Welcome back to Virtue Falls, Washington, where one woman is being held captive by her own delusions. . .
She had survived, but she is still held captive…
Of her memories, her loneliness, her delusions. But are they truly delusions?
The survivor of a college dorm massacre, a woman accused of her lover’s murder, Madeline Hewitson is haunted by ghosts and tormented by a killer only she can see. At night, she works, writing and drawing the monster that slithers through her imagination, and living in fear of those moments when the doors of her mind unhinge and her nightmare lives in the daylight.
A seasoned military veteran, Jacob Denisov lives alone in his small, darkened home, sleepless, starving, and angry. Every day he lives with the guilt that comes from his own failures and the carnage that followed. When neighbor Madeline Hewitson drives her car through the front wall of his house, she breaks his houseand his lifewide open. Forced to view the world outside, Jacob watches Maddie, recognizes a kindred spirit and wonders what she fears more than herself. Has someone caught her in a twisted labyrinth of revenge and compassion, guilt and redemption, murder and madness?
When Maddie's imaginary killer takes form, she fights back. But will she be strong enough to triumph, or is the killer she fears no more than a shadow, an illusion…that watches?
“Smart, dramatic…with unexpected twists, psychological tension, and emotional depth.”Kirkus Reviews on Christina Dodd's Because I'm Watching.
About the Author
New York Times bestselling author CHRISTINA DODD builds worlds filled with suspense and adventure, and creates the most distinctive characters in fiction today. Her more than fifty novels, including Scent of Darkness, Into the Shadow, and Into the Flame, have been translated into twenty-five languages, featured by the Doubleday Book Club, recorded on Books on Tape for the Blind, and been called the year's best by Library Journal. Dodd herself has been a clue in the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle. With more than fifteen million copies of her books in print, her legions of fans always know that when they pick up a Christina Dodd book, they’ve found, as Karen Robards writes, “an absolute thrill ride of a book!”
Read an Excerpt
Because I'm Watching
By Christina Dodd
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Christina Dodd
All rights reserved.
Two years ago Old Broadmoor neighborhood of Colorado Springs
Upstairs at her desk, Madeline Hewitson heard the back door open and close. She stopped typing.
"Hey, honey, it's me!" he called.
She smiled. "Welcome back!" she answered.
He was home.
Easton Robert Privet was the best thing that had ever happened to her, and he was home. His law office was in downtown Denver; after they got together she had offered to move into his high-rise condo and spare him the commute to the suburbs. But without being told, he had understood that to write interesting, riveting novels she needed to concentrate. She needed space around her, the sounds of birds, the smell of grass, a place to plant some flowers. He had bought an estate in a gated community with a guard and hourly security patrols because again, he understood she needed to feel safe.
What he didn't understand was that he made her feel secure.
Her brother Andrew was a good guy, but he'd grown impatient with her. He had told her to grow up, to get over her depression and her terror.
Not Easton. When she woke at night, rigid with fear, he was there to cradle her, to whisper encouragement: The monster is gone. You were brave. You risked your own life to try to save them ... because of you, the monster is dead.
Maddie traced the dark stain that marred the smooth grain of her walnut desktop.
It wasn't surprising that it was there; it was surprising there wasn't more.
Andrew said she should have the desk refinished, have the bloodstain removed. But to Maddie, that would be a desecration, so every day as she wrote, she would touch the stain, acknowledge the passing of her friends, and try very hard to forgive herself for not dying, too.
After witnessing those deaths, she had not imagined she would ever find the courage to live again. But Easton had given her that courage. He saw past the brave front she presented to the world, to the cowering girl caught in a cycle of fear and self-loathing, and he loved her. He had helped her break free of the past. With him, she was learning to move forward.
She shut her laptop and stood, ready to head downstairs. Easton had left early this morning on a business trip, one of those fly-out, fly-in things that he did on a regular basis. He seldom talked about where he was going; he took his pledge of client confidentiality seriously, and this morning when he woke her to kiss her good-bye, he had looked unusually grave. So it had been one of those cases, probably an ugly child-custody situation.
