"A TIGHT, TWISTY PLOT CATAPULTING TOWARD A FIERY CONCLUSION WILL PLEASE FANS AND SHOULD EARN JACKSON NEW ONES." –Publishers Weekly
He's been waiting for this moment. With every kill, he can feel her getting closer. Very soonjust a few more victims to go. All he needed was the girl, Dani, and now that he has her, his plan is in motion, and no one can stop it. . .
"A BOOK THAT'S HARD TO PUT DOWN." –Times Record News
The police don't believe Shannon Flannery when she says someone is out there, watching her, trying to kill her. The only person on her side is Travis Settler. The former Special Forces agent is convinced Shannon's dark past has something to do with the disappearance of his daughter, Dania child whose connection to Shannon is just the beginning of a nightmare. . .
"ONE OF JACKSON'S BEST." –RT Book Reviews
Secrets have been kept from Shannon. Dark, dangerous, and very fatal secrets. Now, with no one to trust but a man who has every reason to doubt her, Shannon's determined to discover the shocking truth, even if it brings her face to face with a serial killer whose slow burn for vengeance will not be denied. . .
About the Author
LISA JACKSON is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of over ninety-five novels, including You Will Pay, After She’s Gone, Deserves to Die, You Don’t Want to Know, Running Scared, and Shiver. She is also the co-author of the Colony Series, written with her sister and bestselling author Nancy Bush, as well as the collaborative novels Sinister and Ominous, written with Nancy Bush and Rosalind Noonan. There are over thirty million copies of her novels in print and her writing has been translated into nineteen languages. She lives with her family and three rambunctious dogs in the Pacific Northwest. Readers can visit her website at www.lisajackson.com and find her on Facebook.
Read an Excerpt
By Lisa Jackson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2006 Susan Lisa Jackson
All rights reserved.
Three years later
"Help me!" she cried, but her voice was mute.
She was running, her legs leaden, fear propelling her forward through the smoke, through the heat. All around her the forest was burning out of control. Hot, scalding flames spiraled hellishly to the sky. Smoke clogged her throat, searing her nostrils with the hot, acrid smell. Her lungs burned. Her eyes teared, her skin blistered.
Blackened tree limbs fell around her, crashing and splintering as she ran. Sprays of sparks peppered the already-burning ground and singed her skin.
Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God!
It was as if she'd somehow fallen through the gates of hell.
"Help!" she screamed again, but her voice was lodged in her throat, not even the barest of whispers escaping her lips. "Please, someone help me!"
But she was alone.
There was no one to help her this time.
Her brothers, always quick to her rescue, couldn't save her.
Oh, dear God.
Run, damn it! MOVE! Get out, Shannon! Now!
She flung herself forward, stumbling, half-falling, the fire a raging, burning beast, its putrid breath scalding, its crackling arms reaching for her, enwrapping her, sizzling against her skin.
Just when she thought she was going to die, that she would be consumed, the fire, with a roar, shrank back. Disappeared. The black smoke turned into a thick white fog and she was suddenly running through fields of smoldering ash, the smell of burning flesh heavy in her nostrils, the ground an arid, vast wasteland.
And everywhere there were bones.
Piles and piles of charred, bleached bones.
White skeletons of animals and people, all flecked with ash.
Cats. Dogs. Horses. Humans.
In her mind's eye, the skeletons became members of her family and though they were only bones, she superimposed faces to the skulls. Her mother. Her father. Her baby.
Pain cut through her at the thought of her child.
No! No! No!
These were only skeletons.
No one she knew.
They couldn't be.
The smell of death and the receding fire burned through her nostrils.
She tried to back away, to escape, but as she moved, she tripped on the scattered bones. She fell and the skeletons broke beneath her. Frantic, clawing wildly, she tried to stand, to run, to get away from this thick, rattling pile.
A siren blasted. As if from the distance.
Her heart jolted. Someone was coming!
