|Publisher:||Echelon Press Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)|
Read an Excerpt
"You Bitch!" Pain exploded in her temple and the world spun out of control. She struggled to hold on to consciousness as Mason's continued violence sent waves of anguish to her already overloaded senses.
"How dare you question me in front of Dr. Stone." The banging stopped, but the verbal lashing continued. "Get up." He dragged her to her feet and shoved her against the wall, one hand tightening on her throat, cutting off her air.
"Your accusations had better not cost me the department chairmanship. Christ! What have I done to deserve this?"
She blinked, fighting a losing battle against her tears. "Please. I didn't accuse you. I'm sorry."
"Don't start whimpering. You brought this on yourself." He shook her roughly then loosened the grip. She looked at him through her rapidly swelling eye then quickly lowered her gaze.
"Since the day we married, I've pampered you, protected you, and cherished you. All I ask in return is a little respect." A hand came up to stroke her cheek, the gentleness of this gesture as terrifying as the brutality of the others. "I don't enjoy having to punish you, my sweet. It hurts me more than you. Please don't make me do it again. Now, clean up this mess. I'm going to bed. I have an early surgery tomorrow."
She turned to the bloodstained floor, but as she dabbed at it, the stain spread, seeping into her clothes, dripping from the gash over her eye, swelling, suffocating her, drowning her in a sea of red.
Amanda jerked awake with a start. Rough, twisted covers wrapped around her and she stared into the unfamiliar darkness of a cheap hotel room. The heaterunder the window chugged and wheezed. An hour passed before the blackness of the room gave way to an ever-lightening gray.
The trip back east always affected her. It was the only place she used her real name. She'd rented the post office box soon after leaving Mason, using it only to keep in touch with her attorney. She visited once, maybe twice a year no matter where she lived or what she called herself. She never lingered, just stopped in Raleigh long enough to pick up her mail, pay for the box and leave. But even that was risky.
Shortly after opening time, she slipped into the storefront. A cheap nylon scarf was tied over her wig. Dark glasses hid her face and her bulky thrift store coat hid what was left of her features. The clerk accepted cash for her payment without question then retrieved eight months worth of mail. She shoved it into her canvas bag, thanked him, and headed to the door.
"Miss?" She turned. "What about the boxes, Miss? There's almost half a dozen of them back here."
She walked back to the counter, hands suddenly trembling. She touched her glasses, her scarf, her wig. Everything was still in place. One hand gripped her rental car keys and the other her bag, as if holding tightly could stop the shaking and ward off danger.
The clerk walked to the back then returned with an armful of long thin boxes. Florist boxes. She lifted a lid and wrinkled her nose at the sweet, musty odor. Roses. Red ones. Dozens and dozens of dry, dead red roses.
A keening moan ripped through her and she raced to the car. Minutes seemed like an eternity as she tried to shove the key into the lock, hampered by the tremors that shook her.
She drove, blindly, recklessly, stopping only for gas. She peeled off her disguise bit by bit, stuffing it into the mailbag. She stopped in Charleston, near the airport, to drop off her rental car before catching a shuttle to another rental agency. She rented a new car, under a new name, from a harried clerk who paid her no notice. Anything to keep the trail cold.
Each hour brought her closer to Chicago, to her suburban Bentonville home, to Amanda Caruthers. Finally, she lost her battle with exhaustion and pulled off the road. She checked into a small hotel, triple locked the door and, without undressing, fell deeply asleep.
"I'm sorry, my sweet. So sorry that we disagreed." He pushed a bouquet of red roses into her hands. "Is all forgiven?"
She clutched the flowers, smiling automatically and murmuring what she hoped were the right words. Her stomach roiled, threatening to empty itself even though she'd eaten nothing.
As she trimmed the stems, a thorn pricked her finger. She understood why she hated red roses-they always smelled of blood.
The sound of the wind rustling through the petals of hundreds of dead roses haunted her dreams.