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A tale of terror from the author of Vampire and Fatal Secrets. At first Trish thinks the guy hanging around Muffin Mania, where she works at the mall, is just a creepy customer. But suddenly he's everywhere, the man with a thousand faces, tormenting her day and night. There's no place to hide. How can she escape a madman willing to kill to make her his forever?
Didn't I tell you you'd love working here?" Nita Hanson peered at her friend over the top of the counter and immediately pointed out two gigantic muffins in the glass display case. "I want those. And be sure to take out the calories."
Trish Somerfield smiled and reached for a paper bag. "You just want to make me fat. That's why you got me this job at The Eatery instead of at one of the shops—so I'd get too big for all my clothes."
"Right. And then you can give them all to me. Especially the red sweater with the dark blue trim." Nita tossed her head, her short blond hair falling back perfectly around her pretty face. "Anyway, I know a food court's not particularly glamorous, but this was the only job opening I knew about. And anyway, you wouldn't want to be working in my store today, I promise you."
"No?" Trish popped the muffins into the sack and handed them to her friend, pausing a moment to ponder the register.
"I'm telling you, weird things happen at this mall," Nita shook her head. "Gives me the creeps."
"What weird things?"
"You can't tell anyone." Nita leaned closer and lowered her voice. "I'm not even supposed to be saying this, because they don't like rumors getting started around here. They're always afraid it'll scare off customers."
Trish nodded and handed Nita her change.
"Okay, I get to work this afternoon, right?" Nita opened the bag and pulled out one of the muffins, prying a walnut loose with one perfectly manicured fingernail. "So Pat—she's my manager—tells me she got a call this morning before the mall even opened—the store was unlocked—the doors weren't even closed."
"You're kidding." Trish frowned back at her. "Were you robbed?"
"No, that's just it. The money was still in the register. Freida—she was supposed to stay late and close last night—hadn't cleaned up or counted the drawer or anything."
"So what happened? Did she just leave?"
"No one knows. I was off yesterday, but the night before, she and Pat had this huge fight—so the first thing I think of is that she's trying to get back at Pat, right? But nobody can even find Freida to ask her what happened."
"What do you mean, they can't find her?"
"I mean, she's not at her house. I guess some neighbor said she was supposed to leave on a trip last night after work, but he doesn't know where she is or when she'll be back."
Trish glanced back over her shoulder and straightened up. "I have to go. My manager is giving me the evil eye."
"I've heard about her." Nita made a face. "What's her name again? And is she as mean as everyone says she is?"
"Her name's Bethany, and she is mean," Trish sighed. "She's been giving me a bad time ever since I started working here."
"How come?" Nita turned to stare, but Trish pushed her gently away.
"Don't get me in trouble. She must just have this thing about new employees or something. I can't figure it out."
"Maybe she thinks you're after her job."
"Right. My all-consuming, burning passion in life is to be the full-time manager of Muffin-Mania."
As they both broke into giggles, Nita grabbed Trish's arm and pointed toward Pizza Park several cubicles away.
"Look—he's here today—how can you stand the excitement?"
"Will you stop?" Trish forced Nita's hand from her sleeve and slammed it down on the counter. "Nothing like being obvious—"
"I never have trouble remembering his name," Nita sighed. "Storm Reynolds. With a name like that, he should be in the movies."
"With you as his leading lady, I suppose."
Nita kept staring. "He is so gorgeous."
"And he's looking right at you."
"He is not."
"Yes, he is."
As Trish shook her head insistently, Nita gave her a shove, forcing her to take a reluctant peek at the object of their conversation.
He was tall—well over six feet—and slender but well built, with broad shoulders and leanly muscled forearms. As he leaned forward to slide some trays of pizza into the ovens, his thick dark hair fell over his forehead, and a fine sheen of sweat shone across his high cheekbones. He straightened up, wiping one arm casually across his face, and as Trish continued to watch him, he suddenly glanced at her and winked, the corners of his mouth lifting in an amused smile.