Turning, she saw one of the skeletons move, its grotesque, half-burned head turning to face her. Pieces of charred flesh hung from the skull's cheekbones and most of its black hair was singed, the eyes sunken in their sockets, but they were eyes she recognized, eyes she'd trusted, eyes she'd once loved. And they stared at her, blinked, and silently accused her of unspeakable crimes.
No, she thought wildly. No, no, no!
How could something this hideous be alive?
She screamed but her voice was mute.
"Ssssshannon ..." Her husband's voice hissed evilly through her brain. Goose pimples covered her skin despite the heat. "Ssssshannon." It seemed as if his face was taking shape, the blackened flesh filling in, stretching over the bones, cartilage filling the nose hole, sunken eyes staring fixedly at her.
She tried again.
Brrring! The siren. No — a phone. Her phone.
Shannon sat bolt upright in bed. Sweat ran down her back and her heart thundered a million beats a minute. It was dark, she was in her room tucked under the eaves of her small cottage. On a sob, she felt sweet relief swell through her. It was a dream. Only a dream. No, a sick, twisted nightmare.
On the floor beside her, the dog gave a disgruntled bark.
Another sharp blast from the telephone.
"Mary, Joseph and Jesus," she whispered, using her mother's rarely called-upon phrase of abject surprise. "What's the matter with me?" Shoving her hair from her eyes she exhaled shakily. The room was hot, the summer air without a breath of a breeze. Flinging off the damp sheets, she gasped as if she'd just run a marathon. "A dream," she reminded herself, a headache creeping behind her eyes. "Just another damned dream."
Heart thudding she yanked the receiver to her ear. "Hello?"
Just silence ... then something more ... the sound of soft breathing?
She glanced at the bedside clock: 12:07 flashed in red, digital numbers large enough that she could read the time without her contact lenses. "Hello!"
She was suddenly wide-awake.
Quickly she switched on the bedside lamp. Who would be calling at this time of night? What was it her mother always said? Nothing good happens after midnight. Her heart pounded. She thought of her parents, aging and frail. Had there been an accident? Was someone in her family hurt? Missing? Or worse?
"Hello!" she said again, louder, then realized if there was a problem, if the police or one of her brothers were calling, they would have said something immediately. "Who is this?" she demanded, then wondered if she was the victim of some cruel prank.
Just like before. She cringed as she remembered the last time ... Suddenly clammy, she recalled playing that crank-calling game at slumber parties in junior high school: call strangers in the middle of the night and whisper something meant to scare.
But that had been a lifetime ago and now, tonight, holding the damned receiver to her ear, she was in no mood for this kind of sophomoric, idiotic joke. "Look, either you answer or I hang up." She could still make out the faint sound of raspy, almost excited breathing. "Fine! Have it your way." She slammed the receiver down. "Creep," she muttered under her breath and wasn't even glad that whoever it was had jarred her out of that awful nightmare.
Damn, but it had been real. So visceral. So disturbing. Even now, she was still sweating, her skin crawling, the stench of smoke still lodged in her nostrils. Running a hand over her eyes, she released a long, slow breath and forced the images to recede. It was a dream, nothing else, she told herself, as she reached for the receiver of the phone again and checked the caller ID. The last number to call in, at 12:07, was blocked. No name. No number.
"Big surprise," she muttered under her breath and tried to tamp down her unease. It was just some bored kids dialing numbers at random, hoping to get a reaction. Right? She stared at the phone and frowned. Who else could it be?
Her dog, Khan, a mixed breed with some Australian shepherd ancestry visible in his mottled coat and mismatched eyes, let out another soft bark from his spot on the rag rug beside her bed. He looked up at her hopefully and thumped his tail on the floorboards as if he expected her to let him onto the bed.
"Are you nuts?" she asked, rolling over and reaching down to scratch him behind one ear. "It's midnight and you and I both need to sleep, so don't even think about getting up here, okay? I just need something for this headache." She rolled off the bed and padded barefoot to the bathroom.
As she stepped into the cramped room, she heard the soft thump of Khan hopping onto the bed. "Get down!" she ordered and flipped on the light. She heard the dog land on the floor again. "Nice try, Khan."
