Her Darkest Nightmare, first in an electrifying new series from New York Times bestselling author Brenda Novak
THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER
Evelyn Talbot knows that a psychopath can look perfectly normal. She was only sixteen when her own boyfriend Jasper imprisoned and tortured her—and left her for dead. Now an eminent psychiatrist who specializes in the criminal mind, Evelyn is the force behind Hanover House, a maximum-security facility located in a small Alaskan town. Her job puts her at odds with Sergeant Amarok, who is convinced that Hanover is a threat to his community…even as his attraction to beautiful Evelyn threatens to tear his world apart.
BEGINS WITH AN ESCAPE FROM HER PAST
Then, just as the bitter Alaskan winter cuts both town and prison off from the outside world, the mutilated body of a local woman turns up. For Amarok, this is the final proof he needs: Hanover has to go. Evelyn, though, has reason to fear that the crime is a personal message to her—the first sign that the killer who haunts her dreams has found her again. . .and that the life she has so carefully rebuilt will never be the same…
“Brenda Novak's seamless plotting, emotional intensity, and true-to-life characters…make her books completely satisfying.”—New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan
About the Author
BRENDA NOVAK and her husband live in Sacramento and are the proud parents of five children-three girls and two boys. When she's not spending time with her family or writing, Brenda is usually working on her annual fund-raiser for diabetes research. Brenda's novels have made The New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and won many awards, including three Rita nominations, the Book Buyer's Best, the Book Seller's Best and the National Reader's Choice Award.
Brenda is the author of the Dr. Evelyn Talbot Novels, including Hello Again and Her Darkest Nightmare.
BRENDA NOVAK and her husband, Ted, live in Sacramento and are the proud parents of five children—three girls and two boys. When she's not spending time with her family or writing, Brenda is usually working on her annual fund-raiser for diabetes research, a cause for which she's raised $2.6 million so far. Her novels have made the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists and won many awards, including eight Rita nominations, the Book Buyer's Best, the Book Seller's Best and the National Reader's Choice Award.
Read an Excerpt
Her Darkest Nightmare
By Brenda Novak
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Brenda Novak
All rights reserved.
We are all evil in some form or another.
— RICHARD RAMIREZ, THE NIGHT STALKER
Twenty years later ...
He'd kill her if he could. He'd attacked her once before. She had to remember that.
Dropping her pen on top of the notepad she'd carried in with her, Dr. Evelyn Talbot slipped her fingers under her glasses and rubbed her eyes. She hadn't gotten much sleep last night; she'd had another of her terrible nightmares. "The plexiglass is there for a reason, Hugo. It will always be between us. And we both know why."
This wasn't the answer he'd been hoping for. Impatience etched lines in his handsome face, with its wide forehead and innocent-looking brown eyes, but he was careful not to raise his voice. In fact, he did the opposite: he lowered it in appeal. "I won't lay a hand on you, I swear! I just have to tell you something. Come over to this side so I can whisper. It'll only take a minute."
It would take even less time for him to get his hands around her throat or put her in the hospital, like he did when she first met him at San Quentin.
Reclaiming her pen, she replied in the same measured tone she always reserved for her subjects. "You know I can't do that. So say what you have to say. Do it right here, right now. We've been going around and around with this for two weeks."
He twisted to look up at the camera being used to monitor his behavior. Whenever she met with an inmate, a correctional officer in a room down the hall viewed the proceedings on closed-circuit TV. The inmates thought they were being watched for security purposes, but these sessions were also recorded. The video enabled her to study the nuances in their body language, which was, in addition to their speech patterns, the focus of her research.
"I can't," he insisted. "Not in front of the cameras. I'm a dead man if I do."
Someone had him convinced. She believed that much. Although, with the way her subjects lied, she could easily be wrong. Maybe he was making it all up. "But who would harm you?" She leaned closer. "And how?"