"Oh, no, he saw me." Flustered, Trish turned back to Nita and gave her a shove. "Go on, get out of here. I can't believe this. I'm so embarrassed."
"And you said he wasn't looking," Nita chided gently. "Ask him out."
"I will not."
"Go ahead. I dare you."
"I don't take dares."
"You should take this one. It's too good to pass up."
"Get out of here."
"Well, all I'm trying to do is prove to you how cute you are. You never think guys are looking at you—and I notice guys looking at you all the time."
"Oh, Nita, will you please—"
"Like—like—" Nita reached out and pulled on Trish's sleeve. "Like that guy there."
"What guy where?"
"Over there. Reading the newspaper."
"Nita, how can that guy be looking at me and reading his paper at the same time?"
"Oh, okay, so he's not looking at you now. But a second ago he was looking at you. He was downright staring at you!"
"Nita," Trish gave a long, tolerant sigh, "listen to me. I'm standing in a muffin booth. Right in the middle of the food court. Right in the middle of the mall. Every single person who walks through here looking for something to eat has to look at me sooner or later!"
"Well, he was looking at you," Nita said stubbornly.
"Was he drooling?" Trish tried to keep a straight face.
"Were his eyes longing with desire?"
"I don't know. He had sunglasses on."
"Well, that makes a lot of sense, Nita. And that's definitely the kind of guy I've always dreamed about. One who sits inside and reads his paper with sunglasses on."
"Okay, go ahead and make fun. But when he turns out to be some famous celebrity who doesn't want to be mobbed, and he goes back to his billion-dollar mansion all alone 'cause you snubbed him, don't blame me."
"I promise I won't." Trish glanced around surreptitiously and sneaked another muffin into Nita's bag. "Flattery will get you everywhere. Now go back to work."
"You'll be sorry," Nita shook her head in mock sympathy, folding down the top of her bag, backing away from the counter. "When you find out I'm right, you'll just be the sorriest girl in the world 'cause you snubbed that guy behind the paper."
"And you'll be sorry if you get fired!"
"Come get me for dinner! I can go anytime."
"Okay—see you later."
As Nita walked off, Trish busied herself wiping off the counter, only stopping to look up again when she felt someone tap her firmly on the arm.
"You're here to work, not to socialize," Bethany said crisply. "I suggest you concentrate on your job and not on your friends."
"I—" Trish gulped, wiping her hands nervously on her apron. "I'm sorry—I wasn't exactly busy—I didn't think—"
"Well, next time do think," Bethany said coldly. "If you were conscientious, you'd notice that there are always things that need to be done around here. Nobody has time in my area to just stand around and goof off."
Without waiting for Trish to answer, she stalked away, leaving the startled girl to stare after her, openmouthed.
"Wow," Trish mumbled to herself, picking up her rag again, giving the countertop another swipe. "I guess she told me."
"One honey muffin, please."
Startled, Trish saw a hand slide toward her across the counter, and she instinctively drew back as the long tapered fingers unfolded, revealing a crumpled five-dollar bill inside. For a minute she thought it was a woman who had spoken, yet as she lifted her eyes from the pale, smooth palm, she saw a long, wispy beard on a pointed chin, long flowing hair that hid much of a gaunt face, and where the eyes should have been, only a pair of dark glasses. Helplessly, she stared into the two dark circles and saw her own puzzled reflections staring back at her.
"Oh." She recovered herself with a nervous laugh. "You scared me. I didn't even see you coming."
"One honey muffin. Please," the voice said again. It was soft, like his skin, almost a whisper, and Trish had the fleeting thought that if she heard the voice over a telephone, she probably wouldn't be able to guess its gender at all.
Flashing a quick smile at the expressionless face, she reached down into one of the bins, her hand closing around the largest muffin in the batch. It was heart-shaped, drizzled with golden honey on top, and as she slipped it into a bag, some of the honey came off onto her fingertips, causing the sack to stick to her hand.