Some dog trainer you are, she thought as she scraped her hair away from her face, holding a handful of curls in one clenched fist. You can get search and rescue dogs into disaster areas, burning buildings and even into the water, but you can't keep that mutt off the bed.
Leaning over the sink, she turned on the spigot with her free hand and drank from the faucet, letting water splash against her flushed skin as the remnants of the nightmare burned at the corners of her brain.
Don't go there!
Ryan had been dead for three years and in that time she'd been accused and absolved of killing him. "So get over it," she grumbled, snatching a towel from the rack and dabbing it over her face and chest. The nightmares, her shrink had assured her, would lessen over time.
So far that hadn't proved true. She looked into the mirror over the sink, reflective glass clamped over the medicine cabinet, and cringed. Dark smudges appeared beneath her red-veined eyes. Her auburn hair was tangled, a mess from restless sleep, damp ringlets clinging to her skin. Tiny lines of anxiety appeared in the pinch of her lips and the corners of her eyes.
"The face of an angel hiding Satan's tongue," her brother Neville had said after they'd been involved in a particularly brutal argument when she was around fourteen.
Not tonight, she thought sourly, as she grabbed a washcloth from an open shelf, rinsed it under the water and dabbed the wet rag over her skin.
Neville. She still missed him horribly and that particular knot of sorrow when she thought of him tightened painfully in her chest. Technically, since Neville had been born a scant seven minutes after his twin brother, Oliver, Neville had been the closest in age to Shannon, who'd come along nearly two years later, the last of Patrick and Maureen Flannery's brood of six children. Though Oliver and Neville had shared that special "twin bond," she, too, had felt an intimacy with Neville that she never experienced with the rest of her siblings.
She wished Neville was here now. He'd rumple her hair, smile crookedly and say, "You worry too much, Shannon. It was just a dream."
"And a phone call," she would reply. "A weird phone call."
"A wrong number."
"Hey, somewhere in the world it's already happy hour. Chill out."
"Right," she muttered, like she could. She soaked the cloth again, wrung it between her hands, then placed it at the base of her neck. A headache, brought on by the nightmare, pounded at the base of her skull. Reaching into the cabinet, she found a bottle of ibuprofen and tossed two pills into her palm before chasing them down with another long swallow from the tap. She saw the bottle of sleeping pills on the shelf under the mirror, the ones Dr. Brennan had prescribed three years earlier. She considered taking a couple, then discarded the idea. Tomorrow morning — no, later this morning — she couldn't afford to be groggy or sluggish. She had several training sessions scheduled with some new dogs and she was supposed to sign papers on her new place — a bigger ranch. Although the move was still weeks away, the deal was falling into place.
Remembering the property she was going to buy, she felt another jab of distress. Just last week, when she'd walked the perimeter of the ranch, she'd felt as if she was being watched, that there had been unseen eyes hidden behind the gnarled trunks of the black oaks. Even Khan had seemed edgy that day. Nervous.
Get over it, she mentally berated herself. Unlike most of the dogs she trained, Khan wasn't known for his intuition. No one had been following her, watching her every move. She wasn't in some kind of horror movie, for God's sake. No one had been hiding in the shaded forest that surrounded the place, no sinister being had been observing her from the outcropping of rocks on a nearby hillside. No one, other than herself, had been there at all.
She was just antsy about plunking down all of her inheritance and savings on the new place. And why wouldn't she be? Her brothers had all been against her plan and each had enough nerve to tell her the vastness of her mistake.
"This isn't what Dad would have wanted," Shea had pointed out the last time he'd stopped by. His black hair had gleamed blue in the lamplight as he'd stood on her porch while smoking a cigarette, staring at her as if she'd lost her mind. "Dad spent his entire life scrimping, saving and investing and wouldn't want you to squander your share on a rundown, overgrown farm."
"You haven't even seen the place," she'd charged, undeterred. "And don't pull out the violin and crying towel. Dad always trusted my decisions."
Shea had given her a dark, unfathomable look, drawing hard on his cigarette and giving Shannon the distinct impression that she hadn't known their father at all.