He'd landed at Colorado Springs Airport about an hour ago, called, and told her he would pick up dinner somewhere. They would eat, he'd ask how the book was coming, she'd ask how his day had gone. He would say, "Fine," even when it hadn't, and she would keep it light and cheery. Everything about living with Easton was so normal, so all-American white-bread average, and so much more than she had ever hoped for.
Downstairs, she heard him speaking to someone in that special, soothing tone he used when addressing a frantic client.
She sat back down in her chair. When he was on the phone, he didn't want her listening in. She put her fingers on the keyboard and prepared to sink back into the story.
He gave a half shout followed by an odd, off-pitch squawk.
She found herself on her feet, staring toward the stairway. "Easton?" she called.
"Easton?" She owned a pistol. Easton had bought it for her twenty-fourth birthday. Easton had said it would make her feel secure to own a pistol, to learn how to use it. She had learned, and she kept it ... close. She groped in the desk drawer and brought out her Smith & Wesson 642 revolver.
She didn't feel secure right now.
She released the safety and edged toward the door. "Easton? What's wrong?"
Still no answer.
The outer door opened again. It didn't close.
It was winter in Colorado Springs. Easton might go back out to his car. But he would never forget to close the door after himself.
Call the cops. Call the cops. Call the cops call the cops call the cops.
She scurried back to the desk. Without looking away from the door, she picked up the phone, fumbled it, caught it. She pressed the top entry on the autodial and when the 911 operator answered, she said, "I think there's something wrong with my fiancé."
"Who is this?"
"Maddie ... Madeline Hewitson."
"Can you tell me more, Madeline?"
Maddie stood, listening to the silence.
"Madeline! What do you think is wrong?"
As it was meant to do, the snap in the operator's voice brought Maddie's attention back to the call. "He made a funny noise. Now he's not answering me. I think ... I think there might be an intruder."
"Is your address —"
Maddie put the phone down on the desk, raised the pistol to the fist-in-palm position, and using the gun as a pointer, again started to move toward the door. But a movement in her peripheral vision caught her attention, made her glance out the window. A man hurried down the sidewalk. She could only see him from above; he wore a broad-brimmed black hat and a long, dark, businessman's coat. But the coat was open. It was flapping in the wind.
That wasn't right. In this weather, everyone huddled into themselves, their coats securely fastened.
That wasn't right.
Then he was out of sight.
She stuck her head out the doorway, glanced down the hallway, pulled back, and leaned against the wall. Her heart pounded painfully. Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. Her hands shook in violent tremors.
She had to go down. She had to reassure herself that Easton ... that he was okay.
She edged out of her office and with her back against the wall, she slid toward the stairs.
Easton was okay. Maybe he'd fallen and hurt himself. Maybe he'd forgotten the food in the car. Maybe ... maybe there was a reason the cold north wind blasted through the open door and up the stairs, ruffling her hair and taking her breath.
Hurry! She needed to hurry!
But it was all she could do to lift one foot, then the other. She descended to the short landing near the bottom. She stopped there. The steps loomed as if they went up instead of down. Beyond was the kitchen where Easton was ... had been ...
She stopped to quiet her breathing.
Everything was fine. She was overreacting.
She sidled over to the entry and peered into the sleek kitchen.
The room was empty. She didn't see anything unusual. Except the outside door was open. And a crimson stain on the tile floor ... was moving, filling the lines of grout, and flowing toward her.
And that odor. She recognized the odor. It smelled like nighttime, like dust under her bed, like broken pleading and a man's smooth voice, oozing with pleasure as he vivisected her friends.
She heard a noise, a scratching.
She froze in place, her breathing silent and shallow.
He was going to find her. He was going to kill her.
Then a thump.
Another thump. A movement from behind the island. Red-stained fingers groped the corner of the cabinet as if seeking her.
She recognized the ring. His ring. Easton's ring.
Yet still, for one long terrible moment, she hesitated.
The door was open.