Evelyn had been studying Hugo Evanski since Hanover House opened three months ago, in November. He'd been among the first of the psychopaths transferred here, had scored a whopping 37 out of 40 on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, or PCL-R. But to look at him or talk to him no one would know he was capable of murder. From the beginning, Evelyn had found him to be intelligent, tractable and, for the most part, polite. He was even helpful, when he could be.
The thought made her a bit uneasy, but if she had a friend among the psychopaths she'd come to Alaska to analyze it would be Hugo. Maybe that was why she was tempted to trust him, even after what he'd done before and everything else she'd been through.
"I was right about Jimmy, wasn't I?" he said.
A month and a half ago, he'd warned her that another inmate was planning to hang himself with a sheet. If not for Hugo, Jimmy Wise would be dead.
"Yes, but you didn't demand I risk my life to get that information."
"Because Jimmy was no threat to me!"
"So who is?"
Squeezing his eyes closed, he tapped his forehead against the glass.
"What can I do?" he asked when he spoke again. "How can I get you to believe me? To give me just a moment of privacy?"
He'd strangled fifteen women and he'd injured her. That meant there was nothing he could do, because she wasn't stupid enough to put herself in jeopardy.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I truly am."
His gaze fell to the four-inch-long scar on her neck. "It's his fault."
She touched the raised flesh. She supposed, in a way, Hugo was right. But she found it amusing that he assumed no personal responsibility for his own behavior the day they met. She could've pointed that out but was more interested in what he hoped to tell her. "Yes."
Getting up, he paced the length of the small cubicle that comprised his half of their meeting space — what constituted her "couch." "I would never let anything happen to you," he said, "not if I could help it."
"And what happened at San Quentin?" This time she couldn't resist....
"I didn't know you then. Things are different now."
Were they really? That was the question.
"I appreciate the sentiment," she responded, but that didn't mean she'd change her mind.
He stopped and pivoted to face her. "You don't understand. You're not safe. None of us are."
The intensity of his voice and expression made the hair on her arms stand on end. Was that what Hugo was hoping to do? Frighten her?
She had to admit it was working — but only because he'd never taken this tack before January 1. And he seemed so convinced, so sincere.
Apparently, even she could still be taken in....
Grabbing her pad and her pen, Evelyn stood. "I'm afraid we'll have to end our session early. You're so obsessed with ... whatever it is that's causing your agitation we can't make any progress."
"Wait!" He rushed the glass. "Evelyn ..."
When she gaped at him for using her first name as if they were familiar enough for him to do that, he reverted to the usual formalities.
"Dr. Talbot, listen to me. Please. This prison houses psychopaths, right? Men who take lives without hesitation or remorse."
She made no reply, didn't see where one was necessary. He was stating information they both knew to be accurate.
"I'm trying to tell you that" — he glanced at the camera again — "not every killer at Hanover House is locked up."
This was the last thing she'd expected. "What are you talking about?"
"That's all I'll say. Unless ... unless you can give me a chance to speak to you in private. I'll explain what I know, what I've seen and heard. And I won't hurt you. I'm trying to help!"
Evelyn refused to listen to any more of this. Clearly, Hugo was hoping to gain some type of control in their relationship by acting like her protector at the same time he chipped away at her peace of mind. No way would she allow him to do that. At just sixteen, her life had nearly been taken when she fell in love with a man like Hugo. After becoming a psychiatrist eight years ago, she'd devoted her life to unraveling the mysteries of the remorseless killer. She knew more about the psychopathic mind than anyone else in the world, except, maybe, Dr. Robert D. Hare, who had developed the PCL-R and had been researching the same subject for nearly thirty years. But, sadly, even she didn't know as much as she wanted, not nearly enough to protect the unsuspecting.
"We'll meet at our regular time day after tomorrow," she told Hugo. "Do what you can to relax. You're growing paranoid."
She walked out, but he didn't let it go at that. "You'll see," he called after her. "You're going to wish you'd believed me!"
* * *
With a sigh of bone-deep exhaustion, Evelyn tossed her notepad on her desk and slid into her chair.