"Dad always backed me up," she said, her voice faltering just a bit.
"I'm just tellin' ya." He blew out a plume of gray smoke, then tossed his cigarette butt into the dust and gravel of the lot separating the house from the barns and other outbuildings. "Be careful, Shannon, with your money and yourself."
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?"
The cigarette smoldered, trailing a tiny wisp of smoke.
"Just that sometimes you're impetuous." He cocked his head and winked at her. "You know. All part of the Flannery curse."
"Don't even go there. That's the biggest load of bull I've ever heard. Just a way for Mom to get back at Dad. Flannery curse? Come on, Shea."
He lifted a dark brow. For a second he'd looked like one of those caricatures of Satan with his knowing leer and upraised eyebrows. "I'm just saying."
"Yeah, well, I'm buying the place and that's that."
Now, a week later, she wondered what that was all about. It was almost as if her brother had been warning her.
And Shea hadn't been the only naysayer. Oh, no! Her other brothers had weighed in over the past few weeks, grown men who seemed to think they still held some sway over her. She snorted in disgust as she remembered Robert advising her to put her money in the bank. But she would only earn some pittance on it. Robert! The man was running through his share of the inheritance like water, buying a sports car and going through a major midlife crisis that included ditching his wife and kids. As for Aaron, her oldest sibling, he'd already lost some of his money on speculative stocks. Not to mention that weekend in Reno and the rumors of him having been up thirty thousand dollars at the blackjack table, only to end up losing and playing double-up to catch up. It hadn't worked and Aaron had been touchy about it ever since.
Then there was Oliver, who was pledging all of his money to the church and God. Of course, she thought, frowning, wondering if Oliver's sudden renewed faith was because of her. Guilt dug a deeper hole in her heart as she remembered that after the accident, when Ryan had lost his life and Neville had disappeared, Oliver had turned ultrareligious, to the point that he'd applied to the seminary and now was studying for the priesthood. Her part in his newfound faith was murky. Unclear. However, her being accused of her husband's murder had been a factor.
Shannon shrugged it off, wouldn't revisit that familiar but forbidden territory.
She suspected her brother Shea was the one who'd been careful with his share of the inheritance. But then, he was always careful. With his money. With his life. A secretive sort, who trod softly but heavily armed. He not only carried a big stick but a bazooka and grenades as well.
Who were her brothers to offer up advice? They could spout their negative opinions until hell froze over, but she'd do what she thought best. She was nothing if not as stubborn as they were.
It was probably all their negative vibes that had made her nervous the last time she'd walked the overgrown acres. That was all.
Then why, suddenly, was she so anxious? Not sleeping? Jumping at shadows? Awaking from god-awful nightmares?
She grimaced and dropped her washcloth into the sink. Maybe it was time to visit her shrink again. It had been over a year since she'd felt strong enough to end the weekly sessions that had helped her sort out her life.
Though she didn't much like the thought, maybe she truly was one of those people who needed therapy just to keep functioning.
"Great," she muttered.
Lord, it was hot. The temperatures had been teetering around one hundred all week, the evenings barely cooling into the high eighties. All over town there was talk of a serious drought and, of course, the escalating threat of fire.
She refused to gaze at her reflection again. "You'll look better in the morning," she said, then wondered if there was enough foundation in the warehouses of Revlon to make her appear fresh-faced. She couldn't begin to imagine how many drops of Visine it was going to take when she slipped her contact lenses into her eyes in a few hours.
Her mouth tasted foul. She rubbed some toothpaste over her teeth, rinsed, then twisted hard on the handles of the dripping faucet, listening as the old pipes groaned in protest. Still the scent of smoke and fire lingered.
Dabbing her mouth dry with a hand towel, she wondered why she couldn't get the acrid odor out of her nostrils.
At that moment she heard Khan growl. Low. Warning.
Still holding the towel she glanced through the doorway and saw a gray-and-brown blur as he leapt onto the bed.
Excerpted from Fatal Burn by Lisa Jackson. Copyright © 2006 Susan Lisa Jackson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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