"Oh, wait. Here. Sorry." She laughed, trying to pull her hand free, reaching at the same time for a cloth. As she glanced back at him, her laugh caught in her throat at the strange smile on his face.
"You have lovely hands," he said softly. "So small. Petite." He was silent a moment, yet she could feel his eyes studying her hands, even as she tried to wrap them in the cloth. "The way that honey looks on your fingers ... one could almost ... taste it."
Nervously, Trish looked around the cubicle. Bethany was nowhere to be seen, and no other customers were approaching her counter. Hastily cleaning her hands, she rang up the sale and tried to make her voice authoritative.
"One eighty-nine, please."
His palm still lay flat on the countertop, the money still waiting to be taken. For one instant, Trish was almost afraid to touch it, then, giving herself a stern mental shake, she jerked it from his hand and began pulling change from the register.
"Three eleven, sir," she said briskly.
She counted it out onto the counter. It lay there for a long moment, then slowly his hand shifted, the fingers curling around the bills and coins, sliding them to the edge, sliding them into the pocket of his coat.
"Thank you," he whispered. "You'll see me again."
He started away, paused for a second, then turned slightly, looking back at her over his shoulder. Trish busied herself with the baker's rack at the rear of the stand, and when she finally turned around again, he had gone.
Immensely relieved, she sagged back against the wall, putting one hand to her heart. There'd been something so unsettling about that man—something so weirdly different—and she suddenly realized she was shaking. She was sure he'd left The Eatery, yet she could still see him—the dark, blank circles where his eyes should have been, the unusual ash-gray color of his hair and beard.
Just a crazy, she argued to herself. Just your usual eccentric customer.
Nothing to get upset about....CHAPTER 2
So do you think it was the same guy?" Trish persisted. She watched as Nita sorted an armload of sweaters, and wished for the hundredth time that she could have found a job in a clothing store like this one.
"I don't know—it sounds like it could be." Nita shook her head and chuckled. "How totally weird! You just never know these days who's going to be behind a newspaper!"
"It's not funny, Nita. He was really creepy." Trish frowned and glanced at her watch. "If you're going to eat dinner with me, then come on. I don't have all night. Bethany's watching me like a hawk."
"Don't you just love this new display I did?" Nita steered her toward a counter, beaming proudly. "All these old-fashioned paperweights with these wonderful patterns all over them? Don't you think they go with these new scarves?"
"Well," Trish said doubtfully, "I guess ..."
"Well, I mean, they don't match exactly," Nita said, sounding indignant. "It's—you know—art."
"I think it's nice," Trish said quickly. "Now can we go eat?"
"We have to get Imogene first," Nita reminded her. "If we can tear her away from her stupid bookstore. I think she's the only one in the whole universe who actually eats, sleeps, and breathes her work."
"Imogene likes everything," Trish reminded her, smiling fondly.
Imogene and Nita were twins, but no one would ever have guessed it. Nita had a tall, willowy dancer's frame and a classical sort of beauty, while Imogene was straight and prim, with mousey brown hair and glasses that looked too big for her face. The three of them had been inseparable since fourth grade, doing everything together—and now as seniors in high school, they were still the very best of friends. While The Eatery was located in the center section of the mall on the main floor, The Latest Trend, where Nita worked, was on the second level, with Imogene working directly opposite in the bookstore. Now, while Nita finished up with her sweaters, Trish walked to the entrance and waved as Imogene wandered out of the bookstore with her nose in a magazine.
"Hi," Trish greeted her as they sat down together on a bench to wait for Nita.
"Hi, yourself." Imogene always reminded Trish of a little wise old owl-woman, with her round glasses and her equally round stare. "There's more to this mall than meets the eye."
Trish looked startled. "Why do you say that?"