"What's wrong? Another headache?"
The sound of Lorraine Drummond's voice at her open door brought Evelyn's head up. "No, I just left a session with Hugo Evanski."
Lorraine, who'd answered an ad in the newspaper when Evelyn and the warden began staffing the center last September, was heavyset, in her mid-fifties and recently single. She had a small house in Anchorage an hour away, two grown children and no education beyond high school. She hadn't even worked until her divorce, but she was doing a terrific job of running the center's food service program.
"Since he came here, Hugo's been perfect. You told me that yourself."
"He's changing. Acting strange."
"Why not pass him along to Dr. Fitzpatrick or one of the others? Give yourself a break?"
"Dr. Fitzpatrick is already using him for some of his studies — and has been since we opened. I can't ask him to do more. Not since Dr. Brand quit and Dr. Wilheim came down with the shingles. We're barely managing without them. Who knows how long it'll be before we can find someone to replace Martin and Stacy's able to come back to work?" Besides, Evelyn felt duty bound to carry the heaviest load. She was largely the reason they were all stuck in the middle of nowhere with thirty-seven of the worst serial killers in America. The other 213 inmates were also diagnosed as psychopathic but were in for lesser crimes and would one day be released.
"You could if you wanted to," Lorraine insisted.
"I don't want to. There're only four other productive members of the team right now. I can handle him." The men she'd come here to study manipulated her constantly, or tried to. Why should she expect Hugo to be any different? Especially with the way their first meeting had gone?
"He's very nice whenever I see him in the dining hall." Lorraine put a sack lunch on the desk. She came over to the mental health wing quite often to make sure Evelyn had food to eat, regardless of the meal.
Evelyn peeked in at her lunch: carrots, an apple, a cup of chicken noodle soup and a chocolate-chip cookie. "You can't trust nice." Jasper had once been nice, too. And look what he did.
Lorraine adjusted an earring that was hanging too low. "Dr. Fitzpatrick says everyone dons a mask. With psychopaths, that mask is more like a mirror. Whatever they think you want to see, that's what they reflect back at you. They're empty."
No, not empty. Evelyn didn't believe that for a second. She'd once seen the bared soul of a psychopath, stared into his eyes in a way Dr. Fitzpatrick never had and, God willing, never would. The men they treated were far from empty; "empty" was too synonymous with "neutral, harmless." If she were a religious person she might substitute "soulless" and find it quite fitting, but she hadn't been to church in over a decade.
"They know how to blend in," she corrected. "How to appear as emotionally invested as those around them. They're wolves in sheep's clothing, which is why they're able to cause so much pain and destruction." And why the truly caring individuals involved in their lives usually suffered for it.
Lorraine seemed to measure Evelyn more closely. "Are you sure it's only Hugo that's got you down? You look ... frazzled."
And it was only Monday. Not a great way to start out the week. "I didn't sleep well last night."
"Why don't you go home and lie down, get some rest?"
Evelyn waved her off. "It's not even noon."
"Listen, this place won't fall apart if you take a couple of hours. Everyone admires your commitment — no one more than me — but you'll run yourself into a brick wall if you don't slow down."
Evelyn shook a daily vitamin from the bottle she kept in her desk and tossed it back with a drink of water. "Don't be so dramatic. I'm fine. And I can't leave." She checked the clock hanging on her wall. "Our new inmate will be here any minute."
"Anthony Garza? I thought he wasn't due until four."
"Weather report says we've got another storm coming in. So they caught an earlier flight. You didn't get the message?"
Lorraine adjusted her hairnet. "I haven't checked my e-mail this morning. I've been too busy in the kitchen."
