight upon her lifted. In her own home she could relax. Unlike her mother, she didn't peer out windows every minute. How she missed inheriting that habit, she'd never know. Still, all blinds and curtains had to be closed at night. She needed to complete that task. When she'd left to visit Hannah, it had been daylight.
Kaycee's heart squeezed. Every time Kaycee was with Hannah - which was often, after she'd slid into place as surrogate mother - Mandy's death hit her all over again. But this particular visit had been unusually heartrending. It had taken every ounce of fortitude Kaycee could muster to tell the begging, grief-stricken nine-year-old that she couldn't leave her father and new stepmom and come live with her.
Kaycee placed her purse and key on the gray Formica counter at her left - the short bottom of a long-stemmed L of cabinets and sink - and inhaled the comforting smell of home. Tonight it mixed the regular scent of the old house's wood with the chicken baked for supper. For once Kaycee had eaten a regular meal.
As the tension in her shoulders unwound, Kaycee breathed a prayer for Hannah. It wasn't fair to lose your mother at that young age. But to see your father remarry within months, bringing a new mom with a daughter of her own into the house - Kaycee could strangle the man, even as she'd assured Hannah, "you can't leave your dad; he loves you."
"Yeah, like he loved Mom," Hannah sobbed. "She might as well have been a dog that died. Just go out and get another one."
Kaycee sighed. Families were so hard. But so was not having one. Someday. At thirty, she still had time.
Kaycee stepped away from the counter - and heard a click. A flash lit the room.
Her head snapped up, her gaze cutting to the round table across the wide kitchen. A camera sat upon it.
Where had that come from?
It had taken a picture. All by itself.
She stared at the camera, stunned. It was small and black. Looked like a digital point-and-shoot. She had one of those. Only hers was silver. And bigger. And the last time she saw the thing it was in its case, sitting in the bottom drawer of her desk.
The camera's lens stuck out. Aimed at her. It had taken a picture of her.
Kaycee looked around wildly, her paranoia like a thousand skittering insects across her back. Who had done this? Somebody could be watching her by remote through that lens right now.
No. The thought was too petrifying. And far-fetched. Someone was just pulling a joke.
But who would do that? And how would they get into her house? She hadn't given a key to anyone.
Kaycee edged toward the table sideways, palms up, as if the camera might explode in her face. Dark imaginings filled her head. Somewhere in a shadowy room sat a man, eyes glued to a monitor, chuckling at her terror as she approached.
Who was he? What group was he a part of? What did they want?
Kaycee, stop it. There's a rational explanation ...
Her thigh grazed the table. The camera sat no higher than that part of her body. Did it have a wide enough lens to include her face when it took the picture?
She extended a trembling arm and knocked the camera ninety degrees. There. Now they couldn't see her.
Shallow-breathing, she leaned over to look down at the black rectangle. its "on" light glowed golden.
What other pictures had it taken? Had they gone around her house, photographing every room?
Nobody was here. It's a joke, just a joke.
Kaycee reached out a tentative hand, drew it back. Reached out again. On the third try she picked up the camera.
She flipped it around and studied its controls on the back. Turned a dial to the "view" mode. A picture of herself filled the screen - with her head cropped off. Kaycee saw only her wiry body, the loose-fitting jeans, and three-quarter-sleeve purple top. So much for a wide lens.
Her finger hesitated over the back arrow button, then pressed.
Onto the screen jumped the close-up gruesome face of a dead man. Eyes half open, dark red holes in his jaw and forehead. Blood matted his hair. Printed in bold in the bottom left corner of the picture, across his neck: WE SEE YOU.
Kaycee dropped the camera and screamed.
Excerpted from Exposure by Brandilyn Collins Copyright © 2009 by Brandilyn Collins. Excerpted by permission.
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