Read an Excerpt
Jamie Shepherd struggled to claw her way back to consciousness, but the nightmare held her fast. She was in a dark, spooky funhouse, trying to find the exit to freedom.
Music from a slasher movie blared from hidden speakers. Eerie green light shimmered around her. And the air was thick with a horrible graveyard smell.
Coughing, pressing her hand over her mouth, she fought to escape, even when she knew on some instinctive level that it wasn't her dream. She clung to that secret knowledge as she ran down an endless hallway, her breath coming in great gasps, her terror increasing with every step.
Ahead of her was a blank wall. Oh Lord!
She was trapped.
Or maybe not. Struggling to control her fear, she began to slide her hands over the flat surface, searching for a seam or a latch, something that would let her escape from the monster that she knew was behind her.
Finally, her fingers found a small indentation. When she pressed into it, a door sprang outward so fast that she lost her footing and tumbled through.
As she scrambled to right herself, she found she was on a slide that carried her down into the darkness, then dumped her onto a cold cement floor.
She lay there panting, her shoulder throbbing where it had struck the floor. From far away she heard a train whistle blow. Then, much closer, a sound behind her froze the blood in her veins.
He was coming! She had to get away.
After dragging herself up, she stood in the darkness, trying not to let her breathing give her away.
From a speaker in the wall, a grating voice boomed, "You can't stay there."
"No more. Please. Let me go," she cried out.
"What have I done to you?"
"I don't! Please just let me out of here. I don't even know who you are."
"Of course you know."
"I'll let you out if you can find the door. Go back upstairs."
As he spoke, a spotlight switched on, and she saw steps leading upward.
She clambered up, grasping the railing. At the top, she found herself in another corridor, this one lined with mirrors that distorted her image as they reflected her face and body.
Someone had spattered red paint on the floor. Or was it blood?
She looked behind her and saw a shadowed figure climbing the steps, his pace slow and deliberate, like he had all the time in the world.
A cry rose in her throat when she saw how he was dressed. He wore a black robe, and his face was a skull mask with glowing red eyes. She had seen him before. First just a glimpse. Then a fuller look. And some deep, primal instinct told her she was dead if he caught up with her. "No! Please."
She couldn't let him get her. That thought filled every corner of her mind as she came to a place where the corridor divided.
Which way? Oh God, which way? As he bore relentlessly down on her, she whimpered and chose the left-hand hallway. Only a few steps later, a bright light flashed in her eyes, almost blinding her, but she kept running because that was her only option.
Then out of the brightness, a black shape loomed in front of her.
It was him. Somehow he had circled around. He must have used a hidden passage, because now he was blocking her path. In his hand, she saw the glint of metalthe blade of a long, cruel knife.
She screamed and raised her arm, trying to defend herself. But the knife slashed into her flesh. As he pulled back and swung down for another blow, pain jolted through her.
Then mercifully, everything went black. On a sob, Jamie woke, her fingers clawing at the sheet as she tried to drag herself out of the nightmare house and back to her own reality. To her own bed.
It had been a dream. Only a dream. But not about her. It was another woman desperately trying to escape from a madman and just as desperately reaching out to Jamie.
Now the contact had snapped off, vanished as if it had never existed. She wanted to deny that it had been real. Yet in the secret part of her mind, she couldn't convince herself that it was only a nightmare.
"No," she whispered, wrapping her arms around her shoulders and rocking back and forth as she willed it not to be true, but denial was not an option. She had been in that other woman's mind. Felt the terror coming off of her in waves. And Jamie was pretty sure that the scene of horror had taken place in Gaptown, Maryland, the small city in the state's western mountains where she had grown up.
She'd made what she considered her escape, and she'd vowed never to return to a place where she'd hated her life. Yet a woman from home had reached out to her and pulled her back.
That the contact was in her mind didn't make it any less real or any less terrifying, and it didn't absolve her of responsibility to do something.