She was afraid.
She didn't want to see ...
Then she ran toward him, rounded the corner of the island, saw her friend, her lover, stretched out on the floor in a spreading puddle of blood, his throat cut.
His eyes were open, but death's gray blanket had already covered him.
She knelt. She took his hand. "Easton," she whispered. "Easton."
But she didn't speak too loudly, in case the killer was still nearby.
When the police arrived, she still held the pistol in her hand.
Electronics are working. First test run. Subject afraid, insane, malleable.CHAPTER 2
Today Virtue Falls, Washington
Jacob Denisov sat in his upright chair in his living room, staring into the dark. If he kept his eyes open and stared with precisely the right concentration, without movement or thought, the pain didn't break through. It took work, but for months now, he had practiced, and he had gotten pretty good.
No pain slashing at his skull, trying to get out, to explode, to manifest itself in wild screams and violence that never stopped until he broke everything ... especially himself ...
No North Korea. No deaths. No fault. The world beyond the dark did not exist. He floated in bleak eternity and only the stench of guilt lingered, ceaseless ...
The phone rang.
It rang again.
Five rings and the answering machine picked up.
"Jakie." It was his mother's voice, loving, but with a sprinkling of fear and a dollop of exasperation. "I know you're there. Pick up the telephone."
His mother was a morning person. That was when she did her best nagging. So the sun must be up.
She continued, "Just tell me you're all right. That's all you have to do, tell me you haven't died sitting in the dark in that house, brooding about a past you cannot change."
"Jakie, are you eating right? You are a big man, like your father. You should be eating right."
Jacob knew she wasn't done yet.
"Jakie, on Sunday, Father Ilovaiski asked about you. He said he was praying for you. Doesn't that feel good, to know he's praying for you?" As it did when she grew excited, her Russian accent strengthened. "When you come home to Everson and go to church with me, you will be healed. I'll fix you your favorite meal — the black bread, the stroganoff, the pirozhki — and the family will rejoice at the return of the prodigal son."
Oh, no. She was trying her patented Trust in God and family routine and throwing in a food bribe. She didn't understand that the idea of being out in the sunshine with people would break him. She didn't understand he had lost his faith in God. He didn't care about his family. Food meant nothing to him. And he could never be healed.
How could she comprehend? She was his mother, she remembered the boy he had been, and she would love him and believe in him forever.
That boy would never return. He had drowned in an ocean of blood and come to life only to die again. Soon, he hoped.
Her tone of voice changed, and her rising temper crackled across the wires. "Jakie, if you don't pick up the telephone soon, I will come down there and break down the door of your pitiful little hiding place. Don't think I won't!" She ended the connection so violently she cut off her own voice.
He closed his eyes. He knew she would. Nothing his father could say would stop her. His mother was a force of nature.
So next time when she called, he would answer, and he would talk to her. To relieve her mind he would pretend he was fine, that he had been outside working on some unspecified and manly project and couldn't make it to the phone ... for the last week ...
His parents lived in Everson, up by the Canadian border, and he had deliberately moved here, to this location on the Olympic Peninsula, so he could feel at home and at the same time be far enough away from his large family to avoid their well-intentioned intrusions.
It worked ... mostly.
He never knew when the sun rose or set; no light leaked through the blackout shades on the windows. He'd made sure of that. He hadn't eaten since ... he didn't remember. Yesterday sometime. He should go into the kitchen and get something out of the refrigerator. A piece of pizza. A sandwich. Whatever he had in there.
How long had it been since he'd had a grocery delivery?
He groped for the lamp on the end table, found the switch, and turned it on. Even the pitiful amount of light the twenty-five-watt bulb produced made him blink. When his vision cleared, he looked at the marks he had scratched on the wall.
Five days since the boy rang the doorbell, took the check Jacob had taped to the window, and left two grocery bags of canned soup, prepared food, and milk.
That meant every bit of food in this house was stale or rotting, or needed a can opener, a clean pan, and the will and energy to prepare it for consumption.