"One of the federal marshals called just before I met with Hugo. The plane's already landed in Anchorage." Because of the amount of security required to move the high-profile killers they often received, arrivals were always a big deal. The entire on-site staff was alerted ... just in case — although Lorraine's presence wasn't as high a priority as the warden, the COs and the mental health team. The last thing they needed was for someone to make a careless mistake that would result in an escape or injury. As the first institution of its kind, Hanover House was perceived to be a radical new approach to the psychopathy problem, which meant they had to prove themselves professional and effective or risk losing the public support they'd worked so hard to achieve. Just because Hilltop hadn't mounted much resistance to having a maximum-security mental facility built on the outskirts of town — nothing like the other locations the government considered — didn't mean they wouldn't rally at the prodding of an inciting event. For the most part, the locals who weren't working at the center seemed to be reserving judgment, but they weren't welcoming her or her brainchild with open arms, especially Amarok, the handsome Alaska State Trooper who was about the town's only police presence.
"What do we know about Garza?" Lorraine asked.
That question made Evelyn uncomfortable. The inmates at Hanover House were hand selected for the type of crimes they'd committed and the behavior they exhibited. That was one of the details that made their institution unique, besides the friendly name ("House" instead of "Prison") and the focus on research and treatment as opposed to simple incarceration. But Evelyn had chosen Garza because he was so difficult to handle. Had the team been asked to weigh in on some of the details, as they probably should've been, they would've rejected him on the grounds that he was too antagonistic to be considered for their program. Not only had he attacked every cellmate he'd ever had; a year ago he'd nearly killed a guard.
But Evelyn thought that anger, that level of hatred and vocal interaction, might bring insights they'd been missing so far.
"We know he killed the first three of his four wives. That he's egocentric, feels no real human attachment, has delusions of grandeur and lies like a rug." She straightened her blotter. "He also has a penchant for self-mutilation, but that's another thing."
"How'd he murder his wives?" Lorraine's expression suggested she didn't really care to know but had to ask.
His file lay on the corner of the desk. Evelyn had read the documents inside it several times. She slid it over and flipped through the pages as she spoke. "He didn't do anything uniquely gruesome. Knocked them out with a hammer before setting the bed on fire."
"He did that to all three?"
When she came to a picture of the burned remnants of a mobile home, Evelyn paused. She hated to imagine what'd happened to the poor woman who'd been inside, but couldn't stop the heartbreaking images that flashed before her mind's eye. "Yes."
"He wasn't afraid three fires would raise his chances of being caught?"
Evelyn managed a shrug as she closed the file. She had to keep some distance between her emotions and what she encountered every day or she would never survive this job. Even if she couldn't maintain that separation, she faked it. Otherwise her colleagues would be all over her — cautioning her, giving advice, telling her she was taking the job too seriously. What she didn't understand was how they could take the men and issues they dealt with any less seriously, how they could look at their jobs as just a nine-to-five grind. "He killed each one in a different state, and he nearly got away with it. Was only tried two years ago, five years after the death of the last woman. By then, he was separated from his fourth wife. I guess he found something that worked and stuck with it."
Lorraine made a clicking sound with her tongue. "Amazing that these cases aren't connected sooner. What about the last wife? Why didn't he kill her?"
"Courtney Lofland? I have no idea." Evelyn set the file aside. "She's remarried and living in Kansas."
"Lucky girl. I bet you'd love to talk to her, see what she has to say about Garza's behavior."
"I've already sent a letter," Evelyn said with a smile.
Lorraine shook her head. "I should've known. With you, no stone goes unturned."
Evelyn ignored the reference to her diligence because she knew the compulsion she felt had turned to obsession long ago. "If she agrees to be interviewed, I'll fly out there and meet her."
"And get away from all this?" Lorraine spread her arms to indicate the sprawling two-story complex, of which Evelyn's office comprised only a small part of the third wing.
Outside, snow was falling so heavily Evelyn could no longer make out the Chugach Mountains. They'd had sixty inches since she arrived in September, and it was only January 13. "It'd be nice to feel the sun, warm up," she admitted.
"I wish I could go with you. I haven't been much farther from home than the prison."
Excerpted from Her Darkest Nightmare by Brenda Novak. Copyright © 2016 Brenda Novak. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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