She lay in bed shivering, her heart pounding like a drum inside her chest as she watched the headlights of cars travel across the ceiling and wondered whether one of the vehicles was coming for her.
"Stop it," she muttered. "You're safe in your own bed. That man isn't in Baltimore. He can't get you."
Yes. She was safe. But the other woman
She pushed herself up and turned on the bedside lamp, looking around the familiar bedroom. The lamp's glow was enough for her to see the outlines of the sleek modern chest of drawers and the lower dresser that she'd selected because they were so different from the ugly orange maple pieces back home.
After slipping out of bed, she pressed her feet against the oak floorboards, shivering a little in the early-morning cold, then stood up, stiffening her knees to steady herself. Hugging her arms around her shoulders, she crossed to the bathroom, where she filled a glass and gulped down several swallows of water.
She set down the glass with a thunk, then leaned forward and peered at herself in the mirror, seeing her straight blond hair, her troubled blue eyes, the slight tilt of her nose, and lips that were chapped because of her bad habit of taking them between her teeth.
It was her face. Totally familiar. Yet in the dream she'd been someone else.
Someone she knew? Maybe. But she didn't want to deal with that now, because it made the nightmare all the more terrible.
She'd felt the woman's panic. Her terrible need to escape. And then the blackness at the end.
"Oh Lord," she murmured, her hands gripping the cold porcelain of the sink as she struggled with her confused thoughts. One thing she knew for sure. She didn't want to be alone.
She had to call someone.
She knew that her friend Jo O'Malley would listen to her and tell her what to do, even at two in the morning.
Back in the bedroom, she sat down and picked up the phone, calling the familiar number.
After two rings, a man's deep voice said, "Light Street Detective Agency."
When she didn't say anything, he asked, "Is anybody there?"
"I I'm sorry," Jamie stammered. It wasn't Jo. Lord, why had she even thought that Jo would be in the office to answer the phone? She was home with her husband, Cam Randolph, and her children, Leo and Anna.
"Jamie?" the man on the other end of the line asked, and she was afraid she knew who he was.
Her fingers gripped the receiver more tightly. Mack Steele was the last person she'd wanted to talk to, yet it turned out he was the one on duty.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I nothing," she answered, feeling her heart start to pound all over again. There was plenty wrong, but she didn't want to talk about it with him. Not when she was in such a vulnerable state.
"It's something or you wouldn't have called. Is someone outside the house? Did they try to break in?"
She swallowed hard. "No. Nothing like that. I made a mistake," she said.
"Talk to me."
"I've got to go."
Before she could dig herself in any deeper, she replaced the receiver, then sat, shivering, on the side of the bed.
Jo would be in tomorrow. She'd go to her office before she reported to work at the 43 Light Street Lobby Shop, where she'd been a part-time clerk since she moved to Baltimore. They'd talk tomorrow.
She longed to crawl back into the warmth of the covers and lose herself in sleep again, but lying there would be a waste of time. She'd only end up staring at more car lights traveling across the ceiling and thinking about the woman. Or thinking about herself.
And the one rule she'd made after her husband, Craig, had been killed was that she wasn't going to lie in bed if there was no hope of going back to sleep. Better to get up and do something constructive.
Which was what?
She'd been working on some "baking in a jar" projects for the Lobby Shop. Each clear glass container had layers of dry ingredients like flour, spices and dried fruit that made a pretty pattern. But they were also practicaladd some liquids and the ingredients made delicious baked goods. And she'd printed up easy directions for each one.
The jars had sold well during the holidays, and the shop owner, Sabrina Cassidy, had asked for more.
Jamie could put a few together tonight and take them to work with her in the morning.
Glad to have a sense of purpose, she padded to the closet and pulled out a pair of jeans and one of Craig's old plaid shirts that she liked to wear around the house. In the bathroom, she turned on the shower, hoping that hot water might wash away the chill from her skin.