"I have a theory—" Imogene began, then looked up as Nita stopped beside them with a groan.
"You always have a theory about something. And right now I can't take a single one of your theories on an empty stomach."
"Mexican?" Trish suggested. Their favorite fast food was located at the farthest end of The Eatery and the farthest away from Bethany's watchful eye.
"It's the spice of life." Imogene shrugged, falling into step behind them.
"It's the only spice in your life," Nita threw back. "Honestly, Imogene, I'm so glad we're not identical."
"But you're still not taking me seriously," Trish broke in, referring back to their conversation at the store. "That guy. I'm telling you, he was really strange."
"What guy?" Imogene asked.
"Oh, some weirdo hitting on Trish and her muffins," Nita chuckled. "Look, there are lots of crazies at this mall." She waved her hand airily, indicating the crowds around them. "They're harmless! I mean, this place is full of people. Nobody's going to try anything weird with all these other people around."
"That's not necessarily so," Imogene spoke up. "Actually, it's the perfect place for someone to try something weird. One could easily get lost in the masses."
"You go." Nita shoved her good-naturedly. "You go get lost in the masses. Please."
Imogene ignored her. She stared solemnly at Trish, who looked back with a tolerant smile as the girl continued. "There's always something going on at a mall, you know. And especially this mall."
"Okay," Nita sighed. "You don't have to go on sounding so mysterious, you've hooked my curiosity. Why especially this mall?"
"Well, surely you can see for yourself, this mall is not like other malls," Imogene said matter-of-factly.
"Because it's the oldest mall in the whole state?" Nita tried to keep a straight face. "Because it's the oldest mall to survive extinction and come out of the dark ages?"
"It's been renovated at least fifteen times over the years," Imogene went on, undaunted. "It's been built over time and time again without any real architectural pattern or design."
"It is a mess," Trish agreed, looking around as they walked. "But that's what I like about it. I think that's what everyone likes about this old place. It's got a kind of charm that no other mall has. None of the new ones, anyway."
"Macabre charm," Imogene clarified. "I'd be willing to bet there are so many tunnels and hallways and passages built on and added to over the years, there's probably no one still living who knows about all of them."
"Ooh," Nita shuddered deliciously. "I like it."
"I don't." Trish frowned. "And why did you have to bring all that up anyway, Imogene?"
"Because I've been hearing the rumors again," Imogene said stubbornly.
"What rumors?" Trish asked.
"If you mean about what happened at my store last night—" Nita began, but Imogene cut her off.
"I mean the shoplifting."
This time Nita and Trish echoed together. "Shoplifting?"
Imogene nodded. "Things are disappearing. All over the mall."
Nita burst into laughter. "Come on, Imogene, things are always being shoplifted around here—you call that news? Tell me something really juicy."
"But that's not the point," Imogene went on calmly.
"Okay," Trish conceded, "what is the point?"
"The point is that none of the alarm systems are going off."
Excerpted from The Mall by Richie Tankersley Cusick. Copyright © 1992 Richie Tankersley Cusick. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Posted December 6, 2004
I have read most of Cusick's books, but this one was the most disappointing. The premise of the story is interesting, but it is a boring read. The plot twists are dull. It doesn't grab you in the beginning such as Trick or Treat or The Locker. The detail is overwhelming! After reading a hundred pages, I just had to skip through to the end and even the end didn't thrill me.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 29, 2001
This is the most intense and interesting book I have ever read by Richie Tankersley Cusick. The display of confusion and weird assosiation with Trish are amazing. The mystery and intrigue of many of the other character, and one in paticular amaze me. The story is a masquerade and keeps you guessing until the end. I would recommend it to anyone I know. In fact, I already have.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 30, 2001
Posted October 17, 2000
I read this book a few years ago, IT WAS AWESOME!!!!! It was the best book I have ever read, I would reccomend it to anyone who is into thriller/Suspense books, actually i would recommend it to anyone in general!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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