Only two more days until he received groceries again.
He turned off the light.
He could wait.
At the camp, he had learned to wait for the right moment. He had learned ...
He pushed his spine hard against the chair, braced himself for the wave of pain —
And with a high screech of jagged wood against paint and metal, a gray Subaru Forester shot up the concrete steps of his front porch and exploded through the wall of his house, front wheels in the air, headed right for the heavens — and then, as it tilted toward earth, at him.CHAPTER 3
Jacob blinked and squinted against the assault of sunshine. He lifted his arm to protect his eyes while around him the house disintegrated. Brittle glass blew out of the old single-hung windows. Lath and plaster from the walls blasted into a dry, choking dust. Rock wool insulation dropped from the jutting ruptures in the ceiling.
The front of the small SUV slammed down hard onto the hardwood floor, ate the old TV, the decrepit wooden stand, and the low coffee table. With the roar of a revved-up engine, at last death had come for him.
About damned time.
He sat unmoving, waiting to be obliterated.
Then snap, boom! The left front tire from the small SUV broke through the hardwood floor. With a screech, the vehicle stopped abruptly ... three feet from his knees.
He said the first unrehearsed words he had said in three months: "Oh, come on!" The car couldn't have driven another six feet and flattened him?
The house creaked and moaned, distressed by the violence.
The engine idled and died.
A hush fell over the surreal wreckage of his home.
The car sat tilted forward and to the side, with the left side of the bumper resting on the old braided rug. A white-painted, splintered rail from the front porch pierced the hood. Wood shards and dust covered the windshield, but the glass was miraculously unbroken. A white air bag filled the driver's side of the car ... slowly it deflated, revealing a wide-eyed young woman in her twenties.
She stared at him in horror and disbelief.
He stared back.
She had black hair tucked into a messy bun and startled blue eyes. Her skin was the color of parchment. Blood trickled from her lower lip. She groped around and opened her door. The edge slammed into the splintered remains of the hardwood floor, leaving a gap of only inches.
She looked puzzled, started the car again. The motor gasped. Then, because she was damned lucky, it turned over. She rolled down the window.
Coolant and oil blew past that porch rail like blood from a perforated artery. The motor died.
She watched until the gusher dwindled, then crawled out.
She was short, he realized, and thin. Too thin. Was he wrong in his assessment of her age? Was she a skinny adolescent, someone who had recently learned to drive?
Then she scrambled to her feet and faced him, and he knew his first impression was right. She was in her midtwenties, maybe a little older, dressed in a blue short-sleeve T-shirt, yellow cropped sweatpants, and one flip-flop. Damp brown stains splattered her shirt and sweatpants.
Made sense. If he'd driven his car into someone's house, he'd have brown stains in his sweatpants, too.
Somehow, since he'd moved to Virtue Falls, winter had turned to summer. A bright, sunshiny, contemptuous summer, glaring down on the concrete sidewalks, the narrow asphalt road, the neighborhood of cheap houses built in the 1920s; all appeared through the gaping hole in his living room wall.
He looked at her again.
Her. This person who had ripped off the fifteen-foot-wide front wall of his house, exposing him, in his boxer shorts and T-shirt, to the sight of the world — and was apparently oblivious to her mistake.
She stuck out her hand. "Hi, I'm your neighbor Maddie Hewitson."
He stared at her outstretched fingers.
"I live across the street."
He glared at her.
She smiled, winced when her lip split wider, and touched the trickle of blood. "Ow!" She stared at the red on her fingers and looked confused, surprised to find herself here. At the sound of sirens, she glanced around, saw the neighbors gathering, peering in, and in a tone of despair said, "Oh, God. Not again."
Not again? "Do you make a habit of driving into people's houses?" His voice was rusty with disuse.
"No. Of course not! This is my first time."
The way she said it, she didn't sound sure it would be her last.
"I'm ... I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to ... um ..."
The sirens were getting louder.
Excerpted from Because I'm Watching by Christina Dodd. Copyright © 2016 Christina Dodd. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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