In the office of the Light Street Detective Agency, Mack Steele turned toward the window, looking out over the sleeping city.
Jamie Shepherd had called a while ago, and he'd known from her voice that something was wrong. Then she'd hung up.
Probably because she didn't want to talk to him. Well, too bad. Something had spooked her, and he wasn't going to leave her alone and in trouble.
He clenched and unclenched his fists. Yeah, it had sounded like trouble. She was obviously worried about something. And she was all alone. Had been since Craig Shepherd had gotten killed in a hit and run accident last year.
Before he could change his mind he called Hunter Kelley.
"Yeah?" the sleepy voice asked. "Sorry to bother you, but I have to go out, and I'm having calls transferred to your phone."
"There's a problem?"
"Maybe. Nothing I can't handle on my own." He didn't want to go into a long explanation, so he ended the call, strode out of the office and took the elevator to the basement, where he crossed the alley to the parking garage next door.
After climbing into his car, he turned right, heading for the quiet street in Ellicott City where Jamie lived.
She probably wouldn't want to see him at three in the morning, but she'd called the office, and she must have had a reason.
He couldn't think about Jamie without a familiar mixture of desire and guilt.
Her husband, Craig, had been his friend, one of his colleagues at the Light Street Detective Agency. The moment Mack had laid eyes on Craig's new girlfriend, Jamie Wheeler, he'd wished to hell he'd met her first. Because he wasn't going to cut in on a good guy like Craig, he'd kept his relationship with Jamie polite and distant, before she'd married his friend and after. Yet he'd had the feeling that she knew there was more to his interest in her than a bit of superficial conversation at office parties.
He'd kept an eye on Jamie. Just watching her with Craig, he'd known the marriage was good. The two of them were perfect for each other. And Craig had told Mack how happy he was. They'd bought a house, talked about kids, lived in the present and made plans for the future.
It had all blown up in Jamie's face ten months ago when Craig had gotten hit by a car that sped away, leaving her a widow. All of the Light Street men and women had rallied around Jamie, making it clear that she was still part of their extended family, and they were there for her.
He'd told himself it would be all right to let her know he was interested in being more than just friends. Only he'd never been able to do it because he couldn't let go of the notion that Craig should still be around. Not that he'd caused his friend's death, of course. Or even wished that Craig would disappear from the picture. But there was no denying the awkwardness between himself and Jamie. Whether it was because she was attracted to him and couldn't admit it or because he didn't know how to reveal his feelings for her, neither one of them had bridged the gap between them.
When the phone rang, Jamie jumped. Who could that be at this time of night, she wondered.
Anticipating more trouble, she wiped her hands on a dish towel and picked up the receiver.
"It's Mack. I'm outside. I didn't want to startle you by ringing the doorbell."
She glanced at the clock on the stove, then swallowed hard. "Like you didn't startle me with the phone?"
"What are you doing here?"
"You know I wasn't going to just let you hang up when I knew you were worried. Can I come in?"
She wanted to say no, but she knew he'd driven all the way from downtown Baltimore to see if she was all right.
"I'll open the door," she answered instead.
When she turned on the porch light, she saw him striding up the walk. A tall, attractive, well-built man dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, he looked like he owned the place, and in the darkness, he could have been Craig coming home late from an overtime assignment.
Except that Craig had been blond and green-eyed. Mack had dark hair and dark eyes. And probably dark stubble on his chin at this hour of the morning. Annoyed with herself for thinking of that, she stopped cataloging Mack's features and switched back to Craig. He was never coming home, and she'd better remember that.
She opened the door but didn't say, "Come in."
Taking the gesture as an invitation, Mack stepped into the front hall, then closed and locked the door behind him.
As he took off his coat and hung it on the antique hall tree, she felt emotions well up inside her. Emotions she didn't want to feel. He'd come here because he was worried, and she wanted to lean on his strength. At the same time, she wanted to tell him she was just fine on her own. But she'd proved just the opposite by making that call an hour ago.